Just when you thought everything on shidduchim and Jewish dating that needed to be said was already out there, here comes a new Feldheim book (Finding and Keeping Your Soul Mate) that totally turns the shidduch world on its head.
And I do not say that lightly. Even me, happily married for over 14 years, baruch Hashem, learned a heap of new insights and couldn’t put the book down! So when I had the opportunity to “shmuz” with Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier, famed creator of The Shmuz and author of Stop Surviving, Start Living!, I needed to get the inside scoop. Here it is—a fresh new look at finding—and keeping—your spouse.
Riva Pomerantz: This book focuses on guiding men and women in finding their “bashert”, their true better half. Your first book was more general, addressed to every stripe and type, but this book has more of a niche market. Why did you write about this topic?
Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier: The reason I wrote this book was because I found, over and over, that young men and women were constantly making critical errors in dating. If I had a dollar for every time a single guy or girl told me, “I’m not continuing—I dropped him/her” and then gave me a ridiculous reason for it, I’d be rich! I’d ask them, “Why? Did you enjoy the date?” “Yes.” “Did you look forward to the dates?” “Yeah.” But still, they’d drop the person, and for the most crazy, even comical and foolish reasons. When I thought more deeply about this phenomenon, it became clear that the reason for nixing perfectly good prospective marriage partners was because of a mindset I call the “Mr. Potato Head” approach.
You know Mr. Potato Head, where you put on the nose, the mouth, you build the doll exactly to your own personal specifications. Well, that’s literally the way people go into the shidduchim scene. “I know myself, I know what I need. I know that I can compromise on or what’s a total deal-breaker. If this quality isn’t there, I simply can’t continue with the shidduch.” Single people very often go out to the marketplace, looking—very seriously—for their bashert, for some strange reason, can’t find him or her. Why? Because in truth, they’re not looking for their bashert. Instead, they’ve already created their Mr. Potato Head in their mind’s eye and that’s what they’re looking for!
But the fact is, it’s Hashem who creates your bashert; it’s your job is to find him or her. You don’t know what she looks like. Is he tall or short? Outgoing or introverted? You really don’t know a thing. And if you think you know, it’s because you fool yourself into thinking you know. In the book, the whole first part is devoted to demonstrating how difficult—nearly impossible!—it is to find one’s bashert. The odds are so slim. I wanted to drive that point home so that people wake up and realize: some things are better left to Hashem. Once you recognize how silly and impossible it is to find your zivug on your own, I invite you to stop playing G-d. Instead, you can take a step back and say, “I’m not that good at this stuff. Let me let Hashem into the picture.”
RP: Whew! That’s a lot, especially for many, if not most, singles who are locked into Mr. Potato Head, as it were! What does it mean to “Let Hashem into the picture?” Do you simply sit back and wait for Bashert to parachute into your living room one fine day?
RBS: In order to really “do” shidduchim properly, you have to learn what I call “the Bashert System”. It’s so obvious and so intuitive that most people will nod their heads up and down when they read about it and say, “I agree 100%!” Then they will close the book and go right back to trying to manage things on their own and find their Mr. Potato Head!
My Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Henoch Lebowitz, zt”l, told us many, may times that Hashem gave each of us an intuitive sense in many different areas, including shidduchim. When bochurim would come to discuss a prospective shidduch, the Rosh Yeshivah would often use phrases like, “Does it feel comfortable? Do you look forward to the date? Does it feel right?” The right match is not necessarily going to feel like rockets on the fourth of July, and it may not be mad, head-over-heels emotion. Instead, in the bashert system, there are two parts: the paper test and the bashert test.
The paper test is very simple: on paper, do you two match? Are you looking for the same things in life? Are you heading in the same direction? If he’s looking to learn in yeshivah for the next ten years and she shops only in Saks Fifth Avenue, then you have a problem. The paper test establishes whether you’re both looking for approximately the same thing. The paper test is also meant to find out about any skeletons in the closet—drinking problems, OCD, health issues, etc. By finding out about these things before the couple even meets, both parties can be spared much torment.
