We all know it’s bad to hate people, but it’s still so hard to stop doing it.

So, you remember that amazing shiur by Rav Ofer Erez that I was gushing about a couple of week’s back, which set out exactly which of our bad middot are still holding up the geula? In a nutshell, he told us that if we can figure out how to stop hating people, BOOM!, we’ll get Beit HaMikdash.

(You can see it in full, HERE.)

Well, I’ve been using that shiur as a practical guide to identifying, and hopefully uprooting all the feelings of sinat chinam I’ve been secretly nurturing against a whole bunch of people. As Rav Ofer teaches in this shiur, sinat chinam, or hating other people, is what’s preventing the third temple from being rebuilt, and hating other people expresses itself mainly in the following four things:

  • Jealousy
  • Anger
  • Hatred
  • Hakpada (harsh judgment calls about other people)

And here’s the kicker: even if you’re just feeling this stuff secretly, in your own heart of hearts, and even if you aren’t really aware that you’re feeling this stuff yourself, it still counts as ‘sinat chinam’, and it’s still delaying the geula!

So, how can we finally get all this stuff out of our system and get to Moshiach and geula already?

Read on.

This is what I’m doing.

1) I made a ‘sinat chinam’ matrix – which is basically just writing down the four bad middot that are associated with it, like this.

2) Then in hitbodedut (my talking to God sessions), I thought about particular people I don’t like very much for one reason and another, and I slotted them in on the matrix.

For example, there’s one person who double-crossed me in business, and even though I got past the anger and what she’d done to me last year, when I was doing this exercise now, I realized that I still, properly, hate her guts, and that I’m still judging her unethical, nasty behavior extremely harshly.

BINGO! I just hit a ‘sinat chinam’ jackpot here…

The first stage is to identify and acknowledge the problem, which is what I’ve just done very nicely.

So now the next question is: how do I actually stop hating people like her, and thinking she’s the biggest pig on the planet?

Read on.

THE ‘ERADICATING SINAT CHINAM’ VISUALISATION

The next stage is to close your eyes (I like to do this as part of my hitbodedut…) and go and have a very direct conversation with the person in your head. Weird as this sounds, it’s the shortcut version of how to stop hating people.

So in this case, I conjured up the lady and I asked her straight out:

“Why did a supposedly ‘frum’ person like you act in such a disgusting, unethical way? Why didn’t you pay me what you should have? I had times when I couldn’t even put food on the table, and the money you were meant to have paid me could have made a huge difference!”

This is what she said back:

“Have you met my husband?”

I have. He’s a very angry, cynical, manipulative person who’s obsessed with ‘winning’ and making money.

Long story short, I finally understood that the lady double-crossed me so badly because on some level at least, she was scared of her husband and was trying to save her own skin at the cost of mine.

Understanding this doesn’t excuse her behavior or actions an iota, but it did open the door for me to have some compassion for her, and to stop hating her and judging her so harshly.

POOF!

That particular pocket of sinat chinam disappeared out of my life, just like that!

If you listen to Rav Ofer’s shiur, you’ll discover something amazing, that’s brought down in the Gemara and is normative Yiddishkeit, not just ‘fluffy’ Breslov:

God can’t judge a person favorably until some human being down here on the planet has done it first.

And as soon as God starts to judge someone favorably, that opens the door for them to make real teshuva.

Me seeing that my ex-business associate was acting like a pig because her shalom bayit is a trainwreck has now opened the door to her to make real teshuva, and to come back to God.

The whole thing is bringing Moshiach and geula a huge step closer – and it took me about 10 minutes of hitbodedut to do!

So, dear reader, I want to encourage you to please try this at home. Make your ‘sinat chinam’ matrix, start popping in the people you have ‘issues’ with (my suggestion is to start with just three at a time, to avoid overwhelm) – and then start taking all the sinat chinam in the world down a serious notch.

Again, this point is so important, I’m going to repeat it:

When you do this process, and judge people’s bad actions through this more compassionate lens, you are bringing Moshiach and geula, mamash!

And the first person who’s going to benefit from this exercise of learning how to stop hating people is you, because instead of walking around with all kinds of stress, headaches, health problems and aches and pains because of all that pent-up sinat chinam you’re lugging around that is literally poisoning you from the inside, you’ll start to feel so much lighter and happier.

It’s a win-win situation!

And it all begins with a quick 10 minute exercise where we actually tell the horrible person who’s upset us so badly exactly what we think of them in our heads.

May we all be zocher  to get the good times rolling very, very soon.

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So, I’ve been thinking a lot about why I’m having such a negative reaction to spending barely three, fairly OK, days in chutz l’aretz, and this is where I’ve got to with it all.

(Before I dive in, a story to set the scene:)

Britain has few culinary gifts to boast about, but it does excel at pastry and pies. The morning we flew out of Manchester airport (where me and my frum Jewish family got ‘patted down’ by a nice Muslim airport worker, to check we weren’t terrorists…) I took my girls to the one Kosher deli in town, and told them to pick whatever they wanted to eat for the flight.

We got some bagels, some fish, some cheese – and then the kids each picked a ‘typical’ British pastry. One of my kids has some fairly serious food allergies, especially to all nuts except almonds and sesame seeds. In Britain, her allergies were life-threatening and we had to carry an epipen.

