I was the star of the cutest shidduch story — until it all came crashing down
As told to C. Saphir
shidduch story, everyone agreed, was a phenomenal tale of Hashgachah pratis.
I’m the third of five girls in my family, all born in a row, and while I’m close with all my sisters, I have an especially close relationship with my sister Rina, who’s a mere 14 months younger than I am. For as long as I can remember, people have been commenting to my parents about how challenging it’s going to be to marry off five daughters close in age, but my parents didn’t worry, and neither did we sisters.
After I returned home from seminary, my oldest sister Perri got married, and my second sister, Avigail, got married a year later. I danced especially joyously at Avigail’s wedding, as I now had the “green light” to start shidduchim. At her l’chayim I acknowledged plenty of times, “Yes, I know I’m next. Thank you.” At the wedding, I smiled politely — and rolled my eyes inwardly — at the many people who told me, “Now it’s your turn, Ruchama!”
My family, being home to a bunch of girls, was a magnet for a girl named Chava who hailed from a small, distant community and had come to our East Coast town for high school. Chava boarded with us for 11th and 12th grade, and then, when she returned from seminary, she moved back to our home so she could look for a shidduch.
Chava’s first date was from our house, with a boy named Shalom. She quickly realized that it wasn’t a match, but she suggested to the shadchan — who’s a family friend of ours — that I go out with him instead.
I met Shalom a few times, and we both realized that the shidduch wasn’t going to work, but he suggested that the shadchan set me up with his roommate, Dov Sommers.
After meeting Dov a few times, I struggled to explain to my parents that he was a great guy, but he wasn’t for me. “He’d be perfect for Rina, though,” I reflected.
My parents were confused. “If he’s such a great guy, why isn’t he for you?”
“I just don’t see it,” I said, as I struggled to find the words that would explain what I felt.
My parents urged me to go out with him again, and I did, but that only made me more convinced that he was a match for Rina, not for me.
Dov was disappointed when the shadchan told him I had said no, as in his mind the dating had been going well. And when the shadchan, at my behest, followed that rejection with the suggestion that he date my younger sister Rina, he balked. “That’s too weird,” he said. “I don’t really understand why she’s saying no. I can’t see myself going out with her younger sister.”
Dov was looking for very specific qualities in his prospective wife, and his list had described me pretty well. Rina, on the other hand, barely matched up “on paper” to what Dov was looking for. When Dov heard how Rina was described, he was even more baffled. “Why would anyone think the younger one is for me?” he wondered.
I continued dating other boys, but the name Dov Sommers kept coming up. “Why don’t you go out with Dov again?” people would often ask me. “He might still be interested.”
In my mind, I kept him as a backup of sorts. Each time I’d come home discouraged after a date that hadn’t gone well, I would say to my parents, half-jokingly, “Maybe I should just go back and date Dov Sommers.”
In the meantime, Rina started shidduchim.
About half a year after I went out with Dov, people pushed our former boarder, Chava, into going out again with Shalom. Again, the shidduch didn’t work out, but while they were dating, Chava mentioned to Shalom — Dov’s roommate — that I, Ruchama Edelberg, thought Dov would be an excellent shidduch for her younger sister Rina. “Tell Dov he should go out with the younger sister,” Chava urged Shalom.
At around the same time, I told my parents they should speak to the shadchan again and have him suggest to Dov that he meet with Rina.
Dov was still reluctant. “You should consider it a compliment that the Edelbergs want you for their younger daughter,” the shadchan told him. “They obviously think highly of you!”
“Okay,” Dov relented. “I’ll give it a try.”
On paper, Rina was not what Dov was looking for, but in real life, the chemistry was there, just as I had predicted. They really did align in many ways. When I saw how Rina came home from her first date with Dov, I knew she was going to marry him.
Suddenly, I felt myself panicking. What did I do? I just gave away my potential backup!
Until now, I had thought it was cute that Rina was going out with the boy I had suggested for her. But now I realized, with horror, that I had set my own trap: I was going to be the single older sister while she would be getting engaged and married!
I thought of Rochel Imeinu standing aside and letting Leah get married in her place, and for the first time in my life, I felt like I could relate to her.
As the dating became more serious, Dov started calling Rina on the phone, and she would go outside to the driveway to talk to him. My bedroom window faces the driveway, so I would hear her talking and laughing as she paced the driveway, and my heart contorted. At night, I would swallow the lump in my throat, blink the tears out of my eyes, and wish for sleep to come.
Yet I knew I was going to be okay. This could be hard, I told myself, but Hashem is running the world, and I know He’ll send me another shidduch.
I also told myself that I could be happy for Rina and sad for myself at the same time — the two feelings were not contradictions. And I really was genuinely happy for Rina.
Before the l’chayim, I braced myself for all the sympathetic looks and comments I would get, telling myself it would be a kapparah.
