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4/12/2011 Don't just pretend—be real!



Don't just pretend—be real!

The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish law) concerning the conduct of the Seder nights states, “We are obligated to pretend and act as if it is at this moment that we were taken out of Egypt, therefore all activities of this night need to be done in a way that shows freedom.” 

So on the night of Pesach we are told to become actors, to role play and pretend to be that which we are not!

But why would we be told to act? Should we not be real? Does pretending really count?

Presumably, we can more fully appreciate Hashem’s kindness and miracles of Yetzias Mitzrayim (exodus of Egypt) if we act in ways that show freedom. So for the nights of Pesach an exception is made and we act.

Nowadays, thank G-d, acting in a way of freedom on Pesach is no longer pretending; it is pretty real!  Many of us experience freedom more than just on the Seder nights. The contemporary Pesach experience being embraced by more and more people includes an elaborate vacation to an exotic place for the entire Pesach holiday.

With no Pesach cleaning, shopping, or cooking, and with all your holiday needs (under the most stringent rabbinic supervision) taken care of, this is indeed an experience of freedom.

This was, however, not always the case. The Jewish people, during their long exile, have unfortunately experienced persecution, humiliation, and Tzores.

People were not really free and were not always in a frame of mind to celebrate Passover, the festival of freedom.

Many times the Jew had to dodge dangers and difficulties, and devise plans for how to celebrate the Seder and Pesach in dark cellars and other hideouts. These were Seders that sometimes lacked even the basics of Matzo and wine, but with no shortage of moror.

And yet even during such trying times, the Shulchan Aruch tells us of the moral strength and fortitude the Jew possesses. In their most challenging circumstances their belief and trust in Hashem is unwavering!   

They act and pretend as if they are free and the act becomes the reality. At that moment of celebration they rise above all of their oppressors, above all of their circumstances, and they are actually free. This demonstration of the unyielding bitochon and trust in Hashem makes them free. 

Acting is fine for situations beyond our control and on the nights of Pesach, but things we have control over and the rest of the year we need to be real.

My father o.b.m. had many sayings (vertlech) fitting for various situations. When he said them I would not always quite appreciate or see the wisdom in them. As time goes on I recognize how insightful and meaningful they really were. I find myself thinking about them and repeating them.

A well-known and distinguished individual was once asked why he was wasting precious time and not spending more time studying Torah. He answered that he has no need for Torah study for he already knows Torah. When he was asked, is it really true that he knows Torah? He answered that he has no need to know Torah for it is common knowledge that he knows Torah (er is shoin a mefursem)!

Essentially, he was saying why trouble yourself to work hard and spend time to master Torah when you can get away without putting yourself out.

In this view, what matters is not who and what you really are but what people around you think of you. As long as you can make a good impression and have others believe you are great, that is what counts and that is what is important.

The above adage is true in all aspects of life, and is most certainly true in the contemporary times we live in. The distinction between real, genuine, authentic, sincere—and false, adulterated, fake, phony, bogus—are blurred.

(Basically, we live in a world that is pretend! In the Kabala as articulated by the Chasidic masters of Chabad it teaches that the entire creation, the world and all that it is in it, are essentially pretend. They pretend to exist independently of G-d when in truth all of creation is merely an extension and expression of the blessed Ein Sof. G-d charged us with the mission of removing the layers and covers that block His presence and to reveal the G-dliness in the physical and material. We shall leave this discussion for another time.)

I dare to suggest that in the past people would at least feel the need to hide the fact that they were only pretending. People would be embarrassed if someone found out they weren’t real.

Today we are all pretending; you know I am pretending, I know I am pretending, and all of us are pretending that we don’t know that we are pretending.

It was never an easy task to raise children to be true decent human beings and true Torah Jews (emesdige goote, ehrliche chasidishe kinder).

So much love, labor, sleepless nights, prayers at licht bentchen, and resources are invested to help our children attain true values (midos tovos), true love of Hashem, true love of the Torah with yiras shomayim.

In the current environment which is unreal, pun intended, the challenges to keep things real are magnified.

The prevailing attitudes of 'I can sell you anything and everything' and 'it is all in the packaging,' are creeping in through back doors and tiny cracks into the minds of our children.

We need to counter and reject these ideas. We need to constantly stress to our children the importance of being real and that we cannot and should not bluff our way through life. Of course we need to begin by being real ourselves.

Hashem is real, the Torah is real, and Yiddishkeit is real. We need to really study, really know, and really behave like a mentch.

We need to remember that there are no quick fixes. It takes hard work to refine a character, it is painstakingly difficult to become a Talmid Chacham—but at the end it is all worth it, for you have the diamond, not a Cubic Zirconia.

And yet there is sometimes a need to pretend. 

In the Torah we read that in order for Jacob to receive the blessings from his father Isaac, Jacob dressed up and pretended to be Eisav.

In order to maximize our influence to bring the message of Torah to the masses it is sometimes necessary to utilize the techniques used in selling valueless and unreal items.

We must remember not to confuse the use of the same tools with the goods we are selling. We are not selling Shaklee or Tupperware; we are selling the emes (truth)!

While using these techniques we must also be careful to follow the guidelines of halacha and only use them in permissible ways, for in Judaism goals don’t justify means. 

As soon as Jacob achieved his goal and received the blessings, he removed Eisav’s garments.

It is important to remember who we really are and what we are really about. We are Jacob's children, and the tools and techniques we use to sell are merely borrowed, temporary garments and need to be removed as soon as possible.