When Abraham sends Eliezer to find a wife for his son Isaac, his only real criterion is that he look for a wife among Abraham’s own family. The Mishnah tells us something similar: “Do not be distracted by beauty. Rather look at family.”
It always interested me that family should be the criterion for a date. I would understand character, common values, perhaps even personality. But why family? Surely you should judge a person by who they are, not the family they come from!
Let me tell you first how I think this is often misunderstood. I find that this is often looked at in an elitist way. You sometimes find people who believe that certain families are not good enough for their children to marry into. This is not what the Torah is telling us. It is simply arrogant snobbery.
I think the Torah is telling us the following idea: Healthy families generally produce healthy children. It’s a simple equation; if children have a stable, warm and supportive environment to grow up in, they will most likely grow into emotionally healthy adults. And if they grow up in a home of conflict and instability, they will probably struggle to adjust to the challenges of life. Now of course, there is always free will. Rotten eggs can come from the best of homes, and stars can shine forth from the worst. Abraham, whose father owned an idol store, is a classic example of this.
So it’s a useful rule of thumb that if you are looking for someone to marry, take a look at the family. If they are a dysfunctional household, watch out for problems. If they are a healthy household, be encouraged. Ultimately, judge the person for who they are. But family background can help guide you.
Family is so important in the development of a child. Parents do have a great deal of influence on how their children turn out. It is a very big responsibility.