There is a wise Yiddish saying that translates into this observation: “Yichus (illustrious ancestors) is like potatoes – they are both under the ground.”
My understanding of this statement is that while one should be proud and, to a reasonable extent, boastful of one’s outstanding forefathers – one should not base his/her self-evaluation on ancestral achievements. In other words, don’t walk around like you’re a superior being, with the attitude that you are “holier than thou” or better than the rest of the tribe just because your great-grandparents were viewed as being yotzeh min haklal – above the crowd. Their menschlichkeit, their genius in lumdus, their insightful knowledge or incredible heroics, and their outstanding middos are not transferable. You must earn these accolades through your own efforts.
Unfortunately, many people have the mistaken belief that since an individual comes from yichus, he/she embodies the virtues and capabilities of his/her ancestors. They buy into the premise that the sterling qualities that made the family yichusdik are automatically passed down to the heirs. Hence they are thrilled when a shidduch is redt (suggested) for one of their children with “so-and so” who is “so and so’s” einekel (descendant). What an honor to be deemed worthy of such a match, they gleefully conclude.
While in many cases, the members of the generations that follow do emulate the achievements and qualities of their memorable alte zaydehs it is not always the case. Case in point: Eisav was the son of Yitzchak Avinu and the grandson of Avraham Avinu. He had the best family pedigree possible – but all he really inherited was their DNA.
The very real possibility that the moral or spiritual character of a person is not on par with their yichus is tragically overlooked by some shadchanim. Often the prospective in-laws are eager to believe the misrepresentations, even though there are indications to the contrary. The hapless young person who marries the illusion presented – but not the reality- ends up ahrein faling – an expression that in English can be explained as falling into a bad situation, one that is very hard to extradite oneself from – like quicksand or a deep pit – or in this case, a dysfunctional marriage.
Many people have written to The Jewish Press, sharing how they were the envy of their friends for getting “such a catch,” and only when it was too late did they realize that they were fooled into thinking that being a member of a great family automatically translated into being great marriage material. Sadly, marrying a scion of a household with a distinguished family tree does not guarantee “happily ever after.”
In many cases, the individual is a wonderful, ehrliche young person – a credit to his illustrious ancestors, and worthy of his or her shem tov – but it is not an automatic given.
The lesson here is that each potential marital partner should be evaluated on his or her own merit. This holds true whether he or she comes from very respectable families or from less stellar backgrounds. After all, just as Eisav was who he was despite his illustrious background, the virtuous Rifka was the daughter of Betuel, and the righteous Leah and Rochel were the daughters of Lavan!
Under today’s rules, no self-respecting family would have touched those girls despite their incredible middos.
The jaundiced view regarding young people who are not quite “mainstream” – i.e. from a divorced home, baalei teshuva, immigrant family, financially challenged, etc., is often inaccurate and unjustified. So is the misguided perception that kids from “wonderful” homes are themselves wonderful.
Many people assume that children of divorce are messed up or have emotional problems, and will not let their children date those who come from “broken homes.” They don’t realize that any household where there is no shalom bayit is also a broken home – even if the parents are married. Children who grow up in two parent homes where there is constant fighting, where the adults are demeaning, critical and verbally abusive can be more at risk for dysfunction than children raised in single parent homes that are tranquil.
This is true for young people who are what I call “trophy” children – girls and boys being raised by parents who gave birth to them because it was socially and halachically expected that they have offspring, but who are not there for them emotionally and physically. Their own needs or wants come first. The message these kids absorb is that they are not a priority.