Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

8 Adar II 5759 - March 15, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Matchmaking Tricks

by Chaim Walder FICTION

Gitty arrived at Batsheva Rotner's wedding very late even though, without almost any effort at all, she could have not arrived. The Rotners are good friends, and a bit related to Gitty's family, and Gitty didn't want them to say: "Not only is she 28 and still unmarried, but she also doesn't even come to the weddings of friends." There's a limit to how much calumny Gitty was prepared to suffer in one night.

Gitty went over to Rucha'le and said that she would watch her baby carriage. Rucha'le smiled with motherly pride and agreed. Her smile drooped only when Gitty explained her reason: "So that by the end of the wedding you won't find your baby covered by blankets."

A glance at the carriage revealed that a number of women had placed their coats on Rucha'le's carriage, without noticing that there was a baby inside. Gitty, as she knew Rucha'le -- and she knew her quite well -- was certain that Rucha'le would forget all about the carriage and what was inside it, at least until the last dance.

Actually, the carriage was only a shelter, meant to spare her from standing outside the circles of dancers, doing nothing, without anyone taking the trouble to invite her to dance, or even worse from the possibility that someone might invite her to dance, cholila. She also took an interest in the baby, because when she leaned over it, she couldn't see the mother of the bride dancing with Aunt Fruma. There are things that even she doesn't have to tolerate, especially not at Batsheva's wedding.

Gitty had already undergone experiences far more traumatic than being present at the wedding of an eighteen-year-old girl. Take for example the wedding of Shiri, her own younger sister. At Batsheva's wedding, Gitty at least wasn't center- stage and didn't have to ask herself every moment how the large crowd of guests interpreted her smile. Here, at least she was armed with a baby and his carriage, and had no need to sally out to the battlefield and cope with the numerous darts of pity which were dispatched in her direction.

Gitty was in one of her battle moods. She was sick and tired of all of the concerned types who mulled around her. She was sick and tired of the shidduch offers which even those who proposed them knew did not suit her.

She was sick and tired of all of those mussar preachers and assorted smart people who said the same thing, and for some reason believed that they had just then hit upon a brainstorm. Yes, she knew that she had to compromise, and that time was passing like a speeding locomotive, and that she had to jump on one of the coaches. She knew all that by heart. But in face of all that was the simple truth that she would rather stay on the platform than jump onto a railway coach if she wasn't 100% sure what it contained.

She was told a number of times that her main problem was that she was too clever. That problem grew from day to day. Alongside this, even if no one told her, she felt that her cleverness sometimes shot forth sharp arrows.

Naomi Cohen, her friend from school, stepped over. Naomi was the only one who didn't spout the refrains chanted by everyone else. Naomi was the type of woman Gitty classified as a "kindergarten teacher," in other words a woman who has not even the trace of a bad trait and who believes that the world is a good and pleasant place in which to live -- a woman who lives by her emunah. What's more, Naomi was a kindergarten teacher, and her kindergarten was called Gan Naomi.

Naomi had a special franchise with Gitty, since she had once been her classmate and she was davka the type Gitty admired. Naomi -- what else? -- had a proposal: "A top-notch boy of 28, who sits and learns. A good family, clear, sharp and a lamdan."

"Except," Gitty cut her short.

"Except what?"

"What shortcomings does he have?"

"I don't know of any."

"So why should he want me?'

"Why not?"

"Why should he agree to marry a girl of 28, when he can marry a younger one?"

"Perhaps he tried, and didn't find someone suitable."

"Perhaps they tried him, and he was the unsuitable one?"

"Perhaps," Naomi said. "Perhaps, though, he's your zivug."

"I'll check it out," Gitty replied.

The time to retreat from the wedding arrived -- a retreat which required her to show her face to whoever had to know that she had been there. That was actually the only reason she had come, unless you think she had come in honor of the plucked chicken which had already danced at a number of weddings.

In order to retreat from the battlefield Gitty had to cross the firing line, in other words the circle of dancers, then to approach the bride, kiss her, and afterwards repeat the exercise with the bride's mother, her sister, the neighbors, and even with Aunt Fruma. There are obligations one must fulfill even if one is an old maid of 28.

But wait, the night had just begun. After leaving the hall she had to cope with coming home, which meant looking at her mother who, if Gitty was lucky didn't say out loud, "What will be?" letting her face say it instead of her. If there is something with which Gitty and all of her defense mechanisms could not cope, it was Ima's face after or before an event like a wedding, especially the wedding of someone like Batsheva, an 18 year-old kid who, by the following year, would be a mother.

