One of the most puzzling concepts in our mesora is the concept of barshert especially as it relates to other obscure concepts such as bechira and hishtadlus.
We all know the famous gemara in Sota and Sanhedrin which states that "Forty days before the formation of the fetus, a heavenly voice announces: The daughter of this one is destined for Ploni; the house of this one is destined for Ploni; the field of this one is destined for Ploni." Yet, in Moed Kattan the gemara says that one can daven to get a certain woman or property and perhaps he will be granted it out of Heavenly mercy. Likewise, in Sota and Sanhedrin the gemara tells us that this only applies to our first shidduch (zivug rishon) but not to subsequent ones. The subsequent ones are based solely on our "acts" (behavior or merit).
I have heard it said that “the first zivug” may refer to the first shidduch prospect that is offered to any individual. Once that one is turned down, all of those that are suggested afterward are considered “zivug sheini” and are based on our acts.
A more practical perspective is that the concept of “zivug rishon” only was applicable in days of yore when it was commonplace for girls to be married at pre-adolescence and boys in their teenage years. This is before either one is 20 years old and fully responsible for their "acts". Thus, since the boy and girl are not fully mature and have not yet adopted an adult lifestyle, they are matched with Heavenly foresight. Today that almost all boys and most girls are married when they are already 20 and answerable for their acts, they are automatically in “zivug sheini” mode. (I do not have any names to attach to the above viewpoints).
Whether these explanations are true or not, for all we know, they may be. And it says to us that, in practice, we can’t really rely on the barshert card.
Now here is a very interesting observation. As noted, this statement of “bas ploni l’ploni” is quoted three times in Talmud Bavli: Sota 2a, Sanhedrin 22a and Moed Kattan 18b. All three places deal with the apparent contradiction of “barshert” versus “hishtadlus/bechira”. But there seems to be three major discrepancies between the quotes in Sota and Sanhedrin on one side and the one in Moed Kattan.
1. In Sota and Sanhedrin, the gemara states that this bas kol comes out forty days before the fetus is formed. In Moed Kattan it says that it comes every single day.
2. In Sota and Sanhedrin, this contradiction is indeed between “barshert” vs. “bechira” (acts or behavior) while in Moed Kattan the contradiction is between “barshert” and “hishtadlus” (davening for a specific shidduch).
Tosefes in Moed Kattan (and Sota) do not seem to be bothered by these first two discrepancies. They ask: Why doesn’t Shmuel answer the contradiction in Moed Kattan that the barshert is for zivug rishon and the hishtadlus is for zivug sheni just like in the other two places in Shas?
I think that a third major discrepancy addresses the first two and negates Tosefos’ question:
3. In Sota and Sanhedrin, this quote is attributed to Rav by way of Rav Yehuda. In Moed Kattan it is attributed to Shmuel by way of Rav Yehuda. (Rav Yehuda was a student both of Rav and of Shmuel).
It seems to me that Rav in Sota and Sanhedrin and Shmuel in Moed Kattan are discussing two different scenarios and saying two different things. Rav is talking about zivug rishon and thus he says “forty days before the fetus is formed…” Nothing will interfere with this at the zivug rishon stage so when the gemara asks a contradiction about being matched by merit, the way out is to say we are not referring to zivug rishon but zivug sheini.
Shmuel in Moed Kattan was not discussing zivug rishon at all. His starting point was zivug sheini. Therefore, for zivug sheini, the appropriate mate is always changing on a day to day basis based on the person’s behavioral status. As such, for zivug sheini mode, there is a brand new barshert every single day! In this setting, tefillah and hishtadlus will be effective even if there has been a “gezeira” that this woman is destined for another.
So, after all this we are plenty confused. Our future jobs, homes, and spouses are pre-ordained as barshert but because we have bechira, if we don’t do our hishtadlus, barshert won’t happen.
Now, here is a bigger question. Does a woman have a barshert at all?
Despite all of the efforts of the Open Orthodox and WOW, etc. etc. to equalize the genders, the Torah itself and the words of Chazal are not very egalitarian. For example, in the famous gemara in Beitza we are told that our preordained parnassah is set every Rosh Hashannah. But this budget does not include our expenditures for Shabbos and Yom Tov and tuition for our sons in learning. This will always be reimbursed at whatever the expense.
At face value, this only applies to sons. Many folks want to say that this holds true for the learning expenses incurred for the daughters, as well. I cannot say whether this is true or not but I can say that the gemara doesn’t say so. It mentions only boys.