In Israel, God somehow reduced them down to just annoying – in Israel, she just throws up now if she eats something she’s allergic to, and she’s got a ‘lick’ test which is usually very effective for spotting if something contains dodgy substances.

That kid bought what’s called a Bakewell Tart – a small pie with marzipan, jam and icing – which the nice serving lady assured us only had almonds. (The incidence of food allergies in the UK is so extreme, that most people are very careful to give accurate information about these things.)

After we’d got through the awful, OTT security procedures at Manchester Airport (which were enough to put me off from travelling again all by themselves)  – this kid pulled out her Bakewell Tart in the departures lounge, taste tested it, then ate it.

At the last bite, her face went a funny colour, and she started to make a weird gasping / hiccoughing noise. An allergic reaction!

And a far more serious one than she’s had in years and years.

Thank God, she rushed off to the bathroom and immediately threw up, but her throat was hurting her, and she was knocked out for an hour afterwards. Me and my husband said a tikkun haklali for her, I silently asked God to just let us get out of Manchester in one piece, while I walked around the airport looking for the A+E room ‘just in case’ her reaction started to escalate and we needed an epipen again…

BH, the tikkun haklali kicked in, and the crisis abated.

Later, my kid said to me: “Ima, it was so weird! I licked it first and it didn’t tingle my tongue at all! Even when I was eating it, I didn’t feel any tingling – it’s only after I took the last bite that I’d felt like I’d just eaten a big nut.”

What a great allegory for chutz l’aretz!

All a person’s life, they can’t ‘feel’ the damage being done to their souls by living such a superficial, sweet-tasting, gashmius pie of a life in chutz l’aretz. After all, the Bakewell Tart is glatt kosher! They bought it from the kosher deli on the way back from morning prayers!

Even when they’re eating it, it just tastes so yummy and delicious. And then with the last bite before you’re about to step on the plane ‘out of there’ – it nearly kills you.

It’s a fact that allergies are profoundly connected to emotions, stress levels and a person’s soul. It’s clear to me that my daughter’s soul is far more ‘wound up’ and stressed-out in chutz l’aretz than in Israel (even with all our struggling, and terrorism, and obvious spiritual angst), which is why here her allergies are an inconvenience at most, whilst there, they are literally life-threatening.

I went to the local shul one of the mornings I was there, to do my hour of hitbodedut (talking to God). I guess I must have felt like I was missing some of the kedusha that you get when a group of Jews congregate together.

The Rav of the shul gave a small talk after prayers, literally five minutes, where he was explaining how to kosher a microwave, and why you can’t kosher ovens in the same way, or cook milky and meaty foods one after the other in the same oven.

In Israel, I can’t even remember the last time I heard someone talk about those topics.

Here, the focus (at least for the rabbis I listen to….) is always on improving your middot, developing more emuna, guarding your eyes, treating your kids and spouse more nicely, really trying to give God what He wants.

Of course, God also wants a kosher oven, but that’s so ‘basic’ as to be practically taken for granted. Then I got it:

In chutz l’aretz, a Jew struggles even to keep their ovens kosher. That’s why there’s no time for the real work of ‘koshering the soul’. When you have to drive 30 mins just to get a kosher challah, when you have to pay thousands of bucks just to have your kid in a ‘kosher’ school, you already felt like you did the work God sent you down to do.

But really?

That’s only the very, very beginning of the process.

The real job is koshering the soul – uprooting our arrogance, our obsessions with making millions, our predilection for spreading gossip and lashon hara about other Jews, for bigging ourselves up at other people’s expense.

And most of the Jews in chutz l’aretz – even the very best, and most ‘kosher’ Jews – never get anywhere near that work of spiritual rectification.

I know when I made aliya 12 years’ ago, I was broadly of the view that I was a completely fixed, rectified ‘good’ Jewish person who really had nothing more to do to get to the highest level of shemayim.

After all, I had two ovens! And two sinks! And two dish washers!!!!!

After I made aliya, it didn’t take long to realize just how much of the real work of koshering my soul I still have left to do.

And that’s the real difference between chutz l’aretz and Israel: The one place, you feel like you’re ‘complete’ and that you’ve got there spiritually, and that you’re serving Hashem amazingly even by just keeping a kosher home and going to shul on Shabbat. It’s only when you’re about to check out of life that you realize that sweet, superficial, Bakewell Tart of a comfort zone actually killed your neshama.

In the other place, the whole time it can feel like you’re just eating bitter herbs – for breakfast, lunch and supper. But at the end of that process, you finally realize what a life-affirming spiritual ‘cleanse’, what an amazing, deep, spiritual ‘detox’ you’ve just been through.

If you stick with God, you come out of this second process, finally, with a kosher soul.

But there’s no question that the ‘Bakewell Tart’ version of Jewish life looks so much yummier.

If you’d have asked me that question even five years’ ago, the answer would have been an aggressive, uncompromising OF COURSE THEY SHOULD!!!!

Living in Israel is a mitzvah, arguably the biggest mitzvah in the Torah, and certainly the best (and probably only…) way of really achieving our spiritual tikkun, or rectification, in the world.

