By Rabbi Yechiel Rhine
It is hard to believe that only two short months ago, before corona hit, my dining room was just that, a room where our family dined. A clear, unused table that we dressed up lekavod Shabbos sat in the center of the room. Two curios and a buffet balanced out the rest of the space. Though empty all week, when Shabbos arrived, it all came to life.
Now, this same room has become a central hub in our home. In one corner, there is a kiddie section where my youngest daughter has set up her virtual school. She taped her neat call-in schedules to the wall, stacked her books in one pile, and her siddur and chumash in another. My bar-mitzvah aged son claimed half of the table for his binders and books. I can’t kvetch about repossession, though, since I claimed ad chatzi hashulchan with my sefarim and tallis/tefillin bag. An older daughter back from seminary is running around with a mask and gloves, shopping for people who are homebound, and another daughter is locked up in her room with a double screen working virtually for her company. My eishis chayil is growing accustomed to sharing her space in what used to be her private domain for most of every day. Suffice it to say, life is now different.
History has shown time and again, when the Yidden are backed up against the wall, we step up to the plate. At our core, we are a nation of people who have incredible inner strength and emunah; we have connected to Hashem and each other in the most trying of times. In the first weeks of social distancing, people were sharing cute jokes and pictures, but the light-heartedness has eased. Now, people are thinking. People are growing. As we have had more time to process and contemplate our situations, our nation is once again looking inward, conducting our individual cheshbonos about where we can improve, about what Hashem wants from us. People have shared with me how they have improved their davening, saying every word of every section carefully. Chavrusahs and shiurim are continuing over the phone and through Zoom. Our Jewish children are learning and davening. Communities have unified, offering multiple chessed opportunities to their struggling members. Tehillim groups are filling up. Families are bonding and spending time with each other in ways that they never did before. The list goes on and on.
For decades I have had the zechus to be involved in shidduchim in many capacities, directly as a shadchan and as a mentor to shadchanim and individuals. I have worked with people from a variety of backgrounds and with a variety of personalities, and am currently the director of a new soon-to-be launched shidduch initiative with the Agudas Yisroel. In these capacities, I am witnessing changes that coronavirus has forced upon our dating and engaged individuals. When people ask me what’s going on with shidduchim, do they really expect me to say that it’s business as usual? Of course not! It is a whole different world out there, shidduchim included. Hotel lobbies and restaurants have been exchanged for backyards and Zoom screens. Vorts are now drive-by parades and chasunahs are intimate celebrations in picturesque yards and locales. Besides for these very real physical differences, there are just as real emotional differences as well.
In every nisayon, corona included, there are varying reactions. These reactions reveal a person’s nature, their core. The worriers worry more. The baa’ley emunah gain more emunah. The growers grow, and the kvetchers kvetch.
By default, my job introduces me to many kinds of people. I speak with daters, parents and shadchanim from all different places. No matter their background or how “in-town” or “out of town” they are, there seem to be four typical reactions to this nisayon.
One approach involves people who embrace their nisyonos and grow from it. They aren’t necessarily excited about such challenges, but these are individuals who recognize their new reality and the limitations that are now placed on them. They work hard to focus on what is important and learn to shift their perspective, keeping in mind that this is exactly where Hakadosh Baruch Hu wants them to be.
One such couple I worked with recently exhibited this behavior. I had been working with them throughout their dating process. Their chassunah was scheduled during this time and difficult decisions needed to be made about what to do. The couple kept themselves updated with all the government regulations, understood the medical concerns and asked sha’alos to poskim. There was no easy or “right” choice.
They met to discuss their limited options. The chosson approached this conversation with the mentality that he wanted his kallah to be happy; whatever choice she would make, he would fully support. He recognized this nisayon from Hashem and chose to use it as an opportunity to be a mevatar. The kallah, as well, though initially upset and disappointed, strengthened her bitachon in Hashem and committed to fully accepting whatever Hashem sends their way. She focused on the positives of her situation and wholly believed that she was doing what Hashem wanted her to do.
