Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Curse Of The Shidduch Stalker

The clock neared eleven, and Mordy and Elaine were among the handful of customers remaining at the small coffee shop. An employee went about the empty tables flipping chairs up while another churned his mop in a bucket of murky water in the first’s wake.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Elaine said.

Incredulous, Mordy asked, “What do you mean you’ve never heard of the Shidduch Stalker?”

“Is this one of those dating blog things? I don’t read those,” she rolled her eyes. “They’re full of such shtus. And you should see the comments,” her chin jutted forward as she extended her neck and her mouth gaped slightly. “Talk about loshon hara!” She reeled her head in and shook it back and forth in disapproval.

Mordy dismissed her remarks with a waggle of his hand. “No, this is real. My friend’s chevrusa, who knew the guy it happened to, told him all about it.”

Elaine raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Uhuh, sure. So it’s one of those stories.”

Mordy rested his forearm on the table and leaned forward. “What’s that supposed to mean? ‘One of those stories’?” he injected an extra measure of sarcasm into his voice to surpass Elaine’s.

“You know, one of the made up stories guys tell girls on dates to impress them.”

“Whoa, whoa,” Mordy recoiled, presented both palms outward. “Are you accusing me,” he flicked both thumbs back toward himself, “Of trying to impress you?” Elaine giggled. “Chas V’Shalom! I’d never be so gaiva-dig.”

“Mmhmm,” she murmured and rolled her eyes again.

“Anyway, so the story goes that about 50 years ago, there was a boy from the city who heard about this amazing girl, really a ten out of ten, gorgeous, with wealthy parents who were willing to support them forever, with yichus all the way back to Moshe Rabbeinu-”

Elained pointed a finger at him, “Now I know you’re lying. No one’s ever been able to trace their yichus back to Moshe Rabbeinu,” she retorted disparagingly.

“B’li neder, this is the absolute emes,” he pressed both hands to his chest. “No sheker here!”

Elaine sighed playfully. “I’ll be the judge of that.” She spun her hand in a little vertical circle, “Nu, go on.”

“So yeah, this boy heard about this amazing, fantastic, beautiful girl. The absolute best of the best. And seeing how he was the top bochur at his yeshiva, he knew he’d have the best shot at marrying her. He knew anyways it was meant to be because he had just gotten a bracha from the Rosh Yeshiva for hatzlacha in shidduchim that very day.”

“This sounds too good to be true,” Elaine crossed her arms.

Mordy fixed a disapproving look at his date. “Weren’t you the one who just told me to ‘go on’?” She made a quick zipper motion across her lips with her index finger and thumb held together. “Thank you,” he nodded in mock appreciation.

“So, he went through all the right channels, their parents met and arranged everything, and it looked like everything was set all the way to the chuppah, even before their first date.” He flung his index finger up, hunched over and looked back and forth. “Then it happened…”

Elaine craned her head to the side, “Then what happened?”

Mordy straightened up in his seat and thumped the tabletop lightly with his hand. “If you’d let me finish and quit interrupting, maybe I could tell you,” he flashed a wry grin.

“Sorry!” she retracted her neck inward like a turtle, lifted her shoulders land offered an appeasing smile. 
“Please continue.”

He took a moment to clear his throat and sip gingerly from the straw in his drink. “The shadchan had it all worked out. Everyone knew this was it, and they all eagerly awaited the happy couple’s return from their first, and most likely, only date with news of their engagement. Alas, it was not meant to be…”

Elaine gasped.

“On the way home from their date, they were walking down the sidewalk, so engrossed in their conversation, their stares glued to each other’s face, that they didn’t notice the late night construction crew closing up shop .”

Elaine trembled, chewing at the tips of her perfectly manicured fingernails.

“As they happily strolled along, oblivious to their surroundings, the boy smacked right into a construction worker! He quickly turned to check on his date, and she was gone!”

“Gone?” Elaine squeaked with fright.

“Gone,” Mordy snapped his fingers. “Like that.” Elaine’s breathing became rapid. “While her beloved almost-chosson had smashed into the burly worker, she stepped right into an open manhole!”

“That’s horrible!” Elaine squealed, tears welling in her eyes. “Did they rescue her?”

“Of course that was the first thing on his mind. The boy frantically told the construction guys what happened and they sent two men down there wearing those helmets with flashlights on the front to search for her. After an hour, they came back and said they saw no sign of anyone in the sewers. They thought she might have hit her head and gotten washed away, so they called up their buddies at the processing plant to check.”

“I can’t imagine how she must have felt, all that icky stuff in her hair…” Elaine absentmindedly stroked at a lock next to her ear.

“Ahem,” Mordy furrowed his forehead at her.

“Oh, sorry!” She blinked a few times “So what happened in the end?” Dread crept back into her voice.

“They never found her,” he paused to let that sink in. “It was like she had vanished into thin air, like she had never existed in the first place.”

Elaine dabbed at the corner of her eye with a tissue she extracted from her purse. “That poor boy!” She sniffed “Whatever happened to him?”

“He was totally heartbroken. Utterly miserable. Completely torn up inside,” Mordy tilted his head to the side. “You gotta understand, this was his bashert we’re talking about. His one chance at true love had gone down the drain…” Mordy stopped midsentence, narrowed his eyes in confusion, then refocused his gaze, “...literally,” he smiled at his unintended clever turn of phrase.

Elaine snuffled into her tissue. “What’d he do with his life?”

“Some say he gave up on getting married and dedicated his life to becoming a Kabbalist somewhere in Israel,” Mordy glanced upward for a moment. “Others say he was driven mad because of his grief,” he looked into Elaine’s eyes which were widened with fear. “And now he roams the streets late at night, plodding along in a crazed stupor, still looking for his lost love. He stalks young couples who are out on shidduch dates… and they say if someone happens to bump into him they’ll never been seen again!”

