Choosing A Mate

Choosing A Mate

"And Avrohom said to his servant, the eldest in his household, who had charge of all that was his, 'Please place your hand under my thigh (the form for taking an oath). And I will have you swear by Hashem, the L-rd of heaven and the L-rd of earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell. But to my land an dto my birthplace you shall go and take a wife for my son, for Yitzchok" (Beraishis 24:2-4).

HOW SHOULD YOU CHOOSE YOUR MATE?

Avrohom decided to send his trustworthy disciple and right-hand man, Eliezer, to find a suitable wife for Yitzchok. The modern mind finds it difficult to understand why Yitzchok agreed to allow Eliezer to choose a wife for him. Is this a matter in which one can rely on others?

In our "sophisticated" age, most men and women will not hear of others having a hand in choosing their mates, but are they truly wiser than the generations of old? If the people in those generations, including our forefathers, Avrohom and Yitzchok, saw fit to have their life partners recommended by others, there must have been a good reason for it. Even more, in all generations until fifty or sixty years ago, parents played the major role in recommending mates for their children. Why did this practice persist for thousands of years?

Choosing a mate is a complex undertaking. Only too often, after their initial infatuation wears off, men and women find that they have made a serious misjudgment. They wonder what happened to all those qualitites that each thought the other possessed. Even when two people go out together for years, spend countless evenings together, and come to know each other thoroughly, the effort often eventually seems to have been of no avail. Inevitably, they discover that they did not understand each other's characters at all. Even if they are satisfied with their marriage, not once will they find that their partner is exactly as they had imagined him or her to be. In a survey conducted in the United States, a large group of married people were asked the following question: "Would you have married your partner if you had known how your marriage would turn out?" Unfortunately, a high percentage answered, "No!"

Common sense would argue that when people select mates entirely on their own and know each other for a relatively long period of time before marriage, the frequency of divorce should be lower than it was fifty or sixty years ago, when parents had a voice in choosing mates for their children. Precisely the opposite is true. Today's divorce rate is significantly higher than it was in the recent past. Where has the present generation gone wrong?

The primary cause of today's failed marriages is people's inability to judge a prospective marriage partner with even a semblance of objectivity. Most men and women are unaware of the subconscious drives and inclinations, both good and bad, that pull them in many directions. They ignore the difficulty of perceiving things clearly in areas as volatile as love and human relations. Once they feel attraction to another person, they rarely pause to consider whether this attraction is rooted in an objective appraisal of that person's qualities or in prejudice, a desire which projects virtues onto the person. With a fool's confidence, they let their captivated hearts lead them into marriages in which they are sure they will live happily ever after. Unfortunately, this is not often the case.

Wise people realize they cannot depend on their own judgment in matters that involve their emotions. At such times, they rely on others to tell them what is right and what is wrong. They know that if they do not ask others for help, they are likely to commit major errors.

Yitzchok depended more on the judgment of Eliezer, the greatest of Avrohom's disciples, than on his own judgment. He truly understood man's nature and innermost drives; he knew when it was to his advantage to step aside. What a contrast to the present generation, in which every man is wise in his own eyes.

WHAT THE CAUTIOUS "BUYER" DOES

The need for assistance in choosing a mate may be illustrated by the following down-to-earth analogy. What does a practical buyer look for when he goes to purchase a new or used car? Does he/she begin his search in ornate showrooms or sprawling used car lots? Does he look for the model with the nicest line and contours, the one with the sportiest, sleekest look, or the one equipped with the most gadgets? Does he fall in love with the latest designer hues?

A prudent man or woman looks for the make and model that will best serve the purpose for which a car is needed - safe travel in reasonable comfort at minimal expense. The important considerations are that the care be sturdily constructed, economical to run, and safe to drive on the highway.

How do practical people go about finding such a car? Before ever setting foot in  a showroom or a used car lot they ask the experts. They solicit information and advice from auto mechanics, consumer reports, and knowledgeable friends. After eliminating the undesirable makes and models, they are ready to look at the models that qualify. They thereby save themselves the time and effort it would take to look at cars which they are better off avoiding. Many people do similar research before they purchase a refrigerator or a food processor.

