Twenty Years and Two Weeks
Chava was a top girl - the type of young lady parents take pride in, the type teachers bless in their hearts, the type of glowing pearl everyone tries to match up with her brother or nephew. She was eighteen years old when she got engaged and the joy at her simchah reached the very heavens. Everyone present was filled with love and fondness for this special girl who truly deserved the praise everyone heaped upon her head.
But a few weeks after her engagement, her face streaked with tears and her heart filled with anguish, Chava returned the jewelry she had received to the chassan’s family. The shidduch was off. Everyone who knew her was shocked. Her friends were devastated. Her parents bit their lips in pain and prayed she would get engaged again very soon, this time to a bachur who truly suited her. Chava herself felt hollow, empty, lost.
A week passed. After much pleading on her parents’ part, Chava began to show her face outside again. The broken engagement wasn’t her fault. Even without knowing the details, no one blamed her in the least.
“If only every girl who left a shidduch were as popular as Chava,” her family members said. “She’ll get engaged to a great bachur and the whole unfortunate incident will soon be forgotten,” they predicted. But no one can foresee the future…
Another week passed. Slowly, new shidduch suggestions began trickling in. Some involved slight problems; others were altogether regular. Many good, distinguished families were only too happy to do a shidduch with a family as distinguished as Chava’s, a girl whose reputation as a wonderful ba’alas middos preceded her. Chavah kept her pain locked in her heart and raised her eyes heavenward, davening for a bright future.
Half a year passed, and then another. Chava noted with pain the anniversary of the demise of her shidduch. A year had passed since she had begun to accept new suggestions. There had been no significant change in her life since then.
Chava graduated seminary in the same situation and began to look for a job. Hakadosh Baruch Hu was at her side and she landed a plum job in which she invested her heart and soul and at which she was astonishingly successful. Her parents looked on, feeling a mixture of nachas and pain, pride and distress.
Her first year at her job passed, too, and Chava received an offer for a steady job for the following year.
How can I know if I’ll continue living here? she asked herself. Who knows where life might lead me? But the beginning of the year gave way to the middle and then the end and there was no indication her marital status might change anytime soon.
Chava’s younger sister got engaged and then married, and Chava did her best to gladden the kallah. Only Hashem knew about her broken heart and tear-soaked pillow.
Another year passed. Chava’s sister gave birth to a baby boy. Chava went to visit her and cooked and baked up a storm, spreading excitement and happiness as if she and her situation were completely non-existent. She knew nothing about the heartfelt tefillos whispered on her behalf, the “shemiras halashon week” her family organized or the daily halachos studied bechavrusa. She sensed her family’s sincere desire to see her happy, but she couldn’t give them what she personally wanted more than anything else: to finally find her zivug, the man destined for her from Shamayim.
Months passed. Chava’s younger brother got engaged. His kallah was far younger than Chavah – eighteen years old, just like Chava had been when… She helped choose the jewelry and accompanied the kallah to gown fittings – and she also traveled to the Kosel to pour out the hot tears that bubbled inside her all the time. No one knew; no one saw – only Hashem was witness to the pain in her heart.
More children were born and the house grew filled with the happy sounds of children at play. Chava extended a helping hand and made everyone feel happy and welcome. She gave and complimented and bought and smiled – but no one knew how to make her happy in the very deepest recesses of her soul.
Years passed. Chava’s younger siblings all married in quick succession. They all raised nice families and all the grandchildren, without exception, loved and trusted their thirty… thirty-five-year-old still-single aunt. Chava certainly wasn’t getting any younger. Her eyes lost their youthful sparkle, but she remained beloved and admired by all who knew her. Very few people command as much fondness and respect as Chava did.
When she was thirty-eight years old and her parents were no youngsters, either, Chava’s family was dealt an unbearably difficult blow: her father grew very ill.
Chava’s father had been the mainstay of the family. He had been its source of life, its source of hope. Her mother was completely shattered, so it was Chavah who dealt with the doctors and the treatments, the clinics and the institutes, the medical askanim and all the rest. It was immediately clear that the situation was very serious. The doctors gave the family no hope of a complete cure; they spoke of extending his life or mitigating his pain, nothing more.
Chava cared for her sick father with tender concern and unparalleled devotion. She stayed at his bedside for days on end, anticipating and fulfilling his every wish.