Like many other people who made aliya at great expense and effort, I went through quite a long stage of feeling personally offended by Jews (especially frum Jews) who refused to move here, and who refused to make the same sorts of sacrifices I’d done, to try to give God what He wanted.

Now, I’ve mellowed out a lot about this question, and I’ve come to understand that like everything else in life, things aren’t so simple, or so black and white.

In theory, there is absolutely no question that every Jew should be yearning, or trying, to live in Israel. No question at all.

But in practice?

It’s really not so simple.

It comes down to this: the spiritual level of the nation of Israel is at such a low level, that even the ‘frummest’ Jew in chutz l’aretz will probably struggle mightily to come up to even the ‘lowest’ level of day-to-day emuna that’s required for a Jew to really stay living in Israel.

That’s why so many people can’t hack it, and leave.

It’s like when God overturned the mountain and held it above our heads to ‘force’ us to accept the Torah. Really, we wanted to do the right thing, we wanted to live that Torah-centric spiritual life, but we also knew just how hard it was going to be, and how much self-sacrifice it was going to require, and for most of us, we simply couldn’t ‘choose’ that path unless we were forced into it.

I’ve come to think that making aliya is operating along the same paradigm.

Every Jewish soul, at its core, really wants to live in Israel. But as the thousands of people who have tried and then left again can tell you, sometimes the day-to-day challenge of having to really LIVE your emuna, and not just talk about it in a nice online shiur somewhere, are so difficult, many people simply can’t hang on.

If I didn’t have Rebbe Nachman and Breslov and hitbodedut, I have no doubt that I also couldn’t have managed to ‘hang on’ and come through all the difficulties we’ve had the last 12 years.

As I’ve been saying all week, Israel is the land of emuna, it’s the land of spiritual rectification. It’s the place where you really come face-to-face with yourself, and your real issues, and all the stuff you need to really work on and fix. And to put it bluntly, so many of us are in such a mess these days, we probably couldn’t withstand such a direct ‘view’ into our souls.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone who moves here, or who lives here, is doing the work.

There’s a kind of ‘soft’ option that many olim take which is that they try to recreate the superficiality and comfort of chutz l’aretz in their own communities here.

Without naming names, there are places in Israel that feel to me SO like chutz l’aretz when I go to visit them. There’s the same focus on externals, the same excessive materialism, the same mad rush to work, and obsessions with socializing and making money.

But you know what? Even though a lot of the people in those communities are trying very hard to live in ‘Anglo bubbles’ or ‘French bubbles’ or even, ‘Russian bubbles’, ultimately it’s still not really the same. It IS still Israel, and the kedusha, and the Divine Providence is still there, beckoning people to drop the pretense and get to know their real souls.

I’ve seen people literally go crazy, trying to drown out the insistent, spiritual call to God that reverberates in all parts of Israel, even in the most secular and materialistic neighborhoods.

So yes, it often looks the same, but it’s really not feeling the same.

I used to judge people in these ‘bubbles’ very harshly, but now I’ve come to realize that we all have our breaking point, and our snapping point, and even just moving to Israel in the first place can take many people far, far beyond it.

So let them keep their American dishwashers, and their English obsession with house prices, and their crazy workaholic schedules so they don’t have to think too much.

Because at least, they’re still here, and maybe in the future, their kids will have the energy and strength to continue the spiritual work their parents have begun.

Which brings me back to the question on the table: should people move to Israel, or not?

And the answer I have now is this:

EVERYONE should WANT to move to Israel.

But realistically, a whole bunch of people wouldn’t last five minutes here. Most of the secular, assimilated Jews in chutz l’aretz already know this, on some level, which is why for the most part they aren’t flooding into the country, or even visiting it for holidays.

God hits you smack in the face as soon as you step off the plane at Ben Gurion, and if you’re estranged from God, that can be an extremely challenging experience.

So it’s the ‘frum’ Jews in chutz l’aretz we’re really talking about – the ones who are apparently trying to have a connection with the Creator, and striving to work on their souls. I say ‘apparently’ because it underlines the point I made earlier: in truth, our generation is on such a low spiritual level, that even the frummest-looking Jew, externally, can be effectively ‘switched off’ from God.

Israel opens up that connection to the Creator, and to emuna, in a very real, very powerful way. (Often via financial difficulties, enormous spiritual angst, childrearing issues etc etc). But if the bulb can’t handle the current – it explodes.

Sure, the bulb can also explode in chutz l’aretz too – and it’s doing that with increasing frequency. More and more ‘frum’ kids going off the derech, more and more fatal overdoses in the frum community, more and more abuse, more and more Jews marrying out.

Chutz l’aretz is a disaster zone, spiritually.

I know that if I’d stayed in England, my kids would have probably gone off the derech, I probably would have a nervous breakdown, and my marriage would be in tatters.

I knew that even when I lived there, which is why I was so desperate to get out of there, even though life appeared so ‘perfect’, externally. But if the person I was then had known just how hard the last 12 years would have been, would I still have got on that plane?

I don’t know.

Which brings me to the last, very important, point: We need God to get us to Israel. And we need God to keep us here.

The point of Jewish life is to forge that bond, that connection with God. Living in Israel accomplishes that like nothing else can.

