He was in shul on Rosh Hashana and the rabbi was speaking before shofar blowing. Something about the dichotomy of rejoicing while trembling, or trembling while rejoicing. He was neither trembling nor rejoicing. He was emotionally numb, and also a little hungry. The only dichotomy he was struggling with was whether it was better to be hosted by families for all the meals or to have some of them alone. He’d received only one invitation, for last night’s dinner, so it was academic.
He took a surreptitious glance at the women’s section. The shul always removed part of the curtain for speeches. He wasn’t sure what point they were trying to make, and suspected it was more about making a point than improving the experience for the women merely by offering a better view of the rabbi.
If the point was that they wouldn’t separate the men and women any more than absolutely required, he wasn’t impressed. He’d been davening there for three years, and there were probably a few dozen single women in the shul right now. Not one of them knew his name, he didn’t know any of their names, and there was no plausible way that would ever change. His best chance was going to a web site or WhatsApp group and finding a stranger in possession of one of their shidduch profiles to possibly fix him up with someone sitting 20 feet away. This was considered not only normal, but just about the only acceptable way.
The community – for lack of a better word – was oblivious to this situation. It was bizarre, if you thought about it. He spent roughly 10 percent of his waking hours in shul, yet there was nothing to facilitate getting to know the others in the room. Unless you absolutely forced the issue or had an “in”, you might as well be dead. At the same time, the shul described itself as friendly and family-oriented, as they always do.
He was plenty separated from the women even without the curtain. And the truth was, they wanted it this way. If he tried approaching one of them after davening, they would react with discomfort and suspicion. Surely he was a creep, surely he had bad intentions, surely he “only had one thing in mind”. Yes, what he had in mind was that he wanted to get married and have children, he figured a fellow shul-going woman might be compatible, he thought she was attractive, and he wanted to get to know her and find out. How creepy. If the women had it their way there would be no curtain, but people like him would be behind a steel wall. Single men needed to be vetted before being allowed the privilege of saying hello and buying them dinner.
He tried to turn his attention away from these dark thoughts. He’d resolved not to dwell on such things this Rosh Hashana. Sure, he was going to be alone again. Sure, he couldn’t get too much into the davening, the rabbi was uninspiring, the community oblivious to his existence once the dues were received. He had a responsibility to the shul, since he davened there and they had to pay the rabbi and the electric company, but they felt no responsibility toward him and his needs. So be it. He had a great lunch waiting for him at his apartment, he would make the most of the day as it was, and God would give him the strength to enter the new year with a positive attitude.
The speech seemed to have no end, and he closed his eyes.
When he opened them he was no longer in shul.
He was standing in a large area surrounded by wispy clouds. There were thousands of people standing quietly, facing forward, heads slightly bowed. In the front was a dais, where three imposing figures sat and leered at the multitudes standing before them.
A tall figure materialized to his right and handed him a paper. Everyone around him started to chant the words on the paper, and he instinctively joined them:
On Rosh Hashana they are inscribed, and on the fast of Yom Kippur they are sealed: how many will get married and how many will remain single; who will enjoy life with a partner and family, and who will pass on with no living legacy; who in a good time and who after much delay; who will suffer bad dates and who will have no dates; who will suffer by heartbreak, or depression, or isolation, or disaffection, or rejection, or emptiness, or insults, or cruelty; who will move to other cities seeking a change of fortune and who will try to find peace in one place; who will accept things as they are and who will go mad trying to change them; who will find peace and who will be afflicted; who will be bereft and who will succeed; who will be cast down and who will be raised up.
When the prayer was completed a perfect silence descended. The assembled masses looked toward the figures at the dais. On the left was a man with a long flowing beard who radiated with purity. In the middle was a pudgy man who appeared content and in control. On the right was a no-nonsense-looking woman who appeared discontent, yet even more in control.
The one on the left addressed them in a powerful voice.
