I will bring a few sources to make the point…

On the one hand, supporting ugly, we have the Gemara (Nedarim 50b)

The Emperor's daughter said to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya: ‘Such beautiful wisdom in an ugly vessel!’ [referring to his appearance]. He replied ‘Learn from your father's palace. In what is the wine stored?’ ‘In earthenware jars.’ she answered. ‘The whole world uses earthenware vessels! And you – the Royal family – also use earthenware vessels!? You should store it in vessels of silver and gold’ So she went and had the wine replaced in vessels of gold and silver, and it turned sour. He said “the Torah is just the same. It is best preserved in me because I am ugly." "But there are handsome men who are learned!" she protested. "If they were ugly," Rabbi Yehoshua replied, "they would be even more learned."

and Mishlei 31:30

beauty is vain (hevel hayofi)

On the other hand, supporting beautiful, we have Bereishit 10:11, Bereishit 29:17, Bereishit 39:6 stating the beauty of Sarai, Rachel, and Yosef respectively.

Also the Talmud (Brachot 20a, Bava Metzia 84a) describes the beauty of Rabbi Yochanan in a good light.

Which is better for ones spiritual development and/or connection with Hashem?

  • 1
    There is beauty and there is chein.
    – sam
    Jun 13, 2014 at 0:20
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    – msh210
    Jun 15, 2014 at 5:51
  • I think the simple answer is this. It says one should eat bred and salt and drink only water etc. This is only until you come to the madrega. Once you are on it then things change. You have to be 'maale' the gashmiyus. The same here to get to the madrega you are better ugly. But once you are there you are better off with beauty.
    – preferred
    Jun 15, 2014 at 16:21

1 Answer 1


The Vilna Gaon in Kol Eliyahu , I believe, asks a similar question. on the verse "beauty Is vain" he asks if beauty is worthless as Is implied by the verse why then does the Torah speak of Sarah's and Rachel's beauty in a positive tone?

He explains that when outer physical beauty exists in a vacuum and is not consistent with the person's inner personality then it is like Proverbs' " golden ring in a pig's nose" and not beautiful. However, when the outer beauty is consistent with and truly represents the inner beauty of a refined individual then, and only then , is the external beauty worthy of praise.

The Gra then explains that the verse of "beauty is vain , a woman who fears God is praiseworthy" means that beauty in of itself is only vanity but in a woman who fears God it i.e., the beauty itself, is praiseworthy.

  • Does that explain R' Yehoshua about ugly people knowing more Torah? Jun 13, 2014 at 3:01
  • @YEZ As far as the story with Rabbi Yehoshuah, that was a response to an improper and rude question and was a response in kind. (I think I saw that in a sefer by Rav Chaim Kanievsky.)
    – Gadol
    Jun 13, 2014 at 3:17
  • @Gadol That is certainly not the normative interpretation of that response. I have seen several others explaining why his ugliness was indeed an advantage. Jun 13, 2014 at 4:06
  • If i remember correctly the ksav sofer in his pirush on the torah asks this question when the torah describes Rivka's beauty. His answer was that under normal circumstances people use their beauty for hevel and the like. But when someine overcomes that natural inclination and acts wonderfully as Rifka, than she is truly deserving of praise.
    – user6591
    Jun 13, 2014 at 14:30
  • 1
    The last paragraph is one of the most beautiful explanations of that verse that I have read. B"N, I shall relay this to my ezer k'negdo.
    – DanF
    Jun 13, 2019 at 15:11

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