And he gets it straight from the Tanach:
Great people are sometimes so great that others can’t appreciate them.
[Meshugah ish haruach] — The man of spirit — the man who is dedicated fully to Hashem — is a madman (Hoshea 9:7).
It means that he appears to be a madman, a meshuganeh, in the eyes of others.
— Parshas Vayera 3 – The System of Avraham Avinu
But it also applies to people who are just a level or two above you.
With that in mind, let's take a look one example of a much-loved tzaddik: Rav Yitzchak Kaduri.
The Unsullied Greatness of Rav Yitzchak Kaduri ztz"l
(No one knows his actual birth year. Some say it was as late as 1902, but others say it was as early as 1898. If it was the earlier date, then his life touched 3 different centuries & 2 millennia.)
He was told to go to Eretz Yisrael by the Ben Ish Chai himself.
So he went (though not immediately, if memory serves me correctly).
He learned under some of the greatest rabbanim of that time (including the holy Rav Yehudah Petiyah, author of Minchat Yehudah).
Rav Kaduri was considered a very holy & pure talmid chacham, a real tzaddik whose brachas were fulfilled.
If you view video clips of Rav Kaduri, you see an elderly man with the aura of a joyful child.
It feels almost heretical to write of Rav Kaduri in such a way, but the truth is that his purity and holy simplicity is something that many of us have only seen in pure, innocent children — hence the comparison.
And that right there shows you the truth of Hoshea HaNavi's words: Rav Kaduri achieved such a high level of pure emunah & bitachon, along with such cleaving to Hashem, he lived with a child's trust in his Father.
For a year, my husband davened Shacharit in Rav Kaduri's shul in Geula.
He felt too much shy & awed to approach Rav Kaduri personally, but he remarked on how Rav Kaduri smiled through the entire prayer service.
He remained there in prayer, grinning away the entire time. For him, Shacharit brought him the same pleasure others receive from sailing a yacht.
And Rav Kaduri was like this every single day.
And despite being close to 100 years old at the time, Rav Kaduri displayed surprising alacrity to escort the Sefer Torah. That alacrity emanated from his deep love & reverence for Torah.
In a video (available somewhere online), you can see a meeting between Rav Kaduri and the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
They are both profoundly glad to meet each other.
Rav Kaduri is stammering with joy at meeting a fellow tzaddik & talmid chacham. He can't stop blessing the Rebbe & shaking his hand.
Again, this great mekubal & tzaddik seems almost childlike in his excitement at meeting the Lubavitcher Rebbe. It's almost as if he's thinking, "I can't believe I'm actually meeting my hero in person!"
This also shows Rav Kaduri's innate humility; he's impressed with the Lubavitcher Rebbe's spiritual greatness, not his own.
Just for knowing, the Lubavitcher Rebbe was equally thrilled to meet him and responded warmly throughout the encounter, and as we've discussed before on this blog, great people aren't clones of each other. They have different personalities and they express themselves differently (some are more introverted, some more extroverted; some are more emotionally expressive, some are more restrained, and so on).
Both tzaddikim responded in their own way to each other with humility and genuine appreciation of the other.
So when most of us see someone like Rav Kaduri, we don't see his tremendous scholarship, his exalted piety, his solid emunah & bitachon, and his pure deveikut to Hashem.
We just see a sweet elderly man basking in childlike joy.
Yes, his whole-hearted deveikut and bitachon seem "childlike" in our eyes.
That's because we are so far beneath him.
The Humility & Gevurah of the Lubavitcher Rebbe ztz"l
Though I'm not a Lubavitcher, I used to sit and watch videos of his encounters with people in line to see him.
It was captivating.
Some people who were clearly far beneath him in yirat Shamayim & observance & middot related to him as if they were his equal.
He never got offended, but related to them with the same smile & affectionate twinkle in his eye he had for everyone.
Yet some people related to him as if he was beneath them and they came to give him advice and fix HIM.
He responded to them with quiet conviction, never angry or huffy, just serious at the most. He quietly, firmly, and compassionately explained to them his view (the correct view), despite the fact that in one case, a man treated him with such imperious condescension, I wanted to yell at him to stop.
Because these people did not understand the Rebbe, his scholarship and reasons for his positions on issues, and because they view self-contained non-combative people as weak (rather than displaying immense self-discipline & gevurah, as Pirke Avot states), they therefore approached him as if he sat beneath them.
They couldn't imagine that he was actually much greater.
Ironically, truly good people with sterling middot can often appear boring & simple to those who aren't on their level.
But really, they are the most intriguing & internally richest people you could meet.
(Also, for those of you who saw the encounter with the meshumad Jew who tried to influence the Rebbe with missionary literature — and whom the Rebbe countered quite effectively — that man did full teshuvah and ended up at a Chabad yeshivah. Baruch Hashem!)
