Why is there such an importance affixed to having a beard? Why can’t a person be a good Jew even without a beard?
You can be a very good Jew without a beard. Only that you’re not advertising your identity. A beard is a flag. If you walk down the street waving an American flag, then you’re going to be the target of all the bums, of all the beatniks, of all the liberals. Whereas, if you carry the American flag inside, beneath your lapel, you might be a big patriot, but you’re not suffering for it.
I’m not saying that you have to wear a beard in order to be a tzadik; but you’re not suffering for Judiasm. So if you want someone to spit in your face like a woman did in mine – I was walking up the subways stairs and a woman looks at me and spits directly into my face. I didn’t let her get away with it, by the way. I said, “You have to come upstairs with me or something will happen to you. And I’m going to have you arrested.” And I said it not so quietly like I’m saying it to you. There were people standing around; they wanted to defend her but they saw the look on my face – I meant business! So she tried to beg off. Nothing doing; I made her climb the stairs all the way up and I stood outside looking for a police car. But you know, you look and you look, and you wait. So I told her to go home. What could I do? I would have pressed charges. And if she hadn’t come up with me, she would have had something to remember! I wouldn’t let her get away with it. She spat into my face!
And this didn’t happen once. It happened more than once. Here I was standing by the roadside, and a motorist spits in my face as he passes by. He wouldn’t spit in your face. Because he thinks you’re a brother Italian!
Three times people spat in my face. Stones have been thrown at me. Once I was bruised! All because of the beard. Now, you think I would sell that? I wouldn’t sell any one of these incidents! Now, it could be that if you offered me a very big sum I might weaken. But for a mere five hundred dollars I wouldn’t sell it. It pays to suffer for being a Jew. Even to suffer unwillingly it pays.
And so you could be a wonderful tzadik without a beard. I’m not criticizing you for not wearing a beard. I’m just saying that you haven’t borne the burden of being a Jew yet.
But I once heard from someone that you have to be ראוי לכך to have a beard?
This gentleman is saying that in order to have a beard you have to be worthy of it. To put on a beard without being worthy is like traveling under a false banner. Well, there may be something to that. But I’m not going into that subject now because I’m not pressing anybody, I’m not urging anyone to wear a beard. This man merely asked me what’s the virtue of a beard. So I told him the virtue is that you’re suffering for your people. You’re suffering for your Torah, you’re suffering for your G-d. But I’m not saying that you have to stick your neck out and suffer. If you want to, you can; it’s up to you. But in the Next World, I’m telling you, there won’t be any beards to grow.
TAPE # 27 (May 1974)