Make no mistake, a beautiful home, car or wife are not the end in and of themselves, but rather, they facilitate the focus on spiritual pursuits.
In this week’s Torah portion – Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1–25:18) – we are told that “Sarah lived one hundred years, and twenty years and seven years; these were the years of Sarah’s life.”
The Midrash teaches us that this lengthy description of Sarah’s age is intended to teach us when she was 100 years old, she was like a seven-year-old regarding sin. Just as a seven-year-old has not sinned, because she is not liable to punishment, so too when she was 100 years old, she was without sin. And when she was 100, she was like a 20-year-old in terms of beauty.
Here’s a question that is often asked: It seems reasonable for the Midrash (Rabbinic sources) to convey to us how righteous Sarah was. Indeed, that is the primary purpose of any eulogy. But why is Sarah’s beauty emphasized? Thoughts of beauty don’t seem too relevant when learning to appreciate the Matriarch of the Jewish people. Beauty is something highly relevant when describing young girls, perhaps, but not when describing a 127-year-old woman! If we want to expand on Sarah, we could discuss her wisdom, her deeds or her character traits. But her beauty?!? What’s going on here?
Here’s the key: Beauty is very important from a biblical perspective, and in fact, a number of women of the bible are identified for their beauty. Our sages teach us that we are very influenced by our physical surroundings, and physical beauty often helps people to become more receptive to spirituality.
As the Talmud says, “three things broaden a person’s mind – a beautiful house, beautiful possessions and a beautiful wife.” Again we see that when a person is surrounding by comfort and beauty, he has the ability to be more receptive to matters of holiness. Make no mistake, a beautiful home, car or wife are not the end in and of themselves, but rather, they facilitate the focus on spiritual pursuits.
That being said, the “beauty” of Sarah is indeed a commentary on her deeds and character traits…the beauty of innocence and purity. And with that philosophy in life, Sarah became the great matriarch that she was.
But for all of us simple folk – don’t shy away from beauty and other material comforts. Use them and enjoy them in the right way, which is to become a better and more spiritual person.
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, rabbinic director, United with Israel