What does all this have to do with choosing a mate? Far more than would appear on the surface. Besides the mysterious ingredient of personal attraction, there is a practical side to choosing a mate that requires thoughtful consideration. For marriage to rest on a solid, healthy foundation, both partners must be stable and have good character traits - kindness, understanding, responsibility, and the like - and most important, they must possess compatible spiritual qualities and goals. To sum it up in one word, they must both be menschen. There is another factor which is vital to a Jewish home and helps insure its strength and beauty - the commitment of both partners to Torah. To be the authoritative guide who directs the policies of the home, the husband must be knowledgeable in Torah. To equip her home with furnishings of higher content and run it successfully, the wife must also be imbued with in-depth Torah knowledge and values. Bringing up children and preparing them to follow the road of truth in life requres these enrichments.

A person who does not seek the basic prerequisites in his life partner, but is sidetracked by extraneous values, such as beauty or material assets, is like a person who purchases a beautiful care without knowing if it will ever run. When buying a car, refrigerator or food processor -  items with a short lifespan - the same man or woman often cautiously looks for proven quality. When choosing a mate, with whom he must live for a lifetime, he allows whims to determine his fate.

Is a person too cold and calculating if he chooses a mate according to practical criteria? The wisest of all men tells us that he is not. According to the character sketch of the "woman of valor" by Shlomo Hamelech (Mishlei 31), the outstanding Jewish woman is honored for her many practical skills when they are accompanied by lofty spiritual qualities of selflessness, kindliness, and fear of Hashem. The twenty-two lines of praise that comprise this ode attach little value to gloss. External beauty only enhances a marriage - it is not the paramount asset.

FUNDAMENTAL QUESTIONS 

There are two, separate aspects to a shidduch (match), midohs (character traits) and attraction. The attraction one person feels for another, or "chemistry", as it is often called, is as elusive as it is undefinable. It is inexplicable even to the couple themselves. It may spring from a person's specific personality, from upbringing, or from the essence of his soul. In any case, only the man and woman involved can decide if they feel that necessary mutual attraction.

The practical aspects of a shidduch is the area in which one should seek guidance. In previous generations, parents, teachers, and rabbis provided such help. To this very day, there are thousands and thousands of Torah homes in which this is still the case.

The guidance is needed for a very good reason. Third parties are not influenced by the subconscious desires that blind those who are personally involved. Outside observers can view a situation objectively, without being taken in by a prospective partner's beauty, sparkling conversation, or social popularity. Only outside observers can ignore the "sleek contours" and concentrate on what is "under the hood". They see the good character, spiritual qualities, and practical skills that guarantee a capable and congenial partner forlife. When they size up a young man, they are not impressed by his tall, sturdy frame, dashing personality, dapper manners, or his material acquisitions. Instead, they chip away at his exterior and look inside. What has he accomplished in Torah learning? Does he have yiras shomayim (fear of heaven)? What about his midohs? Is he a mensch?

It is impossible for the boy and girl to make unbiased evaluations of this kind, for interests of the moment will inevitably prejudice their thinking. Can a judge decide a case involving millions of dollars fairly if the defendant is his secret business partner? Can a boy decide whether a girl will make a good partner if he is enamored of her looks? His prejudices will render him blind to whatever negative qualities the captivating girl may have. He will imagine black to be white and bad to be good. A person who embarks on a shidduch without preliminary investigation can end up like an eight-year-old child in a shoe store. The sporty straps of a zippy, brown pair fo shoes catch his eye, and come what may he wants those shoes! That this particular style is too narrow for his foot does not matter. He is not bothered when the shoes squeeze his toes, or the backs rub against the flesh of his heels. After all, how can an eight-year-old kid, who is about the be the owner of a sporty, shiny pair of shoes which he is sure he will always treasure, be expected to notice a little rubbing and pinching? "They feel fine," he declares to his mother and the salesman, and proudly walks out of the store wearing his new shoes. Soon, when the excitement and pride have worn off, trouble comes to the fore: Irritated skin, pinched and blistered toes, and ulcerated flesh on the heel are not wht focus of the child's pained attention. The snappy shade of brown has become scuffed and the boy discovers that all he has is a miserable pair of shoes, which are ill-fitting and extremely painful.