“You want to make me happy?” he whispered to her one day as pain racked his body. She bent over, eager to hear his every word. What wouldn’t she do to make her father happy?
“Let me see you married. I want to leave this world in peace,” he said, tears sparkling in his eyes. “I don’t need anything. Don’t sit at my bedside; don’t waste your time. Do something, anything, to find your zivug while I’m still alive.”
How much pain can a father’s request contain? How much distress, how much dismay and helplessness?
Chava returned home weeping. What else could she do that she hadn’t yet done? She was sure her situation was beyond hope. Still, she tried: she asked her siblings, her aunts, her uncles. “Do something,” she pleaded with them. “Not for my sake, for Abba’s.”
But the days passed and no worthy suggestions came in. Chava continued sitting at her father’s side, watching him struggle with the pain and feeling it slice through her own soul. Every time his eyes rested on her, she saw in them the fierce hope, the unfulfilled wish… unfulfilled because of her.
His situation improved somewhat. Her father returned home for a while, but then the situation was even harder.
“Get engaged, Chava,” her father would say, over and over again. “Get engaged. Don’t be so picky. Let your father die in peace.”
Chava wept into her pillow at night, alternately biting her lips and sobbing out loud. Her father wouldn’t let up. How could he leave the world before he was secure in the knowledge that his precious daughter, a truly special bas Yisrael was settled down?
“Get engaged,” he would tell her morning, noon and night. Chava felt her house was a gehinom. Should she pick up and leave? Leave her father alone in his pain? On his sickbed? Should she stay? Stay and absorb overflowing portions of distress day after day, hour after hour? Could her heart stand it much longer?
One day, Chava left her home in the north of the country and traveled south, to Bnei Brak, to visit with Rebbetzin Kanievsky in Bnei Brak.
“I’m nearly thirty-eight years old,” she began, bursting into sobs despite her best efforts at control. The Rebbetzin did not need to hear much more. Her warm and generous heart is always open wide.
Thirty-eight years old… twenty years of pain!
“My father is very sick. He hasn’t much time left. He wants me to get engaged before he passes away,” the words came tumbling out of Chava’s mouth, choked with sobs, saturated with bitterness.
“The Rav usually recommends checking the mezuzos,” the Rebbetzin replied gently.
“We’ve changed them five times already. We didn’t just check them; we bought new ones just to be on the safe side. My father insisted. Every few years, he bought new mezuzos, the most mehudar ones he could find, just in case there was something we hadn’t noticed.” Chava continued trembling with sobs.
The Rebbetzin shrugged helplessly. Her heart went out to this wonderful Jewish girl who was suffering so.
“The Rav also tells everyone to contribute to Kupat Ha’ir, but I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that. I’m sure you’ve already contributed generously.”
Chava’s eyes opened wide. “What’s that? A contribution to Kupat Ha’ir?”
“Yes, but you’ve done that, and changed the mezuzos, too…”
“I haven’t contributed,” Chava replied. “Maybe a little bit here and there, when there was a special appeal. Nothing special. The Rav says to contribute to Kupat Ha’ir in particular? As a segulah for getting engaged?”
“Yes, of course.”
Chava had no idea why she hadn’t ever thought of contributing before. Why hadn’t she transmitted her name to the Gedolei Hador for a blessing? She suddenly recalled all the stories she had read in the brochures… no, she had never contributed!
She left the Rebbetzin’s house with tremendous hope in her heart. On the very same day, she contributed generously – very generously, to Kupat Ha’ir. She gave the receptionist her name and her mother’s name and began to hope and pray anew.
A day passed, and then another. Chava continued helping her father throughout the day, continued seeing the burning hope in his eyes. She very nearly made the decision to get engaged to the first person who would have her, if only to give her father the nachas he so longed for.
As if in answer to her prayers, Chava received a phone call from Mrs. Z, an experienced matchmaker who had already made numerous attempts on her behalf.
“This time I have a truly special suggestion for you,” she said. “I can’t imagine why I never suggested him to you before.”
“What’s his name?” Chava asked, afraid to get her hopes up.
“Ploni Almoni from Yeshivas…”
“Yeshivas XYZ,” Chava interrupted. She knew all about the bachur, where he lived, what his father’s name was, that his mother worked as a secretary in …., that his brother was married to…. And his sister to….