The young man Naomi suggested was named Refoel and he was a good prospect. In other words, Naomi had done good work before proposing the match. The only thing that bothered Gitty was the question, "Why did he agree to hear about me?"

To this, Naomi had no answer except: "His mistake will be your gain." Clever, that kindergarten teacher.

Refoel proved to be a hard nut to crack, and when we speak about "cracking," we must explain something about Gitty's invariable behavior during her nine years in shidduchim: 20% of the proposals fell by the wayside during the test stage of their meetings, in which she fortified her defenses. That means: she didn't ask anything and didn't talk much, whether about herself or her family. When the boy asked a question, she would feel that the quieter she was, the better. Even if the topics of discussion ended, she didn't offer any help at all. Don't do a thing. Don't even clear your throat. Only a boy who survived all that had a chance of going through life with one like her.

After the defense stage, came the offensive one, which demanded that one have a large measure of creativity, wit, sharpness and snap. Of course one had to be on the ball too, and catch a person on his word, without letting him dodge the issue with all sorts of hemming and hawing. She would sharpen his message and make him explain, apologize, repeat himself. After all that, she would ask him to explain why he wasn't staunch in his opinion.

That was the most difficult stage of all, in which sixty percent of those on trial failed. Those who emerged from this stage alive really deserved some sort of a medal -- but they were still far from the grand prize.

The following stage was attrition, in which the boy was required to undergo a regimen of time-stretching. This stage could take from two months to years. It was a stage in which the two spoke under more comfortable circumstances. Both sides, who had been passed the earlier tests, were no longer required to be on the alert for the next comment or the next witticism. They didn't have to break their heads, trying to come up with new quips. During the attrition stage one could hold a normal conversation and there was no need to be so careful about the style of the answers.

Refoel passed the first stage without any special difficulty. He spoke about himself appropriately. He revealed himself as a person who recognized his own worth, but nonetheless gave others an equal chance. He replied to Gitty's questions, and wasn't disturbed by her silences. In general he took advantage of them to ask her questions. When her brief and noncommittal answers didn't satisfy him, he would interpret them as he wished, but in a manner which caused her to want to explain herself -- so that in the end he got what he wanted. She found herself explaining herself and all he had to do was sneak in his comments. In other words, the conversation flowed. 1-0 in his favor.

He also passed the second stage without any trouble. Gitty noted to herself that she was a bit disappointed that the young man apparently hated fighting in a most confounding manner. It was impossible to ruffle him no matter how hard one tried, and Gitty tried. He replied to every question, in the spirit in which it was asked.

In other words, if it was an accusation, he admitted his guilt immediately and even added on a bit. If it was a cynical question, he answered it ingenuously, as if he didn't understand its bite, something which davka caused the one who had asked it to appear silly. Gitty didn't manage to fluster him, as she had done will all the others. When she finally reached the final stage -- the attrition one -- she found herself totally worn out -- too worn out to decide.

Naomi and her husband, the shadchonim, tried to close the gaps. Gitty and the Cohens held many discussions, while in the background the dates continued. Gitty couldn't decide. She had no reason to reject him, but she still couldn't decide. An inner voice told her: he's not it. Perhaps time would do the trick. Perhaps time would do its job. Perhaps another date would help, another inquiry, another talk with Naomi.

Half a year passed. The young man displayed the first signs of distress. Naomi began to ask: "Perhaps its time to . . . " and her husband added: "Is there any specific reason to reject him?"

"Oh, ho. They've begun to pressure." Gitty didn't like being pressured, and she immediately declared that as far as she was concerned, they could forget the whole thing. She didn't want to hold back the young man, and he was free to continue on his way. But she, Gitty, if you please, had to proceed at her own pace.

Endless conversations which led nowhere began. From the thousands of words which were said calmly, Gitty internalized mainly the few remarks of the couple which were said out of exasperation, such as, "See where your pace has led you," or, "Refoel has other offers. If you can't decide after half a year, how will you decide after twenty years?"

Gitty never answered such questions directly, but rather with feigned irony: "I didn't ask him to wait for me." "As far as I'm concerned he can listen to new offers." "It's time that you understood that matchmaking tricks won't work on me."

With one fell swoop she categorized the couple who had shepherded this match with such dedication for six months without making a complaint or uttering a response as those who use "matchmaking tricks." Gitty knew that it was perhaps not nice to say it, but her reaction was the result of a built-in response to her overall experiences with matchmakers who had tried to influence her.

A few more months passed, and once more the Cohens had a minor outburst. It occurred when Gitty repeated her motto: "I have my own pace, and stop running after me with your matchmaking tricks."

