Sunday, August 25, 2013

Mother of Life

As we all know, when we daven for somebody who is suffering in ill-health or in other trouble, we refer to the person as son or daughter of the mother’s name – Yoseph ben Rochel, or Dinah bas Leah – not using the father’s name, which is what a person is normally called. The reason is that we want to evoke G-d’s maternal side, as it were, to “remind” Him of the particular trait of rachamim – mercy – that is a mother’s territory. The word rachamim derives from rechem, the word for womb, which is of course the most uniquely maternal of all bodily organs, and the seat of the emotion of mercy.

If I have carried you in my womb, you are for all eternity connected to me by ties stronger than death, and nothing that ever happens to either you or me can erase the loving, tender mercy that I feel for you; your helpless cry as you emerged from my womb will for all eternity resonate in my ears and my heart, and make me want to clasp you to my breast at your slightest sigh; as long as there is breath in my body I will care for you, child of my womb, and love you and happily give up anything in the world, including that breath, that you should live and be happy.

That is the feeling of a mother. That is the feeling we want Hashem to remember. He is our Mother and we need His rachamim, His rechem-ness. Interestingly, the word for womb in my mother tongue would literally translate to English as “life-mother” – which very vividly describes what the rechem is - in a sense, it is a description of Hashem Himself.

And now comes what I believe to be my very own little newsflash. (Of course I can’t be sure that nobody else has ever had this thought, but I have never read it or heard it said.)

It goes like this: Whenever a person is, G-d forbid, ill or in distress – in the normal scope of things, who suffers the most? Usually the mother; at least I know all you mothers out there will agree with me! However pained or frightened or anguished the person might be, it is hard to imagine that the pain, the fear, and the anguish of the mother is not exponentially worse. After all, do we not extrapolate the sobbing sounds of the Teruah (the ninefold staccato blasts of the Shofar) from the heart-rending sobs of the mother of Sisera*; not from the sobs of the man himself; nor from those of his wife, or his child.

My point is that when we mention in our prayer the mother of a sufferer, we are including her, and consequently davening for her as well; praying that the patient, or the prisoner, or the victim, together with the one who suffers with him, and for him, should receive from the Mother of All Life, the King of Rachamim, a healing balm for all their agony.

And may we all, in the words of the Navi Yeshayah – the prophet Isaiah – be “carried on a shoulder and dandled on knees; like a man whose mother consoled him...”.

Shalom Uv'racha!

The Mother of Sisera Looking Out the Window 
By Albert Joseph Moore, English painter,1841-1893

* Through the window she gazed; Sisera's mother peered through the window. "Why is his chariot delayed in coming? Why are the hoofbeats of his carriages so late?" 
Shofetim (Judges) 5:28

The whole story about how Sisera, the cruel commander of the Cana'anite army, was killed by our Jewish heroine Yael is found in Shofetim, chapter 4.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

How I Got Married - Part 3

Some Shidduch Advice for Late Bloomers

And again - just to make sure you are aware of this IMPORTANT NOTE: Some of the comments below may seem uncomplimentary to my husband, but don’t let that fool you! He is a tzaddik and I greatly respect him. I have received his permission and blessing to publish this text, because he understands that any drastic expressions in this article were written only in the hope of being helpful to persons who are suffering. And also to get a few laughs.

5.      He’s Not Your Type? – So What!
A friend of mine once passed on to me some good advice that she had received, and I will now pass it on to you: Imagine that you are looking at a photo of your future dream zivug. Carefully study every detail of the picture. Really get into it – all the character traits of this person, all the special things that make this the most wonderful person in the world! Now, tear up that photo – because this person doesn’t exist, and that is not the one you will marry!

The thing is: you are not the expert on what you need – your Maker is! You may be attracted to a certain type – but that isn’t necessarily the type that’s good for you, or that will make you happy. You may think you need to get certain things from a spouse; or conversely, you may think that you can’t possibly put up with this or that. This is all very well – I’m not saying that you have bad judgment, but your judgment is human; your frame of reference is human, of this world, and therefore inherently limited. In your search for certain criteria, you may be completely overlooking the deeper, hidden, spiritual needs of your neshamah, your soul.

No, I’m not talking about anything that a therapist could help you figure out; this is not about psychology – it is about what takes place in the realm of the spirit. I am referring to what Hashem, your Creator, knows about you. He put you together; He knows what needs tinkering with; and He has the right mechanic for your soul – if only you will open the door when he – or He – knocks.

