20 Tamuz 5779 / Tuesday, July 23, 2019 | Torah Reading: mattot
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The Book and its Cover    

The Book and its Cover

If someone merely "dresses the part" without making a concerted effort to refine his character, then his dress is not much more than a Purim costume...


Translated by Rabbi Lazer Brody
Why doesn't Hashem give us the power to clearly differentiate between good and evil? If we would see that the truly righteous are healthy, wealthy and contented, while the wicked people of the world lived bitter and miserable lives, then everyone would run to do good! We wouldn't have free choice and there would be no context of reward or punishment. So to enable free choice, the good and the evil are mixed. Wherever there's free choice, there's the chance of confusing between good and evil as well.
Rashi says that Hashem set aside the light of good for the benefit of the righteous. Only the righteous recognize the light of Hashem that's concealed within the Torah. Since they resemble their Creator, they too know how to differentiate between the light and the dark. They have exercised their power of free choice by devoting themselves to seeking the light, and after years of arduous effort, have succeeded. Others though, who have not made such effort are still dwelling in chaos. They must now make their own free choice.
The old adage says that you can't judge a book by its cover. That's so true. A person's outer trappings are not necessarily indications of his inner dimension. Maybe he's dressed like a religious person and even sports a beard and sidecurls. Yet, a long black coat is not a guarantee of one's integrity or pureness of heart. True, clothes influence a person's behavior. But, if a person merely "dresses the part" without making a concerted effort to refine his character, then his dress is not much more than a Purim costume.
A person who lacks the understanding of what he's doing on earth will most surely make mistakes. That's why he must always seek Hashem's help in finding the right path.
The basic principle in life that we learn from Rebbe Nachman is that anyone who fails to spend a daily hour in serious self assessment most surely makes mistakes and leads others astray, even if he is a Torah scholar or a rabbinical lecturer. What's more, without daily self-assessment, he won't identify his own shortcomings and therefore might look at himself as if he's the Moses of this generation. With such fantasies, he's liable to fall to the lowest depths. And, the more he has a position of leadership, the more danger he's in. Rebbe Nachman teaches (Likutei Moharan I:18) that oftentimes a person considers himself to be a worthy leader, considering himself to be concerned with the welfare of others. Really though, he's only concerned with his own self-aggrandizement.
People make serious mistakes in life and often fool themselves because they place more emphasis on external impressions than on internal development and refinement. A person may look like a "Chassid" or a pious Jew yet totally trample Jewish values and ignore what Hashem really wants from him. The best fur shtreimel at a cost of well over a thousand dollars, does nothing to refine a negative character trait or overcome a bad habit. A person must beseech Hashem on a daily basis, "Lead me in Your truth and teach me" (Psalm 25:5), asking Hashem to show him how to correct his character and overcome bodily lusts and bad habits, and not to be misled by his own subjective picture of himself. Without seeking Hashem's guidance every single day, or by chosing a spiritual guide who also fails to seek Hashem's guidance daily, one's inner dimension will be sorely undeveloped.
The objective of Torah is to bring a person to humility, where he truly can see how others are better than him. This was the lofty level that Moses reached, as the Torah itself testifies (see Numbers 12:3). To do so, one must be in constant contact with Hashem, as King David said, "I have set Hashem before me always" (Psalm 16:8). May we reach this goal, amen!

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