Later that week, on Thursday morning, Joe found himself struggling to remain focused on what he was learning with Benji at Ohr Eliyahu. It was after twelve and Rabbi Tzvi still hadn’t shown up, even though he told Joe the night before that he would be around to talk with him. While Joe knew not to expect punctuality from Rabbi Tzvi, this time he had pressing matters to discuss.
It’s been two dates and I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel – I like talking to her and she’s cute, but isn’t there more to a shidduch than this? – I’ve been told to see if I have a good time with her, and I do. What else is there? It can’t be that I’m just meant to hang out with her. Aren’t there signs that it’s a good match? Where is Rabbi Tzvi when I need him?
“Are you saying that the Rashi is agreeing?” Benji was asking Joe, who had just turned his gaze towards the steps. “This line doesn’t seem to match what Rashi is saying.” Benji looked up. “Hey, Yosef!”
Joe quickly returned his gaze to his chavrusa. “Ignore that line and look at their answer to the second question.”
“That’s not how Rashi holds,” Benji retorted. “Rashi says that it’s d’Oraisa.”
“Where does he say that?” Joe asked as he noticed that Rabbi Tzvi had in fact come up the stairs. Joe then became very interested in his Gemara. “He doesn’t say it explicitly.”
“It’s certainly what Rashi means. Look here…”
All of a sudden Rabbi Tzvi was hovering over them. “Yosef,” he said breathless, startling them. They stood up from their chairs, Joe nearly pushing his into the table behind him. “I’m sorry to
interrupt, Benji,” he said. “But I’m in an incredible rush and have to speak to Yosef right now.”
“No problem, Rabbi,” Benji said, returning to his seat.
Joe closed his Gemara and followed Rabbi Tzvi back to the office. When he arrived he saw that Rabbi Tzvi had already turned on the light and dropped into the seat behind his desk. “Sit,” he told Joe as he started opening drawers, apparently looking for something.
Joe remembered that Rabbi Tzvi had been preparing to go to the Catskills ‘any day now.’ “When are you leaving?”
“After I speak with you,” he answered, adding a smile. “I only got out of the house because there’s a particular binder that I need to take with me.”
“Thank you,” Joe said automatically.
“So then let’s cut to the chase. How are you?”
“Fine, thank G-d,” Joe answered again automatically. The Rabbi took a break from his search and stared blankly at Joe.
“I guess I have to be more specific,” he said. “How are things progressing with your shidduch? How many dates have you been on?”
“Two,” Joe answered. The Rabbi then became preoccupied with refilling a stapler, so Joe continued. “She’s very nice, and we’re going out again tomorrow.”
“Three dates, Yosef!” Rabbi Tzvi beamed. Joe braced himself for a whack on the shoulder from across the desk. “How come this is the first time we’re meeting?”
Joe shrugged. “You’re busy, I’m busy…”
“Excuses. So, what are you feeling? Do you find her pretty?”
He didn’t know how to answer. “I mean, yeah. She’s pretty.”
The Rabbi gave him a suspicious stare. “Let me guess, you’re not…smitten by her?”
“Not really,” he admitted with a chuckle, his anxiety defused by the Rabbi’s choice of word.
“But she’s cute?”
Joe nodded. “Yeah. It feels awkward…the way you’re asking it—”
“I know, but it’s important. If there’s no attraction, however compatible you two might be, it’s like multiplying by zero. But it isn’t everything either. So don’t think that it’s over if you’re not ‘wowed’. That’s another word you didn’t think a rabbi like me would use, eh?” Joe couldn’t help but laugh. “So, what else are you feeling?”
Joe looked at the desk. “I mean, what am I supposed to be feeling?”
“What?” Rabbi Tzvi exclaimed, his smile disappearing. “Did you just ask me ‘what you’re supposed to be feeling’?”
Joe was taken aback by the sudden change of mood. “You told me to go and have a good time, and I am. Isn’t there more? Aren’t there specific feelings I should be looking for?”
“Oh, that’s what you’re asking.” Rabbi Tzvi wiped his forehead. “I just have a pet peeve against guys blindly following in their religiousness and losing their humanness. It sounded like you were heading there,” he feigned wiping his brow. “Well, look, how you feel about her is your department. But if you want to know what to look for, just answer this: what else do you need to know to get engaged?”
Joe did a double take. “Engaged? I don’t know anything.”
“Sure you do,” Rabbi Tzvi countered as he stood up and opened the file cabinet. “You talked about the news on your two dates?”
Joe clicked his tongue in exasperation. “No, but it wasn’t enough.”