The first time I met my husband I knew he was not for me. I knew it! Not my type. Talks too much. Don’t like his looks (though it should be said that in wider circles he is considered quite the handsome guy!). Pleasant enough, maybe, but – no, not my type. But as I came to like the man, so I came to like his looks. The chattering I got used to. Who listens, anyway? Some of the traits I had davened for I didn’t get; instead I got other, more important traits that I hadn’t even thought to ask for! The funny thing is, he is still not my type – but I love him. And what’s more – over the years I have come to realize that he is my neshamah mechanic straight from Hashem’s Yellow Pages. Now, if I could only make him understand that I was sent to perfect his neshamah too…

May you be zoche to stand under the chuppah with your true zivug!
(Image from
6.      Yes – You Must Be Desperate!
How many times have I heard – and said myself, in the past – “I’m not desperate; if the right one comes along I’ll get married”. If this is how you are thinking – then I’m sorry, but the right one will not come along, and you will not get married! You have to be desperate – how else to dare the plunge into something that might not be what you had anticipated? I also believe that many late bloomers carry within their hearts a measure of fear, acknowledged or not, as the case may be, and the desperation must be strong enough to overcome that fear! If you are not desperate, there is a risk you’ll become complacent. In constant pain, but complacent.

Another story: This young woman isn’t even so young anymore. For reasons that may have made sense initially, twenty years ago, she lives as a boarder with a large family. The first time I met her, nine years ago, I knew she would never get married as long as she remained in this situation, and so far, nebech, I have not been proven wrong. How do I know? Because many years ago, when I was a newcomer in this country, I lived for some time – not as a boarder, but as a caregiver – closely together with another family. I wasn’t exactly a family member but I was part of a larger context. There were people around; I wasn’t lonely. There were men coming from shul at the appointed times; they weren’t my men, but I still experienced that – vicarious! – sense of satisfaction you get when a man walks in the door and it’s time for Kiddush, or Havdoloh, or kashering the curtains, or something… There were many similar factors, which all contributed to giving me a false sense of belonging with somebody. It was very subtle, and I was barely aware of it at the time, but I know that it was so, and it prevented desperation.

This may sound harsh, and please don’t be offended, but it is a reality: If you are a late bloomer, you may need to expose yourself to the full, unadulterated pain of your loneliness – only that way will you experience such a degree of desperation that you absolutely must get married, no matter what. You must be desperate enough to be able to give up all your pre-conceived notions of what marital happiness should look like. You must be desperate enough to be able to daven, like I finally did: “Please Hashem, I don’t care who my zivug is, I don’t care what he’s like, what he has or doesn’t have, or what he looks like – just bring him, whoever he may be!” Once I was able to say that, and mean it, things began to happen.

“But I don’t want to settle”, I hear you say, “I have waited so long and suffered so much I can’t take just ANYBODY after all this – I mean, THAT is what I have been waiting for all these years?! Look at the people I have said no to already - now I should say yes to this one?” Oh, the horrifying specter of “settling”! Let me tell you something: it feels good to be settled. Okay – I know that is not exactly what you meant, but that is how I think you should look at it. “Settling” means that you accept Hashem’s plan for you – and that is a good thing! And believe me – you may be very pleasantly surprised.

Let me say it again: as long as you insist on making up the rules for what kind of a zivug you should have, Hashem can’t help you. He has someone in store for you, but you must be prepared to accept THAT ONE – not the product of your own imagination. I’m not telling you to marry and be miserable, chas vesholom, I’m telling you that happiness is sometimes found in a different shape, and in a different place, than you would think possible.

After we had gotten engaged, my choson and I discovered that we had many contact points; my friends knew his friends, and theoretically there were many people who could have set us up with each other. Obviously nobody had thought it made sense – because “on paper” it didn’t (and still doesn’t) make sense. “Only Hashem could have put this shidduch together!”, one of my acquaintances burst out in spontaneous amazement. There were many issues to discover and deal with; in all honesty, there were difficulties, and there were days during our first married year that I feared I might have made a mistake. Would I have married this man if I hadn’t been desperate?! No, I certainly wouldn’t – and I would have missed out on great happiness and a good life with a good man who, strange as it may seem, has been tailor-made for me by our Creator. (And, obviously, I am his perfect ezer k'negdo - the helpmeet against him!)

Dear Late Bloomer, may Hashem bless you with success in your efforts at finding your true zivug!
And invite me to the wedding.

Shalom Uv'racha!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

How I Got Married - Part 2

Some Shidduch Advice for Late Bloomers

The introduction to this article appeared in last week's post. If you want to skip it, just don't skip this IMPORTANT NOTE: Some of the comments below may seem uncomplimentary to my husband, but don’t let that fool you! He is a tzaddik and I greatly respect him. I have received his permission and blessing to publish this text, because he understands that any drastic expressions in this article were written only in the hope of being helpful to persons who are suffering. And also to get a few laughs.

3.      What You Are Doing Isn’t Working – So Do Something Different!
Do you insist on only going through a shadchan – or do you refuse to have anything to do with one? Are you determined to date only learners – or only earners? Won’t you give the time of day to anybody who isn’t at least 1” taller than you? Does she have to be a size 4? Do you demand to see a photo before agreeing to a date? Are you making yourself inaccessible? Or too accessible?

