This series is dedicated to the loving memory of Rabbi Moshe David Averick, l’illui nishmas Moshe David ben Naftali Yosef HaLevi v’Leah. May his neshama have an aliyah.

וְאָז רָמַז הֶחָכָם וְהִשְׁלִיכוּ לָהֶם כְּתֹנֶת, וְאָמַר הֶחָכָם הַהִינְדִּיק לְבֶּן הַמֶּלֶךְ, ‘אַתָּה חוֹשֵׁב שֶׁהַהִינְדִּיק אֵינוֹ יָכוֹל לֵילֵךְ עִם כְּתֹנֶת, יְכוֹלִים לִהְיוֹת לְבוּשׁ כְּתֹנֶת וְאַף עַל פִּי כֵּן יְהֵא הִינְדִּיק’. וְלָבְשׁוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם הַכְּתֹנֶת

And they both sat together for some time until they became accustomed to one another.  And then the Wise Man signaled [to an attendant] and they threw tunic[s] to them. And the Wise one (the turkey), said to the prince, “You think that a turkey is not able to go with a tunic? [We are] able to be dressed [in] a tunic and even still be a turkey.” And they both wore the tunic[s].

It is only after both parties have become comfortable with each other that the Wise Man now begins the painstaking process of attempting to rehabilitate the prince. Having navigated the critical beginning of their relationship predicated on acceptance, these next steps are no less important to the end goal.

As we will find, at no point during the growth process does the Wise Man give any indication of desiring to move the prince away from his chosen life as a turkey. Instead, the Wise Man circumvents the prince’s self-made identity without ever denying it. What requires deeper finesse, as we have pointed out, is that the Wise Man does not explicitly accept the prince as a turkey either. Thus, at no point does the Wise Man directly refer to the prince as a turkey. We may think that the best way to reach one who is plagued by self-doubt and has constructed a false identity would be to show that we “accept” who they are while trying to simultaneously change them. This leads to confused messages and a rejection of the teachings on the part of the student. The fine line every educator must walk is to allow the student to comfortably exist in their chosen state – neither condemning it outrightly, nor encouraging it. It is from within this balance that the Wise Man is able to sensitively present an alternative to the prince’s chosen identity.

The Wise Man’s first step towards rehabilitating the prince is having him dress himself. We may feel compelled to question the Wise Man’s decision to begin with the prince’s external attributes, namely, his lack of appropriate clothing. For many on the road to spirituality, their clothing (or lack of such) is the strongest expression of their chosen identity. By and large, initial attempts to change the external appearance are met with strong resistance. This may hold true even when the student is increasingly open to new ideas and new ways of thinking; the externals are often the last thing to go, not the first.

We may offer the following explanation. While it is true that a total overhaul of external image is a long-term goal when it comes to growth, we are also aware of the incredible impact that external change can have on us internally. We often wait for a deep, inner feeling of change before we are willing to make external changes, but the opposite is often preferred. In order to spur on internal growth, it is sometimes necessary to make some seemingly premature external changes. When one adheres to a minimal “dress code”, it opens the door to further growth and progress. This must be done without too much heavy-handedness, lest the rate of external change outpace the internal reality. This incongruence would cause extreme discomfort and dissonance inside person who has a foot in each world, as it were, threatening the entire growth process.

This balance between external appearance or behavior and our internal reality is addressed in earth-shaking terms at Har Sinai, with the national declaration of, “We will do, and only after understand.” (Shemos 24:7) It was known to the generation of the desert that, as a first step, external actions are perfectly acceptable as precursors to deep feelings of closeness. Very often, externality is the path through which we gain access to deeper parts of ourselves. This is also hinted to in the order of placing of the two Tefillin: we first don the Tefillin of the arm, symbolizing actions, and only after place the Tefillin of the head, hoping to later understand.

This understanding is applied to the Bigdei Kehuna, the priestly vestments, as the Sefer HaChinuch explains:

From the roots of this commandment is the principle established for us, that a person is impacted according to his actions and pursuant to his thoughts and intentions. The Kohen that atones must attach all of his thoughts and intentions to the [Divine] service. Therefore, it is fitting that he wears special clothes for this; as when he looks upon any part of his body, he will immediately remember and be aroused in his heart as to in front of Whom he is serving… And from this reason we can [explain that] which is said (Pesachim 65b) that the length of the robe is obligated to be upon all of his body, from above to the heel below; the length of its sleeve be to the palm of his hand (Yoma 72b); the length of the turban be sixteen ells (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Vessels of the Sanctuary and Those who Serve Therein 9:19) and wrap the whole head, so that he see it any time he raises his eyes; and the length of the sash that he wraps on his loins be thirty-two ells and he wraps and rewraps it on his body, one layer over another, and it comes out that he feels it with his forearms all the time, as due to its thickness from all the wrappings, his forearms touch it regardless. And all of this is a proof to that which we have said, for the one who concedes the truth…

Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 99

The same applies here. If the Wise Man can help the turkey prince to alter his external appearance, he will be constantly reminded – even if only on a subconscious level – of his true internal identity.

Interestingly, the first thing Adam and Chava do after sinning by eating from the Eitz HaDa’as Tov VeRa is by clothing themselves (Bereishis 3:7). Perhaps, here, too, the first steps of spiritual growth begin with clothing oneself. (Though, we must note that Adam and Chava covered their lower region specifically.)

So, is the Wise Man preoccupied with the prince’s clothing and externalities? It would seem not. Just as one cannot fill a bucket that has holes in it, a person must be grounded with a basic level of decency before moving forward in growth and receiving wisdom. As uncomfortable of a step as this may be for both educators and students, it is a necessary one. Again, caution must be taken in not solely relying on external change, rather using a small amount of external change as a catalyst for deeper, more meaningful inner growth. Still, it seems that this strategy is applicable in this particular case due to extreme revelation of the animalistic identity of the turkey.

Rabbi Nachum Aaron Kutnowski
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