Beit Midrash

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To dedicate this lesson

Not Washing Away One’s Personality


Various Rabbis

(condensed from Ein Ayah (Rav A.Y. Kook), Shabbat 1:84)

Gemara: Abayei said: One who gives his garment to the launderer should give it after measuring it and receive it back after measuring it, for if it is bigger, he damaged it by stretching it out, and if it is smaller, he damaged it by shrinking it.

Ein Ayah: [This piece is a continuation of last week’s, in which Rav Kook based his thesis on the viewpoint that washing a garment can be a parable for fixing one’s personality or actions.]
There is a nice comparison between washing a garment and striving to act in a proper way. When one launders, he should be careful not to harm the essence of the garment. One should understand the same when dealing with his emotional/spiritual side: one should not try to change the essence of his personal tendencies. He will not see success, because his good deeds will come when his spirit is healthy, according to the nature with which his Maker provided him.
There are people with a personality that tends toward power. It is wrong to try to totally change that. Indeed just as there is use for pleasantness, so there is good use for vengeance and hatred, etc. – in the right circumstances. Traits such as angriness and impatience are described as being short (e.g., short-tempered). Such people should clean the blemishes from their personalities, so that they do not use these tendencies to their fullest when not called for. It is good for the world, though, if they can use their tendency to not forgive that which should not be forgiven and to stand up brazenly to the evil who try to harm that which is good. A man with a temper should thus not try to eradicate any trace of anger or other natural personality trait. He should learn how to use the Torah and his intellect in deciding when to allow his anger to be employed.
Returning to the parable, the launderer hints at the feeling within a person to purify himself. One should not give himself over to that good activity without supervision. The measuring one does is the Torah, which tells a person the proper measure of everything that must be decided according to its circumstances. Before starting the cleansing process, he should size up what he should look like at the end of the process. At the end of the process, he should see if there were any undesirable outcomes. For example, if his personality lost too much of its firmness, that is not good.
On the other hand, if he was shortened, that is also not good. If a person tended toward compassion and softness, which is a problem if he allowed the evil to have their way with the righteous, he may want to fix it. However, he should not "let the garment shrivel up," i.e., he should not become an angry, vengeful person. After all, he was created to be compassionate. If he tries to become a different person, he will become an unhappy one. He should just work to remedy the negative ramifications of his personality.
In short, everyone should remain the same "size" as he was originally. "For the spirit will be donned from before Me, and the souls I [Hashem] made" (Yeshaya 57:16). Who is going to go out and change that which Hashem created, as what He does is not to be changed (see Kohelet 3:14). "They are all correct to those who understand and straight to those who find wisdom" (Mishlei 8:9).
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