Suddenly, every light in the room shut off, engulfing them in blackness. Elaine screamed at the top of her lungs.

“Sorry!” A voice called out in the darkness. The lights clicked back on, and a lone employee stood by the switch on the wall by the exit. “I thought all the customers had gone home already.”

“It’s okay, we were just about to leave,” Mordy glanced over at Elaine, who was hyperventilating and clawing at the collar of her shirt as though it were trying to strangle her. “Shall we?” He offered. Elaine nodded jerkily and began to rise.

A cool autumn breeze blew past as the door closed behind them. Elaine shivered and pulled her jacket tighter around her torso to ward off the chill.

The remaining employee’s keys jingled in the door lock. “Goodnight, stay safe!” He waved to them and disappeared around the corner. Mordy and Elaine walked onward together in silence for a few minutes.

“So,” Elaine began furtively. “That whole Curse of the Shidduch Stalker isn’t really real, right?”

“What do you mean?” He asked in neutral tone.

“It’s just a story. It never happened,” her voice trembled.

“You can think that if you want to, but I’m pretty sure it’s true. I trust my friend’s chevrusa, he’s a pretty honest guy,” he replied, completely indifferent to Elaine’s mounting distress.

“Uhuh…” she nodded, rattled by her date’s total lack of reassurance.

A sudden crash from a nearby alley made Elaine jump. They came to a stop by a group of fading, white construction barriers. The blinking orange lights had burnt out on two of them.

Mordy glanced at the alley and smirked. “Oh, that’s probably some homeless cat knocking over a trashcan. It just wants some dinner,” he declared.

“I want to get back to my apartment as soon as possible. Where everything is safe,” she pursed her lips and hugged herself.

From the darkness of the alleyway a gravelly voice shouted, “Where is she?!”

“What was that?” Mordy whipped his head around to locate the source of the indignant question.

“Where is she?!” the mysterious voice repeated.

“Mordy, you’re going to get us killed! That’s probably the Shidduch Stalker!” Elaine’s face was a mixture of anger and terror. “Why’d you have to tell me that stupid story!?” She demanded, almost hysterical.

A hunched over form appeared out of the gloom. It shuffled along, holding its hands outward, crooked fingers splayed as though grasping for something.

Elaine’s breath caught in her throat, stifling the scream that had been building up.

The figure angled its head to focus on them. “Do you know where she is? Where did she go?”

“Look mister, this isn’t funny. We don’t have any change to spare. Leave us alone,” Mordy responded, doing his best to sound brave.

The figure hobbled into a circle of light cast by a lamppost, revealing an old man. His remaining grey hair was frazzled, poking out in all directions. An unkempt beard coated his slackened jaw. The scraggly facial hair Contained bits of food and a streak of foamy saliva dripped down at the corner of his mouth. His eyes appeared dazed, and his left eye was yellowish, cloudy and unfocused. An old, well-worn suit practically hung off his gaunt frame, and a tattered, dusty yarmulke was perched on his wrinkled, partially bald head.

You know where she is!” The old man pointed a kinked index finger with a lengthy, uncut fingernail at 
Mordy. “Tell me. Where did she go?”

Mordy began to tremble and fought himself to prevent Elaine from noticing his panic. “I-I don’t know what you’re talking about, mister. Have a good night, we’re going,” a twinge of stutter broke its way into his words.

“No, no,” the elderly man shook his head. “ You know. Tell me,“ he took several steps toward them, stopping only a foot away. “Where. Is. She?” He enunciated each word with what seemed like malice.

Elaine started backing away from Mordy, who stood his ground shakily. She bumped into the group of temporary barriers set up around an open manhole.

“I-I told you. I have n-no idea who you’re talking about. P-please!” Mordy held his hands up in appeal.

“You know! Tell me!” The old man snarled and lunged at Mordy. Elaine shrieked and took off running, knocking over one of the white construction barriers to the pavement with a clatter.

Before Mordy knew it, his shirt was ripped, his glasses flung from his face, his cheek was bleeding, and he found himself thrown onto the street, sitting down while leaning back and supported by his elbows. The old man crouched over him, struggling to get to his feet in preparation to strike again. The orange blinking light from a maintenance barrier flashed eerily in the elderly man’s eyes like flames.

Mordy quickly backpedalled on his palms while kicking his feet in front of him, trying to put some distance between himself and his attacker. His hand slipped in a puddle and he fell backward, knocking his head hard against a fire hydrant.

Blackness swallowed his vision and he knew no more.


Mordy awoke in a hospital bed several hours later. A crew of city workers returned from their routine coffee break and discovered him unconscious in a puddle, blood smeared down his face and onto his shirt. The foreman called emergency services, and they were able to stop the bleeding and get him to the hospital where a doctor bandaged his cheek and stitched up the gash on the back of his scalp. Despite a clear scan, his doctor decided to keep him overnight for observation, just in case any unexpected effects from his head injury became problematic.

Judah, Mordy’s friend from yeshiva dropped by to visit him after morning seder.

“So you told her the Shidduch Stalker story, huh?” Judah tossed the months-old Sports Illustrated magazine onto the bedside nightstand.

“I didn’t see any harm in it,” Mordy fluffed the covers on his bed. “I was hoping it’d impress her, you know,” he added, utterly despondent.

Judah stretched out his legs and crossed his feet at the ankles. “And she hasn’t called or texted back since last night?”

Mordy checked his phone for the umpteenth time. “Nope. I’ve left her three voicemails and about a dozen text messages. The Shadchan just texted me and said that she wasn’t interested in a second date and I should move on.”

Judah nodded sympathetically and drew in a relaxing breath.

“No one is going to go out with me after this story gets out,” Mordy pouted. “Even if they don’t believe the whole Shidduch Stalker thing, they’re gonna say I’m not safe to be around or something.”