Whatever your dating procedure might be, it clearly isn’t working. You need to do something different; stretch yourself and go outside your comfort zone. NEVER, EVER, do anything immoral or self-destructive – or against the Torah in any way! – but don’t be afraid to go a bit against the grain, to reverse your usual order of things, to try another approach or different tactics, even if it feels uncomfortable and “wrong”.

For ten years I went on dates whenever I got an offer, I cried and davened, but nothing worked out.  A Rebbetzin friend of mine was pushing me to try internet dating, but I resisted for a long time. I didn’t want to expose myself to potential weirdoes; I didn’t think it was tznius, modest, for a woman to be in such a public forum – it just offended all my sensibilities. She kept insisting that today’s unusual shidduch crisis called for unusual measures; that what might have worked twenty years ago was not effective enough today. (And that was ten years ago!)

Finally, just to shut her up, I posted my profile on a reputable Orthodox dating site. “But that’s it,” I thought, “I’m there – let Mr. Right come and find me. I refuse to initiate anything – it is not derech nashim, the way of refined women, to pursue a partner.” (Not to mention that it would be totally against ‘The Rules’ to run after a man!) However, I was persuaded to change my attitude in this also. I made a search on the dating website, got some profiles and sent out a few emails. A couple of days later, emboldened and excited, I did a new search, widening my criteria (a crucially important factor for success!), and sent out a few more approaches. One of the replies came from the man who is now my husband.

An additional, funny twist to the story is that his reply to me was full of spelling errors. (He is an excellent, creative, quirky writer, just not a great speller.) Normally, a mail with that kind of spelling would have sent its author straight into the “reject” pile, but I had decided to go against the grain, to do the opposite of my normal modus operandi, so I gave him a chance. (What luck!) That should demonstrate very clearly how important it is to Do Something Different.

The tent of romance is beckoning!
(Image from
4.      Don’t Be Too Quick to Say No – Make a 3-Date-Minimum Rule
First impressions are not always right – or, they don’t tell the whole story. Nerves, fear of rejection, work stress, coming down with a cold – dozens of factors can get in the way of a person presenting himself in the right way. Unless you see something really off-putting in a date, don’t say no. (By off-putting, I would generally mean something like bad character, anger and/or violence, an abusive personality, addiction, meanness.) Good character in a potential shidduch is the only thing that is unequivocally non-negotiable. Most other things you can compromise about, but never that. And good character in itself can make up for many other things that might be missing. Even if you feel indifferent initially, it may be worth giving it a further try (obviously that indifference should begin to turn into interest at some point, otherwise it is no use), but as long as you are not repulsed, remember that there can be hidden treasures under the surface. Every diamond begins as a lump of coal.

I didn’t begin to be really interested in this guy who was pursuing me until we were on the fifth date. (But then!) I just accepted dates anyway, because, let’s face it – I was out to get married, no matter what! He seemed decent enough; I had nothing more important to do, so why not? (He told me later that he had been tearing his hair out, wondering what he was doing wrong.) Finally, pulling himself together, he switched on the charm full blast. Aha!

The last installment of this article will appear, IY"H, next week.

Shalom Uv'racha!

Monday, August 5, 2013

How I Got Married - Part 1

Some Shidduch Advice for Late Bloomers

Tragically, we are living in times when more and more men and women, young and not so young, are finding it difficult, or impossible, to get married, and are facing the prospect of a lifetime of involuntary solitude. For many years, I used to count myself among those women. After an early divorce I lived as a single mother for over twenty years – ten of them yearning; another ten actively seeking to get married.

With the help of Heaven I finally succeeded, and along the way I came to a few insights that I would like to offer here, in the hope that they might help other “late bloomers” to get married. It is a sensitive subject, fraught with anguish, and I must apologize in advance if even one word causes any reader pain, which is obviously not my intention. The intention is rather to shake you up a little, and possibly change the angle from which you are considering your predicament. The article is based on my own experiences and personal observations, and I would readily concede that there are many possible scenarios, obstacles and conditions that have not been addressed here. Therefore, I don’t pretend that these ideas are a cure-all for every situation. However, I believe that much of the below applies in many cases. (If I seem to be writing mainly for a female audience it is not intentionally so – I think all the principles apply equally to men.)

I offer these insights in all humility, knowing that ultimately all salvation comes from Hashem. Nevertheless, we are obligated to make every effort to allow Him to help us. We must hold out a vessel, into which He may pour out the blessing!

IMPORTANT NOTE: Some of the comments below may seem uncomplimentary to my husband, but don’t let that fool you! He is a tzaddik and I greatly respect him. I have received his permission and blessing to publish this text, because he understands that any drastic expressions in this article were written only in the hope of being helpful to persons who are suffering. And also to get a few laughs.

