We all love beauty. But what makes something or someone beautiful?
The Jewish idea of beauty is defined by how beautiful somebody is inside. A kind and good person is beautiful -- whatever he looks like on the outside.
The Greek idea of beauty was different.
During the time of the first Chanukah, many years ago, the powerful Greek Empire came to conquer the Jewish people. They tried to make us forget about the Torah and what was really beautiful.
To them, all that counted was looks. They didn't care how a person acted -- whether he was mean or cruel -- as long as he looked good.
It was a hard idea to resist, but in the end, the Jewish people weren't fooled.
God made great miracles and we were able to remain true to the Torah and continue to teach the world the genuine value of beauty.
In our story, a girl comes to realize the lesson of Chanukah -- that inner beauty is what's really important.
"The Beauty Contest"
It was winter vacation, and big snowflakes were floating calmly outside and beginning to cover the ground with a silky white blanket.
Inside the Goldberg house, Dassi was restless. "Mom, I'm bored," she declared. The comment seemed to be half a plea for a suggestion of what to do, and half a statement of fact.
Mrs. Goldberg looked at her daughter, then scanned around the room noticing about a half a dozen things that still needed to be done to get the house ready for the Chanukah party they were hosting that evening. "Well I know you've done a lot of chores already today, but if you're really bored you could always help me with the laundry."
Dassi let the comment fly by. She took a deep breath and let out an exasperated sigh, "I mean I want to play with somebody!"
Her mom smiled. "If that's it, why not call one of your friends. They're welcome to come over. I'll even let you bake the cookies for tonight's party," she added.
"But the problem is," explained Dassi, "that nobody's around. Ruth's on vacation with her family, Judy's out babysitting. There's just nobody around."
"Hmm, I see," nodded her mom, while folding clothes from the wicker laundry basket. Suddenly, then she stopped with a smile. "Wait a minute," she said, "you're in luck! Mrs. Berman mentioned to me earlier today that her Malkie is also home with nothing to do. How about giving her a call and inviting her over?"
Dassi was silent.
"Well?" prompted her mother.
"I don't like to play with Malkie anymore," Dassi mumbled.
"How come? Did you get into a fight?" asked her mom, concerned.
"No, nothing like that. It's just, you know, the way she looks ... she wears a brace on her leg, and she's ... ah ... you know, really fat."
Mrs. Goldberg stopped folding laundry. She looked at her daughter with a surprised expression. "I see," she said. "Tell me -- forgetting about how she looks, do you get along with Malkie?"
"Sure Mom," said Dassi. "she's really nice, and funny too."
"Do you remember when you had the flu last year?" asked Mrs. Goldberg.
Dassi smiled, "Yeah, Malkie came to visit me every day and brought me my homework assignments. It really cheered me up."
"Now, Dassi," said her mom. "Think about what you've just said. Malkie's a nice kid that you like to be around, but you refuse to play with her just because of the way she looks. Does that make sense to you?"
"No, I guess it really doesn't," Dassi admitted. "But some of the girls in our class wouldn't let Malkie into their club because they said she was ugly-looking..."
"Well, Dassi," said her mom. "I'll leave you alone for a little while and let you think about what really makes a person beautiful."
With that, Mrs. Goldberg carried out the neatly folded piles of clothing upstairs. A few minutes later, when she came back down, she saw Dassi hanging up the phone. With a glowing look, the girl looked up at her mom and said, "Malkie's coming over in 20 minutes! Can we get the cookie ingredients ready?"
As they headed toward the kitchen, they stopped to glance out the living room window. "Isn't the snow beautiful," mused Dassi. "I love it when it snows on Chanukah."
Her mom smiled. "It sure is. And what's even more beautiful is my beautiful daughter, and the beautiful decision she just made."
Q. How did Dassi feel when her mom suggested that she play with Malkie?
A. She felt that even though she liked Malkie, she didn't want to play with her anymore because she looked different and some of the other girls criticized her appearance.
Q. Is it right to look down on others because of the way they look? Why or why not?
A. It's wrong to look down on other people and judge them by their looks. Everyone was created by God and everyone is beautiful in His eyes. What should count most to us is how nice people are on the inside.
Q. What are some qualities that would determine a person's inner beauty?
A. One sign of inner beauty is treating others well -- being generous, kind and caring, rather than self-centered. Another beautiful trait is a sense of always wanting to do the right thing in each situation, even when the right thing isn't always the easiest or most convenient. If we really open our eyes, we can see a person's inner beauty shining through.
Q. Which type of beauty is more valuable in the long run -- external physical beauty or internal spiritual beauty? Why?
A. Physical beauty goes away with time. The natural aging process is sure to make this outer beauty fade away. Even the most famous models or movie stars eventually lose their looks. But the inner beauty of character can stay with a person all his or her life.
Ages 10 and up
Q. Why do you think God created some people who are more physically attractive than others?
A. We can better understand this when we remember that the reason we are put into the world is to grow into more spiritually oriented people. Virtually all of life's circumstances are tests or challenges to help train us in that direction. For the person that God blessed with physical beauty, the test might be to remain humble and down-to-earth despite his or her good looks. A beautiful person should try to remember that external beauty is a gift from God and not a reason to feel superior. Alternatively, someone whom society considers ugly has to learn that one's self-worth isn't dependent on looks alone and that everyone is created in the "image of God." Those of us in the "middle" have the test of realizing that it is the inner beauty or goodness of others that we should value.
Q. The Torah teaches us to "not follow after your heart and your eyes which will lead you astray." How can we understand this teaching? What then should we "follow after"?
A. Life abounds with things that are visually and emotionally appealing yet that are really quite harmful to our well being. Our eyes (and other senses) and our hearts (our emotions) can easily fool us. This is why it is wise to depend on the mind -- rather than on the eyes or heart. The mind is a calm and cool judge that can help us decide whether something is truly worthy of "following after" or not. It is also the intellect which often allows us to perceive someone's inner beauty, which the heart and eyes are likely to miss.