People don’t ‘stop’ being religious when they move to Israel. But they do get real.

And the sad fact is that so many of the people in chutz l’aretz, even the most externally pious looking ones, are fundamentally estranged from Hashem.

Of course, they can’t admit that openly – or even privately, to themselves. Which is why they talk about the terrible secular government, the crazy house prices, the expense of living here, the terrorism, the pull to a secular lifestyle.

And really, all the criticism they level at Israel is true, at least on some level.

But that’s not the real issue.

The real issue is that if you try to live in Israel without God, sooner or later it’ll break you, or it’ll break your pretense of being a superficially pious Jew.

I’ve seen that happen SO many times.

But maybe, it’s only once we realize just how broken we really are, spiritually, that we’ll start doing what’s required to fix the problem, and we’ll start rebuilding our relationship with Hashem from the ground up.

And while that process can only be completed in Israel, it can be started everywhere.

Even in chutz l’aretz.

Over the last 12 years, I’ve seen the aliya process chew up a whole bunch of well-meaning people who didn’t realise what the point of being a Jew really is.

In the ‘frum Disney’ version of life that’s still so popular in chutz l’aretz, ‘Jewish life’ is about devoting your externals – your house, your money, your family, your learning and social interactions – to Hashem.

When we live in frum Disney, that means we pay our 10% charity to ensure we’ll always have money, that we buy a house in a Jewish neighbourhood near the kosher delis, that we send our kids to Jewish schools, that we have a good shul within walking distance, and maybe even that we learn a blatt of Gemara, or a couple Halachot of shmirat halashon every day.

What else is there to do, in frum Disney Land? Life is portrayed there as so simple, so black-and-white: do your best to follow Hashem’s Torah and keep His mitzvot, and you’ll only get blessings.

But then, we move to Israel and the ‘frum Disney’ version of Yiddishkeit quickly crumbles.

All of that wrenching effort we made to relocate to the Holy Land, all of the hits to our wallet, our family life, our social standing, our self-esteem, our feeling of belonging… It seems very clear that God should repay this tremendous self-sacrifice with a life of tremendous obvious bracha and ease.

But so often, something that appears to be the opposite occurs.

The money is one thing, the inability to speak the language properly, or figure things out financially and professionally is very, very difficult for a lot of new olim.

But the hardest thing is the isolation.

We move here to be part of the Jewish people, to have our kids grow up in the Jewish homeland, and to see our descendants BH flourish in the land of their forefathers, but so many of us first generation olim never actually find our own place in this huge tapestry that’s unfurling around us.

I’ve been here 12 years, and while on most levels I feel I ‘belong’ here more than I ever felt I belonged in the UK, there is still a big chunk of me that feels like a permanent stranger, a permanent outsider.

Socially, I’m still trudging though the desert, waiting for the Promised Land to appear.

I miss the Shabbat socialising I used to do (every week….)

I miss feeling like I could make things happen, and achieve things, and set goals that would materialise. I haven’t felt like that – about anything – for years, now.

Because in Israel, you don’t serve Hashem with your money, and your wardrobe full of tznius clothes, and your huge salon where you entertain 30 people every week for Shabbos.

You serve God with your kishkes, with your soul, with all the hopes and dreams you have for yourself that may, or may not accord with the Almighty’s plan for your life.

And that difference is enormous.

Most people don’t know this. They don’t understand that the experience of serving Hashem in Israel, in the Holy Land, is qualitatively different from the ‘frum Disney’ experience you get everywhere else.

They think they’ll be able to land, and to keep their self-esteem, and their arrogance, and their comfort zone, and their bank accounts 100% intact, and to carry on serving God with glatt kosher schnitzels and a blatt Gemora.

But it’s not like that. Every day, you wake up and God squeezes a bit more emuna out of you, a bit more tefilah that at some point things will calm down and work out, a few more tears about the matzav, a bit more yearning for Moshiach and geula and the Temple, when we’ll finally be reunited with all the people, the family, the friends, we left ‘back home’.

Israel is a very real place.

It’s a place of the inner dimension, the soul. I’ve seen so many people get mangled by the aliya process, because they didn’t take that into account, and they didn’t understand that what’s on the table here is spiritual rectification, not frum Disney Land.

The last time I went to the UK, I came back with a profound sense of sadness that lasted for many, many months. Today, I woke up tearful and I realised that even though I only spent 2 ½ days in frum Disney Land, it’s still taking a spiritual toll on me.

Part of me can’t understand why I’m living this life now where I get one Shabbat invitation a year (sometimes…) Why I have no community, and no real chance of that changing. Why someone who was so successful, externally, in frum Disney Land should be such an embarrassing failure here.

I know the answer.

I look at my kids who smile genuine smiles, and who feel real emotions, and who relish being alive, and I know the answer.

I look at my husband, who I still love profoundly after 20 years of marriage, who I still have big chats with, who I still like to spend time with, and I know the answer.

Here, I serve Hashem with my kishkes and my tears and my prayers, not with my nice house and my Shabbos hospitality.

But I still hope that sometime soon, the path is going to get smoother, and a bunch less lonely.