"Let me tell you a story," Naomi said. "A man loaned his friend 1000 dollars for a month. When the due date arrived, he asked for the money back. The borrower said: `It'll be OK.' A month later, the lender came again and the borrower replied: `I told you it would be OK. Don't worry. I have my pace.' When he came again half a year later, the borrower told the lender: `Now you've really insulted me. What do you think, that I won't pay you? I have my own pace, and my word's a word.' After two years, he was deeply offended: `How dare you hint to a friend that he doesn't repay debts? I told you it would be OK!'

"After three years, the lender angrily tells the borrower: `My friend, I've been running after you for three years, and you constantly evade me. Give me the money now. Otherwise I'll sue you.'

"And then the borrower says: `Why are you threatening me? Those methods don't work with me. Now you can forget about the money. You won't see it as long as you live.'

"We've been talking to you very patiently for seven months. The moment we said something which you interpreted as persuasion, you began to attack us."

Gitty, with her usual cynicism, replied: "With all due respect, if you don't mind, I don't owe anyone anything. If the young man doesn't want to wait, then he can listen to other prospects."

"I see that her majesty is offended," Naomi declared. "I only said that there's a problem with the pace, and that the poor guy is sitting and waiting. Is that the answer we deserve? Is that the answer Refoel deserves? `If he has a problem, he can go on'? Don't you think you have other obligations besides your obligation to keep to your pace?"

This time Gitty was really hurt and she couldn't even find a quip, even though she tried to think of something suitable to say. "Do what the lender did," she said with scorn. "Sue me in court. Perhaps then I'll agree to get engaged to him." Then she hung up.

The Cohens continued to discuss the topic between themselves. "There's no doubt that we should have been firmer with her from the beginning, and not have used standard matchmaking approaches," Menachem said. "At least we would have cut things short and not have held Refoel up for seven months. If the lender in the story had known that he would not pay him back, he would have sued the borrower the first week."

"Menachem," Naomi said. "We didn't loan her anything and she doesn't owe us anything. It's a chessed, and one does chessed according to the needs of the recipient, and not of the giver. Gitty has no problem with shidduchim. She just isn't capable of deciding either way. She isn't capable of assuming responsibility for so decisive a matter as whom she will marry. You don't know how many boys she's lost because of that, and how many times she regretted not having said `yes' -- but always after the boy became engaged to someone else. She never understood that she felt the regret only because the pressure to decide had subsided. The moment the pressure of making a decision no longer hung over her head, she knew exactly what she wanted."

"So you mean that Gitty needs a pair of psychologists and not a pair of matchmakers?" Menachem said.

"That's a bit sharp. She needs effective talks, support and someone to calm her when it's time to decide."

"That means that we have to continue with out matchmaking tricks."

"Yes," Naomi said.

"And if the young man refuses to be part of the explanatory mitzvah?"

"That's part of the problem," Naomi pointed out.

One day, Naomi's kindergarten children were playing "musical chairs." Suddenly, Naomi had an idea. She quickly called Gitty, who lived nearby, and asked her to come over. "I have something to show you."

Gitty arrived, and Naomi showed her how the game worked. Ten children stand next to nine chairs. They run around the chairs and the moment the command is given, each one grabs the chair nearest him. Whoever is left without a chair leaves the game. The next time around there are nine children and eight chairs.

At the end of the game Naomi said: "This game reminds me of you. I think life is like a game of musical chairs. Everyone runs after his chair, and whoever doesn't catch it -- well take a look at his face. He's the loser. If people realized this, they wouldn't hesitate, but would simply grab themselves a chair. In this game, as in life, you don't have to be smart, but just practical. It's also no good to think too much about which chair to grab, because that way you'll be out. I think it's an amazing example of your case."

"And because of this ingenious idea you called me?" Gitty asked.

"No. Well, yes I mean. Anyway, I wanted to talk with you, it's just that this idea . . . "

"O.K. A kindergarten teacher remains a kindergarten teacher," Gitty sniped. "With all due respect, life is not a kindergarten. We're not looking for chairs, but to live -- to live properly. Who told you that man's aim in life is to catch something? Because you caught someone good, does that mean that you can suggest that your friend catch what she can even if its a one-legged chair, or if it has a lot of loose screws? The main thing is to get married? The main thing is that I should get off everyone's list. What did you want to hint to me with this silly game? That for ten years of my life I've been playing some sort of game and losing at it?"

Naomi looked up. "Yes. That's exactly what I wanted to tell you. Perhaps my tongue isn't as sharp as yours, but that's exactly what I think. Instead of grabbing a chair, you simply hesitate and hesitate, while others, even not as smart or as talented as you, grab chair after chair."

