By Rabbi Heshy Grossman
"....VaYehi Yosef Yefeh To'ar VeYefei Mar'eh" - "....and Yosef was
good-looking, and of pleasant appearance." (Breishis, 39:6)
In all the Torah, Yosef is the only man described in this fashion.
Is this a factor worthy of praise?
"The daughter of the emperor said to Rebbe Yehoshua ben Chanania: how can
such glorified wisdom be contained in such an ugly container? (Rebbe
Yehoshua was extremely unsightly)"
"He said to her: your father puts his wine in earthenware kegs."
"In what then should it be stored?"
"You, who are so important, should put your wine in kegs of gold and silver."
"She went, and informed her father, and their wine was poured into kegs of
gold and silver. It all went sour. They informed the emperor, who asked his
daughter: who told you to do this? Rebbe Yehoshua ben Chanania."
"They called for him, and asked: why did you tell her this?"
"Exactly as she said to me, I said to her."
"But, aren't there good-looking men who are also learned?"
"If they would have been ugly, they would have learned more." (Ta'anis 7a)
Elsewhere, the same Rebbe Yehoshua ben Chanania defeats the elders of
Athens, entering their academy to debate the meaning of life. (Bechoros 8b)
It is the homely look of Rebbe Yehoshua that overcomes the beauty of the
"....V'Orrarti Banayich Tzion, Al Banayich Yavan.....and I have woken your
sons, Tzion, against your sons, Yavan..." (Zechariah, 9:13)
Just like Yosef, the Torah refers to Tzion as the repository of beauty -
"MiTzion, Michlall Yofi Elokim Hofia - from Tzion, which encompasses all
beauty, G-d shines forth." (Tehillim 50:2)
In fact, our Sages directly compare Yosef and Tzion, both of whom are hated
and scorned, plotted against and sold, thrown into empty and dangerous pits.
The Torah has its own measure of beauty.
Let us explain.
Alexander the Great, the student of Aristotle, spread the teachings of
Yavan throughout the world, conquering faraway lands, expanding the
influence of a culture that rules the world to this day.
Throughout his campaign, he is encouraged by a vision, an old man dressed
in priestly robes, Shimon HaTzaddik, last of the Anshei Knesses HaGedola.
When they finally meet, Alexander the Great descends from his chariot and
bows before the Kohen Gadol. To the amazement of his entourage, he publicly
acknowledges that Yavan owes its victory to Shimon HaTzaddik.
Chazal teach us that the year of Alexander's rise to the throne was marked
simultaneously by the death of Malachi, last of the prophets.
This is true in more than a physical sense. It is the cessation of prophecy
that allows for the rise of Yavan, a nation that popularizes Kefirah,
denial of G-d.
In a world of prophecy, there was no denying the obvious. Every Navi was a
living revelation of the miraculous, expressing a dimension beyond our own.
At that heady time, the Yetzer Hara's only option was to push man towards
idolatry, maintaining the permanent balance of good and evil.
However, when the Sages destroyed the inclinaton for Avoda Zara, the world
paid a heavy price, the concomitant loss of Nevuah, its balancing
counterweight. With the rise of Kefirah, evil of a different sort, a new
remedy came to the fore to keep the scales balanced towards good, the form
of Shimon HaTzaddik.
The Anshei Knesses HaGedola mark the transition of Torah to a new stage of
development - from the open revelation of Torah SheB'Ksav to the
undiscovered depths of Torah SheBa'al Peh. Shimon HaTzaddik is the first
'Man D'Amar' in the Talmud, the first to express an opinion of his own. It
is this unique wisdom that will do battle with Yavan.
Let us understand: what is the basic claim of those who would deny G-d?
Modern man has been blessed with the wisdom to understand the world around
him, defining his environment and conquering the material world, diverting
its natural resources for the benefit of economic growth and prosperity.
Taken to the limit, this worldview ultimately believes that man has the
ability to fathom all of existence, grasping the process of creation and
the development of life, denying G-d His righful place.
Torah is wisdom of a different sort.
Knowing what the world exists of does not define its reality.
It is much more important to understand what it means.
G-d has placed us in a dimension of vast proportion, from the microsopic
organisms of molecular biology to the expanding galaxies of time and space.
Knowing the age of the universe, or sub-particles of the atom is not the
ultimate lesson that G-d wishes to impart, these entities are mere
allusions of a deeper reality that cannot be measured. This hidden truth is
Torah SheBa'al Peh, the law the Sages extract from the physical existence,
utilizing the details of life in an effort to actualize G-d's will.