Judah raised his eyebrows and scrunched his mouth to one side in thought. After a moment he looked over at Mordy out of the corner of his eyes, “Unless someone proved the Shidduch Stalker was real.”

Mordy practically leapt from his bed, “What in the world are you talking about? Why would I want to meet up with that murderous geezer again?!”

“Who said you would? I think it might even be fun.”

The heart monitor started beeping faster as Mordy grew more upset, “Are you nuts?!”

Judah held out a hand to placate his friend. “Look, you only got into trouble because I told you the story in the first place. I didn’t think it was true at the time. My chevrusa Shimmy is such a jokester anyways, so I was always suspicious about his cousin who mysteriously ‘disappeared’ after a date.”

Mordy threw his hands up in frustration, “Now you tell me.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he patted the railing on Mordy’s bed. “I’ve got a date tonight anyway. I’ll figure this out.”

“Just watch your back,” Mordy leaned back into his pillow and stared at the ceiling. “And don’t blame me if she turns you down for a second date.”


Judah stole a peek at his watch. It was a quarter to eleven and everything was on schedule. He watched another couple clean up their table and slip out the front door. His date was finishing a story about her neighbor’s cat getting stuck in a tree and how it was rescued by a fireman.

“You know, you only think those kinds of things happen in movies, and yet it really happened to your neighbor across the street,” he observed Avigayil as she finished up her coffee.

“It’s funny, right? Funny as in odd,” she clarified with a smile.

Judah had been planning how he was going to introduce the story of the Shidduch Stalker, but Avigayil started speaking again before he could open his mouth.

“So, you heard about what happened last night?” She lowered her voice and looked around the room as though conveying a secret, “With that guy and girl who got attacked during their date?”

Judah raised an eyebrow and smiled inwardly. “You mean the so-called ‘Shidduch Stalker?’” He mimed quotations in the air.

“Turns out the best friend of the girl in the story is a big-time shidduch blogger, and she told her all about it. The post said the guy was a total coward and she had to run for her life because he more scared than she was.”

Judah chewed his lower lip, biting back a defense of Mordy and chose to feign ignorance instead. “You don’t really think they got attacked by the man from that story, do you?”

“Hey,” she raised both hands in a shrug, “I only know what I read. It seemed pretty authentic to me.”

Tsshh,” Judah enunciated in disbelief.Not everything on the internet, let alone shidduchim blogs, is even remotely true.” Judah turned as someone gently tapped him on the shoulder.

“I hate to interrupt your date, but we’re closing up for the night,” an employee informed them with a polite smile.

“Thanks for the notice,” Judah replied. “Ready to go home?” Avigayil nodded and started gathering her trash together for disposal.

They left the café alongside the remaining employee and started walking toward the nearby lot where Judah had parked the car. He had deliberately chosen a lot that was in the exact path Mordy and his date had traveled the night before when the so-called “Shidduch Stalker” appeared and confronted them.

Avigayil talked on about another blog she read regularly, while Judah listened and offered an occasional verbal acknowledgement to prove he was following her narrative. His main attention was focused on scanning the darkened alleys as they passed by for unusual signs of movement or anything else out of the ordinary. Up ahead, he noticed a section of the street that had its upper layer of asphalt torn up and was surrounded by beaten up white barriers with blinking orange lights. A steamroller and an asphalt distributor truck were parked off to the side, unoccupied for the time being.

“-then my cousin sent me this other blog I hadn’t heard of before, but this one was written by a guy, and…” she trailed off and looked over her shoulder. “Did you see that?”

Judah felt a tension mounting in his gut, “See what?”

“Something just scampered from behind the steamroller into the alley over there,” she indicated with a nod.

Judah took a few steps closer and peered down the dark, narrow passageway. “I don’t see anything.”

Avigayil yelped as something metallic clanged behind her. Judah spun on his heel toward his date. An unkempt, elderly man wearing a well-worn suit stepped out from behind the asphalt truck, holding a trashcan lid and a soup ladle. He banged the ladle on the metal cover and flashed a malevolent smile, showing off his missing or otherwise yellowed and crooked teeth.

“Where is she?” He asked through clenched teeth.

Judah moved in front of Avigayil, who gratefully stood behind him and peered over his shoulder. “Where is who? What do you want?”

The old man fixed his one clouded eye on Judah and gestured with the ladle, “You know where she is, so tell me.”

Judah couldn’t believe this was actually happening, and he started reaching for his cell phone to call the cops. “Let’s just take it easy now, no need to, uh, whack anyone with that thing.” As soon as the phone cleared his front pocket, the old man lashed out and smacked him on the wrist with the ladle. His phone spun off into the recessed area where the asphalt had been removed. Its screen glowed white from the dark crevice.

 “Do you have your phone one you?” Judah asked Avigayil, keeping his eyes facing forward in case the elderly assailant made another move to strike.

Avigayil patted the pockets on her skirt. “Darn, I left it back in my apartment,” she sounded disappointed. “If I could only have videoed this for one of those blogs!”

“I think we need to worry a little bit more about making sure the story the bloggers write isn’t about a dead couple than documenting this guy to confirm he’s real,” Judah said, an edge of annoyance creeping into his voice.

“Where iiiiiiis she?!” The old man practically sang, waving the ladle back and forth in the air. “Tell me!” He poked Judah in the chest with the serving implement then backed away tentatively.

Judah took a deep breath, trying to maintain some semblance of calm. “Avigayil, I think we’re going to need to bolt in a minute before this gets any more violent. I’ll count to three and you take off running toward the busy intersection to flag down a cop or something.”

“And just what are you going to do?”

“Distract him so you can get away,” Judah sounded confident.

“I appreciate your offer of thrilling heroics, but I’d rather not leave you to be spooned to death.”

