Last week, my kids were off from school for two days due to parent–teacher conferences. Chavie did the home front with the girls, and I took my son, Menny, and headed up north to the Montana Hi-Line to visit food plants that are certified kosher under our Montana Kosher symbol. When I say up north, I mean 30 miles south of the Canadian border, about a 12-hour roundtrip from Bozeman. The roads between Helena and Great Falls were icy due to massive winter storms—not my favorite type of driving—but we managed to drive 700 miles in one day, leaving before dawn and arriving at our hotel in Helena just in time for nightfall. We visited four plants and all was well on the kosher front, baruch Hashem.
A common theme I encountered in my conversations with the various plant owners and managers was their kvetching about employee stability. Even plants that are paying super well, have incredible work ethics and treatment of employees, and even in towns where employment is scarce so you’d think everyone would need a job, they are all struggling with finding and retaining employees. Too many people have lost the basic principle of loyalty and gratitude.
Comedian Yakov Smirnoff, who was born in the USSR, once shared: “I’ll never forget walking down one of the aisles of the grocery store and seeing powdered milk: just add water and you get milk. Right next to it was powdered orange juice: just add water and you get orange juice. Then I saw baby powder, and I thought to myself, ‘What a country!’”
Just like in the employee–employer relationship, when it comes to marriages and its struggles, too many think of these relationships as “disposable,” and the commitment to something so foundational is often overlooked for the temporary “freedom” from the harsher moments of life.
I was thinking about this specifically as we read Parashas Chayei Sarah in which we learn about the first shidduch in history. After burying his beloved wife, Sarah, in Chevron, Avraham asks his servant Eliezer to head out and find a wife for his son Yitzchak. He makes a few things crystal-clear: (1) I don’t want him to marry a Canaanite; (2) I’d like her to be part of our family tree, part of the family of Avraham; (3) If you don’t succeed, it’s OK, you are exempt from the vow that you made to me. You tried, and that’s what matters.
Eliezer, devoted as he was, heads up north to Aram Naharayim (southeastern Turkey), on a mission to find Yitzchak a wife.
When he arrives on the outskirts of Aram Naharayim he turns to Hashem and asks for a blessing to succeed. He adds: “Behold, I am standing by the water fountain, and the daughters of the people of the city are coming out to draw water. And it will be that the maiden to whom I will say, ‘Lower your pitcher and I will drink,’ and she will say, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels,’ You have designated her for Your servant, for Isaac, and through her may I know that You have performed lovingkindness with my master.”
As Rashi tells us, “She is worthy of him, for she will perform acts of kindness, and she is fit to enter the house of Abraham.” And that’s exactly what happens, as he finds Rivka and she does exactly that.
I’ve always been mesmerized by the shidduch of Yitzchak and Rivka because I feel like this should be the foundation for any shidduch between two Torah-observant, G-d fearing Jews. Yet, I find our shidduch world entrenched in weird obsessions of what is needed for a binyan adei ad, what is needed for a healthy and holy home, and it’s having a terrible ripple effect in our beloved frum community.
I’ve had hundreds of yeshiva bachurim come through Bozeman to help us out during yom tov or summer visitation to Jewish homes around the state. Almost all of them are sweethearts, hardworking and goodhearted. Then the shidduch reference calls start rolling in, and so many of the calls are INSANE. People want to know every detail about the prospective husband, information that has zero impact on his personal relationship with Hashem or on being an incredible spouse to his future wife.
“Does he wear a white shirt?”
I mean, does it matter? If his shirt is blue but he davens three times each day, goes to the mikveh, learns all his shiurim, has a heart of gold, and is a trustworthy worker, is that not enough? Must he have the exact shirt you are seeking? Will his shirt make your daughter happier?
