Aug 4, 2012
You're not Gezhe?!
Illustration photo by Yossi Percia. The pictured have no connection to the article
Op-Ed: When it comes to shidduchim, we need to look at what's most important. To simply to "Lift up our eyes and see."
By Rabbi Motty Lipskier
"The maidens of Jerusalem would dress in borrowed white garments so as not to embarrass those who had none. They would dance in the vineyards and what would they say? 'Young man, raise your eyes and see what you choose for yourself. Do not pay attention to beauty, pay attention to family. Sheker hachein v'hevel hayofi, a woman who fears Hashem shall be praised.'"
(Mishnah end of Taanis)
At first glance, this sounds like the perfect plan: the young women wear dresses which do not represent their wealth, or social standing, and the men are able to focus on their inner, more important qualities. But is the plan as wonderful as it seems?
The men are specifically instructed to consider their potential mates' families, but what about those young women who do not have scholarly and illustrious ancestors? Are they still on equal footing with their counterparts?
Moreover, we learn from the Braisa that beauty was emphasized more than we may think. "What did the beautiful maidens say? Pay attention to beauty, for a wife is primarily for beauty."
So it seems that after all the "equalizing," the young women were still being judged for things completely out of their control: beauty and lineage. And in public no less! Is this the way to treat a young woman, especially at a time when she has the potential opportunity to meet her soul mate?
Why bother giving the impression that this will be the perfect setting for each young woman to be judged entirely on her own merits, when in actuality many will be humiliated? How did the Jewish leadership of the time allow such insensitivity?
In 1975 the Rebbe explained one word in the Mishnah which shed new light on its meaning.
The word used is family, not parents or lineage. And family, in a broader sense, refers not just to a person's biological relatives, but to his or her circle of influence.
According to the Gemara, a person who teaches Torah is considered to have "fathered" his student, and in this week's parshah Rashi explains that the mitzvah of "v'shinantam levanecha - you shall teach your children" actually refers to a teacher and his pupils. Teachers, educators, mentors and friends can all be considered family by providing us with the necessary environment and influence to become the people we want to be.
So the maidens were in fact saying: don't just look at our yichus, our biological family or lack thereof. Pay attention to our family, look at our upbringing, our education and environment. We may not have had illustrious grandparents, but our parents raised us with the highest level of education and family values.
Or, we may not have dedicated parents, but we have good educators, mentors and friends who give us the love, support and family environment that we need. And as a result, we have been able to develop our own qualities and are fully capable of building new Jewish homes, regardless of our lack of yichus.
The Torah teaches that physical beauty is usually a reflection of inner beauty, to the extent that the Torah attributes a child's beauty to the parents' sanctity during relations. And inner beauty - fine character and spiritual sensitivity - is the result of being brought up well.
So the young women mentioned in the Braisa were actually saying: If you notice physical beauty, know that we have good parents, and therefore a good family and upbringing. If you notice inner beauty, know that this too is a result of good family, even if not biological. We have made sure to surround ourselves with positive influences.
As a young child of five or six, the Mezritcher Maggid and his mother watched their home burn to the ground. The young boy attempted to comfort his weeping mother- "Don't worry mother, Hashem will replace this house with a better one."
But his mother explained, "My dear son, I'm crying not for the house that's burning down, but for our family's document of lineage (shtar yichus) which has been consumed by this fire. Now our yichus has been lost forever."
Hearing this, the young boy was quick to reassure her, "Don't worry mother, a new line of yichus will begin with me."
There are many people today who lack traditional yichus but have surrounded themselves with excellent, G-d fearing mentors, educators and friends, and are beginning their own line of yichus. So when it comes to shidduchim, we need simply to "Lift up our eyes and see."
We need to look at what's most important: a spouse who possesses the desire and the tools to bring up a beautiful, warm and loving Jewish family. And when we look at the people around us, let's make sure to notice who their real family is, and let's be open to the possibility that we may be the family that they need.
Rabbi Motty Lipskier is the founder the director of The Beis Medrash of Crown Heights. To receive his weekly dvar torah in your inbox, email email@example.com.