Ani / Ish : My humanity – Who I am / What am I ?
Rava said: “Every student of the Sages whose inner self is not like their outer self is not a student of the Sages.” (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 72b). As well as the Holy Ark – the recipient of the tables of the law – was overlaid with gold without and within, in the same way, the student of the Sages – the recipient of the oral law from their masters – shall be the same person without and within.
This saying of Rava could be directed to students who put on the disguise of pious persons in the outside, while they do not feel any of this piety inside of them. Or it could be directed to students who apply, materially, the laws of Torah, but without intention, without a more profound meaning attached to these actions. More generally, Rava’s sentence appears as a call for authenticity: one’s actions, behaviour and choices shall be in accordance with their inner self, with what they feel and think is true about themselves and their values.
However, always displaying one’s true self is not always possible. People may sometimes be forced into a disguise to save their lives, or at least, to avoid a danger. Sometimes they are under pressure to undertake a role that they deeply feel is not theirs, but that they do not know how to escape. Or they can be taken in a swirling life which does not allow them to take the time to reflect on what they are doing, how they are behaving. The pressures of society may even bring a person to renounce to who they are inside to try and become what others are expecting them to be. If one is told that their inner self is not legitimate, or if one lacks the words and means to express it, one may be laid to assume that their feelings are “wrong” and that they shall change.
In such circumstances, it seems so easy to become disconnected with one’s inner self, sometimes to the point of repudiating it. It can lead to the feeling of permanently living in an outer disguise, while the inside remains bitter, angry or empty.
Rava’s saying is recalling that suppressing one’s inner self to try to conform to outside’s pressures is not a good path to follow. The student of the Sages is not necessarily the person who appears to be the more learned or the more pious; rather, it is the person whose actions are reflecting who they are inside of themselves – and thus, who will do all what they can to be able to express their inner self in the outside.
This saying prompts us to take the time to reflect on what we do, how we present to the world, and to ask ourselves: does this really corresponds to the person I am? If it does not, why? What can I undertake to be truer to myself… or even to reconnect to my inner self if it has been buried under the constraints of the environment I live in?
Letting feelings, thoughts and emotions come, allow oneself to experience them and to acknowledge them – without trying to dismiss them with “rational arguments” and internal censorship – is not an easy task. It can take a long time. However, it is the path to take for a person who wishes to fully embody Torah.
Rabbi Iris Ferreira LBC 2021 (Strasbourg France)