“I am the Rabbi Judge. I am here to instruct you yet again that you have a responsibility to get married. You are not permitted to just go through life as if you have forever and neglect this obligation. The Torah does not recognize an indefinite single ‘lifestyle’. And what of those among you who are content to be ‘just friends’ with so many eligible potential spouses, yet will marry none of them? This is repugnant. Look around you! These are your fellow singles. There are many of you, but that’s all there is. You must marry someone from this group. Get serious about it.”
The singles lowered their heads and cowered in fear.
The middle figure then spoke. “I am the Guru Judge. I am here to coach you, mentor you, guide you, hold your hand, and give you common sense, for you have none. Be positive. Enjoy life. Know yourself. Believe in yourself. Love yourself. Go for coaching. Imagine what your ideal relationship will look like. Believe you will find it. Then go find it. Allow it to find you. When it doesn’t, go for more coaching. Take charge of your life. Follow your dreams. Live life to the fullest, right now. Take on a new hobby. Pursue your passions. Be the next slogan that is the ideal you. Love will follow. When it doesn’t, go for more coaching.”
The singles listened respectfully.
The third figure leered at the singles. “I am the Shadchan Judge. I was summoned from a much loftier place to be here. For your sake. You can’t imagine the sacrifices I make to help you. If only you would just do as I say. Then you would get married, I could enjoy my everlasting reward, and you would graduate to where I sit now, judging the inferior ones.”
The singles stood petrified.
Except for him. “Hold on!” he called out. “What is this? Don’t we get to speak?”
All eyes turned to him. The tall figure who had handed him the paper leaned forward and spoke into his ear. “You’d best not. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. This one. Just be humble, acknowledge your failing, and beg for mercy like everyone else.”
“I did not fail!” he cried. “I didn’t have many opportunities to date people last year. The ones I had were way off base. I tried to be positive and flexible, but there was nothing even close. If I could go back and do it over again, I couldn’t have done better with what I had to work with. There was no one in the mix I could have married or should have married.”
There were astonished murmurs in the crowd. The judges glared at him. His tall advocate addressed him again, this time more loudly. “You can’t speak like that here! Don’t you know where you are?”
“Why can’t I speak here?” he countered. “If I’m on trial I should have the opportunity to defend myself, especially if it seems the game is fixed against me. We’re all guilty until proven innocent, and there’s no way we can prove our innocence. That isn’t fair. And I don’t accept that I am guilty for not being married. I never had a fair chance.”
“Not true!” declared the Rabbi Judge. “You didn’t try hard enough.”
“Not true!” declared the Guru Judge. “You didn’t go for coaching.”
“Not true!” declared the Shadchan Judge. “You’re too picky.”
“Wrong!” he replied. “I made a sincere and serious effort. I gave a chance to many things, even when they were way outside my comfort zone. No one would have been surprised had I been successful, so they shouldn’t blame me that I wasn’t.”
He looked at the Shadchan Judge. “Wait a second. Since when are women allowed to be judges on a beis din, anyway? Don’t tell me that craziness made it here too.”
She flashed him a trademark condescending smile. “Of course not, honey. When it comes to singles, everyone is a judge.”
He was momentarily stunned, but collected himself. “Your job isn’t to judge singles. Your job is to help them. If you can’t help them, at least show some genuine compassion.”
“I’m sitting here and you are standing there,” said the Shadchan Judge. “Enough said.”
“That’s your problem,” added the Guru Judge. “You believe in yourself too much. If you knew so much you would be married. You need to take advice from professionals, from winners.”
“Didn’t you say before that we should know ourselves and believe in ourselves?” he shot back. “I know myself and I believe in myself. You’re just trying to knock me down and build me back up again in a way that I am dependent on you. I’m not buying that.”
“I have many grateful clients who credit me for helping them break through whatever was blocking them from getting married.”
“You take the credit for everyone who gets married and none of the blame for the ones who don’t. So does your Shadchan friend. Sweet deal.”
“Meanwhile you are still single. Maybe I can help you work through your issues.”
“Willing to bet your own money on that?”
