Daf Yomi Sotah 27
Avraham is getting on in years and he realizes that the time has come for his son Yitzchak to get married. He calls over his butler, Eliezer, and entrusts him with the mission of a finding a bride for Yitzchak.
‘Seriously?’ thinks Eliezer. ‘He wants me to travel all the way to Haran to seek a wife for his son? I have a wonderful daughter who would make a great match for Yitzchak. I am a G-d-fearing individual and I have always been there for Avraham and his family! But instead of recognizing my devotion to Avraham and monotheism, he wants me to go to his cousins who are idolaters! It makes no sense!’
Shmuel taught: A person should rather marry an individual with a wanting reputation than the child of an individual with a wanting reputation. For the former comes from good seed, while the latter comes from questionable seed.
Rabbi Yochanan disagrees: A person should rather marry the child of an individual with a wanting reputation, rather marry an individual with a wanting reputation. For the former has a presumption of goodness, while the latter has a presumption of impropriety.
The Gemara concludes: The law is a person should rather marry the child of an individual with a wanting reputation, rather marry an individual with a wanting reputation.
Obviously, a person is never faced with the choice of marrying someone or their mother. The point of the Gemara is, let’s say you’re presented with two shidduchim – blind date prospects. One is an average individual from a prestigious family; the other is an incredible individual from an average family. Which one should you go out with? Answer is: The boy or girl who is the incredible individual, despite their upbringing.
That’s what Eliezer failed to appreciate. He figured that his family was so prestigious – after all, he was the personal assistant to the great Avraham! There was no better shidduch in the world, as far as family was concerned! Why would Avraham look anywhere else?
But that is not what is important in seeking a marriage partner. You are not marrying the parents; you are marrying the individual. Rivka, despite having grown up in an idolatrous home, was ‘like a rose amongst the thorns.’ She herself was an incredible individual and far outweighed the shidduch prospect from a good family.
Sadly, too many people look for the wrong things when it comes to seeking a marriage partner for themselves or their children. Certainly, family is important. So is job. So are looks, et cetera, et cetera. But the most important attribute to look for, above all else, is that the individual is a mensch. Not how wonderful their parents are. Not how philanthropic their grandparents are. The primary question is: What kind of character is the individual themselves? Remember: the individual is the one you need to be able to get along with and live a joyous, peaceful life; not their parents!
Once the question of the individual’s character is answered satisfactorily, then you can consider other matters. But if the answer to the first question is unclear, don’t proceed! The key to a successful marriage and happy life is good middos (character traits). The better your own middos and the middos of your chosen marriage prospect, the happier your life will be. That’s the simple formula. It’s not about parents, it’s not about money, it’s not about looks, it’s not about intelligence.
Everything has a currency. To buy a car, you need money. The more money you have, the better car you can afford. To get into college, you need brains. The more brains you have, the better the college you can get into. To have a happy marriage, you need good middos. The better the middos, the happier the marriage. It’s that simple.
When seeking a marriage partner, remember it’s for life. Sure, all the fanfare surrounding the prestigious family you’ve gained entry into is exciting. But once the dust settles, you have to live with this person for the rest of your life. May you merit the wisdom to choose a spouse who has incredible middos, and if you act in kind, you will be happily married till 120!