Today (June 3) is the day of Yesod she be Yesod in the counting of the Omer, or ‘foundation focusing on foundation’, or ‘sense of purpose focusing on sense of purpose’.

Yesterday, I got a phone call asking me if I’d heard any more about Rav Berland’s imminent arrival back in Israel. I hadn’t, but I sent my husband off to yeshiva to find out from his source if there was any more news.

Then, I did the usual trip around some of the geula blogs to see if anyone had anything about the Rav’s return. There was a post over on Shirat Devorah (see HERE) with a clip from Rav Dovid Kook, the kabbalist in Tiveria, explaining how Rav Berland’s return to Israel is going to usher in the redemption.

I so hope that’s the case.

This counting the Omer has been such an intense time, that maybe, just maybe, geula really is around the corner.

I hope that by the time you read this, today, Rav Berland WILL be back home, and that things WILL be proceeding geula-wise, the sweet way. Because today is ‘foundation of foundation’, and the biggest tzadikim are said to be the ‘foundation of the world’, so it would be very fitting if today was the day Rav Berland returned.

(BTW – if you haven’t yet paid your 98 nis monthly protection pidyon from terrorists, please go HERE to do that ASAP. Even if geula comes the sweet way, there’s still going to be quite a rough ride involved, at least in parts, until we really finish the process.)

As for me, I’m spiritually exhausted at the moment.

Every day since Rosh Chodesh Nissan has brought its own trials and tribulations, and ‘middot  growth opportunities’.  It seems to me that God is dealing out a whole bunch of last chances to people, to take their blinkers off and finally see what’s going down in their lives.

It’s like there’s all this spiritual light coming down into the world ahead of Moshiach, but wherever it hits a ‘blockage’, it’s causing a lot of pain and drama and anxiety. Clear the blockage (which is usually related to working on a bad character trait, or a weak connection to Hashem) – and the light can pass through your life easily again, giving everything a rosy, warm glow.

Don’t clear the blockage (which is what I’m still seeing SO many people do) – and you literally start to crack-up and go insane.

Thus it is that the problems are spiraling up out of control, the negative character traits are coming to the fore like never before, and the health issues are plummeting to greater depths.

Why?

Hashem gave us a clue as to why this is all happening in last week’s parsha, where we learned of the many curses that would befall Am Yisrael if they related to God ‘casually’. That’s an interesting word, isn’t it?

What does it mean to relate to God casually? Maybe, it means that we don’t even take God into account, and pretend like everything that happens is completely random and down to chance. Maybe, it means that even though we profess to be believing Jews, we still don’t want to admit that God is behind every tiny thing that’s going on in our lives, so we make big speeches about ‘how it’s impossible to know what God wants’, etc, or how ‘everyone has their troubles’, so we don’t need to be too fussed to try to work out WHY God is making us sick, or poor, or miserable.

Maybe, it means that we relate to God like a lifestyle choice, something to boost our energy and give us a high, like a good workout or spinach smoothie, just somehow better.

Or maybe, we talk about how God is going to do a whole bunch of things to everyone else, leaving us to blog contentedly about the destruction of the world that somehow isn’t going to affect us.

God wants us to put Him first, even when it’s inconvenient, uncomfortable and difficult. He wants us to explore every little thing that happens to us from a place of understanding that it’s part of the meaningful dialogue Hashem is trying to have with us, about what we need to acknowledge, work on, or fix, in some way.

To put it another way, we’re back to Rav Arush’s three rules of emuna, namely:

  • Hashem is doing everything in the world
  • Everything Hashem does is for the ultimate good
  • Everything is a message

Those three rules of emuna make every tiny thing that happens to us meaningful and important; the exact opposite of casual and insignificant.

God says: ‘You want to pretend like those kidney stones are just a fluke, and nothing to do with all your bad habits and character traits? Here, try this additional debilitating illness on for size!!’

And:

“You want to pretend that you’re hitting the skids financially just because of the economic downturn!? Here, I’m going to cut every source of income you have off from you, until you finally get the message that you need to start treating your wife (the pipe of all abundance in the home) better!”

And so on, and so forth. ‘A fury of casualness’ – a maelstrom of horrible illnesses, difficult experiences, poverty and ill-health, until we finally wake up and realize that none of it was ‘casual’ or ‘random’, and everything right from the start was God.

