The Latest from BZBI

Inside Out

Terumah 5776/13 February 2016

February 16, 2016

RH2 #2A few years after I started playing guitar, increased confidence in my playing combined with frustration over low Inside Guitarsound quality gave me the idea to upgrade the pickups on my electric guitar. With help from my friend James, who had more experience and a soldering iron, we dedicated a Sunday to the project. It was a lot of fun, and made a huge difference in the sound, but the biggest surprise came right at the beginning, when we removed the pickguard and I saw inside my guitar for the first time. If you have seen my guitar, at RH2, BZBI Live, or just around my office, you know it is a high-gloss red color; but when I looked inside I saw sloppy black paint with patches of raw wood showing through.

It makes sense, of course — the vast majority of guitarists will never end up opening the instrument at all, so why spend money and effort on nice finishings in an area no one ever sees? And yet in this morning’sparshah, as we read the blueprints for furnishing the Mishkan, the portable wilderness sanctuary, we find exactly that: in describing the Ark, which will hold the Tablets and is designed never to be opened again, God tells Moses, וְצִפִּיתָ אֹתוֹ זָהָב טָהוֹר מִבַּיִת וּמִחוּץ תְּצַפֶּנּוּ, “Overlay it with pure gold, overlay it inside and out.”[1] It’s easy to understand why we might want the Ark — the centerpiece of the Mishkan — covered outside in pure gold, symbolizing the light and value of God’s presence; but what is the point of covering the inside with gold?

The Talmudic Sage Rava, apparently convinced that there could be no practical purpose for this inner gold coating, instead found spiritual meaning in the Ark’s design:

“מִבַּיִת וּמִחוּץ תְּצַפֶּנּוּ,” אמר רבא: כל תלמיד חכם שאין תוכו כברו – אינו תלמיד חכם.

“Overlay it inside and out,”[2] Rava says: Any Torah scholar whose inside is not like his outside — he is not a Torah scholar.[3]

Rava draws a distinction between appearance and reality: a person who demonstrates great learning and piety might appear to be a Torah scholar, but a true Torah scholar is a person whose inner life reflects the same ideals as her outward behavior. Maimonides reads Rava’s statement as a call for sincerity in all areas of life: “A person is forbidden… to be one way in mouth and another in heart; rather one’s inside should be like one’s outside, the matter in your heart being the one you speak with your mouth.”[4]

Others, however, feel that Maimonides takes too firm a stand on this. In the midst of a controversy in which Rabban Gamliel was deposed as head of the Academy in Israel  and replaced by Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, the Talmud relates the following anecdote:

תנא, אותו היום סלקוהו לשומר הפתח ונתנה להם רשות לתלמידים ליכנס. שהיה רבן גמליאל מכריז ואומר: כל תלמיד שאין תוכו כברו – לא יכנס לבית המדרש. ההוא יומא אתוספו כמה ספסלי. אמר רבי יוחנן: פליגי בה אבא יוסף בן דוסתאי ורבנן, חד אמר: אתוספו ארבע מאה ספסלי; וחד אמר: שבע מאה ספסלי.

It was taught: On that day [Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah] sent away the door guards and gave the students permission to enter. For Rabban Gamliel had proclaimed that any student whose inside was not like his outside may not enter the House of Study. On that day they added many benches. Rabbi Yohanan says: Abba Yosef ben Dostai and the Rabbis disagreed, one saying that they added four hundred benches and the other saying they added seven hundred benches.[5] 

Rabban Gamliel required, as a prerequisite for admission, moral consistency from his students: their outward behavior and inner desires must be aligned in order for them to enter the Academy. In doing so, however, Rabban Gamliel kept hundreds, perhaps thousands of students from entering the Academy. Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah took a different approach, admitting students based on their public presentation and not looking into their inner spiritual state. As Rabbi Norman Lamm, in his d’var Torah on thisparshah from 1968, notes, “The absence of tokho kevaro,” inside-outside alignment, “invalidates [a person’s] credentials as a talmid hakham, a scholar, but not as an average ethical personality.”[6] 

At the conclusion of its story the Talmud vindicates Rabbi Elazar’s approach; Rabbi Lamm suggests that often in life we find circumstances where we accept, or even prefer, that a person not act consistent with his inner inclinations, and instead conduct himself with decency even if his heart and mind lead elsewhere. Our tradition’s demand for תוכו כברו, inside-outside alignment, should not justify cruel or immoral behavior simply because it is consistent with our true feelings:

Those who … act with crudeness and vulgarity because they think that this is being consistent with their real thoughts, because it shows that they are “sincere,” are ignorant — and worse. There is a certain tyranny in such sincerity which is used as the rationalization for being a bully.[7] 

In the face of those who might claim, “I was just being honest,” our tradition responds: sometimes honesty isn’t everything. Sometimes it’s better to act nicer, kinder than we really feel, and then to strive toward תוכו כברו, remaking our inner life and desires to better reflect the virtuous image we project in public. For Rabbi Lamm, the principle of תוכו כברו challenges us to become on the inside the person we present on the outside.