I was expecting some sort of violent confrontation to kick off in London, when a bunch of angry ethnic minorities calling themselves by the Orwellian name the: ‘Movement for justice by any means necessary’ went marching on the streets as part of their ‘Day of Rage’, scheduled for June 21, 2017.

It seems like only 300 or so people showed up to the main march through London, instead of the million they were expecting.

But that doesn’t mean that ‘nothing’ happened that day, anything but.

That same day, June 21st, a different bunch of ethnic minority ‘yoof’ started attacking members of the public on the streets of London with machetes (!), swords (!) and batons, but as the ‘members of the public’ happened to be very orthodox Jews in Stamford Hill, no-one thought that was a news story worth covering.

Apparently, these street riots in Stamford Hill continued for two days, and injured a bunch of people. But as the people being attacked were just orthodox Jews, and not ‘real’ people, the British press completely buried the muslims-violently-attacking-Jews angle of the story.

The Evening Standard, the Metro – none of these British papers breathed a word about who was going on the rampage (i.e. Muslims), or which ethnic community (i.e. orthodox Jews) was bearing the brunt of the attacks, in what some Jewish commentators called a modern-day pogrom.

I’d like to tell you it’s only Britain that’s covering up all the growing, often violent, politically-motivated anti-semitism in the country, but the recent murder of French Jew Sarah Halimi in Paris by her Muslim neighbor shows that European countries are closing ranks when it comes to acknowledging anti-semitic violence against their Jewish citizens.

Again, we can go on spouting about how awful all this is, and how unjust, and how terrible all these Europeans are, and how nasty all the muslims are etc – but it’s missing the point.

The point is, that God is running the world, and God wants the Jews to come back home to Israel.

That’s why anti-semitism is only going to continue to increase all around the world, and why what’s going on in London, and Paris, and increasingly also in America, is only going to get worse.

On the same day as I saw the story about the modern-day ‘pogrom’ in Stamford Hill, there was another snippet of info about how the British Government could force a chareidi girls school in the UK to close, because it’s not teaching toieva stuff to its students.

God forbid, that a Jewish school – any Jewish school, never mind just the chareidi ones – should be forced to teach its pupils about this terrible spiritual traif!

But this is what’s going on in the West, as the battle against God, religion and moral values continues to go up in intensity.

That’s why God wants the Jews back home, where they belong.

Sure, there are a load of problems in Israel, too, but forcing a chareidi kid to learn about Ben Gurion, or how to do algebra, kind of pales into nothing compared to what’s going on in even the frummest Jewish schools in London…

It’s not easy to move to Israel, I really do know that.

But it’s only going to get harder to stay put.

Dear reader, if you live in chutz l’aretz, please at least start praying that God should show you a workable way to make that move home, because it’s still so much easier to jump into making aliya, than to be pushed into doing it by a sword-wielding follower of Allah.

Recently, I had an email exchange with someone that got me thinking about how when Moshiach really does, actually, well and truly show up, most people are going to think he’s a cult leader.

You can understand why.

Moshiach will be a hugely charismatic, magnetic person of immense holiness and charm, that the Jewish soul will automatically gravitate towards, and want to nullify themselves to.

That’s part of the beauty and majesty of the Moshiach! The Moshiach will have a global soul that contains a spark of every Jew on the planet, and we’ll all want to get close to him, and soak in his immense spiritual light.

But until the Moshiach is completely and undeniably revealed as the Moshiach, he’s going to look like one of the most convincing cult leaders you’ve ever met.

And here lies the conundrum.

As I’ve written about a lot here, there are an awful lot of what Rebbe Nachman calls ‘Rav de klipa’, or rabbis of the dark side out there in the world. God already warned us that for every ‘light’ He created, there would be darkness, and for every ‘good’ He created, there would be bad, until Moshiach comes and the whole world is spiritually rectified and evil permanently vanquished.

Also as I’ve written about elsewhere, Moshiach’s coming is not a one-shot dramatic affair where he steps off a plane in Ben Gurion airport, or holds a coming out party and voila, instant Moshiach and geula.

Nope.

It’s going to be a long, drawn-out affair, like the sunrise, growing stronger and stronger from moment to moment until everyone has to admit that day has come. But while we’re still in the process of transition, there’s going to be a lot of murky stuff mixed into that sunrise.

Lots of ‘rabbis’ pretending to be what they really are not. Lots of psychos taking advantage of trusting members of the public, to act in the most evil, anti-Torah, unethical ways. Lots of ‘cult leaders in waiting’ trying to take advantage of our yearning for Moshiach to pull a fast one over us and pull us away from God, has va halila.

So what’s a person meant to do?

Some of us are solving this problem by plain blank refusing to acknowledge Moshiach in any real way. Sure, they’ll discuss the idea theoretically, but any suggestion that a real person could actually be Moshiach, or that this could actually happen in their lifetimes (especially if they live outside of Israel…) will elicit a dramatically negative response.

One such person who holds this view of all things Moshiach told me:

‘Look what happened with Chabad! We don’t want something like that to happen again!’

as justification for why they were so ‘anti’ the whole talking about Moshiach thing.

So then, I started to ponder: what really happened with Chabad?

Sure, there are still a few people walking around with the mistaken idea that the Lubavitcher Rebbe will come back from the dead to lead us. But I’m not sure even that is so terrible. When Moshiach is revealed, they’ll see that they’re wrong, and end of story.