“So you’re familiar with the suggestion,” the shadchanis concluded.
“Familiar?” Chava asked gloomily. “This particular name has been mentioned dozens of times.”
“So how come nothing ever came of it?”
“I don’t know. It just never took off. Many people have tried to push it but it just didn’t work.”
“But why?” the shadchanis persisted. “If so many people think you’re suited to one another, why don’t you give it a chance?”
Chava was silent for a minute. Then she decided to answer the question in complete honesty. “Look, I’ll tell you the truth. We verified information about him the first time his name came up and we were very pleased with what we heard. We gave the shadchan a positive answer but there was complete silence at their end. When the suggestion came up again, we asked some more information and once again, we liked what we heard. This time, we sent a shadchan of our own to try and push the shidduch but the other side wasn’t interested. They don’t want me, Mrs. Z. We’ve tried a few times. What can we do? It’s the bachur’s right.”
Mrs. Z. listened carefully. She heard the sincerity in Chava’s words, the disappointment and acceptance. She decided she would not rest until she gave this shidduch her own best shot.
“I’m going to try, okay?” she asked.
“Go ahead. I told you that I’m interested,” Chava replied. “You don’t stand a chance, but if you want to feel that you tried, I won’t stop you.”
The shadchanis contacted the bachur. He was no youngster either; his friends were already marrying off their children. She insisted on speaking to him directly.
“This is Mrs. Z, a shadchanis from up north. I want to suggest a shidduch for you.”
The bachur practically burst out laughing when he heard Chava’s name. “I’ve heard that name at least a hundred times,” he said. “Every few months, someone else mentions it. I’m not interested. Thank you very much.”
“But why?” Mrs. Z interjected hurriedly, before the bachur could hang up the phone. “You seem so compatible – age-wise, family-wise. Where else will you find such a wonderful, talented girl?’
“I know she’s wonderful and talented,” the bachur replied dryly, “but I’m not interested. We asked about her a few times and I’m not interested. Thank you for trying, anyway.”
“But why?” Mrs. Z exclaimed. “What fault have you found in her? She is perfect! I don’t usually say that about girls her age, but Chava is an exception. She is very, very special.”
“I know that,” the bachur said impatiently, “but the problem is that she knows exactly how wonderful she is. She knows she’s talented; she knows she’s successful; she knows she’s intelligent. She… she thinks too highly of herself. I can’t stand people like that. I don’t want a snob for a wife. I’m looking for someone modest ad unassuming. I prefer a mediocre woman who’s willing to listen and accept from others to a shining star who’s convinced she’s the best.”
Mrs. Z thought for a moment. She knew the bachur was wrong about Chava, but how could she prove it to him? Chava really was a wonderful girl! She did not think highly of herself at all.
“I’d like to ask you something,” Mrs. Z said hesitantly. “I spoke to Chava about this shidduch before I called you. She knows the facts: her family was interested in this shidduch from the beginning while your side was not. What do you think she told me when I asked her why nothing had ever come of the suggestion?”
“What do I think she said?” the bachur asked in surprise. “Is there a shortage of excuses a person can pull from his sleeve? She probably said she didn’t think we were compatible, that she had her reasons, that she didn’t like something she heard about my family…something like that!”
“Well,” said Mrs. Z, trying to subdue the note of triumph in her voice, “she told me that she was very, very interested but that you were not. She told me that her family had tried numerous times to send shadchanim to push the shidduch but that your response was always negative. I don’t think many girls would tell a shadchanis something like that; it’s very unpleasant to admit that you were on the receiving end of a refusal. Do you think that a girl who was a snob would give me an answer like that?”
“Is that what she told you?” the bachur asked in amazement.
“Yes. Precisely that.”
“Maybe she changed…the passage of years does something to a person,” he replied thoughtfully. “You know what?” he asked, his voice suddenly softer. “I’ll ask about her again. It’s been at least ten years since I last asked information about her, after all.”
The following morning, he called Mrs. Z to give her the go-ahead, and a week later, the couple was engaged.
Two months later, Chava’s critically ill father attended her wedding. He leaned heavily on his son-in-law for support as he walked toward his kallah to cover her head with a snow-white veil. His eyes streamed with tears but his face was lit up with a special glow. He sat on a chair during the dancing but his soul danced with all its might.
A few weeks latr, calm and happy, he returned his soul to its Maker.