Love and Beauty
Written by Diana Dreyer
A man: Why is it that I’ve never met my soul mate?
A Rabbi: You did, but you passed her up because you thought she had a long nose.
The above story, the origin of which I don’t recall, beckons us to inquire into the nature of love. Is it contingent upon one’s beauty, or does that beauty become apparent only when we grow to love the person? In his book, Adults Only, Isaac Fingerer asks, “Do I love you because you are beautiful or are you beautiful because I love you?” – Cinderella
Unfortunately, our society teaches us to love those that are beautiful; Hollywood stars and prom queens become the centers of our universes as we tend to overlook the more praiseworthy qualities. In an attempt to answer Mr. Fingerer’s question (which is also my own), I have decided to tap into the wisdom that the tides of time will never wash away, the wisdom found in the Torah.
Although we are encouraged not to prevaricate, there are lies that are sanctioned, and even required of us. For instance, one must always tell a bride that she is beautiful no matter how unattractive she may be. However, even in this situation, one is not essentially lying as the bride is beautiful in the eyes of her groom. A parallel story is presented to us in the Torah. Upon receiving the news that she will have a son, Sarah laughs and replies, “After I have withered shall I again have delicate skin?” Sarah is mulling over the probability that G-d will make her young again in order to enable her to conceive Isaac. Yet that is not her only concern; she wonders if her husband would be able to view her as being beautiful even in her old age. Rashi suggests that G-d indeed made her skin firmer, but what is the extent to which He had to firm her skin? I believe that Sarah was already beautiful in Abraham’s eyes only because he loved her.
As dulcet as the Hebrew language is to our ears, it is just as saturated with wisdom. Every letter and every word is like a treasure trove waiting to be excavated by those who possess the necessary patience and dedication. Such sedulousness is found in Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, the author of The Committed Life and The Committed Marriage. According to Rebbetzin Jungreis, the sum of the values of the letters in the word “ahava” is 13. The sum of the values in the letters of the word “echod” is also 13. The Rebbetzin infers that love is a feeling of “oneness.” Perhaps this is why Sarah was also called Sarai, meaning “my princess.” She was Abraham’s princess because she was a part of him. She was one with him.
Our sages teach us that our problems were also the problems of our patriarchs in one way or another. One of the major problems we are faced with today is finding our soul mates. It is not a coincidence that Abraham was also concerned about finding Isaac’s soul mate. When Eliezer went on a journey in search for Isaac’s bashert, he did not look for beauty, but rather for kindness. The word “ahava” is derived from the word, “hav,” meaning “to give.” Thus, love stems from kindness. That is easy to argue considering that the receiver of the kindness would be more likely to feel love. However, in reality, the doer of kindness is just as likely to feel it. It is possible to get to love a person just by being kind to him; when one is kind to a friend, one sees his friend’s vulnerability and is prodded to offer protection and love.
I know a girl who was separated from her father at a one-year old. Yet, sixteen years later, G-d stepped in to bring the two together. When she was seventeen, the girl was invited to perform on a TV show. That show was also shown in her father’s country of residence. He happened to turn on the TV in the middle of her performance. Because the two have almost the same face, he recognized her as his daughter. A year later, he called her.
Approximately a month after his call, she traveled to his country of residence and met him. Their relationship was flimsy, but the girl realized that she was given the unique opportunity to exculpate a parent and to restore him to life (in a way). Times were hard for both of them, but both related to each other in kindness and it was through that kindness that they began to love each other.
Even those of us that are fortunate enough to find our life partners have shaky marriages. According to our sages, when a husband and his wife get a divorce, the altar cries. An altar is a place where two people get married. It can also be a place at which one prays; but more than anything, it is a place to which one brings sacrifices. In consequence, the altar cries because neither husband nor wife brought a sacrifice to it. The sacrifice would invariably be pride. Another thing our sages teach us is that getting angry is almost as bad as worshipping idols. On the other hand, when either a husband or a wife puts pride aside, the idols disappear and the only tears that the marriage altar sheds are ones of joy. Meeting a soul mate does not guarantee a happy life, but forgiving each other does.
The wisdom of the following books was extracted in writing this article:
Adults Only by Isaac Fingerer, The Committed Life and The Committed Marriage by Esther Jungreis