Judah glanced over his shoulder at her, “That’s very sweet of you.”

“It is, isn’t it?” She smiled.

Their bonding moment was interrupted as the old man bellowed, “Tell me where she is!!!” and started charging toward Judah, ladle raised high above his head.

“Oh, Fer cryin’ out loud! That’s the second time this week!” A gruff, male voice shouted, the sound echoing off the buildings to either side. Judah and Avigayil whirled around and saw a heavyset man in a stained grey jumpsuit wearing a hard hat with an attached flashlight come running up the street with two similarly dressed men in tow.

“Jimmy,” the rotund man said to his younger coworker on the right, “Go call the home and tell them he’s out again and needs to be picked up.”

The old man froze like a wilderness creature staring into the headlights of an oncoming car.

“Hey, Gramps, gets away from those two kids. Your ride is on the way,” he jerked a thumb to indicate 
Judah and Avigayil should get behind him.

Judah’s eyebrows knotted in confusion. “What’s going on?” he asked.

“Just hold your horses a minute until they gets here, then I can tells ya all about it,” the worker waved his question away.

While they waited, the head worker introduced himself as Sal and his co-workers as Jimmy and Tom. Judah also had time to sneak over to the hole in the street and retrieve his phone. The old man was like a statue, appearing as though he wasn't even breathing.

A few minutes later, a dark van pulled up and two muscular men in white coats piled out along with a short middle-aged woman wearing glasses and her hair up in a tight bun.

“I’m dreadfully sorry about all this, especially since this is the second occurrence this week,” she gushed an apology as she trundled over to them. Behind her, the men tussled with the elderly fellow and managed to disarm him of his makeshift weapons.

Sal scratched the back of his neck, “Youz really need to beef up your security, miss-”

“That’s doctor, thank you,” she shot back curtly.

“Whatever. I can’t have this guy interrupting our work over here every other night. The city manager is gonna dock our pay if we don’t get this job finished.”

The doctor, who carried herself with an air of authority, scribbled a few things on the clipboard she had previously held tucked under her arm. “I realize your predicament, and we will do our utmost to resolve this situation.”

“Thanks,” he hooked his thumbs into his belt and stretched his shoulders.

Judah and Avigayil watched the exchange in silence. “So, uh, anyone care to explain why we were attacked by an old man with a ladle?”

“Oh, did he hurt you?” The doctor looked alarmed and held a hand to her chest.

“No, just knocked my phone out of my hand,” Judah showed her the still-functioning device.

“Thank goodness, I’d hate to have a lawsuit on our hands.”

“Sparky over there,” Sal motioned with a thumb, “keeps breaking out of the old folks’ home three blocks that way,” he pointed past them, “And goes roamin’ the streets at night, causin’ mischief.”

Avigayil regarded the doctor with concern. “Isn’t that dangerous? How does he escape, anyway?”

“He, uh,” she cleared her throat into a fist. “He has a knack for deceiving his caretaker, who gets replaced every so often since he is simply so difficult to deal with, into not taking his medication. He disposes of it in some convenient location such as a nearby potted plant.”

“And he goes a little wacko whenever he ain’t on his meds,” Sal interrupted, spinning his finger next to his temple and whistling. The doctor shooed him away with her clipboard.

“So who’s this woman he keeps talking about?” Judah asked.

“What woman?” The doctor seemed surprised.

“He kept asking us where “she” is,” Avigayil added.

“Oh my, what a misunderstanding!” She glanced over at the old man, who was presently being secured in a straightjacket by her two beefy assistants. “I think he was referring to Shia, his wealthy nephew who finances his stay with us. The man has no children and never married, as far as we are aware. His nephew placed him in our care well over a decade ago and rarely visits. I imagine he’s wondering aloud why his nephew left him at our home.”

Judah nodded. “I guess that makes sense.”

“Well, now that everything is taken care of, I bid you all a good night,” the doctor announced with finality. She signaled her assistants and they began moving the old man toward the open side door of the van.

“Hotcha!” he cried and slipped out of their grasp, bounding over to Judah and Avigayil. When he reached them, he suddenly stood ramrod straight, inclined his head toward Judah’s ear, and said in a low whisper, “I will find her, you know. Tee hee!” He cackled as one of the brawny men clamped down on his shoulder with a meaty fist. Judah stiffened, his eyes wide.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever grandpa, it’s time for a ride in the nice van over there,” the assistant grumbled. His partner joined him and grabbed the old man’s other arm with both hands. They hauled him bodily down the street toward their vehicle.

“All right youz guys, back to work!” Sal told his team and waddled over to the steamroller.

As the van started up with a sputter and drove away, Avigayil looked askance at Judah. He remained stock-still with a blank look on his face.

“You okay? What’d the creepy guy say?”

He snapped out of his reverie, blinked a few times and shook his head. “Oh, uh, just some incoherent babble. Let’s get you back to your apartment,” he began walking.

Avigayil sidled up beside him, practically bouncing from the adrenaline flowing through her bloodstream. “I can’t wait to write about this for my own blog! Just imagine, a firsthand account of the infamous Shidduch Stalker,” she said with pride.

Judah rolled his eyes and shuddered.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Pray Your Mother-in-law Isn't This Mean

From Shabbos Daf 26A comes a very interesting/horrifying story.

Up until this point the Gemara was discussing the use of basalm as a potential fuel source for Shabbos lights. It mentions 2 reasons why Chazal prohibit its use for this purpose.

1) It's very flammable/combustible, which is a potential concern for the welfare of your house and property.
2) We're afraid you'll make use of some of the basalm oil in your candelabra and thus reduce the amount for the Shabbos lights, which is akin to causing them to extinguish.

The Gemara then relates the following story:

A mother-in-law suggested to her daughter-in-law that she put some basalm on as perfume in order to smell nice, which she younger woman did.