The last few weeks, I’ve had so many messages that despite all the hard work I’ve done the last few years, THERE ARE STILL THINGS THAT NEED SOME WORK, PRONTO!

Like anger. And resentment. And rage. And hatred.

(Viz: My husband discovered that the person who damaged the windscreen wiper on our brand new car was a neighbor who hates people parking in ‘his’ spot. I was so worked up when he told me I started fantasizing about spilling a box of tacks behind the neighbor’s front wheels etc. Then, I woke up and realized this! This horrible character trait is what God is telling me needs some work! Duh!)

So God has been giving me that work to do in spades, the last few weeks. IF Rav Berland makes it back today, BH, and if the geula kicks off as predicted by Rav Kook – well then, that all makes sense.

And if not?

I guess God is fast-tracking my Teshuva and character development for some other good reason, only known to Him. And I guess that’s OK, too.

Recently, I experienced something that distu disturbing things I’ve ever experienced was a group ‘spiritual healing’ session that was facilitated by an apparently ‘frum’ person.

I thought I was going to a demo of psychodrama, which is where a traumatized person asks different people to pretend to be their mum and dad, and then re-enacts certain scenarios with these ‘stand-ins’ where they get to speak up, run away, have a voice etc, often for the first time in their lives.

Bessel Van Der Kolk writes about how useful psychodrama can be for adult trauma victims who experienced very painful childhoods, so I wanted to go and hear about this approach first-hand.

That’s what I thought I was going to.

What I actually went to was something way different, and I want to share my experience with you, as I think it sums up how confusing, cloudy and even sinister things can be in the Jewish alternative health world.

I got there a couple of minutes late, when the ‘volunteer’ had already been picked, and people were sitting down in a circle, waiting for the action to begin. The facilitator asked the volunteer to pick stand-ins, who would represent different family members, and to arrange them in the middle of the circle. So far so good.

Then, the facilitator asked each of the ‘actors’ in turn about how they felt about one another, and of course, they all really loved each other, and everything was just fine and dandy.

In fact, things were so fine and dandy that it started to seem a bit pointless to me – I mean, a group of amateur actors aren’t exactly going to start revealing where all the family’s skeletons are buried, a) because they don’t actually know and b) because we all like a happy ending.

But then, as more people were picked to represent different, additional family members, something very weird started to happen.

One of the actors suddenly started to sob uncontrollably. Another one – a beautiful young girl – underwent a character transformation, that took her from being her sweet, innocent, optimistic self to a very cold, bitter and angry older woman.

It could be there were other things happening too, but because the change in the younger woman was so dramatic, I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

Long story short, the original volunteer, who’s family life history was now playing out in full colour in front of about 25 other people, was asked to join the tableau, and to start having conversations with all her ‘ancestors’.

It was clearly a very emotionally-charged event and tears were flowing freely.

But here’s the thing: As I was sitting there watching all this, I suddenly started picking up some very strong ‘feelings’ about the personalities of the ‘characters’ in front of me – and that’s when I started to freak out, because while I’m very good at reading people’s characters when they’re enclothed in a physical body and actually talking to me, I’ve never being able to read the character of some person who died a few decades’ ago, and who I’ve never met.

Afterwards, I was told that at least one of the participants also couldn’t describe what had just occurred, and said that the words she found herself saying were not really coming from her.

There were some powerful, powerful spiritual forces being unleashed in that room – and here’s where things get serious, because IF those powerful spiritual forces are mandated and accepted by orthodox Judaism, well, OK then.

But if they aren’t – then they weren’t coming from a good place. Now, I came late. It could be a prayer was said before I got there, or God was somehow involved by the facilitator in a way that wasn’t at all clear to me, I don’t know. But God wasn’t mentioned at all the whole time I was watching this, not even at the end when the facilitator told the volunteer that she’d just ‘fixed’ all her ancestral hurt and issues.

Really?

Really, you can have a group of people act like your long-dead family, and that ‘fixes’ the problem, spiritually?

Is that a Jewish idea? What about free choice? What about the idea that spiritual tikunnim actually require a lot of effort, a lot of change, and some truly difficult inner work?

I’m not ‘anti’ spiritual short-cuts if they’re coming from a good place, and they work. But this demonstration bothered me on a number of levels. As someone who’s worked very hard on trying to fix a whole bunch of stuff, I know how hard big tikunim can be sometimes – literally, you can spend years working on things and see very little movement.

