Saved From Fire

We all know the tragic genesis of one of the saddest days on the Jewish calendar: Tisha B’Av. From the time we were elementary school students, we learn about the sin of the meraglim, the spies Moshe sent to spy out Eretz Yisrael prior to its miraculous conquest. Tragically, ten of the twelve spies returned with slanderous reports discouraging the Jews from entering Israel. Instead of looking forward to the fulfillment of the Divine promise of inheriting the “Land flowing with milk and honey,” they cried bitter tears that night. Hashem then set the incontrovertible precedent for hundreds of generations by proclaiming, “You cried in vain. Now I will give you a reason to cry!”

Subsequently, the infamous date of the Ninth of Av became synonymous with tragedy and punishment, including the destruction of the first and second Batei Mikdash in Yerushalayim and the rampant torture, murder and exile of our people.

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Usually crying in vain does not result in such dire and clear consequences, especially since we are unaware that our cries are unwarranted. Sometimes, like those of our ancestors in the desert, our protestations should have instead been cheers and songs of thanksgiving; but we discover this only in retrospect.

The following story is a definite case in point. Although its title may conjure images of heroic firefighters battling intense flames, what actually occurred is far subtler and less dramatic. But make no mistake: the Divine rescue we witnessed was every bit as potent and powerful.

It is appropriately symbolic that our tale commences with Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, and revolves around a shidduch suggestion that began as a tiny flame, flared to life, and then faded into obscurity, sadly snuffed out in its prime. Although, on the surface, it may be difficult to perceive the chain of hashgacha pratis, our twenty-twenty hindsight vision provides ample proof of the Divine Hand at play from beginning to end.

It was just after Tisha B’Av, generally the time of year that I allow myself to breathe a huge sigh of relief and look forward to better days ahead. However, it was not meant to be. I found myself tossing and turning in the wee hours of the morning, until I decided to cut my losses and do something more productive.

Despite the unearthly hour, my mind was incredibly active, and my thoughts would allow me no rest. My daughter had recently broken off yet another shidduch, bringing the total to over forty, and counting. She had already passed the quarter-century mark and like any Jewish mother worthy of the title, that was way more than enough to keep me up at night. Worse yet, in all her years of dating, quite a number of boys were ready to propose (and one actually had), but time after time she cited a decided lack of “chemistry” and let the match fizzle. In fact, there were fewer than a handful of prospective chassanim who ever made the grade in her book. It was a very frustrating reality for all involved.

Over the years, there was only one young man in whom she was truly interested and with whom she had managed to form some sort of emotional attachment. But that particular shidduch appeared to be doomed from the start, with a combination of bad timing and repeated miscommunication. After three or four promising dates, the boy decided to call it quits, without any valid explanation. For the first time in her dating career, our wonderful daughter even shed a few tears at the relationship’s unexpected demise.

Of course, we blamed the unfortunate timing on so many levels: the matchmaker was away from home over Chanukah, unbeknownst to us, temporarily without email access, resulting in an inexplicable delay in response time to our inquiries. Worse yet, the boy was in the midst of a grueling finals schedule that effectively hijacked his time and focus. I even discovered, long after the fact, that one of my emails to the matchmaker had been misdirected to a former tenant of ours whose name began with the same two first letters!

Regardless of the “series of unfortunate events” that was to blame, ultimately the sad result was irrefutable: the boy made up his mind that there was no future for the proposed match. The end.

Well, not quite so fast…

In the ensuing year plus, both he and our daughter had remained single. And, on the surface at least, the top requirements on her list were still lined up in perfect precision. Like her, he wanted to live in Israel, was frum but open-minded, and had a refreshing personality. He was charming, extremely bright, fun, a baal midos, and even good-looking. As an added bonus, he came from a highly intelligent scholarly family, seemingly well respected and liked in their community. Basically everything was absolutely indisputably fantastic, except for the exasperating and incontrovertible fact that he had no interest in marrying our amazing daughter!

Undeterred, I contacted the matchmaker again to test the waters. His response was the same as it had been a year earlier, still sans any concrete reasons, at least none that he was willing to divulge.

Again we let it rest, and they both continued dating other people, albeit unsuccessfully.

That sleepless night, however, I was determined to approach it from a new angle and somehow give that ill-fated shidduch another opportunity to see the light of day. I signed onto my computer and began a Google search to try to locate a common friend, acquaintance, or neighbor; anyone who had a reasonable chance of resurrecting this shidduch, which was apparently languishing on life support at best.

Finally I hit on a name that presented a definite possibility, a Facebook friend of his whose family resided in the neighborhood that our daughter had been living and working in for a couple of years. I had only met the boy’s parents briefly at a family celebration, but they were very lovely people and close friends with our own family in that community.

Thankfully, that life preserver was enough to grasp onto for the time being. I wearily climbed the stairs to my bedroom, and blessedly fell back asleep until the morning.

However, once I was fully awake and my senses were decidedly sharper, I was determined to continue the search to allow this last-ditch effort the best possible chance at success. The next Google search turned up jaw-dropping information way beyond my wildest imaginings. It was a hair-raising account of a scandal so horrific and abominable that I cannot conceivably justify including the sordid details in a frum family publication. Aside from the gory accusations and consequent prison sentence, the aspect that I found most astounding and shocking was that it had occurred several years earlier, well before the shidduch had initially been suggested. And despite the fact that we had done significant research, both online and by calling various friends and references, not a whisper of suspicion had been heard. Before, during, and for over a year and a half after their brief courtship, we did not have the slightest suspicion that this was anything but a model family with a lovely son who we would have proudly welcomed into our family.

What I read that morning shook me to the core. And although I hesitated to publicize the sordid saga, I reluctantly shared it with my husband and daughter, and at the his insistence, with the matchmaker as well. Truth be told, the scandalous aspect was only a minuscule part of what disturbed us; the allegations were potentially devastating for both our child and her future children in a very real sense.

Our daughter was even more shaken than I, but the news was as therapeutic and enlightening as it was devastating. She felt like she should stand up and bentch gomel for the near miss she had experienced.

“Here I was crying over this shidduch, when I should have been thanking Hashem for saving me!” she shared.

And so, an incident of Tisha B’Av-style “crying in vain” evolved into a spontaneous appreciation of the magnificent Chanukah miracle we had in fact merited. Instead of the heavy darkness that had enveloped us all those many months, we perceived the unwavering light of Hashem’s hidden salvation that had appropriately begun on that fateful Festival of Lights.

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