Rabbi walking through a tunnel in Jerusalem.

You Are My Rebbe, But I Am Not Your Chasid

How can I be a chasid?
How can I wrap myself in this majestic long black coat?
Gird myself with this braided belt of purity?
Wear this crown that binds me to you?
Pretend to wear the uniform?
Treat you like my king?

I’m sorry, but I just can’t.

My leaders are the men and women who climb from the bottom, who conquer their demons, who fight in the trenches, who lead from the bottom, and who march hand in hand for change. They are people that are close enough to touch, to sit with, to confide in, and then confide in me.

I want someone in the struggle with me because I can’t imagine a world where we all don’t have our personal battles. I want a leader that feels pain because I can’t imagine a life where I don’t. Someone who has made mistakes, who has flaws, who has inner turmoil. I want my leader like that because I secretly believe in the deepest hidden corner of my soul that if a broken person can become a leader, then so can I. I want someone that listens to my cries, embraces me to stifle my sadness, and knows what to say because he has also been down the road of failure and redemption. If someone has fallen as low as I have, and risen to the level that he inspires the downtrodden, then I can have hope that I can be more than an unsure voice with an audience of one.

Maybe I don’t want to put you on your throne because it means that I have to tell myself that I could never be on a throne. I have to tell myself that I could never become a leader if your level is unreachable, that I will never inspire others as you do.

Maybe I am so insecure about myself that I can’t imagine you as someone who can’t be insecure too. Maybe because I feel my imperfections acutely and piercingly, I can’t imagine that you don’t have regrets, don’t have pain, don’t ever go to a place where all you can do is scream and yell at G-d and wonder if He makes mistakes.

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I see the man behind the piercing gaze. I see the man who desperately reaches out and says look at me for the man that I am, and not for the man that I have been made out to be. I see the man that doesn’t have all of the answers, the man that might have regretted taking the crown with all of its weight. I am in awe of you as a man, not as a king.

Your chasidim see you as someone who is beyond reach, beyond explanation, an infinite well of truth, the final answer to every question.

But that can’t be me.

I want you to be too close, too much at my level, too real for me to say that I am a chasid. I don’t want the reverence, the sanctified distance, and the unquestioning loyalty; I just want you to be there for me.

You are all I know, and I don’t know if I want to know anything else, but I know what I am not.

You are my Rebbe, but I am not your chasid.