Something Definitely Seems "Off" Here...Oh, It's Me! I'm What's "Off"!
For example, I periodically visit a woman to receive a cosmetic service she offers.
Once, a couple of teenage boys answered her door and seemed clueless when I asked for her.
They seemed not to know what to do, when finally they asked another teenage boy about her, and he thought this over before going to find her somewhere in the home.
I knew she was expecting me because I'd set an appointment with her. So I knew she was there. Why were they so discombobulated about the whole thing?
And though it only takes a second to read about it, the whole incident took a surprisingly long time in reality.
I found the whole situation strange. After all, we are talking about a woman who is either in her apartment (and not a 2-story private home) or in the clinic adjoining her apartment (and such people generally have a brief set of instructions to help their family deal with their clients' arrivals).
Also, I got the impression that maybe they weren't all her sons, but it's hard to tell because in the frum community, many people have their kids so close together, you could have several who all seem around the same age.
On the other hand, they seemed to feel at home and not like visiting friends or cousins.
(And even visiting friends or cousins don't get so discombobulated when some knocks on the door to request their aunt/friend's mother.)
I'm ashamed to admit that I started thinking not-such-lofty opinions of them, like they were clueless and couldn't get their act together. I was also surprised that such a grounded & "together" woman didn't produce more competent children.
And of course, this kind of thinking can also lead to stereotyping entire groups in order to "explain" odd behavior. You know, like "THEY are like that" or "THEY blah-blah-blah..."
It's wrong to do this, by the way, but it happens.
(I know it sounds like I'm being exceptionally judgmental about them, but it's hard to describe in words all the non-verbal stuff and how long it took, and how disconcerted I felt in the middle when all I did was ask for their mother please, and receive long stares with half-open mouths in reply, almost as if they couldn't figure out who I was talking about or what I wanted. And they did not respond to me verbally at all. Like I said, it took a surprisingly long while to sort out this very routine issue and no, none of them appeared to suffer mental disabilities that might explain it. So it was a bit disconcerting & bewildering for me to deal with.)
But on my last appointment with her, she suddenly revealed that, at the request of their Rebbe, she and her husband had been taking in boys with emotional problems — boys whose families could no longer deal with them.
She and her husband had been doing this since the end of their first year of marriage, in addition to creating their own family.
It started with one boy, and now they have a whole bunch.
Preparing for Pesach under coronavirus lockdowns proved a unique challenge for them: Under quarantine, the boys either needed to be in her home (in their own adjoining apartments) or in their parents's home.
But their parents could not handle having them at home.
So they stayed with her.
Likewise, she could get no cleaning help (except for a younger sister who managed to come and help for a few hours) and needed to prepare for everything with just her and her husband, while caring for their own children and all these emotionally challenged teenage boys.
And did I mention she's also nursing a baby?
Wow. Mi k'amcha Yisrael?
The Greater You are, the More Likely You are to Recognize Greatness as Greatness, and Not as "Meshugah."
If I'd been on a higher level myself, I would've been more insightful and generous-minded, rather than just thinking everyone was clueless or that there was some kind of cultural or familial weirdness going on.
In fact, if I myself had been the type of person to care for emotionally challenged teenage boys in my own home, I would've immediately recognized the dynamic for what it was.
But I'm not the type of person who can spend years caring for emotionally challenged teenage boys in my home. (The adjoining apartments are actually a newer addition, though this couple still needs to parent these boys. Up until recently, these boys were actually living in this couple's apartment.)
And I don't think I ever will be that type of person.
But she is.
She is on a much higher level than I.
And that's why her life looked so strange to me.
As Rav Miller said, greatness often appears "meshugah" — crazy, weird, silly, simple-minded, foreign — to lesser people.
Here are some aspects that initially appeared offensive, irrational, or crazy:
- Taharat hamishpacha
- Separate seating for men & women in shul
- Not doing malachah on Shabbat ("But turning on a light doesn't feel like 'work'!" is the common cry of many new to Shabbat)
- Dedicating one's life to Torah
- Guarding one's tongue
- Prohibitions against mocking others ("But I'm just kidding!") or hurting their feelings ("But I'm just kidding!") or embarrassing them ("But I'm just kidding!")
- Tsniyut (dressing & behaving with dignity)
- Guarding one's eyes from forbidden sights
- Getting married before age 30
- Having more than 1.8 children
The list goes on.
It's really good to remember Hoshea HaNavi's prophecy and Rav Miller's interpretation of it before we dismiss something as meshugah.
It helps to take a step back and consider what it really is.
It might indeed be truly meshugah.
Or it might be truly magnificent.