If it seems out of reach, God will stretch your arm

I had it relatively easy. I met with a shadchan (a traditional Jewish matchmaker) one night in the middle of 2001, described myself (a then bright-eyed 21-year-old yeshiva student with an eye toward a future in Jewish outreach) and what I was looking for in a spouse, and shortly thereafter received suggestions of different girls to consider dating.
I went out once or twice with four different girls before relaying the news to the shadchan that I just didn’t think these girls were for me. It only took one date with the fifth girl I went out with to know that I had found my bashert, and a short 2½ weeks later, we were engaged. (It’s worth noting that this is an incredibly short courtship even by traditional standards — ahh, to be young and bold.) Overall the shidduch system had worked for me, and so, I imagined, did it work for everyone else.
My now wife burst that rosy bubble shortly after our engagement, explaining to me how hard it was for so many others. Girls left waiting by the phone, hoping to hear from a shadchan or a friend with a suggestion, only to go weeks or months without a call. I was flabbergasted. It seemed like the moment I called the shadchan to call off a courtship, another suggestion was at her fingertips ready to go. I hadn’t realized how fortunate I had been, and resolved then and there to be part of the solution.
My life in yeshiva quickly changed. Instead of sitting together with my close friends for lunch, I slowly made my way around the cafeteria, getting to know other yeshiva students whom I’d scarcely known before. I eventually compiled notebooks filled with comprehensive details about the yeshiva boys I had met, along with the candid details of what they were seeking in a bride. I would set them up with girls that I knew, or with single friends of my wife, and before we knew it, we had made three successful shidduchim.
Word got around town that there was a new shadchan in town and, as if overnight, I began getting calls from single girls and guys, fathers and mothers, both local and out of state, all around the clock. And phone calls weren’t the end of it. People wanted to meet with me face-to-face, the same as I had done with my shadchan many months before. And almost every night of the week, after a full day at study, I’d come home, eat a quick supper with my wife and newborn, and prepare for a barrage of eligible singles knocking on my apartment door.
We successfully made our fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh successful shidduchim, and along with that success came more and more visitors and more and more phone calls. I had planned to try to make a difference, but all of this, I could never have imagined. It was all too much for me.
Besides for the ridiculous demands on my already limited free time with my young family, I began feeling the growing pressure of the many expectant and hopeful singles that had put their hopes in me. I couldn’t possibly help them all, and it gnawed away at my core. A growing anxiety creeped in, grabbing hold of me and not letting go.
It was around this time of the year, the week of Parashat Shemot, that I walked to shul on a brisk Shabbat morning still filled with the disquieting shadchan angst that was increasingly hard to shake. I took a seat in the back and eyed the amazing array of sefarim (books on Jewish subjects) that lined the synagogue’s shelves. One old book caught my eye. It turned out to be a commentary on the weekly parasha written by one of the earlier rabbis to settle and establish Jewish life in Baltimore (unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the author). My interest was piqued, and so I turned to his writings on the week’s Torah reading.
The subject was the daughter of Pharaoh who, the Chumash relates, had gathered in and cared for the crying baby (later named Moshe) who had been floating down the Nile River in a wicker basket.
“Pharaoh’s daughter went down to bathe, to the Nile, and her maidens were walking along the Nile, and she saw the basket in the midst of the marsh, and she sent her maidservant, and she took it” (Shemot 2:5).
The rabbi noted Rashi’s commentary on this verse, which points out a homiletical interpretation of the Sages who suggest that the Hebrew word for “maidservant,” “amata,” can also mean an “arm.” Thus, the verse is teaching that the daughter of Pharaoh sent forth her arm to grasp the wicker basket and God miraculously lengthened her arm so that she could reach the distant child. (Whether this midrash is meant literally or figuratively is another matter.)
Upon this mysterious midrash, the rabbi from Baltimore wrote these words which are carved into my memory. “We learn from here that if we try our best to accomplish great deeds, however lofty and out-of-reach they may seem, God will stretch our reach, just as he stretched the daughter of Pharaoh’s reach, so that we might accomplish them.”
I exhaled a deep breath. I realized for the first time that it wasn’t my burden to worry about how many shidduchim I would make or how many people I would eventually help. These matters were far beyond me and my control. All I needed to focus on was sincerely reaching for the goal. It would ultimately be God’s job to stretch my arm, the Almighty’s task to complete the mission.
I walked home from shul that day and excitedly relayed the rabbi’s profound words to my wife over the Shabbat lunch meal. We smiled together and for the first time in a long time felt at peace.
Rabbi Yogi Robkin is the outreach director of DATA of Plano. He can be reached at yrobkin@dataofplano.org.

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