Who is the real you? Do people admire you for what you possess or for who you are?
A number of years ago, I was visiting Los Angeles and stayed at a hotel opposite a well-known talent agency. Early Saturday morning, I glanced out the window and saw a stunning sports car pull up in the driveway of a towering glass building with camera and lights in tow. Flashbulbs popped as the driver, presumably a movie star, exited from the car.
Something odd happened.
After the car was empty, the cameras resumed taking photos of the car. I realized that the media frenzy when the car arrived had nothing to do with the person inside but rather with his trappings.
In our society, we focus much honor on the external accoutrements but overlook the person inside. Who do we honor and what do we value in other people?
What about our own self perception? Do we lead our lives in a way that nourishes our best self or are we focused on feeding the misperceptions of others?
Shari Lewis in her book One Minute Jewish Stories illustrates how we all yearn to be loved for our true selves. Once upon a time, there lived a very poor couple who had a son. When the boy was born, a relative sent some expensive and elegant clothing as a present. The mother made a beautiful robe from the cloth and said, “When my son is a man, I will send him into the world with this beautiful robe.”
The boy grew up and one day a rich merchant invited all the townspeople to a feast. The son came in his usual tattered clothing and no one made room for him at the table. Brokenhearted at the rejection, he went home and told his mother what had happened. To console him, she gave him the beautiful robe stored away all these years that she had made from the elegant cloth.
The son returned to the feast dressed in his new finery. The rich man saw him, rushed over and bowed, and asked him to sit beside him. The son took off his elegant rob, held it over the food, and said “Eat robe, eat all you want.”
“Why are you talking to your coat?” asked the rich man. “Because when I was here before in poor clothing,” the boy replied, “no one paid attention to me. But now I come in a fancy robe and you treat me royally. It is clearly not me you invited to eat beside you, but my robe.”
The lesson of this story is clear: If you love me for my robe, you rob me of myself. And, of course, the opposite is also true. If you love me for myself, you give me a treasure beyond price.
With blessings to actualize your best self this coming year,
Rabbi Daniel Cohen