Finding Your Zivug (Mate)
From Meeting to Meaning:
Building a Serious and Lasting Relationship











This series explores some fundamental issues in choosing and developing a serious relationship. These articles will be useful for singles, serious or engaged couples - as well as for married people - who want insight into making their communication more effective and their relationship closer, more successful, meaningful and satisfying. In addition to exploring the conceptual framework of this thesis, we will look at how to apply the principles in practical life.

When a couple start discerning that they have a meaningful relationship or become engaged, they want to productively get to the next stage and to the maximum potential and quality of relationship possible. In a generation with many "long-term singles," shalom bayis catastrophes and divorces, people might be so concerned as to be frightened about how to make their relationship successful and how to stand up to the challenges imposed by the personal shortcomings in either partner and the pressures of life.

The Torah tells us that the pig is unkosher because it does not chew its cud, even though it has the kosher characteristic of split hooves. Rabbi Elimelech of Lezensk says from this that Jews should be careful about those Torah requirements that others trample on with their feet. The Jew must be vigorous to guard all mitzvos. The pig does not have all signs of kashruss. The one sign it has, the split hoof, is on the foot, with which it walks. The Jew should split from the other(s) who trample on mitzvos, from the other(s) who do not keep ALL mitzvos. Learn from the pig that to be "kosher" means to separate, like one hoof, from the other that "tramples (picks some mitzvos and rejects others)," and be like the "kosher" species that has all kosher signs: that keeps all of the mitzvos.

Many people today trample on those numerous mitzvos that apply between people in general, and spouses in particular: to love, to honor, to never hurt feelings nor bear a grudge, to be peaceful and responsible and trustworthy, to sincerely apologize and do tshuva [repentance] for all mistakes at the other's expense, etc., etc. Many people these days "trample" on mitzvos that apply to marriage. What Rabbi Elimelech says applies here. To have a "kosher" relationship, each must do ALL of the mitzvos that pertain to relating as husband and wife. If many other people do not do so, if many "trample" on the obligations of a Jewish spouse, you nevertheless, must, do all that is required to have a "kosher" marriage relationship.

The Torah is the world's "instruction book." If you buy a computer or car, you don't know how to use it without consulting its manufacturer's instruction book. Until you know the word processor's programs, you won't type your first letter. You don't know how to live in G-d's world until you learn the "Manufacturer's Instruction Book: the Torah." Failure in relationships can be counteracted by learning the "programming" that G-d put into His "product," the world.

The Torah tells us in Parshas Bechukosai that G-d will severely punish violations of the Torah. "If with this [punishing], you will not obey Me and you treat Me keree [lightly]"...[the punishments get worse; Leviticus 26:27]. Rabbi Yisroel Salanter translated "keree" as related to the root "kerirus [coldness, freeze]." When warm enough to be liquid, water is used to purify, such as in a mikva or when ritually washing hands. When frozen, it becomes ice which can contract tuma [spiritual impurity]. This is how coldness affects service of G-d. When cold, water's power to purify is not only destroyed, frozen water can itself become impure. Like ice, when cold and indifferent to obeying some or all of the Torah, the person's service of Hashem is contaminated. The more one treats Hashem's Torah lightly, the more he experiences punishment. The more one serves G-d with warmth, joy, devotion and drive, the more he makes himself a receptacle for abundant blessing.

Marriage requires water [mikva]. Therefore, Rabbi Yisroel's teaching has intriguing connection to the marriage relationship. The conduct of the laws of how to treat a spouse must be pure, not treated with keree - coldness, lightness nor indifference. The more one treats their spouse lightly, the more their marriage will be experienced as punishment. A spouse must be treated with warmth and each must be diligent, devoted, have a pleasant attitude and be driven to behave properly with the other. This is a component of their service of G-d and will make their marriage a receptacle for abundant blessing.

