Imagine looking down at a large marble stone in its natural state, never cut from the earth, not yet trimmed or polished. Now imagine this stone, still in its raw state, being used as a primitive rough floor of a building that was built on top of it. But then, in order to protect people from tripping on rough bumps in the marble stone, the decision was made to apply a layer of cement right on top of it. Then, shiny linoleum tiles were used as a finishing touch to give it some “elegance.”
Oh, and then a fancy border was added and a coat of wax was put on top of that to give it an extra shine.
Does that make sense? What’s wrong with this story? I can hear you shouting, “Hey stupid! Why not take advantage of the marble stone floor that was there to begin with?”
Granted, it takes more work to cut and shine marble than to lay down linoleum, but the work is well worth it. I am not just referring to the sheer beauty and elegance of the finished product. I am also referring to the naked innocence of it. Here is a floor that is genuine and unique, in contrast with the linoleum which is only a veneer, a cover over the less-appealing reality of the cement underneath it.
I ask myself: How often do I superimpose upon my character all sorts of veneers, in order to avoid doing the work needed, to show off the natural beauty of my own character, that just needed some refinement, some polishing?
The work begins with the advice of the Mishna, “acquire yourself a friend.” With a good friend we have much to gain. But to “acquire” means that there is an expense involved. Still, the Mishna implies that this is a worthy investment. To acquire a good friend you need the skill of moving from being introvert to extrovert for the purpose of building a deeper relationship.
An introvert protects his vulnerabilities by being withdrawn. The unconscious thinking of the introvert is, “If I don’t expose myself too much, I cannot get hurt.” There is always the natural fear of people taking advantage of his weak points, but in reality, the walls of insecurity are a huge billboard advertising the introvert’s weaknesses. People can sense the walls of insecurity put up by the introvert.
“What does he have to hide?” people might ask. When an introvert makes that leap and readies himself to expose his weaknesses and thus better himself, it will give him the ability to be more grounded in reality. This process of self-discovery can make a person more honest with himself.
Aside from saying, “acquire for yourself a friend,” the Mishna goes on to say, “make for yourself a teacher.” So, why do you need both a friend and a teacher? And why is the term “make” used for the teacher and “acquire” used for the friend?
The short answer is that there is no free lunch. According to the investment of your effort is the extent of your reward. To build a deep relationship with your “friend” who is your peer, you need to “acquire” – you need to pay in the “currency of effort.”
A relationship is about two different individuals coming from two different places and meeting somewhere in the middle. That takes effort. It takes more work to build a relationship with a friend than with a good teacher. That is because a teacher, being the leader, will put more effort into the relationship and move to meet you where you are.
So, while the “teacher” is good for the student, promoting and encouraging introspection and growth. It is actually the friend which can be the deeper catalyst for change, since the friendship with a peer requires more investment into the relationship. In contrast, the nature of the student-teacher relationship, requires less effort on the part of the student, and thus can yield lesser results. The teacher can actually inhibit growth by being so accessible and not demanding reciprocal effort.
Beyond the relationship you may have with a teacher or a friend, there is a third even more demanding relationship which yields the most results. Like when you take on responsibilities for others, such as being a parent or a caretaker. That is being the ultimate giver in a relationship. In such a position, you obligate yourself to search within, and to find the resources within yourself to provide for the needs of others. That is why I thank my children for making me who I am. A whole new experience in life began when I became a parent.
Now let’s go back to our marble floor analogy. Just as we don’t want to cover over the marble with cement, linoleum, shiny wax and so forth, so too we have no need as people to hide beneath shallow veneers, as we avoid facing the work it takes to let the inner beauty shine. We must let the unabashed naked beauty of our character shine, as we are challenged to unleash the resources that hide deep within us.
Rabbi Yisrael Baron resides in Sunny Isles Beach with his wife and five children. He is the Spiritual Leader and Co-Director of Chabad Lubavitch of Sunny Isles Beach, http://www.sunnychabad.org/ Co-Director of www.iVolunteerFL.org Chaplain for Aventura Hospital, and Chaplain for the Sunny Isles Beach Police Department.