What Happens When a Man Tells His Wife She Is Beautiful

The Theory

“Grounds for divorce,” bluntly warns the Mishna, through the mouth of Rabbi Akiva, “is if a man finds a woman more beautiful than his wife.”

“Say what?” clammer the Discontent.

And rising from the sea of flailing hands and angry faces, another voice shouts out in Chassidic intonations:

“What does it mean, on a deeper level?” the voice screams, and the crowd quiets down, listening. “It means,” the voice explains calmer, catching his breath, “ is that it is man’s avodah, man’s responsibility, to ensure that he finds his wife the most beautiful woman in the world.”

The Practice

Tonight, he stops to look at me- like really look at me.

Except I sense that his eyes are also looking through me, to somewhere halfway in-between my skin and the deep inner recesses of his warmly kept memories. His gratitude of a recent meal rumbling in his stomach combined with the ease of slipping into his freshly laundered black man-socks, gives him a rooted sense of belonging in this world, allowing him to take it all in, everything, that he has been given, that he has worked for. His eyes roam around his home, as if it is the first time, tracking his stomping grounds, his comfortable chair, his rightful territory. Something gently stirs from within, and he comes to stand next to me, the words congealing and rising determinedly to the surface.

His voice becomes quieter, softer, slower.

“You’re beautiful,” he finds himself realizing and saying, and I, too, stop, slowing down to his rhythm, to the rhythm where time passes around us. I’ve stopped in between my trek from couch to kitchen to bedroom to-suddenly, we became two trains that have found themselves on the same track, dead center, with nowhere else to go. We’ve even forgotten that we are trains. We’ve just remembered that we are really people, and this is really what life is about: not just moving physical space, but staying still, and moving within.

My face forms a question, a “c’mon, really, in these clothes?”– but his face doesn’t move an inch, his expression unflinching,

“You’re the most beautiful in the world.”

Pressure, sensing it has other places to attend to now that I’ m occupied, seemingly gives up. As it disappears from my cerebral cortex, task upon worry upon errand stops weighing upon my shoulders.

Caught as the star in this glorious mixture of fact and fiction, I finally ease into my skin and relax. Not because I’ve won any major prize; I’m not kidding myself into believing that I’m the thinnest, the smartest, or the most alluring. Let’s be real: in the grand cubits of the world, I don’t measure up one iota. Forget heaven and earth and the distance from me to the angels; compare me to a fellow human and I’ll always feel wanting.

But, here, now, in his mind, I have arrived.

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Here, now, in this small space, in these couple hundred square feet, I reign supreme.

He says “you’re beautiful,” and I feel a sudden urge to throw the laundry off my back, chuck the week’s meal plan, forgot all checklists, and sink down into couch cushions ,throwing up my feet and drinking some pina colada from a straw with a little yellow umbrella. I feel suddenly, that despite my flaws and failings and tasks, I am enough. I am free.

Just the feeling is enough to get me tipsy.

The stark reality: For a man to find his wife the most beautiful takes a lot of work.

The flow between his words and my reaction – train to train, person to person – reflect hours of effort, mountains of dialogues, upon which an emotional relationship emerges. For it is only through the emotional relationship that physicality can be transcended: reworked and re-envisioned to seeing something beyond the flesh, to transforming the flesh. It is only in the sweat and tears of an emotional relationship that a man can hope to arrive at this desired conclusion.

I used to not sense the importance of being called beautiful, throwing it off and insisting, tell me something else, something that has nothing to do with the plain, unimportant, physical attributes upon which I was endowed. Tell me something to do with my efforts and talents in life.

But really, when a husband calls a wife beautiful, he’s telling her that everything she  worked for and everything she values, is all wrapped up in a brilliantly lit radiating package he calls her radiance, and he can sense it and he feels drawn towards it.

So tell me today, tell me everyday. See in me beauty and help me see the beauty in myself. Find beauty in me and your worth and beauty will overpower me as well. You see, then I see. I see, then you see. Isn’t that our task here, anyways? To find beauty in this little home of ours? To find beauty in each other? Running into each other, stopping each other in our prescribed tracks, blindsided by each other’s beauty and letting life pass us by.

When a husband finds his wife beautiful, the most beautiful, it is as if heaven and earth become entwined, at last able to rest, a Shabbos of Shabbosim, and Gd’s shechina rests upon their little castle in this world.

“We see things not as they are, but as we are,” gravely spoke Anais Nin.

And as husband and wife, in sensing each other’s beauty, in offering words of encouragement and value and honor and respect, in receiving words of encouragement and value and honor and respect, we say, “We are one, tonight. Tonight, we are one.”

And entwined, we appear radiatingly, heartbreakingly beautiful.