Reb Elya Lopian on the Shidduch Crisis
One of the highlights of Sukkos for me is the chance to visit a wise mentor in his sukkah and to be able to float from one subject to another without the usual limitations of time.
On this year's visit, I mentioned the opening story in Mishpacha's holiday fiction supplement Calligraphy by Michal Marcus. Both my wife and I had been intrigued by the story of a young couple who almost fail to recognize their suitability for one another because each has been instructed to present themselves as perfectly conventional in every way. Neither fits the bill nor is seeking a spouse who does, even as the both try to avoid providing any clues as to their individuality.
It struck me that authoress Michal Marcus might have put her finger on at least one cause of the spate of early divorces: Both young men and women have been told to present themselves as something other than they truly are. But that cover-up can only last so long. And when the real person emerges, the other side feels that he or she has been deceived.
But at one level, the star-crossed couple were way ahead of so many young people in shidduchim today: At least they knew who they were and that they did not fit the cookie-cutter mold. And they were not looking for a partner based on being able to check every box on their parents' checklist: the right summer camp, right yeshiva/seminary, right zip code, etc.
Not like a young man who recently consulted with a friend of mine who counsels young people in shidduchim. Asked what he was looking for, he could think of nothing other than "very good-looking," even after repeated prodding. Nor could he think of anything that he had to offer other than: "I think I'm a good-looking guy." Good luck to him making it out of the first six weeks of marriage.
Over the years, my "rebbe" has shared a number of stories of Reb Elya Lopian from his days in Kfar Chassidim precisely on the Marcus's point – the degree to which social expectations and concerns about what others will say, either positively or negatively, muck up our shidduchim process.
An older bochur once approached Reb Elya and complained that Hashem had not yet found him his basherte, even though He is described as fully occupied in making matches. Reb Elya assured him that indeed Hashem had a proper match for him. But the problem was that he was demanding from Hashem something that He had never undertaken – to create an ezer ke'nedgo who could not only bring out his potential to actualization but also win the praises of his roommate. He would have to choose, Reb Elya suggested, between focusing on the proper match for him or winning the oohs and aahs of his friends when the shidduch is announced in the yeshiva dining room.
This year my friend shared an even more pointed story from Reb Elya. A bochur once consulted with Reb Elya to discuss his concerns about a particular shidduch. He began by mentioning that the young woman in question had a brother with Downs Syndrome. Reb Elya replied curtly, "Not hereditary. Next." But the young man's concerns were apparently not allayed, for the next week he returned to Reb Elya and again mentioned the brother with Downs Syndrome. Again, Reb Elya dismissed the concern on the grounds that it was not hereditary.
But the young man still did not look satisfied. So Reb Elya told him, "Your concern is not with the Downs Syndrome. Your concern is that somehow the brother with a disability makes this not a 'shpitz shidduch.' If your goal is a shpitz shidduch, I can't help you."
A half century ago, bochurim were looking for "shpitz" shidduchim – something that looked great on paper – and worrying about their roommates being impressed with their choices. But there is one area, my friend pointed out, where norms have changed, and not for the better: discretion in speaking of one's shidduchim. He recalled how Reb Elya once told another bochur to consult with him about a particular young woman who came from the same relatively small Jewish community as he did. The bochur in question was fairly horrified at the thought of discussing a young woman with another bochur, and he absolutely would not speak to him anywhere near the yeshiva, but only on a walk around the neighborhood.
In those days, bochurim would not think of getting dressed for a shidduch in the dorm, and would tremble in horror at the thought of being seeing on a shidduch, even by another bochur similarly situated. The home of a trusted avreich whose discretion could be assured was the most common venue for meetings.
All that has changed radically, at least in some yeshivos. Now, it's just as likely when a bochur receives a young woman's name that he will take a tour of the beis medrash to get "the raid" on her. A girl's "name in shidduchim" – something like class rank – plays too important a role in the decisions whether to meet or having met whether to proceed.
Occasionally there are benefits from discussions between bochurim, as when one bochur recommends a young woman he met as perfect for his friend, thereby implicitly acknowledging that there is no ranking and that a young woman may be ideal for one young man and not for another.
But more often than not, the discussions about eligible young woman reflect a lack of confidence about one's own individuality or even a self-knowledge of what is unique about oneself. For if one really believed sufficiently in his own uniqueness, how a friend interacted with a particular young woman would be totally irrelevant since no two bochurim are the same and therefore the way they relate to someone else will not be the same.
But it is not just bochurim who worry about what their friends will think of a particular shidduch rather than focusing of the only relevant question is: Is this young woman right for me? At least as often, it is the alleged adults in the room who become trapped in social expectations or obsess about what others will think of their children's shidduch.
