Rabbi Steven Pruzansky
Which of the following eligible bachelors makes the most attractive shidduch candidate? Please choose one.
a) a quiet, cerebral, 60 year old who has never left his parents’ home, never worked, and is not on speaking terms with his only brother;
b) an impetuous, arrogant, young man, obsessed with his physical appearance, whose family has disowned him, and who has served time in prison;
c) a man adopted and raised by non-Jews, now 45 years old , accused of murder and still a fugitive from justice;
d) none of the above.
If you selected (d) – not an entirely unreasonable choice on its face – you have unfortunately rejected (a) Yaakov Avinu,(b) Yosef HaTzadik, and (c) Moshe Rabbeinu as shidduch-worthy, forever altering Jewish destiny and world history. And such thumbnail sketches could easily uncover similar “flaws” in Avraham Avinu, Dovid HaMelech, and most other luminaries of Jewish life.
Evidently, there is much more substance to a human being than his (or her) pedigree, appearance, educational background, career choice, and social history. More importantly, each person possesses values, goals, aspirations, character, and a spiritual sensitivity (or lack thereof) that comes closer to defining him or her than any information that can be gleaned from the brief biographical data now used to determines one’s eligibility, not for marriage, but for a first date.
It is not only the Avot who do not measure up to today’s standards; our glorious Imahot (foremothers) also do not fare well. All were raised in idolatrous households, in families whose values were diametrically opposed to those of our covenantal community. Yet, in every case – as well as those spiritual giants mentioned above – their backgrounds were indicators of nothing, and their special personal qualities and unique gifts that sustain us to this day had to be extracted and uncovered through personal contact. In today’s parlance, you had to “get to know them”.
In today’s world, these men and women do not stand a chance, for they cannot cross the minimum threshold of acceptability. Personality, chein (perhaps translated as ‘a special charm’), goodness, and beautiful midot are not easily adaptable to a resume. Rather than judge the person on his/her merits, the person is judged on a host of considerations that simply do not define the essential person. And we are all the poorer for it.
I recently had an unpleasant conversation with a male inquirer into a local shidduch. After a series of impertinent questions, I said to him (impertinently): “Why don’t you just call her up, and ask her yourself?” He responded that his Rebbi (non-YU, as it happened) had taught him that “it is assur – forbidden by Jewish law – to call a woman directly”. Surprised that this halacha had escaped my notice, I said: “Are you certain your Rebbi said that it is assur? Especially since the Gemara establishes that men are the initiators – aggressors – in pursuing marriage! How can it be assur?”
He conceded that his Rebbi did not actually use the term “assur” – that was his assumption – and I urged him to be more careful in his use of halachic terminology lest he be guilty of “Bal Tosif”, adding Mitzvot to the Torah (and presumably falling several notches even lower on the shidduch depth chart).
When did our men become so emotionally emasculated that they hide behind spurious halacha to avoid taking responsibility for their own futures? When did it become a crime to say ‘hello, nice to meet you’ or to strike up a conversation with a young man or woman whose eyes met yours at a wedding, a social gathering, or in shul (i.e., after davening)? What is wrong with checking out the personality of a potential mate through light conversation before conducting the background checks that are designed to weed out miscreants, malefactors, and malcontents of all sorts?
Certainly, there is a fear of rejection – but rejection does build character and is part of life. There is a greater and more troubling fear: The Netziv’s famous commentary on “ezer k’negdo” (literally, ‘helpmate opposite him’ – the Torah’s description of the first wife in Breisheet 2:20 – that the wife most benefits her husband when she is different than him in temperament and personality, thereby creating a balance in the marriage) is lost on today’s generation. Opposites no longer attract; they don’t even get a first date.
The Avot and Imahot were all spared the horrors of the shidduch scene because they married family members. We do not have that luxury. What we can do is foster an environment in which single men and women are judged as people first, and not as checklists. Then, if they find in each other chein – in appearance, family and reputation (see Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah, I, 90) – they can commit their lives to each other in full confidence that G-d who makes all matches has blessed their union.
Herein lies the challenge, as well as the potential for unlimited blessing, for our generation and for our future.