Shortly before Dov and Rina got engaged, Dov told the shadchan that he thought I would be a good match for a friend of his from yeshivah, a boy named Refael. I was excited that my future brother-in-law had thought of a shidduch for me, and after my parents looked carefully into the shidduch, I went out with Refael.
Our first date was two nights before Dov and Rina celebrated their l’chayim, and we continued going out for over two months. The more I got to know Refael, the more I liked what I saw. We shared similar values and life goals, and had great chemistry. We took our time, however, going out more than 20 times, because some issues came up while we were dating, and I wasn’t ready to get engaged until those concerns were allayed. Finally, when everything was cleared up, we celebrated our l’chayim.
My engagement was a huge simchah. We live in an out-of-town community where everyone knows each other, and the entire community was delighted that I, the older sister who had made her younger sister’s shidduch, had gotten engaged shortly afterward — to a boy suggested by her sister’s chassan!
“In the zechus that you made your sister’s shidduch, Hashem sent you yours,” people told me happily as they wished me mazel tov.
Everyone in the community was talking about the incredible Hashgachah pratis that had led up to my engagement. Because my family took in Chava, she suggested me to Shalom. Because I dated Shalom, he suggested me to his roommate, Dov. Because I dated Dov, I was able to make his and my sister’s shidduch. Because I made their shidduch, they were able to make mine.
The Hashgachah didn’t end there. Because the two chassanim learned in the same yeshivah, my sister and I would both be moving into the same neighborhood, starting our new lives comfortingly near each other. And because of scheduling considerations, my wedding was booked for exactly a week before Rina’s, as Refael and I opted for a short, six-week engagement, while Dov and Rina’s engagement period lasted four months. This meant that in the end, the older sister who had waited her turn was going to get married before the younger sister. What beautiful Divine orchestration.
My entire extended family, spanning four countries, made plans to fly in for the double wedding. How could they not come in for such a special simchah?
Double sheitel appointments, double gown appointments, double hall rentals, double bookings of photographers and bands. (Yes, I know, my mother is a superwoman.) It felt incredible to be part of this adorable shidduch story that everyone was marveling at, and I truly sensed Hashem’s Hand arranging the events of my life. I had just finished my master’s degree, and this was actually the perfect time for me to get engaged, move to a new community, and start looking for a job. I had never felt so close to Hashem before.
In a fairy tale, the story would have ended here, with “and they lived happily ever after.” As it turned out, though, the real story was just beginning.
Shortly after my engagement, new issues began to crop up between Refael and me, issues that were unrelated to the ones we had worked through prior to getting engaged. I discussed these concerns with my parents, my kallah teacher, my family’s rav, and Refael’s rosh yeshivah, and it soon became apparent to all involved that this shidduch was problematic.
The question of how to proceed weighed heavily on me. “Hashem,” I begged, “please give me clarity. Can this work or not? What happened to all the cues that this was my bashert?”
While I was experiencing this private turmoil, people I met would innocently ask me, “So, Ruchama, how’s engagement treating you?”
“It’s a rollercoaster,” I would answer honestly, and they would laugh indulgently at the starry-eyed kallah who seemed to think that shopping for gowns and sheitels was so hard.
In the end, after my family consulted with the right people, it became obvious that the shidduch was not viable and would not lead to a successful marriage. Refael was a good person, but not the right one for me. Once I had that clarity, I broke the engagement.
The sense of relief that followed this decision was swiftly eclipsed by the grief and embarrassment that slammed me in the aftermath. Ending a relationship was challenging enough, as was walking away from the picture of the amazing future that I thought was in store for me with my chassan, but watching Rina’s bliss made it all the more agonizing.
While Rina tried on veils and shopped for wedding shoes, I took down all the kallah paraphernalia and pictures festooning my room. My walls looked achingly bare. While Rina got her wigs styled and ready for sheva brachos, I silently packed my wigs into a box. While Rina rushed to last-minute fittings on her gorgeous white gown, I packed up my gorgeous white gown and returned it unused.
Overnight, I had completely lost my status. No longer was I a kallah. Instead, I was again the single older sister who would have to dance at her younger sister’s wedding — except that now, people’s pitying looks and comments would be all that much more painful.
The broken engagement was a blow to my ego, as well. I didn’t have commitment issues, I was a good judge of character, and I wasn’t harboring any deep, dark secrets. So how could this happen to me? I wasn’t the type to break an engagement!
“A broken engagement is not such a big deal,” people assured me. “It doesn’t say anything about you as a person.”
But I knew a broken engagement is hock. Everyone in the community would be talking about it, or at least wondering what had happened.
I resolved that I would not tell anyone the reason I had broken the engagement. Let people wonder; I would not lower myself by revealing personal information that was none of their business. The only people who knew were my parents and the people we had approached for guidance.