In the laws of mikva, there must be enough kosher water. If you need extra water to maintain the mikva, we use the principle "hashaka" [Yora Daya chapter 201, Hilchos Mikvaos], which means "contact." By keeping the kosher water in contact with extra water necessary, we can maintain the mikva. "Hashaka" means spiritually exchanging the essence of one thing with the essence of another thing through contact. "Hashaka" is from the same root word as "neshika," which means kissing. Kissing, in the secular world, is physical. In Hebrew, kissing means that two people are transcending themselves through contact and spiritually bonding from the inner essence of one person with inner essence of the other. King Solomon, the wisest of all men, said [Song Of Songs 1:2], "Kiss me with the kisses of your mouth." Song Of Songs, called the holiest book in the Bible, is the love story of a man who adores a woman, with this being an allegory for the love between G-d [the husband] and the Jew [the bride]. The Maharal characterized the physical as having "boundaries" while the spiritual is not confined to boundaries. A kiss that is physical, leaves out the inner identity of the people involved. They have no spiritual bond. They create no unity because they cannot transcend the barriers of two separate physical "selves" who are confined within boundaries. A relationship requires transcending from the depth of each through "spiritual contact" for which physical contact is only an instructional analogy. A marriage relationship, by definition, is from the inner depth of one person to the inner depth of the other through spiritual contact [hashaka]; an exchange of essence with essence, from one to another. Accomplishing this is holiness.

The Torah tells us "Vi'ohavta lirayacha kimocha [Leviticus 19:18; Love your fellow Jew as yourself]." We say "love your...". The literal translation has the preposition "to," so it would read "love to your...". Grammatically, this is very awkward. What is the Torah adding? As an example, on a thruway, a sign "To Pittsburgh" tells me that the indicated road goes "to" Pittsburgh. Love for a fellow Jew must be directed "to" that person; to accomplish good for that person, to please that person, to determine your actions according to the feelings, needs or situation of that person. Love is not based on what you feel or what it represents to you. Love has to be directed "to" the recipient. The gemora [Yerushalmi Nedarim 9] tells us that loving the other as yourself is the most essential principle in the Torah. The word "raya," the one who the Torah tells us to love as ourselves, is significant. Raya is a type of friend who you relate to unconditionally. Raya consists of the word "ra [evil]" and the yod from Hashem's name [yod kay vov kay] which is the name which refers to His mercy, patience, eternity and individual Providence. By putting the yod from Hashem's name together with "ra," that relationship can never come to evil. Pirkei Avos [chapter five] tells us that only unconditional love will endure. "Raya" is the kind of friend to whom you relate unconditionally. Love must match G-d's love; which comes with mercy, patience, constancy and paying attention to every detail of the other person. The mitzva literally is to love "to" our "raya," directing love generously to what the other needs and feels, to what pleases the other, to having good impact on the other.

The gemora [Kidushin 41a] tells us you must see a person before marrying that person to know that you will be able, once married, to unconditionally love "to" that person as yourself. You must know before you marry that you will be attracted to and be able to fulfill the key Torah obligation to care for the person you marry for the rest of your life.



When the Torah tells us [Leviticus 19:18] to love people, it actually says, "Love 'TO' your fellow Jew as yourself." The word "to" directs us to focus objectively and unselfishly on the other. To "qualify" as Torah love, it must address the needs, feelings and situation of the other person. This includes the person one marries.

The Torah tells us also to love G-d with all our heart [Deuteronomy 6:5]. Here it says to love "es" G-d. "Es" is a word which does not translate - it serves a grammatical purpose rather than "has a meaning;" - it points us from a verb to the direct object of that verb. There is no uncertainty about where to direct the action of the verb when we see "es" in Hebrew. Being composed of the first and last letters of the alef bais [alef and sov], "es" also indicates totality or all-inclusiveness. When the recipient is a human, one must deliver total love "to." We have to direct practical manifestations of love (kindness, help, encouragement, support, etc.) "to" humans. G-d does not have physical or emotional needs to which love would be addressed. Our love must be directed for Him with completeness and overall devotion, from beginning to end.

G-d only wants love of the highest kind. When He tells us to love Him, He tells us how to love most perfectly. Such love has to be all-inclusive and based in the heart. This gives us insight how to give any recipient true love. If human, we add the directing of practical bestowal of good and fulfillment of needs "to" the person, with totality, and stemming from the heart.

The commandment to love G-d tells us to love with all our 1. laiv [heart], 2. nefesh [personality] and 3. mi'ode [possessions, externals]. For love to be complete, we have to "borrow from" what the Torah teaches about how to love G-d, to study how to love any recipient of love, whether the recipient of your love is another person or whether the recipient of your love is G-d.

These three points from which love can originate teach us the priority order, sequencing order and value system for determining what is authentic love.