(There’s a whole big discussion in the Gemara about just this idea, of whether the Moshiach can come back from the dead, and the Gemara – after a long discussion – asserts that this will not be the case. I don’t know much about the Moshiach, but I can tell you that he definitely knows more Gemara than I do, and abides by all aspects of Jewish halachic law…)

And in the meantime, what really happened with Chabad? Simply that hundreds of thousands of Jews started to yearn for Moshiach to come, in fulfillment of the Rambam’s 13th Principle of Faith, and made a whole bunch of teshuva in readiness for that moment.

I mean really, what’s so bad about that?

Sure, there are some crazy people that took things to extremes, but Chabad didn’t make these people crazy any more than Breslov makes people crazy. Crazy people (including yours truly…) are attracted to very big spiritual lights, as we know that’s where we’ll find the antidote for all the darkness we’re lugging around in our souls.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe was an enormous spiritual light, and very probably was the potential Moshiach of his generation. If your tikkun is to be a crazy person anyway, at least be a crazy person who keeps mitzvahs and talks (a little too much…) about the coming of the Moshiach.

But to come back to the point in hand, how are we really going to know who is a true candidate for Moshiach, and who is just a cult-leader-in-waiting, in this very difficult, confusing time before geula actually really kicks off?

There’s one answer:

Hitbodedut.

The regular practice of talking to Hashem in your own words for a fixed amount of time every day, preferably an hour.

When you talk to God regularly like this, you get connected to your soul, and to the real Tzaddikim of the generation, and to Hashem Himself, and it gets much, much harder for the fakers to fool you.

Try this exercise, to see what I mean:

Imagine a rabbi that you KNOW is good and the real deal, like the Baba Sali, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Chida, the Baal Shem Tov, Rebbe Nachman, Rav Ovadia Yosef, etc. See how they look, see how ‘big’ they are, compared to you yourself.

Now, imagine a rabbi from today meeting that ‘good’ rabbi from the past – really picture them meeting in your head – and see what happens.

I guarantee you’ll start to get some amazing insights about who is really ‘real’ and who isn’t, if you try this exercise a few times, and ask God to show you what’s really going on.

And in the meantime, this is the best and really only route for knowing who really could be Moshiach, and who is a cult-leader-in-disguise.

Don’t let the ‘Rav de klipa’s’ fool you!

And don’t be scared to join the ‘cult of Moshiach’ as soon as you’re 100% convinced inside that you’ve discovered who he is. After all, yearning for Moshiach is a fundamental part of being a Jew, and if you’re regularly talking to God about it all, He’ll certainly guide you to the right person, at just the right time.

And if you’re wrong – but attached to an enormously holy person in the meantime who could be Moshiach, but maybe isn’t – what’s so bad about that, anyway?

Last week, I nearly gave up.

I nearly pulled my blog off the web, I nearly retired from writing, I nearly gave up on my books, and on my efforts to make a difference in the world, everything.

Like so many of us, I’ve had one enormous challenge after another to deal with the last couple of months, in just about every area. Every time I stood back up, some other ‘spiritual tsunami’ showed up to knock me back down, and I couldn’t wait for the Omer to be finished, already, so life could return to being a bit more ‘normal’ and placid.

God had other plans.

The day before Shavuot, I got a nasty letter from an immoral, rapacious firm of Israeli lawyers telling me they were suing me for 40,000 shekels for illegally using an image of Rav Berland.

It took me a day or two to get the letter properly translated, and in the process of doing that it also transpired that this firm gets a percentage of whatever they can wring out of whichever poor sap they targeted, and so they aren’t interested in apologies and token payments.

They want money – lots of it! – tens of thousands of shekels, and that’s the end of the story.

Dear reader, for the last three years of blogging, I’ve been so careful with copyrighted images, but I made a mistake and thoughtlessly used a picture in the public arena under the impression that I was covered by the ‘fair use’ provision in Israeli law.

And now I’m being sued for 40,000 shekels….

The last couple of years, I’ve really struggled with the idea that my profession as a paid journalist effectively disappeared over the last decade. It used to be that I’d write, and get paid a packet. These days, I write and it only costs me money.

I’d made my peace with that too, mostly, but the enormity of the sum involved, and the fact that it was dafka a picture of Rav Berland that sparked off the lawsuit, pretty much brought me to my knees.

For a couple of days, I had such a crisis of faith that I really just wanted to pull the plug on everything and give up there and then. Because I KNOW that I’m getting hit with so much of this stuff because the yetzer wants me to stop blogging about the Rav, and to stop defending him publicly, and to stop explaining what’s going on.

Spiritually, you don’t get anything as big as that for free.

I knew this from when I used to write for Rav Arush’s site, that every ‘real’ piece I posted up that would hopefully really make a difference, and could potentially really help people, would come at the price of me experiencing more madness and turmoil in my private life.

Again, over the years I’ve made my peace with that, mostly, but the ‘price’ got so large last week, I almost gave up and put up the white flag.