Rabbi Lamm’s insight sheds light on the cryptic blessing Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai offers his students from his deathbed:

וכשחלה רבי יוחנן בן זכאי, נכנסו תלמידיו לבקרו… אמרו לו: רבינו, ברכנו! אמר להם: יהי רצון שתהא מורא שמים עליכם כמורא בשר ודם. אמרו לו תלמידיו: עד כאן? – אמר להם: ולואי! תדעו, כשאדם עובר עבירה אומר: שלא יראני אדם.

When Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai lay on his deathbed, his students came in to see him… They said, “Our Rabbi, bless us!” He told them, “May it be God’s Will that you fear Heaven the way you fear flesh and blood.” His students asked, “That’s all?” He replied, “If only! You should know that when a person commits a transgression, he thinks, ‘Let no one see me!’”[8]

We naturally worry more about how others will perceive us than about the things only we, and God, can know; but Judaism demands that we invest as much in our inner life as we do in the behaviors that are visible to others. For some of our rabbis, this one thing — aligning our inner thoughts and feelings with our outward behavior — becomes the very definition of Holiness.[9]

As much as I love Rabbi Lamm’s insight into language and his delicate reconciliation of Rava’s statement with the story about Rabbi Elazar and Rabban Gamliel, in the end I can’t accept the idea of תוכו כברו as a one-way street. Elena, you helped me see this when I asked you who, out of anyone in history, you would want to take out for lunch. I was not surprised at all when you said Beyonce, but I was struck by what you said when I asked what you would want to talk about: confidence. You spoke of the confidence necessary to act out all of the values, passions, and ideas that define us on the inside, and you are so right. We struggle each day to work out which parts of ourselves to show, and which to hold back; what we hide, and what we can reveal. How can we rise above the persistent temptation to craft an image, to shape how we appear on social media, how we present ourselves in the hallways at school or at work, and instead focus on letting more of our inner gold shine through?

These questions are often deeply uncomfortable, but we must face them and work toward an answer if we hope to understand the Mishkan’s significance. We have so far derived the principle of תוכו כברו from the Ark, the first of the Mishkan’s furnishings described in our parshah; but the same dynamics turn up in the final element outlined in our Torah portion: the חָצֵר, the courtyard or enclosure.[10] As you can see in the diagrams at the back of your humashim,[11] a linen wall surrounds the sacred objects described this morning. However, we should not make the mistake of dismissing the חָצֵר as an ordinary wall, set up for security or privacy. Its inclusion in our parshah’s list of holy property demands that we inquire as to its spiritual significance as well as its architectural function.

The חָצֵר, stretching around the Mishkan’s courtyard, demarcates the boundary between sacred space and the public sphere. The fine linen, suspended from bronze pillars, establishes a zone of holiness for the Mishkan, a space that we must approach differently than other places in life. Even on the largest scale, the Mishkan continues to organize along the inside-outside axis, תוכו כברו. As we will learn in parashat Bemidbar, the tribes camped in precise order around the Mishkan, each group arrayed outside with the Mishkan in the center.[12] 

Taken together, we see the same process unfolding in parallel on the structural, communal, and individual levels: our goal, in all respects, is to bring our inner and outer expressions into alignment. As individuals and as a People, the Torah calls us to see the Ark as a model for our lives: overlayed with pure gold, inside and out, תוכו כברו. For the next month, we will continue reading about the Mishkan’s construction in the wilderness. Nevertheless, we should not make the mistake of reading these parshiyyot only as “once upon a time” stories. In the end, the construction of the Mishkan will only be completed when we establish a parallel structure — .תוכו כברו — within ourselves.


        Ex. 25:11.

[2]        Ibid.

[3]        Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 72b.

[4]        Maimonides, Laws of Personal Character 2.6.

[5]        Berakhot 28a.

[6]        Norman Lamm, Derashot Le-Dorot: Exodus, ed. Stuart W. Halpern (New Milford, CT: Maggid Books, 2013), Terumah, 148.

[7]        Lamm, Derashot Le-Dorot: Exodus, 150 (emphasis added).

[8]        Berakhot 28b.

[9]        See, especially, Ramban, Lev. 19:2.

[10]        Ex. 27:9-18.

[11]        Humash Etz Hayyim, 1520.

[12]        Numbers 2:1-34.

Tags: , ,