In Parshas Noach, we learn that Hashem wanted to destroy society as it was and have a fresh start. Going into the teiva (ark) with his family, Noach essentially was quarantined from the rest of society, which gave him and his family a chance to have isolation from the bad habits and sinning that society had engaged in, conduct self-exploration, and achieve personal and spiritual growth. Then they could emerge from the teiva and build a new society, with stronger values and improved behavior. As a sign of appreciation to Hashem, Noach brought a korbon (sacrifice) to Hashem to thank Him for saving him, physically and spiritually.
COVID was our “teiva”. We were isolated and quarantined, separated from society. Psychologists report that it wreaked havoc in people, many suffering emotionally because of the lack of interaction in their communities. Perhaps it was Hashem’s way of telling us that He is disappointed in society, and He was giving us a chance to personally and spiritually grow, while emerging from the pandemic with the opportunity to improve society. We each had plenty of time to think about who we are and how we behave, and to explore opportunities to strive for growth and improvement.
If you exited the COVID era by staying in the exact same place – as an individual and spiritually – as you went into the COVID era, then it was a lost opportunity. And if you did, indeed, grow and improve, then the question is how do you harness those changes to help you on your path to marriage? If you changed, then perhaps your soul mate changed. So the first thing to do is to review your “demands” or desires in a spouse. Are you looking for the same priorities you were looking for, pre-pandemic? And what about all the people you dated pre-pandemic who weren’t the right fit for you then? If you changed, maybe they are a better fit now. If you didn’t change, maybe they did, and they are a better fit now. If you are unwilling to explore those options, then you are denying yourself the potential for great happiness. Maybe those people are not a good fit for you today…but maybe one is. And all you need is just one.
How does this connect to Parshas Lech Lecha, where we learn that Avraham realizes Sarah Imeinu’s beauty only when they were entering Mitzrayim (Egypt)? The Midrash teaches us that only when Avraham saw her reflection in the Nile River did he appreciate her physical beauty. We learn that until then, Avraham had only really seen her inner beauty that radiated outwards in her chessed and modesty. Only now, many years into their marriage, did he realize she has an external beauty as well.
The Gemara (Kiddushin 41a) teaches us that one cannot marry without a physical attraction, but no one says that is defined by “love at first site”. Scientific studies teach us that the brain operates in stages – it will have an immediate, somewhat impulsive reaction to things first, and then process the information and data and have a secondary reaction that is more solid and real than the initial response. This often happens when we hear news about something, and you are triggered to be angry right away, but then you calm down when you think it through, and you can be more rational and reasonable. The brain’s reaction is also relevant to attraction; what you may think is unattractive at first glance is just an impulsive reaction, but as you get to know someone’s inner beauty, they can become exquisite on the external side too. This is not my own perspective, but scientific research studies on the brain, conducted at major medical and academic institutions, have proven this.
Rav Chaim Kanievsky was asked by a boy about marrying a girl who was not beautiful. The boy explained that he didn’t find her “repulsive”, but he was concerned that later in life he could regret marrying her, thinking that he gave up someone more attractive. Because the boy gave the girl a real chance in dating (not just looking at a photo or going on one date), Rav Chaim said, if you believe that you will regret your marriage for the rest of your life because of her looks, don’t marry her. But Rav Chaim also said that while it is important to be “comfortable” with someone’s appearance, you should not excessively prioritize or over-emphasize the physical attraction. Rav Shach adds to this with an additional point: If you would be embarrassed to be seen with her in public, then do not continue with a proposed shidduch. (Note: that could be a chisaron, a weakness, in you and your own self-confidence.)
For people who reject shidduchim based on photos in advance or the physical attraction on a first date, you may simply be insecure and lacking self-confidence, or you could be impulsive and allowing your short-term brain activity to manipulate your entire future. That is not practical or smart. No one says you should marry someone you are not attracted to, but you should get to appreciate their internal beauty to realize how it will impact your physical attraction. I encourage everyone who rejected shidduchim pre-COVID to come out of the “teiva”, exit the ark, and revisit some of the irrational or impulsive decisions you may have made pre-COVID.
And for those of you who are seeking help with shidduchim, I am happy to help but not if you expect to see a photo of a prospective match. It is fair to ask a shadchan, and references of the single, about looks and physical appearance, but not appropriate or tznius, according to the Gedolei Torah, to ask for a photo. Marriage is a holy union, and the process to reach it should be conducted in a holy and appropriate manner too.