My Favorite Card
The flower shop sells all kinds of cards. Congratulations, sympathy, bereavement etc. My favorite is the, “Just Because” card. You can say it with flowers for all kinds of reasons. Because your wife did or said something special. Because your wife gave birth. Because your wife turned forty. Or “just because”.

Just because is special because it transcends all virtue. I know she is beautiful, I know she is smart, I know she is kind, I know she is devoted, I know she is a fabulous mother, I know she is a great teacher, but that isn’t why I love her. I love her for who she is. Just because.[1]

A Tale of Two Brides

The Talmud famously records a debate between the schools of Hillel and Shamai. “What does one sing when dancing before the bride?” Bet Shamai said, “the bride as she is”. Bet Hillel said, “the bride is beautiful and graceful”. Said, the school of Shamai, “What if the bride is lame or blind, can we call her beautiful and graceful, did the Torah not prohibit lying?” To which Bet Hillel replied, “When someone makes a purchase, shall we praise it or criticize it?

Most students assume that Shamai was scrupulously honest and Hillel was gracefully generous. Hillel was willing to tell a white lie for the sake of peace; Shamai was not. But here is a different approach.

The Torah tells us to love our fellow irrespective of who they are and how they behave. It is easy to love and respect our friends. People with grace and charm are easy to like. But what of those who are rude and uncouth, grumpy and mean? What of those who are cruel and hound us or those who put on airs and ignore us? It is difficult to love them. And yet we must. How can we?

This was the crux of the debate between Hillel and Shamai. What of a lame or blind bride? A lame bride refers to friends who are never there for you, who never come to your aid. A blind bride refers to friends who won’t even acknowledge your existence. How can you find something nice to say about them? It’s easy to compliment and love your loving friends, but what of those who always ignore you?

Look Again
Bet Hillel says, there is a saving grace in everyone and if we haven’t found it, we haven’t looked hard enough. The fellow who made the purchase saw something worthwhile in his find. The groom who married this bride, saw something beautiful in her. If you haven’t found it, it is because you haven’t looked in the right places or in the right way. Don’t deny her grace just because you haven’t seen it.

When we encounter the socially blind and lame and can’t find a kind thing to say about them, Hillel advises us to look again. Don’t assume they have no heart. Don’t assume they are made of stone. If someone out there loves them and if they love in return, they must be some quality to them. Don’t give up on them just because they ignore you.  Keep trying. One day, you too will see their heart.

Just Because
What of Shamai, doesn’t he agree that every bride has a redeeming quality? The answer is yes, but Shamai summons us to go deeper.

Shamai says, there is no need to search for their qualities. You can love them even without seeing their heart. “Just because.” Just as they are. “The bride as she is.” When you see a fellow’s strengths and beautiful traits, you love him for his traits. But when you see a fellow with no redeeming traits, no discernible value, see it as an amazing opportunity. A chance to love them as they are. Just because.

Who says love must be reciprocated? For the most part, we want to be loved in return by those we love. But can we not find it in ourselves to love just because? Who says we can’t love without rhyme or reason? We can! It is just that most people don’t give us the chance. But when you encounter the social misfit who gives you every reason to hate him, you have finally found your chance to love just because.

He is not likable, he is not kind, he is not considerate, but he is your fellow. It is not so different from a parent who loves their child just because. Surely the parent finds reason to be proud of their child. They boast of the child’s prowess and knowledge, and talents and achievements, but that is not why they love their child. In love, they transcend all the child’s features. They love just because.

With friends, you hardly get that chance. Says Shamai, when you run into the fellow whom you can’t stand, don’t treat it as an inconvenience to flee from. Treat it as an opportunity to embrace.[2] And when you do, you might just enjoy his company. You never could have imagined it, but once you arouse your intrinsic fellowship, you might trigger your intrinsic bond with your fellow.

Now you can love him for real. Not because he changed his stripes, but because you touched his truth; buried under layers of fears and moroseness. This is why the Talmud concludes that at weddings in Israel, the common refrain was “no powder, no paint, no hair waving, and yet graceful.” I can’t find a single redeeming feature, but when I insist on loving despite it all, I discover that s/he is graceful.



[1] One of the reasons a bride wears a veil under the chupah is to proclaim that her inner value exceeds her outer beauty.

[3] As with most of Shamai’s ideas, this too is a tall order. But we can try it even if we don’t master it completely.


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