The Professional Tzaddik
The entire Yeshiva was buzzing with the story. A student had the great privilege to bring a hot tea to the holy rabbi each day after lunch. He did this for five years. One day, when he went to the dining room to get hot water he was frustrated to find the urns empty. He ran to the cook and told him that he immediately needed hot water to make tea for the rabbi. The cook wondered, “Where do you usually get the water for the tea?” “I take it from the urns.” The cook was shocked. The urns were never heated at lunchtime. The student had been bringing cold tea to the great rabbi for five years and the rabbi had not said a word! The cook quickly boiled some water and the student, shamefacedly, offered a truly hot tea to the rabbi. The holy man immediately felt the heat of the glass and smiled; “Ahhh! That’s the way I like it!”
Everyone in the yeshiva was discussing the holiness of this great Tzaddik who did not utter a single word of complaint for five years. Everyone, that is, except for me. The entire story struck me as being ridiculous. The rabbi could have saved himself five years of cold tea by simply saying something the first time. He also would have saved the student from embarrassment. But, I was the only one who was unimpressed.
I went to my father and repeated the story. I asked him why the rabbi would have possibly endured such unnecessary suffering for so long. I can still see his smile as he answered; “He is a professional Tzaddik!” The holy rabbi was role-playing a Tzaddik.
It happens all the time. A prominent rabbi sat in my home and listened with tears in his eyes as I explained how he had hurt some people. He listened. He wasn’t defensive. I could not believe how magnificently he handled the situation. Unfortunately, the next Shabbat it was clear that he had not changed any of his behaviors. He cried in my living room as he listened, but he still did not change. Why???? The image of my father smiling and saying, “He’s a professional Tzaddik,” appeared in my head, and I understood: He did everything he believed a Tzaddik would do. He came to me in great humility. He listened carefully to all I said. He actually cried. Unfortunately, he is not a Tzaddik; he simply knows what he believes a Tzaddik would do, and he could not change. He was playing the role of a Tzaddik, but as my father would say, “A Tzaddik; I know you’re not!”
Role-playing is dangerous. We are not ourselves. We behave how we believe we should rather than naturally. We fool ourselves into believing that we are who we are not.
So why do we perform so much role-playing at the Seder? “In every generation a person must see himself as if he went out of Egypt.” How can we protect ourselves from the dangers of role-playing? Is there a way we can find our true selves in the Seder? Leaving you with a question for the night of questions, I wish you all an expansive Chag of change, growth and self-discovery.
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