By Esther Rochel Elkaim
MyLife Essay Contest 2017
Shidduchim have been become increasingly difficult in many parts of the Jewish community during the last few years, including in Chabad circles. In this essay, I will humbly attempt to present a number of Chassidic teachings on the subject of shidduchim and the importance of marriage, as well as highlight how principles of Chassidus may be used to encourage those of us still looking for their bashert.
Marriage in Judaism
Marriage is a fundamental aspect of Judaism. It is viewed as much more than a normal part of life like in other religions, and certainly not a choice as in today’s increasingly secular society. Kabbalah teaches that husband and wife are two halves of the same soul that were separated at birth and reunite under the chuppah, not two souls that join in marriage. This also means that in every reincarnation, husband and wife share the same soul. Hashem said1, “It is not good that man is alone; I shall make a helpmate opposite him.” Even earlier in the first chapter of the Torah2, the first mitzvah that Hashem gives is to “be fruitful and multiply.” This is stated even earlier than we are told that Adam and Chava were separate bodies, and thus hints to the fact that husband and wife are essentially a singular being.
A woman is called a “home”, and an unmarried man is considered incomplete. The Kohen Gadol (High Priest) was required to be married, and a Dayan (Jewish judge) had to be married and have a child, as only someone who has a child can fully understand what it is to be truly compassionate. The Zohar3 states that Hashem’s blessing only fully rests upon a married couple that is fulfilling their cosmic roles harmoniously through their marriage. Man, ish in Hebrew, and woman, isha in Hebrew, contain a Yud and a Hey in their names, respectively, hinting to their Divine origin. When they come together in marriage, they form Hashem’s Name of Yud-Kay.
This shows us that the concept of marriage is an intrinsic and fundamental aspect of Judaism. Consequently, it is one that should be the goal of every boy and girl growing up. (People who have serious physical or mental challenges are not the target audience of this essay, and are advised to discuss their individual cases with expert rabbonim, although with medical advances, many also go on to have happy and successful marriages, and also often give birth to healthy children.)
Marriage in Chassidus
Chassidus explains4 that a groom and bride can be compared to the Sefiros (Divine Emanations) of Zeir Anpin (the Minor Visage) and Malchus (Royalty). Greeting the bride is compared with receiving the holy Shabbos, which contains the blessings for all the days of the week. The honor of the groom refers to the love Hashem shows the Jewish people. The honor of the bride refers to the love of the Jewish people for Hashem. The chuppah represents calling forth the Essence of Hashem. Before going to the chuppah, the groom covers the bride with a veil, thus establishing an external bond between the Mashpiah (giver) and the Mekabel (receiver.) This external bond is intended to bring about a deeper bond.
In Chassidus, men are associated with Zeir Anpin (Z”A) and women with Malchus, whose source is higher than Z”A and will be fully revealed in the times of Moshiach. As it says5, “a woman of valor is the crown of [i.e. above] her husband.” This higher level of Malchus as the Mashpia to Z”A can only be activated by Malchus first being the Mekabel6. Physically as well, men are the givers of the seed and women the receivers. Men are the conquerors and women are the nurturers. Men are compared to the sun giving off light and women to the moon7 reflecting back the sun’s light, a physical manifestation of Malchus reflecting back the light it receives from Z”A. This is one of the reasons why Kabbalistically women have a greater connection to Rosh Chodesh, which is related to the moon. This is why only through the union of Z”A and Malchus (i.e. the inner bond between the husband and wife) can the Essence of Hashem be revealed8. Through this process, Hashem’s infinite power is transmitted in a blessed and righteous generation with children and grandchildren occupied in Torah and Mitzvos9.
Parenthetically, this is also why—in addition to the act itself being a Biblically-prohibited abomination deserving of the death penalty for atonement10, feelings of attraction for someone of the same gender go against the spiritual makeup of what a marriage is, and thus have no validity in the sense that they are for sure misguided. The people who have them should be loved and respected like every one else, but made to understand that their feelings are a psychological issue that should be worked on to eliminate, not acknowledged and celebrated as a different but acceptable variation of the norm, which only very recently has become the prevalent secular view.
The Rebbe’s Advice on Finding One’s Shidduch
The Rebbe’s numerous advice on shidduchim are well-known, for example his advice that one’s choice of spouse should be primarily based on the prospect’s commitment to Torah, Mitzvos, and Yiras Shomayim, with more superficial preferences only accorded secondary importance. Nevertheless, once the Torah commitment of a prospect was deemed proper, the Rebbe emphasized that hamshachas halev (attraction) was a necessary and required component for the shidduch to come to fruition11.
