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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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If a man has two wives, one beloved and the other hatred,and they bear him children, both the beloved and the hated; and the first-born son was hers that is hated.(DEVARIM 21:15)
One of the great rabbis of the last century was thrown into prison as a result of his enemies inventing false charges against him. In prison, he spent his time as he usually did, learning mussar and working on his midos. When asked what he though about being in prison,he answered, "In prison I found someone whom I never in a lifetime expected to meet here."
When asked to explain further, he replied, "I'm referring to my stupid yetzer hara. I have no choice, since I am forced to be in prison. But what is my yetzer hara doing here? He was not forced to go to prison. Why is he so stupid as to come here on his own?" (CHOFETZ CHAIM AL HATORAH p. 282)
"One (wife) beloved and other hatred." Rabbi Shimon said, "The Torah is teaching us derech eretz (proper behavior). It is teaching us that in the end (after marrying a yefas to'ar (a gentile woman captured in war and married because of her beauty), he (the captor) will come to hate her and love another woman."
Why, if a man marries a woman because of her beauty, will she later come to be despised? Isn't beauty an admirable gift bestowed upon women? We read in, "Charm is false and beauty is empty, but a woman who fears G-d is praiseworthy." Why is charm called false, and beauty empty, and not vice-versa? Why are several famous women such as Rachel, for example, praised for their beauty, if it is not an admirable quality?
Our Sages tell us "Love that is dependent on something will not last." The meaning behind this is that love for its own sake is a love based on the desire to give and to share. On the other hand, if one loves for the sake of what the other person has to offer, whether beauty or charm or wealth, this is not true love, and it will not endure. This kind of love is ephemeral, because it is dependent on things which are not always available.
When a person thinks that he found love, he is willing to sacrifice much. He is willing to give up his freedom, his wealth, his reputation, and sometimes all that he has. That is what happens to the soldier who has found a yefas to'ar. Since the beauty of this woman blinds him, he thinks that he has found love and is now willing to marry her despite all the severe consequences involved. His true beloved, whom he left at home when he went out to war, will be angered, his reputation will be stained, and he must witness the disgrace of his new-found love, in having her head shaved and growing her nails. Yet he is willing to suffer all of this because he thinks he is in love.
When he wakes up to reality and sees that it was beauty, and not love, that snared his heart, it will be too late. He is already married and cannot discard her. Her beauty is gone, and he is often left with an unattractive woman with a bad character.
Then comes his hatred for her. He begins to blame her for luring him with her beauty, and he consequently hates her for the predicament in which he now finds himself. That is why our Sages say that in the end he will hate her and love another woman. He will realize the mistake that he made, that his love was "dependent on some external factor," rather than based on the desire to share and give. Then he will regret the aggravation that he caused his original beloved wife, and this will make him love her even more, since her love for survived, despite this ordeal.
We can learn from this how precarious is the beauty of women. It can make a man forget the true purpose of marriage and cause him to marry the wrong woman. There is nothing wrong with beauty when it is accompanied by good character traits. A relevant comparison is made in Mishleii "A golden ring in the nose of a pig (is like) a beautiful woman without taste." Without proper taste and the traits of modesty, selflessness and patience, beauty is no better than a golden ornament worn by a pig. Just as a golden ring loses its cosmetic value when it is worn by an animal, so too beauty becomes meaningless when good traits do not accompany it.
However, we find that the Torah praises beauty when it describes Rachel: "And Rachel was of beautiful description and of beautiful appearance." When a woman has the proper spiritual qualities, her beauty enhances them. It gives a picture of completeness, and she is described as being without blemish, either inwardly or outwardly. That is what the Torah meant in describing Rachel as beautiful. In describing women of such outstanding character, it is appropriate to praise their beauty.
To return to our earlier question on Mishlei: Why is charm called false, and beauty empty, and not the other way around? We can now understand, according to our previous explanation, why beauty is specifically referred to as empty. When beauty is not accompanied by the proper midos, then it is considered empty, because it has no higher meaning.
How can we understand, "charm is false?" Charm is not necessarily connected to beauty. Charm is something that a person shows others in order to attract people to him. Thus, charm can be a dangerous weapon. It can appear as kindness and helpfulness, whereas in reality it is a cover-up for cheating and treachery. That is why charm is called false, because it can be used to deliberately give people the wrong impression, as if it were telling a lie. The Torah is warning us to beware of charm and not to be fooled by it.
The pasuk "Charm is false" concludes, "A woman who fears G-d is praiseworthy." Any trait that its praiseworthy is one that a person acquires through toil. The fear of G-d requires great effort. Our Sages say, "Everything is in Heaven's hands, except the fear of Heaven." Only through one's own efforts can this spiritual quality be acquired. The woman who works on her midos until she attains fear of Heaven is a woman to be admired, since she has done something with her life. Beauty and charm are not praiseworthy, since they come to a person without any toil, and can sometimes even cause one's downfall.
This is an important lesson to learn in marriage. Sometimes a husband sees that his wife is not as beautiful as she once was. This have very little intrinsic importance in the spiritual scheme of things. As the pasuk tells us, "Beauty is empty." The important thing is that he should appreciate how much his wife loves him and is devoted to him. She is "the help mate for him." Here the Torah is teaching us why a woman was created and why a man needs her. She is his constant support. What good does beauty accomplish? The real traits that a person needs in his wife are devotion and love. If a man can recognize this truth, and his wife offers him devotion and love, he will be the happiest man on earth. If he has moral sensitivity and love for his wife, he will be able to see in her a spiritual beauty, which far outshines any physical beauty.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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