Loving with the "heart" teaches us to reflect into the deepest level, the innermost part of a person. The first place from which genuine love stems is the heart. The heart represents the center of a person. The heart refers to one's thinking processes [having straight hashkofos/views], character qualities [good midos], good use of free-will decision making, integrity, high values and standards. The core which defines who a person is - is in the heart. You cannot discuss true love without first discussing how it stems from the heart and how that heart is capable of loving. In relating to another person, the heart must be the first in priority, sequence and importance. Until the heart is at the foundation, there is nothing of love to speak of. From here come such fundamentals as faithfulness, compassion, kindness, patience, humility, responsibility, respect, warmth, sweetness, consideration and consistency. The heart directly determines what your "track record" in love is going to be. This applies to yourself, how to relate and what to look for and value in another person.

Loving with the nefesh allows expression of the inner qualities through an individual personality. Here are a person's talent, energy, humor and animation. These do not tell you if a person is honest, refined or nice. The nefesh can be confused with the laiv because it is in the person, but it is not at the core and does not define whether a person is good or bad. Nefesh allows expression from the innermost heart to the world outside. Whereas the heart is the "inner-inner" person, the nefesh is the "outside of the inner person." Having personality might mean a person is enjoyable to relate to for a date, but this can not determine whether you can count on that person to give a mature, serious, sustainable and committed relationship. Nefesh contains means for expressing the qualities in the heart, but they are not essentials by which to evaluate a person as a relating partner. Note the astronomic divorce rate of movie, rock and TV stars. They might have nefesh but they have very inadequate cultivation of laiv. People make serious mistakes in this because it is a more subtle question when we differentiate qualities of the laiv from nefesh because both look like they are in the person. But nefesh is not at the core. It does not define the quality and character of the person. When Hashem commands us to love Him, he tells us to love "first class," and to do that the laiv must be first and nefesh later. The gemora [Sanhedrin 106b] tells us that the main thing that G-d wants is the heart and the Mishna [Pirkei Avos, chapter two] tells us that a good heart contains all good qualities. First is the laiv which defines the humanity and nature of a person. Then, the nefesh is an individual personality which is for externalizing those qualities so they don't stay uselessly locked up in the heart where they might stay alone and be abstracted from the rest of the world. Nefesh is the means of getting the heart's qualities to interchange with, and to benefit, the world outside the person. Nefesh is the means for making the heart's influence practical, but a good heart is the essence.

Last are the mi'ode [externals]: the person's looks, wealth, status in society. These are the furthest from the core person, the most unessential in judging a person's appropriateness for a marriage relationship. They are part of the consideration but, as the Steipler Gaon said, these are nice if they are there but they are not obstacles to choosing someone if they are not.

In matchmaking people often cite intelligence as an attribute. Although I believe that the intelligence level of two people must be in a reasonably similar "ballpark" for the two to be compatible, intelligence itself is not an indicator of a good shiduch. When I do practical counseling, it is often very intelligent people who are the most destructive. Without commensurate high midos, sensitivity and behavioral standards; high intelligence can be a seriously destructive "weapon" in a close relationship. Without sterling character, derech eretz [polite, considerate and civil conduct] and a good heart, intelligence is a major negative in a close relationship! As Rabbi Yisroel Salanter said: just as a burglar with more tools is more dangerous than a burglar lacking tools, a person with much knowledge and bad midos is more dangerous than a person with little knowledge and bad midos. Being intelligent is no indication that the person isn't neurotic, manipulative, stingy, selfish, a "user," immature, sadistic or offensive. The more a person is intelligent, the more his or her midos must be sterling and the more the person MUST have a golden heart, for the person's intelligence to be a positive attribute in a shiduch.

Sensitivity is also a crucial attribute in shiduchim. Sensitivity level must also be in the same "ballpark" for a partner to fulfill the other. Without a good heart, one's sensitivity tends to be directed towards self. In relationships, such a person will criticize, attack, complain, be a taker, be rigid, always be dissatisfied. Such a person makes a miserable relating partner. Practical implementation of one's sensitivity, and practical supply of its benefits in daily life to a partner, also depends upon a good heart.

