Parsha Mitzvot: Shofetim: Mitzvah 520 – Concept 608
I died for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.
He questioned softly why I failed?
“For beauty,” I replied.
“And I for truth, – the two are one,
We brethren are,” he said.
And so, as kinsmen met a night,
We talked between the rooms,
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names.
How powerful are her words, and yet, so sad. Poor Emily. She knows that “the two are one – we brethren are,” but they speak “between the rooms” until they are silenced by the moss.
We too refer to beauty and truth as one: Tiferet, translated as ‘beauty,” and the attribute of Jacob, the Patriarch of Truth. However, Tiferet appears after Chesed, also known as Life-force. No moss grows on Tiferet. It is vibrant, always connected to life.
We do not speak of dying for beauty or dying for truth. We speak only of living with both. The Torah insists that even a warrior cannot enter battle if he has not learned to live with beauty and truth simultaneously: “Who is the man who has built a new house and has not inaugurated it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the war and another man will inaugurate it.” (Deuteronomy 20:5) It would be heartbreaking were this man to die in battle and his new unlived-in home to become the property of someone else. (Rashi)
The soldier has something beautiful; a new home. He must be the one to inaugurate it and make it his; truth, for it is his, the builder’s, no one else’s.
“And who is the man who has planted a vineyard and not redeemed it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the war and another man will redeem it.” (Verse 6) It is the planter who should take the fruit of the fourth year to Jerusalem, where he will first eat of his vineyard.
“And who is the man who has betrothed a woman and not married her? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the war and another man will marry her.” (Verse 7) He has yet to fulfill the promise of betrothal by marrying his intended.
The troops are about to enter battle when the Kohen Anointed for Battle rises to address them and then the officers begin to speak. Their opening words are not of strategy. The officers do not begin by describing the great mission. They begin by sending people with certain unfinished business of life back to their homes. They are fighting for life, real life, a life of beauty and truth. A full life. A life of commitments made and fulfilled. This is a powerful example of the Tiferet of our people.
We look to Tiferet before we act. We understand that a person may do what is true in a manner that lacks beauty. We can focus on fulfilling the commandments and forget that our Mitzvot must be performed with beauty.
We can find new and beautiful ways to express our spirituality, and forget that our actions must also be rooted in truth.
It is only when we separate between beauty and truth that the moss grows until it covers us and stops us from living.