What follows is a letter from the Rebbe that summarizes the main points the Rebbe often made with regard to shidduchim:
The Proper Approach to a Shidduch
“I wish to reemphasize that which you yourself write — that the most important matter of all is finding a shidduch. You write that your feeling is that you are not finding any fitting proposals regarding a shidduch. My hope, however, is that when you will have the proper approach to the suggestions you receive, then G‑d will provide you with the shidduch that is most appropriate for you both materially and spiritually.
One must always remember that there exists nothing in the world that is absolutely perfect. The same holds true with regard to human beings; there is no person who possesses all possible good qualities. Thus, it is pointless to wait [or expect] to find such a “dream” individual. Since no person possesses all possible good qualities, it follows that the same is true regarding oneself — surely the person himself or herself is not perfect as well. However, [regardless of our own imperfections,] when it comes to looking at ourselves, we do so with a “good eye.”
This should [also] be taken into consideration when looking upon another. [One should view the other person as well with a good eye, and] be ready to overlook and let pass [imperfect and deficient qualities]. Hopefully, with the passage of time, these imperfections — real or imagined — shall pass or straighten themselves out. With this approach, it will be much easier to attain a shidduch — the choice becomes much greater and your entire attitude with regard to a shidduch will be a much happier and more positive.
I would also like to add that it is nigh impossible to truly assess and measure how these two individuals will be after they marry each other, inasmuch as marriage makes specific and marked changes in the two individuals who marry. Thus, it is only up to a certain degree that we have free choice in the matter, while with regard to the rest we have to rely on G‑d that He will lead the married couple in the path of joy, contentedness, and goodness. We verily observe that people do in fact act in this manner — [placing their ultimate fate in G‑d’s hands] and go on to live happy and successful lives until “120 years.”
The same is true with regard to yourself — it is impossible to calculate with one hundred percent accuracy how each suggestion that is made to you will work out in the future, subsequent to getting married. We must rely on G‑d, [realizing] that if He is capable of properly conducting such a gigantic world, He surely is able to conduct the microcosmic world of each individual person that it be good for him or her materially as well as spiritually.
I hope that you will read this letter once and again and ponder the matters that I have written here. My main purpose in this letter, however, is to try to see to it that from now on you change your approach to a shidduch — do not approach it with the disposition and bias that the shidduch is not for you; nonetheless, it is still necessary to make the requisite inquiries.
Rather, you should approach it in an entirely opposite manner — that G‑d will surely provide you with a shidduch that is good for you, and quite possibly this may be the shidduch suggestion that is currently being presented to you. Consequently, it is very important to inquire and know the various details regarding the shidduch suggestion.
I wish for you that in the near future you will find a shidduch that is appropriate for you both in a material as well as a spiritual sense, and that you erect an edifice in Israel on the foundations of Torah and mitzvos.
(Igros Kodesh, Vol. V, p. 103)
In a Yechidus (private audience) with HaRav Mordechi Shmuel Ashkenazi and his wife in Tishrei of 5729, the Rebbe said, “Even HaBochein LeYiras Shomayim Hee Tzniyus VeTahara, the test that is indicative of [the level of one’s] Yiras Shomayim is Tzniyus (modesty) and Taharah (purity).”
(Printed in HaKfar Shel HaRebbe, Issue 3, Teves 5770)
Advice for the Application of the above Concepts
Subsequent to learning the importance of marriage in Judaism and as illuminated by the teachings of Chassidus and the directives of the Rebbe, it is important to know how to apply them in one’s life in order to get out of the infertile, despondent state of mind that many older singles get into. This is unfortunate, because sadness and depression often lead to paralysis and the state of being unmarried turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Some of the advice below might not be applicable to your particular situation, but I have included it in order that the maximum number of singles can be helped. Instead of getting shocked at some of what I mention, offer a prayer of thanks to Hashem that you are not part of what is unfortunately a significant percentage of our Chabad singles population. If you are one of those to whom this advice is applicable, please know that I am in no way judging you. Finding one’s shidduch can be a lonely and judgmental quest—although it is not meant to be that way—and I am only trying to help with Chassidic insights gleaned from numerous letters, Sichos, and Maamarim of the Chabad Rebbeim, mostly of our Rebbe.
