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January 30, 2015 / 10 Shevat, 5775
 
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I Did My Part


Since creating EndTheMadness seven years ago I have received all manner of correspondence, and it should come as no surprise that for every gratifying e-mail I receive there are plenty more that are disturbing in one way or another. But what if I asked you to guess which e-mails disturb me the most, even momentarily shaking my optimism that there really is hope for our society?

Surely the first guess of most people would be the Da’as Torah e-mails. You know, the ones from self-righteous folk who innocently inquire as to “which gedolim support…” This inquiry is predicated on the presumption that one requires the approval of gedolim to express an opinion or perform a meaningful action. This presumption is nonsense, and I don’t need other rabbis to endorse that statement any more than I need them to cosign my articles.

The presumption is also hypocritical, for which gedolim did they consult before sending off that e-mail to me or that angry letter to the editor? What makes them so confident the rabbis they respect are any more authoritative than the rabbis I respect and that I should be shaken in any way if their rabbis oppose my beliefs? And who allowed them to use the Internet, anyway?

In my younger years I used to try to engage these people in intelligent discourse. I tried to explain how the fundamental concept of rabbinic guidance has been severely corrupted and that there is no contradiction between respecting rabbinic authority, recognizing the boundaries of that authority, and thinking for oneself.

I quickly learned that such discourse never remains intelligent beyond one or two exchanges and that such people can never be persuaded by rational or scholarly arguments.

One might think the most disturbing e-mails come from people who volunteer to help in some way and then are never heard from again. This has happened dozens of times over the years. I used to wonder if these people entered the witness protection program, so startling was the turn from enthusiastic communication to absolute silence.

This frustrated me a lot, since EndTheMadness is 100-percent volunteer driven, and each new volunteer can make an exponential difference. But I have come to accept that most people who express interest in actually doing something aren’t really serious, and this is a widespread defect that everyone involved in community service experiences constantly. Now I simply assume people aren’t serious about getting involved until they actually get involved, and I am less disappointed when it doesn’t work out.

No, the most disturbing e-mails are ones I receive now and then after sending out an e-mail to my list, such as these two:

“Please unsubscribe me from your list. I did my part by getting married this past Labor Day.”

“Please remove me from this list. I have been married since July of last year and will not be attending these shabbatons anymore.”

Mind you, these e-mails and many others like them come from people who are presumably supportive of what I am trying to accomplish. They come from people who share my vision enough to have attended ETM events, and have quite possibly benefited personally from these events. They have been blessed to find someone to marry and will hopefully enjoy an eternal and loving union with this person.

That’s where their interest in the cause ends. They no longer wish to even hear from me. The first writer honestly believes he has “done his part” by getting married (!) and the second one believes that because he has no personal vested interested in attending events there is no conceivable reason why he should even continue to know about them.

I have often wondered aloud how married people could ever be insensitive to the plight of singles. After all, every married person is a former single, and precious few were completely spared the anxiety, frustration, and pain singles experience.

It is human nature for people who experience something painful or traumatic – be it illness, war, or any difficult personal experience – to forever sympathize with those who undergo a similar experience. We are naturally drawn to people who can understand what we are going through or have been through.

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Since creating EndTheMadness seven years ago I have received all manner of correspondence, and it should come as no surprise that for every gratifying e-mail I receive there are plenty more that are disturbing in one way or another. But what if I asked you to guess which e-mails disturb me the most, even momentarily shaking my optimism that there really is hope for our society?

I’ve long maintained that the large number of people having a difficult time getting and staying happily married is only a symptom of deeper problems in the community. Consequently, efforts to get more singles to go out on more dates will be largely unsuccessful unless the deeper problems are addressed. This thesis has been validated in recent years, as more attention to the “crisis” and various schemes to create shidduchim have yet to result in meaningful change or much cause for optimism.

Moshe was looking for employment (he wasn’t cut out to learn full-time), and was having a difficult time finding the right fit. Sometimes he went weeks without even landing an interview, and he rarely made it past the first round. People began to speculate that there was something wrong with Moshe, and his self-esteem took a blow every time he heard of someone else who found a job.

It’s all too common nowadays for people to defend the widespread method of shidduchim by pointing to the biblical story of Eliezer finding a wife for Yitzchak. Apparently the Torah mandates this method as proper, and therefore there is little else to discuss beyond perhaps fine-tuning the way singles are set up by shadchanim and further shielding them from outside influences and one another.

I find the Orthodox Jewish approach to problem-solving fascinating, in a dark sort of way. It consists of a series of steps that looks something like this:

“And you shall rejoice in your festival” says the pasuk at the end of Parshas Re’ei (16:14), and this is actually a mitzvah. I suspect this is not intended to be one of the more difficult mitzvot for us to fulfill, yet for many hard-working Jews the Yomim Tovim are far greater sources of stress than joy.

Nothing is more elusive than perfection, yet perfection is a notion that frequently surfaces in the realm of shidduchim. For example, singles are often told by people on the outermost fringes of their lives, “I know someone perfect for you.” How preposterous, how presumptuous! Yet singles permit themselves to be excited by this declaration so that they may be further disillusioned when the shidduch invariably turns out to be anything but perfect.

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