July 20, 2024
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Unrepresented: The Shidduch Crisis

There were these five orphaned sisters—Machlah, No’ah, Chaglah, Milcah and Tirtzah. Try as they might, they were unable to find their bashert and marry into a decent family. Time was passing by and they felt as if they were missing the boat. What could they do? How could they ensure they would not be “left out” as their friends and family seemed ready to move along? How could they ensure they received their fair share in life? This was the story of the daughters of Tzelafchad, mentioned in last week’s parsha of Pinchas.

Rebbetzin Yemima Mizrachi asks us to imagine these sisters meeting with the shadchan of their time. They had to explain that the youngest sister was 40 years old. Her hair was already starting to turn gray. The oldest sister was 60 years old. They were already not off to a great start, based on age alone. When the shadchan then asked about their “yichus,” all they could say was that their father died in the dessert. His claim to fame was that he was the first man to violate the Shabbos (Gemara Shabbos 96b.) He was given the death penalty. Envision what the shadchan might have said about their chances of meeting someone decent after that revelation.

In a column written in the OU’s Jewish Action, Channah Cohen laments that the shidduch system is dysfunctional and not working very well. Young men and women are finding it more difficult than ever to meet the right mate and move along to the next phase of their lives. They may even see their friends and family getting engaged and married and feel despair as the world seems to be moving along and they feel left behind, not getting their fair share of happiness, feeling unsettled. These are the modern-day daughters of Tzelafchad.

Taking a poll, it was found that only 12.8 percent of the Orthodox young people surveyed ever got married to someone whom a shadchan had set them up with. For something that is supposed to be the most important decision in one’s life, it seems that young adults are more often relying on dating apps, being set up by friends or just blind luck. Yet, we are told by a midrash that after Hashem finished creating the world He occupied himself by making shidduchim. Furthermore, the Gemara (Moed Katan 18b) reminds us that from the time of conception and onward, a Heavenly voice proclaims that “the daughter of so-and-so is destined for so-and-so.” It is all apparently foreordained. So why is this process seemingly so difficult?

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, a”h, in a past column, deplored the fact that today’s young people may be too fussy. They may be looking for perfection where perfect is the enemy of good enough. If we insist that a potential mate be free of all medical or emotional issues in their families, that they be of the highest religious character, that the parents be wealthy, that all their siblings be high achievers and that the “yichus” of the family goes back to a “gadol hador,” it certainly limits the choices available.

Furthermore, our culture now encourages young people to focus on their education and careers while marriage is placed on the back burner. Rebbetzin Jungreis stated: “They have been misled into believing that they have all the time in the world, only to realize one day that the years have passed and can never be retrieved.” For some women, their biological clocks may be ticking faster than they realize.

So how did the daughters of Tzelafchad maintain their hopes and aspirations? What gave them the courage to assert their demands to Moshe? The Ohr Hachaim explains that in the immediate following section of the parsha, Moshe is commanded to climb Mount Avarim “and see the land… and you shall see it” (Bamidbar 27:12.) He explains that this double expression is used to teach us a valuable lesson. In life we need to see things with both our physical eyes and with our spiritual eyes. If we look beyond the moment, have faith and never give up hope, we will get to where we need to be. The daughters of Tzelafchad were visionaries. They did not give up hope. As a result, they were blessed to eventually marry men of their tribe, Menashe. They merited to bear children, according to the legend brought down by the Yalkut Shimoni, until the age of 130.

The moral of the story is to never give up. We need to hold onto our dreams, our aspirations and our hopes, especially when it comes to finding the right mate in life. In the merit of the daughters of Tzelafchad, may Hashem bless us to see those dreams and hopes fulfilled as speedily as possible.

By Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg


Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic clinical psychologist in private practice. He is the president of the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club of NY/NJ. He leads the Summit Avenue Shabbos gemara shiur and minyan in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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