"Let's suppose that I grab a chair. What should I do with it? Perhaps I'll have a problem later on of how to get rid of it?"

Menachem, who had just come in, heard this last comment. He saw the chairs in the middle of the room and heard Gitty's remark. His gemora kop had already grasped what was missing, and he filled in the picture. "When I was a kid, my brother and I asked for a certain kind of gun for Purim," Menachem said. "We came to the store just an hour before the Megilla, when the shopkeeper was about to close. My mother had only agreed to buy a cheap gun -- which we didn't want. We began to insist and to wail, and Ima said: `Decide now! Either I buy you this kind of gun, or you won't have any gun for Purim.' My stubborn brother continued wailing. We were already on the way out and then I said "OK." The result was that during the Megilla reading I shot my gun, while my brother, that Purim, had to be make do with refilling my bullets for me."

"What do want to say by this?" his wife asked.

"When the store's about to close, there's no reason to insist on things that are not essential. Just take what you can, and then decide what to do. Otherwise you won't even be left with that choice."

"Do you agree with that ridiculous notion?" Gitty asked Naomi.

"With every word."

"You can't mean what you are saying. You are suggesting that I take . . . and then decide what to do?"

"Exactly!" both of them answered in unison. "Especially when it's a young man like Refoel. If you are talking about Refoel, it isn't like just grabbing any old chair in a game."

"I don't believe what I hear," Gitty said. "I'm talking about my life, and you are talking about Purim guns. Are you sure you're normal? Where is your sense of responsibility? How can you tell me to just run and get married and then hope I'll be happy?"

"You may be surprised to hear this," Naomi said seriously, "but everyone gets married with no more than the hope that they'll be happy. But that's certainly a lot better than the certainty of being miserable."

"Who made you in charge of what is preferable?" Gitty asked.

"Aunt Chemda," Naomi said.

"Aunt Chemda? Who's she? And what does she have to do with this?"

"She's my fifty-year-old aunt who never got married. Aunt Chemda comes to every wedding first and sits at the main table. You can tell her from afar by her heavy pearl necklace. Since time immemorial my mother has, at every simcha, ordered us: `Say hello to Aunt Chemda. Naomi, you still haven't said hello to Aunt Chemda.' We obey the command like a decree which cannot be canceled. At our last family wedding we decided to bring our oldest son, and of course I told him: `Don't forget to say hello nicely to Aunt Chemda.' I know that he'll teach his son to say that too, because Aunt Chemda will never get married. To me, Aunt Chemda illustrates how a person can make herself miserable. It would have been far better even if Aunt Chemda had married someone unworthy of her and had at least had children. Let's suppose that her marriage hadn't succeeded. She still would have had her own children, her sons-in-law and daughters-in- law, her grandchildren, and her great grandchildren. She wouldn't need my Sholom or that of my children. She wouldn't need the hand-out, and she wouldn't be so miserable and unfortunate."

"Enough with all that," Gitty pounced on her. "You're just like all of the clever matchmakers, except that you're much smarter and much more offensive. You can't understand how cruel you are. You think that words are just words, but they are hurt so." Gitty began to sob -- something she hadn't done for years. "Every word rips the soul. Every word pierces the heart. Have you any idea what your words do?"

"I'll tell you what they do," Naomi said. "Do you know why you still haven't given Refoel a `yes,' and why you didn't say yes to the scores of boys you met? You were running away from making a decision. The word `yes' is a decision for you, and the world `no' is flight. That's because you're afraid of the unknown and want to run away from it. To say `no' for you is like agreeing to the cheap gun, in other words, the lesser of two evils. Just like Menachem said: `I'll take the cheap gun in the meantime and I can always ask for a more expensive one later on,' you say: `I'll say no this time, and can always say yes later on.' The only way to redeem you from your captivity is to make you fear the `no' more than the `yes.' I am trying to show you the inferno, the pain, the futility, the misery of the `no' so that you will flee to the `yes' as the lesser of two evils."

"It's a waste of your time," Gitty said. "You won't beat me with your psychological game, not with musical chairs nor with harping on the life of Aunt Chemda. I have my own pace, and Shomayim will decide my fate. I ask you not to interfere in my shidduchim again, and not to play psychological games with me. Anyway you won't win."

"Let me say a few words before you go," Naomi said. "I suggest that you think about Refoel's getting engaged to someone else. You might think of that as your V-day, but it will really be your Waterloo. Leave me alone with your dime store psychology. I wouldn't have dared to persuade and pressure. We all know that he's a wonderful boy, and the match is only being held up only because you can't decide. I pray that you lose the game but win in life."

