On the roof of the Aish center looking down at the Western Wall with Chevra & Davai in 2011

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Monday, February 6, 2012

Just Get Married!

About 8 years ago I was at a Shabbaton and I was talking to a friend of mine and a local outreach Rabbi that we both know. The friend that I was with had been involved with orthodox Judaism for several years longer that I was, but his commitment to mitzvah observance was slow. Also, where I was engaged, this friend was having a hard time meeting the right person.

After trying to convince my friend why he should be more observant and how doing so would help him find the right wife, the Rabbi, in a moment of slight frustration said something like “Just get married, move to Israel & Frum-Out.”

I found it odd that there’s so much pressure put on single Ba’al Teshuvas to get married. The statements don’t seem to focus that much on finding the right person for you or becoming a person that’s capable of being in a successful marriage. It seems like getting married is the most important thing and having a successful marriage will somehow automatically come later. At one point, divorce was extremely rare among observant Jews, but over the past couple decades, our numbers have risen dramatically.

Around the same time that I got engaged, a friend of mine started dating someone. He was introduced to someone by a mutual friend and after a very short dating period, they announced their engagement. He was telling me about his new bride and he said something like “I’m frum and she’s frum and we have the same goals because we want to both live a frum lifestyle.” I remember thinking that this poor guy had no clue what he was in for. After a year or so of marriage, they separated. It took some time, but they eventually worked things out. I know another guy who was engaged to a girl that he didn’t know so well and he and his fiancĂ© both had cold feet. Their Rabbis reassured them that they would be fine and they shouldn’t delay the wedding. They continued and she quickly became pregnant, but unfortunately, they didn’t get along so well and separated before their baby was even born.

I understand why there’s so much pressure for people to get married. As time goes on, and people get older, they are more likely to marry non-Jews. Needless to say, the intermarriage problem in America is of catastrophic proportions affecting well over half of Jews and almost every family. I also agree that Jews should feel a sense of urgency and want to get married, but I don’t think they should move so fast that they marry someone who isn’t right for them or they marry before they’re mature enough to handle it. It’s not enough to both be Jewish and frum. There are other basic essentials that need to be in place. It’s also crucial that individually, people are in a place where they’re ready to give fully to another in order to make the marriage work. Marriage isn’t a 50-50. It’s a 100-100. Both people need to give 100% of themselves to the other.

When I was single, the pressure that I felt from my mentors and some of the Rabbis around me was enormous. I was 28 years old when I started exploring my Judaism. Up until that point, I never felt an impeding urge to get married. All of a sudden, it seemed like people were saying that I needed to get married ASAP or I would be in trouble. Considering that it took my wife a year and a half of convincing before she’d agree to marry me, I suffered through many comments from people that we were wasting our time and I just needed to get married already. The truth is that my wife was very wise. Her parents were divorced when she was a child and it left scars that she had no intention of repeating with her children. In order to ensure this, my wife forced us to learn as much as possible about marriage and its potential pitfalls, talk to Rabbis and councilors and talk about the myriads of issues that could come up before she would agree to get engaged. Because of her insistence, we educated ourselves and formed both an intellectual and emotional bond before we formed the physical bond of marriage. It enabled us to deal with the challenges that marriage and children bring upon a couple much more affectively. Right before we got married, we met with a Rabbi whom I’m very close with and his wife for advice. He said something to me that’s as clear today as the day he said it. He said “You’re going to get married and have a big party, dance and celebrate, be among friends and loved ones and after everyone’s gone, you’re going to be alone in a room together with each others dirty underwear.” It’s a funny statement, but the point it home quickly. Marriage isn’t about the party or taking something off your “To do” list. It’s a bond. It’s rejoining your soul with its long lost counterpart, taking on your help-mate, which can and will be against you at appropriate times. It’s joining together the good and the bad of both of you.

A year after I got married, one of my best friends got married. On the night that I was supposed to host a sheva bracha for him and his new bride, he called me and told me that both of them have caught a stomach virus and they couldn’t make it. As he apologized, I told him how lucky he was. He and his new wife were getting a very quick lesson on the practicalities of marriage and having to take care of each other in not the most pleasant circumstance. No matter what came their way after this, it would be a step up from a new chassan and kallah both needing to use the bathroom in a 1 bathroom house. It’s been several years and they’re one of the happiest couples that I know.

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