Anyone who chooses a mate in a similar fashion will end up with the same results. The initial intoxication wears off quickly, and the formerly enchanted husband or wife is left with nothing. His or her partner never possessed a good character and practical skills to begin with, and now the allure, too, vanishes.

HOW TO AVOID ENSNAREMENT IN A MISMARRIAGE

Most people have seen this happen to some of the finest individuals around: Young men and women with noble characters and minds fall into marriages with partners who have no interest in spiritual growth or Torah learning and to whom the acquisitions of the soul are secondary to expensive purchases, luxurious furnishings and social status. Before long, these fine young poeple realize their mistakes, but, in most cases, it is too late. Over the course of time, they initiate a process of rationalization that slowly but surely concludes with their goals. The rest of their days are spent with their backs turned on much of what they once cherished.

How does their slide come about? Often it starts when some well-meaning friend says, "I know a wonderful boy for you whom I think is very special," or "I have an exceptionally stunning girlfriend." Based on these meaningless praises and the introducer's good intentions, the parties meet without any preliminary investigation. After a courtship during which the prospective partners appear to each other to possess every imaginable quality, they marry. No one was ever asked to supply information about the other person or to ascertain how many others, besides the introducer, though well of him or her. After the wedding, the other person suddenly emerges as a bundle of problems. He or she may be quick-tempered, mean-streaked, selfish, lazy, irresponsible, eccentric, or beset with serious physical ailments which were concealed.

How do people ensure that this will not happen to them? They make a firm rule never to meet with a potential mate who has not been checked out. Better yet, they follow the time-tested custom of meeting shidduchim who are recommended by parents, rabbis or other concerned parties with good judgment. When a prospective mate is suggested, the parents or rabbi/teacher inquire thoroughly about that person's character, health, intelligence, family, accomplishments in Torah, and yiras shomayim from people who know him or her personally. The tentative choice of mate is based on the results of their investigation. This inquiry is merely to determine if he or she is a feasible match. Since parents and rabbis are those most dedicated to the welfare of their children, students, and congregants, they will put forth the greatest effort and carry out the most thorough investigation. For this very reason, their recommendations and suggestions about shidduchim are extremely valuable. This preliminary process will take care of the practical side of choosing a mate. It will clear the way for the boy and girl to meet and see for themselves if there is common ground, rapport and mutual attraction.

To summarize, we may describe the difference between a shidduch and a chance meeting as follows: A shidduch involves establishing through preliminary investigation that the person under consideration has the basic qualities for a feasible match. Only after a person is satisfied that this is so, does he meet that other person in order to ascertain if all the personal factors, including the important element of attraction, are there. It is also necessary to make one's own evaluation of the assessments of others. Only then can the relationship proceed on solid ground.

In shidduchim, the process preceding dating, and dating itself, are viewed as serious matters that should be handled by the mind rather than runaway emotions of the heart and surface assessments of the eye.

In contrast, those who follow today's dating pattern reckon first with personal attraction and probe afterward to find out about intrinsic  qualities. Herein lies the source of the pitfalls. Once the ingredient of attraction is involved, there is little chance that a person's judgment concerning the long list of necessary inner assets will not be blurred and prejudiced. People will see black as white, they will lose the ability to make impartial assessments. The very nature of shidduchim, however, minimizes the risks of choosing foolishly when it comes to the most important decision of one's life.

NEITHER LOVE NOR DESTINY CONQUERS ALL

Why do many people, even in today's secular world, labor under the misconception that finding a mate is connected solely with the mysterious, transcendental workings of "destiny" and not with a practical set of criteria? The source of this misconception is the very human tendency to romanticize. Most people yearn for a higher, paradisical life beyond anything this mundane world can offer. There is, however, a sliver of truth in this wishful thinking.

