Some readers may wonder why I’ve devoted so many recent columns to this subject. The answer is that finding one’s shidduch has become a problem that has reached crisis proportions in the Jewish world. And despite all the efforts of individuals and community leaders, the crisis shows no signs of abating.
In last week’s column I concluded that the first step in finding “that right one” is to know what to look for – something most singles, sadly, do not.
The one “must” quality on which no one should compromise is finding a soul mate with a good heart; if that’s lacking, the entire package will fall apart.
Often when I explain to singles their number one priority is to determine whether a prospective spouse is blessed with a good heart, they wonder how exactly they can do that. On a date it is so easy to become distracted by the superficial – looks, money, charisma, etc. – but that is precisely why, in the Torah world, parents investigate before their children ever meet.
I’m not suggesting these inquiries are always foolproof. There can be many glitches, but just the same we have to do our hishtadlus – put forth our best effort.
The first step in this process is to know his or her family background. For better or worse, we are all products of our past. Even if we intellectually reject the dysfunctional aspects of family life we witnessed in our homes, and swear we will never repeat the mistakes of our parents, many of us will eventually discover that not only have we become carbon copies of our moms and dads, but worse, in addition to their aberrations we’ve added a few of our own.
For example, if he comes from a family in which his father was never available, chances are he will see no necessity to make himself available to his own children. And if she comes from a family in which her mother was an absentee parent, it is likely she will neglect her children as well. Or if he comes from a home in which his parents resolved their conflicts through shouting or exchanging insults, he may well do the same. And this holds true with regard to an entire gamut of attitudes.
There are families in which everything becomes an issue, and there is constant squabbling and acrimony. Of course, conflicts exist in every marriage, but in a good home, where parents have kind hearts, they are respectful of one another – and, most important, resolve their conflicts behind closed doors without the children being aware of or drawn into them. Through their example they teach their children the art of establishing a good home.
But the investigation does not conclude there, for even in the best of homes there can be aberrations. There may be a son or daughter with serious character flaws, and so parents continue their inquiries with in-depth questioning of former and present friends, classmates, dorm partners, co-workers, rabbis, teachers, camp counselors, friends and neighbors.
Admittedly, even with all that we cannot possibly know whether what we hear is the truth, but here too Torah law helps us.
While we are not permitted to gossip or speak pejoratively about others, we are required to respond honestly to specific questions regarding marriage partners. But we have to know how to ask.
For example, instead of inquiring “Is he nice?” – which doesn’t mean a thing – we zero in on specific concerns that reflect character and values. How does he get along with his co–workers or classmates? Is he helpful to them? Does he lose his temper easily? Does he hold grudges? Is he moody? Is he dependent on medication in order to function? Does he think everything is coming to him?
Is he possessive and jealous? How does he handle money? Is he the type who is always borrowing? Does he give charity? (It’s not the amount that counts, but the manner in which he gives – grudgingly or with an open hand. And this doesn’t pertain only to money, but to all forms of giving.)
Is his word to be trusted? Does he have self-destructive habits? How does he relate to the members of his family? Does he refer to his parents or siblings pejoratively? Does he gossip and malign others?
Does he have what we call in Hebrew simchas hachayim – a positive attitude toward life – or is he moody? In the end, we never know where life will take us, and a positive attitude is one of the greatest attributes anyone – male or female – can have.
Observant families have an added responsibility, and that is to assess the potential partner’s religious commitment. Parents will not simply ask whether he attends daily minyan, they will also want to know whether he arrives on time and whether he davens or chats with others during the davening. If he’s no longer in yeshiva, they will want to know if he commits time regularly for Torah study.