1.      Don’t (Just) Look for the Right Person – BE the Right Person!
Under this heading there are two aspects to consider. The first one is this: Even if you meet the right person you won’t realize, unless you are the right one for him. It could be that your zivug – your other half, the one Hashem has set aside for you – has a shortcoming of some kind, great or small. If you are not kind or patient or accepting enough to overlook this shortcoming you won’t be able to get married.

We have all heard the story of the young man who complained to his Rebbe that he couldn’t find the right girl, whereupon the Rebbe, gazing into the World of Truth replied: “Oh, you’ve already met her, but you thought her nose was too big.” This young man didn’t care about being the right person; to get married you must do so. Of course there are limits – I’m not saying you have to be ready to marry an unemployed, chain-smoking vegetarian with ADD, but you must be someone who is willing to overlook imperfection. Otherwise, how can you expect your spouse to overlook yours?

The second aspect is, of course, that you must be somebody that your zivug would want to be married to. You yourself have a desire to be married to somebody kind, generous, good-humored and adorable. Your zivug wants that too!

Whether you are a man or a woman, make yourself attractive and marriageable. Obviously, you need to address external things, like losing weight, updating your wardrobe or refining your grooming routines (ahem – gentlemen?!), but don’t forget to work ceaselessly on internal matters, such as your character, your mood and your midos. Do everything in your power to become clearly distinguishable as a “good catch”! Be cheerful and compassionate – try to be happy for your friends if they find their zivugim before you do. This can be extremely hard for a person who has been alone a long time. It hurts very much to be alone; repeated disappointments can erode one’s spirit, and it is easily done to slip into self-pity and bitterness. But fight against it! Remember that few things are more unattractive than bitterness.

I happen to know of a young woman, by now somewhat into her thirties, with a significantly younger sister who fell in love practically on her first date (“permission” to date had been grudgingly granted by the elder sister “but only to date; not to get engaged” if you can credit it), and got married very quickly and happily at barely twenty. The older girl now had a choice open to her: she could have rejoiced with her younger sister, and in the process gathered z’chus – spiritual merit – that would have put her alongside Rochel Imeinu. In so doing she would have made herself into an utterly lovable person – and into a most desirable marriage partner.  

Instead, she chose to give free reign to her pain, nourishing her bitterness and anger. During the sister’s engagement period, she virtually terrorized her family, freely releasing her envy, jealousy and resentment, forbidding them to mention the choson’s name in her presence, and going about with a permanent scowl on her face. Nobody says her pain wasn’t real and heartbreaking; nobody says it wasn’t a terrible tribulation for her – but frankly, what young man would want to marry a girl with such a personality?

Don’t be her. Join the Marines and “be all that you can be!”

2.      Do You Have Baggage? Believe in Your Own Worth!
Most people above the age of seven have baggage. It is called life. Sometimes the baggage can be a bit heavier than usual, and it is easy to believe that this will be an obstacle to marriage. Unfortunately there are many people who will try to make you think that because of your baggage you are not good marriage material. Don’t believe them – believe in you! (But of course, depending on what your story is, anything that can be rectified should be fixed, so that you can demonstrate an improved record!) It is important to maintain a conviction that you deserve to be happy, to be loved. That conviction alone – if it is based on a spiritual truth, not on arrogance – will greatly contribute to your attractiveness.

This is where you are going! 
The Chuppah represents the choson's home - 
his tent - into which he invites the kallah to 
come and live with him.
(Image from
One of the top-three messages of the entire Torah is this: it doesn’t matter where you are coming from – it only matters where you are going! As long as you are working on yourself with honesty, that is all Hashem requires of you. At a certain point you will be ready, and when you meet your true zivug the baggage will become insignificant, not because “you’ll discover that there is something a bit wrong with him also”, as a well-meaning, but stupid, former (!) friend once said to me, but because you will see that you are two pieces of a puzzle. “Our neuroses match perfectly”, as Woody Allen said. Not exactly so, but you may very well find that your own life experiences have given you a certain wisdom that makes you particularly qualified for this relationship; that everything you have gone through in your lifetime has led you to this moment.

This being said, it is important to consider the concept of correct timing. Don’t speak up too soon; the shidduch might not be right anyway – for other reasons – and you now have yet another person who knows a little too much about you, and who might spread it around in a way that is not productive for you. When you know that there is a real chance that this could lead in the right direction – then you may need to reveal yourself, step by step.

On our sixth date, when some mutual tender affections had become apparent, my future husband revealed a particularly juicy bit of baggage. Had he spoken sooner it would have been the end; as it was I staggered – but rallied. I told him about myself in stages, saving the best bit for the moment after he proposed to me. His reply was, “Do you think I hadn’t figured that out already?”...

More to follow next week...

Shalom Uv'racha!