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A fascinating account about how single people paired with their life partners is recorded in the Talmud, (Taanis 31a). The daughters of Jerusalem would wear white linen garments which they had borrowed from others. This way nobody had to be embarrassed if they did not own fine apparel. Even the daughter of the king would borrow from the daughter of the Kohen Gadol. The young women would dance in the vineyards. Anyone who did not have a wife would go there to find one. The beautiful women would encourage men to consider visual appeal. The ones from fine families would encourage men to look at lineage. Those with neither trait would remind men to marry for the sake of Heaven, then adorn his new wife with gold jewelry.


This account raises many questions for me, especially through the lens of today’s thinking. Can you imagine an event like this happening now? Consider how many people in all camps would feel offended, regardless of left, right, or center. Can you believe that a King’s daughter might really need to resort to dancing in public to attract a mate? Ditto for the daughter of the High Priest, if we still were to have those today. Yet we see that the custom took into account the potential embarrassment of one who did not own fine white linen garments. How humiliating do you think it felt for the participants, especially for who were not picked at all?


Although we are unlikely to reinstate that tradition which was practiced two millennia ago, perhaps we can glean some lessons to address our community’s predicament. Are there parallels now to dancing in the vineyards? Are we using the 21st century version of marketing our singles to find a shidduch? Think about the various websites, singles events, and social media groups we now have.  How do you think a single person feels when his or her resume is on display for the world to see? Now imagine how it feels for someone who has been posting for years without success. How are we as a community addressing their pain and indignity? Are each of us doing enough? Do we daven for them regularly? When was the last time you thought about a single, and then sent a text or made a call on their behalf? Do you really not know anyone at all?  Hishtadlus does not only apply to our own families.


Enabling the grassroots effort is only part of the equation. In the five months during which I have been doing this, I’ve been hearing a similar refrain from people in the trenches. It’s not only that the number of available young men is limited. Many people tell me that the guys their daughters are meeting have no idea how to even speak to someone of the opposite gender. They have no clue how to treat them, how to relate to them, nor even how to act around them. I feel dismayed by the number of people telling me the same thing. Young men may even mean well, but they fail to understand how to act.


I am not a rabbi, nor even an educator. I can only suggest that we consider offering some basic instruction well before the chassan classes begin. The yeshivos which offer a mussar seder do a better job, but I feel there is still room for more. We must remember that marriage provides the best and most constant opportunity to do chessed with another person. Showing care and concern for a spouse is a precious privilege. Even greeting one’s mate with a cheery good morning, making them feel loved and valued is a tremendous thing to achieve. 


Hashem created the institution of marriage to help us become the best versions of ourselves. The Ezer K’negdo – the helpmate who stands opposite to achieve completion together – is a crucial part of who we are and who we can become. Learn to listen carefully, take their feelings into account, and be gracious. When someone realizes how important a spouse is towards achieving their own true purpose, their perspective is realigned. Even a potential mate becomes the focus of attention, someone to appreciate, and worthy of respect. 


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