Dark am I, yet lovely,
daughters of Jerusalem,
dark like the tents of Kedar,
like the tent curtains of Solomon.
Do not stare at me because I am dark,
because I am darkened by the sun.
My mother’s sons were angry with me
and made me take care of the vineyards;
my own vineyard I had to neglect. — Song of Songs 1:5-6
There was once an experiment where professional hair stylists took some homeless people off the street and gave them great haircuts. The result was a shock to both the individuals and the onlookers. It’s amazing how someone’s appearance affects how we think of the person. We are warned not to judge a book by its cover, but so many times, we do.
I think the same principle applies spiritually. Sometimes we look at a person and they seem like a terrible person. But perhaps that’s not the real them. Maybe with some love and encouragement they would be transformed into someone we hardly recognized. Often, when we see people, we judge by what we see on the surface. But there is so much to any individual beyond what we superficially encounter. Sometimes we are even blind to their good points.
In Song of Songs, the woman, who represents the people of Israel, says the following: “Do not stare at me because I am dark…” Don’t focus on my darkened appearance. Even though my light is dimmed at the moment, that is not a true me. The Sages explain that the woman is expressing the idea that just as a person may get a stain on a garment, sometimes a person gets a stain on their soul. She may be “dark like the tents of Kedar” but she can yet be pure again “like the tent curtains of Solomon.”
The woman is pleading with the man, who symbolizes God, to not judge her as she appears in the present but as who she really is and who she will eventually become.
This reminds me of how God promised Abraham that his offspring would be like stars in the sky (Genesis 15:5). One explanation of this promise is that just as stars are but a speck in the sky from our vantage point, in reality they are big, bright and luminous. Similarly, the offspring of Abraham may not look like much from a distance at times, but if you take out the telescope and look at what really exists, the light can be blinding. Far away, we don’t always appreciate someone’s greatness, but up close and personal we can discern stars as glorious as diamonds. It’s a shame we overlook them sometimes.
These teachings remind us about the importance of seeing the people in our lives not merely as they are, but as how they can be. We need to see people for their potential and not their shortcomings. We need to look closely at a person’s strengths and look past their weaknesses. When we see others for how they could potentially be, they might begin to see themselves that way, too.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President