The following class is the second in a three part series examining the
relationship between inner spiritual beauty, our physical bodies, and the
physical world in which we live. Our previous class established how
spirit and body should ideally function as partners. For the individual,
this partnership produces a sense of well being, and paves the way for a
good life. At odds with this harmony, however, are current standards of
physical beauty, which threaten the cohesiveness of body and soul. Beauty
and fashion industries place pressure on women, in particular, to focus on
appearance and to define themselves according to artificial standards.
Admittedly, many women are attracted to beautiful things, and many enjoy a
trip to the salon, the clothing store or the jeweler. The problem is that
today's culture asks us to invest exclusively in these and other external
pursuits, to the detriment of what lies deeper than skin deep.
Judaism advocates balancing inner and outer beauty, by cultivating the
relationship between body and spirit. In fact, the Torah gives us female
role models whose outer beauty is inextricably bound up with the radiance
of their internal landscape. The Torah refers to the matriarch Sarah, for
instance as, "a woman of beautiful appearance" (Genesis 12:11). Given
that Sarah is one of the three female progenitors of the Jewish people, we
know for certain that her outer appearance is only one aspect of her
standing as a great beauty. Regarding Sarah, Rashi comments on a Torah
verse (Genesis 11:29) that refers to her by the name, "Iscah." Rashi
"[Iscah] is Sarah, because she saw with the Holy Spirit, and because
would gaze at her beauty."
Thus, the combined spiritual and physical magnificence implied by the name
Iscah is central to Sarah's greatness.
Another feminine beauty and heroine is Rachav, who demonstrates such inner
strength that she merits becoming the wife of Joshua (who leads the Jewish
people into Israel following forty years of wandering in the desert).
Rachav's story is found in the second chapter of the Book of Joshua.
Rachav lives for forty years as a woman of ill repute, dedicating her life
to, and misusing her physical beauty. She ultimately reaches a place of
clarity and transforms her life into a righteous one.
Avigail is a third feminine figure who exudes outer beauty that is clearly
informed by a comparably attractive spirit. Her story appears in the Book
of Samuel I, chapter 25, which describes Avigail as both, "intelligent and
beautiful." The text tells of how Avigail convinces the future King David
to rethink a current battle strategy that is not in his best interest, and
how she later becomes his wife. Given that the Torah connects Avigail's
beauty with a story of her righteousness, courage and personal vision, we
may conclude that her beauty radiates outward from the inside.
A fourth Jewish heroine reputed to have been a great beauty is Queen
Esther of the Purim story, who uses her physical appearance as a means
rather than its own end. Esther finds herself married to the gentile king
Achashveirosh, in a palace culture that is completely alien to her Jewish
views and lifestyle. She is in a unique position as queen to gain her
husband's support towards saving the imperiled Jews of her country.
Esther is reluctant to approach her husband with her case, until Mordechai
reminds her of the fact that perhaps this challenge is the true reason
behind her selection as queen (Megillat Esther, 4:14).
Esther's beauty is clearly one of the main reasons Achashveirosh chooses
her in the first place. It remains for her to make the most of this
asset, by incorporating it into a picture that is more enduring than what
Achashveirosh perceives. Esther of course rises to the occasion and saves
her Jewish subjects. Thus, she is remembered as a multi-dimensional
beauty, rather than as simply the lovliest woman of her day.
The physical radiance of Sarah, Rachav, Avigail and Esther is informed by
the inner glow of goodness, fine character and inspiration. Simply
stated, theirs is beauty with substance.
For today's Jewish woman in search of both inner and outer beauty, the
accomplishments of the Jewish women in Egypt are another example of what
happens when body and spirit have a productive working relationship.
During the Egyptian enslavement, Pharoah decrees that all Jewish newborn
boys be thrown into the Nile river. In response to this declaration, the
Jewish men choose to stop procreating altogether, while the women refuse
to give up their hope for a Jewish future. In order to inspire their
husbands to continue having families, the women adopt a strategy that
incorporates brains, courage and beauty. They dress up and take their
copper hand mirrors into the fields where their husbands are working.
Peering into the mirrors alongside the men, they encourage their husbands
to have children, thereby procuring Jewish continuity. The women of Egypt
use their physical beauty for a goal of the highest order - a Jewish
future that includes our own today.
Jewish women inherit from their role models in Egypt and throughout Jewish
history, the ability to use assets that are both skin deep - and deeper.
Amidst this opportunity, however, we face challenges. Beauty and fashion
industries work overtime to convince us that our store purchases define
our very identity. We may certainly enjoy and take advantage of the
myriad products and services that enhance our appearance, but stop short
of considering ourselves successes or failures based on industry
standards. As Jewish women we need to be put together in a tasteful,
attractive manner that identifies us as members of God's chosen people.
We must channel our unique inner and outer beauty in appropriate ways,
taking care of our physical bodies and protecting them by anchoring outer
appearance with inner substance and finding fulfillment in the results.
Lecture by Mrs. Feige Twerski, adapted from "Privacy: Is It a Feminine
Trait?" published 1993, in The Jewish Women's Journal. Mrs. Twerski
provides insight into the challenges facing the family today, with
emphasis on the role of the contemporary Jewish woman. For a listing of
her cassette offerings, please call 1-800-878-5000.