Next the mother-in-law asked her daughter-in-law, who just so happened to be covered in this wonderful smelling, yet highly flammable substance to go light a nearby lantern, which she did - and promptly burst into flames.

Picture by DL Smith

Monday, October 22, 2012

Frumster Becomes JWed. Volunteer Needed!

Like Tania over at Thinking Jew Girl, I was recently contacted regarding the transformation of Frumster into JWed, with a greater focus on Jewish singles looking to get married.

This is their press release:

Since 2001,, the #1 Jewish Dating Service for orthodox and frum singles, has successfully matched 2,148 Jewish singles in marriage, and so far in 2012, there has been an average of four weddings every week. Frumster has been able to achieve this growing marriage-rate by continually refining its service to have a greater focus on marriage-minded dating.
To call attention to these improvements, Frumster is pleased to announce their new name,, which better reflects their mission of bringing Jewish singles together in marriage. The JWed name is also expected to result in a higher marriage-rate in thefrum community.

Why JWed is even better for orthodox and frum singles:
ü  Marriage – The new name will attract only those singles who are genuinely ready for marriage.
ü  Derech Eretz – Site features now have a greater focus on derech eretz, leading to better first dates and more marriages.
ü  Frum & Private - Enhanced site-wide hashkafah and age filters ensure a frum and private experience.
Specifically, some recent improvements include dramatically expanded halacha-based filters which ensures members won’t see or be seen by inappropriate matches, the removal of public searching for enhanced privacy, and automated age blockers which ensure greater comfort.

For more information on the name change or if you or someone you know is single and ready to get married, visit today.

They even offered to give me free membership for a month to try it out. Fortunately, I am already married, but I suggested another idea to them, which they gladly and generously accepted

In short: I need a female volunteer who will sign up and try out their system for a month for free, then write a review of her experience, including the features, ease of use, etc, which will then be published as a post on this blog.

Interested in potentially becoming another one of JWed's success stories? Please email me at shadesofgreyjblog(at) 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Jewish Music Fridays: Because Every Needs A Pick Me Up

No Jewish music review here, since nothing new or worthwhile has come to my attention recently.

However, I just wanted to share this special niggun by R' Shlomo Carlebach, called "The Happiness Niggun" with everyone. It's perfect for getting pumped up about Shabbos.

Have a great Shabbos!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Parsha Conundrum: Married Animals?

I discovered another linguistic mystery while doing Shnaim Mikra V'Echad Targum this week. I have not found an answer in any of the meforshim in Mirka'os Gedolos or the Artscroll Chumash.

When HaShem tells Noach to gather the animals for preservation in the ark, the posuk mentions in 7:2 that of both animals that are considered "Tehorah" and "Lo Tehorah" (pure/kosher and not pure/not kosher, per the meforshim), Noach should take "Ish V'ishto" - literally "man and his wife."

Now fine, you may say that makes sense. If the purpose of collecting and preserving the animals in the ark was to ensure continuity of the species and that none of them were totally wiped out by the ravages of the flood, then of course you need a "man and wife" otherwise known as a breeding pair. To haphazardly choose a male and female that, for whatever biological reason, wouldn't choose to mate and produce offspring would be a disaster for that particular species/type of animal.

Yet, whenever collecting pairs of different sorts of animals are mentioned any other time, including the very next verse 7:3 regarding birds wherein the verse also says that the specific reason for all this is "to keep seed alive on the face of the earth," the verse says "Zachar V'Nekeivah," which means "male and female."

In verse 7:8-9 which talk about what happens when Noach enters the ark, it mentions,

"Of clean beasts, and of beasts that are not clean, and of fowls, and of every thing that creepeth upon the ground,  there went in two and two unto Noah into the ark, male and female, as G-d commanded Noah."

when and again in 7:14-16,

 ...they [Noach and his family], and every beast after its kind, and all the cattle after their kind, and every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth after its kind, and every fowl after its kind, every bird of every sort. And they went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh wherein is the breath of life. And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God commanded him; and the LORD shut him in.

Checking Onkelos and Targum Yonatan for verse 7:3, they simply use the Aramaic for Zachar V'Nekeivah and don't use the Aramaic of "husband and wife." This would seem to indicate that the language is synonymous and not significant, otherwise they would preserve the difference in their translation.

Yet, the Torah uses the language of "husband and wife!"

If we need specifically breeding pairs, why not say that by the birds as well?

In fact, when I think of monogamous, paired/breeding for life creatures, I think of the well known example of geese - which are BIRDS.

After a very unscientific brief Googling, I found several websites (here, here, and here) that feature lists of monogamous animals, and by far, BIRDS are the largest of the categories, versus ungulates, rodents, reptiles, fish, primates, etc.

The most reputable of the 3, Scientific American, mentions in their introduction, "For instance, birds are quite socially monogamous, with some 92 percent of species sticking with one mate for at least a mating season." (emphasis mine)

The only thing I can think of, based on my brief research, is that if Noach were to find a pair of birds together, clearly male and female, odds are they are a breeding pair and the Torah takes that for granted. With regard to the other types of animals, wherein this is not nearly as certain, Noach would have to make sure these two animals, male and female, were really "together" as a mating couple before they were selected as the sample set to be preserved on the ark.

Thoughts, anyone?

Update: another thought just occurred to me, related to the idea above, plus midrashim regarding certain illicit behaviors going on that led to the punishment of the flood.

First I found that Midrash Rabbah Bereishis 28:8 is the source for the fact that animals, not just humans, acted wrongfully in mating with animals of other species. Hence, I found a mention on this website that says HaShem wanted to preserve the individual examples of animals who stuck by mates of their own species and didn't become corrupted by cross-breeding. This would explain the language of "Ish V'ishto" - since they remained loyal to their same-kind mate.