The heart, as we are speaking about it in the relationship and human development context (not in its cardiovascular sense!) is composed of spiritual content. The foundation of a relationship must be heart-to-heart so it will, therefore, be based in the spiritual. The nefesh/personality is between spiritual and physical. The mi'ode is physical. When there are psychological, chemical or yaitzer-hora problems with the personality, it is brought more towards the physical end of the spectrum. What should be spiritually-based in one's life, particularly his or her ability to relate, is commensurately drawn towards the physical by such problems. The Maharal differentiates physical from spiritual things by defining physical things as "within boundaries" whereas spiritual things are limitless. A serious and permanent relationship is spiritually based. One cannot merge hearts with another if there are physical forces which limit one to within him or herself. "Boundaries" block connection between one's heart and anyone else. Too much nefesh, or a spiritually sick nefesh, and all the moreso too much mi'ode, overrides the spiritual qualities of laiv - and this diminishes and damages any relationship the person has. If someone is cute, lively, funny, rich and prestigious - these do not indicate whether the person will be a "low life" or a saint in a relationship; these are no guarantee that the person will come home to you at night.

In order to have complete love ("es," from "alef to sov"), there must be the midos, qualities and sincerity of two good hearts giving "to" each other as "rayim," eternal and caring friends. This is the main thing in choosing, developing and maintaining a marriage relationship.

"If you are generous to G-d, what do you give Him?" [Job 35:7]. When G-d loves us, He is only a giver. He is complete. He needs nothing from us. Real and spiritual love, therefore, derives from giving what pleases and satisfies the recipient; the other receives passively and appreciatively what the other gives, but does not take or demand [Michtav Me'Eliyahu]. A taker is physical, a giver is spiritual. Each should want to voluntarily give what benefits the other. Readiness to marry, and leaving childhood, are only when 1. one is ready to give more than he or she needs to be given to and 2. is ready to accept responsibility for another more than he or she needs another to accept responsibility for him or her [Sefer Alay Shor].

An incomplete person cannot have a complete relationship nor be part of a complete couple. No one is truly complete before marriage but they must be complete enough to function and communicate. They must be able to interact maturely, effectively, without damage to the other and with genuine devotion to each other. If someone is harmful, unreliable or immature, or can say "you don't deserve niceness" or "I'm not in the mood to be a mentsh," this is not complete enough to be married. Each must be at least "functionally complete." Two incomplete halves cannot add up to a complete whole. If one or both are unready, it is a matter of time till the relationship breaks down. To be a "complete half," each must approach each other based on giving and responsibility.



G-d commands us to love Him with all our 1. laiv [heart], 2. nefesh [personality] and 3. mi'ode [externals, property]. These teach the priority and sequence order necessary for any love, whether for G-d or another person. The actual wording of the commandment is to love "es" Hashem [Deuteronomy 6:5]. Just as "es" has the first and end letters of the alef bais (representing completeness), love has to be complete. We are also commanded [Leviticus 19:18] to love our "raya" [one who is loved unconditionally and with the generous attributes with which G-d loves]" as much as one loves him or her self. The mitzva literally is to love "to" our "raya," directing love generously "to" what the other needs and feels, "to" what pleases and benefits the other.

"Wine makes a person's heart happy" [Tehillim 104:15]. If a person needs an external stimulant, be it drinking wine, being overly intense about a hobby, being a workaholic, etc.; the person himself - on his own, inside - is deficient. Wine symbolizes stimulation that passes. If one requires external stimulation, the actual inner person is existentially empty and emotionally unhappy. Serious relating requires access to one's own "inner person" and making it accessible to the other's "inner person." Only one's "inner person" can fulfill the other's "inner person." King Solomon tells us, "Dodecha tova miyoyin [Your friendship is better than wine;" Song Of Songs 1:2]. A person who is capable of having a fulfilling and mature relationship is a person who, by definition, is fulfilled - and is capable of fulfilling another person in a meaningful and steady way. To be ready for a serious relationship and to be a participant in a meaningful relationship, a person has to be sufficiently whole and fulfilled as a human being.

Each person must have the internal resources to give. Each must have enough wholeness and happiness as a person to have a basis to be happy inside, and to be able to share and give happiness to another. I repeatedly see in my counseling experience, when I work with singles and troubled "serious," engaged or married couples, that when one is unhappy and wants another to make him or her happy, all they do is make the second person unhappy. No other person can make them happy because they do not have the wholeness nor practical "inner frame of reference" for happiness to recognize it nor to impart it into a relationship. All they end up doing is spreading unhappiness. When they are nice, it is to "buy" love or to "rescue" the other to make their broken self-esteem feel validated. If they both have problems, they often feed into one another's problems. They are often both using each other for their psychological agendas and have unhealthy co-dependency. They have victims, not relationships - until they get their emotions and midos repaired. The inner person - in the heart - must be substantial, healthy, fulfilled and complete enough to be able to give and be responsible - to each make the other happy and to share an unbounded lifelong spiritual love. Then, as King Solomon puts it [Song of Songs 6:3], each can say, "I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me."

