BEAUTY IS VAIN

Sadie Hawkins Day, it isn’t. It’s much older with a totally different intent. The 15th of the Hebrew month of Av, otherwise known as Tu B’Av, which this year coincides with the 15th day of August, although mentioned in the Talmud, has received short shrift throughout Jewish history.

“There were no better days for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av… The daughters of Jerusalem went out dressed in white and danced in the vineyards. ‘Young man’, they called. ‘Consider whom you choose to be your wife. Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain; a woman who revers HaShem is to be praised.’”

Times have changed, but traditionally speaking, what makes the hearts of young men and women go pitter-patter has remained the same ever since Adam and Eve. I believe it’s fair to say “I have nothing to wear” is an inter-generational lament on the part of the fairer sex. Even if it’s true, it’s a sad commentary about (male) society. Are those one wishes to impress more likely to remember the dress of the female or the demeanor of the female? Are those one wishes to win over more apt to recall the outfits or the outbursts. Clothing and comportment are diametrically opposite. Clothing is ephemeral; comportment is enduring.

If the fairer sex frets over what to wear, the male sex frets over where to go. No different than the one they invited out for the evening, the male also wishes to make an impression. Heaven forbid that the guy comes off looking cheap! Is it really so terrible to take a date walking through a windy park or take a drive along the beach? Does going to Chez Pierre guarantee a better time than Chef’s Pizza? Even more important, at which of the two places is one more apt to see the “real McCoy.” Isn’t it fair to say, that for the vast majority of us, our daily lives are more akin to a pizza parlor than to an expensive restaurant? Doesn’t the bright fluorescent lighting of the pizza parlor shed more light on the subject than the dimly lit candle of the expensive restaurant? Doesn’t it behoove us to enter a relationship with eyes wide open?

The aging process is in many cases unkind to one’s looks. It is the exception, rather than the rule, that one becomes better looking with the passage of time. The above cited quote, “charm is deceitful and beauty is vain” which is intoned at the Shabbat table each Friday night, serves as reminder that beauty must never be skin deep. Pirkei Avot or Ethics of Our Fathers is famous for laying out combinations of four. One such combination that never made it into Pirkei Avot, reads as follows:

There are four types of people: Those who are attractive to behold but are inwardly repulsive; those who are repulsive to behold but are inwardly attractive; those who are repulsive, both to behold as well as inwardly; there are those who are attractive, both to behold as well as inwardly.

Yes, it is possible for people to have beautiful personalities as well as beautiful physical features, but bear in mind that personalities rarely, if ever, change. Alternately, physical features – facial  and otherwise, rarely, if ever stay the same.

Our rabbinic sages were on to something, when they designated the 15th of the month of Av as a date for establishing relationships. With Tisha B’Av still fresh in our minds, they were keenly aware that relationships (in the case of Tisha B’Av, the relationship between HaShem and His people) undergo great strain. For there to be any hope at all to withstand the strain, it is essential that those relationships be founded upon comportment and not clothing, sensation and not location, alluring and not luring. May love – true love, sincere and genuine love – conquer all.

METAL FATIGUE

The Talmud tells us Rabbi Akiva was pretty much illiterate until the age of forty. Earning a meager living as a shepherd, he passed by a well and noticed a carved stone. He asked who carved this stone, and they told him that it was the water that constantly dripped on it. From this, he said: “if water was able to carve this stone, words of Torah could surely reshape my heart.”

I thought about Rabbi Akiva’s deduction last week, as I read about the tragic mishap involving Southwest, Flight 1380 bound for Love Field from LaGuardia Airport in New York. If metal which knows neither birth nor death is vulnerable to fatigue, how much more so is a mere mortal whose life begins at birth and ends at death, vulnerable to fatigue.

“I am sick and tired of people who say that if you debate and you disagree with this administration somehow you’re not patriotic. We should stand up and say we are Americans and we have a right to debate and disagree with any administration” said a contender for the office of President a decade and a half ago. A clinical psychologist, I’m not. I dare say however, that this aspirant for the White House was exhibiting “motile fatigue”. The frenetic pace of campaigning notwithstanding, candidates for president are plagued by disbelief (“for the life of me I can’t believe why everyone is fawning over my opponent. I’m superior in every way!”), anger (“it’s simply not fair”) and dread (“there’s no way I’m going back to Nebraska! They aren’t going to vote for me anyway”). Moshe Rabbeinu demonstrated signs of “motile fatigue” when, in exasperation he exclaimed: “How can I myself alone bear your problems, and your burden, and your strife?”

Despite his mother’s cajoling, Xavier refused to get out of bed and get ready for school. Xavier had good reason. The students made fun of him; the teachers talked behind his back. Xavier’s mother was adamant. Her son had no say in the matter. After all he was the principal! Xavier was exhibiting symptoms of “mettle fatigue”.   Xavier simply lacked the mettle – the fortitude to confront his job as well as the courage – to confront the teachers and students and demand the respect that came with the office of principal. When Moshe Rabbeinu fell on his face when his leadership was being contested by Korach, he too was showing signs of “mettle fatigue.”

“Hard work never killed anybody” is a quote attributed to the renowned ventriloquist Edgar Bergan. Mr. Bergan followed up by asking: “But why take a chance?” What Mr. Bergan should have said was “Hard work never killed anyone, but in addition to physical fatigue, it can also cause ‘mental fatigue’”. There was a certain irony in the life of Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe began his career by confronting “mental fatigue”. The Torah tells us that the Israelites did not pay Moses any heed. They were victims of hard labor. They were also mentally exhausted.

Moshe ended his career confronting his own mental fatigue. His eyes had not dimmed, and his vitality had not diminished. Physically, Moshe was in excellent shape; mentally, Moshe was totally exhausted.

Motile fatigue is caused by oneself. Occurrences and situations that leave most others unfazed, cause those susceptible to become “sick and tired” purely through perception, attitude, fear or just because.  Mettle fatigue is caused by others. Those who suffer because of the behavior, comportment or attitudes of others are so worn down, that they lack the mettle to confront or stand up for their rights. Mental fatigue is when hard work, drudgery or demanding schedules with little or no reward or recognition finally overwhelms the individual.

Our prayers go out to the family of Jennifer Riordan, the only casualty aboard Southwest flight 1380. Our best wishes go out to the seven injured. Our admiration goes out pilot Tammie Jo Shults and crew. Our hope is that the NTSB succeeds in its investigation of what went wrong. Whether or not it finds that metal fatigue was the cause, we now have a better understanding of other types of fatigue that affect our lives on a daily basis.