If you’re Jewish and single, odds are you’ve been hit with one of the most annoying brachot ever invented:
“Im yirtzeh hashem (God willing) by you” (IYH)
Some go through comical measures to avoid this phrase. For her younger sister’s wedding, Sarah made a T-Shirt saying, “No No, Im Yirtzeh Hashem by YOU!” From what I recall her telling me, it worked nicely.
When I was in Gruss, my havruta got engaged and I had to endure my share of IYH’s. Noticing my apparent disapproval, one kollel wife said, “Oh, you should be happy! It’s a bracha!” Not wanting to discuss the matter, I nodded, smiled, and went on my merry way.
Not long afterward, I was at a shabbat meal with the same kollel wife. Somehow in the context of the conversation, I said IYH regarding someone having children. 1
Instead of accepting this bracha, the incredulous kollel wife said, “You know, you really shouldn’t say things like that.”
“Why not? Isn’t it a bracha?”
“Yes, but you don’t know…maybe there’s a reason why they don’t have kids.”
“Maybe there’s a reason why I’m not married.”
“Look, you just shouldn’t.”
I could have countered that if IYH is indeed a bracha, then it should be welcomed in all cases. I was not nagging, “nu, when are we going to have some nachas,” but “if God wills it, it should happen” – a perfectly “frum” theological blessing. However, by this point in the year I had learned not to engage in logical arguments with the typical YU kollel wife, so I dropped the subject.
Since then, I’ve asked several people if there is a difference between saying IYH to a single person looking to get married or a married person who is trying to have children. Both deal with highly personal and emotional struggles, yet IYH is socially acceptable in one context and apparently reviled in another.
In this highly unscientific study, I found that most women instinctively see a difference, but few could articulate what that would be. One person related to me stories of friends of hers who have struggled with miscarriages and fertility clinics, emphasizing the myriad of problems that couples face. Since one never knows what a couple goes through, even an IYH could prove to be traumatic.
I do not wish to minimize the struggles that people go through in either area. My problem, and one of my biggest pet peeves, is hypocrisy. If you truly believe that IYH is a bracha and will be accepted as such, fine. If you find it offensive in some cases, then that would indicate that you don’t really believe it’s a true bracha. I suspect the latter to be true in most cases.
For some reason, many are under the impression that singles have no feelings. We can mockingly throw out an IYH with little regard to what a person goes through. It’s like a cultural hazing process that only ends when you get married. Apparently, it’s only then where a person’s private life is “off limits” from the teases of the community.
So before you throw out another IYH by you – even as a joke – first to think about how it’s going to be received by the other person. It’s possible they might not be offended, and it’s possible that they might accept it wholeheartedly. But it’s also possible that you could strike a sensitive nerve and add more to a person’s anguish. If you’re not sure yourself, think if you would personally say it to a married couple who is trying to have children.
The point is that maybe it’s time to reevaluate commonly accepted phrases. Maybe we’re actually hurting people with words which aren’t as well intentioned as they sound. Maybe we should take the time to think about how our words affect other people, even when they’re socially conditioned. Maybe if we can do this, we can try to reverse the mentalities of what caused the hurban in the first place.
Im yirtzeh hashem by us all.
1. I don’t remember the details if it was to the specific person there, or about someone else not at the table.