The morning I visited my friend in his sukkah, he was particularly exercised about a conversation the previous evening with a former student of his, now the mother of a daughter just starting shidduchim after completing post-high school seminary. She told him how her daughter had met a young man whom she liked very much. But when the daughter had discussed the shidduch with the head of the seminary in which she learned, she was told that the yeshiva in which the young man learned was not up to the standards of graduates of "our seminary."
The confused mother did not know how to proceed. My friend responded by telling her a story of one of the most accomplished women that he knows, who has long since entered the ranks of "older singles." Early in her dating career, she had been introduced to a young man from a yeshiva known for its independent approach to learning and life goals with whom she felt very compatible. And she too had been given the same message about that yeshiva not being suitable for graduates of "our seminary." Today she is filled with regret over having let concerns about the "proper yeshiva" take precedence of the urgings of her own heart and mind. "So don't come back to me in six years looking for sympathy if, chas ve'shalom, your daughter is not married," my friend told his caller.
It is one thing to tell a very bright girl that it is crucial for a wife to respect her husband, but to put a blanket rejection on every student in a particular yeshiva because it graduates are "baalebatish" or any other reason reflects a foolish obsession with externals.
The entire shidduchim process is fraught with enough inherent difficulties that those involved and their parents should at least avoid self-inflicted wounds.
Hillary Clinton's naked cynicism in now opposing the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, which she actively promoted over 45 times as Secretary of State and described as one of the signal achievements of her tenure in her memoir Hard Choices. "If we don't get the best, strongest deal . . . there should be no deal," she now says. Too bad she didn't reach the same conclusion about the Iranian nuclear deal, but that, of course, was supported by the left-wing of her party.
Clinton's change of mind with respect to TPP aught the Washington Post editorial board members by surprise and left them tut-tutting about her "transparently political" decision. But it should not have occasioned any surprise. It is of a piece with her recent announcement that she now opposes the Keystone Pipeline, after years of dodging the issue, and despite a State Department Study conducted when she was Secretary of State that found the Keystone Pipeline would have minimal environmental impact. Actually, it will have a positive impact: The Alberta oil is coming out of the ground; the only question is whether it will be transported by rail or pipeline. The latter has a far better safety record and thus far less chance of causing economic or environmental damage.
These naked reversals to play to the ascendant left-wing of the Democratic party and billionaire environmentalists recall Charles Krauthammer's comment in 2008, explaining why he preferred Hillary to Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee: Hillary has no principles, and thus will occasionally do the right thing; Obama has principles, and they are all wrong.
Matt Yglesias, an influential left-wing blogger, comes from the opposite end of the political spectrum from Krauthammer, but he agrees that Clinton's cynicism is actually a plus from his point of view. After her reversal on TPP, Yglesias wrote, "From her adventures in cattle trading to . . . her email server, Clinton is clearly more comfortable than the average person with violating norms and operating in legal gray areas."
Hillary Clinton's naked cynicism in now opposing the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, which she actively promoted over 45 times as Secretary of State and described as one of the signal achievements of her tenure in her memoir Hard Choices has left the Washington Post editorial board tut-tutting about her "transparently political" decision.
It should not have. It is of a piece with her recent announcement that she opposes the Keystone Pipeline that a State Department Study conducted when she was Secretary of State found would have minimal environmental impact. Actually, it will have a positive impact: The Alberta oil is coming out of the ground; the only question is whether it will be transported by rail or pipeline. The latter has a far better safety record and far less chance of causing economic or environmental damage.
These naked reversals to play to the ascendant left-wing of the Democratic party and billionaire environmentalists recall Charles Krauthammer's support for Hillary over Barack Obama in 2008: Hillary, he wrote, has no principles, and thus will occasionally do the right thing; Obama has principles, and they are all wrong.
Matt Yglesias, a popular left-wing blogger, comes from the opposite end of the political spectrum from Krauthammer, but he agrees that Clinton's cynicism is actually a plus from his point of view. After her reversal on TPP, Yglesias wrote, "From her adventures in cattle trading to . . . her email server, Clinton is clearly more comfortable than the average person with violating norms and operating in legal gray areas."
And that devotion to winning at all costs, concludes Yglesias, is what makes her a perfect leader for the Left in the current moment of "permanent constitutional crisis: a person who cares more about results than process [i.e., procedural norms], who cares more about winning the battle than being well-liked, and a person who believes in asking what she can get away with rather than what would look best."
Has the progressive credo of the ends justifying the means ever been more perfectly distilled?