Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – In My Own Skin


Operation Inspiration

There’s an expression, “Beauty is only skin deep.” While it is important to realize that appearances, both physical and intellectual, are not necessarily meaningful or accurate, it is possible to think that skin itself is unimportant, which could not be further from the truth.

On a superficial level – skin deep, you might say – skin is just a covering for the body. But in truth, it’s so much more. It protects the body from infection and contamination by outside forces. It provides a place for hair to grow and sweat to escape. The skin’s layers serve as a waterproof barrier to the outside world, and provide nerve receptors and the sense of touch which provides our brains with so much important data, like pain, heat, contact and texture.

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When the epidermis, the outer layer of skin, made up of dead skin cells, is cut, germs can get inside and cause disease. But the epidermis is pretty tough, and can stand up to all sorts of punishment, from washing dishes to swinging a baseball bat, to hitting a computer keyboard thousands of times a day. Not only that, but the skin is reactive.

R’ Avigdor Miller z”l would point out that not only is the skin durable, but it can even get stronger. Hands used for swinging a hammer or axe, for example, may become calloused. The thickening of the skin is how Hashem made the body adapt to its purpose and use. Those hardened and thickened areas of skin protect the body during repeated stress. Imagine a tool that got stronger and better each time you used it. That would be incredible, but Hashem designed us in just that way!

You might get callouses from walking, and that’s also to protect you. The skin works to ensure you remain safe and whole. People who walk barefoot develop thicker skin on the soles of their feet and this protects them from cuts and scrapes from any debris that might be on the road. It’s pretty incredible when you think about it, but we hardly ever do.

If while cooking, oil splatters on your shirt, you’ve got to send it to the cleaners because otherwise it will stain. But if it splatters on your hand, you’ll feel the heat, which is a warning to be careful, but you can easily wash your hands and get rid of it. Even if your hands get stained from various items, they aren’t ruined permanently. Scrubbing will help, and eventually new skin will grow and the stains will be gone.

The sensitivity of your skin far surpasses many other testing means, and you can measure a myriad of things from texture and contour, to weight and balance, to heat and cold. When it comes down to it, skin is pretty miraculous and not to be underestimated.

Then there’s another expression. It’s, “being comfortable in your own skin.” That means not being ashamed of who you are. Just as a person with freckles shouldn’t apologize for them, or feel bad, we have to realize that who we are, meaning our abilities, thought processes, and experiences, are – very much like our skin – custom-made for us.

Hashem instills in each of us innate understanding, and then complements it with life lessons and experiences that help us grow. Sometimes we need our skin to be a little thicker. When dealing with our spouses, for example, it’s easy to get hurt if they say something they shouldn’t. But since we understand that Hashem put us in this situation, it’s time to get a bit thicker-skinned and not be hurt by those words. If they are a criticism, we ought to consider whether they are accurate, and seek to change for the better.

A person who fundraises for an organization is another type who might need a thicker skin, to handle the rejection that inevitably comes their way. At the same time, they retain the sensitivity for those they are helping, thereby using that same “skin” to complete their mission.

Each of us has a “skin” that suits us perfectly. It provides coverage and protection for all the tasks we are meant to do, and gives us the tactile ability to handle them. It also adapts, as we become sensitive to issues through our thoughts and life experiences, and of course, through our study of Torah and trying to understand Hashem’s will.

If we look at the skills and abilities we have, as well as the sensibilities we’ve developed, we can get a better appreciation of how our own personal skin is perfectly suited to everything we need to do in life. Not only that, but we can use it to identify our mission. If we are able to communicate well with those who are sad, our job is likely to listen and try to cheer them up. If we feel strongly about certain mitzvos, we just may be that way because they need a champion who can help the world observe them better.

Just know that who you are and how you think is greatly influenced by Hashem’s plan, so focus on the wisdom He places in each of us and find the right ways to be comfortable in your own skin.


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