So the apparent ‘ease’ of the process was problematic to me, as God very rarely works that way. The ‘other-world’ aspects of this process were also very disturbing to me, as I felt on many levels that in some way, the participants were being ‘possessed’ by spiritual forces that were external to them, and I just can’t see how that can be good, or kosher.

I felt terrible for the poor volunteer.

For all the facilitator was congratulating her on ‘fixing’ all her past and family issues, and telling her how wonderful she was going to feel now, if it was me who’d walked right into that very public display of my family’s dirty washing – in front of so many different people – that would be enough to give me a serious case of trauma, all by itself.

And lastly, I felt really bad about the actors. I mean, no-one asked them, or warned them, that they might have some sort of disembodied spirit taking them over for an hour. These things are serious, spiritually-speaking, and we can’t just mess around with them at a whim, or deal with them superficially, or follow the mores of different religions or different ‘experts’ as to what’s really going on and what long-term damage it might do – because they don’t know!

I came out of that ‘healing experience’ extremely confused and disturbed. I came home, told my daughter what I’d just seen, and she involuntarily shuddered and said:

‘Uggh, that sounds a bit like avoda zara to me,’ holy soul that she is.

After thinking about it a lot, and praying about it, and asking God for some clarity and guidance, I think she’s right.

Yes, Western medicine is corrupt, and drugs and surgery literally kill as much as they cure. Yes, a lot of the more alternative, natural treatments are much closer to the Torah ideal of how we should treat mental and physical illness – but not all of them.

As the alternative movement gathers steam in the world generally, and in the Jewish world more specifically, all of us need to really be on guard to check, double-check and check again that the treatments and therapies we’re engaging in really ARE kosher.

Just because someone looks frum, doesn’t mean things are being done in a genuinely frum way.

There’s a huge amount of clarification that’s required, as we inch forward into this more spiritual way of being before Moshiach. So don’t be scared to ask hard questions, to insist on being shown how God is being included in things, and which rabbis have mandated the approach or practices you’re being offered, and lastly, don’t be scared to stand up and walk away, if you have to.

That’s not always easy, but when you’re dealing with matters where the stakes are just so high, sometimes you simply have no other choice.

UPDATE:

Two years later, I happened to bump into the ‘volunteer’ by the grave of Rabbi Meir Baal HaNess In Tiveria. I asked her if she thought the ‘family constellation’ experience had helped her at all, to resolve the issues she’d been experienced. She replied that it hadn’t changed a thing. So, caveat emptor.

Last Thursday was Israel’s Independence Day, or Yom Ha-Atzmaut, and it’s always an interesting day in my household.

We don’t really fit the mold, religiously or communally, in myriad ways, and Yom Ha-Atzmaut always seems to underline that with a vengeance, because there are so many different decisions to make, like:

  • Do I hang a massive big flag outside the front of my house, like one of my kids wants me too? (even though we’re in a very chareidi neighborhood in Jerusalem that really doesn’t like that stuff so much?)
  • Do I stick an Israeli flag on my car, like another one of my kids really wants me too? (even though I’m worrying someone might deface it and / or try to vandalize my vehicle?)
  • Do I let my kids listen to music, even though it’s smack in the middle of the Omer, where you’re not meant to listen to music until you’ve got up to L’ag B’Omer, on the 33rd day?
  • Do I let myself listen to music, even though I’m not really 100% convinced that this is completely a chag the way the more hard-core dati leumi crowd (like my kids…) thinks it is?
  • Does my husband say Hallel? Does he say takanun?
  • Do we do the BBQ / Mangal thing (like 99% of Israel…) or pretend it’s just a regular day (like Meah Shearim, many former Gush Katif people, and my husband’s yeshiva?)

Questions, questions.

This year, I said: ‘OK! We can do the flag on the car!’

It seemed like a reasonable compromise between the various camps in my home. And we also decided to do a BBQ with my husband’s learning partner from yeshiva and his family, so at least they could talk Torah while we cooked the hotdogs.

Just, the flag thing wasn’t as simple as I thought. My daughter stuck the flag on, when we went to school. But the next morning, found it on the backseat, because my husband took it off when he went to daven in Meah Shearim (worried that someone would vandalize such an obviously Zionist car).

So, she stuck it back on – and he took it off – every day for a week, and sometimes, it happened multiple times, depending on where we were going and who was driving the car.

Finally, the day before Yom HaAtzmaut itself – someone DID vandalize the car, right next to where we lived, and snapped the flag off, leaving only a small, plastic stump to celebrate the holiday.

