Chayei Sarah

By Rabbi Nancy Morris, November 20, 2008

"He had scarcely finished speaking, when Rebecca...came out with her jar on her shoulder. The maiden was very beautiful" Genesis 24:15-16

There is no doubt that beauty is a valued quality in women in the Torah. It is, however, fascinating how lacking the Torah is in physical description of "beautiful" women. Often, we have no idea what they look like. Scratch a little deeper and we must conclude that the Torah has rather interesting notions about what constitutes beauty in a woman.

Only a few verses on from the quotation above, the servant decides that he has found the woman for Isaac, but is not allowed to leave. First, Rebecca must be asked. "Let us call the girl and ask for her reply." They called Rebecca and said to her, "Will you go with this man?" And she said, "I will." How startling to see a family solicit the opinion of a young girl, especially on such an important topic as marriage. In a small section of text that serves as the source for a wealth of Jewish traditions, that line is the source of the requirement that a woman must always be asked if she consents to marriage.

If popular culture is any indication of the zeitgeist, perhaps Jews have been well ahead of their time. There is a television series which supposedly jettisons all superficial notions of beauty as depicted by competitions like Miss America. It strives to find Miss Naked Beauty who embodies "confidence, spirit, sex appeal, brains and beauty (inside and out)", while forcing women to confront themselves in a natural, cosmetic-free way. Surveys show popular rejection of the myth of "size-zero" beauty.

In distinct contrast we see Rebecca- a woman never physically described, but who eagerly agrees to share her water, who readily offers hospitality to the stranger, and above all, who in a mere few verses shows such a remarkable strength of character, judgment and conviction. She is not a woman to be opposed or overlooked, and her family know better than to make a decision for her. It is perhaps only such a woman who could bring solace to a wounded Isaac. It is perhaps only such a woman who can truly be called "beautiful".

Last updated: 10:49am, November 20 2008