Chapter I: From a Historical Perspective
The desire to discover our soul partner is embedded in a long- ing that has resided within our deepest selves, and it reaches back through the ages — to our earliest roots, beginning with Adam and Chavah. It is a yearning that has continued unabated through every generation since — until our very own. It is an integral dimension of our humanity. Our search for our life partner exists within each of us, because Hashem has planted this desire within the essence of our very beings, and it has never been, nor will ever be, extinguished. And throughout our long history, there has never been any war or tragedy strong enough to silence this deep, persistent need to share our lives with our destined life partner. Even following the horrors of the Holocaust, couples rediscovered each other, or found new partners with whom to rebuild shattered lives.
However, in our generation, this most human of all dreams has been muffled and even silenced for thousands of young men and women. The noise, distractions and faux illusions of the modern Western society in which we all live have taken a devastating toll. For the first time in history, there are countless single individuals, both men and women, whose search for a life partner may be unceasing, yet unproductive. Each day, I encounter an increasing number of both younger and more mature singles who are dat- ing endlessly and going nowhere. At the same time, I encounter a steady stream of engaged couples who count the approaching days to their chupah, filled with a never-ending chorus of dread, continuously obsessing, “Did I make the wrong decision?” and “Perhaps there was someone better?”
So, on one hand, there is a growing number of singles who fear that they will lead their lives alone and will leave this world without having discovered and shared a life with their bashert or the opportunity to build a family. And on the other, there are a growing number of engaged couples who, although their dream of engagement and marriage may have finally been realized, are filled with unsettling and even frightening feelings that they may have made the wrong decision.
Just to provide you with a real time perspective, during the very day I was writing these words, I was contacted by three engaged individuals whose weddings were approaching, who are filled with the very thoughts and fears I just mentioned. One young woman told me, “I’m getting married next week and I’m frightened that I have made the worst mistake of my life.” Another young man said, “All I know is that I look around and find other girls livelier and more attractive than my kallah, and I tell myself I made a big mistake.”
It is also important to be aware that of the countless such calls I receive, only a very small number have ever been based on issues that deserve such concern. One young man I spoke to for the entire two-month period before his marriage was determined to break the engagement for reasons that he felt “everyone could see.” This same young man called me just a few days earlier and told me that they had just celebrated their first anniversary, and how grateful he was that I never bought into his insistence that he has no choice but to end the engagement.
It is abundantly clear that no previous generation has experienced such irrational and destructive fears regarding dating and engagement on such a staggering scale as ours.
In every generation, the journey of discovery has never been easy, neither for us nor for Hashem. Even in previous generations, Chazal described the difficulties of finding a bashert as “kasheh k’kriyas Yam Suf, as difficult as the splitting of the Reed Sea.” It was as if two neshamos had to miraculously be brought together from disparate ends of the universe to discover a shared destiny that was declared even before their births.
However, it wasn’t very long ago when two people were able to meet and a delicate and loving bond evolved without the endless fears, anxieties and distractions we are faced with today. Permit me to share a personal memory about a chassan and a kallah very dear to me — my mother and father, a”h.
An important dimension of my parents’ relationship was unearthed with my mother’s passing, just six years ago, when we discovered a timeless treasure in an old shoebox. My mother was born and raised in Boston. And since there were very few, if any, young frum single men in Boston, about once a month on motza’ei Shabbos, she would travel to New York on the Yankee Clipper, arriving at Grand Central Station early Sunday morning. She would then take the subway to the Lower East Side and make her rounds to visit a number of women who had befriended her.
It was at the apartment of Rabbi and Rebbetzin Dworkis, which served as a shul on Shabbos, that she first saw my father on a Sunday morning, as he was spending a few hours learning in the Dworkis’ living room before he began his work week at the family dry goods store on Broome Street.
In Boston, she had never seen a young man learning on a Sunday morning and was a bit startled at the sight. When she returned home to Boston that evening, she told my grandfather about the young man she had seen that morning. She lived alone with him, as her mother had died in an auto accident when local teens had hurled ice chunks at my grandfather’s car during an ice storm, causing him to lose control of the vehicle. She wistfully mentioned to her father that she noticed the young man learning that morning in New York, but he had not seen her. However, by the end of the week, a letter arrived from the young man, who had indeed seen her, inviting her to stop by the family store when she would return to New York.
On her next trip, she passed by the store and, as if he sensed her imminent arrival, he was waiting for her. They had never been formally introduced but recognized each other from the rebbetzin’s apartment. They greeted each other, went for a walk and began a relationship that ended in 1954, with my father’s untimely death at the young age of forty-six.
The treasure we discovered after my mother’s death was the shoebox of letters written from November 1939 to March 1940, up until the wedding. These were letters of deep warmth, love and affection. Now, more than seventy years later, they were yellowed and fragile, written in blue Waterman’s fountain pen ink. My father’s handwriting flowed over the page with smoothness and clarity, “My dearest Sally,” and after the engagement, “My dearest kallah …” My mother was twenty-seven when they met and my father was thirty-one. They had both spent years searching for their bashert. Unlike today, in 1939, finding a shomer Shabbos person to date was very difficult. At last they had found each other, and the winter of their search was over. And as Shlomo Hamelech wrote almost 3,000 years ago in Shir Hashirim, the winter had past and their time of song arrived. Each letter was a carefully prepared testimony to their song; it was abundantly clear that these two individu- als, whose loneliness had finally ended, would never permit anything to prevent them from building their lives together. Their kriyas Yam Suf was discovering each other.