The Source of Beauty
(Story told by Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield as he remembered it from his teacher Reb Zalman Shachter-Shalomi zt”l, of blessed memory, retold by Nicole with permission from Rabbi Aryeh)
Once there was a man. He was one of those loose people that hang around street corners gabbing all day. One day, he was walking in the forest and there was a glen with a pond in it. The princess was just coming out from bathing in the pond. He saw her and she was very beautiful. He fell in love with her and so he hung around the palace waiting for her to come out again. Next time she went for a ride he stopped the wagon and said: “Hey, I love you. When will we be able to be together?” The princess took one look at him and said: “In the cemetery.”
He was a simple man, so he went to the cemetery to wait for her. “It’s not so easy for a princess to get away whenever she wants,” he figured to himself. “I guess whenever the coming is good she’ll be here.” He was waiting there one day, two days, getting along by a little begging, just hanging out in the cemetery. After a while he goes around looking at the gravestones and sees; this man lived to be very old, this lady died young, this one had a family, this one didn’t have a family, this one died in an accident. He started to ponder what things are all about. Every once in a while he would sit down and visualize what the princess looked like, so he wouldn’t forget why he was there.
Days go by. They bring people to the cemetery to bury them and he always watches, hangs around and eats. Nothing else is happening at the cemetery, so he watches the people who come to visit the graves. He sees people crying and hears people saying things like, “She was so pretty when she was young,” or “He was such a handsome man,” and all the other things people would say.
Weeks go by. One day he starts asking himself the question, “What is it that I have fallen in love with in the princess? If it is her physical beauty, that is very nice, but it keeps changing.” He realized that the beauty of outer forms is only one phase of beauty. There was nothing else to do in the cemetery but hang around and think and think. He was thinking about what beauty is all about, and he realized that beauty comes in so many ways that somewhere there must be the source of beauty. What could the source of beauty be? So, he kept on thinking.
Months go by. He realizes that the source of beauty must be The Holy One. Then he starts to think how beautiful The Holy One must be. All the visions of beauty he had ever seen passed before his mind’s eye. He realized how many forms beauty has. Then he started to ponder: “Maybe there is beauty without form.”
People saw this guy hanging around the cemetery sitting and thinking, so they started bringing him food so he wouldn’t have to go begging in the city. Word got out that there was a holy man sitting in the cemetery. He was still waiting for the princess but the people didn’t know that. They thought that if he’s sitting in the cemetery he must be a holy man. What else would he be doing there? People start to come and talk to him saying, “You know, I’ve got such and such troubles. What do you advise?” He would give his opinion or say, “I’ll think about it, come back some other day.” He started giving people blessings and the blessings worked.
Meanwhile the princess had gotten married, but she didn’t have any children. She tried doctors and this and that and nothing worked. One day someone said, “Listen, that holy man in the cemetery is doing great things.” She goes to the cemetery and asks the holy man for his blessing to have children.
One look at her and he recognizes the princess. “I want to thank you,” he says. “It was your beauty and your guidance that sent me to the cemetery in the first place, and since I’ve been here I’ve gotten to know many great things. If there is any merit in anything I’ve done I want that merit to be transformed into a child for you.” That’s how he blessed her.
A little while later, people saw he was sitting in very deep meditation, so they didn’t want to bother him. A few days went by and he didn’t come out of his meditation and all the food they brought was still there. The food started rotting and the flies started eating it, and soon the people saw that the flies were eating the man’s eyes too. He had died while he was contemplating the source of beauty without form.
The Raishit Chochma said that you can see from this story that one can learn from loving a woman or a man to come to the love of The Divine.
“Raising an Awareness of Awe”
“….Given that ‘the beginning of wisdom is the fear of heaven’ (Psalms: 111:10), and fear of heaven results from humility, we might expect the paradigm to begin with humility and end with wisdom. Yet Maharal is adamant that we consider a different paradigm, in which humility, and the dveykut attendant upon it, constitute the ultimate goal. Interpreting ‘Raishit Chochma Yirat Hashem’, he equates raishit with that which is primary, so that fear of heaven is above wisdom both spiritually and ontologically. On the mishnah in Avot discussing the mutual interdependence of these values, Maharal further delineates the supremacy of Yirat Shamayim over Chochmah” ~ Yael Wieselberg from his paper: The Place of Yirat Shamayim in Moral Development: The Pedagogical Approach of the Maharal of Prague By Yael Wieselberg
 Netiv Yirat Hashem’, Chapter 1, pages 54-55.
This story was originally published in the Temple Beth El newsletter in April of 2000. It was submitted by me after asking Rabbi Aryeh, of blessed memory, if my version worked for him and was close enough to his telling.