Monday, May 09, 2011

Beauty - A terrible basis for marriage!

I am currently teaching a course at Pardes entitled, "War and Peace." No! It isn't about Tolstoy. It is an examination of the morality of war in Sefer Devarim.

This is taught on the Community Education program at Pardes which means that the class is exceedingly heterogeneous. In my class of 20 students this week, we had two 20 year old WUJS students, a 40 year old tour guide, a retired president of a prestigious university, and two fully participating students who were over 90 years old! The beautiful thing about having mature adult students is the life-wisdom they they bring with them, and a perspective of experience that comes with a long life. As Devarim 32 tells us:

Remember the days of old;
consider the generations long past.
Ask your father and he will tell you,
your elders, and they will explain to you.

We were studying the case of the אשת יפת תואר - the beautiful captive woman. The Torah legislates an entire procedure for a man who sees a beautiful woman amongst the prisoners of war and wishes to marry her. There are serious questions of morality here that relate to human rights, to intermarriage, assimilation, and so forth. (Read more on the topic here.)

One elderly man - he must be at least 85 - raised his hand, quite agitated. He objected to the entire discussion:

"I am bothered by the Ramban," he said; "He keeps talking about beauty as the basis of attraction between this man and this woman. But doesn't he know - beauty is a terrible basis for a marriage. Beauty fades and is fleeting; marriage is based on so much more!"

Everyone in the class laughed. The wonderful thing about this man was the straightforward, almost naive, simple way in which he said it, with a "childish" innocence. Only after everyone laughed did he realise that what he had said could sound funny. It was if he was unaware that we live in a society that is youth-intoxicated, botox-injected and obsessed with external appearances. For him, it was most preposterous to base a relationship on good-looks, which, as this wrinkled, stooped, wonderfully cheerful and happy man knows, dissipate and diminish with the years. Love is based upon something deeper.

In Hebrew, the word "זקן" means "old" but also "wise." - How true that is!

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