Inside and OutSeptember 11, 2012 - 10:03 am
“On the day of the LORD’s sacrifice I will punish the officials and the king’s sons and all those clad in foreign clothes” — Zephaniah 1:8
The prophet Zephaniah was a contemporary of Jeremiah and shared the vision of pending doom. The kingdom of Israel was corrupt, and the people would eventually be exiled from the land of Israel. Zephaniah’s job was to warn them and to encourage them to repent. We do find a wave of reform during Zephaniah’s time – King Josiah makes many changes for the good – but the people eventually return to their evil ways and Zephaniah’s prophecies, unfortunately, come true.
Among the terrible events that Zephaniah describes is the punishment that will come to those “clad in foreign clothes.” Who are these people, and since when does God care where our clothing is made?
The Sages explain that the term “foreign clothes” means that their clothing was foreign to their souls. In other words, their clothing did not match who they were. These were people who dressed a certain way that made them appear pious, but on the inside, they were evil. God doesn’t stand for hypocrisy, and while these people may have been able to fool their fellow men, there is no fooling God. As we learn in the book of Samuel, “People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
When God instructs the children of Israel to construct the Holy Ark, He commands them to cover it with gold: “Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out” (Exodus 25:11). We can understand why the outside should be covered in gold. It is only appropriate that such a holy vessel look majestic and regal. But why cover the inside too? No one would ever see it!
The Talmud explains that the purpose of the gold was to teach us a lesson. We, God’s holy creations, are to mirror the Holy Ark. Our insides should be exactly the same as our outside. Our character off stage should be exactly the same as when everyone is looking. Our outer actions should match our inner souls.
Everyone wants to look good. But there is no substitute for being good. When we look good, others think highly of us. When we do good, then our actions reflect our inner character. In the end, that is what matters most to God.