Saturday, April 5, 2014

Pesach: Both Beautiful and Ugly

The Midrash explains the verse, "I am black but comely" (Song of Songs 1:5) in the following fashion:

 "I am black in my own actions; but I am comely in the deeds of my forefathers."

The Poor Palace Dweller

A visitor once came to a city and beheld a peculiar sight:  an elegant residence in the finest part of the city, but in terrible disrepair. The grounds were overrun with weeds, and the trees were barely alive. Many of the windows were cracked and broken, stuffed with rags to keep out the cold and the wind.

Curious, he turned to a local resident, who explained to him that the beautiful house belonged to an indigent fellow who had inherited the home from wealthy ancestors. The current owner, however, lacked the funds to properly maintain the house.

"Were you to meet him," he continued, "you would see a thin man wearing an expensive suit - a suit that his father had bought for him for his wedding - and with rags on his feet."

The Israelites in Egypt

This was the state of the Israelites in Egypt. The Jewish people said: "I am black but comely." I have two contradictory qualities, I am both ugly and beautiful. I am blessed with some very good traits, but I also have some very bad ones. The reason for this situation: the good traits are those which I inherited from my lofty ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The bad ones, on the other hand, are my own negative traits, the result of my spiritual poverty.

(Adapted from Mishlei Yaakov, pp. 319-320)