Off the Pulpit: An Eye for Beauty

By RABBI DAVID WOLPE

There are many different ways to understand beauty, of course, and Judaism often speaks of character attributes as beautiful. Yet despite the caution in Proverbs that beauty is vain, physical splendor too is acknowledged and prized in the tradition: Berachot 58b teaches us to offer a blessing when seeing a beautiful creature or a beautiful tree.

When concluding study of a tractate of Talmud, we say “hadran aloch” – we will return to you. The same root that means ‘return’ can mean “beauty.” Beauty is a durable quality, something that can give delight again and again.

Beauty is attributed to the natural world and to men as well as women. For an example of the aesthetic eye of our Sages, read this magnificent depiction of physical beauty: “One who desires to see Rabbi Johanan’s beauty, let him take a silver goblet as it emerges from the crucible, fill it with the seeds of a pomegranate, encircle its brim with a chaplet of red roses, and set it between the sun and the shade; its lustrous shade is akin to Rabbi Johanan’s beauty (B.M. 84a).” Have a beautiful New Year.

(Rabbi David Wolpe is the senior rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.)

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