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    The opening
    verse of Parashat Hayeh-Sara
    tells us that our
    matriarch Sara
    lived for “one
    hundred years,
    twenty years, and seven years.” This is
    an unusual way of telling us how long
    Sara lived, as rather than simply stating
    that Sara’s life spanned 127 years, the
    Torah speaks of three different units of
    time – one hundred years, twenty years,
    and seven years.
    Rashi explains that the Torah presents
    the number this way to allude to the fact
    that Sara’s life was consistent. She was
    free of sin at 100 years old just as she
    was when she was 20, Rashi writes, and
    she was as beautiful at 20 as she was
    when she was 7.
    Many later commentators noted the difficulty in the second segment of Rashi’s
    comment, where he writes that Sara’s
    beauty at age 20 equaled her beauty at
    age 7. The implication of this remark is
    that normally, a twenty-year-old woman
    is less beautiful than a seven-year-old
    girl, and Sara was unique in featuring
    the same beauty at age 20 that she had
    at age 7. Of course, we normally think
    of twenty-year-old women as being
    far more beautiful than seven-year-old
    girls. Why, then, does Rashi imply that
    a girl is usually more beautiful at age 7
    than at age 20?
    The answer, apparently, is that Rashi
    refers here not to the beauty pf physical appearance, but rather to the beauty
    of innocence. Twenty-year-olds are far
    more prone to paying an inordinate
    amount of attention to their appearance
    than seven-year-olds are. Unlike many
    twenty-year-olds, seven -year-old girls
    do not generally spend a long time in
    front of the mirror before leaving the
    house, and do not fuss over their clothes.
    They can enjoy life without feeling pressured about their physical appearance,
    without the vain obsession over their
    looks. Rashi here is telling us that although Sara was an exceedingly beautiful woman, as the Torah itself mentions,
    nevertheless, she was not vain. She was
    not preoccupied with her looks. Even at
    age 20, the age when women tend to pay
    a great deal of attention to their appearance, she had the beautiful innocence
    of a seven-year-old, and was not overly
    preoccupied with her looks.
    This insight is especially relevant today,
    when, unfortunately, many even within
    our religious communities are preoccupied with vanity. Too many young
    women feel undue pressure to appear
    beautiful, and oftentimes, it is their parents who apply this pressure. The Torah
    does not frown upon beauty – indeed,
    Sara, Ribka and Rahel are all described
    as having been very beautiful – and it is
    certainly important to look presentable.
    However, there is a huge difference between ensuring to look presentable and
    preoccupation with one’s looks. The
    bulk of our attention should
    be focused on our inner
    selves, not our outer appearance. What we are inside is
    infinitely more important
    than the way we look outside. We need to redirect our
    priorities away from vanity
    and towards the truly significant areas of life.
    It is no secret that vanity
    poses serious dangers. Girls
    and women who feel inordinate pressure to have the perfect appearance develop low
    self-esteem and insecurity as
    they helplessly compete against other
    girls and women. And tragically, many
    develop very dangerous eating disorders
    in their frantic attempt to look good. We
    must be extremely careful in the way we
    speak and think about physical appearance, and see to it that physical beauty
    is never given higher priority than the
    beauty of character. As with most things
    in life, we need to apply common sense
    and moderation, ensuring to look respectable as befitting Torah Jews, without paying excessive attention to external beauty.