This week we confront the passing of two of our greatest leaders, Yosef and David. In our Parsha Yosef says, at Genesis 47:29: “Please don’t bury me in Egypt.” And in our Haf Tara, at I Kings 2:2, David haMelech says: “I am going the way of all mortals, Chazak! Be Strong!”[pause]
'Do not leave my remains in Mizraim, which is to say, outside of Israel's Holy Land and Be Strong!'
Regarding Yosef's request that his remains not be left in Egypt but returned to Eretz Y'israel Rashi notes: “So that the Egyptians won’t worship me after my death.”
NO righteous Jewish man or woman would ever want to be worshiped, G-d forbid! Including you know who!
But honored and respected? Yes! As both of these men rightly were and are! This is a different question.
Proverbs 22:1 tells us that – “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, loving favor rather than silver and gold.”
Both riches (silver and gold), rightly gained, are honorable, but an honorable reputation is far greater than these.
No one wants to be disrespected of course, nor does a person of understanding want to be worshiped. The very human desire to be honored and respected however is so strong that we do everything in our ability to make sure our departed loved ones are honored with respectful send-off gatherings, by sitting sheva, are placed in nice funeral plots with praiseworthy headstones etc. To the departed these things no longer matter, but to those left behind with our memories and longings, these the rituals seem essential.
Our human egos cry out for recognition, for love, for respect and, sometimes and in various ways, to be worshiped. Do you really want to be worshiped? Think about it. Just imagine living a life in which you are worshiped. The people consider you to be all-wise, all-knowing, your every wish and whim is fulfilled and gifts are brought to you without your even asking. You are “The Man” – or the “Woman,” or the unassigned “Person of some other gender...” no offense intended! Oi! But you have made it!
It is ironic but true that so many of the highly regarded “beautiful” people, those who have 'made it big time', are often among the saddest people of all. Having attained everything the Olam Hazeh has to offer they realize they have nothing. It was all smoke and mirrors. Sooner or later such people crash and burn! Today its almost like hunting season, hunting for people to destroy! “You wrote this in your high school year book fifty years ago! Now your going to pay!” Oi!
Why isn't “everything” enough? In part its because no one can meet such expectations for long, and the longer they do the sadder and more lonely they usually because. And, like in the story when the people finally see that king is wearing no clothing, it never goes well for the spiritually naked king!
The truth is we seldom meet a true tzaddik, one who surpasses the righteousness of average people with regards to his devekut or attachment to G-d. Instead, we hear tales about charlatans cloaked in religious garb, or about good people who sincerely try to reach this elevated level of consciousness by applying themselves to material disciplines that are way beyond their reach. Religious leaders especially must be careful not to succumb to the adoration of their followers,. nor to their own negative urges. Urges they hide and deny but that are hiding within the shadows of their all too human consciousness.
We Chassids have a serious problem with Rebbe worship! NEVER worship ANYTHING or ANYONE other than HaShem! This includes even the greatest and most empowered spiritual leaders, like Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. He was a man, a human being. NO righteous human wants to be worshiped; as Rebbe Nachman explains in Likutey Moharan I Lesson 194!
[READ Likutey Moharan I Lesson 194]
All human beings are fallible! Show respect yes! But never exceed the limits of piety and enter into the realms of avodah zarah.
Pirkei Avot instructs us: "Acquire for yourself a teacher." Given what we have shared today today the questions is How can I find the right teacher for me?
Understand that very often the true tzadikim appear to be of no repute, just ordinary folk with some knowledge. They may not be part of the great Jewish institutions and organizations, but rather, they often struggle alone with a small but loyal group of talmidim and supporters under the proverbial radar. Sometimes they may have no talmidim at all. Do not allow yourself to be led astray by the external grandeur of “Show bottle Spiritualists”! They may look nice in your resume or on your bookshelf, but more often than you probably suspect many of them do not even believe in HaShem! Many rabbis get paid outrageous salaries! Others raise huge amounts by selling trinkets with heartfelt appeals. Be careful.
Honor and respect should be granted to religious leaders within limits, but what does the desire for honor indicate about a person? Rebbe Nachman writes that it indicates that the person is lacking seikhel (good sense). Why? Because the less good sense one has, the more he desires honor, as described at Likutey Moharan I, #202). In another lesson the Rebbe puts it more bluntly: A desire for honor indicates that one is a fool (Likutey Moharan I, #194).
True honor is awarded by the people. Who is a rabbi? Despite smicha or ordination, rabbinic association memberships etc., the Rabbi or the Rebbe is the person addressed as such by his own community. Honor and respect must be earned. They are not like titles that can be awarded. Some rabbis are not rabbis and some laypeople are! How so? It is because honor and respect are awarded to those who have demonstrated these qualities.
And yet, it is precisely such deserved honors that can swell the heads and the egos of even the tzadikim and, thereby, like poison, infect them self importance, destroying their righteousness and replacing it with materialistic ego.
This is perhaps why rabbis are commanded to be married. Our wives have a way of humbling us when we need it! This, I believe, is why we repeat the Eshet Chayil, composed by Shlomo HaShem, each Shabbat. Among the praises of valorous women we find the oddest thing. He adds to th e list of her praises that, “her husband is well known as he sits at the gates among the elders of our people.” We men depend on our virtuous wives to keep us in check! We must recognizes that our talents are God-given gifts and we must always strive to use them well.
"A good name is better than riches"
And Yosef and David, both flawed in various ways, maintained their good names!
Let us try and do the same!
Happy Secular New Year!
May, by HaShem's Mercy, 2021 be better than 2020 (A year that will live in infamy!)
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