For a chance of pace, I thought I'd provide some shopping tips for after the Three Weeks. I'm convinced the marketplace is filled with great bargains, and I'd like to help others find them.
One area ripe for bargain-hunters is mitzvos? Let me give a few examples. A few years ago, the Israeli government sold off much of its stock of public housing. One tzedakah fund purchased apartments worth close to $100,000,000 for less than 10% of that amount and then made them available at unbelievable prices.
Admittedly most of us do not have an extra million dollars lying around. But suddenly apartments were available to poor families for between $5,000-$10,000 – a small fraction of their value. Those poor families did not have $5,000 either. But the mitzvah of helping a struggling a family realize a heretofore impossible dream of owning their own home was suddenly within reach of many. Every dollar contributed to such purchases paid off in benefits many times greater.
Last year, I wrote a column about Rabbi Aharon Betzalel, who was struggling to keep open a Talmud Torah in Kadima for children of ba'alei teshuva. At the time, he was reduced to personally collecting every night the money for gas to bring the rebbes to school the next morning and cleaning the floors himself.
Yet all he needed to put the Talmud Torah on a sound financial footing was enough money to make improvements in the physical plant necessary to gain recognition from the Education Ministry. Twenty thousand dollars from two or three donors who had never before heard of Rabbi Betzalel did the trick. Their contributions were leveraged to produce government funding of many times that amount annually.
Already, there are 140 students registered for next year, as compared to 80 this year. Rabbi Betzalel's biggest worry is no longer how he will make it through the day, but where to find 30,000 shekels for new furniture to accomodate the huge jump in the students.
Dov Brizel, the director of Yad Eliezer, spends a good deal of his time "selling" special mitzvos to a select group of friends looking for ways to help their fellow Jews in big ways. Last year, for instance, a social worker brought Brizel a case of a boy who had not been in school for five years since a bicycle accident knocked out his four front teeth. His family did not have the money for the dental work, and the boy was too embarrassed to go to school. (Don't ask how a boy could be out of school for five years without anyone noticing.)
Yad Eliezer was able to draw on its extensive chesed network to reduce the cost of the dental work by two-thirds, and Brizel easily sold off the "shares" in the remaining mitzvah. If only the case had been brought to his attention before the boy spent a five years secluded in his home.
The common element in all these "cheap" mitzvos was that the money donated paid off dividends many times greater than the amount contributed, even when measured in purely monetary terms.
SHIDDUCHIM is another area in which the market is full of bargains. The key here is to look where others hesitate for reasons having nothing to do with the likelihood that someone will make an excellent spouse. "Flaws" in ethnicity or the parents' status are a bargain-hunters delight. One of the gedolim of the previous generation took a ba'al teshuva for a son-in-law; he also happened to be the outstanding bochur in Eretz Yisrael at the time.
I know young men possessing such "imperfections" who refuse to consider a shidduch with young women with the same "imperfection." They say they are only being realistic, and sparing their children the same difficulties in shidduchim they have experienced. They forget that their difficulties may be largely self-inflicted – the result of their refusal to consider young women no less outstanding than them -- not to mention that Hashem relates to us as we relate to others.
Another hint: Drop all irrebuttable presumptions. If a young woman, for example, has proven herself in highly pressured situations, with a wide range of people, over a period of years, be prepared to overlook her parents' lack of marital harmony.
Often by dropping items four and five from our shidduchim "shopping" list one can maximize items one through three. That's not settling; it's setting priorities and deciding what is really most important in a spouse. In any event, the longer the list gets the more likely it is to resemble a smorgasbord of traits almost never found in tandem.
Of all the prime candidates for removal from the list none come more readily to mind than age. The norm has developed in America of yeshiva bochurim marrying girls just out of seminary four years younger than themselves. That age differential has been one contributing factor to the "shidduch crisis."
Mothers defend this minhag on the grounds that their 23-year-old sons would be overwhelmed by any girl over 19. If true, that would be a shtarke indictment of yeshiva education. It is not, as many mothers and their young sons have realized.
Not every young man in the market has suddenly become a Rabbi Shamshon Raphael Hirsch, who said of his choice of a wife four years older than he, "For what I have to accomplish in life I can't marry a child." But many are realizing that a more mature and tested young woman can be a big advantage. When I last wrote on this subject, I was inundated with letters from women testifying that, on average, the happiest marriages among their Bais Yaakov classmates were those who married slightly later.
Inspirational speaker Paysach Krohn has made the desirability of considering more mature young women a personal cause in recent years. And the North American Shiddich Initiative, which provides monetary incentives to shadchanim to make shidduchim for parties closer in age, has distributed $95,000 for 250 shidduchim in the last eight months alone. We are reaching a tipping point on this issue.
Armed with these "tips," lets go shopping for Tu B'Av.