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The Beauty of Sarah

The Beauty of Sarah

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Last night, my friends and I sat around the table in dialogue about the Torah portion. We were inspired by the Torah’s mention of Sarah’s beauty, and our discussion evolved into talk about the overrated value of physical beauty.

Intuitively, it would seem that the body’s allure would fall low on the spiritual yardstick. If our goal is to pursue awareness and sensitivity, an obsession with looking good can be quite a distraction. When we are constantly bombarded with advertising and media that emphasize the value of good looks and aesthetics, when beauty becomes a currency, it’s easy to forget that in the end it is the body that dies while the soul remains eternal. So why invest in the ephemeral?

King Solomon echoes this approach in his famous poem A Woman of Valor: “Charm is deceptive and beauty is naught; a G‑d-fearing woman is the one to be praised.”

Her face was a transparent canvas from which emanated her inner radianceAnd yet, the Torah publicizes Sarah’s beauty. After her passing, the Torah pays tribute to her (Genesis 23:1): “And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years.” Notice how her age is recorded in a fragmented and repetitive manner. The Midrash explains: when she was twenty she retained the beauty of a seven-year-old, and when she was one hundred she was as innocent from sin as when she was a twenty-year-old. In a final summation of Sarah’s life, the Torah tells us two things—that she was beautiful, and that she had a flawless character—her two great qualities juxtaposed.

The apparent implication is that Sarah was beautiful inside and out—and what’s more, that the inside and outside were interdependent. Her face was a transparent canvas from which emanated her inner radiance.

Chassidic philosophy demonstrates three ways in which the body and soul can interact:

  1. The soul can try and mitigate the urges of the body. Things that look good, taste good and feel good are stimulating and addictive. Most of us live life with our body in the driver’s seat. The soul just can’t compete. And so the soul tries to negotiate reasonably, and encourages moderation.
  2. Or, the soul can choose to reject the body and abhor anything associated with materialism. The soul-driven person would then rebel against society’s shallow and false veneers. Simplicity and ascetism become the ultimate goals of the soul.
  3. The third scenario is not a compromise between the first two. It is an entirely new approach, where the body and soul learn to work together. The soul neither leans towards the body nor rejects it. It does not react; it pro-acts. In a proactive position, the soul directs and channels the body’s inclination in a constructive way.

In this last approach, instead of repressing the body’s needs, the soul views them as an opportunity to serve G‑d in a whole new way. The right foods will open the mind to a deeper understanding of Torah. A skillfully decorated home will create the right ambiance for the Shabbat meal. And clothing can make a powerful statement about the dignity of the soul beneath the skin. When working as a team, the soul becomes aware of the body as a prized medium for its work here on earth. As such, the body needs to be respected and kept in good condition.

Sarah mastered this art. She is said to be one of the most exquisitely beautiful women of all timesWhen bodily pursuits become a means to an end, the body and soul can work together like a hand and glove. One’s physical appearance then expresses his or her identity as a soulful being. The panim (face) becomes an expression of the pnimiyut (inner character).

Sarah mastered this art. She is said to be one of the most exquisitely beautiful women of all times. Just as the soul does not age, Sarah’s beauty was retained even in her old age. Her beauty was that of a body and soul operating with mutual respect and harmony. And this is why the Torah’s final praise speaks of her physical beauty.

Based on a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Likutei Sichot, vol. 5, p. 92.

