Caring About Appearances
Vayeshev (Genesis 37-40 )
While it's fine to care about how we look, we shouldn't get carried away. In this week's Torah portion we learn how Joseph, who grew up to be one of our greatest leaders, spent too much time when he was young making sure he looked handsome (39:6-Rashi). The lesson for us is not to let our looks become so important to us that it brings us down.
In our story, a kid discovers that caring too much about looks has a price.
A SECOND LOOK
"Come on. If you spend the whole day in front of the mirror, how are we ever going to get to the party?" Sue teased, as she watched her sister Amy do and undo her hairstyle for what seemed like the hundredth time.
"Look, is it my fault if I wasn't born with perfect hair like you that falls instantly into place with the slightest flick of the comb?" the girl answered.
Sue laughed. "It isn't so perfect. I just call it good enough if it's neat, instead of letting it make me nuts; that's all."
"Well, that's your choice. Mine is to look my absolute best, always," Amy sniffed. "Anyway, I'm ready, so let's go." With that, the girls began walking and chatting excitedly on their way to their friend Paula's house for the gala outdoor birthday party that everyone had been talking about and looking forward to all week.
"...so then the other kid decided to... Hey, where did you go?" Sue asked, surprised to notice that Amy was no longer at her side. She turned back and saw her sister had stopped on the sidewalk and was bent over, frantically rubbing her foot.
"Did you trip? Are you okay?" she asked. Amy looked up with a serious look on her face. "I'm fine. It's my shoe that's not. I noticed a spot I forgot to polish, so I'm just touching it up now. I knew I should have worn my suede pair," she added tensely.
"How did you even notice that?" Sue laughed, shaking her head. The only time I look at my shoes is when I'm putting them on." Amy just huffed.
Finally they got to the party. It really was as nice as they had hoped. Tables of fancy pastries were set up in Paula's spacious back yard. Some of the kids were standing and talking by the pretty fish pond, others were playing croquet. It was a nice, sunny day, with just a few grayish clouds along the horizon.
"Did you try the walnut torte, yet? It's scrumptious," Sue asked.
"I actually haven't had a chance to try anything yet," Amy frowned as she glanced edgily into a pocket mirror she was carrying. Why didn't you tell me my necklace didn't match my hair-clip?"
"Because I didn't notice and neither will anyone else. Why don't you just relax and enjoy the party?"
"I am enjoying the party," Amy answered defensively. "I just want to look right, that's all."
"You look fine. But don't try to tell me you're enjoying yourself. You haven't eaten anything, talked with anybody or even smiled since we got here. All you've been doing is fixing your hair, straightening your clothes and comparing your outfit to everyone else's."
"Listen, Sue. Just because you...Hey, what was that?" the girl gazed at the drop of water that had settled on her hand. The two of them looked up at the sky just in time to get soaked. The clouds had moved in so fast, that the rain had caught the whole party by surprise.
Amidst shrieking and laughter, the host and guests quickly moved everything over to Paula's covered patio.
"Whew! That was exciting, huh? Except for a few soggy eclairs we saved the party just in time," Sue smiled.
"What do you mean 'saved'?" Amy moaned. "It's a disaster! I'm soaked. My hair looks like a wrung-out mop. My shoes are muddy and my outfit is a soggy mess!"
"But so is mine and everybody else's! Why, look at Paula. She'd looked so elegant before, now she looks like she's been spinning around in a washing machine... Hey, look. Some kids started up a volleyball game at the end of the patio. Looks like fun, let's go and join them."
"No way!" Amy protested "I'll end up messing up my hair and..."
"Ahem ... Amy," Sue gave her sister a sly smile. "In case you've forgotten, it's a little too late to worry about that."
The girls both had a big laugh as they went to join the game. Amy, who for once wasn't uptight about her looks, had the best time she could remember. Could it be that she'd been really missing out on something by spending so much time and energy on her looks? Maybe she was never going to become as casual about it as her sister was, she thought, but perhaps from now on she'd try to pay her looks a little less attention.
Q.Q. How did Amy feel at first about looks?
A. She felt it was the most important thing to always look perfect.
Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She felt that thinking so much about her looks didn't make her happy.
Q. What life-lesson do you think Amy learned that day?
A. She'd been so concerned about looking 'just right' that she hadn't been able to enjoy, or even pay much attention to, the other things going on around her. Once she stopped thinking so much about her looks, after getting soaked from the rain, she found she felt much more relaxed and happy.
Q. How much attention should a person pay to his looks?
A. It is a positive value to look neat and presentable. However, we shouldn't become so concerned about our looks that it overtakes more important parts of our lives.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. What would you consider to be the main part of a person: his body or his soul? How does the answer to this question affect a person's outlook and lifestyle?
A. While both body and soul are important and we need both to live, our soul - not our body - is our main essence. It is the soul that lives forever and the body is just a 'garment' for the soul and a tool to help it live its temporary life on Earth. Once we realize that, while we will still take care of our bodies and their needs within reason, our main focus will be to take care of our souls by living a life devoted to wisdom and good deeds.
Q. Why do you think Amy enjoyed herself so much in the end?
A. Being so concerned with one's looks is a very big stress and it can lead to negative traits such as envy and conceit on the one hand, and low self esteem on the other. For a brief moment, Amy was able to let go of the pressure and simply enjoy the moment. That felt great.