As I touched on last week, I've unfortunately had decades of painful experiences with religious fakers, who excel at portraying themselves as being the holiest of holies, while at the same time failing to get to grips with a slew of bad middot that would put gangsters like Al Capone to shame.
As I was mulling it over (because I know that really, no-one likes to hear this stuff, as it's far too close too home and ikky-making), God sent me a brainwave: Do a top 10 list of things religious phoneys say!
Because dear reader, King Shlomo was so right when he said there is nothing new under the sun. It's like they all go to religious phoney school, or something, to learn the same catch-phrases and soundbites. So without any further ado, here's my top 10 sayings to watch out for. If someone you know starts saying these things, run away very quickly, and don't look back.
1) "I care for you like you're my own child / brother / relative." - What they don't tell you is that half their family fled abroad to get away from them, are off the derech, and / or that they're not on speaking terms with most of them.
2) "I want to be one of the top-ranking rabbis / rebbetzins / speakers on the religious circuit" - Nothing wrong with that, you might think - except it's all about their success and status, and has nothing to do with promoting God.
3) "I'm only willing to show up if you can guarantee me that [X] number of people are going to come." - True servants of Hashem know that every single person is a world unto themselves. They don't need a minimum audience to happily teach Torah.
4) "I'm always here for you." - This is usually said at the end of a very hurried conversation, where they just made it very clear that trying to help you solve your big problem is simply not a big priority.
5) "You guys are part of the inner circle." - Arrogant elitism alert! And who's at the heart of this elite, superior, select group? Why, the religious phoney, of course.
6) "I love everyone." - Yoshki was the first one to try this move, but unfortunately not the last. It sounds good in theory, but no real tzaddik would actually ever say this out loud, publicly, to somebody else. Another popular riff on the same idea is: "Torah is my life." When that's actually true, you don't need to go around telling everyone, because they can work it out for themselves without your PR.
7) "I need your help to save the world / save the whales / save my skin" - Again, this can be a hard one to spot, but true religious people RELY ON HASHEM. They don't ask for favours, or try to manipulate other people into doing stuff for them for free.
8) "I need $50k sponsorship a month in order to make this happen, otherwise, I just can't do it." - Don't we all know that Eretz Yisrael, Torah, and the world to come are only achieved via difficulties, trials and deprivations? And now, this guy wants to get paid a fat wad to have a shot at being the next Baba Sali!? When someone is focussing more on their bank account than they are on their holy mission, it's a big flashing sign that their service of God is a career move, not an all-consuming passion.
9) "If you'd have asked me, I'd have told you to do X" - Religious phoneys love to control other people's lives and to liberally throw their opinions around. By contrast, real holy people will very rarely, if ever, tell you directly what to do. And when they do tell you something, they'll phrase it as a piece of advice, not as a direct command, or stinging piece of criticism.
10) "Rules are rules. But sometimes, you can't stick to the rules." - Religious Phoneys regularly look for ways to break the rules that 'lesser mortals' should be following.
They'll give the impression that they're so holy, the can have 2 i-Phones, 3 Facebook accounts, regularly upload their stuff to YouTube, and do stuff that most people would balk at (like spending hours talking to, or directly in front of, members of the opposite sex…) and it's all OK for them to do it, because it's kiruv.
The truth? You just can't build a mitzvah on the back of an aveirah, and when you're a truly holy person, you don't even want to.
The following things can also clue you in that you're dealing with a religious phoney:
- They like to name drop - which 'big rav' they learned with; which celebrity they're 'doing kiruv' with; what politicians call them for advice, etc.
- Their advice never actually helps you, or is completely unrealistic. It may sound good, but either you can't make it work in practise (because only the biggest tzadikim could actually pull it off), or when you do follow it, it just backfires, and often leaves you with an even bigger problem to solve.
- They never apologise.