How do we make this all practical and apply this to "real life" in a meaningful way? Let's start by looking at the three levels of love that we have been discussing.

1. Laiv. Talk to the person. Listen to the person. Find out who this person really is. Do not project from your assumptions, impressions, expectations or experience. The person is a distinct individual who has developed and whose reality is characterized by his or her own identity, background and history. To relate, direct communication to and from the heart, and appreciate and value matters at the level of the heart. Recognize these matters as being of highest priority. These most define a person and identify who a person truly is [yourself as well as the other]. Who REALLY are you and the other person? How do you match up when judging by laiv criteria? Focus on midos [character], human qualities, life goals, values and priorities.

Use these concepts to establish meaningful communication. What does the person find important? Ask the person about his or her interests, what the person has done and wants to do, what the person enjoys and feels fulfillment from, what matters to the person, what the person has feelings about and what does the person want from life?

Listen attentively. Ask yourself questions that allow you to "process" the information and reply meaningfully and "on target." What views do these values evidence? How can you validate and contribute to them? What qualities does the person have, how can you convey connection to and approval of them? How can you communicate about these with mature and authentic emotion to create human exchange and genuine relating? How do the other's input, and your responses, measure up on the "scale" of laiv? What is revealed about each of you as human beings and Torah Jews? How does the interchange demonstrate what is really of lasting value and consequence, that there is "relational substance," that there are qualities of value and capacity for "human connection?" If either of you do not appreciate or prioritize these things, what does this reveal is missing in terms of emotional and spiritual health, maturity and human development? If you are lacking, what must you be responsible for to develop key values, good midos, straight priorities or readiness for marriage? When you see these qualities in another person, how can you validate and contribute to them, and help the other achieve good goals and potentials? How can you see these qualities as valuable for interrelating with this person, being appreciative and supportive of these attributes, loving and respecting this person? Can you interact on the basis of these good laiv qualities as central, optimally important, as the things which count the most? Can you make the other feel that it sincerely comes from your heart when you talk about these priorities, that you are sharing authentically from the center of yourself? How can you be most humane and bring out the most in the other's being humane? When matters of the heart are productively exchanged between two hearts, you are on the track to serious and enduring relating.

2. Nefesh. Matters of personality [talent, sense of humor, how lively the person is, etc.] should be MEANS for manifesting the laiv in the world, in daily life. These should never be priorities for selecting a partner or foundation of a relating style. These do not determine if a baby's diaper gets changed, these do not assure if the other will take good care when one gets sick, these do not get the garbage taken out, these do not determine that the other will not hit or get hot-tempered when frustrated or disappointed. Often I see, in my counseling work, that when a person has a lot of personality it is often because there is something unstable or neurotic about the person. Many entertainment celebrities have lots of personality on stage or screen, but very unsuccessful and unhappy personal lives. Just about everything in life must have balance to be healthy and spiritual. There are rare exceptions e.g. there is no "too much" for humility, there is generally no "too little" for anger and arrogance, one should aggressively work for peace or saving of life and against chilul HaShem [profaning G-d] or degrading of Torah or its sages or evil speech [e.g. slander, instigation of fighting, vulgarity]. But, in general, things in life must be present, or be conducted with, moderation. Evaluating matters of nefesh can be subtle because they might look like they are inside the person. But, laiv is the "inner-inner" and the defining core of the human being while nefesh is the "outside of the inner," the person's means of expressing the laiv with a unique personality so the heart can interact with the world. Never confuse the essence (heart - which characterizes the person at his or her depth) with the means (nefesh; personality and spirit) by which the essence is animated and brought into contact with the world outside the person's skin.

