Beauty – Spiritual or Physical?

My husband had the distinguished privilege of meeting you at Chris LoCurto’s Next Level Leadership Event. While he was there he asked you a question on my behalf and I would like to expand on my question. Is beauty Physical or Spiritual?

I ask because there are many times we see people and think they are very beautiful or lovely to look at, but then you get to know a little about them and watch how they behave. Suddenly they become quite unattractive – or they become even more beautiful.

So where is the breakdown of how the aesthetically pleasing part of beauty and the deep spiritual connection of beauty come together or apart?

I appreciate your time and consideration of my question. I love all of your insights into life and how I apply the truths of the bible to everyday life. It means so much to me and my family. Thank you for your time.

Elana E.

Dear Elana,

I (RDL) enjoy speaking for Chris LoCurto’s events because I always meet very high-quality people there.

Haven’t we all had the experience you are describing? We meet someone and as much as we may chide ourselves for being superficial, we instinctively evaluate his or her physical appearance. While most people fit into what we might call a “middle-of-the road” category, sometimes someone’s looks strike us as exceptionally attractive or, as you say, exceptionally unattractive. Yet, once we get to know the person, our views on their character actually changes the way we view their looks.

In our book, Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language, we tell the following story as we explain why the Hebrew word for face – PaNiM – is a plural word. Even when you are talking about one face, you literally say ‘faces’ in Hebrew.

One day, an advisor to President Abraham Lincoln brought to the White House a man whom he thought Lincoln should appoint as a cabinet secretary. The President met with the man and interviewed him. After the guest left the White House, Lincoln called his advisor into the Oval Office and said, “This man won’t do for the job.”
“Why not?” the advisor asked.
“I don’t like his face.”
“B-b-but…”stammered the advisor,“ that’s unfair! A man can’t help what his face looks like.”
“You’re right,”the President replied,“up to age forty, he can’t. After age forty, his face is him.”

While Oscar Wilde’s book, The Picture of Dorian Gray, was published a few decades after the president’s assassination, we think that President Lincoln would have valued the book as we do. In it, the sybaritic, immoral, and increasingly evil Dorian Gray makes a deal that he will remain young and beautiful while a painting of him kept in the attic reveals the ravages of his soul. That book is fiction. We think that President Lincoln would have agreed that in many cases one’s character leaves an effect on one’s face even before the age of forty.

When we first meet people, all we have to measure them by is their physical appearance. As we get to know them, that criterion increasingly becomes smaller as we get to know their actions, words, character and more. Just as a tattered prayer book that belonged to our grandmother is more beautiful in our eyes than a newer one just off the printing press, the people we know become more beautiful as our souls connect. Sadly, sometimes the opposite is true. Perhaps we were attracted at first to what we thought was a lovely home. If while looking through the home we see items that suggest that the home was one of immorality or profaneness, we don’t only feel an emotional revulsion but we also now see the home’s physical flaws magnified. It no longer looks appealing to us.

Elana, we human beings are both spiritual and physical beings. These two parts of ourselves are intertwined and inseparable.

Enjoy beauty,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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