This Shabbos we read Parshas Teruma. In the Parsha we read of the construction of the various utensils used in the Tabernacle. Perhaps the most famous of all was the Ark, which contained the tablets that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai. The Torah describes the material used to construct this Ark. "You shall make a ark of cedar wood, from inside and outside you shall cover it with gold" (Exodus 28:11) The Talmud derives from the fact that the ark had to be covered on inside and out with gold that any Torah scholar whose inside is not like his outside, i.e. his character traits inside of him have not been perfected to match his outward behavior, is not a Torah scholar. (Talmud Yoma 72b)
The Talmud in Berachos (28) recites a famous story regarding this concept. When Rav Gamliel was the prince of the Jewish people, and led the Academy of higher learning, he called out and said "Any student whose inside does not match his outside should not enter the house of study." when leadership of the academy was passed on to Rabbi Eliezer ben Azariah, he changed this policy, and removed the guard who had prevented these unworthy people from entering the house of study. Because of this, whoever wanted to enter the house of study was now able to. The Talmud describes the upheaval that occurred that day as hundreds of benches were added to the house of study. Some say 400 benches were added, and some say 700 were added.
The commentaries ask, how did the guard who originally sat by the entrance to the house of study know if the students who wished to enter were as pure on the inside as they were on the outside? Was he able to read the minds of these people? Did he posses mystical powers?
The Rebbe of Sadiger is quoted as having answered that the doors of the Bais Medrash - the house of study - were always kept closed and locked. Any one who wanted to overcome this obstacle and enter the house of study had to find a way to circumvent this problem. Either he had to climb over a wall, dig under a fence, or break through an obstacle. This was the yardstick used to measure hw sincere people really were in their heart: If they just gave up when things got hard, they were only prepared to study when it was convenient. This proved nothing as far as sincere commitment. Those who were ready to go the extra mile, to give their energy and effort to make it work when it wasn't easy, were the ones who the guard let in. they proved that they were not just paying lip service to the idea of study, but were ready to give everything they had for the ability to learn.
This lesson is such an uplifting thought for each of us to bear in mind. When the going gets rough, when things just don 't seem to be as easy as we want them to be, when we think twice about our commitment to doing what we are supposed to, let this thought reinforce us: This is exactly the moment that we are defining if we are people who just keep mitzvos when it is easy, if our commitment to G-d is just lip service, or if we are really serving Hashem with all our strength, and we are really committed servants of His.
Another idea is offered from Rabbi Gedaliah Eismann. Why does the Talmud tell us the number of benches that were added? Why doesn't talk about the number of new people who now came to study? He answers that the Talmud is teaching us the change that occurred not only in the number of people who were studying, but also in the type of people who were studying. When the people in the house of study were all the kind whose inside matched their outside, their burning desire to study Torah was unaffected by the conditions that surrounded them. Whether there were enough seats or it was crowded, whether there was enough food for doubles or not, whether the heat was warm enough or not, the focus in their minds was only to study more and more. Once students entered who were not as pure on the inside as on the outside, there was a need for more physical comfort – and all these huge numbers of benches had to be added.
This idea is also a great lesson for us – as we must learn to focus on our spiritual growth, not on our personal physical comfort, if we hope to succeed in successfully connecting to Hashem.