Over lunch, we discussed a little bit the whole ‘is it really a holiday’ thing.

Personally, my views on the subject seem to change every year, but this year I found myself in a place of quiet gratitude to God that there is an Israel to live in, however flawed, secular and difficult things still can be here, but still thinking that there’s a lot of work to do before we can really celebrate making it ‘back’, in the fullest sense of the word.

The day before the chag, a terrorist stabbed two old ladies in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Arnona, so like Rav Arush says, we can’t even celebrate walking safely in our streets just yet, let alone ‘redemption’ in the true spiritual meaning of the word.

Maybe next year, things will change enough to make it easier to know what to do with the flags, and the music, and the BBQ. I mean, if Moshiach and the Temple is here, then it’s a no-brainer that we’ll nip down to the altar for a wicked lamb shwarma, and then catch the sold-out concert by the Levyim in the Sultan’s Pool, as the fireworks go off over the new Jewish neighborhood of Silwan.

A girl can dream, can’t she?

One of my favorite Rebbe Nachman stories is ‘The Master of Prayer’, which tells the story of a King and his 9 advisors, and how they all get lost and separated from each other as a result of a raging storm-wind.

In the story, each of the 10 lost members of the King’s court becomes the King (or Queen) of a different, misguided faction, until they are reunited. One misguided faction decides that sex is the main point of life; another, that fine food is the goal; yet another, that wisdom is the key thing to pursue.

And then there’s the inhabitants of the Land of Money, who are so obsessed with money that they literally worship the wealthiest members of their land as ‘stars’ and ‘gods’, while treating the poorer inhabitants as lowly animals. In the Land of Money, how much bling you’re flashing around, how many zeros you have in the bank, that’s the only thing that counts, and that’s the only measure of success.

Most of the story revolves around the Master of Prayer’s attempts to rescue the inhabitants of the Land of Money from their delusions, and to reunite the King’s lost advisors – both of which he ultimately accomplishes.

In the story, Rebbe Nachman explains that the lust for money is the hardest one to overcome.

Elsewhere, he brings that Pesach is the festival that comes to rectify the lust for money. Which is where things now start to dove-tail in a pretty neat way, because we all know that Pesach is always just SO expensive.

Even if you live in Israel, and you’re not going crazy trying to find Kosher for Passover plasticware in triple-sealed bags, Pesach still costs money. The matzahs aren’t cheap; the wine isn’t cheap; you need a seder plate, different pots, different plates – it’s all money. And never mind if you’re staying in a hotel in Israel for the holiday. And never mind double if you’re trying to celebrate it in Chut L’Aretz.

Why is this?

One reason could well be that all the expense of Pesach is coming to rectify the lust for wealth, that has so many people in its grip these days.

So it was fitting that I learned the following things last week: I learned that someone who owns a company with a huge £25 million annual turnover (and £6 million gross annual profit) gives an enormous £1,000 to charity a year. (Let me translate this into shekels, for any non-Brits reading this: £6 million = 36 million shekels. £1k = 6,000 shekels)

To put it another way, they’re giving 1/6000 of their annual income to charity.

Can you imagine the embarrassment of these people, when they get up to Heaven and God starts asking them about their business dealings (which is always the first question, as God also knows how to schmooze)? First, it’ll be that puffed-up, super-successful ‘I’m a billionaire’ answer; then, God will hit them with the ‘and how much did you give to charity, from all your millions of pounds?’

And that’s when it’ll hit them: nowhere near enough.

What an embarrassment!

This week, I also met a bunch of people from the UK, some of whom asked me the standard opening gambit question of:

‘Am I working now?’

I said no – proudly – and explained that I’m writing books about holistic health instead.

They immediately changed the subject to something more interesting and meaningful, i.e. the luxury flat they’re currently building, as home number three.

I waited to see if I was going to get that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that used to happen when I’d walk into some of the ‘superior’ and ‘financially successful’ minefields laid out all over the place in London. But you know what? It didn’t come! After waiting a few minutes for any delayed reaction, I realized that I’d finally got out of the Land of Money, and that I didn’t give a stuff that I’d failed the finances test.

I’ve seen so many people with so much more money than me, in so many different circumstances and places, this Pesach.

I used to feel a little jealous about the apparent ‘easy life’ they seemed to have, but now I’ve realized something profound that’s changed the whole picture: When you live in the Land of Money, you’re far away from God.