Rochel is a mother of four children and the co-director of Chabad of Las Olas, Fla., serving the community of young professionals. She is a high-school teacher and a freelance writer—and a frequent contributor to Chabad.org. She lectures extensively on topics of Kabbalah and feminism, and their application to everyday life. Rochel holds an MS in Brain Research from Nova SE University.
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Discussion (18)
November 15, 2012
The Tragedy of Hagar
I am saddened by the Biblical account of Hagar and her plight. We see in Gen 21:9-10 that Sarah sees Ishmael "making sport" and that phrase is subject to a variety of negative connotations. I think it could mean he was just having innocent fun but our sages don't allow for that. Ok, but he was just a young teenager. Who among us at a young age were not involved in what some prudes might label as inappropriate behavior? The next verse is more clear about Sarah's intentions. She doesn't want Ishmael to get any of Abraham's inheritance. Yet our sages say she is perfect? To send a poor woman with her child out into the desert? It's not my idea of perfect. Abraham was heartbroken, that I can understand. G-d told him to listen to Sarah but G-d also allowed the Holocaust. We must ask and argue with G-d for justice and mercy. Let's not be like Noah. Our job is to struggle with G-d and ask, "Why did he make Hagar and Ismael suffer?" Besides, the Torah demands that the inheritance be divided.
Marty
Denver
November 13, 2012
Could U explain a little further/deeper?
How do you explain when physical beauty does not match inner character traits or despicable conduct? what is physical beauty a reflection of, then? Or on the opposite side, why some humans of flawless morals are sometimes so physically unattractive?
Rivka
NYC
November 13, 2012
Sarah's Daughters
Sarah's daughters? A question. Yet, YES, Sarah does have daughters. I find it touching that when a woman converts to Judaism that her mother legally becomes SARAH. (Her father becomes Abraham). I think that Sarah must be proud of having so many daughters. And, the daughters must be so proud to have Sarah be their mother. Abraham & Sarah didn't give birth to any daughters...and yet they have them. This concept touches my heart to its very core.
Anonymous
November 12, 2012
The Beauty of Sarah was very inspiring and I loved the additional comments about the soul and body. Thank you for your outstanding insights in Judaism.
suzy handler
November 11, 2012
Ishmael and Isaac
Ishmael a son born out of an adulterous relationship, and Isaac the son of the promise, And G-d telling Abrfaham, that in Isaac his seed will be called." Now because the descendants of Isaac are the children of the heir, Isaac being the rightfull heir, isnt this why the descendants of Ishmael Islam, constantly at war with the descendants of Isaac. This is what I was taught anyway, and the reason why the Muslim Islamic people want to drive the Jews into the sea? as they do not worship the Lord God of Israel, whom promised Abraham a son a rightfull heir. Even as children Ishmael made it difficult for Isaac.
Sylvia Commerford
Canada
November 11, 2012
Sarah
My late mother-in-law's name was Sarah. I don't think I've ever known a more patience, loving, and kind woman in my life. And she was a wonderful mother-in-law. Her name as princess was very fitting. Regarless of whatever the bible, torah, or any other testament may say.
Anonymous
Benicia, ca
jewishsolano.com
November 10, 2012
Response to Sylvia
My gut reaction to Sara's harsh treatment of Hagar, twice, was sympathy for Hagar. I see where you are coming from. Taps into the age old moral question - what's the appropriate reaction needed to rectify destructive behavior or influences. My instinct is one of lenience. But I suppose it is only G-d who could tell us what the ultimate moral call would be in each circumstance (wouldn't it be great to have a direct line!). In this case G-d was very clear and vocal - Sara was correct in sending away Hagar and G-d told Abraham to listen to her. G-d creates and defines morality.
Rochel Holzkenner
Fort Lauderdale
November 9, 2012
Flaws
The genius of the Torah is it's dedication to the truth. The Torah is replete with incidents that demonstrate the flaws of human beings.I believe that we are taught these things so that we can learn what to do and what not to do. How to raise ourselves when we are brought low and how to extinguish that which is evil and irredeemable. It is all relative and if you don't know what dark is you cannot know what is light.
Arthur Aaron
Ft. Lee, N.J.
chabadfortlee.com
November 8, 2012
beauty and Sarah
I will agree that Sarah was a beautiful woman, the Torah or Bible does tell us this, and that proper diet and care for the body is essential to radiate the beauty that comes from within. But I disagree that sarah was totally innocent, or sinless, She knew that Abraham was promised a son and she laughed as she was past the age of child bearing. She lost patience so that she send Hagar her maid into Abraham. Is she not tempting Abraham to have an adulterous relationship with her maid? One must look at all sides. and Abraham agreed, did he also doubt G-d's promise? Ishmael was born and Hagar made it miserable for Sarah. so Hagar was sent away, here abraham remained true to Sarah in abiding by her wishes. But as Isaac is the son of the promise, G-d does mention to Abraham in Isaac will your descendants be called. and that the son of the bond woman will not inherit with the son of the promise as Ishmael was conceived not out of faith,but losing trust and patience in the Lord G-d of Israel
Sylvia Commerford
November 8, 2012
Rochel, wow!
This is so perfect for my Shabbos table........I'm now always actively on the lookout for things that will touch the hearts of my new Ft Myers chevra..........a far cry from NMB, to say the least, but if the Rebbe sent me here.........I better do my job to the best of my ability! Thanks for the assistance!
Malka (Hellinger) Forshner
Ft Myers, FL
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