Friday, April 19, 2013

Kedoshim: the glory of a face is its beard

In the middle of Kedoshim, we encounter the pasuk of Mipnei Seiva Takum:
I merited to fulfill this mitzvah today. Though my foot is hurting from standing and walking too much, I gave up my subway seat to an elderly Chinese woman.
The translation of this pasuk is:
לב  מִפְּנֵי שֵׂיבָה תָּקוּם, וְהָדַרְתָּ פְּנֵי זָקֵן; וְיָרֵאתָ מֵּאֱלֹהֶיךָ, אֲנִי ה.  {ס}
32 Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and thou shalt fear thy God: I am the LORD. {S}
Focusing on וְהָדַרְתָּ פְּנֵי זָקֵן, I’d like to point out that it is a probable source for the famous statement of הדרת פנים זקן, hadras panim zakan, that the glory of the face is a beard. It is a derasha of revocalization.
How seriously should we take this? Not very, for two reasons.
First, it was used as an attack between a “baldy” and a eunuch trading insults, namely between Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha and a heretic. People sometimes say extreme statements when trying to insult one another, but in the real world in which people live, we don’t take those extreme statements seriously.
א"ל ההוא גוזאה לר' יהושע בן קרחה מהכא לקרחינא כמה הוי א"ל כמהכא לגוזניא א"ל צדוקי ברחא קרחא בארבעה אמר ליה עיקרא שליפא בתמניא חזייה דלא סיים מסאניה א"ל דעל סוס מלך דעל חמור בן חורין ודמנעלי בריגלוהי בר איניש דלא הא ולא הא דחפיר וקביר טב מיניה א"ל גוזא גוזא תלת אמרת לי תלת שמעת הדרת פנים זקן שמחת לב אשה (תהלים קכז, ג) נחלת ה' בנים ברוך המקום שמנעך מכולם א"ל קרחא מצויינא אמר ליה עיקרא שליפא תוכחה
Or, in English:
A certain eunuch [gawzaah] said to R. Joshua b. Karhah [Baldhead]: 'How far is it from here to Karhina [Baldtown]? 'As far as from here to Gawzania [Eunuchtown],' he replied.15  Said the Sadducee to him, 'A bald buck is worth four denarii.' 'A goat, if castrated, is worth eight,' he retorted. Now, he [the Sadducee] saw that he [R. Joshua] was not wearing shoes, [whereupon] he remarked, 'He [who rides] on a horse is a king, upon an ass, is a free man, and he who has shoes on his feet is a human being; but he who has none of these, one who is dead16  and buried is better off.' 'O eunuch, O eunuch,' he retorted, 'you have enumerated three things to me, [and now] you will hear three things: the glory of a face is its beard; the rejoicing of one's heart is a wife; the heritage of the Lord is children;17  blessed be the Omnipresent, Who has denied you all these!' 'O quarrelsome baldhead,' he jeered at him. 'A castrated buck and [you will] reprove!'18  he retorted.
The three things Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha listed were things which a eunuch cannot have. Presumably the lack of testosterone means no beard growth.
While we say here that the glory of the face is the beard, when learning through Yerushalmi, I found a parallel statement. Unfortunately, I can’t find it at the moment to pinpoint its location.
But the statement in Yerushalmi is that the male pattern baldness is similarly a glory and crown for the head:
Yet we don’t see people hoping nowadays to look like Vezzini, or writing books blasting those who have a full head of hair. (This is also caused by testosterone, I think.)
Look at the Sifra on this pasuk, and the meforshim on this pasuk, where the question is whether this honor applies to every old person, or just to Torah scholars who are referred to as elders. There are opinions both ways.
There is a danger of focusing purely on externalities, though one must admit that not having a beard is usually (in the case of non-eunuchs) a matter of choice.
There is also this wonderful quote / epigram from  Joseph Solomon Delmedigo:
if men are judged wise by their beards and their girth, then goats were the wisest of creatures on earth[19]

This is what he looked like:

1 comment:

isaacson said...

I'm not sure why the context makes the statement any less true. For instance does that mean that, "the rejoicing of one's heart is a wife; the heritage of the Lord is children" is by necessity false or hyperbole?


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