Rabbi Zvi Homnick, Beis Moshiach
Big Bubba from Texas was battling his way up the bluffs of Normandy from Omaha Beach. Surrounded by the dead and dying, screaming and crying, he saw skinny little Jake from the Lower East Side pass him by on the way up. As streams of bullets flew past, Jake kept moving and firing, taking grenades off fallen soldiers and lobbing them at the enemy gunners. Bubba fell in with him and the two helped take the first footholds in the defense line, which enabled the army to push through.
Although Bubba never heard anything positive about Jews back in Texas, the odd pair became an army legend as they bravely fought side-by-side through France, Holland, Belgium, and on into Berlin, earning an impressive collection of medals for bravery and action above and beyond the call of duty.
Strangely, Bubba would hear Jake saying under his breath repeatedly as he fought, “Borscht with chicken skin and potato peels,” but he figured it must be his favorite food, motivating himself to make it back home alive. Finally, the war was over and it was time to return to the States. As they parted ways, Bubba felt he had to say something.
Bubba: Now you can finally have plenty of borscht with chicken skin and potato peels.
Jake: Feh, that is the most disgusting thing I ever put into my mouth.
Bubba: So why were you saying it all the time?
Jake: Hey, if I was brave enough to eat that dreck almost every night to survive the Depression, a few Nazis are gonna scare me?
Most people reading the title likely reacted to the term “fake it” as something negative. Actually, “fake it till you make it” was traditionally seen as a crucial step toward spiritual growth in the service of Hashem, like in every other area of human discipline. In fact, many Torah scholars and devotees of Mussar see it that way to this very day. This is based on numerous sources (partial list): the Chazal that “a person should always be engaged in Torah and mitzvos shelo lishma (lit. not for its own sake), as from ‘shelo lishma’ he will come to ‘lishma;’” the teaching of the Sefer HaChinuch that “the hearts are drawn after the actions;” the Rambam’s prescription to correct one’s flawed character traits by behaving in the opposite extreme until they are corrected and one can then achieve balance. The first addresses emotions as motives for behavior (Torah and mitzvos); the second addresses emotions as feelings the Torah obligates (joy, gratitude, etc.); the third addresses the emotions as the basis for proper character (uprooting anger, stinginess, etc.).
The Baal Shem Tov and Chassidus rejected the simplistic notion that these teachings work as a straightforward cause and effect: “Fake it” and you will eventually “make it.” Actually, in most cases, the more you fake it, the more of a faker you will become and will just assume everybody else is also faking it. It can even get to the point where you delude yourself into thinking you are a Tzaddik, a paragon of righteousness. And on top of all of your other amazing qualities also extremely humble, since you have been working really hard at faking that for years.
[Note: I heard a respected mashpia cite the letter of the Tzemach Tzedek about simcha as proof that “fake it till you make it” is also an accepted approach in Chabad Chassidus. I hope the following will help clear up that misconception.]
Chassidus taught that when the not-yet refined emotions of the animal soul are not on board, then you need to plug directly into the super-love of your neshama and overpower those emotions to cooperate. When a person is aware of that deeper love, and he acts upon it, the emotions will follow. Like at a wedding where you are genuinely happy for the couple but distracted by other things and not feeling it right now; joining the dancing and getting into it will enable your inner happiness to come out. There is nothing fake about that, even if in your previous emotional state it didn’t feel real.
As explained previously, the light of Chassidus in the first two generations completely overpowered the animal soul, so the internal changes were only from the outside in. In the next generation, the darkness that concealed the light of the neshama called for battle to change from the inside out. One could plug into the light of the super-love of the neshama by visiting the Tzaddik and studying his teachings, but it would fade over time. How could one access it on a regular basis and not “fake it?” How could one get to the point where he would “make it?” Clearly, it is obligatory to follow the dictates of Chazal, the Sefer HaChinuch and the Rambam, but how to be “real” and not “fake?”
Here is where the two paths of ChaBaD and ChaGaS diverged.
As mentioned, the approaches of the Baal Shem Tov and the Mezritcher Maggid worked for those with a natural aptitude for becoming Tzaddikim and for more simple people with no agenda. It did not speak to those Torah scholars who were committed to the “fake it” approach, and it actually drove them to ever stronger forms of opposition. The other disciples argued that since we can only provide the light of the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid to our followers in small bursts, the next step was to attack the emotions directly by providing tools for people to stir their own emotions through inspiration and imagination.
Imagine the great delight Hashem has from every good deed and from even the smallest struggle to refrain from sin and you are the one giving Him that delight. Imagine millions of angels rushing about to bring every word of prayer up to Hashem and add them as jewels to His crown and you are making it all happen. Imagine a huge fire and a gentile threatening to throw you in if you don’t embrace idol worship, and how you jump in with joy over the mitzva to sanctify His Holy Name. The emotions this will stir are not “fake” at all, since all these things are very REAL. Even if your animal soul does not fully relate and would rather be doing something else, it will become caught up in the excitement from the “inside out.”
Don’t “fake it” and smile at a fellow Jew, while thinking you hate his guts, and that this somehow makes you a big Tzaddik. Instead, focus on imagining how much nachas Hashem has when you overcome your natural inclinations for His sake, and try to stir up some positive feelings for that Jew. Don’t “fake it” by davening, scrunching your face and shaking madly to score points in heaven (and impress other people), while having zero feeling of standing before G-d.
Instead, prepare first by imagining how small and unworthy you are to stand before Him, so first give some tzedaka, learn some Torah, and have thoughts of repentance. Only then can you switch to imagining the great joy of Hashem and the entire heavenly entourage over His only child approaching Him in prayer as a humble servant. If you get caught up in the excitement and find yourself shaking and scrunching to fight off the distracting thoughts the yetzer hara sends your way, so be it, but never be a faker even with the best intentions. And so on and so forth… ■
(to be continued, G-d willing)
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