“Great,” the Rabbi declared as he slammed the drawer shut. He then addressed Joe as he leaned on the closed cabinet. “So now it’s time to get serious. What do you need to know about her to decide whether you’ll marry her?”
Joe halted the conversation with his open hands. “Whoa. How did we jump from engagement to marriage in twenty seconds? I’ve only met her twice.”
“And our forefather Yitzchak married Rivka when they first met. You at least have an advantage.”
Joe almost got hysterical. “This is silly. You told me to just go out and talk with Rachel and I did, and now when I ask you what the next stage of dating is about you ask me if I’m ready to marry her?”
They stared at each other for extended moment until Rabbi Tzvi broke into a smile. “I’m just trying to get a point across. Instead of thinking that you’re just spending time together to eventually fall into marriage, know that every date you go on has a serious purpose.”
Joe continued staring, waiting for the answer. “Which is?”
“To find out what you need to know in order to decide to marry her. Once you meet the shadchan, everything afterwards is intended to get you to the wedding, and so once you two have met and are both willing find out more, don’t waste any time! We Jews are very particular about contact between men and women, through all stages of life, and though it’s completely permitted to spend time with and converse with and get to know a woman you’re thinking of marrying, only what’s necessary.”
“But what are those things? What’s important in forming a Jewish marriage?”
Rabbi Tzvi excitedly clapped his hands. “Yes, that’s what I’ve been waiting for. Great question.”
Joe blushed. The rabbi’s chair squeaked as he settled into it. “Well, there are standard qualities you want to find out about her, such as her kindness and her seriousness towards halachah and how she handles stress, but also things that you specifically might be looking for, you know, if she’s musical or organized or whatever is important to you—but really important to you. Not just someone to be your tennis double or who can name all the state capitals. You have to think about what you really find important and isn’t just a passing preference. Get the idea?”
Joe took a quick breath. “Yeah, but we could square that away in one more date. After that might not be what you called ‘more than necessary,’ but I still might not feel ready to get married just because she passed an interrogation.” Joe caught the Rabbi glance down at his watch. “You have to go?”
Rabbi Tzvi then sat in his chair and leaned back. “I have all the time in the world.”
Joe was ready to get up. “Seriously, if you have to go.”
“I’m serious,” he said with a straight face. “OK, your question. Well, little do you know, but you haven’t just been going out to schmooze and chat.” He lowered his voice. “You’ve also been secretly developing a relationship.” He put a lone index finger to his lips. “Look, a shidduch isn’t a square, dry meeting. You’re also getting to know someone, albeit under a pretext of knowing enough to decide to get married, but it might take more time to feel comfortable with her than just the amount of time necessary to answer your list of questions. That’s supposed to be assessed after each date, but—” he crossed his eyes back and forth, hinting to Joe.
Joe laughed and pointed at Rabbi Tzvi. “Hey, you’re going away.”
“Not to Africa,” he countered.
“Wait,” Joe halted him. “Didn’t you just say that we’re very particular about unnecessary dates?”
Rabbi Tzvi exhaled deeply. “Yes, you found the paradox. How do we both limit the number of meetings but give the relationship the space to develop?” He threw up his hands. “What can I say? We try our best to be normal, knowing what we’re up against.”
At that moment, Rabbi Tzvi’s cell phone began to rotate as it vibrated on his desk. He reached for his phone and put it to his ear. “Can you hold on a moment?” he said into the receiver as he started writing on a scrap of paper. “So off you go. Take my number in the country,” he told Joe as he tore the number off and handed it to Joe. “We’ll be in and out of the bungalow but leave a message and I’ll try to call at nights. Your next date is Monday?” Joe nodded.
“Where are you for Shabbos?”
“I have an aufruf for a friend on the Upper West Side,” he stated.
Rabbi Tzvi stroked his chin. “Who?”
“A friend from college.”
Rabbi Tzvi shrugged. “Well, maybe you’ll come up some time this summer. It’ll help you calm down.”
Joe stood up, extending his hand. “Thank you for coming in, I really appreciate it.”
Rabbi Tzvi stood up also. “Call me if you need anything. I’m rooting for you.”
Joe smiled. “Have a good trip.”
“Thank you,” he said. Joe was at the door when the Rabbi suddenly banged on the desk. Joe turned to see him flailing a stapled bunch of papers and announcing into the phone, “It’s always right under your nose!”
Do you ever find the thing you’re looking for is right under your nose? Do you know what Joe needs to find out from Rachel? Do you enjoy summers in the Catskills? Drop Nathan a line with your story at www.nathanwolff.com and while you’re there, you can order your copy of Outdated NOW!