Updated: Sep 27
“What happened?” I asked trying not to let my shock change the tenor of my voice.
She shrugged. “I guess it was Hashem’s will. After my first churban – bayis, it took me ten years to recover. And now, as much as I thought this would endure – here we are, churban bayis sheini. But at least I don’t have to worry anymore, right? Weren’t we promised that bayis shlishi is eternal?”
I so admired her, this strong friend and her emunah despite the heartbreak. But being the one on the outside, I couldn’t help thinking, are there signs? Is there any way to prevent the churban? After all, if we know that even the Bais Ha’mikdash wouldn’t have been demolished had we not goofed so badly, surely there must be some significant error that is avoidable to prevent another family edifice from crumbling.
And as someone pivoted on the crossroads of shidduchim; coaching singles, teaching kallahs, interfacing with mothers who are trying to help their children marry, hearing the couples who come to my office with their struggles – I believe that both sides are true.
Yes, sometimes the heartbreak is somehow part of Hashem’s grand plan, and we are being asked to blossom and grow from beneath the dark cold earth. And sometimes we need to bravely confront the red flags that flap wildly in front of our faces, identify their message, and respond to their urging.
Here’s an example:
Mr. Wiser was impressed; excellent family, highly respected and brilliant young man, runs a gemach in the yeshivah to help other boys, teaches a chaburah on erev Shabbos - surely his daughter, Suri would be head over heels. But since the young man learned in a Yeshiva that was accessible, Mr. Wiser decided that he might as well drop in at the bais midrash towards the end of seder to have a quick look and see young Michael for himself.
“Which one did you say is Michael?” Mr. Wiser inquired.
“That one, on the tall side, trim beard…”
Mr. Wiser eyed his man, and made himself invisible a few seats behind.
“That’s not the p’shat!” he heard someone banging on a table.
Mr. Wiser squinted, was that Michael?
“Well, see the Tosfos for yourself,” Michael’s chavrusa answered gently.
“You don’t get it!” Michael raised his voice. “Look again, don’t be so blind, deaf and dumb!”
The chavrusa lowered his head towards his sefer and then looked up at Michael again. Mr. Wiser couldn’t hear what the chavrusa said, but he couldn’t miss Michael’s reply.
Michael actually jumped to his feet, his face red, “What kind of idiot are you!! I know this sugya backwards and forwards, and I already explained the Rashi on this! You’re just impossible; you don’t belong in this shiur!” Michael stalked off. And so did Mr. Wiser, but only after he got the name of Michael’s chavrusa.
But not all red flags are so obvious, and had Mr. Wiser not been in a position to observe Michael in his element, he too might not have seen the signs until it were too late. So often we’re relying on information from others, information that may be distorted, couched in euphemisms, or omitting the full picture.
And further along the way, we’re collecting bits and pieces from our dating child, trying to hear the small nuances that might shed some light on the potential spouse’s true personality, emotional health, and function.
“I’m not sure if I should continue dating Libby…” Yudi confided. “We met in her grandmother’s living room, and suddenly in the middle of the meeting she got up and went into the other room.”
“Well that’s normal,” said Mrs. Sharp, “she just had to excuse herself.”
“No, Ma, that’s not what happened. She had gone into the kitchen to call her friend.”
“Call her friend? What do you mean?”
“She has a friend named Naomi. In middle of our conversation, Libby got up and went into the kitchen to speak to Naomi for about fifteen minutes.”
Mrs. Sharp was aghast. “Fifteen minutes? Speaking to a friend? In middle of a date? Did you ask her what that was about?”
“Oh no, I wouldn’t ask her such a thing, she’d shout at me.” Yudi explained.
“What? Shout at you after five dates? What do you suppose she might do after being married for five years?” Mrs. Sharp paused to think. “Tell me Yudi, does Libby speak of Naomi often?”
“I don’t know what often means, but she does quote her from time to time.”
Mrs. Sharp suspected that Libby might have an inappropriate dependency on her female friend that could preclude a healthy spousal relationship. She also didn’t know what Yudi meant by suggesting that Libby could “shout at” him, and wasn’t sure if that comment was due to Yudi’s audio sensitivity or Libby’s inappropriateness.
But what she did know was that if this suggestion had any potential at all, it could not proceed without investigating various concerns. In order to do so, she’d need to proceed with sensitivity to really understand what Yudi was experiencing. His reports would need to be analyzed by factoring how he usually processed social interactions: does he tend to exaggerate? Does he ‘get’ people or does he lack social perception?
And with a sigh, Mrs. Sharp realized she’s need to make even more enquiries – hadn’t she already done that enough? Had her enquiries been effective?
Whenever we ask anyone to report on someone else (l’toeles) – the key to understanding the report is to appreciate who is providing this information, since everyone filters their experiences subjectively. What is the nature of the relationship? How long do the one reporting and the one being reported about know each other? What language is being used to describe the person? How detailed is the description – does the one who is giving the information demonstrate depth in their understanding of the person, or is the description somewhat shallow and generic? The richer the detail, the more believable the account… and then it still might need to be verified.
And what are the questions that need to be asked in the first place in order to rule out any areas of concern?
One thing one does not want to ask is anything that is of no consequence to the future of this couple, or that the daters can safely decide on their own. Therefore, eye color, whether the girl applies nail-polish to her toes, whether the boy is a lefty or a righty or if the brother who is eighteen years older learns or works really will have little or no impact on the possibility of your child and this candidate having a potentially enduring marriage.
But matters of physical and mental health, midos of anger vs. compassion, social awareness vs. social oblivion, chessed vs. perfectionism, introvert vs. extrovert, value system and cultural orientation, previous traumas, healthy relationships, organizational habits and hygiene, level of modesty vs. arrogance are all matters of dire consequence to any marital relationship.
Learn what matters, what doesn’t and don’t ignore what makes your face blush, your hair stand on end or your heart go pitter-patter. If you feel reactive, alarmed or delighted – take note of what caused that reaction, and what that might mean about the possibility of this mikdash lasting forever and ever.