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Spiritual Recharge

Rabbi Moshe Lieber

Parshat Lech Lecha

Oct 21, 2009

The Torah tells us that “it occurred as he [Avram] was about to enter Egypt …See, I now know that you are a woman of beautiful appearance”. Rashi notes that until this time Avram had never noticed how beautiful a woman Sari was. This seems incredulous. How could he have been unaware of his wife’s beauty? Furthermore this flies in the face of the dictum of the Gemara (Kiddushin 42a) which forbids marrying a woman sight unseen lest she be hurt when he discovers that she is not pleasing in his eyes. This prohibition is the result of the mitzvah of loving another as oneself. How could it be that Avram ignored this ethical imperative and only now took note of Sari’s beauty? Finally why does the Torah note that this occurred “as he was about to enter Egypt ” Why is the timing significant?

True beauty is an external expression of an inner beauty. Due to their intrinsic tznius and spiritual sophistication Avram and Sari never viewed physical beauty as something with an independent identity of its own. From their perspective, physical beauty mirrors something of spiritual quality with the two inextricably linked. Avram viewed Sari as a person of pristine inner beauty that shined outward in physical splendor and not, chas v’shalom as an esthetically pleasing object.

Now, as he approached the moral cesspool of Egypt where physical beauty had an existence of its own, he began, under the influence of the spiritually noxious atmosphere, to perceive her beauty in external terms. He therefore was fearful of what the Egyptians might do.

There are two lessons we might want to incorporate into our lives as a result of this episode.

The demands of tznius often are misconstrued as an attempt to defeminize women. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The true message of tznius is that your (both men and women) internal being is the real you. Of all the many parts of you it is your innermost self by which you want to be defined. In order to convey this message (and grow from the feedback you get from others) you need to know how to reveal yourself and aspects of your personality so that they showcase, rather than obscure, who you really are. In this way your external beauty will mirror your inner beauty. Let us adopt an authentically Jewish attitude toward asthetic beauty.

Furthermore we see here the insidious power of the atmosphere in which we function. Avram Avinu, who never saw beauty in the coarse skin-deep way of the world, was suddenly invaded by the corrupt view of the surrounding society. We must certainly check and recheck our attitudes to be sure that they are not the result of the indecent mores of the moral pollution that surrounds us.

Today, more than ever, we, men and women, must put some Torah into ourselves every day so that we have the moral compass necessary to navigate the floods that seek to spiritually drown us. Only by constantly recharging our neshoma batteries will we be able to maintain our Yiddishe beauty.

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