Until and unless that changes, it doesn’t matter how much cash you’ve stashed, how big your mansion is, or how impressive your annual turnover is, when it comes down to the things that really make life meaningful, happy and fulfilling, you’re still pulling a big, fat ZERO.

This Pesach, you can see that all the headlines of the ‘next intifada’ that the press has been steadily churning out over the last few months have taken a real toll on certain parts of the country.

Downtown Jerusalem, and particularly the Old City, have been unusually quiet for months, and even the recent ‘Sounds of Jerusalem’ street festival appeared to have had limited success in coaxing scared visitors back to Israel’s capital city. (That said, it was also unusually cold and rainy weather a couple of weeks’ ago, and if there’s one thing that Israelis fear more than a Palestinian terrorist, it’s getting caught in a downpour.)

The fear is also hitting places like Hevron, too, which has been in the news for all the wrong reasons for weeks leading up to Pesach.

Most people have heard about the story of the soldier who ‘eliminated’ a terrorist a bit too permanently for the government’s liking, and ended up getting a very stiff prison sentence that could keep him behind bars for almost a decade (!)

So in people’s minds, ‘Hevron’ has unfortunately become synonymous with terrorism, and feels far too scary to visit at the moment.

This morning, I got in my regular Hyundai i20, (without rock-proof windows or bullet-proof body work) and I drove the regular route down Road 60, through Gush Etzion, straight down to Hevron. The hills were green and gorgeous, the ride was very peaceful (thank God) – and the Cave of the Patriarchs was the most quiet I’ve seen it in ages.

Normally, the town council for Kiryat Arba and Hevron put on a park and ride service, where you park your car in Kiryat Arba, and then take a five minute bus journey to the tomb of the Patriarchs, at the center of Hevron.

Normally, the car parks are full of hundreds of cars, but today – hardly any. Now, in fairness we did set out pretty early for Hevron, and we didn’t stay very long – I left by 10.30am. But it still struck me that people are scared to visit – and that’s a real shame, because Hevron is as safe as any where else in the world right now, appearances notwithstanding.

I know we hear about the stabbings and all the other things going on in Israel far more than we do about the attacks, assaults and murders happening in the rest of the world, so I came back determined to try to write something that would provide a little perspective on the wave of terror hitting Israel, to underline that this country is still just about as safe as it comes.

For example, if you take a look at the crime figures for February 2016 released by the Metropolitan Police (the police force responsible for enabling the citizens of London and Greater London to sleep ‘safely’ in their beds at night), you find the following scary statistics:

There were just under 5,000 reported cases of criminal damage and arson; just under 300 people arrested for possessing weapons (including knives and guns); and more than 25,000 (no, that’s not a typo) violent and / or sexual offences committed on London’s streets.

How about New York?

Well, the latest stats for NYC show that there were 8 murders in the last week, (and 19 in the last month); 25 shooting victims (involving 22 separate shooting incidents) in the last week, plus 360 violent assaults, and a whole bunch of other nasty things going on.

Now, what about Israel, even in the middle of its wave of terror? According to the official statistics from the Israeli government, by March 27, 2016, the picture looked like this

Since 13 September 2015, 34 people have been killed in terrorist attacks and 382 people (including 4 Palestinians) injured.

There have been 144 stabbing attacks (including 66 attempted attacks), 85 shootings, and 42 vehicular (ramming) attacks.

Let me pause for a moment to say every single person killed, every single person injured, is a terrible, horrible tragedy, and I’m not writing this article to minimize the problem, or the suffering of the people affected, God forbid.

But what I am trying to do is to give some perspective, that even in the middle of this current wave of terror, Israel is still probably the safest place in the world, particularly for Jews.

For example, the one day of Islamic terrorism that recently occurred in Belgium killed and wounded almost as many people as all the terrorist attacks combined in Israel.

What can we learn from this?

Each person must draw their own conclusions, but this much appears to be clear: don’t avoid coming to Israel, or going to the Old City, or visiting places like Hevron because you think these places are ‘dangerous’. The streets of New York are much more violent; the suburbs of London are much more dangerous; the terrorist attacks happening abroad are much more lethal.

There are no guarantees that anywhere today is truly ‘safe’. But one thing you can be sure of God is looking after Israel, and the Jews that live here, and visit here.