3. Mi'ode. These (e.g. looks, possessions, one's position or degree of esteem in society) are external to the actual person. These, in shiduchim terms are "extras" that are nice if there, not a basis for selecting a person. The gemora says that the humble are deemed great by G-d [Eruvin 13b]; that those viewed as low on earth are viewed as high in Heaven [Bava Basra 10b, Rashi defines these as poor and humble people]; the Prophets tell us that G-d wants us to act justly, love doing kindness and to go modestly with G-d [Micha 6:8]; to keep all of G-d's laws, do tshuva [repentance] wherever necessary and let G-d thereby grant life [Ezekiel 18:19 and 21] ; to do kindness, justice and righteousness, for these delight G-d [Jeremiah 9:23]; and to concentrate on Torah - speaking, learning and observing it day and night [Joshua 1:8].

Externals are the least important in a shiduch. These are a means for manifesting one's service to people and G-d but never are a basis for a relationship nor judging a person. A rich or influential person can contribute to Torah, kindness and charity. His resources will characterize what his role in the Jewish nation might be. They are not a basis for an enduring, compatible relationship nor criteria for suitability as a mate. When a gorgeous person starts wrinkling or turning grey, or a wealthy person loses money in a failed investment or business, you are confronted with what you are left with in the laiv. If the love was conditional, when the condition is removed the love is ended [Pirkei Avos, chapter five]. When love is unconditional, as it is when it is laiv-to-laiv, that love will endure. True relating requires identifying the "inner person" in each, with that meaning that there is a solid foundation in, and interchange between, two good hearts.

Some of the crucial things on this "heart to heart" level, relating to and from the "true inner person," that can "make or break" a marriage include; mature flexibility, respect, earning trust, devotion to the other's feelings and needs, sacrifice, patience, humility, self-control and unselfishness. When you see any behaviors that you disapprove of or don't understand, you explore if there is any context or stress and you presume there is benefit of doubt. How can you help instead of criticize? Be an investigator, a research scholar and defending lawyer for the other person's situation and inner life. Find out what the other person "is all about." Become a "Ph.D." in giving and responsibility on behalf of the other's good and happiness.



Matters of the heart (good midos, high values, straight hashkofas/views, integrity, good use of free-will, etc.) are the main concern in a marriage. Conduct of the relationship must be heart-to-heart, for it to be enduring and fulfilling.

Communication must be two-way and responsive. When the other says something, it registers, it impacts on you so that you modify what you say in order to address what the other says, really means, thinks and feels. A mature relator responds consistently pro-actively, considerately and favorably to what the other does, values, thinks, feels, wants, needs and stands for in life. Ask the person, "Why is this important to you, how long have you been interested in this, in what ways do you want to pursue and develop this?" The Midrash [Sifri BiHa'aloscha 102] says to speak to another about what interests him before speaking about what interests you. Open up friendly dialogue by showing true interest in what matters to the other person. Validate and appreciate the other person, find out about the other person, relate to the other's reality, history and aspirations. When the other says something, especially when it matters to him or her, show that it matters to you and make it into a positive attribute that you can approve of and support. Find ways to care about the other, care about what matters to the other, because these make the other feel like he or she matters to you! When a couple is engaged or married, a rov in Yerushalayim says that their policy must be, "If it matters to you, it matters to me - because YOU matter to me." Be careful with the other's feelings and vulnerabilities - treat these as responsibilities to be supportive and generous about.

I know of two criteria for determining "how good," "how nice," a marriage partner should be to the other. I saw in a sefer on shalom bayis, many years ago in my researching of the subject, this very question: what is the Torah's measure for how kind a partner should be to the other? The answer: be so good to the other that you are "amazing." If what you do is expectable, or fulfillment of bottom line requirements, that is not the Torah's idea of being a good spouse. There are many supports for this. For example, the Vilna Gaon tells us that doing good things for people that the Torah requires is NOT chesed [kindness] because these are din [law requirement]. Only when you go "lifnim meeshuras hadin [beyond the measure of law]" of your own volition is it coming from you and is, therefore, true kindness. Aside from this, we are required by the Torah to emulate G-d: His traits and deeds [Viholachta bidrachov, Acharay Hashem Elokaychem tailaichu]. He does wondrously [maflee la'asos] and creates in His world amazing things: food growing, natural processes, beautiful mountains and flowers and other wonders of nature. Rabbi Avigdor Miller z'l said to appreciate that a fruit grows and Hashem turns it ripe to inform us that it is ready to eat. In countless ways, G-d provides kindnesses to mankind. Our obligation to emulate G-d requires a person in marriage to voluntarily go beyond the requirements of law, extend him or her self and give with their hearts till the other is constantly amazed with how kind and good the other is. 2) When Yitzchok married Rivka, three years after the death of his mother Sora, he was finally comforted by the love he had with Rivka [Genesis 24:67]. We see from the Torah that a spouse should have so much capacity and will to please and be good to the other that he or she can comfort the other for the pains, sadnesses, disappointments and pressures of life. Your ability to love and give should have enough quality and quantity to comfort and support your partner and see him or her through the rough time and bring him or her back to a happy state of mind as soon as humanly possible.

