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Barren Beauty

Ever since I can remember, my husband’s practice has been, like many men, to buy me a lovely bouquet of flowers for Shabbat. Tastefully, he arranges them on the Shabbat table, as his show of appreciation for the extra pre-Shabbat preparations and week-long exertions.

He never fails to delight me with his innovations. Sometimes, it is an exotic bunch that I have never seen before, exuding an irresistible perfumed aroma. Other times, it is the allure of the strikingly bold color co-ordination that stands out. While yet, other times, it is the novelty of an artistic vase housing the brilliant bunch.

This past Shabbat was no different. As I scampered into the dining room to kindle the candles, just moments before the appointed time, I couldn’t help but notice a captivating array adorning our table.

This time, however, the arrangement was more unique than any of its many predecessors.

About a dozen or more, simple, thin, redwood branches stood elegantly in a narrow clay pitcher, glazed to an olive green, earthy tone. The branches were naked of any of their leaves or flowers, very much resembling the barren, wintry outdoors.

The arrangement was definitely distinct from the colorful blooms and leafy greens I and my children had become accustomed to. And, at first my children protested to having them on our Shabbat table.

But looking at the mahogany colored branches, I discerned a distinctive beauty, a certain essence, bereft of adornments, detached of scent, stripped of garments or presentation.

This was not the attractiveness of dazzling flowers or the thick foliage of blooming trees standing in their full height and glory, exulting in a sun’s bathing rays, surrounded by chirping birds and children merrily and boisterously playing.

This was rather the exquisiteness of a barren, winter day, of a gray horizon surrounding raw trees in a vast, empty landscape trapped beneath layers of white icy snow.

It symbolized the splendor found within the desolate, dark period of our lives, in the wonder of finding ourselves and exposing our potential – within our hardships and our pains.

This was a steadfast, veiled beauty that does not wilt with the decaying rose buds nor evaporate with the flaccid, spicy leaves-like the successes of our lives which become obsolete with the passages of time.

My children found it difficult to appreciate.

“Are you really planning to keep this?” My youngsters queried at the end of Shabbat as they noticed me placing the branches as an artsy keepsake on the side table of our living room.

But, I realize that this is a kind of beauty that takes the maturity and the experiences of living to recognize.

Only after riding the ups and downs of the roller coaster ride we call the wheel of life, can one fathom a beauty in the downs as well as the ups. Only after experiencing the immense barrenness of the desert can one perceive the dramatic charm in the grooves of its landscape.

To me, these dozen or so, simple rosewood branches represented not the colorful, eye catchy charismatic beauty of doing, succeeding and accomplishing but rather the simpler and stark, pristine purity of being and living.

And that held an unmistakable beauty.


Chana Weisberg is the author of four books, the latest, Divine Whispers soon to be released by Targum/Feldheim. She is the dean of the Institute of Jewish Studies in Toronto and is a scholar in residence for www.askmoses.com. She is also a columnist for www.chabad.org‘s Weekly Magazine. Weisberg lectures regularly on issues relating to women, relationships and mysticism and welcomes your comments or inquiries at: weisberg@sympatico.ca

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