If the paper test goes smoothly, then it’s time for the bashert test, which is basically: Go out and see if it feels comfortable. Hashem gives us an intuitive feeling and we’re supposed to use it. but we can’t be unrealistic. “Bashert” doesn’t necessarily mean starry-eyed and woozy. It could mean, “She’s very nice and I enjoy her company.”
RP: You say you’ve heard single men and women drop their dates for ridiculous reasons. Can you give us some examples “from the trenches”?
RBS: I had a guy who going out on his second round with a young woman. They had gone out two years earlier, gotten pretty involved, but then broke it off, and now they were giving it a second try. This was very important to this young man, it was a big deal for him. They had gone out a number of times but he kept going through the rigamarole of, “I really enjoy the dates, but on the one hand I feel she’s good, on the other hand I’m not sure…” Over and over again. At some point, I told this boy, “What we need is Eliyahu Hanavi to come and tell us either she’s the right one or she’s not. You’re clearly stuck because you’re not feeling a certain comfort level, or maybe she is definitely your bashert but you’re not allowing yourself to see it or feel it.” And then, in a low voice this boy said to me, “I know she’s the right one. But I’m angry at Hashem for it!” I made him say those words again. He repeated it and I said, “I don’t believe what you just said!” I told him it’s going in the book—and it is in the book! He couldn’t have said it better! Sometimes we know that this is our bashert, but s/he is so different from the picture we had in our heads that it’s hard to reconcile ourselves to the reality!
RP: So it sounds like you’ve defined the problem very clearly and I’m sure that many young men and women will be agreeing with your assessment at this point. But sealing the deal on your life-partner is stressful. How do you advise couples who have cold feet or who aren’t sure if this is the right one?
RBS: To answer your question, let me give you a bit of a background to this book. I had originally wanted to write a book about bitachon. But as I began to write, I realized that the topic was so vast and so multi-faceted that I’d never be able to fit all the material into one book, so I decided to divide it into a five-book series. My next book, b’ezras Hashem, is going to be about how to choose a career. In that book, I spend a lot of time describing what the sefarim tell us about Hashem giving each and every person an intuition about what type of career they should pursue. Just like the robin’s instinct is to hunt for worms and a cat naturally desires a mouse, while a shark is drawn to eat fish, every person has an instinct deep inside him or her which drives their potential and their ideal career. If a person follows their instinct or inclination and they do regular hishtadlus, then they’re on the right path.
In shidduchim, it’s a similar idea. You’re basically trying to tap into your inclination, your instinct, and do what feels right. Many single people start out doing exactly this, but somewhere down the line, they blow it. This is where the second big mistake in shidduchim comes in. (The first big mistake is dropping someone for foolish reasons, or not even agreeing to go out with someone because they don’t “fit the picture in my head”, as explained above.) This big mistake is that we block our intuitive sense and let our expectations or our arguments take over. The couple may have gone out five or six times and everything looks great on paper and even on the dates, and there’s a feeling that this could be The One—BUT! “She’s not pretty enough!” “He’s not rich enough/ sophisticated enough/ tall enough.” What will my brothers say about him?” “What will my friends say about her?”
At the end of the day, what is required is a leap of faith, which is why a large part of the book is devoted to the emunah and bitachon aspect of shidduchim, which is fundamental. This leap of faith is probably bigger and more significant than any other. If the couple feels that this shidduch is RIGHT, then even if there are no sparks or fireworks, they can still step out on faith and get married. It doesn’t have to beHollywoodto be right!
RP: There’s this typical “starry-eyed kallah” image and a lot of people think that if they don’t fit that image, then it must be wrong. What do you say about that?