Five Ideas to Meditate Upon, especially when One Feels Depressed
- I matter to Hashem. He made me as a unique gift to the world. If He cares about and designs the trajectory of a small, dead leaf blowing in the wind, how much more does He take care of me and plan my life for my utmost benefit. I may not always understand His mysterious ways, but I place my trust in Him that he knows when and with whom will be the right shidduch for me. My spouse will also be a unique gift to the world, and most importantly my own special gift, tailor-made just for me to complement and encourage my strengths. As my gift is just for me, I do not have to worry that someone else will G-d forbid marry him or her before me; it is my gift, and Hashem does not make errors on the shipping label.
- I have to do my part and search for a shidduch as one searches for a lost object12. At this point in my life, it is my most important goal and mitzvah, and nothing must stand in the way of my making progress towards its fruition. All of the other important things in my life—my work, shlichus, teaching, learning, traveling, friends, and family—while very important are not my primary objective, which is to get married and build a Jewish home as soon as possible.
- Nevertheless, I must not feel dejected and as if my life is on hold. If my shidduch has not happened for me until now, it is because Hashem needs me in the meantime to grow, learn, and do other mitzvos I may not be able to do with the same intensity after I am married and it is incumbent upon me to focus more on other obligations for my family. Therefore, while still making the search for the other half of my soul my primary focus, I have to ensure that I am busy with productive and meaningful learning, work, and hobbies, as well as growing in middos, frumkeit, and Chassidishkeit.
- I also have to revisit what I look for in a spouse and see if those ideals are what I still truly care about. For example, if I am a woman in her mid-thirties, is what I value really still waiting for a wealthy husband? Maybe that was a puerile dream of mine ten years ago, but now that I am older, more mature, more financially stable, and have grown in Torah and Chassidus, hopefully I will understand that marrying a hard-working, good-hearted, Chassidishe husband is more important, all the more so because the clock is ticking on my ability to have a joyful little brood, and I certainly will not sacrifice the eternal for the fleeting. On the contrary, I will not feel that I am sacrificing at all, and may even eventually end up having more wealth together with my husband that if I had married someone who might have had less wealth than I had imagined and lost much of it later… If I am a man in my thirties, I similarly may be able to better appreciate the value of a frum, Chassidishe wife who has Yiras Shomayim, rather than an emaciated beauty who is not even tzniuysdik. As I get older, I understand more the aspects of my wife as my best friend, trusted adviser, akeres habayis (mainstay of the home), and mother of my children, so her middos tovos and character are more important to me than society’s fallacious and fleeting standards of outward, empty beauty. I also better understand that being married will be much better at preserving my innate purity as a member of Hashem’s holy nation and a tamim of Lubavitch. As our Sages have already expounded at length in the Tractate Yevamos13 that “whoever resides… [without a wife, resides without blessing”].
- The power of “tracht gut vet zein gut” (think good and it will be good), as taught by the Tzemach Tzedek and emphasized numerous times by our Rebbe, that our positive thoughts and trust in Hashem have the ability to affect the outcome in reality. I imagine myself in five years. Where am I? How does my home look like? Am I married? How does my spouse look like? What type of couple are we? How many children do we have? What am I busy with on a day-to-day basis? Imagining the life I would like for myself will not only help its materialization, but also show me the steps I need to take to achieve it in a concrete manner.
Five Practical Suggestions to Find a Shidduch
- Take care of yourself emotionally. Love yourself. This should be an innate, natural emotion, but unfortunately many singles carry heavy emotional baggage of their childhood that they need to deal with before attempting to enter into a relationship with some else. Make amends with anyone you may have hurt in the past, especially with regard to shidduchim or a broken engagement. The Rebbe used to often advise this when a couple was not blessed with children, that one of them ask mechila (forgiveness) from a person they had dated previously and hurt. It makes sense to prevent such a problem before it causes any problems, before marriage, and to do it sincerely. Also, if past trauma, especially sexual abuse, is an issue, it is important to seek therapy if necessary before marriage. Any other emotional issues, such as those caused by a difficult home environment, divorced or arguing parents, etc., should also be dealt with prior to marriage. Many marriages would have been saved if this advice had been followed. One needs to enter marriage as open and free as possible so that they can invest all of themselves into the marriage and build a solid bayis ne’eman beYisroel (an eternal home among the Jewish people).
- Take care of yourself physically. Eat healthily. Exercise diligently. If you need to, stop smoking, stop drinking, and/or stop using recreational drugs. Seek medical assistance when necessary. Lose weight or gain weight depending on your situation. Appreciate the body Hashem has gifted you with. It is a beautiful piece of art, unique in the whole world. It is the beautiful home of your holy soul. Take care of it to the best of your ability, keeping in mind and believing that sooner than you think, it will create a beautiful baby with Hashem’s help. Be tzniyusdik. Your body is like a Sefer Torah. Its holiness requires that it be hidden from public view like the sacred object that it is.
