As you walk around the halls of our school, you are likely to notice the inspirational quotes and posters hung on the walls. They are meant to remind us to be ourselves, to stay positive and bring smiles to our faces. One of these posters reads “When you’re with others, don’t be a chameleon.” I love this poster, not only because it reminds me of a childhood story about a chameleon named Leon, but because it sends an incredibly important message.
We often have different personalities that we wear on different occasions. For our students it might be that in one teacher’s class they can’t stop talking, but in another they don’t ever utter a word until asked a direct question. Out in public you might have this huge, charismatic persona, but in private you are quiet and reserved. These are differences that might be seen as coping mechanisms for unfamiliar situations. In other instances, a person might be two-faced – sweet when trying to win someone over, but conniving and hurtful when other people are around. We all have varying degrees of versions of ourselves that we display at different times.
This week we read parshat Terumah, which discusses the gifts that were needed and which materials were necessary to build the Mishkan. The text speaks of the idea that a gift must come from the heart. God does not want the Mishkan to be created from gifts of coercion, but rather by the good and true intentions of the people of Israel. These materials are to be used to build a remembrance of God. They need to be as pure as the intentions of the people who provide them.
In chapter 25, verses 10-11, the text states “They shall make an ark of acacia wood, two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. Overlay it with pure gold – overlay it inside and out – and make upon it a gold molding round about.” We get the idea that it’s to be a fancy wood box covered with gold, which is logical because the outside, the parts that will be seen, should be ornate and beautifully decorated. But why does the inside need to be covered in gold too?
Anyone who has cut and laid shelf paper in kitchen shelves has probably asked a similar question. Does it really need to be perfect if no one will see it? The answer according to the Torah is an emphatic YES! The inside and the outside must match. The rabbis teach that this is because who we are on the inside must shine through to our outer personality. In the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yoma daf72b, we learn “Any scholar who is not the same kind of person in private as in public is not a true scholar.” That is to say that we must be true to ourselves no matter what the situation and location.
If you try too hard to become a chameleon and blend in, then you lose the unique spark that comes from your heart and makes your life a gift. If a plain wood box is worthy enough to be covered in gold inside and out, so too are human beings – created in the image of God – worthy of letting the divine spark in each of us shine through and brighten our world.
ללמוד To Learn: ללמד To Teach: לשמור To Keep: לעשות To Do: We often speak of our public and private spaces and what is appropriate in each space. This week’s parshah teaches us that God dwells among us, wherever we dwell, which would seem to mean that even in our private space we have the responsibility of putting forth our best self. Ask your family: How is your home a sacred space?