After their conversation, the chosson called me, very moved by her growth and maturity. He was so affected by his kallah’s recognition that this situation is from Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and he gained a new appreciation for his kallah’s commitment to him and her relationship to Hashem. He became emotional when he said that he recognized that the whole chassunah celebration was not as important as the quality of their relationship and sensitivity to each other. He never dreamt that they would grow so much in ruchnius and so close to each other in such a short time.
Shortly after I hung up with him, the kallah called me as well. She was choked up and expressed how lucky she was to be marrying such a special boy.
It was beautiful to listen to the two of them. A few weeks ago, they were just a ‘regular’ couple. Now, they were anything but ‘regular’. As I listened to her appreciation of her chosson and her gratitude to Hashem for putting her through this nisayon, I must admit, I had to dry my eyes a few times. It is clear that this couple understood their role in this nisayon, to recognize that it is from Hashem and to use it as an opportunity for personal growth.
The second approach consists of the ‘expectant and, therefore, very disappointed’ type. This approach usually comes along with a mentality that things must be a certain way. These individuals are not entitled, rather, they are inflexible. They have certain expectations and if it turns out differently, they find it challenging to accept. They behave automatically, checking off imaginary boxes of societal expectations. They have never paused to consider their own ideas or perspectives in these matters. That’s not to say that they aren’t capable of doing so; it’s that they’ve never had to, so they are unaware of their own strengths. They prefer the comforts of the “norm”.
An example of this type of dating couple is the one who needs to go to a restaurant for the third date, but only for dessert. The ‘fun date’ is the fourth and the steak restaurant for the fifth. They must exchange numbers on the sixth and practice saying the other person’s name before the seventh. It’s all about motions and externals.
They never really take the time to build a meaningful relationship with their future spouse because they never really took the time to get to know themselves! They are following protocols until there is forced change. This type of couple is having a very challenging time during corona. They were anchored with a false sense of security and have become unstable when their anchor loosened.
However, these individuals, though it will be a challenge, also have the internal strength to grow. They need to shift gears, reconnect to themselves and their values, and will discover how much more enriching this experience can be for them.
The third approach is one of entitlement. Unlike the second approach, there is an attitude – an edge. These people believe that they absolutely deserve things to be a certain way. Perhaps nobody ever promised anything to them. Perhaps they just assumed, but they are positive that they better have what they are entitled to. When corona came, these people were introduced to a very harsh reality.
Then there is the fourth approach of those who won’t even try. They see the reality and have resigned themselves to it. They will wait until the world is ready for their dreams to come true. They have a very difficult time with change. They have a difficult time with shattered dreams. What if they were to date? It may lead to engagement. But then they wouldn’t have a regular vort or chassunah. They draw the mistaken conclusion that it is better not to date at all than to date under these conditions.
Unfortunately, corona does not seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. Yet, the world keeps on turning. The four approaches will continue; some will use it as an opportunity to grow closer to Hashem, their bashert, and themselves, while others will get stuck in the nisayon and will struggle to see the good. As these singles move on, the ones who overcame their struggles feel satisfied. The ones who are still working, have ups and downs. The ones who haven’t started, feel empty. They do not have their dream, nor do they have their growth.
From all four approaches, though, there is potential for tremendous growth from the nisayon, but the further removed a couple is from the ‘Approach One’ mentality, the longer and more difficult it is to overcome.
Chazal say, “Nichnas yayin, yotza sod” translated as, “when wine enters a person, secrets come out.” Sod is not just any secret
s; it is really the essence of the person without restrictions.
Corona is very similar. When corona entered, people’s reactions showed a person’s “sod”. When the nisayon hits, you only have as much ammunition as you had until the nisayon – unless you create more during the nisayon.
Everyone can achieve greater heights, but for some who started further back, it will take more work to reach the same finish line.
May all the singles be zoche to maximize their potential and build beautiful households in Klal Yisroel.
To reach Rabbi Yechiel Rhine, Director of Compass Shidduch Network, a division of Agudas Yisroel: T. 929-210-1524, firstname.lastname@example.org