And once you really start to internalize that, you stop worrying so much and you start enjoying your Pesach vacation a whole bunch more.

Drone view of a city

Well, how was your Purim?

Uplifting? Joyful? Stressful? Spiritual?

My Purim was actually quite nice, in a very non-standard way. This year, I decided to dress up as the ‘Doctor of the Soul’. I had a blue medical hat stuck on my headscarf, plus a plastic stethoscope and a big sign that I pinned to my top that said ‘Doctor of the Soul’, to make it clear.

In shul, an older American lady leaned over to me and told me: ‘I like your outfit, it’s cute’.

Aha! I thought I’d managed to identify another Breslev anglo in my area! Things were looking up!

Then she ruined it by leaning back over and stage-whispering:

‘What is that, anyway? A psychiatrist?’

On to the megilla reading.

They banned loud stamping and exaggerated musical instruments and groggers at the mention of Haman, so it went pretty fast – except for the fact that the older Moroccan woman directly in front of me decided she was going to read the megilla loudly herself – and completely out of sync – with the official version. It was like some weird simultaneous translation, or something.

I came home, I made challah (!) for the first time in months, I tried to wake up at midnight to pray, and mumbled something for about two minutes before conking out again – which was good, because at 5am I was woken up by some loud puking noises.

Hmm. We hadn’t even got to the stage of drinking the alcohol yet, or crazily stuffing in all the junk from the mishloach manot, so what was going on?! Turned out one of my children had stomach flu.

I have one bathroom and guests coming for seuda, and most of the morning she was running in there about every half an hour to throw up.

Hmmm. I decided to leave that up to God to sort out before the guests came, because in the meantime I had to hear megilla and then deliver my mishloach manot.

I got to shul 10 minutes before the megilla reading was meant to start – to discover they’d managed to lose the key to the aron hakodesh. We were waiting around 25 minutes before someone remembered which bookcase they’d shoved it behind, and they could unlock the Torah scrolls and get on with reading the megilla.

I ran home for the next stage of Purim: deliver the baskets of goodies.

This year, I decided to give 4 mishloach manot: 2 for people who lived close who I really like; and 2 for people who lived close who I really don’t like – thus, keeping all opinions satisfied.

I also decided to do ‘worthwhile’ baskets, with good wine and nice pastries, instead of the usual chocolate bar and waffley things – and one of my ‘don’t really like you’ recipients was clearly shocked when I handed it over, in a good way.

They reappeared at my door a few minutes later with a reciprocal bag of goodies, and heaped blessings on my head, including that we should merit to buy our own apartment soon. I took that as a really good sign, as that was most of my Purim ‘ask’ this year, but clearly they didn’t know that.

The puking kid went to sleep the whole time the guests were here, so that got resolved. The seuda was very relaxed and pleasant. And I was ready for Shabbat two hours early, for a huge change.

That night, I walked down to the Kotel for Friday night prayers, and a woman dressed as a huge silver bird came over to me and wished me ‘shabbat shalom’.

Hmmm.

I got to the Wall, and there was a flock of swallows spinning and turning all over the place right next to the wall, which is a pretty unusual sight – I don’t remember seeing that before. So given the bird woman, and then the unusual flock of birds, I decided to look up the ‘song’ of the swallows in Perek Shira when I got home.

Here’s what it said:

The swallow is saying, ‘So that my soul shall praise You, and shall not be silent, God my Lord, I shall give thanks to You forever.’

I liked that very much.

There’s a Breslov idea that Purim in many ways marks the beginning of the year. Just before the Purim seuda last year, my husband finally made it out of the depressed state that had engulfed him for months after our business went bust and we ran out of money, and went back to work the week after Purim.

I don’t know what amazing turnarounds and miracles await me this week, Bezrat Hashem, but I know they’re coming.

Is it just me, or does the world feel pretty darned tense at the moment?

On the surface, not a lot is apparently going on (at least, according to the main news sites – and what do they know anyway?!)

But everyone I’m talking to right now seems to be having their own flavor of mega-stress going on. I felt like I got hit by some sort of tsunami last week, that had me off-balance and feeling half-panicked the whole time. This week, it’s already much better again, but that’s probably not least because I did a big 6 hour session of personal prayer again over the weekend, and that always works wonders (and is probably the single biggest reason why I’m not an inpatient at some loonie bin, somewhere.)

