On Tirza’s seventh birthday she finally received the present she had been hoping and praying for, a baby sister. She did not mind losing her place as the only child. She was thrilled to join the ranks of the other big sisters in her class.
Dina was everything a big sister could want in a baby. She had curly dark hair, dimples, and a charming smile that she smiled first thing every morning when she woke up and saw her big sister through the bars of her crib. Waking up to Dina’s smile was a wonderful way for Tirza to start her day and she would go off to school happily.
When she was two Dina came down with the mumps a week before Pesach. Tirza cheerfully spent hours pushing her sister in her stroller while she rollerbladed behind her with friends. It was Tirza’s job to bring Dina home from nursery school and she did so proudly. Before Dina began school Tirza told her mother that she wanted to take Dina to pick out her backpack. Since their parents worked long hours it was usually Tirza who helped Dina with her homework. However, the relationship was not all one-sided.
Once Dina began getting an allowance she would put part of her money aside to buy Tirza’s favorite ice cream bars. When Tirza needed a sample student for school projects Dina was a willing volunteer. Showing an aptitude for handwork Dina took a sewing class when she was in seventh grade. Her first project was a pleated skirt for Tirza. Tirza wore that skirt on her first date with Avner. She came home from that date starry-eyed and eager to tell Dina all about it.
Three months later she was married and living an hour bus ride away in a small village that held the yeshiva where Avner learned. Often Dina would take that bus ride on Thursday afternoon so she could help Tirza with her Shabbat preparations and stay over for Shabbat. In the beginning it was just to have Tirza’s company. As time went on it was so she could help with her nephew, Meir, and niece, Bracha. Dina was nineteen when Tirza was pregnant with her third child and Avner, who was now a rabbi in the yeshiva, decided to introduce Chaim, one of the top boys, to his sister-in-law.
It was a successful match. Dina and Chaim moved into the yeshiva housing just two blocks away from Tirza and Avner’s home. Dina’s first child, Chava, was born when Shira, Tirza’s third, was a half a year old. Tirza had three more children and Dina another six. Chaim became the principal at the local boys’ school. Time passed and, all of a sudden, Meir and Bracha, turned twenty and nineteen. Their friends began getting engaged and Tirza’s friends’ children began getting engaged. She knew it would not be long before she began making a wedding, but she was wrong. A year passed and then two and then a third. Tirza began to worry and, although he did not want to admit it, so did Avner.
Bracha had caused them all sorts of concern right in the beginning when she announced that she did not want to marry anyone who learned full-time. For Tirza, who had loved the years Avner had learned in Kollel, that had been a hard hit.
“Don’t you want a ben Torah?” she demanded from her daughter.
“Sure,” Bracha answered coolly. “I just want one who works, also. I have no intention of raising a family and supporting a family, also.”
Suggestions were made of older boys who had finished the army and yeshiva and were now learning a profession. Bracha turned her nose up at most of them. By the time she turned twenty-three, she had only gone out more than once with a half dozen boys.
Meir was somewhat easier. He gamely went out month after month, but nothing came of any of his dates. Was he being too particular, Tirza worried. At twenty-four perhaps he had let the perfect match slip through his fingers.
This was one subject she could not discuss with Dina and she did not want to worry her mother. It was her friend, Yaffa, whom she turned to. They were standing together at the wedding of their neighbor’s daughter. The floor of the wedding hall was literally vibrating as the groom, accompanied by dancing rabbis and friends, approached the bride, seated like a princess on her throne. Yaffa was clapping her hands in rhythm to the music and her lips were moving silently as the groom lowered the veil over the bride’s face. As the group of dancing men receded and the music became softer Tirza leaned close to her friend.
“How do you deal with this?” she whispered.
Yaffa knew exactly what her friend was referring to. She also had three children over twenty who were not married. Taking a deep breath she answered carefully.
“At the time of the bedeken when the joy is so strong that you can practically feel it, I use those emotions to talk to HaShem. I beg him that in the merit of the happiness I feel for my friend who is marrying off her child I will be worthy of that same happiness.”
Tirza took the advice. For the next few months she prayed fervently at every wedding she attended. Yaffa caught her eye several times and gave her a thumbs up. They were at a wedding after Chanukah when Tirza asked Yaffa if she could put two students in Yaffa’s guest room for the coming Shabbat.
“I’m sorry,” Yaffa answered uncomfortably. “My nephew is coming for Shabbat.”
“No problem,” Tirza answered. “I’ll find another place.” Before she could wonder what made Yaffa uncomfortable the bride and groom entered the hall and the dancing began. She did not think about it again until Friday night, after the meal when she and Avner were taking a walk and she saw Chava walking with Yaffa’s nephew.
I wonder if Dina knows Chava is out walking with a boy was her first thought. As Chava greeted them Tirza saw the shine in her niece’s eyes and, with a sinking feeling, realized that Dina knew very well that her daughter was out walking with Yaffa’s nephew. It was clear that the couple had not just happened to run into each other. There was obviously a courtship going on.
All Shabbat Tirza struggled with her emotions. Yaffa’s nephew was a fine boy and she was happy for her niece. However she could not believe her little sister, the one who had always looked up to her, was going to be a mother-in-law before her. And when, oh when, would she start marrying off her children? Was there something wrong with her and Avner?
Saturday night, after all the Shabbat clean-up was finished and Tirza had already begun working on lesson plans, the phone rang.
“It’s Aunt Dina,” her ten-year-old yelled.
“I’m coming.” Tirza’s calm voice revealed none of the emotional turmoil she felt.
“Shavua Tov.” Her sister’s voice was lilting. “We have a mazel tov!”
“Mazel Tov!” Tirza hoped she sounded enthusiastic.
Tirza heard the pure joy in her sister’s voice and her heart swelled with love. “I’m so happy for you!” she said sincerely.
“It’s been so hard not to say anything to you but Chava wouldn’t let me tell anyone, not even Mom, until we met his parents. We just had the vort. Can you come over?”
In the weeks that followed Dina’s conversations focused on caterers, halls, wedding dresses, and the like. Time and again Tirza found herself stifling her envy and trying to be supportive.
“I’m happy for my sister” she told HaShem over and over. “In the merit of that happiness can I begin marrying off my kids, too?”
She and Yaffa were making sheva brachot together and she lost count of how many times she said her mantra. As they set the table she suddenly noticed that Yaffa’s oldest son was being most solicitous about helping her Shira with the plastic chairs. They both had a look in their eyes that made Tirza wonder if they had all overlooked something. Could this be a match in the making?
As the guests began arriving one friend pulled Tirza to the side.
“I have a suggestion for Meir. Are you interested?’
“I’m always interested,” Tirza answered beginning to feel hopeful. “Tell me all about it.”
It wasn’t until the speeches started that she really began to feel optimistic. A young man with dark eyes behind thick glasses, curly hair, and a beautiful smile stood up to give a Dvar Torah. Bracha sat forward in her chair and leaned over to her aunt.
“Who is that?” Tirza heard her daughter ask.
“One of Moshe’s cousins. He’s a lawyer. Would you like to meet him?”
Instead of demurring or hesitating Bracha gave a definitive yes.
Tirza realized she was being rather silly. She knew that it was too early to count on anything. For the first time, though, Tirza began to think that perhaps her constant prayer just might be answered in the near future.
ben Torah: someone who cares about Torah learning
bedeken: the point at the wedding when the groom covers the bride’s face with the veil
shavua tov: have a good week
mazel tov: congratulations
vort: meeting when the engagement becomes official
sheva brachot: party for the bride and groom the first week of their marriage
Dvar Torah: speech with a Torah lesson