According to what I said earlier, this would also make sense if the birds didn't participate in this, because of their more monogamous nature.

However, when I checked the Midrash Rabba on Bereishis 28:8 (scroll down) inside, the text gives two examples of this inter-species corruption. 1) Dogs chasing after wolves to mate and 2) Chickens chasing after peacocks to mate. Hence, there WERE birds involved in this behavior.

So categorically, birds, though some may have been more monogamous than others, would also need to be screened for pairs that remained faithful to their kind. If so, the question still stands: why didn't the Torah use the same referential language by the birds like it did by the other animals, and why don't the meforshim or metargumim seem to take notice of this?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

I, Dater

I sit down at the quaint little café table just like every other time.

What’ll it be tonight? Games, sparring, war?

Within minutes, she casually flips her bangs with the back of her hand and I can tell she’s not really interested in me. It oozes from every look and mannerism. The date is effectively over, and now we’re reduced to pure social recreation.

Game on.

She volleys well. She positions herself to receive my remark and then launches another of her own. One more meaningless bit of Jewish geography or fluff piece from her past or something vaguely interesting she read in the news the other day. She doesn’t share anything substantial with me, because what’s the point anyway? As soon as this date is over she’s going to whip out her phone and call the shadchan to tell her it’s a ‘one and done.’

I have to play along, of course. I must be the perfect gentleman, despite the fact that she’s completely and utterly unplugged her mind from our conversation.

I may as well be talking to my dog. At least she’d cock her head to the side, raise her eyebrows and tilt her furry little ears this way and that with interest and rapt attention to my words, even if she has no clue what I was really saying.

Thank G-d, she happens to steal a glance at her watch and notice how late things are getting. She has a paper to write and needs to get back to her dorm. I know it’s a lie because she’d never have gone out in the first place if she had to turn in an assignment tomorrow. She told me so herself when we scheduled our little outing over the phone last week.

I smile and nod politely, offering to take our half-empty foam cups over to the trash bin. She accedes, as she should, thanks me for the favor and for the pleasant evening together in one hurried, mumbled breath. I know deep down she doesn’t mean it, and she thinks this was really a waste of her time. She wanted to but couldn’t, perforce the rules of civility and decency, simply excuse herself and vanish into thin air after she made her judgment call ten minutes after we sat down together.

We don’t even walk together back to the subway station. She wants to get away as soon as possible and waves halfheartedly as she doubles back behind me and heads in the opposite direction, away from the trains that would take her to her dormitory. She probably has other plans or something. In any case, I don’t really care at this point. In fact, I am thankful that I got off easy tonight.

Things don’t always go so smoothly. Especially when things don’t ‘click’ as I would like.

Sometimes hostility brews. I don’t know if it’s because of hashkafic differences or that she just doesn’t like my haircut or the style of my shirt. I can’t recall ever offending a date, but something will just set her off and we begin to go at it like two heavyweight boxers trading blows. We hardly ever raise our voices, though that has happened on occasion. Instead of a meaningful give-and-take conversation, we take turns slugging one another with stories or anecdotes, each trying to outdo the other.

I don’t enjoy this sort of competition, mind you, but I won’t just sit there and let her steamroll me with her frippery. Sometimes it’s about religious topics, whose rabbis and teachers were greater in seminary or yeshiva, sometimes it’s about our childhood experiences, difficulties we’ve been through and survived, or dealing with parents who don’t quite understand what we’ve chosen to become in our level of observance.

Maybe I’ll get a second date out of those girls, but very little changes during the second or third outing. I know deep down that my wife will be inherently different from me in a vast multitude of ways, but I’d rather not end up marrying someone I’m destined to butt heads with at every exchange.

Then there are the times when it’s all-out war and I’m forced to lay a siege at her castle of identity. The girl is so distressed by dating, or maybe again it’s my shirt, that she raises the draw bridge and bolts the windows shut. I can’t learn anything about her, no matter how innocuous my questions or charming my compliments are.

It’s like trying to court Rapunzel when Rapunzel won’t even let down a stand of hair, thus leaving me alone and abandoned, shouting at the sky from the base of her tower.

I try almost anything to pierce that ironclad armor, to get beyond that unbreachable façade of caked-on makeup, straightened to death hair, and razor-sharp creases on her skirt. However, such a task is nigh impossible. My only reward is a neck-ache for staring into the clouds above.

All I want to do is get to know her a bit, so why does she make this so unbelievably difficult? Does she expect me to take her shidduch bio and phone-a-friend references at face value, to put my full faith into the belief that everything that fits on paper is the absolute and only way to go? Is the Shadchan’s word really the last one I’m going to hear before I hear “I do?”


Not all my dates are bad, though.

When dates are good, the evening proceeds less like two opposing forces firing cannons at one other and more like a fencing match. There is an art to it, a rhythm and flow that is engaging and enlightening. There is a cerebral connection as one of us lunges to thrust with an idea and the other deflects and offers a riposte. We share a unified choreography, for every move is deliberate and we must work together to form links and mutual associations. An aura of comfort begins to descend from a higher plane.

Here, we are likeminded, not hiding behind impenetrable defenses, but trying to get underneath the natural precautions any person sets up when encountering a stranger for the first time. There is nothing to fear, but we must take time to become used to one another. I begin to connect to the way she talks, laughs, smiles. She becomes more than an unknown person represented by words written and spoken by others. A fully realized individual, with unique qualities worth appreciating materializes. The butterflies in my gut whisper softly that I need to push further and keep the momentum going.

If things go well, I begin to find myself no longer sitting across from a stranger, but an acquaintance, and perhaps, if I’m lucky, a friend.

Upon completion of our polite round of fencing, we transition into a dance.

The rapiers are cast aside, joined by the semi-transparent masks and lightweight armor, and we don fine evening wear.

