As I mentioned in last week’s letter about the war, the Torah is “a tree of life” (Proverbs 3:18). And I added:
According to all our prophets, it is this “tree of life” which enables us to ultimately defeat the messengers of death.
In the spirit of this prophetic message, we shall continue our Torah discussion:
The “Crown of Beauty”:
One of the beautiful words for “beauty” in ancient Hebrew is tiferes. According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, tiferes refers to a distinctive and distinguished beauty which shines forth (commentary on Exodus 28:2).
We find within our Sacred Scriptures the term ateres tiferes – a crown of beauty. An example of this term appears in the following prophecy of Isaiah regarding Zion and her people:
“For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be still, until her righteousness emanates like bright light, and her salvation blazes like a torch. Nations will perceive your righteousness and all the kings your honor…Then you will be a crown of beauty in the hand of Hashem and a royal diadem in the palm of your God.” (Isaiah 62:1-3)
In the above prophecy, the Prophet Isaiah is conveying the following message:
We will become a “crown of beauty” when the righteousness of Zion will emanate like bright light to all the nations.
The prophecy does not state that we will become a crown of beauty when the art or architecture of Jerusalem will become known among the nations; the prophecy states that we will become a crown of beauty when the “righteousness” of Zion will become known among the nations. This prophecy therefore indicates that the art of living righteously is the true beauty of the People of Zion.
In order to understand the deeper meaning of this true beauty, we need to understand the deeper meaning of the Hebrew word for “righteousness” which appears in the above prophecy. The Hebrew word is tzedek – a word which connotes both righteousness and justice. A related word which is derived from tzedek is tzedakah – a word which often refers to the sharing of our resources with those in need. Rabbi Hirsch, in his explanation of the deeper meaning of tzedek, writes:
“Through the attribute of tzedek, every creature will have the benefit of the conditions intended for it by Divine design. Tzedek is the goal of God’s direction of the world. From the human being’s point of view, tzedek is the ideal. Any Divine or human act that brings the individual or community nearer to this goal is tzedakah.” (Commentary on Genesis 15:6)
Another word which is derived from tzedek is tzadik – a righteous person. In his explanation of this word, Rabbi Hirsch writes: “A tzadik is one who gives everyone and everything their due” (commentary on Genesis 6:9).
Tzadikimare those who give everyone and everything their due. The term “everyone” includes themselves; thus, these tzadikim fulfill the following mitzvah: “And you shall take great care for your souls” (Deuteronomy 4:15). According to our tradition, this is a Divine mandate to protect ourselves both physically and spiritually (commentary of He’Emek Davar). In order to be truly beautiful, we must not only act with tzedek to others; we must also act with tzedek to ourselves, for we too are part of the Divine creation. When our tzedek includes both others and ourselves, we can become a “crown of beauty in the hand of Hashem.”
How can we develop a life of tzedek and thereby merit this crown of beauty? We attain a life of tzedek through the Torah’s path of mitzvos, and a reference to this idea appears in the following prayer of King David to Hashem:
“My tongue shall proclaim Your word, for all Your mitzvos are tzedek.” (Psalm 119:172)
King David reveals that the Torah is the path of tzedek. King Solomon, the son of David, reveals that the Torah will help us attain the crown of beauty. He begins his discussion by proclaiming the following message from Hashem: “For I have given you a good Teaching. Do not forsake My Torah” (Proverbs 4:2). He then urges us to fulfill the “mitzvos” of the Torah (4:4), and to acquire the “wisdom” and “understanding” of the Torah (4:5); moreover, he adds:
“Search for it and it will uplift you. It will honor you when you embrace it. It will set an adornment of grace upon your head; it will bestow a crown of beauty upon you.” (4:8,9)
The above teachings can inspire us to study and fulfill the Torah in the Land of Zion. We will then experience the fulfillment of Isaiah’s special promise to the People of Zion:
“Then you will be a crown of beauty in the hand of Hashem and a royal diadem in the palm of your God.” (Isaiah 62:3)
With yearning for true beauty and true shalom,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
1. Ashekenazic Jews often refer to a tzadik among our people as, a sheyna Yid – a Yiddish expression which means, “a beautiful Jew.”
2. There is a poetic passage in the Book of Ezekiel where Hashem describes His great love for us when He took us out of Egypt and brought us to Mount Sinai. Within this message, Hashem states that He placed a “crown of beauty” upon us (Ezekiel 16:12). The commentator, Metudas David, explains that this “crown of beauty” refers to the “mitzvos, statutes, and social laws” which we received at Mount Sinai.