Contact Us
Tanya
Tanya Navigator

The Removable Self

The Removable Self

 Email

A wandering Jew wanders into a small flophouse late one cold and stormy night.

“All full up,” says the innkeeper. “Two, three to a bed. Let’s see . . . We’ve got a seven-foot Cossack in one of the cots up on the top floor. You’re kinda small—you can try climbing in beside him.”

Thankfully accepting the gracious offer, the wandering Jew climbs the stairs to the garret, but not before asking the innkeeper to wake him well before dawn. “Got a train to catch,” he says importantly.

Before he knows it, there’s a hand shaking him awake. “It’s well before dawn,” says a voice. “Your train.”

He dresses hurriedly in the dark and rushes to the train station. On the way to the platform he passes a large mirror in an ornate frame. A Cossack in uniform looks back at him.

“That idiot innkeeper!” he exclaims in dismay. “He woke up the Cossack instead of the wandering Jew. I’ll never make it back in time to wake myself up in time to catch my train!”


Whoever it was that referred to the human being as “the naked ape” got it all wrong. Man is the only truly clothed creature—a creature who attires him- or herself not only for warmth and protection, but to alter, enhance, even transform, his very identity.

Indeed, the identities we tailor for ourselves have several notable advantages over the inborn variety. They can improve upon our natural self by accentuating our good features, and by de-emphasizing—or even employing to advantage—our less desirable ones. What’s even better is that they’re completely removable: if they don’t wear well, or if they turn out to have been a mistake in the first place, we can replace them with a different set.

Chassidic teaching refers to our faculties of thought, speech and action as the three “garments” of the soul. The areas in which we choose to direct our thoughts, the things we say and the manner in which we say them, and the way that we act towards others and towards ourselves—these are the “clothes” we fashion for our souls.

With these garments, we can project our character and personality in ways that amplify its positive features, subdue its negative ones, and even express a negative trait in a positive way. We dress an abstract feeling in the words “I love you.” We cover up animosity with civil behavior. We bundle an overblown ego into the urge to become the biggest donor to charity in the community. And if we find ourselves wearing threadbare ideas or ugly behavior patterns, we remind ourselves that these are just garments: dump them in the hamper and get yourself a more tasteful wardrobe.

Of course, a more basic approach to self-improvement is to improve the “body” of our soul—its character and personality. But it’s a lot easier to buy a nice suit than to go on a diet. Besides, who knows—the sight of your soul in a nice suit might be just the thing to motivate you to get its body in shape.

Hypocrisy? Certainly. Imagine a world in which everyone acted better, holier and more compassionately than they really are. Perhaps what our world needs is some more hypocrisy.

By Yanki Tauber; based on the teachings of the Rebbe.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
7 Comments
1000 characters remaining
C. Lewis Auburn, CA February 10, 2011

Being Clothed Quote by Anonymous, Prescott,
Perhaps when animals act guilty...like a puppy hiding when he breaks something...it is not so much guilt as fear of being beaten."

Adam and Eve hid because they gained knowledge they were naked. Before eating the fruit they didn't know they were naked. They simply covered themselves; they didn't cower or run. They had never been beaten, they simply answered when God soke to them.

People humanize how dogs are. Dogs cower to show submission to the Alpha/master. An Alpha stands it's ground. Dog behaviour doesn't reflect human behaviour at all. I learned that when I inadvertantly taught a dog to be afraid of thunder and other noises, by saying "it's OK" in a gentle voice, People can make dogs crazy by humanizing their behaviour.

The Alpha dog is King, whose every move and expression has a purpose. Guilt is a human trait of conscience that starts with the word "no". Guilt is unrelated to beating, unless one is beaten, which God never did to anyone. Reply

Anonymous Prescott, AR/US February 9, 2011

Being Clothed Great article!
Maybe what separates man from the animal is that we DO clothe ourselves! Perhaps this is the proof that we do have a conscience (Adam and Eve hid when they realized they were naked.)
Perhaps when animals act guilty...like a puppy hiding when he breaks something...it is not so much guilt as fear of being beaten. Reply

C. Lewis Auburn, CA December 28, 2010

stiff-necked" people Comment on "why are we referred to as a "stiff-necked" people? Are we expected to remain that way,... or are we to struggle to gain some flexibility? "

We have no choice but to remain that way to some dgree, since in this world we will not attain to perfection.

However, stiff-necked, in my opinion refers to the inability to pay attention to anyhting but one's own desires. We are born this way, and some never learn to turn our heads toward our Creator.

Yes, we need to work on listening to our Creator, and to be mindful to the needs of others, not just our own penchant to be enamored of ourselves. Reply

Anonymous Hitchcock, Hitchcock, Texas via chabadoutreach.org November 26, 2010

This is a good reference point for each of us, a way to improve ourselves in order to become a better enlightening person enabling us to become all that we can, sharing with others that which is so good that G~d has made to be. Reply

Elazar Green via jewishenrichment.com November 23, 2006

I think the point of this article is about the spiritual garments that we can dress ourselves with, naked ape comment not withstanding.

In regards to "stiff necked" - I will have to think about it for a while, but my initial thoughts are 1) stiff necked can be a good thing, in which case we should capitalize on it 2) when its a bad thing, we should strive to change our nature to "gain some flexibility". Reply

Anonymous via jewishenrichment.com November 17, 2006


I believe that "naked" refers to a relative lack of hair compared to other members of the ape family.

Even if we appear externally insufficient, we may be internally endowed with a special fire/spark to keep us warm - or beyond. It's also possible that in a warmer climate we were able to maintain a temperature within normal limits while being more physically (and mentally) active.

As we may too soon find out, though we may complain about being cold, avoiding overheating ("the fire") may be a more difficult discomfort - cooling requires... well, I'll have to think about that for a while.

Any thoughts on why are we referred to as a "stiff-necked" people? Are we expected to remain that way,... or are we to struggle to gain some flexibility? Reply

Chaim B. A. Plano, TX via chabadplano.org December 23, 2005

Yanki did it again. You take lofty concepts and bring them to life in a practical form. Awesome. Thank you, Reply

This page in other languages