“Enough!” said the Rabbi Judge. “You have a mitzvah to get married, period. Eliezer davened for help in finding a wife for Yitzchak. But you can’t rely on miracles. You have to have more bitachon. But don’t have too much bitachon. You have to put in more hishtadlus, she won’t just drop down from shamayim. It is the way of the man to search for the woman. But don’t ask a woman out, it’s not tzanua. You should daven for other singles, then you will be answered first. A woman is not an esrog, you don’t need the prettiest one. Sheker hachen v’hevel hayofi. The main thing is she comes from a good family. The main thing is she has good middos. The main thing is you are realistic. Look in the mirror, you’re not a knockout. Go for counseling. Call every shadchan, and keep calling them so they don’t forget about you. But relax, a shidduch comes from shamayim, you really don’t have to try. Whatever is bashert is bashert. Whoever you wind up marrying, that is your bashert. But don’t marry just anyone, she should be the daughter of a talmid chacham so she will maintain a Torah home. Don’t turn her down because her nose is too big, you can lose your bashert. Take on an extra mitzvah as a segula. The main thing –”
“Stop, stop, stop!” he cried. “You’re not making any sense! You’re contradicting yourself! None of you make any sense!”
The Shadchan Judge smiled again. “Just to clarify what the esteemed Rabbi Judge said, do call me every so often so I don’t forget about you, but don’t call me too often. Also don’t call me during breakfast, lunch, dinner, work hours, when I am shopping, cooking, helping the kids with their homework, relaxing, spending time with the family, at night, less than two days before Shabbos or Yom Tov, on vacation, or any other time it’s inconvenient for me. I have a family and my own life, you know. I can’t be at your beck and call just because you don’t.”
“She’s absolutely right,” said the Rabbi Judge. “Shadchanim are doing the holiest avoda, and where would the Jewish people be without them?”
“Where are the Jewish people with them?” he retorted.
“Shadchanim are wonderful for my business,” said the Guru Judge. “Sometimes I feel like I should send them kickbacks. But then I remember they go straight to Gan Eden.”
“The singles should give them bonuses,” said the Rabbi Judge. “Just for thinking of them.”
“They should pay me for my time on the phone,” said the Shadchan Judge. “I only take the little I do because I’m supposed to, but I really do this just for the mitzvah.”
“We’re getting sidetracked,” said the Rabbi Judge. “These people are the ones being judged. Especially the one with the big mouth. He doesn’t seem ready to me.”
“Ready for what?” he said. “For marriage? A woman needs a man who isn’t afraid to take charge of a situation. I think all of you should be the ones to answer for what’s been going on under your watch. Look at all these singles, who depend on you for help, support, and guidance. That’s the way you set it up. So if they fail, you failed.”
“You’re too stubborn,” said the Rabbi Judge.
“You’re too negative,” said the Guru Judge.
“You’re too you,” said the Shadchan Judge.
“This is the Heavenly Court,” said the Rabbi Judge. “You need us on your side. And you need to do your part so we can properly assist you.”
“I’m trying!” he cried. “I tried hard enough!”
“So you claim,” said the Rabbi Judge. “How do you know what enough is? You can always do more. Considering your lamentable situation, clearly you should do more.”
He gave them a defiant look. “Frankly, I think you guys up here could be doing a little more, too!”
A tense silence filled the court. Finally he pointed at them. “I’ve had enough with you and your judgments. I want to speak to your supervisor. The manager. The big boss. You know who. He is my only judge.”
“Impossible,” said the Rabbi Judge. “We are your appointed judges.”
“We have a long history of success,” said the Guru Judge.
“You can’t speak with Him,” said the Shadchan Judge. “He’s busy.”
“What do you mean He’s busy? Busy with what?”
All three judges leaned forward and smiled. “Making shidduchim.”
The court erupted in laughter. He turned to and fro, agape at the scene before him. Even his sole advocate had turned against him, joining in the laughter.
Suddenly the laughter stopped, replaced by looks of awe and terror. A brilliant light was descending on the court, filling it with indescribable blinding glory. The judges shrank back in fright. So did he. Everyone was speechless before Him. All mouths were closed, all arguments stopped.
A voice pierced the silence.
He was standing. The sounds of the shofar pierced the silence of the shul. Again and again the shofar blasted.
And then, they prayed.