If there is one ‘clue’ that I could share with you for working out which of our leaders, religious and otherwise, is faking it, and which are the real deal, it’s this:
With fakers, everything they do, they do for themselves.
Again, these aren’t actually my words (apart from the ‘fakers’ bit… ), but they’re based on the words of Rabbi Chaim Vital, student of the Arizal, who wrote the following about the false leaders who would swamp the world in the generation before Moshiach.
In his introduction to the section on Shaar HaHakdamos, in his classic kabbalistic work ‘Etz Chayim’ (The Tree of Life), Rabbi Vital says the following:
“When a person studies the Oral Law lo lishmah (ie, not for it’s own sake but for vested interests of personal gain, honour, money, position, etc), and without love and fear [of God], his Torah study will not elevate him spiritually….
“He will fall from his [spiritual rung], and ultimately, he will study with an undesirable intent, for his own self-interest, eg to enhance his honour so that he be considered a scholar, or use as a medium for earning a livelihood.”
Now, how do we apply this to our modern world, and everything we see going on before us?
To put it simply, when we see a Rabbi or leader, religious or otherwise, male or otherwise, who is far more interested in their personal prestige, power and bank account than they are in genuinely serving the people who are following them, this is a massive clue that we might well be dealing with a faker.
To give some examples from my own life: I’ve been to many shiurim by Rav Shalom Arush, and Rav Ofer Erez. I’ve never been asked to pay money to attend them.
By contrast, I recently went to a shiur by another ‘big name’ in the world of Torah classes, and the 30 shekel payment for the shiur (which I hadn’t been told about beforehand) was strictly enforced – the helper was literally waving the canister in everyone’s face and wouldn’t let them leave if they hadn’t coughed-up.
I know we’re so used to this that I probably sound extreme, but IT’S NOT THE AUTHENTIC TORAH WAY to be so insistent on being paid to give over Torah. I also know, from my own experience, that Torah educators also have bills and have to eat, but we’re warned about ‘making the Torah into a hammer’ for good reason.
The couple of occasions I tried to ask people for payments for my Torah classes, it just felt all wrong, like I was trying to milk my learning to pay my mortgage.
What have you done for him, lately?
Another way you can spot fakers is how much time they have for people who are not useful to them. If you can promote their message, career, bank account or reputation, fakers will deign to give you a few minutes (all the time making it clear that their time is very valuable and bossing you around like you’re a moron). If you can’t – they drop you like a hot potato.
Now, I know that from the rabbis’ perspective, there are a lot of time-wasters out there too, so it’s very difficult to sift out what’s truly going on. But again, from my own experience, I have seen Rav Arush swamped with people every time he steps outside his front door, and he does his best to answer each one in a friendly, warm way – which if you see the circus that often surrounds him, is enormous testament to his patience and good middot (characteristics).
By contrast, I’ve also seen fakers who make no secret of having absolutely no time for people who had been faithfully following them for years, barely made any demands of them, and were seriously struggling for some spiritual support and chizzuk.
To say it’s upsetting when the penny finally drops that your spiritual guide is actually a Class A Grade faker is probably the understatement of the year.
As with everything, only personal prayer, only talking to God, can get us through all the enormous tests each one of us is facing in the closing weeks of 5775 in one piece, with our emuna and sanity intact.
If you’re not doing it already, I strongly recommend making a daily chat with God part of your schedule, because challenging as life is at the moment, I can’t see any signs that it’s going to calm down again any time soon.