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Pride, Prejudice And Potatoes

There is a wise Yiddish saying that translates into this observation: “Yichus (illustrious ancestors) is like a potato - they are both under the ground.” My understanding of this statement is that while one should be proud 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 just because your great-grandparents were special. Their menschlichkeit, their knowledge, their midos 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, that 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 is automatically passed down to the heirs. Hence they are thrilled when a shidduch is rett (suggested) for one of their children to go out with “so-and so” who is “so and so’s” einekel (descendant).

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 necessary the case. Sometimes, a member of the clan is nowhere intellectually or morally near the level of his forbearers. Case in point: Esav was the son of Yitzchak Avinu and grandson of Avraham Avinu. He had the best yichus possible – but all he really inherited was their DNA.

The reality that the character of a son or daughter is not on par with their yichus is tragically overlooked by shadchanim. Often the parents on the other side are eager to believe the misrepresentations, even though there are indications to the contrary. The hapless young person ends up fahling ahrein - 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.

Many people have written to The Jewish Press sharing how they were the envy of their friends for getting “such a catch,” and they bitterly realized how deluded they were to think that Mr./Miss Great Family Pedigree made great marriage material. Sadly, marrying a scion of a household with a distinguished family tree does not guarantee “happily ever after.”

The lesson to take to heart is that each potential marital partner should be evaluated on his/her own merit. This holds true whether they come from very respectable families, or if they come from less stellar backgrounds. After all, just as Esav was who he was despite his illustrious background, the virtuous Rifka was the daughter of Bethuel, and the righteous Leah and Rochel were the daughters of Lavan! Ironically, under today’s rules, no self-respecting family would have touched those girls despite their incredible midos.

The jaundiced view regarding young people who are not quite “mainstream” i.e. from a divorced home, baalei teshuva, immigrant family, etc., is often inaccurate and unjustified. So is the misguided perception that kids from “wonderful” homes are themselves wonderful.

People assume that children of divorce are messed up or have emotional problems, and will not let their children date those from broken homes. They don’t realize that any household where there are married parents but no sholom bayit is also a broken home. Children growing in two parent homes where the parents constantly fight and yell in front of their them, where the adults are demeaning, critical and verbally abusive - are at more risk for being dysfunctional than children in single parent homes that are tranquil.

In the same vein, young people who go to yeshivas/girls’ schools that are not considered as being top level 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 more developed midos and ahavas Yisrael than some whose entry into a “good” yeshiva was smoothed by their father’s or grandfather’s hefty annual donations.

To prejudge a person, either favorably or unfavorably because of superficial yardsticks, is unfair and self-defeating. A parent might pass up a wonderful person and end 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 to it.

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