Thursday, June 30, 2011
Questions of the Matchmaker
There is a story told of Rabbi Shmuel Rozovsky, the legendary head of the Ponevezh Yeshiva. One day a Jew from Jerusalem traveled to Bnei Brak to inquire about a student in the yeshiva as a potential mate for his daughter. The man proceeded to ask Rabbi Rozovsky some questions about the young man: "How many hours a day does he study? Does he follow the yeshiva's study schedule and participate during classes? Does he arrive to prayer services on time? How well does he understand the Talmudic discourses?"
After receiving favorable responses to these questions, he thanked Rabbi Rozovsky and began to leave. Rabbi Rozovsky politely stopped the man and said, "Please allow me to ask you a few questions as well. I see that you are content with the answers you have received because you apparently believe this is all your daughter needs to know. However, I think that your daughter would be very interested in knowing if this student is a decent human being."
Rabbi Rozovsky continued, "It would have been fitting if you had asked me: Are his clothes clean? Is it pleasant to sit next to him? How does he behave in the dining room? Does he thank the kitchen staff for preparing the meals? You've reached the conclusion that he is a great student, but you should ask how he behaves when he enters the dormitory while others are asleep. Does he enter quietly so as not to wake up his roommates? And in the morning, does he make his bed or leave the room a mess?"
"I think," said Rabbi Rozovsky, "that these things would very much interest your daughter. He could turn out to be a spoiled person who doesn't care about his surroundings. What will happen when he comes home in the evening and scoffs at the meal your daughter had worked all afternoon preparing? Will she be consoled by my words in praise of how well he understands the complexities of a Talmudic tractate?"
The matchmaking approach of Rabbi Rozovsky can be utilized in other walks of Jewish life as well. Simply substitute whatever is considered "most desirable" in different Jewish circles, and the same problem arises. For example, some regard a Harvard graduate degree or being a partner in a law firm with the utmost significance. When people start looking for potential spouses based solely on external factors - instead of the person's overall character - something is seriously wrong. While things such as money, looks and success can play a role in the decision, it shouldn't be the primary consideration.
A woman is certainly free to marry a man for his technical knowledge, just as a man can marry a woman for her bank account. But it would be best if they prioritized their values first. So before going out on a date or setting up someone else, it might be worthwhile to ask a simple question:
Is he/she a good person?
Or, more specifically:
How does he/she treat other people?