Inside/Outside by Lauren Shaps
Hey to the Chevra,
Each of us is an interesting combination of internal and external. We all know people who are beautiful on the outside, but full of anger and bitterness. Then, there are people whose allure comes entirely from within. We are drawn to people like that, even though they are far from physically attractive. My beloved grandmother was one of the most beautiful people that I have ever known. In the last years of her life, she would not have been considered objectively attractive. She was grey-haired, aged, in pain and paralyzed on her left side. Yet, her warm heart and the years of giving unconditional Bubby love blinded me to the objective reality.
If spiritual values are central, then what is truly important must be only the internal self: the soul, wisdom, understanding and intelligence, the personality – the inner qualities of the person. Yet, in this week's Parasha, Tetzaveh, great focus and attention is given to the magnificent vestments of the Kohanim. The language of the Torah always has something deep and meaningful for us to learn. The command is given to Moses, "You shall make vestments of sanctity for Aaron, your brother, for honour and splendour" (Exodus 28:2). We might think that the Kohanim, the spiritual elite who officiate in the Temple, would need only simple robes. We have all heard the expression, "the clothes make the man." I never heard that "clothes make the Kohen."
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat, Israel, suggests that "the priestly garb is not meant to endow sanctity but rather to inspire sanctity." The Talmud teaches that those who never saw the Temple never saw a beautiful building. We erect magnificent synagogues and appreciate and admire beautiful menorahs, mezuzah covers and seder plates. Jewish practice is made for human beings, not for angels and not for animals. We are moved, influenced, impacted by what we see. Beauty and splendour bring passion to our practice.
Today, we have the opportunity to appreciate beauty as never before. We possess the technology for design that brings elegance to everything – from basic tools and utensils to awe-inspiring architecture. Even the beauty of a person can be enhanced through trendy techniques such as surgery, Botox, facials, expensive makeup and hours at the gym. If we are not happy with the results, we can always airbrush our photos to achieve the right look; a contemporary image of youth and beauty. The pursuit of beauty has become an end in itself. It absorbs more and more of our time and attention.
What is much more difficult is to match the inner person with the external. What qualities give a person inner beauty? Dignity, kindness, patience, concern for others, a positive outlook, warmth, contentment. These come naturally to some, but require hard work for most of us to acquire. The Torah reminds us that every Jew must see him or herself as part of a holy nation and a kingdom of priests.
Just like the Kohanim of ancient times, the external is not to be neglected. But, it is so easy to forget that each of us is a soul contained within a body. Each one of us is precious and unique, created in the image of G-d. Our job is to bring that inner dimension to the forefront. This requires time, energy and effort to become the kind of person whose inner beauty makes the outer look insignificant.
Warm wishes for a Shabbat Shalom,
Lauren Shaps, MSW, is a JWRP City Leader and a full time adult Jewish educator. She works closely with her husband, Rabbi Zischa Shaps and they are blessed with five wonderful children. Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org.