It is said that on Yom HaDin, when a soul has departed this world, it will be summoned before the Heavenly Court and its behavior and actions as a flesh and blood person will be scrutinized and assessed. While standing in judgment, one will be asked whether his business and financial transactions were conducted ethically and honestly – or not.
I find myself hoping that another inquiry be made: Was the person truthful and forthcoming when asked about the physical and mental health of a person he/she was a reference for in a potential shidduch. Did he (or she), to the best of his ability, accurately describe the boy or girl being redt – or did he – in the misguided belief that marriage would “fix” the troubled, dysfunctional person, withhold vital information? Did he, against the Torah commandment to not put a “stumbling block in front of a blind person,” cause that naïve individual a lifetime of misery, turmoil and trauma?
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and that is precisely what almost always happens in situations where a reference knew someone had serious but hidden emotional issues, but did not reveal the information to the person making inquiries.
Innocent, trusting young men and women, as well as their parents, accept what they are told about the potential dater – especially if the reference is a highly respected rosh yeshiva, rav or teacher.
But a reluctance to speak what they feel is lashon hara, or because of a naïve belief that the problem is surmountable, has resulted in many shattered lives, with bewildered, distressed spouses eventually having to decide on the lesser of two evils: Getting divorced and becoming single parents, or staying married and suffering miserably for decades.
In addition, due to these toxic unions, new generations are being raised in dysfunctional households leading to emotionally impaired individuals who, in the future, will perpetuate the dysfunction, because they themselves will be mentally damaged and repeat the mistreatment – that is all they know.
For example, kids raised in a home where one spouse is consistently denigrated and belittled may see this behavior as normal. It is their template, unless they see other families act differently. Even so, people tend to copy what is familiar. The word “familiar” is rooted in the word “family.”
References are living in a fantasy world if they think “frum” people are immune to the mental health issues that afflict the rest of humanity. Burying their heads in the sand or putting blinders on does not mean the problems don’t exist. Denial doesn’t change the truth.
Several of our columnists who are psychologists, therapists, and life and marriage counselors have written in great detail about the mental health issues assailing our community, extensively describing addictive behaviors, anxiety, depression, and various personality disorders. They have also examined the extreme stress, distress, isolation, and social difficulties associated with being married to, or the child of, a mentally unsound individual.
Often, these hapless men, women and children end up with battered egos. Years of verbal, emotional and even physical abuse have destroyed their self-esteem, and some become angry bullies who lash out at those they feel are weak – in an unconscious attempt to shore up their negative self-image. Others become the timid, vulnerable victims of these verbally and physically abusive bullies. Many are unable to develop healthy attachments or relationships since the abused child locked in their psyche believes the vile message of their youth – you are worthless, you are unlovable.
I remember an incident that took place over 30 years ago but that has been seared into my memory.