"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
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
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
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.
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,
HOW TO AVOID ENSNAREMENT IN A
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
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
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
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
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