Every man senses that much of what occurs in the world transcends and defies simple cause-and-effect explanations. He perceives supernatural occurrences that interface with the natural world in mysterious ways. People who are ignorant of Torah attribute these influences to destiny, astrology, personal superstitions, and other empy beliefs. On the subject of seeking a spouse, they misunderstand the Torah concept that there is a predestined mate for each person, taking it to mean that the outcome of the search is entirely a matter of fortune, destiny or luck.

According to this fallacious, secular vision, independent forces at work in the universe are tin complete control - without Hashem in the picture. In the same way that the term "nature" is robbed of its divine workings and detached form its Creator and Master by secular scientifiv platforms, so, too, are the connotations of destiny, fortune, and luck.

The idyllic picture of romance and love, painted by contemporary literature and the media, has also contributed to the present-day misconception. Today's youth are brainwashed into believing that all that is involved in finding an ideal mate is the feeling of falling madly in love, a feeling which is guaranteed to be followed by everlasting bliss of living happily ever after. Any problems that occur are supposed to disappear magically, for "love conquers all". There is thus no need to look for a mate with good qualities and the necessary skills, for it is foolishly believed that someone who will love with all his heart is everything.

This poisonous misconception has seeped into some of the finest Torah homes. It has left its effect, to some degree, on the entire Torah community, for people are inevitably influenced by their environment.

SINCERE LOVE OR SELF-GRATIFICATION?  

Actually, there does exist a variety of love that can overcome all obstacles and will last indefinitely. Our sages of the Mishnah term this love ahavah she'ainoh teluya bedavar (love that does not hinge upon the material or the sensual):

All love that is based on transient cause (material or sensual) vanishes with the passing of that cause. Love that is not based on a transient cause (but hinges on some spiritual quality) will never cease.

Love that hinges solely on sensual attraction reflects only self-gratification. After the initial attainment of that end, or with the passage of time, when the strong attraction wears off, and the exterior assets themselves erode with age, such love also passes away. This variety of love pivots only on non-enduring assets and must one day disappear.

A girl who loves a boy for his external qualities - he is tall and handsome, athletically built, popular and enthralling - may one day wake up in shock. At the moment of truth, she will realize she is married  to nothing more than an empty hulk and smooth tongue. The poor fellow, who is loved only for these meaningless externals, also deserves pity.

Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian used to peel off the surface layer of what the world calls "love" to illustrate its true, underlying, selfish motivation: People have invented a whole lexicon of false terminology to express distortions of life-truths. For example, people say they "love" fish. What do they do with the fish they love? First they snuff out its life. Then they cut it up, bake it, broil it, fry it, chew it, and swallow it. Do they really love fish? Most certainly not! They love themselves and seek self-gratification. The poor fish serves only to achieve this end. The term love often has the same connotation when used to refer to the opposite sex. In such cases, it mean, "I love him or her for the pleasure and self-gratification he or she is able to give me."

The situation is far different when love is based on a partner's fine character qualities and nobility of spirit. In this case, the love and appreciation one feels is not linked to self-gratification, but to the inherent goodness of one's partner. Such intrinsic virtues are eternal; they accompany a person in all areas of this life and in the World to Come. Just as the person's goodness is eternal and permanent, so too will be the love another has for him.

This kind of love develops and grows with time. One whose mate possesses these qualities can be certain that their marriage will be one of mutual respect and love, and it will be enhanced through the years like excellent wine that imporves with age.

The never-ending love Yitzchok felt for Rivkah, the wife chosen for him by Eliezer, blossomed after Yitzchok became fully aware of her sublime qualities.

The passage states: " And Yitzchok brought her into the tent of Sarah, his mother. He took Rivkah, and she became his wife, and he loved her." (Beraishis 24:67) Targum Onkelos renders it "And Yitzchok brought her into the tent, and behold, he saw her deeds were as righteous as those of Sara, his mother, and he loved her."

The person with fine qualities can be secure about his marriage, for he is loved for good reason. Attaining a desirable character, then, is the best insurance for a marriage that will be one of "joy and gladness...mirth and gladsong, pleasure and cheer, love and harmony, peace and companionship." (from the Seven Blessings that are an integral part of the Jewish wedding ceremony)


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