The Sacred Robe

From a sicha of my father: Chassidus demands that one “…wash his flesh (Hebrew, et b’ssaro) with water, and clothe himself in them (the priestly robes).” The intellectual element of Chassidus must thoroughly cleanse the flesh and rinse away the habits of the flesh. The habits are alluded to by the word et (“and”) in the quoted verse, signifying “that which is incidental to the flesh,” the habits developed by the body. Only then can one clothe himself in the “sacred garments.”

Pondering Chassidus, discussing Chassidus, and the practice of Chassidim to meditate before davening – these are “sacred garments,” garments that were given from the heights of sanctity. But it is the person himself who must “wash his flesh with water…” The garments of the soul are given to the individual from On High. But washing away unwholesome “incidentals” that arise from bodily nature and making the body itself “flesh of sanctity,” this is achieved solely by man’s own efforts. This is what Chassidus demands; it is for this ideal that our great teacher (the Alter Rebbe) devoted himself totally and selflessly. He opened the channel of total devotion, sacrifice, for serving G-d through prayer, to be bound up with the Essence of the En Sof, infinite G-d. Chassidus places a chassid face to face with the Essence of the En Sof.

“Today’s Day” daily lesson
Chumash: Acharei mot, Shevi’i with Rashi.
Tehillim: 119, 97 to end.
Tanya: Ch. 43. Concerning (p. 227)…enlarged upon later. (p. 231).
Compiled and arranged by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, in 5703 (1943)
from the talks and letters of the sixth Chabad Rebbe
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory.

However, G-d provides creation with life in a different manner than the manner in which the soul provides life to the body. The soul must garb itself in the body in order to provide it with life. By doing so it is affected by the body (for “enclothing” implies that the clothed object undergoes a change). G-d, however, is of course not subject to change when He provides life to creation.

“Today’s Tanya Lesson” (Listen online)
Likutei Amarim, middle of Chapter 42
by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), founder of Chabad Chassidism
Elucidated by Rabbi Yosef Wineberg
Translated from Yiddish by Rabbi Levy Wineberg and Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg
Edited by Uri Kaploun

I’m sure you’ve heard it said that “the clothes make the man.” You’ve also heard it said that “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” Interesting and contradictory sayings and each in their own way is true.

We often judge human beings by their outward appearance, usually unfairly. We assume that someone who is well dressed and groomed is a upstanding and productive citizen, while someone who dresses poorly and who seems to take no pride in their appearance, we think of as “lesser.” Neither of these opinions takes into consideration what God sees or how He judges people by the heart and by actions.

On the other hand, the “clothes” I am talking about are more than “skin deep,” to mix a metaphor. How we appear physically is less important (though I won’t say that it’s not important at all) than how we choose to be “clothed” by God.

Whether you choose to consider the information I have quoted from mystical or metaphorical, in a sense, God does “clothe” us and most times, in accordance to our true wishes. If we desire to follow after Him and we pray and meditate and study and perform good deeds for His sake, then righteousness is our garment and our “robes” are as white as snow. It’s as if we have donned the robes and vestments of the High Priest in the Tabernacle (remember, I’m speaking metaphorically, not literally).

But this sort of clothing isn’t “one size fits all.” There is no “generic” righteousness, because while we have all been created in God’s image, we all were created as individuals, each with specific and unique gifts and purposes. One person He creates as a poet, another a brick layer, but both serve God. We may think the Pastor serves God more fully than the house painter, but you can’t tell just by looking.

I mentioned before that we must choose the sort of garment we will accept from God, but if that were completely true, we would all be wearing the Emperor’s New Clothes instead, believing we were dressed in lavish opulence when we’re actually completely naked.

God calls to us and we can choose to answer or not, but sometimes, God “loads the dice” in His favor and in ours.

The Alter of Kelm, zt”l, explains this in depth. “If one observes, he will find that emunah definitely never leaves a Jewish heart. Those who claim not to believe—or for some reason act like one who lacks belief—simply cannot focus on faith in an honest way due to the ulterior motives of their physical drives. The moment they are confronted with hardship, they naturally turn to God because the trial brings the emunah to the fore. Our job is to work to reveal the emunah from deep within, to recognize it and value it.”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
from “No Atheists in Foxholes”
Me’ila 3-1

To use another “gambling” metaphor, God “stacks the deck”, so that we have a “better than average chance” of calling out to Him, often from the depths of despair. We can still choose to ignore Him, but it’s more difficult than if our lives were completely comfortable and all our needs were met.

We are like a resistant and reluctant young women being pursued by a wealthy and handsome suitor. Our suitor has nothing but our best interests at heart and possesses many fine gifts, if only we’ll accept them. Yet for many reasons, we put Him off, thinking that He’s boring, oppressive, or even dangerous. When kindness and graciousness doesn’t work, He sometimes seeks to “conquer” us, which sounds harsh and hostile, but it’s more like an adult abruptly grabbing a three-year old’s arm to keep him from running out into traffic.

Show a mighty emperor the world and ask him where he most desires to conquer. He will spin the globe to the furthest peninsula of the most far-flung land, stab his finger upon it and declare, “This! When I have this, then I shall have greatness!”

So too, the Infinite Light. In those places most finite, where the light of day barely trickles in, there is found His greatest glory.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Our “Conquering King” holds out a sacred robe of light to us. All we have to do is stand still, accept the gift, and put it on. Then we have to wear it well.


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