Religion is about spirituality, morals and becoming a better person. One might, therefore, assume that physical beauty is beyond the Torah’s spectrum of interest. But the Torah makes a point of stating that Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel were all beautiful. Physical female beauty, of course, could be seen as having importance within the scriptural narrative (arrangement of marriages, interactions with royalty, etc.). But, the Torah also goes out of its way to state that Joseph, Rachel’s first-born, was handsome.
Joseph’s looks were both a help and a hindrance. One of the reasons his father favored him was because of his resemblance to Rachel his mother, and his good looks certainly helped him find favor both with Potiphar and Pharaoh. But it also contributed to his brothers’ enmity and resulted in Potiphar’s wife’s attraction to him.
The sages praise Joseph by noting that he overcame the seductive overtures of Potiphar’s wife despite his looks and his vanity (see Talmud Yoma 35b). Indeed, the Torah’s description of him as a “youth” is meant to imply that Joseph was vain, a weakness fortunately balanced by his inner righteousness.
Strength of character was not the case with another Biblical figure noted for his looks, “In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom” (II Samuel14:25). Perhaps his physical beauty led Absalom to believe himself to be above everyone else, and led him to rise in rebellion against his father, King David.
According to the Talmud (Brachot 58b), when one sees a person of exceptional beauty one should recite a blessing that concludes: “...Who has this [beauty] in His world.” When one is dazzled by the looks of another, or by one's own appearance, this blessing is serves as a reminder that all beauty is a gift from God.
This Treat was first posted on December 10, 2009.
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