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GOLDEN - INSIDE AND OUT

by Michael Alterman    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

From the inside and the outside shall you cover [the Ark with gold]" (Exodus 25:11). About this verse, the Talmud comments, "Any Torah scholar whose inside does not resemble his outside is not really a Torah scholar" (Tractate Yoma 72b).

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From the inside and the outside shall you cover [the Ark with gold]" (Exodus 25:11). About this verse, the Talmud comments, "Any Torah scholar whose inside does not resemble his outside is not really a Torah scholar" (Tractate Yoma 72b).

Our rabbis teach us that for somebody to be considered a true talmid chacham, a scholar and student of Hashem's holy Torah, his entire being must be a consistent representation of the Torah which he studies. The way that he depicts himself to the world as a dedicated, sincere, and honest person should not be a facade that he has deftly constructed to conceal his lousy character traits, but rather an accurate portrayal of his true G-d fearing self. Just as the Holy Ark, which was representative of the Torah that it contained, was coated with gold both on the inside and the outside, so too must the talmid chacham's inner character match his public disposition and professed beliefs.

The Talmud (Tractate Berachot 28a) relates that when the great Rabban Gamliel was the prince and leader of the Jewish people, he issued a proclamation that any student whose inside did not resemble his outside would not be permitted to enter the Beit Midrash (house of Torah study). He felt that the other students who were truly sincere should not be exposed to the bitter influence of those who were studying the Torah for some ulterior motive, or whose character traits were not as finely tuned as was their scholarship. It was only after the leadership was passed onto somebody else that the guard at the entrance to the Beit Midrash was removed, and everybody who wanted to study was then permitted to enter.

The question comes to mind about who could have been so qualified that he was able to fulfill the demanding role of being this guard. How could anybody be capable of accurately discerning which students were absolutely sincere and which were not?

It has been suggested that the guard which the Talmud refers to was not a person at all. Rather, the door to the Beit Midrash itself served as the guard, for it was sealed shut, locked and bolted, preventing the entrance of anybody - unless they really wanted to get in. A student who was sincere and truly desired to study Torah would find some way to penetrate the sealed entrance. Everybody else would be scared off by the preeminent "guard" - the door which was sealed shut.

Studying Torah in a classroom setting is all fine and dandy, but we need to carry the teachings that we learn there out of the study hall and into the real world. Our goal should not be to merely broaden our horizons and to expand our knowledge; rather, we should apply the lessons of the Torah in our everyday life, transforming ourselves into a true mentsch. If we sincerely want to improve, nothing - not even a door -- can stand in our way.

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Michael Alterman, a graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is enrolled in a joint program with the Ner Israel Rabbinical College and the University of Baltimore.

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