July 14, 2024
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July 14, 2024
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Rebranding the Shidduch Crisis

Shidduch. Crisis. These two words when put together are incredibly loaded. Let’s take a look at these two words individually.

The word “shidduch” refers to a system for meeting one’s intended. A footnote on the Saw You At Sinai website conveys that shidduch comes from the word for tranquil or from the word “to bind together.” It is a benign word. Even a positive word.

The word “crisis” is defined as a time of intense difficulty, trouble or danger (courtesy of Google). It is a word filled with negative connotations. Crisis evokes panic, fear, stress and little hope for optimism.

It’s hard to know when these two words became joined linguistically and conceptually. (There is even a Wikipedia page for Shidduch Crisis!) I don’t remember hearing the term as a child in the 1980s. I don’t recall my parents or grandparents referring to there being a Shidduch Crisis when they were looking for marriage partners. There is a book titled “The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures,” by Dr. Michael J. Salamon, published in 2008. Yet it might require some effort to find the precise entry point of this concept in our hearts and minds and determine how it has taken residence among our existing fears. (Doctoral students out there, this could be the subject of a fascinating dissertation.)

That notwithstanding, this term is extremely loaded. It carries a lot of weighty implications and stirs up strong feelings. It could make people feel helpless in the face of an insurmountable catastrophe, in which some are randomly spared, and others are not.

Let’s put the phrase aside for a few minutes and look at the phenomenon of finding a shidduch itself. The Bereishit Rabbah 68:4 conveys an exchange between R’ Yosi ben Halafta and a Roman woman of rank. Two curious statements come up in this exchange. The first is that since the world was created, Hashem has sat on His heavenly throne making matches. The second is that making matches is as difficult as the splitting of the sea. These two statements are worthy of contemplation. Let’s acknowledge some truths first.

For some, finding a shidduch seems to happen almost effortlessly. Even accidentally. Others have more complex journeys with starts and stops, hopes and disappointments. Layered on top of the endeavor to find one’s match is the knowledge that marriage is one of the first stages in one’s life that is truly asynchronous. Until that point in a young adult’s life, most are on a similar trajectory—elementary school, high school, yeshiva/seminary, college. Yet when marriage comes into play, many continue onward in lockstep and marry contemporaneously with their peers, and others follow a different timeline. This stage can mark the first real divergence, which is part of what makes it so painful. We all want to continue to the next step in life. We all want to see our friends, siblings, children and ourselves find our bashert and progress onward.

While finding a shidduch and getting married can constitute the next big step in a young adult’s life, there is an incontrovertible truth that in life we each follow a unique timeline. We each have an individual path, custom-made for our growth in this world. It is nearly impossible to survive our life journeys without some modicum of faith that Hashem has a plan for us and tailors our experiences to maximize that growth. Finding a shidduch is part of that same larger roadmap, customized to our potentials and needed experiences.

Some shidduch stories seem more convenient on the surface. Others reveal a crazy number of circumstances and occurrences that need to align. When a person does find his or her match, there often is an experiential inventory that is taken. The knowledge that the shadchan was the only possible person who knew the two people involved, or that a person had to have needed a ride on a particular day or sat in a particular seat on a particular flight.

I heard one story that a family was trying to find out information about a prospective mechutan without success until they discovered that their close friend grew up near the family’s grandparents and had very fond memories of them playing together as children. Do you know what kind of planning is involved to plant those kinds of seeds? How much maneuvering in the space-time continuum to engineer that two people who happen to be compatible as life partners be sitting next to each other on a flight at the exact point in time where they are receptive to getting married and both be available, that is, not seeing other people?!

I know for myself that my husband and I met at the exact point in our lives that we would be receptive to each other. And that’s not even counting the other hundreds of variables that were involved in my husband and I being available to meet each other. The sheer total of conditions and placement and people involved— it is no wonder that Hashem is busy making shidduchim—it’s a full-time job! And if one does take the effort to acknowledge and appreciate the pieces that had to fall into place to find one’s match, it is the greatest revelation of Hashem running the world. It is the personal equivalent of witnessing the splitting of the sea—seeing Hashem’s Hand so obviously in our lives.

The reality is, though, Hashem can make anything happen easily. He literally can deposit a person’s match on his or her doorstep the very minute someone is ready to start dating. When you think about the factors cited in the shidduch crisis, Hashem can turn them around in a heartbeat. Interesting fact: In some Chassidish communities it is the girls who are in higher demand and the boys who struggle.

So why are we faced with this generational situation? Why do we have a shidduch crisis? I certainly don’t know. But it might be interesting to think about some elements of the situation we collectively find ourselves in.

Sometimes, when faced with a challenge, we recognize that there is a situation in front of us, and, after careful thought and concerted efforts, we choose to rise to the occasion. What if the reverse situation is true? What if certain traits needed to be honed and thus a situation was brought into a person or community’s life to facilitate that evolution?

We are all familiar with the concept of team-building exercises, which involve companies sending employees to costly leadership training—deliberately engineered challenges to foster growth and skills. The individuals sent to these team-building retreats, however, are clear about the goals of the experience. They are not confused as to why they are there or bewildered by the unusual circumstances placed before them. No one is calling home to report on a horrific sheep catastrophe that must be dealt with. It is understood that their leadership abilities will be improved by guiding a group of sheep across a meadow. No one is bewildered when asked to build a raft with four strangers. It is understood that these challenges are there for a purpose, to foster growth.

What if we, as a generation, are experiencing our own grand team-building exercise? An exercise that involves us working together on behalf of one another to collectively evolve and grow? What if, as we get closer and closer to the geula, we need to come together as a nation?

Being presented with the challenge of helping our children find their shidduch is a very specific scenario. It’s a personal enough situation to spur people into action, yet entails people networking with one another, thinking of one another, speaking well of each other, and helping one another.

Ensuring the mesorah for the next generation is not something that can be done by individuals. It’s a team sport, a group endeavor. Ensuring the continuity of the Jewish People involves people finding their intended and building Jewish families. If we think about each other (friends setting up friends, suggesting someone for each person you have gone out with, networking on behalf of each other) we will have risen to the challenge and successfully passed the baton onward.

Helping with shidduchim is the ultimate ahavas Yisroel team-building exercise.

It’s also important to note that the actualization of a shidduch is not contingent on us. If Hashem wants two people to find each other, they will. But we can choose to play a role. We can choose to play a small part in Hashem’s work. And the zechus for helping to build a new family in klal Yisroel has got to be worth the investment of time and effort.

With all that’s been written here, it is certainly not the intent to minimize the pain experienced by those in shidduchim. We all want our children to be happy and wish for them to move onto the next stage of life smoothly and pleasantly. It is excruciatingly heartbreaking to watch a child struggle in any area. And that pain is compounded when we feel helpless and at a loss to fix the situation.

What if we reframe it? The Shidduch Challenge. Not insurmountable, not cause for panic and despair, but a call to action. “Challenge” is a much better word. Think ice bucket challenge. Did anyone complain or panic about being presented with a bucket of freezing water? No! People proudly videotaped themselves confronting the chilly challenge, literally head on, dousing themselves with water and posting the experience on social media.

May we embrace the Shidduch Challenge and tackle it head on. Bravely, constructively, and with emunah. Let us instill in our children the belief that they are wonderful and that Hashem loves them and can do anything. May we try to partner with Hashem in this holy work, look out for one another, and take responsibility for helping our children collectively find their matches, build their homes, and create the next generation of klal Yisroel.

By Regina Weinstock


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