I notice the twinkle in her eye and the brightness of her smile, and I sense a deeper dialogue is taking place. If we truly connect, I can feel my soul lift into the air above me where it meets hers and they embrace one another. The orchestra swells and our spiritual forms sway in tune to its measure. Our corporeal frames remain firmly planted on our very tangible chairs, but our souls dip and spin in an ethereal bliss, ascending to heavenly realms normally far beyond our mortal reach.

All fortifications fade, revealing the inner essence that was hidden away.

Time has no meaning, and the world simply stops.

More often than not, I fail to notice that our establishment has closed for the night, and an annoyed employee interrupts our spiritual ball, evicting the physical us from the premises.

We walk side-by-side down the street, reluctant to part, though we know we must. She smiles at me, and I respond in kind with my own grin. The hour is late, but our elation brushes away all feelings of fatigue.

We say our goodbyes, and she starts off toward her abode. I watch with longing as the brilliance of her lithe form merges with the distant darkness, and my temporal eyesight fails to detect the glow of her beauty any further.

My soul reaches out for one final caress, and I feel warmth pervade throughout my being.

As I make my own way back to bed, the butterflies within me chatter with mirth. Their excitement is contagious and I revel in the sensation of their exhilaration. It will take effort to calm my thoughts as they flit about, but I will eventually fall asleep and rest. Dreams of all sorts of pleasant futures bounce through my slumbering mind.

Of course, as I write this, I am still dating. Unfortunately, this means that I have been forced to face the premature termination of the lofty connection that my soul ever yearns for. Such a blow can be devastating at first, but with time, I recover and approach the task once again with renewed vigor and determination.
Yet, each time I wonder to myself: is she the one? Will this transcendent grace last forever? Or will it evaporate, ever ephemeral?

I long to find my eternal dance partner. My soul cries out for its long-lost companion.

But for now, I remain steadfast in my quest. I steel my nerves with unwavering resolve, eyes and heart open for the one who will make every day an everlasting waltz of spiritual bliss.

And the band plays on…


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Shidduchim - There IS An App For That!

It was bound to happen. Less than a year after I wrote a post in response to newly released apps that help people find dates based on GPS technology and proximity, wherein I discussed the theoretical possibilities and potential of a Jewish version - the app actually exists!

Dubbed "Yenta," obviously tongue-in-cheek, the purpose of the app is to circumvent having to fill out lengthy, detailed online profiles and meet people in a more casual fashion. The reporter in the video actually finds a guy using the app and proceeds to interview him.

I'm glad to see that this technology has reached the Jewish Community, even faster than I would have thought when I was writing my post last November. However, I do think my three main points that I concluded the post with will or should show up in some form:

1) The dates necessarily won't be as instantaneous , but let's give a short window of opportunity, say an 1-2 hours, for the interested person, should he/she desire, to make a phone call or two.

2) If the system catches on, and we can create a network of references who "approve" the person, all you would have to do is check the list of registered references and see if there was anyone you know. The dater would have had to contact the person, invite them, we'll say, when they set up their mini-profile, and that individual has to reply and potentially be available for contact. Instead of having a few references, you could end up having a very long list - each categorized differently based on their personal connection to the dater - and odds are, you'll know someone on it, given how Jewish Geography works, especially if both of the daters live in close proximity.

3) For anyone who still wants a shadchan available - and ASoG and I have seen fewer people actually use us at all as intermediaries - those people could also be attached to the profile, "on call" as it were, for post-date follow ups and anything else that may need to be communicated, even a 1 and done reply.

I think #2 is the most significant. Related to that, the Huffington Post article writes,

"As NPR reports, women have proven hesitant to use GPS dating sites because of the potential safety risks. Even Nick Soman, the CEO of LikeBright, another GPS dating app, told NPR that he understands there's a certain creep factor:
"The only thing scarier than a random grab bag full of dudes who are just aggressively messaging you, is a random grab bag full of dudes who are literally around you," he said."

The world is a scary place out there, and I've heard enough horror stories to know that stuff can and does happen. I'm not just talking about bad quality dates, or guys/girls who have issues like anger management, etc - but something like a particular guy someone I know when out with who repeatedly managed to find ways to sequester the two of them in very problematic yichud situations on dates - like in a locked stairwell or apartment rooftop - and managed to force her into hugging and kissing him. She gave in during the moment, but deeply regretted her actions later. Sufficed to say, things could get much more inappropriate than that easily enough.
So if we can work out the kinks in the system, make it safer and more comfortable vis-à-vis checking references and at least knowing the person in someone is safe to be around, I think this technology should be welcomed as another means of helping singles meet their spouse.
On a related note: what's the deal with this new website that will be launching on November 11th, called "Harei At," which claims to be the ultimate solution that will supposedly "totally, officially, definitely, completely, etc. etc." end the so-called shidduch crisis?

Friday, October 12, 2012

From Adam To David

This Dvar Torah started formulating in my head a short while ago as I started getting ready for Shabbos, and I had to share it.

Here we are, fresh off of Teshuva Season 2012/5773. We made it through Elul with its selichos, crowned HaShem King on Rosh Hashana, endured the fast and fully repented on Yom Kippur, behaved as best as we could to ensure our inscription in the Book of Good Life was delivered on Hoshana Rabba, then celebrated with HaShem and His Torah over Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah.

Now what?

Chazal, in their wisdom, developed our Torah reading practice to end on Simchas Torah (or Shemini Atzeres for those in the Holy Land), and right away we begin with the introductory portion of Bereishis, the very first Parsha of the Chumash.

While there is much substance to the notion of showing our collective love and dedication to G-d's Torah so soon after our Days of Awe, I think that there is a more nuanced, deeper lesson to be derived as well.