Apply these things as a practical matter to "real life." Speak to the person, learn about the person, show interest in the person, dialogue on how the person got to where he is and what matters in life to him or her and show how you can be supportive, interested and kind. Both should bring out in the other what makes each feel like they matter and help each other come to personal potential and fulfillment.

At all times, each must have a "giving orientation," treat the other with enormous kavod [honor, respect] and be trustworthy, especially with the other's vulnerable areas. This all must come from the heart, with each basing how they relate on the qualities, values and priorities of a good heart.

Besides these ideas being applicable to the couples, they should be considered and adopted in the conducting of matchmaking. The starting point of many shiduchim is a set-up by someone in a matchmaking role. Judging suitability should not be glib or superficial - nor without diligent evaluation of each single's qualities, shortcomings and ability to function. A shadchan must be scrupulously honest [e.g. about the single's age, health, background, etc.].

There are halachos which require active revelation of serious flaws or the need to explore suspicions about them. Many marriages have not survived because they were based upon keeping secrets, deception, half-truths or incompetent matchmaking.

When the foundation is warped or cracked, the building will not stand. Evaluation of a person, of his or her readiness for marriage, and of the suitability of a match between two people, must be based and prioritized on the criteria of laiv [heart].

A friend of mine is a very sweet guy and a "ben Torah." He has been happily married for about 20 years, but had been previously divorced to a first wife after a brief failed marriage. After his divorce, he went to a shadchan who recommended a shiduch - who happened to be his first wife. The shadchan, not knowing he was the one who was married to her, explained that the girl was wonderful and had been divorced due to the man being a brute and "pure bad," but she was a perfect angel. The man knew it was all lying and stupidity. He was the guy! The shadchan had no idea about the woman's first husband or the truth about their marriage and was clearly misrepresenting the not-altogether-perfect first wife.

A man registered a son with a shadchan. He also had a daughter who matured to a point of readiness shortly after, and he subsequently registered her with the shadchan also. A bit later, the shadchan looked at sloppy notes and noticed the backgrounds of the two were similar and called the father to recommend a shiduch for his daughter - her own brother.

Both of these shadchanim were irresponsible and disgrace themselves and their so-called "profession."

The yaitzer hora [evil inclination] comes into each person at birth, while the yaitzer hatov [good inclination] only comes into the person at bar mitzva. Rabbi Yisroel Salanter was asked why this is justice. The evil inclination has a "head start." Doesn't this make it impossible for a person to have an even struggle between choosing good and evil? Doesn't this make it just about impossible to have a fair chance at earning olam habo [eternal life]?

Rabbi Yisroel replied that evil is ultimately illusion and Torah is the only reality. The job of the yaitzer hora is to make sin look real and to tempt people into choosing it. If a person had his yaitzer hatov from birth, he would always know that evil is stupidity and false so there would be no milchomas hayaitzer [war between good and evil within the person]. We would see sin for the emptiness that it ultimately is. The yaitzer hora needs the "head start" to make it possible for evil to seem real, so a person can fight between two forces that appear to be real: one only seeming real (evil) and one actually being real (good).

Extending Reb Yisroel's idea to our context, readiness for marriage is having the capacity to distinguish between what is good, true and real vs. what is evil, false and illusory. When coming into marriage, one must have gotten far enough ahead in the quest (to have one's good inclination capable of beating the evil inclination) to maintain a relationship in which the person treats a spouse in an exclusively (or, at least, primarily) good manner. Willingly and consistently recognizing and choosing to do good is a way to measure whether one has sufficient readiness and maturity for marriage. Key to this is the spiritual union of two good hearts.

In this series, I have shared from my learning and work experience counseling singles, "serious," engaged and married couples and working with the issues brought up with live audiences. May this material direct those looking for a serious relationship, or involved with or married to someone already, on how to build a successful relationship that will endure and please each for a lifetime.