RBS: Actually, anyone who feels absolutely sure that their chosson or kallah is the right one is either blind or naïve! The worst thing is when a boy or girl becomes infatuated while dating. When a human being is infatuated, there’s a similar effect on the neurotransmitters in brain as using cocaine. You lose your sense of yosher (rightness) and your balance and ability to be objective. People who walk into marriage thinking, “I took a look at her and instantly knew she was for me!” are potentially making a big mistake. The moment they became infatuated, their intelligence was shut off, their raw thinking power was completely skewed and they walked into this like a blooming idiot! The proof of the pudding is that the divorce rate is standing at 50%. No one walked down the aisle assuming they’re getting divorced in six months, but invariably that’s what happens.
The people looking for “starry-eyed”, who believe that only if I’m madly in love can I move forward, are making a big mistake. The fact is, as soon as you feel those emotions, you’re in trouble because you’re blinded to reality, you’re not objective.
People think that if I’m not in love now, obviously our marriage will be doomed—I’ll never be in love. But that’s a mistake. It comes from the belief that true love is infatuation grown up. We assume that if we’re infatuated now, we’ll be in love always. Nothing could be further from the truth! Infatuation is a catalyst for beginning a marriage on the right foot—it’s like sulfur on a match. The role of infatuation is to begin the process, to join men and women, who come from different worlds, together. But the infatuation is meant to be developed into something more mature and more difficult: to learn to be giving, loving, and to create a real bond of life that will last a lifetime. Couples who start out madly infatuated often end up divorced six months later—they weren’t prepared to do the hard work once the “starry-eyes” wore off!
Of course, you’re not required to try to prevent yourself from becoming infatuated (as long as you did the “paper test” and everything checks out. If you are starry-eyed about your chosson or kallah, great! Use it to go on and develop true love. If you’re not infatuated, however, that’s not the litmus test of whether this is your bashert or not.
Bottom line: you can definitely walk to the chuppah if the shidduch feels right, even if you’re not 100% sure or 100% “in love”.
RP: What about couples who are already married? Can they benefit from this book?
RBS: Definitely. The basic principles are universal and they apply to everyone, no matter where they are in life. A number of years ago, I took a couple to my Rosh Yeshivah, zt”l. They were newly married and fighting like cats and dogs. The situation looked pretty bad. They met for a long time with the Rosh Yeshivah, and it literally changed their marriage. They’re married for a good long time, very successfully! Are you wondering what was kameya he gave them? If he had ruach hakodesh? I was privy to what the discussions were and I’ll tell you exactly what the “secret” was. First, the Rosh Yeshivah brought in both the husband and wife and listened carefully as they described their troubles. Then he spoke to the husband alone. During the course of conversation, the Rosh Yeshivah discerned that the fellow felt that his wife was somehow “beneath him”, and this was causing friction in their marriage. The Rosh Yeshivah called in the young woman and spoke to her for a bit, and then he asked the husband to come in and spoke to him alone. “I’m very impressed—a very choshuv girl!” the Rosh Yeshivah told this husband. He went on to repeat that phrase four times during the rest of the conversation! That changed their entire marriage! If my rebbi, one of the gedolei ha’dor, just said that my wife is choshuv, that totally changes my understanding of who my wife really is! Their marriage flourished from then on.
Why is this such an important story? Because when I understand that Hashem is the one who is mezaveg zivugim, then I understand that He’s the one who gives the stamp of approval to my marriage. If I did my best to choose properly, then even if it’s not all roses, at least I can comfort myself that Hashem is the one who led me to this and He’s the one who decreed that my spouse is right for me. In many, many marriages, one or both of the spouses will wake up one morning and say, “I made the biggest mistake of my life!” But if, at that point, you can focus on the fact that I didn’t choose this partner—Hashem chose this person for me, then you can change and grow and figure out your part in the problem. When we have confidence that Hashem made this match, then we canmarshall the energy to change. If, however, a person thinks, “Oh well, I’m the one who chose, and I chose wrong!” then they’ll always be out looking for a better choice!
Thank you, Rabbi Shafier. This book was literally gobbled up by a young man in one sitting, and I can definitely see why. May it be the catalyst for countless couples to find—and keep—their true bashert very soon.