- Take care of yourself spiritually and intellectually. Learn Torah every day. Increase your time for learning Nigleh and Chassidus. Learn Chitas, Rambam, and Inyonei Geulah uMoshiach. Go to Farbrengens. Learn the Rebbe’s letters, Reshimos, Sichos, and Maamarim. Watch videos of the Rebbe. If you are a bochur, make sure you spend at least some time in a Yeshivah atmosphere on a steady basis. Go to Minyan twice a day. If you are a girl, make sure to daven (pray) every day and learn Chitas, Sefer HaMitzvos, Inyonei Geulah uMoshiach, and as much as you can in other areas of the Torah. Learning Torah, and deciding that once married you will conduct your home as befits a Chabad couple—a home in which the Rebbe would be confortable coming in unannounced 24/7—is the best segula to find your shidduch quickly14. Do not waste your time and poison your mind by reading secular books, watching movies, listening to non-Jewish or coarse music, going to impure places, etc. This is your only time in life to be a young adult. Do not chas veSholom waste it on sitra achara. Also, do not look for a shidduch in ways that go against Halacha and even Chassidishe ideals. A mitzvah never happens through an aveirah. Being an older single never means to have to compromise on ways to meet a potential shidduch or in anything else. If anything, standards should on the contrary be higher as older singles have had additional time to mature and grow in their Torah and Chassidishkeit.
- Talk with your parents, shadchanim—including meeting new ones—remind your married friends and relatives to look for you, etc. As much as people want to help you, they need to be reminded and know what you are looking for.
- Do not let anyone pressure you into making a decision you are not 100% comfortable with. It is normal to feel some anxiety when making probably the most important decision you will make in your life—choosing a spouse—but also recognize what is normal apprehension when making such a crucial choice versus the serious issue of fear of commitment and always waiting to meet someone better.
Only you can make your marriage happen. You have to want to get married for it to happen. You have to want to be married and build a family badly enough that it will trump all your other fears, worries, excuses, ambivalence, etc. You have to be ready to work to reach it, to give it all you have got. Later, you will also have to work to help your marriage thrive. “Man is born to toil,”15 and it is all hard work, but it should be to you a labor of love, and therefore appear in your eyes as no labor at all, similarly to Yaakov working for Rochel. This is your mission in life, and singlehood in Judaism is primarily a time to get ready for marriage, an important time nevertheless of investing in yourself in all areas of your life (including learning a lot of Torah and accomplishing numerous Mitzvos) so that you can enter marriage as ready as possible to continue life’s journey with the other half of your soul, and with Hashem’s help bring down from the treasure trove of souls all the remaining little ones who need to be born in order to fulfill the world’s purpose of bringing Moshiach NOW! Hashem is guiding you, the Rebbe is blessing you, we are all trying our best to help you. So what is everyone waiting for?!…
Footnotes and Source
- Bereishis, 2:18
- Bereishis, 1:28
- Zohar I, 165a
- Maamar Lecha Dodi 5689, Chapter 1
- Mishlei, 12:4
- Maamar Lecha Dodi 5614, Chapter 5
- Zohar I, 249b
- Maamar Lecha Dodi 5614, Chapter 1
- Maamar Lecha Dodi 5614, Chapter 7
- Vayikra, 20:13
- See for example, Igros Kodesh, Vol. XVI, p. 306
- Kiddushin 2b, as quoted in Igros Kodesh, X, p. 249, among others.
- 63b, as quoted in Igros Kodesh, Vol. XII, p. 195
- Igros Kodesh, Vol. VII, p. 188 In the early years, Chassidim used to give the Rebbe the key to their apartment in order to show their sincerity,
- Iyov, 5:7
About the Author
Miss Esther Rochel Elkaim from Bal Harbour, FL holds two Masters Degrees and multiple professional licenses. In addition, she has studied under world-renown Rabbonim for many years. Coming from a family for which Torah learning is a priority, she is known for her scholarly knowledge both in breadth and depth, as well as her clear and engaging communication style. Her favorite subjects are Maamorim, Tanya, and Halacha, and she joins CyberSem as both an instructor and course writer. Miss Esther Rochel Elkaim is the editor of the Halacha 2 Go e-mails and newsletters published by the Crown Heights Beis Din, and has written many articles including a treatise on Chassidic education in our day and age, part of which was published in the Nissan 5773 edition of Perspectives Magazine. She is also the editor for AnashChinuch.com. She is a General in Tzivos Hashem and was the annual dinner Member of the Year guest speaker as a child.