Fame and Truth:
A Dialogue with the Nashelsker Rebbe
By David Hartley Mark
And the Disciples said, “Speak to us of Fame.”
And the Nashelsker Rebbe said,
“Fame is your blessing, drug, and curse. It starts as your blessing. You have a Gift; you wish to share it. God, Fate, the Universe, or Genetics gave you a gift. It sets you above all others. You believe, in your youth and naivete, or your quest for money, that you can benefit humanity with this gift. Perhaps you live in poverty, and you wish to escape. Well and good.
“So you work on your Gift, and you develop it, and find that it sets you above all others—whether building houses, or shooting hoops, cooking, writing—the essence of the Gift is less important than whether you can make it benefit you and others—that is, using it makes you feel good and helpful to others, and whether they will pay to see you do this Thing, or pay you for the Things you can do for them. Your gift brings them pleasure: pleasure for which they will be willing to pay you.
“Eventually, if your Gift is better than those of others, or cheaper, or more durable, or your ability for selling it is such that you can entice people to pay for yours rather than those of others—you will then have realized your gift. You are by then the best singer, actor, builder, sports figure—this is good. This is good for you and your family. You will be able to help them.
“But there will be evil intermixed, as well. You will also gain sycophants—false friends who are happy to praise you, and help spend your money. You will make mistakes. You will abuse your body, and lay waste to your gift. You will ask for criticism from your false friends, hoping to improve your gift and your business, and they, fearing to lose your friendship, money, and easy access to what you give them for nothing, will never naysay you.
“And there will be business rivals, other up-and-coming, younger athletes, and the like, and those who are jealous of you. Your time and wisdom may pass. Your physical beauty and athletic abilities will disappear with Time. If you can adapt, and change, and make yourself ever-changing, a veritable Proteus with your Gift, changing it as well, then you will survive.
“But you will also discover why Fame is called the Bitch-Goddess: you will have to prostitute yourself—not all, but many do—to maintain your Fame. And you will lose something of your True Self in the process. Is this right or wrong? I cannot say: you will have to judge yourself. Look at the World today, and you will see many examples of people who have descended into the muck and mire of lying, deceit, and financial double-dealing to maintain their pitiful crumbs of fame, and a miserable few who stoop to demagoguery and rabblerousing to re-kindle whatever filthy brand of fame they aspire to, not caring whom they besmirch in the process.
“But, if you yourself, you Child of God, get up, one morning, and stare at yourself in the mirror, and see around you the wreckage and debris that you have made of your life, I pray that you will have the courage and inner strength to ask yourself, ‘What have I done?’ and ‘Where has my life gone?’ and only you will be able to answer that.
“That is when people of conscience, those who bear a Pure, Heavenly Whisper within themselves (what we Jews call a Neshama, a Godly Soul) turn to a Power outside themselves, what we call God.
“That is what I have discovered. That is what I have tried to make the eekar zach, the Central Point, of my life.
And the Disciples asked, “And where is Truth in all of that?”
And the Rebbe smiled, and answered,
“Truth is in the mix. When you are young, you believe that there is such a thing as Absolute Truth. But I follow Martin Buber, who believes in Situational Truth. You cannot judge the truth of others, though you may put yourself on a higher level than they, and judge them.
“Though I am not Christian, I am fond of chiding gently my Christian friends, and saying, ‘There was one Perfect Person who came down to earth, in Christian belief, and look what happened to Him.’
“Let us say that you will, indeed, quest for, and eventually find, your Truth. You must be true to yourself. Never create a world so false that you must lie and lie and lie, and force others to lie for you. Then, you are not a human, but either psychotic, or a beast, and no one should trust you.
And the Disciples said, “Thank you, Rebbe.”
And the Rebbe said,
“We will speak more. I will have tea, now. Tea is good for thinking, and for stimulating conversation. Only, not Green Tea. It tastes like the Ocean.
“Black. Yes, Black Tea. That is the best kind….”