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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

The Power of Beauty

Posted by rabbiart on November 9, 2008

Beauty has a power all of its own.  The first thing we learn about Sarah is that she is barren.  The second is that she is beautiful. The barreness turns out to be temporary, the beauty is permanent.
וַיֹּאמֶר, אֶל-שָׂרַי אִשְׁתּוֹ, הִנֵּה-נָא יָדַעְתִּי, כִּי אִשָּׁה יְפַת-מַרְאֶה אָתְּ.
He said to his wife, “Behold, I know, You are a beautiful woman.
All husbands should see their wives as beautiful, but the Torah is at pains to make sure that we, the reader, know that Sarah is beautiful. Her beauty affects not only the midrash, but (warning, anthropomorphic interpretation ahead!) even HaShem himself (and very gender specific as well).

Sarah’s beauty drives Avraham to some strange and frightened behavior, to say the least.  Pharoah, who could (we presume) any woman he wanted, takes Sarah into his house, and pays the consequences. Later, Avimelech, King of Gerar, repeats Pharoah’s mistake.  Such is the power of a beautiful woman, even when completely unintentional.

At the opening of Parshat Chayei Sarah, Rashi brings a midrash that says when Sarah was twenty, her physical beauty was that of a seven year, and when she was one hundred, she was as free from sin as a twenty year old.

Sarah has her way with Avraham and even with G-d.  Twice she tells Avraham what to do… and he does. Sarah sends him into Hagar in order to produce a son, and he goes without question.  Sarah tells him to banish that son, and he obeys, albeit after some consultation with G-d.

Sarah even provokes a reaction from G-d himself — without even speaking out loud. When she hears that she will at long last become pregnant, she is astonished and laughs — or rejoices — without speaking. Naturally enough, she marvels that a physically old couple will be able to produce a child.  Stripped of midrashic and rabbinic interpretation, a perfectly reasonable reaction; astonishment at the announcement of an impending and miraculous occurrence.  But G-d cannot leave it alone. Yet G-d (like many men) cannot bring himself to speak to a beautiful woman.  Instead he asks Avraham “Why did Sarah laugh?”.  Avraham has no answer.  Sarah at the last is afraid, and tries to cover up, saying לֹא צָחַקְתִּי, כִּי יָרֵאָה “I did not laugh”, because she was afraid. G-d has the last word וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא, כִּי צָחָקְתְּ  He said, “No, you did laugh”.  Nothing is resolved, no explanation is given; everyone simply goes on their way.

What is this story doing here? Why this particular interchange? What teaching are we supposed to learn?

Yes, beauty makes people behave in strange ways.  Beware of beauty,  unless it truly comes from the inside, and not from the outside alone.

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