One of the most infamous incidents of the entire Tanach takes place in this week's Parsha. Shortly after being informed that they can eat of any tree in the Garden of Eden except for the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad, Chava and subsequently Adam violate that commandment after some insidious plotting by the snake.

When confronted with their transgression, Adam, then Chava play the blame game. He points to her, she points to the snake, and everyone receives their particular punishment.

So soon after our annual Teshuva Season, we read of the very first humans and their example of how NOT to do Teshuva.

Instead of owning up to his own poor choice, Adam deflects responsibility entirely:

And the man said: 'The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.' (Bereishis 3:12)

Upon hearing this accusation, G-d turns to Chava for her response,

And the L-RD G-d said unto the woman: 'What is this thou hast done?' And the woman said: 'The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.' (3:13)

G-d doesn't even give the snake a chance to defend itself, and starts off right away doling out punishment, beginning with the snake and moving onto Chava and then Adam.

On a literary side point - note the nifty repetition and reversal of the order of subjects: Adam is told the commandment and tells it to Chava who then repeats it to the snake, the snake convinces Chava who convinces Adam, G-d goes to Adam who blames Chava who blames the snake, and then G-d distributes punishment starting at the snake, then to Chava and back to Adam.

What should have happened?

Adam should have fessed up for his bad decision, not shifted the blame to his wife and partner. Chava in turn should have admitted to her own wrongdoing at choosing to follow the admittedly negative intentions of the snake.

Where do we see a model of this sort of proper teshuva, where the sinner admits to his transgression right away without batting an eye or rationalizing his behavior?

David Hamelech.

Centuries later, in the story told in Shmuel Bet chapters 11 and 12, David notices Batsheva, wife of Uria HaChiti and desires her. They sleep together, David subsequently has Uria sent off to die on the front lines of battle via his general Yoav, and he marries Batsheva. HaShem is not happy with this turn of events, for David has committed a most egregious sin.

HaShem sends the prophet Natan to rebuke David via a parable of a rich man stealing a poor man's lone lamb, which stirs up feelings of justice, leading him to say the rich man in the story should be put to death for his sin. Natan turns to David and says that he is the rich man of the story and he has sinned by having Uria killed and marrying Batsheva. He goes on to describe the forthcoming, very public and very damaging punishment that David has earned for his secretive sin.

Without any hesitation, and without batting an eye, King David immediately replies two words (12:13): "Chatasi LaShem" - "I have sinned against G-d."

Now THAT is teshuva.

The effectiveness of King David's teshuva is immediate:

And Nathan said unto David: 'The L-RD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die. (12:13)

King David does not escape all punishment, and the child he has conceived with Batsheva will become sick and die. While he fasts and prays for mercy on behalf of his son while the child is ill, immediately after he dies, King David gets up from his fasting, washes, dresses, goes to the House of HaShem and bows, returns to his own home and eats, thus resuming his role of King of Israel.

His servants are baffled at the sudden diametrical shift in behavior. But King David replies to their questions by stating:

And he said: 'While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept; for I said: Who knoweth whether the L-RD will not be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.' (12:22-23).

Even after the tragic fulfillment of the punishment decreed by G-d, King David remains steadfast in his Teshuva. He knows there is the possibility that HaShem may show mercy, and still he accepts the judgement that has been passed on him because of his actions. He goes on to comfort his wife, Batsheva, and they later conceive Shlomo - his eventual successor to the throne.

We are human, and we will make mistakes and choose wrongly on occasion - just as we see with the very first humans beings created. It's part of our imperfect nature. HaShem knew this before we even existed, hence the Gemara in Pesachim 54A where Chazal tell us that Teshuva was one of the few things HaShem found important enough to create before our physical universe came into being.

Perhaps this connection further supports the Midrash in Yalkut Shimoni (Bereshis 41) that discusses how Adam was originally supposed to live for 1000 years, while King David was only supposed to live for 3 hours. Adam was told this information, and willingly "donated" 70 years of his life to David.

I don't know when this exchange took place, but based on what we've seen above, I would venture to say that it takes place after Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge and received his punishment. It could very well be that Adam's motivation in doing so was also prophetically motivated - just as he knew David was supposed to live for such a short time, he saw David's potential and how he could become a role model for Teshuva in a way that Adam himself could and did not.

Let us take to heart the model of Teshuva as embodied by David HaMelech and not fall to playing the blame game as Adam and Chava did. In doing so, we can maintain the momentum of the growth and inspiration that we achieved during Teshuva Season 5773 - and even when we take a misstep here and there, we can bounce back with full repentance and further develop our devotion and connection to G-d.

How I Feel When I Lend A Single Guy My Tallis

During the layning frenzy from this past Simchas Torah morning minyan, a single guy was the last person to get an aliyah at our breakaway Torah reading (we were 1 of 4 from the hashkama minyan). He walked up to the makeshift bima in the basement classroom and suddenly found himself stuck since he was unmarried and thus not wearing a tallis.

I had received the aliyah immediately prior, and quickly turned to him and offered my tallis, which he gladly accepted and proceeded to make his berachos and receive his aliyah.

Some combination of the excitement/energy of the moment, along with the shiny metal plated atara (crown) of my tallis called to mind an image from my youth that perfectly suited the moment. I managed to track down the source and created this nifty animated gif.


Yes, it feels exactly like that. For all the male, unmarried readers - just wait until the first time a single guy asks to borrow your own tallis.

In case you're wondering what they're saying, here's the caption:

Red Ranger: Quick, Tommy, I need to borrow your tallis!
Green Ranger: Don't worry, Jason! Here you go!
Red Ranger: Totally Morphinominal! Thanks, bro!
Green Ranger: Anytime, man!

P.S. I apologize for the lack of regular updates. Now that the chagim are over, I hope to get back into things. I've missed writing about so many topics - Teshuva Season, Yomim Noraim, Sukkos, my 3rd Blogoversary...