In a sense then, it is Shimon HaTzaddik and the Oral Law of mortal man who
pave the way for Alexander. With the onset of a new means of relating to
Hashem, evil as well must take on new form. Whereas in previous generations
the test of man was in heavenly spheres, the new world will see a battle
for the nature of life, a struggle of the intellect.
The Greek mindset sees the world for what it is, a physical place of sight
and sound. The Torah scholar sees the same world as an expression of G-d's
will, and a call to heed His word, more than meets the eye.
What defines beauty? What characterizes a striking work of art, or a
Often, it is the posing of two extremes within a harmonious framework that
captures attention. A rising snow-capped mountain towering above a crystal-
blue lake, or a colorful sunset reflecting off a lonely man eyeing the
horizon, these appealing images fire the imagination.
The conductor who directs a symphony orchestra creates beautiful music from
the cacophony of fifty different individuals who blow their own horn. It is
these sights and sounds that successfully assimilate diverse elements into
one organic whole that man finds attractive.
"Yaft Elokim L'Yefes V'Yishkon B'Ohalei Shem" (Breishis 9:27)
Yavan is the heir to the beauty of Yefes, with the power and prowess to
harmonize the world. With a culture of wisdom and philosophy, physical and
material beauty, they spread their Kefirah to the four corners of the earth.
But what the world finds beautiful, we find disgusting.
The beauty of Israel is the shining face of the Kohen Gadol, his glorious
garments - "L'Kavod U'Li'Tiferes".
The charm of physical beauty displays nothing but the splendor of this
world, a surface attraction that hides the inner truth. An elegance that
distracts man from his true purpose is a hideous distortion, repulsive to
the one who seeks a lasting peace.
The Bais HaMikdash was the scene of true glory, the joining of two opposite
extremes. Here, Shamayim and Aretz form a new dimension, and the man who
entered the Temple was unsure if he was on heaven or earth.
While the beauty of Greece revels in the display of the body, an exibition
that reveals nothing but itself, the honor of Jerusalem is the vision of a
parallel beauty, a world far beyond our own, a glimpse of the grandeur that
unifies all existence.
"Ki MiTzion Tetzei Torah.." - from Zion comes forth the word that truly
harmonizes all of life, the sense of purpose that grants meaning to trivial
'Tzion' B'Gimariya = 'Melech Yavan'
It is for this reason that Yavan is defeated at the hands of the
Chashmonaim, the family of the Kohen Gadol. Those who enter the Holy of
Holies have seen a dimension of everlasting magnificence, and it is this
taste of true beauty that subdues the tawdry imitation proffered by the
Amidst the destruction and defilement of an exile in our own land, Klal
Yisrael discovers a Pach Shemen Tahor - sealed with the stamp of the Kohen
A small and ugly earthenware jug contains the pure and undiluted light that
defeats the vast army of a powerful nation.
What is the secret of Torah SheBa'al Peh?
While the wisdom that defines the physical world attempts to outline the
material basis of existence, the Oral Law attempts to transmit lessons of a
deeper realm, with no pretension at defining the totality of life.
While the secular wisdom of the natural sciences doubts the presence of a
G-d it cannot measure, the Talmudic mind of a Torah scholar never stops
with a question. On the contrary, as every student of Gemara knows, every
difficult problem is merely an initial stage of conception, sparking the
penetrating search for a deeper plane of understanding.
Ugliness is only skin deep.
When difficulties threaten to blacken man's perception, and he valiantly
struggles to maintain equilibrium in a flood of turmoil and pain, he
finally discovers the inner strength that resolves his pressing need.
Yosef is the man who survives alone, holding on to the distant memory of a
family who sent him away. Tempted by sin, and torn in distress, he unlocks
the keys of life to rise above his worldly prison, sustaining his family
and his people with a beauty that is heaven-sent.
'Yosef' B'Gimatriya = 'Tzion'
It is for this reason that each Shabbos Chanukah we read once again the
story of Yosef, father of true beauty.
From the depths of exile, belittled and besmirched, Klal Yisrael discovers
one last earthenware jug, sealed by the Kohen Gadol. The pure oil within
lights up the world with an eternal beauty that never fades, illuminating
the darkness of the long, black night.
"....U'MiNosar Kankanim Na'asah Nes LaShoshanim, Bnei Binah Yemei Shmonah,
Kav'u Shir U'Rinanim."
JerusalemViews, Copyright (c) 1999 by Rabbi Heshy Grossman and Project