Yosef Silfen
A young man hoping to fix his flaws

Beautiful, not pretty

Twenty-three-year-old guys daven for two things: marriage and parnasa. Prayers like “Hashem, please let me nail this interview at Morgan Stanley” or “Hashem, please give me a pretty, sweet, positive, hard-working wife” occur frequently within my peer group.

For thousands of years, adults have required guidance from above to answer life’s most important questions: Where am I gonna live? What career path should I follow? Who will/should I marry? Via a dating shiur, Rabbi Josh Blass prioritized one question above the others: “The person you marry is the most important decision of your life.”

Following Rabbi Blass’ intense statement, this author pondered marriage-related questions: What key qualities do I look for in a spouse? Should emotional chemistry be highlighted more than anything else? Do I need pictures of prospective girls to observe attraction potential? Thankfully, the Gemara, my rabbi and romantic experts provide great answers for each shaila.

The Gemara says, “You should marry someone beautiful.” Consumers of American culture think beautiful = pretty. Students of social psychology understand, “These terms ain’t identical.” The compliment pretty offers praise for a person’s favorable physical features like hair color, bone structure, curves, eyes, etc. The compliment beautiful goes way beyond physical appearance. A typical pretty woman wears high heels, possesses zilch body fat and garners public attention for her eye-catching good looks. A typical beautiful woman organizes surprise birthday parties for friends and awakens at 2 a.m. to pick up grandma from the airport.

Pure-hearted guys understand an undisputed romantic truth: Chesed-oriented women have 10 times more beauty than any Victoria’s Secret supermodel.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, zt”l, offers a striking comment related to this topic: “Seek love, not sex.” Like prettiness and beauty, sex and love ain’t the same.

Love goes well beyond kissing and hugging. Love refers to the unlimited care and concern one has for another human. If I love this woman, I will stick by her through Alzheimer’s; I will stay up all night to discuss any work-related conflict; if cancer comes knocking, I won’t jump ship; on a road trip to Florida, I would drive all 20 hours to let her sleep. Love means that I would set aside all personal physical and emotional needs for her.

This epic Rabbi Sacks quote echoes lyrics to pop singer Jesse McCartney’s famous song: “I don’t want another pretty face, I don’t want just anyone to hold … I want you and your beautiful soul.” Prettiness will fade, but a beautiful soul stays forever.

At Stern College, Rebbetzin Rachel Ciment provides similar dating advice to students: “Good husband, good father. These qualities should be the most important things you look for in a spouse.” This advice compels young women to make good middot their No. 1 husband priority.

Notice the rebbetzin never mentioned looks, finances or height-preference requirements. Her comment inspires women to develop a less rigid dating outlook. Don’t ask shadchans for a 5’10” doctor, lawyer, dentist or Wall Street broker. Ask for a giver. Ask for someone who is a good son to his parents. A prospective date doesn’t need a nursing degree for you to say yes. A prospective date doesn’t need to be 5’5” for you to respond, “I’m interested.” The great Rav Moshe Feinstein stood nine inches shorter than his wife. No attraction issues affected this famous Lower East Side couple.

Recently, YU Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen explained the reason behind Mrs. Feinstein’s acceptance of Rav Moshe’s short stature. “She admired and respected Rav Moshe. If you admire and respect someone, height and other factors become irrelevant. Marry someone you respect and admire; that’s the most important thing.”

I don’t care how pretty she is. It does not matter how rich he is. If a romantic relationship lacks mutual respect and admiration, call it quits.

Some of you might read this article and think: “Really? Don’t tell me you don’t care about looks? You’re no Reb Moshe. Stop it with the ‘attraction comes from other things’.”

First off, this author understands physical attraction’s significance to a relationship. Romantic experts deem attraction essential to a marriage’s success. However, it is important to question society’s definition of attraction. TV and the media think physical appeal makes someone attractive. Don’t buy this nonsense! There is much, much more to attractiveness than the physical.

Several days ago, I asked my rabbi a vital dating shaila: “Can I ask shadchans for pictures of their shidduch suggestions?” Following a short pause, Rabbi W. provided an unexpected answer: “It would be misleading to look at pictures of prospective dates. Humans cannot accurately predict attraction from a single two-dimensional image. Hundreds of other factors showcase someone’s beauty beyond a snapshot photograph: the way a young woman offers compassionate care to roommates and family members; the possession of an ayin tova/positive outlook; respect for Torah. Don’t observe a one-time visual glimpse via WhatsApp and think, ‘Eh, not for me.’ Wouldn’t you want someone to give you a chance?”

Confused by this anti-picture idea, I asked my rabbi a follow-up question: “But you won’t know going into the date if you’ll be attracted to her; it’s a gamble. Why waste time on a gamble?”

Rolled-up sleeves atop the office’s brown work desk, this yashar/respectable mentor provided a memorable answer: “On every date you gamble on a woman’s personality; you gamble on romantic chemistry. Everything in life is a gamble.”

Members of planet Earth’s Jewish community, this author has one last request. Close your eyes and imagine the following situation: Two middle aged shadchans recommend a wonderful young woman to you. Appearance-wise, she possesses a simple-looking exterior and a holy smile. Personality-wise, she loves to do chesed for others, especially handicapped children.

Career-wise, she holds the title teacher, nurse, lawyer, dentist. On paper, she sounds like a great mother and life partner. Please, please please, don’t let thoughts like “someone better-looking will come along” get in the way of you accepting this dating opportunity. Shut off your ego and agree to meet her. You can only gain from this experience.

To quote my Aunt Ida, “The one percent chance she could be Mrs. Right is worth a two-hour Starbucks sit-down.”

To quote Rabbi W., “If it doesn’t work out, at least you get to spend two hours with a wonderful person.”

I hope everyone finds a beautiful spouse.

About the Author
From the suburbs of North Jersey, hails 24-year-old Yosef Silfen. As an undergraduate, Yosef studied English and Talmud at New York’s Yeshiva University. Following his May 2020 zoom graduation, Yosef taught English at Breuers High School and Judaic studies to the special ed students of Makor College Experience. Long term, Yosef hopes to enter a psychology doctoral program and become a clinical psychologist. In print, Yosef has published several op-eds for the Times of Israel and The Jewish Link of New Jersey. If you want to check out his spunky writing style, search up Zach Pollack, One in a Billon. Beautiful not Pretty: The Inspiring Bracha Etzion. During free time, Yosef likes to swim the breath stroke, perform amateur improv, study Torah, and visit his nearby grandparents. His favorite books are Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albon and A Tzadik in our Time, by Simcha Raz. His favorite movie quote is. “You got a lot of stuff kid” (Doc Hudson from Cars).
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