"Thanks," Gitty said. On her way out she shot back, "Don't forget that the last kid in the musical chairs is the winner."

The door closed. Menachem and Naomi just looked at each other without saying a word.

Another month passed. Gitty sent messages to tell Refoel that in the meantime he could listen to other proposals, because she had her own pace. The days passed, but all she did was think and think and think, without being able to make a decision. The fear. The doubts.

One morning she took the paper out of the mail box and, out of habit, looked at the engagement announcements. Her heart stood still for a long moment. The first announcement had Refoel's name, the name of his father, and the name of his yeshiva. There could be no mistake. Refoel had gotten engaged.

She sat there, dumbfounded. Suddenly, all of the doubts melted and she knew that she had lost the boy who had suited her more than anyone else. They had told her that she would feel that way. The pain of the loss was accompanied by the pain of the embarrassment and the disgrace. How would she be able to face Naomi and Menachem?

She sat there for a few hours, until the telephone she had dreaded arrived. It was Naomi.

"So you've won," Naomi told Gitty.

"Woe to such a victory," Gitty said, and in the same breath she added, "Can I come over?"

"Of course."

They sat down and spoke. Suddenly Gitty shed her defense mechanisms and admitted to her friend that she regretted what had happened. Oh, how she regretted it, and oh, how ashamed she was of her shortsightedness. "What's with me?" Gitty asked. "Why am I always smart only when it's too late? This isn't the first time this has happened to me."

"You haven't lost a thing," Naomi said. "Even if he hadn't gotten engaged, you would never have gotten engaged to him, even if weeks, months and years had passed. Understand. You aren't capable of deciding. You prefer to leave your options open, either to one side or another. It's only when the option closes that you realize the loss."

"That's exactly what's wrong," Gitty said. "I'm always running after the hands of the clock, after the coaches in the train, after the chairs. By the time I reach a decision, it becomes clear that the car is full, the chair has been grabbed, the hands of the clock have already moved on. Then something else becomes clear to me: it is impossible to move the clock or the train backward."

Menachem came home from kollel, and Naomi said: "Our guest decided to come because of the latest news. That's the courtesy of a winner."

"Another triumph like this, and we're lost," Gitty said. "I wish I would lose once. Can I hope for a miracle in which the clock's hands move backwards? When will someone defeat me in the game?"

"Would that help?" Menachem asked. "If it were possible to turn the wheel back, don't you think that you would just repeat your mistakes?"

"I don't know! But the moment I saw the engagement announcement -- that very moment, and not one second before -- I knew that I had once again lost the chance of my life. Suddenly the gate closed and all of the doubts ended. But that always happens after the gate has closed forever. I know that feeling well. All of the other boys who could have suited me got engaged a moment before I understood that."

"All except for one," Menachem said.



"Wait a minute. Doesn't he know yet?" Gitty asked Naomi. "I guess he didn't see the paper," she said and pointed to the engagement announcement. "He got engaged last night."

"Can't be," Menachem said. "He's a good friend, and if he had gotten engaged last night I would have been at his engagement."

"So why weren't you there?"

"Because I was at the printers."

"Excuse me?"

"One of my friends works for the paper. He gave me a photocopy of the paper a minute before it was printed and a small engagement announcement which I had asked him to print. I pasted the announcement on the photocopy and asked a private printer to print a different copy of the paper. At dawn, I placed that paper in your mail box. See here's the original one," he said as he took out a folded paper from his pocket. "If you look at it, you'll be happy to see that Refoel still hasn't gotten engaged. But on the other hand, tomorrow's paper might have a real announcement . . . "

Gitty felt a flash of insight. The infinite happiness people feel when they wake up from a sad and depressing dream only to find out that it really didn't happen flooded into her. Refoel still hadn't gotten engaged! What startling news! What a brilliant exercise. She would get even with him for the tricks he had used against her. But in the meantime, she couldn't do a thing, except exult, and thank Hakodosh Boruch Hu for his great chessed, the chessed of resolving a doubt.

Gitty's engagement to Refoel took place that very week. The next morning, Gitty got up early, and looked at the engagement announcements in the neighbors' papers. She would no longer believe what her paper said, not even the date. You never know what tricks they're playing on you.

She saved that rare paper, of which there was only one copy in the world, very carefully and, if ever one of her children asked, "What's that old and yellow paper with Abba's name on the front page," she would merely smile and say. "Oh, it's nothing. It's just a little matchmaking trick."


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