“’The new one is the most beautiful of all; he is so young and pretty.’ And the old swans bowed their heads before him.”
~ Hans Christian Anderson, “The Ugly Duckling”
The Ugly Duckling is a literary fairy tale by Danish poet and author Hans Christian Andersen (1805 – 1875). The story tells of a homely little bird who suffers abuse from the animals in his barnyard until, much to his delight, and to the surprise of his tormentors, he matures into the most beautiful bird of all: a graceful and majestic swan.
It seems that for a couple of thousand years the Christian Church has had its own “ugly duckling” in residence within its own theological barnyard, so to speak: that portion of the “Old Testament” known as “the Law.” And yet, like the ugly duckling of the much beloved story, the things of “the Law” will one day be transformed into a magnificent thing of beauty, the most beautiful thing in the world, in fact, according to the prophet Ezekiel: the Messianic Temple and service as it appears in the Messianic Age.
“… make known to them the design of the temple, its arrangement, its exits and its entrances, that is, its whole design; and make known to them as well all its statutes and its whole design and all its laws, and write it down in their sight, so that they may observe all its laws and all its statutes and carry them out. (Ezekiel 43:11 ESV)
Looking ahead to that future day, the Shemoneh Esrei prayer is recited three times daily throughout the Jewish world: “…we pray for all of the elements of the coming of the mashiach (messiah): ingathering of the exiles; restoration of the religious courts of justice; an end of wickedness, sin and heresy; reward to the righteous; rebuilding of Jerusalem; restoration of the line of King David; and restoration of Temple service.” [“Maschiach, The Messiah,” Judaism 101]
Restoration of the Temple service means not only the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, but also the reinstitution of all that is contained in “the Law” as we know it; to include the wonder and beauty of the “appointed times,” the festivals. The picture painted in Ezekiel 40-45 is a kind of coming-of-age view into the foretold “Swan Stage” of the Law; a restorative glimpse of intrinsic inner beauty that is now largely obscured from Christian view.
There is a legend told of King David, who wrote prolifically of his love for “the Law,” in which the Law is portrayed as an ever-beautiful swan, never an ugly duckling. It is said that David would awake in the middle of the night to compose and sing psalms to the Lord. He was awakened, so the legend goes, by his harp as it hung on the wall, the wind moving musically across its strings, inspiring the words he wrote. The
word for “wind” in Hebrew is “ruach,” as in “breath,” as in “spirit.” And so it is said that the divine breath of God caused David to compose some of the most beautiful words ever written about his love of “the Law,” inspired by the miraculous moving of the wind as decreed by Heaven.
In Jewish tradition there are stories in which the letters of the Hebrew aleph-bet (alphabet) speak. Perhaps the letters of the Law, in the Messianic Era, would say something like the remark of the Ugly Duckling upon coming into its own:
“… he did not know what to do, he was so happy, and yet not at all proud. He had been persecuted and despised and now he heard them say he was the most beautiful of all the birds…. ‘I never dreamed of such happiness as this while I was an ugly duckling.’”
Shabbat shalom. May we strive to see beauty where others see ugliness; and may today’s hidden, undeveloped beauty be revealed before its time.