But I can see that the pressure is mounting, so I want to tell you about a few things that I think will help:

  • There is a huge prayer rally being called for Tuesday night, the Fast of Esther, in Mearat HaMachpela, in Hevron. They are literally bussing people in from all over the country for this event, which has come down the tube from Rav Berland.

(I know some people still feel a little uneasy when I mention Rav Berland, so this is the time to tell them that the chief of police who manufactured the charges against him recently went to Rav Arush, and publicly confessed what he did, because his life has been going from bad to worse as a result of the false claims he manufactured against Rav Berland, and he wanted to know how he could fix it.

Rav Arush told him that he has to come clean and tell everyone what he was involved with. The man is scared of reprisals from his superiors, but my guess is that the reprisals from his real ‘Superior’ will get so difficult, sooner or later even the Jerusalem Post will be reporting the story.)

Rav Berland predicted the current Intifada we’re going through many months before it began.

Part of why he’s wondering around the world in exile is because he took it upon himself to sweeten the very harsh judgments hanging over Am Israel. He, and many other of the real rabbis, have done so much to minimize them – but we still have our part to play, and that’s what the prayer rally is all about.

You can join one of the buses heading to Hevron Tuesday night HERE.

  • Still with Rav Berland, he recently made an announcement that the health and safety of anyone who is willing to pay a pidyon nefesh of 98 shekels a month for their family to Shuvu Banim doesn’t have to worry about getting caught up in any terrorist attacks.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like the deal of the century to me. A few months’ back, I sent in a different pidyon to the Rav about a health issue that had been troubling me for literally years – and BH, from the day I sent the request in to him (never mind, actually pay the money) the situation has been improving all the time.

Rav Berland is a huge tzaddik, and the real deal, so if he says ‘I guarantee your safety if you pay this pidyon’, then you can believe him.

  • The last thing to share with you comes from Rav Shalom Arush, who on Shabbat mentioned that Purim is the most auspicious time to pray of the whole year. Rav Arush explained that usually, he just tells people to say ‘thank you’ and to not request things, as that can stir up some big spiritual judgments and make things even more difficult for them.

But on Purim, there are no judgments! So he told everyone to pray as much as they can, and to ask Hashem for whatever they need. Usually, midnight (chatzot) is the best time of all to do this, but whatever time you manage to squeeze some personal prayer in, Purim is the day to do it.

Things are turning around, somehow. But I still have no idea if the hurricane is ending, or just beginning.

A little while ago, I had the privilege of attending one of those ‘women’s entertainment things’ in Jerusalem.

I stopped doing that stuff when I was going through my fanatical frum stage, but the last few months they’ve come back on my radar, and broadly speaking, I usually quite enjoy them.

A friend of mine happened to treat me to this production, and when I showed up at the theatre I found I was seated next to a whole bunch of people who I used to know from the first place I lived in Israel – the place we had to sell up our massive house and leave, because both mine and my husband’s businesses went bust.

Whoah Bessy.

For years, I couldn’t even go back to that place for a visit, as it would inevitably spark off so many feelings of self-loathing and despair

– ie, I would start reliving my last few, incredibly difficult, months there. Now I know that’s a common thing that happens when you went through a very traumatic experience, but for years I was blaming the place itself, the people, everything, really.

But that’s not all: there were also a bunch of people there that I hadn’t seen for years from the second place we lived in, that we had to sell up our massive house and leave because I was having enormous panic attacks and living in fear that terrorists were going to break into my house and murder me, God forbid.

It got so bad, that I still can’t spend more than five minutes in that yishuv, and I’ve never really been back to visit anyone. Bad associations, again.

And then, there were a handful of people there from the last place we had to sell up our massive house and leave, because we ran out of money and were basically going bonkers there.

Whoah Bessy, again.

That’s quite a lot of traumatic situations, difficult memories and overwhelming emotional triggers to deal with in one night. But you know what? God helped me, and I mostly even enjoyed myself.

Until this morning.

I woke up this morning feeling the beginnings of that ‘down’ feeling that if you don’t acknowledge it ASAP and go and find out what’s sparking it off and what you need to do to counter it, can quickly spiral down into the blackest depression.

Luckily, I’ve worked out enough things to quickly recognize the following:

  • Someone or something at the event had made me feel worthless in some way
  • I just had to figure out what was going on, and take it back to God, to side-step the impending depression
  • These things always show up THE DAY AFTER

So after a bit of reflecting on who’d I’d spoken to and what they’d said, I came up with the following:

  • I was still feeling a little guilty about moving my kids around so much, albeit they’ve actually come through it all amazingly, and are far more resilient, confident and mature than most kids their age, as a result. They also find it much easier to just be ‘them’, and to make friends with people who are different, which is a huge gift.

