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Growth Through Hypocrisy

Wikipedia defines hypocrisy as:
Hypocrisy is the act of persistently pretending to hold beliefs, opinions, virtues, feelings, qualities, or standards that one does not actually hold. Hypocrisy is thus a kind of lie.
I was feeling particularly unimpressed with my actions one day and sighed, "I am such a hypocrite.";  which only made me feel worse, because I hate hypocrisy with a passion.  (I actually used the word "fraud", but I don't want to admit that in public.)  It was pointed out to me, however, that if I hate being hypocritical, that means that I don't define myself as exemplifying that character trait and so I am not a hypocrite.  (Oh gosh... does that mean I am being hypocritical about my hypocrisy?  Not going there...).  So I am making an effort not to regard myself as "a hypocrite", but rather as someone who acts (at times) hypocritically.

So lets begin anew: I was feeling particularly unimpressed with my actions one day and sighed, "I really hate acting hypocritically."  And yet... consider the following:
R' Saadia Gaon was once found by his talmidim punishing himself by rolling in the snow.  His shocked talmidim wondered what such a great sage and tzadik could have done to feel he needed such an extreme form of penitence.  He saw them looking in wonder and told them, "I do this every day."

R' Saadia told them that once he had been traveling and arrived late one night to an inn.  The innkeeper -- who did not recognize R' Saadia (before internet, you know) -- told him that there was no room available; very sorry, but nothing could be done at this late hour.  When pressed, the innkeeper agreed to put him up in the barn for a modest fee.  Somehow word got out that the great R' Saadia Gaon was in town and staying at the inn.  In the morning, throngs of people crowded up to the inn in hopes of catching a glimpse of the great sage.  The innkeeper went out to ask what was going on, and he also then waited in eager anticipation to see the renowned R' Saadia.  Imagine the horror the poor innkeeper felt when he saw that the man he had put up in the barn was the great sage himself!  The innkeeper threw himself at R' Saadia's feet and cried to him, "Please forgive me!  Had I recognized the Rav, I would never have treated him in such a manner!".

The great sage and tzadik, R' Saadia Gaon, concluded by telling his talmidim that each and every day that his recognition of the HaShem Yisbarach is greater than the day before.  So much greater, in fact, that he feels each day like that poor innkeeper; shocked and horrified at the way he treated his Creator the day before.  Therefore, each and every day R' Saadia felt he needed to beg forgiveness for his behaviour the day before.
That was R' Saadia.  I, on the other hand, don't even treat HaShem with the respect due given my current state of knowledge.  In fact, I often don't even treat Him with the just simple derech eretz.  I remember the first time I learned that there were rules about what to do if one forgot, for example, to add "mashiv ha'ru'ach u'morid hageshem" into one's shmone esrei.  I thought, "What?!  A person who believes in G-d and the efficacy or prayer could simply forget where he is and before Whom he is standing?!"  Regrettably, I have learned and needed those halachos all too often.

Actually, the way I say brachos in general is disgraceful.  I am trying to be better, though.  I try to open my siddur before starting rather than leafing through it as I am mumbling the words.  Every once in a while I actually stop and realize that I am saying "atah"; speaking in second person, directly addressing HaShem.  Usually after I realize that, I stop and mentally pat myself on the back for having grown so much in my emuna.  Very often I am so taken with my kavana at that one word that I find myself almost done with shmone esrei before I start paying attention to the words again.

So I really do act hypocritically.  I say I believe, but my actions do not match my intellectual beliefs.  On the other hand... this world is called "alma d'shikra" - the world of falsehood.  HaShem has provided us with a made up world to exercise our b'chira (free choice) to turn away from falsehood to Truth.  He has given us the opportunity to perfect ourselves with that.  But I can only become better if I started out not best.  That means that HaShem actually placed me here with a strong tendency  (yeitzer ra) to grab immediate pleasure and a deep feeling (yeitzer tov) that there is more to life than how many chickens I can turn into fertilizer in my short stay here.  He also gave my yeitzer ra a 13 year head start.  That means that by the time I start to realize that there just has to be more, I find myself acting hypocritically all over the place.  That, it turns out, is the greatest gift of all.  For at the end of my life, all achievements of perfecting myself -- narrowing the gap between my actions and my beliefs/knowledge -- will be mine.  As a self-perfected being, I can then truly enjoy the eternal existence that my Creator has prepared for me.  Namely, a relationship with the one and only source of the perfection I have worked to hard to earn.

Back to R' Saadia, one of the greatest tzadikim of all time; a fact, of course, that he knew.  So what prompted this great sage to punish himself so severely?  R' Saadia was using his realization from the event with the innkeeper to further motivate himself to ever increasing levels of righteousness and closeness to his Creator.  Moreover, he modeled that behaviour to his talmidim so they would also be able to work to improve themselves.  In R' Saadia's generation, it was motivating to realize each day that one's avoda of yesterday was lacking.  That is because R' Saadia's avoda on any particular day was consistent with his knowledge and understanding of his Creator.  It was only after further reflection and learning that he realized that yesterday's avoda had been lacking.  Doing tshuva today for yesterday was motivating only because R' Saadia's avoda today was impeccable!

In our generation, with all the pressure, intrusion, and enticement from the outside world -- the world of lies and falsehood -- that same thought can be crushing.  Even our avoda of today is not what we know it should be.  Our avoda of each day is not that R' Saadia's was, and therefore when and how we do tshuva must be wholly different.  We have to realize that we live in a world of real hypocrisy that is not of our own making.

I propose, therefore, that we need to achieve our perfection in two steps.  First we recognize the hypocrisy, then, and only then, do we work to correct it.  We need to appreciate that for us, the recognition itself is a step toward perfection.  Rather than feeling depressed at our own hypocritical actions, we should feel elated that we actually realize their hypocrisy!  That is actually the feeling of a healthy psyche in tune with its environment.  Take pride in the fact that you feel badly about acting hypocritically and realize that it means you aren't a hypocrite!  After that, the next step is actually quite easy, it just takes time. (It can take a lot of time, btw; I have worked on one particular mida for nearly 20 years and am only now seeing a bit of movement in the right direction.  Never give up.)  The more you appreciate your own sensitivity and yearning to be better, the more you will come to see your true value.  The more you appreciate your own value and worth, the less draw you will feel toward activities that are not in accordance to what you know and believe.


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