Rabbi Label Lam often explains that when someone comes back from vacationing in a warm climate, everyone knows that they have been away because they can see their tan. Rabbi Lam continues that when you come back from Eretz Yisrael you have the “inner tan”. When I was a kid, my mother used to have this cream called “After Tan” that you would “apply liberally after showering” to prolong your tan for weeks after your vacation memories had faded.
Having recently returned from Eretz Yisrael, I’ve been contemplating how to prolong my “inner tan”. In EY, I was on a high. Waking up for shachris on three hours of sleep was not that difficult. Running to the kosel to daven a midnight maariv in the rain, a privilege. Now, back home, exhausted, pushing myself to the 9 o’clock shacharis on purim morning was not easy. What happened? And how did it happen so fast?
In actuality, this is not something limited to a trip to Eretz Yisrael, it is something that, IMO, happens to every growth oriented person and perhaps more particularly to BTs. After the initial excitement of an event or an inspiration, people tend to slink back to their previous “less inspired” self. What serves as the “After Tan” for the inner tan?
The Gemara praises Palti Ben Layish as exceeding even Yosef HaTzaddik in Yosef’s ability to stave off the continuing advances of Potiphar’s wife. What did Palti ben Layish do to deserve such praise? The Talmud relates that Shaul HaMelekh had a daughter who was married to David, but Shaul argued, erroneously, that based on a technicality she was not married to David and legally had no husband. Shaul gave this daughter Palti ben Layish as a wife.
Palti ben Layish was faced with a dilemma of epic proportions: He could not refuse the King; he had to take his daughter as a wife. Yet, he knew very well that this was a married woman. There he was in the bedroom, on his wedding night, with a married woman. What did he do in order to ensure that he would succeed in withstanding temptation? He took a sword and stuck it in the ground and said “Anyone who ‘occupies himself with this matter’ will be stabbed by this sword.” The Gemara goes on to say that because of this tremendous act, Palti Ben Layish merited the assistance of Heaven and was able to live with the King’s daughter for many years and never so much as touch her.
What was so incredible about the act of sticking the sword into the ground? The answer is that Palti Ben Layish had the foresight to place a reminder of his true, clear thoughts at the time when they arose so that later, when perhaps his thinking wouldn’t be so clear, he would have that reminder. On that first night, Palti ben Layish knew what was right and what was wrong. On that first night, he had his priorities straight. On that first night, it was crystal clear. But, he also knew the human condition. He knew that when tomorrow came and as the days and the months and the years passed, his feelings would dissipate, his clarity would become murky. He would be tempted, he would come up with an excuse, he would become weak, and he would rationalize. Therefore, he said to himself, “I need a reminder, I have to seize this moment of absolute clarity and take a concrete step that will remind me that I know what is right and wrong in this situation.” There are moments when one does not rationalize, when one can clearly see the truth. Those are the moments when we must set up our own reminders.
I think in a way that reminders are a great way of prolonging the “inner tan”. Now, I’m not saying that we need to be planting swords all over the house (post-its might do the trick!) It may be as simple using a meaningful picture of your trip to Israel as your bookmark in your siddur. It may be placing an insightful quote as your computer screensaver. It may be pegging an area of growth to a particular event in your day that will remind you to do something such as saying (bli neder) “I won’t eat dinner before I learn one page of mussar”, “I won’t go to bed before I say one kapitel tehillim”, “I won’t eat lunch on Sundays before I call my parents” or “I won’t take off my tefillin before I learn one mishnah”. A similar means of prolonging the “inner tan” is by taking a small concrete commitment at the height of your inspiration. Doing so will almost certainly extend the length of that inspiration and helped to internalize it and make it a part of your being.
So, when we you return to your job, school, etc. after Yom Tov and someone asks you what you did over Pesach, simply reply “I was working on my tan!”