Jan 6, 2011
Our Great Shidduch System
Shidduchim SOS: How fortunate are we to have the concept of shidduchim, and not (G-d forbid) the secular ideals of "boyfriend" and "girlfriend."
By LA bochur
I was speaking with my mashpia the other day. We were talking about the fact that this world is called an olam hasheker. People (unfortunately) prize doctors and actors before rebbeim and mashpim, law degrees mean much more than smicha certificates, and so on.
(An Israeli friend once commented to me, "Here, all the soldiers ride the bus for free. I always wondered why yeshiva bochurim don't get the same rate. After all, it is them who are the true defenders of the country...")
This got me thinking about the shidduch system we have in the Yiddishe velt. How fortunate are we to have the concept of shidduchim, and not (ch"v) the secular ideals of "boyfriends" and "girlfriends."
People who come from secular backgrounds ask me, "How can two people who have only met twice or three times agree to a lifelong relationship together? Wouldn't it make much more sense if they spent months, if not years, getting to know each other? Only after this takes place should they even consider marrying."
The truth is, if we were living in a perfect world, this would probably make sense. But this is an olam hasheker. Most things are not what they seem to be.
Why do you think the divorce rate is much higher today than it was years ago? There are undoubtedly many factors involved, but one of them is the fact that marriage partners become "disillusioned" after they marry.
Take, for example, Bill and Karla.
After years of dating, they feel ready to take the next step - marriage. After the wedding day, they start to realize how much they didn't have in common.
Bill likes to be cautious with his bank balance, while Karla is... erm, let's say, a little unconcerned. Karla wants the children to go to a private school, but Bill (who graduated from the public school system) insists that there's no point in throwing away tens of thousands of dollars for nearly the same education one could get for free.
The debates are endless, and less than five years later, they get a divorce.
Karla says, "I don't who Bill is. He wasn't the man I married."
Bill says, "Karla turned out to be so different. She wasn't the woman I thought would be my future spouse."
What happened here?
Bill and Karla, after being together for so long, became accustomed to the idea that they knew each other. If you had asked them at that point, they would have said that they knew each other "like the back of my palm." But did they really? Obviously not, from what happened after their marriage. They discovered a new side to their spouse ? a side that they had deluded themselves into nonexistence.
They always related to each other as "my girlfriend" or "my boyfriend", and not as the one who would be their partner in all life-changing decisions, such as raising children and managing a household. After they were married and the dynamics changed, they found themselves in an unwanted relationship.
Simply put, they were so enmeshed in their own "olam hasheker" that it became their reality. And when they stumbled on to the actual reality, they became disillusioned. And they therefore wanted out.
Baruch Hashem, in our world, the shidduch system helps to avoid such issues. When two people meet, they have no illusions of knowing the other person intimately. They are not illusioning themselves from the start, creating their own olam hasheker that will be destroyed one day in the marriage. They are entering a marriage knowing that it is a learning experience that never ends.
But this leads me to my point - do we really live up to this ideal? Do we really marry our chossons and kallahs with the clear understanding that part of building a bais neeman b'Yisroel is to be flexible and anticipative of the other's differences? Or do we illusion ourselves into unanticipated situations?
Shanah rishonah is a special time for the chosson and kallah to get to know each other, and it is also an opportunity for them to draw closer to each other for the true selves they are - and not for what they imagined the other to be.
Here's a clear-cut horaah that everybody can learn from this: when one is looking for a spouse, one should always keep in mind to be open to any unanticipated elements in the other. And this is all the more so important when one is married to that person.
While I am not discounting the (very) important need to make sure that a couple is compatible, I think that we should not put too much emphasis on the details, such as "Is she an adventurous person?" or "How does he feel about Yechi?" In doing so, we are making ourselves feel that we truly know the other person, when we actually don't.
It's truly impossible to get to know another person completely (even after decades of marriage), so why should we insist on doing so even before we are married? Stick with the general, important points of compatibility, and allow shanah rishonah to take care of it.
There's plenty of sheker out there ? let's not add to it. And as the Rebbe Rashab would put it, "If you fool yourself, what have you accomplished by fooling a fool?"