12 Cheshvan 5782 / Monday, October 18, 2021 | Torah Reading: Vayeira
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Tu B'Av: They're All Beautiful    

Tu B'Av: They're All Beautiful

Rebbe Yishmael ben Elisha had special compassion for the poor girls of marital age who couldn't find a match because they lacked the wherewithal to provide a dowry...


Rebbe Yishmael ben Elisha hailed from an aristocratic family of the priestly tribe of Cohanim. He was a prodigious scholar and contemporary of Rebbe Akiva as well as one of the ten holy martyrs tortured and killed by the Romans after the destruction of the Second Holy Temple. He was so holy that he merited a revelation from Hashem, when Hashem Himself asked him for a blessing![1]


There were other righteous sages in Rebbe Yishmael's generation. How did he in particular merit such an amazing, direct revelation of Hashem, when even many holy prophets did not?


If I'm not mistaken, it was because of his abounding love for every Jew, particularly the poor and disadvantaged.


A husband wanted to divorce his wife, because she was missing a front tooth, something he found very unsightly. When she came to Rebbe Yishmael and asked him what to do, he took his own gold and gave it to her so that she could have a golden tooth made, something that was considered highly attractive in those days. He saved her marriage.[2]


Rebbe Yishmael was a great champion of the poor[3]. He had special compassion for the poor girls of marital age who couldn't find a match because they lacked the wherewithal to provide a dowry for the groom. He especially pitied those who were too ashamed to beg, and he did everything he could to help them, giving of his own money and encouraging others to do so as well. As such, he was instrumental in raising public awareness of the huge mitzvah of hachnasat kallah, donating money to enable a young couple to get married.


Probably the most poignant of stories about Rebbe Yishmael, and the favorite of Jewish girls throughout the ages, tells of a man who made a vow that he would not marry his niece because she was highly unsightly. Rebbe Yishmael sent for the girl and had her brought to his house. He fed her, clothed her and arranged for her to receive expert beauty treatments. A while later, he sent for her uncle and asked him, "Is this the young lass about whom you made a vow?" The uncle, who hardly recognized the niece after this change, replied that it certainly was not. Behold, this girl was beautiful! He didn't have her in mind when he made the vow. Rebbe Yishmael then annulled the vow and told the uncle that he was no longer bound to uphold it so that he could go ahead and marry his niece. Rebbe Yishmael then wept and said, "The daughters of Israel are truly beautiful, but poverty makes them look ugly." When Rebbe Yishmael died, the daughters of Israel bewailed his death as if he were the King of Israel[4].


"Tu B'Av", the Fifteenth of the Hebrew month of Av is known as "Love Day" in the Jewish calendar, since it was a traditional day for matchmaking. Our sages codified an ancient tradition where all Jewish girls – rich and poor, beautiful and homely - go out dressed in borrowed white dresses and dance in the vineyards[5]. This was our sages' equal-opportunity mentality, to teach young men to look for upright character rather than a girl's makeup and fancy clothes.


Rebbe Yishmael did more than anyone to show that all Jewish girls are beautiful; if the beholder doesn't see their beauty, then he's looking for the wrong things. No wonder Hashem revealed Himself to him! In his holy memory, may every available young lady find her soulmate in the nearest future, amen.


* * * * * *

[1] Berachot 7a

[2] Nedarim 66b

[3] Moed Katan 24b

[4] Nedarim 66a

[5] Taanit 10b


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Batya Ayala8/5/2020 5:24:15 PM

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