You Are So Ugly!

Shalom aleichem!

In my job as a campus Shliach, I am thankful to have many opportunities to study Torah with different people. The topics are vast, and it never disappoints. I would like to share with you three things I learned this week, and the possible connection between them.

The Talmud (Taanis 7a) recounts the following story (translation based on the Koren Talmud):The daughter of the Roman emperor said to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya: “Woe to glorious wisdom [such as yours, which is contained] in an ugly vessel.” In other words, “You are so ugly!”

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya said to her: “Does your father keep his wine in simple clay vessels?”

The emperor’s daughter said to him: “Rather, in what, then, should he keep it?”

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya said: “You, who are so important, should put it in vessels of gold and silver.”

The emperor’s daughter went and said this to her father. He put the wine in vessels of gold and silver and it turned sour. When his advisors came and told the emperor that the wine had turned sour, he said to his daughter: “Who told you to do this?”

His daughter responded: “Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya.” The emperor summoned him and said to him: “Why did you say this to her?”

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya said to him: “Just as she said to me, so I said to her [to demonstrate to her that fine material is best preserved in the least of vessels].”

The emperor said to him: “But there are handsome people who are learned.”

Rabbi Yehoshua replied: “Had they been ugly, they would have been even more learned.”

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On a weekly basis, I study with QC Prof. Adam Kapelner. Our text is the Mishneh Torah by Maimonides, and we are currently studying the Laws of Torah Study.

In the third chapter, Maimonides writes, “the words of Torah will not be found in the arrogant or in the hearts of any of the haughty, but rather in the humble and lowly, who sit in the dust at the feet of the Sages and remove the desires and pleasures of the times from their hearts.”

Last night, in learning with some alumni and friends, we encountered the passage (Talmud Berachot 40a): “An empty vessel holds [that which is placed within it, while] a full vessel does not hold it.” When one is full of themselves, thinking they know everything, they cannot receive new knowledge. Specifically by being “empty,” that is, by being humble, one will grow immeasurably, gaining new knowledge and experiences.

Shabbat Shalom,