I recently came across the following story told by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg of Boca Raton. A 70-year-old woman had a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital. While on the operating table, she had a near-death experience and asked Hashem if her time was up. He told her directly that she had a bit over 23 years left to live. The woman figured she would take advantage of the situation and maximize her time in the hospital. She opted for a face lift, liposuction, changed her hairstyle, and decided to get colored lenses to complete her total makeover. She thought this would be worthwhile since she had many more years on earth. When she came home from the hospital, she was crossing the street and got hit by a car. Arriving at Hashem’s doorstep, she demanded, “I thought you said I have another 23 years left; why didn’t you save me from the speeding car?!” Hashem answered her: “I would have, but I couldn’t recognize you.”
In Western society, superficial beauty is highly-prized. However, in Jewish culture, the value of beauty in and of itself is not in sync with our values and priorities. As quoted in the Proverbs of Shlomo HaMelech, which we recite in “Eshes Chayil” every Friday night: “Sheker hachein vehevel hayofi. Isha yiras Hashem he tishalel.” We can certainly find the concept of beauty in the mitzvos of Sukkos.
This week, Jews all over the world will be joyously celebrating Sukkos by following the command to take a “pri etz hadar,” i.e. esrog. We are all aware that there are thousands of varieties of citrus fruits in the world. How do we know that pri etz hadar, a beautiful citrus fruit, actually refers to the esrog? The word “hadar” means beautiful and “dar” means to dwell. An esrog is the citrus fruit that continuously dwells all year round, as opposed to the others, which are seasonal. The Jewish definition of beauty does not necessarily represent the superficial or solely aesthetic. It views beauty as the ability to endure.
Another place we find the word hadar is in the command “Vehadarta p’nei zikenim,” to honor the beautiful faces of the elderly. Despite their weathered and wrinkled skin, the beauty of the aged is in their wisdom, strength, and determination to persevere and continuously serve Hashem despite the difficult times.
Sukkos personifies our transient existence in this world, and thus we are commanded to reside in huts for the duration of the Yom Tov. However, at the same time, we affirm the eternity of B’nei Yisroel by taking hold of an esrog, which represents the beauty of eternal continuity. The esrog is a beautiful fruit because of its endurance despite any weather condition. It is a fruit that blossoms and can withstand all the harsh elements, including heat, cold, and stormy winds. These contrasting concepts seem to establish our viewpoint on beauty, which is the triumph to continue and carry on despite our daily challenges and struggles.
Wishing everyone a beautiful Sukkos and Chag Sameach!
Risselle Naimark is a Professional Freelance Makeup Artist and Skincare Consultant. She carries an extensive line of personalized skincare, cosmetics, and anti-aging products. Risselle is also available for weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, makeup lessons, and all of your beauty needs. She can be reached at 718 263-5517.