Sunday, February 26, 2012

Beauty ii: Beauty and the body

The human body was created as a reflection of the ten divine attributes termed Sefirot. This is the deeper meaning of the biblical verse, “Let us make Adam in our image and after our likeness.”[1] The commentators grapple with the verse’s usage of the plural in reference to G–d. The mystical explanation is that G–d was speaking to the Sefirot, the divine attributes, and instructing them to create Adam in their likeness.[2] What this implies concerning the body is that every body part parallels a particular divine quality. The precise correspondence between the Sefirot and various body parts is shown in the diagram below.[3]

Based on this correspondence we discover that the torso is associated with the Sefirah of Beauty (Tiferet), for the torso is located in the centre of the body, and thus grants it symmetry and balance.  Furthermore, the torso unites all the body parts, for the head, arms, and legs all extend from it.[4] The torso enables the head to send instructions to the legs, and it enables the right and left arms or legs to unite, so that a person can walk or engage in various activities that require both hands. The torso connects the higher with the lower, and the right with the left. This conforms to the concept that beauty is the product of the blending and harmonization of diverse qualities.[5]
Kabbalah ascribes beauty to other body parts as well. The first is the mouth, which (as the diagram shows) is identified with the quality of sovereignty (Malchut), the lowest Sefirah.[6] The mouth performs the task of speech, the most complex form of human communication. Speech is a remarkable faculty, for it combines diverse sounds and vibrations. In order to utter even one word the mouth must combine many distinct sounds and blend them into a whole.[7]

The mouth also possesses another unique (though related) quality. On its own, i.e., without the higher forces of intellect or emotion pouring into it, the mouth is silent and empty, for[8] it can only communicate a concept or an emotion. Paradoxically, this emptiness is its virtue, for it is then receptive to receiving influence from any of the higher qualities.[9]


                                                                                        Keter (crown)

 Left hemisphere of brain                         Right hemisphere of brain
                                                  Binah (understanding)                            Chochmah(creativity)                                 

                                                          Left arm                                                         Right arm         
                                                 Gevurah (Judgement)                                   Chessed (kindness)

                                                                                      Tiferes (beauty)

                                                            Left leg                                                  Right leg
                                                Hod (splendour)                                            Netzach (victory)

Reproductive organ
                                                                                    Yesod (foundation)

                                                                                  Malchut (sovereignty)

When speech draws from the higher intellectual faculties of Chochmah and Binah it can express abstract and intricate concepts; when it draws from the lower Sefirot of Chessed or Gevurah it can express emotions of kindness and strictness, respectively. Thus, the mouth can draw from the higher or lower Sefirot and from the right or the left.[10] The mouth is a repository for all the  spiritual energies that comprise the human spirit, combining them together in an unlimited number of ways. This combination is the hallmark of beauty.

Another body part associated with beauty is the reproductive organ.[11] The Talmud teaches that a person is not considered complete [12] until he marries. One reason is that until then the potential for procreation remains latent. A person may be whole in every other respect, possessing all limbs, organs, and faculties, but without a spouse his or her reproductive faculty finds no expression, and he is incomplete. Marriage enables the expression of this faculty, thereby bringing completeness to the person.
How is this related to beauty? One of the characteristics of beauty is a sense of wholeness. The absence of a piece of an object evokes a certain sense of frustration and repulsion in the observer. Similarly, the inability to reproduce  constitutes a certain incompleteness, and marriage brings completeness and thus beauty.

Another explanation for this incompleteness is that a complete person is a male-female composite, as the verse states, “He created them male and female ... and He called their name Adam.”[13] This implies that only when male and female unite are they termed Adam—a true person.[14] The Kabbalah states explicitly that prior to marriage a person is only “half a body.”[15] It follows that a single person is only half a vessel and incomplete, lacking aesthetic appeal. Marriage makes the vessel whole and thus beautiful.[16] Since the genitals cause this state of completeness, they are associated with beauty.
Reproduction also expresses beauty as it produces an entirely new person, body and soul. Time constraints aside, there is no inherent limit to the number of children one can bear.[17] One can theoretically produce myriads of offspring, each with a distinct appearance and character. This combination of novelty and diversity that the reproductive organ produces identifies it with beauty. The connection between beauty and diversity is expressed in the aphorism, “a multitude of people is a king’s glory.”[18]

A third explanation is based on the concept mentioned that beauty consists of the harmonious blending of different elements. In reproduction the genetic codes of the father and mother are merged such that often the contributions of both parents are distinctly noticeable, yet the contributions of both parents have seamlessly fused into a new whole. Here too the reproductive organ is associated with beauty, for it enables this blending process to occur.

Yet another body part identified with beauty is the nose.[19] Situated in the centre, it provides the face with symmetry and balance. Furthermore, the nose is the main organ involved in respiration. Although we breathe through the mouth as well, the mouth serves functions other than respiration, such as eating and talking. The nose, in contrast, is involved primarily in respiration.
Respiration is the principal means through which the soul remains connected to the body.[20] After several minutes without breathing, the soul departs the body. The soul is considered the infinite, expansive aspect of a person, and the body the finite and constricting. The soul is associated with the expansive Sefirah of Chessed and the body with the limiting Sefirah of Gevurah.[21] Breathing, which maintains the body and soul connection, thus harmonizes the opposing qualities of Chessed and Gevurah. This is precisely the nature of Tiferet, beauty.           

[1] Genesis, 1:26.
[2] Zohar, 1:34b; Sh’nei Luchos Habris, ch. Beis Yisrael, sec. 12-14. Tomer Devorah, ch. 1.
[3] Tikkunei Zohar, intro II
[4] Pardes Rimonim, Sha’ar HaKinuyim, sec. guf.
[5] See Tefillos Mikol Hashono, 103b.
[6] Admur Ho’Emtzo’i, Biurei HaZohar, 29b-30a.
[7] Derech Mitvosecho, pp. 249-252.
[8] “The moon (Malchus—speech) has no light of its own.” (Zohar, 1:249b.)
[9] Tefillos Mikol Hashonah, 14b-15a.
[10] Admur Ho’Emtzo’i, Biurei HaZohar, 68a.
[11] Zohar, 2:186b.
[12] Talmud, Yevamos, 63a.
[13] Genesis, 5:2.
[14] See also Maharal, Tiferes Yisrael, ch. 36.
[15] Zohar, 3:7b, 109b, 296a.
[16] Sichos Kodesh 5714, Tazria and Ki Setzei.
[17] Tiferes Yisrael, ch. 16.
[18] Proverbs, 14:28 (The Hebrew word for glory in this verse, hadras, is one of the synonyms for beauty.)
[19] Talmud, Bechoros, 7:3.
[20] “And He blew into his nostrils a soul of life.” (Genesis 2:7)
[21] Derech Mitzvosecho, pp. 10-11.

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