Sadly, many parents, when their children are dating, insert themselves into what their son or daughter should feel or think about the person they are dating, and it’s crazy and unhealthy. What about “hamshachas ha’lev,” that the two people dating should have a desire for each other—yes, a desire—which is something my Rebbe, zy’a, wrote about? Of course, dating should be done modestly, with all the halachos of tznius and the biblical mitzvos of yichud and shomer negiah in place, but do we really want young Jews marrying those their parents like versus those to whom they are attracted and may come to truly love? For marriages to thrive, the boy and girl have to like each other, desire each other, be attracted to each other—their parents’ opinion is irrelevant on these issues.
I have a Wednesday chavrusa with my friend Daniel in Pittsburgh and we learn letters from the Rebbe. Recently, we read a letter from the spring of 1952 in which the Rebbe responds to a father who was seeking a husband for his daughter and wondered if his future son-in-law must be a “tamim,” a regular Lubavitcher bachur who attended the Chabad yeshiva system and considers himself a member of the Chabad tribe. To be sure, I would’ve thought that the Rebbe would say, “Yes, your Lubavitcher daughter should marry someone who attended our yeshivos and lives according to our lifestyle.” Yet, the Rebbe’s answer was fascinating and blew my mind: “He doesn’t need to be a tamim; rather, he has to have the makeup and interest in becoming a tamim, learning Torah, both the exoteric sections of Torah and the esoteric aspects of Torah, and willing to learn and live with the minhagim and way of life of chassidim.”
The Rebbe wasn’t concerned about the person’s specific “title” or even “experience” at this point in his life. He wasn’t going to encourage the father to hold off the shidduch until the fellow was fully on board. The Rebbe just wanted to ensure that there was an openness to join a Chabad family and learn its ways at the right time.
How often are shidduchim offers ignored because the prospective young man or woman doesn’t fit the “box” of our community? He’s not chassidish enough, yeshivish enough, or just too frum or not frum enough? If Eliezer searched according to the standards of today’s communities, Yitzchak probably would have never found a wife! What was Eliezer looking for? She needs to be kindhearted and hospitable. Of course, there are times that parents should help their children see things that young people don’t see clearly, but as a rule, we should be looking for our children to marry Jews who believe and follow in the path of Avraham and Sarah, have emunah and learn Torah, and are super-kind, gentle, and sensitive.
“He left yeshiva a year before his friends.” So what—does that make him a criminal? He went to work because it fit him better and he’s a solid guy.
There is an entire book of the Rebbe’s instructions about shidduchim. For example, in multiple letters, the Rebbe encouraged Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews to marry each other and saw no reason why a shidduch shouldn’t be looked at due to specific heritage. In one letter the Rebbe wrote that if both the man and woman have real cases of depression, it may not be a good idea for them to marry. In many letters the Rebbe reminded people that there is no such thing as “perfection” in the “Ezras Nashim,” in the women’s world, nor is there “perfection” in the “Ezras Anashim,” in the men’s world. The Rebbe wasn’t too concerned about an unwell future mother-in-law as it would relate to marrying her child, especially when we see that the other children are OK. The Rebbe did have some concerns of compatibility when age differences were vast, and he was adamant that one should find a spouse who is devoted to the 613 mitzvos unwaveringly. Yet, above all, the Rebbe guided us to be sure that the young man and woman appreciate each other and like each other, and will have a home full of chesed like Avraham and Sarah.
I don’t have kids in shidduchim yet, but I share this, because, like you, I know too many people who are older and need shidduchim. It’s important once in a while to remind ourselves what the priorities are when it comes to bringing two half-souls together to create the oneness of a couple. Yes, parents must do their due diligence, but they shouldn’t decide for their child who it is that they should want to marry; let the child find his or her inner desire and focus on the things that are important to him or her. Baruch Hashem, we don’t have a divorce crisis in the frum world the way it exists in the secular world, but there are way too many in our world. The hemorrhaging will stop when we start seeking what’s best for our children—not what’s best for us and our superficial reputation in a superficial world. n
Rabbi Chaim Bruk is co-CEO of Chabad Lubavitch of Montana and spiritual leader of The Shul of Bozeman. For comments or to partner in our holy work, e-mail email@example.com or visit JewishMontana.com/Donate.