‘OK, yetzer, you win! It’s not enough that my books don’t sell, I get grief over email from demented people, and I’m constantly questioning whether I’m doing what God really wants me to do with my life. Now, you’re also fleecing me out of 40,000 – when I’m trying to figure out how to pay for my kids’ braces and only recently stopped panicking about being able to put food on the table… You win! I give up! I will quit writing and go get a job packing groceries somewhere.’

(That last bit is a lie: my spoken Hebrew is so awful I probably couldn’t even get a job packing groceries….)

To sum it up, I got completely buried in an avalanche of despair and bitterness, and I ran out of the energy required to continue.

This continued for two days, and I started spiralling further and further down until God gave me the brainwave of trying to take a note to Rav Berland. So I collared my poor husband, and we walked over to the Rav’s building. I was crying my eyes out the whole way (as I had been for two days, already) so it was left to my husband to hand the note over to one of the court-appointed security guards outside the building who’s effectively become another of the Rav’s unofficial gabbays.

Two minutes’ later, I started to feel like some of my strength was returning. I stopped crying…I stopped feeling like I just wanted to run away from my life, and from Israel…I stopped feeling that horrible, dead-end despair where you just feel like you’re sinking, sinking, sinking and nothing can ever reverse the decline.

I still went to bed pretty miserable and wasted, but I got up the next day with one thought in my head: I am NOT giving up! I’m not going to stop writing about the Rav, I’m not going to retreat, I’m not going to take the easy route!

The crazy Moroccan genes kicked in, in a good way, and I decided to write the last piece about the Rav I posted up here, and give the yetzer a poke in the eye.

I am not giving up, with God’s help! We’re so close to geula you can smell it in the air.

But the last few days, I came really, really close.

So, as I mentioned this counting the omer was pretty much the craziest one I ever had

– and if you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know what a strong statement that is.

As the last day of the Omer drew near, I thought that maybe, just maybe, all the horrible shocks, reversals, challenges and difficulties were finally over until 5778… but God kept an ace up His sleeve this year, which I got by email the day before Shavuot:

Long story short, some rapacious lawyers in Israel are trying to sue me for 40,000 shekels!

Again, long story short, I apparently used a picture of Rav Berland I wasn’t meant to (usually I’m so careful about these things, so I have no idea how that actually happened…) and now these people want me to pay 40,000 shekels, or they’re going to take me to court.

It’s so unbelievable, it’s kind of funny.

In the meantime, I went into my eightieth massive meltdown of the month – shaky legs, complete feeling of overwhelm, crying etc etc etc.

It carried on all evening, and segued into another massive crisis of faith.

I started to doubt everything I’m doing again, and everything I’m writing, and wondering if I’m just being really, really dense, and God actually just wants me to close up the shop and move on to something different.

Or, am I having all these difficulties, non-stop, back-to-back, because I’m actually trying to do something really GOOD, and it’s just the yetzer getting in my face?

All night, I was debating it back and forth.

Maybe, I’m just not on the level to get anywhere near someone as holy as Rav Berland, and that’s why I keep getting slapped all over the place? Maybe, it’s just miniot (obstacles) to get me all demoralized and to give up, because really I AM doing some good stuff online that is making a difference, in whatever small way?

Maybe I should just go and be a gardener? Maybe I should get offline completely? Maybe I should continue and just ignore all the madness that keeps exploding all over the place?

Back and forth it went all night, and I didn’t sleep a wink, which clearly meant that I couldn’t stay up at all the next night, Shavuot, and learn anything.

I hit the bed at 11pm, completely exhausted.

So in the meantime, I’m being sued for a ton of money I don’t have, and I’m not sure what’s meant to happen next.

Over Shavuot, I sat down and read the whole book of tehillim, and tried to make some more teshuva, to try to get the madness to calm down a bit. Once the holiday was over, I trawled through both my sites, and removed any picture that I’m not 100% certain is not a commons licence, or otherwise copy-right free.

There wasn’t a lot, but there were some, particularly on spiritual self-help.

Maybe, Moshiach really is coming very soon, and God is getting me to even clean up even this small spiritual stuff, I don’t know.

Maybe it’s all just a big test of faith, and will melt into the mist again, once I get whatever message I’m meant to get from it all.

I really don’t know.

But one thing is certain: my life is never dull.

The last few weeks have been so challenging, on so many different fronts.

Domestically, I’ve had kids going in meltdown because the school they love is closing down; and other kids getting suspended twice in three days, apparently because of a long list of misunderstandings and crossed wires that means they now hate school and are getting stomach aches in the morning.

Personally, I’ve had a whole bunch of weird health issues going on again, plus a pervasive feeling that I completely ran out of energy again and can’t continue like this anymore.

Professionally, my great idea to bring a whole bunch of creative Jewish women from different backgrounds together on my blog bit the dust when the most ‘religious’ people I contacted to participate decided to chew me out for publicly supporting Rav Berland on my blog.

Rav Shalom Arush said a while back words to the effect that getting secular people to make teshuva is peanuts compared to getting the already religious people to make teshuva, and boy, was he ever right.

It wasn’t just that they’d been reading a whole bunch of lashon hara and slander online and believing it was 100% true (probably all from the ‘frummest’ websites out there…)

What made it worse is that they were completely unwilling to even consider any of the information and research I’ve been pulling together over the last year that paints a very different picture of what’s going on.

