For years, like many other people, I’ve been beating myself up over the fact that I’m not perfect. It seems like the obvious thing to do, especially when you hit the ‘sincere baal teshuva’ trail, and there are people lining up all over the place, just waiting to tell you about all the things you’re doing wrong.
One way you can spot who is a real rabbi, and who has genuinely humility, is that when those people tell you things – even very hard things – it actually helps you, and it goes in without causing you any spiritual damage.
For example, Rav Arush’s Hebrew shiurim can sometimes hit some very sensitive nerves, but I’ve been attending his Shabbat shiurim at the yeshiva for a few weeks’ now, and you come away feeling cared for, seen and understood. When someone is genuinely holy, and genuinely on a very high spiritual level themselves, they have a humility that’s impossible to fake, that makes you, the listener / reader / follower feel good about what they’re telling you, even if you are (inevitably) doing things wrong.
Rav Shalom Arush and Rav Ofer Erez excel at this. They excel at telling you about their own spiritual struggles, and failures, and challenges, and how they themselves got out of very trying and tiring situations where their emuna got tested to the Nth degree. Their books are both full of this advice and wisdom, that in both instances was earned the hard way, from the ground up.
But then….(we’re about to controversial here) – it’s not just about what you say, it’s also about the way that you say it. So it is, that I can have people tell me to ‘just say thank you’ for all the hard stuff I’ve been through recently, and I literally want to punch them in the face.
When Rav Arush says it, as he so frequently does, it goes straight into my soul and I GET on a fundamental level that he is giving me a spiritual shortcut out of my troubles, that he knows works because he’s tried it himself.
But then, the same words gets parroted at me by someone who’s read the books, or heard some shiurim, but otherwise is still chock-full of bad middot, arrogance and a few other things too, including ingratitude – and it makes my blood boil. I literally can’t stand what I’m being told, and I start to develop very negative feelings about both the speaker and the message.
Part of the reason I’m writing this post is because after pondering at length whether I was turning into a heretic because I just couldn’t hear the ‘just say thank you’ stuff from certain people any more, G-d helped me to see: 1) how dangerous and misleading all these ‘Rav Arush wannabes’ are, with all their smug, pat ‘advice’ that’s devoid of sincerity, caring and compassion and 2) how amazing Rav Arush and his advice actually is.
Now I live in Jerusalem, I have had the privilege of seeing Rav Arush in action on a number of occasions, and he is the real deal. I can’t tell you the number of people who call him, or simply show up on his doorstep out the blue, or corner him when he’s getting in or out of his car – and he tries to accommodate everyone. He’s never too busy saving the world to offer a kind word to his fellow Jew, even though he really is very busy off saving the world.
Rebbe Nachman wrote that at the End of Days, there would be a lot of religious fakers, trying to ride the coat-tails of real kedusha to get themselves some unearned kudos and respect from other people.
That’s not a chiddush, I know. But the chiddush for me, at least this week, was that they can still be scoring points for the ‘other side’ when they’re quoting Rav Arush at you. It literally makes the mind boggle.
So if you’re being given ‘advice’ that’s making you feel bad, worthless or like you’ll never reach the lofty level of the person who’s running their mouth off at you, press pause on the beating yourself up attack and remember one thing: real tzadikim make you feel positive about yourself, even when you’re doing negative things – and fakers make you feel negative about yourself even when 99% of the time you’re doing positive things. Buyer beware.