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.
I remember substituting in a day school office many years ago, and calling a mother to let her know that her son, during recess, had muddied his clothes as he played. He was covered in mud from top to bottom, as he had slid while playing baseball.
She told me she was busy – at the gym – and that it would be a good lesson for him and he would be more careful in the future if he stayed in his wet, dirty clothes for the rest of the day.
This child came from a “top” family.
Misguided as well is the attitude towards young people who go to yeshivas/girls’ schools that are thought to be lower level schools. Graduates of these “loser” schools are often ostracized when in comes to shidduchim. The irony is that many of these students are more sincere and hardworking in their davening and learning, and have elevated middos, greater sensitivity and ahavas Yisrael than their peers whose entry into a “good” yeshiva was smoothed by their father’s or grandfather’s hefty annual donations or yichus.
Just recently a teenage boy (who went off the derech) told an audience he was addressing that the only reason he wasn’t thrown out of his yeshiva was because his father paid full tuition.
Rabi Akiva’s father-in-law, the wealthy Kalba Savua disowned his daughter Rachel, because she married a man whom he judged to be totally unsuitable for her, based on his lack of yichus, education and social status. But as Kalba Savua learned, what you see is not necessarily what you get. He could not get past the exterior and give his daughter’s suitor a chance. He refused to give himself the opportunity to see what his daughter saw. I’m not saying that parents should embrace every shidduch suggested to them – just that they keep an open mind and see beyond the shallow surface.
To prejudge a person, either favourably or unfavourably because of superficial yardsticks is unfair and self-defeating. A parent might pass up a wonderful person because his or her resume was shvach – not up to par in their eyes, and instead choose an impressive “illusion”, ending up with a son or daughter-in-law who will bring discord, turmoil and heartache to the family.
The old saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover” has much merit.
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