They think they know what they think they know, and anyone who is daring to challenge them about what they think they know is also ‘bad’. Score one for the closed mind of apparently frum, apparently ‘enlightened’ people.

All my hopes to start building some achdut and unity in my little corner of the blogosphere, and all my hopes that Jewish women could start to repair all the breaches and divisions between us, kind of vanished the last couple of weeks.

The husband has been having his own issues, too.

So altogether, I feel like I got hit by a tsunami, then a typhoon, then an earthquake – and Shavuot is still two weeks away!

The period of counting the Omer is often really tough, as it’s the time when God is shining a very bright light on all our bad middot and icky character traits, and asking us to do a little better. The last few years, I’ve dreaded counting the Omer, because it’s typically been weeks of craziness, stress and one difficulty after another.

I’ve been groping around trying to find the emuna that is meant to keep me going through these times, but I think maybe it got shoved somewhere into a dark recess under my bed, when I cleaned up after Pesach.

The last couple of days, since L’ag B’omer, things seem to have lightened up a little bit, thank God. I can type again, see straight again, not feel so disgustingly stressed out of my skull the whole time.

These are big things to be grateful for.

But I’m still sad that my attempts to reach out, and across the divides in the Jewish world, haven’t really worked out so well.

I think most of us want to connect a lot more than we’re able to at the moment. The yetzer is knocking itself out, trying to keep us Jewish women away from each other and mired in stress, worry and gossip, because it knows that Jewish women brought the redemption in Egypt with their love, compassion and emuna, and that we’ll bring it again this time around, with God’s help.

How?

I don’t know.

But who said we have to have all these details figured out ahead of time?

The last few days, I’ve been feeling pretty exhausted again, spiritually.

Much as I need the internet to do what I do, I absolutely hate the impact it has on my life, in so many myriad ways. So yesterday I decided to take a day off, and to go walk on the beach somewhere.

For many years, I found ‘the beach’ a very challenging subject, because I love the beach, and I love jumping the waves, but finding tznius ways to do that has been difficult, even in Israel with the separate beaches.

First, even though the beach IS separate, that doesn’t mean there are no men. There’s still the lifeguard…and the guys repairing the fencing…and the icecream man…. When I was going through my ‘mega frum’ stage, I felt like I couldn’t really go to the beach unless I’d wear exactly the same clothes I’d wear on the street. But feeling the waves lap your feet through a thick pair of socks was not so much fun, so I kind of gave up.

Over the last few years, I’ve calmed down a bit, and I realized that as long as I was wearing my tznius bathing costume, I didn’t have to worry TOO much about the lifeguard taking an interest.

But then, I had another challenge to contend with:

The separate beaches are often so packed and crowded, that it’s really, really unpleasant to be there. Part of the problem is that people bus in en masse from the frummer enclaves of the country, which means that a thousand people show up all together and cram into a tiny space.

Another part of the problem is that the separate beach is tiny – because hey, very frum people don’t really count for much, and it’s enough they got anything, beach-wise.

The last problem I had, at least in the past, is that if I didn’t feel comfortable walking around in ‘mega frum RBS’ or Meah Shearim (and in the past, I didn’t) – then I also didn’t feel so comfortable trying to bathe in Meah Shearim-by-the-sea.

Now, I realize this issue was 100% internal, and was my own judgmental meshuggas tendencies being reflected back at me to deal with, but a few years’ back, I’d get so obsessed with tugging down the hemline of my already long tznius bathing suit that it kind of wrecked the enjoyment factor too much to make it worthwhile.

SO – yesterday was about reclaiming the beach, in a healthy, balanced way.

It was too cold to swim (for me) but I decided to walk on the beach a little, and put my real feet, without socks, into the water. It was so fun!

But not so much fun that I’d like to do it every day. Or even every week. Or even every month. But now the tug of my nefesh had been satisfied, the tug of my neshama started up. ‘Let’s go to the Baba Sali!’ it whispered at me. ‘It’s only half an hour’s drive from here, and you haven’t been there in ages.’

Since I had my accident on the way out of Netivot, I’m now always nervous about going there, but the Baba Sali is such an amazing place, it’s still worth the driving stress.

I got there, parked, sat down in my usual spot in the unusually quiet enclave, and felt so much of the stress kind of percolate away. Wow, I’ve been really stressed…

Then, I started getting some of the amazing insights that seem to come very easily by the Baba Sali. About the need to forgive a certain person, and to really make my peace with them. And about what to do about my kid’s school, that looks like it is closing down at the end of the year. And about trying a different style of head-gear, and paying my husband more attention again.

As I headed out, I felt calmer than I’ve felt in a long time.

I used to go to Kivrei Tzaddikim all the time, but since I moved to Jerusalem I’ve done that much less. Partially, it’s because I was often overwhelmed with life and I didn’t have the energy to go anywhere, much. Partially, it’s because I had a very big test of faith, and apart from going to Uman I didn’t have the same motivation to go anywhere else. And partially, it’s because I got a little disconnected from my true self, and I stopped listening so much to that ‘soul whisper’ that tells me:

Go to the beach!

And then tells me half an hour later:

Now go to the Baba Sali!

It’s taken me a while to figure out that my mental health depends on listening to both sets of instructions.