I started bidding in the Simchat Torah auction years ago, when I was a young professional woman earning good money. But this year, after a career change, I didn't have any income, so I bid more cautiously and didn't win anything.
At the end of the auction, the shul president said, "We have four hagbas, $200 each. First four hands." Perhaps instinctively, my hand went up. Hagba is a unique mitzvah where the Torah is lifted high, open to the portion which has just been read aloud, and shown it to the community. Even if I didn't have much money, $200 for hagba was too good a deal to turn down. In an instant, it was mine.
The rest of the day was consumed with trying to determine who should be the recipient of the hagba honor. I wanted it to go to someone who would find the experience of lifting the Torah meaningful, and who also was not participating in the bidding. I wanted the honor to go to someone who would be uniquely touched by it.
As the day passed with no good idea, I asked a few women for suggestions. One of them pointed to a man I'd never met, who was sitting across the shul alone, and said, "That guy." I went to the rabbi and said, "I bought the hagba honor, and I'd like it to go to that guy." I described him, and I went home.
Really Big Sign
The next day, I got a call from the man who performed the hagba. He wanted to take me out for coffee to say thank you. "You really don't have to do that," I explained. But he insisted. A few days later, we sat in a coffee house reviewing the story of what happened and the next thing we knew, we were making plans to see each other again. I was up all night with my mind racing.
It turns out that this gentleman had recently decided to explore seriously the idea of getting married, and had spent the High Holidays praying about it. "If You want me to get married," he implored, "You're going to have to give me a Really Big Sign." Already overscheduled with personal and family obligations, he knew he wasn't going to be able to make the time-consuming effort of networking and dating many different women. At the Simchat Torah auction, his 10-year-old son had been urging him to bid on various honors. He told his son: "If God wants us to have an honor, He'll bring it to us."
Already overscheduled, he wasn't going to network and date different women.
As they were leaving the Simchat Torah celebration, the gabbai (organizer) approached him to say that he had the honor of hagba. "You must be mistaken," he responded. "No, someone bought it for you." They told him my name, but he'd never heard it before. He was so certain it wasn't for him that he went to the rabbi to confirm it. Ultimately, he reluctantly agreed to accept, so as not to hurt the feelings of the mystery donor.
As he stood holding the Torah in the air, he looked up at the eternal text scrolled all the way back to its starting point. He read "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth," and he thought, "God is renewing the world today. God created this moment and this situation. There is a reason that this unknown person gave me hagba. I don't know what the reason is, but I know there is a reason." Hence, the coffee date he so insisted on.
Musician Without an Instrument
I know that most people will not believe that we both suspected, after one coffee date, that God Himself had made the match and that we would wind up together forever, but that is indeed how it happened. And five months later, we were married under the tallis I bought with great hope... so many years ago.
When I called the woman who had said "that guy" to tell her the good news, she thought I had misdialed. "I don't know what you're talking about," she said. It turns out that with all the singing and shouting on Simchat Torah, she hadn't actually heard what I asked, and she didn't even know that I had won a hagba or that I was trying to give it away. She thought I said something completely different, and when she said "that guy," she was responding to what she thought I was saying.
"I don't know what you're talking about," she said.
It turns out that my (now-) husband had been living two blocks away, and it's amazing that we'd never met. There in the coffee shop, we discovered many objective reasons why we're a terrific match -- similar upbringings, similar educational backgrounds, similar paths to Jewish observance, the same rabbi and community, less than two years apart in age. Some people say we look alike; others say that we seem like an old married couple. Even our stuff fits together: I had an idle baby grand piano and he was a jazz pianist without an instrument, for example.
And there are moments when I feel that God is winking at me, like when I hear my husband in another room mindlessly humming my favorite melody, or when we each use the same obscure word in conversation (recently, "fisticuffs").
But we still might not have ever met or married, if my husband had not been open to the idea that when he lifted the Torah for hagba, that the words actually meant something to him -- i.e., that it could be a Really Big Sign. Or if we had not both been open to the possibility that just maybe, whatever life presents you with is actually the answers to your prayers.
Kind and Generous
On our wedding day, I saw that God had indeed heard every detail of my prayers, when my friends surrounded my husband and joined him as he kneeled before me to sing Aishes Chayil, King Solomon's praise of Jewish women. They who have known me for so many years, and seen me standing alone at their weddings, their children's brises and bar mitzvahs, and their shivas, encircled my husband and me, sang along with him, and embraced him as a brother.
In my more than 15 years of seriously dating for marriage, I had a pretty general idea of what I was looking for in a man. Like other women, I wanted a man of good character, who was kind and generous, but also smart and accomplished. In my vision, I was the first great love of his life, and he was mine, and together we would build a beautiful family. It seemed like I met just about every man in America who'd never been married. I saw a lot of finely tailored suits, and learned a lot about how smart and accomplished they all were, but I didn't see a lot of the kind and generous part.
Through all the lonely years, I had clung to the belief that God makes a match for every person.
When I met my husband for the first time at the coffee shop, he wasn't wearing a suit and didn't look anything like anyone I'd dated before. But in our conversation, I heard him say three things in passing which really struck me.
The first was that when his family needed better health insurance, he had back-burnered a "creative" career and taken a less glamorous "day job."
The second was that when his son's teacher suggested he would benefit from being read to, he read him the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, which took more than a year.
The third was that when his wife became ill, he did absolutely everything on earth possible to help her get well, even though it financially devastated the family.
When asked how married life is, I always say the same thing: I feel like I woke up from an endless nightmare, in which I was growing older and had no husband or family, only to find that I do have a loving husband and a beautiful family. My life changed completely in an instant, from the time (and the manner in which) I wake up, to the books I read, to the decor of the house, what is in the refrigerator, and how I make decisions (i.e., in conjunction with another person!). And most of the time it feels completely familiar, and gloriously happy.
Through all the lonely years, I had clung to the belief that God makes a match for every person. How wonderful to be proved right! It truly is never too late.
Our marriage works because the qualities I saw in my husband on that first coffee date are his true nature. He is willing to do the hard thing rather than the comfortable thing. He sticks through with a task until it is completed. And he is willing to do anything for his family, no matter what the cost. He is now the chief operating officer of the "less glamorous day job," and I'm on Book 4 in my own reading aloud to the kids -- of the Harry Potter series.
And to think it was all possible because I raised my hand on Simchat Torah. For 200 bucks, a pretty good deal.