Now, the terminology – This one’s daughter is for “Ploni” (male), as well as field for “Ploni”(male) and house for “Ploni”(male) certainly does not sound gender neutral. Actually, Tosefos in Sota seems to hold that this is said specifically for the males since, in most cases, the girl is not yet even in formation mode. One may want to deduce that Tosefos will hold that if the girl is indeed already in formation, there may be decrees on her as well but it is definitely inconclusive.
All told, up to this point we are not sure that any such preordained decrees are directly conferred to any girls. At best, a girl may be assured a preordained mate by virtue of being the one named on a specific male’s profile. But this will only apply to zivug rishon!
And in a society where there are more eligible girls than boys and chazal forbid us from double-duty, it will come out that although every boy may have an initial predestined mate and, according to the way I explained the gemara Moed Kattan, he may have a new daily predestined mate even in zivug sheini mode, there is yet no conclusive statement from chazal that a girl has a predestined mate whatsoever!
There is good news in this and bad news. The bad news is that my opinion is that every girl should get the concept of barshert out of their head. As far as we know they have no barshert. It is all dependent on their merit (acts) and their hishtadlus.
The good news is as follows: In today’s raging shidduch crisis atmosphere, a girl may reason as such: “Either I am on some boy’s hit list or not. If I am, it’s going to happen no matter what so why bother doing any substantial hishtadlus? And if, Ch”v I am not, so then there is no hope for me and all my hishtadlus won’t help, so why bother doing any substantial hishtadlus?” And she may fall into a rut of despair. This viewpoint says that, at this stage, a boy gets another barshert every day and there is no reason that it can’t be her. Thus, as I just wrote in the “bad news” paragraph, there is nothing but hishtadlus.
For girls, the shidduch crisis is a war, and Yaakov Avinu has shown us how to fight a war: Prepare for battle, buy off the Powers that Be, and Daven.
In other words: For the girls, hishtadlus is the only card in the game. Do it and do it right.
I am now (almost) getting to the point of this whole post.
I have several very close acquaintances who are in their advanced years and have never been married. In regard to some of them, I have been asked over the years why it is that these people have not found their “intendeds”? Obviously, I don’t know the real answer but in some cases I know enough to respond, “I have never seen this or that person going about the parsha as if they really want to get the job done.”
Sometimes, in order to win the game, you really need to play the game to win.
Now, I am writing as the father of very eligible boy. I represent the “buyer” in the shidduch market. It is the girls’ job to “sell the product”, so they are the “sellers”. And I am totally astounded by how many sellers are out there that are not playing the game as if they really want to get the goods sold!
As I wrote in my last post, my proximity here in Eretz Yisroel forces me to employ a particular MO (method of operation) which may not be the standard in the US. Here is how we operate: If somebody meets my Yossi and wants to set him up, Yossi will give the kind person our contact information and instruct them to send us the girl’s resume by email. My wife and I will screen the resumes to see what looks interesting and we will take it from there.
We generally do not first get an earful from the shadchan and then a resume just as a “zichron devarim” like other folks do. For us, the resume is the full product description and the marketing brochure. We will not contact the shadchan if we don’t like the resume. (Though some shadchanim follow up and contact us.) So, just like a job resume, a shidduch resume has to “scream” at the buyer and say, “I am what you are looking for. I am not like every other resume in your pile. I am special!” And it should say, “I am playing this game to win.”
I am utterly astounded by the way many, if not most, of the resumes are written. And, in so many cases, I look at a resume and ask myself: Does this girl really want to get married??
It’s amazing how much psychology is involved in a resume and what messages a shrewd person can read into every line. Now, because I have a seasoned gemara kupp and an analytical mind, I can easily point out what is right or wrong with a resume. But one does not need to be a high-tech geek or uber-chacham like me. These “signals” are picked up subconsciously even by less astute people. And if it gives the wrong message, it gives the wrong feeling. I cannot tell you how many resumes I felt like ripping to shreds due to a lack of basic fundamental information. This is because I felt that the “seller” is playing hide-and-seek with me by not telling me what I want to know. And, this translates into my mind, “This girl is not serious”.
This resume is not screaming: “I am special!” it is screaming “Go look somewhere else!”
And I cannot be the only one who gets these negative signals.
So, in my next post, I intend to reveal what is truly at the top of my wish list as a shadchan’s customer: Properly conveyed information – up front.
There is a science (and an art) to writing resumes and it pays for an astute seller and an astute agent (shadchan) to understand this science. You need to do what it takes to turn a “suggestion” into a date. It takes a bit of hishtadlus.
It is not automatically barshert.