A few years ago, I asked Rabbi Steinsaltz to offer some advice for people looking for a Teacher. One of his suggestions was this:
“Whenever I see something very showy, very flamboyant, colorful, and impressive, I am always trying to find out, to search what is really lying beneath it.
And in so many cases–in my case–in other people’s–they find out that beneath those showy garments sometimes we have nothing.
I’ve had my own experience with zoology and I remember once seeing something that made a big impression on me.
It was a plucked peacock.
When you see a plucked peacock, which looks like a rather ugly, emaciated hen, you get so very disappointed because when you see the peacock in all its glory, and it’s clearly a glorious bird.
But, again, if you want to eat it or have more contact, or just look at it, then you find out what it is in truth.
So when I see peacock feathers, which are wonderful to look at, I’m always beginning to think about that plucked hen beneath those feathers.
In the same way, when someone comes and makes a big show, a very impressive show, this is the time to make a check to wonder whether you are not taken by external effects.
You know this because you are doing these things when you perform as a magician.
The secret of magic tricks is that you make people look at the wrong things.
So many of these people who are selling spirituality are really doing all kinds of tricks to take your mind off of what is really important.
I would suggest trying to look carefully at these people who are claiming or are serving as teachers.”
From a conversation in New York City