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. — Song of Songs 1:5–6a
In Hebrew, the word for love is ahava, which comes from the root word, hav, “to give.” In Judaism, to love is to give. Giving to others forms the connection that enables us to love one another. Join us this month, as we offer a devotional series exploring the Jewish perspective on love.
There was once an experiment where professional hairstylists gave great haircuts to some homeless people off the street. 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 that’s exactly what we do.
I think the same principle applies spiritually. Sometimes we look at someone and he or she seems like a terrible person. But perhaps that’s not the real person. Maybe with some love and encouragement that person could be transformed into someone we would hardly recognize.
Often, when we see people, we judge by what we see on the surface. But there is so much more to any individual beyond what we superficially encounter. Sometimes we are even blind to their good spots. In Song of Songs (also known as Song of Solomon), the woman — who represents the people of Israel — said the following: “Do not stare at me because I am dark . . .” In other words, she was saying “don’t focus on my present appearance . . . that is not the true me.”
The Jewish sages explain that the woman was 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 might be “dark like the tents of Kedar” but she can yet be “like the tent curtains of Solomon.” The woman was pleading with the man — who symbolizes God — not to judge her as she appeared in the present but as to who she really was and who she would 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 bright and luminous. Similarly, the offspring of Abraham might not look like much from a distance at times, but if we take the time to look closely, we can see their greatness as a people.
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 away from their weaknesses. When we see others for how they really are in God’s eyes, through the lens of His love, they might begin to see themselves that way, too.
Download our complimentary Bible study, “The Life of Ruth,” to learn more about this courageous young foreigner, whose love and devotion to the God of Israel led to unexpected blessings.