People had all sorts of theories as to what had gone wrong. “You were probably pressured into it because your younger sister was engaged,” some people told me knowingly. “You must have rushed things.”
Other people theorized that my parents hadn’t checked properly into the shidduch before I went out because they had been too busy with Rina’s engagement.
Besides these armchair quarterbacks, three people offered me their counseling or coaching services. “That’s very thoughtful of you,” I said politely to each of these well-intentioned people, while silently reminding myself that bushah is a kapparah.
“How did I end up here?” I cried to my parents. “What did I do wrong?”
“The question you should be asking is, what did you do right,” my father corrected me. “Hashem saved you from an untenable marriage, and for that you must have had some kind of zechus.”
Not being able to make sense of what had happened was a huge challenge for me, the likes of which I had never experienced before. I’ve always felt that Yiddishkeit is the truth, emunah makes sense, and everything Hashem does is for a good reason. Yet now I felt as though the rug had been ripped out from under me. Why would Hashem set up such a beautiful tapestry of Hashgachah, with Rina making my shidduch after I had made hers, only to have that shidduch blow up in my face? How’s that for a twist?
And how could it be that I, a normal, smart, good girl who generally had a good read on people, had made such a terrible mistake in deciding to get engaged to someone I couldn’t marry? Contrary to what the wagging tongues believed, I hadn’t rushed or been pressured into the shidduch, nor had we neglected to make the proper inquiries. The whole sequence of events made no sense!
I sought guidance and support with older, wiser people — my parents, my kallah teacher, some people in the community with whom I have a close relationship — and the chizuk was powerful. I learned that Hashem was giving me an opportunity to work on my bitachon. They explained to me that there’s a difference between emunah and bitachon: Emunah is the intellectual recognition that Hashem runs the world and that everything He does is for our benefit, while bitachon is the emotional piece — trusting that He’s doing what’s good for us even when we’re suffering and things don’t seem to make sense.
Each time Rina came home with yet another kallah purchase, I would squeeze the bitachon muscle and say, Hashem, You love me, and You know that what’s best for me right now is not to be getting married. I don’t understand why, and it hurts, but I trust that what You’re doing is good.
Never before had I experienced this type of closeness to Hashem — closeness that comes not from being the recipient of Hashem’s blessing and Hashgachah pratis, but from viewing difficult events as Hashgachah pratis in disguise.
That perspective helped me to maintain my equanimity amid all the anguish I was experiencing. I couldn’t make sense of this jarring ending to the fairy tale of the Edelberg sisters and their double engagement, but I didn’t have to. The same Yad Hashem that orchestrated this entire story is orchestrating this part of the story as well, I comforted myself.
Hashem gives, and Hashem takes. I sang Nishmas the day I got engaged, and I whispered Nishmas the day I broke it off.
Normally, after a broken engagement, the former kallah has the time and space to retreat into herself for a while to recover from the turmoil, before regrouping and moving on with life. But with Rina’s wedding just a couple of weeks away, I had to snap right back into wedding mode.
One week after I broke off my engagement, my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, who had all booked tickets for the double simchah, started arriving, right on schedule. Only now they were a week early for Rina’s wedding, which meant they were around for an extra week. During the hardest moments of my life, my pain was on display as everyone packed in for my younger sister’s wedding.
The night I was supposed to get married, I went to a shiur about Elul, surprising even myself that I had the courage to do that.
A week later, at Rina’s wedding, I could barely see her walking around her chassan under the chuppah through the thick, hot tears that blurred my vision. But when I danced with her shortly afterwards, I felt pure joy. Who said sadness and joy can’t coexist?
Sheva brachos was the hardest part. Suddenly, Rina and I were in different stages of life, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that she had entered the stage that I was supposed to be in. Attending my younger sister’s sheva brachos felt weird and unnatural, and my discomfort was compounded by the fact that it was so public.
After sheva brachos, Rina moved away to her new apartment, while I felt lost. I had graduated from school around the time I started dating Refael, and I hadn’t even thought about looking for a job because I was so busy with engagement and wedding plans. Now, the new school year was about to start, and I had no husband, no cute little apartment, and no job.
Just a few days later, however, a friend of mine recommended for me a dream position in the field I was looking to enter. I soon realized that I, too, could build a daily rhythm that was enjoyable and meaningful — even if I wasn’t married, even if I had a broken engagement behind me, and even if I had given away my backup shidduch to my younger sister.
Today, a year after Rina’s wedding, I’m still a member of the singles-with-married-younger-siblings society. And that, too, is Hashgachah pratis. It’s not the wrapped-in-a-pretty-pink-bow variety of Hashgachah pratis, but it’s what Hashem knows is best for me right now.
Why did I have to break my engagement, instead of living happily ever after? I don’t know. Maybe it was so that I could say “I don’t know,” and be fine with that.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 943)
Oops! We could not locate your form.