Still, when someone commented that my kids were like ‘army brats’, that still stung enough to make me feel pretty down about my worth as a mother, the morning after.

  • I’m still struggling on some level to accept that us not being in any position to buy a house here – despite having lived here for more than a decade, despite trying to do what God wants – is for my good.

I see Mrs X – and I remember the 5 bedroom house with basement I had next to hers, that she’s still living in, and I’m not. I see Mrs Y – and I remember the garden of my house that I worked on for two years, down the road from the house that she is still living in. I see Mrs W, and I wonder why it is God has let these people stay in the same place for years, while I’m still pinging all over the place like some crazy jukebox game at the age of 42.

And then, that causes me some difficulties with God.

I start to feel like maybe, He doesn’t really care about me; that I’m invisible to Him; that He’s punishing me, for something.

These are not new thoughts. They are the thoughts that I’ve had to work so hard to counter the last few years, and I guess God was just showing me that on some level, there’s still work to do.

What snapped me out of all the impending misery and gloom that was gathering around me was two things (apparently, there’s going to be lots of numbered lists in this post):

  • Saying thank you, even though sometimes it’s a struggle to say thank you. I don’t KNOW why all this stuff is good, but I want to BELIEVE that it is, and that’s enough to turn things around internally.
  • Realising that I’m still suffering from some PTSD from all the traumatic experiences we’ve gone through the last 10 years, and that seeing these people are triggering off old stuff.

Sure, the ‘army brats’ comment was insensitive, but really I reacted so strongly this morning because I started to feel that I was back there again, in those places of complete despair and shame that I had to pass through on the way out my gashmius bubble.

Once I’m done typing, I’m going to do some EFT, or a TAT, or maybe even some EMDR, to start clearing up that residual ikky stuff, and start liking myself again. Because mostly, my life is so good. And I want to be able to remember that even when I’m spending time around a bunch of blasts from the past.

Today, I was meant to be driving up North, to see a friend there and have a day out.

On my way out of Jerusalem, I saw I was running low on gas so I stopped at the ‘Yellow’ just by the city entrance to fill up before heading out.

As luck (i.e. God) would have it, I got stuck behind an older woman who was having all sorts of trouble with her car. She couldn’t open the cap for the petrol; she couldn’t get her credit card to work; she couldn’t fit the nozzle into the petrol tank; she couldn’t get a receipt printed out.

By the end of the whole palaver, I was starting to get pretty antsy.

My fingers started drumming on the steering wheel. My leg started involuntarily tapping. Then, when she got back in her car and started faffing around with her lights, her hair, her seat – I don’t know what – I got impatient and beeped her. Not loud and aggressively, but just to remind her that five other people were waiting for her to drive off, already, so they could also get on with their day.

She ignored my beep.

She got out of her car, went to browse in the Yellow’s snacks section, and only then returned and finally put her key in the ignition. It took her another two minutes to figure out the gears and steering wheel, and as soon as I could, I overtook her on the way out of the petrol station, desperate to not get stuck behind her for another five minutes as she tried to figure out how to actually leave the petrol forecourt.

Less than a minute later, I nearly crashed.

I was in the fast lane behind a high truck who was driving fast, but not abnormally so. Suddenly, they skidded off into the slow lane without indicating – and I nearly ran straight into the back of a long line of parked cars, that I hadn’t seen coming because I was behind a high vehicle and it was behind a bend.

There was that horrible screech of tyres, and that heart-stopping moment where I waited to see if the brakes were going to work fast enough to avoid a horrible accident. Thank God, I skidded to a stop barely a foot away from the car in front of me.

It was a very near miss.

So near, that I realized when I started driving off again that at least one of my front tyres had exploded under the pressure of my forced braking at high speed. I pulled off the nearest exit, and parked by the Mevasseret Zion mall to take a look at the tyre. It was completely busted.

Hmm.

I had no idea how to change a tyre, and only around $20 in my wallet, which was enough to pay for a day out, but not enough to buy a new tyre.

Hmm.

Just then, I spotted a gang of four apparently secular teenage boys walking past, and I ran over to them and asked for help changing my flat.

Dear reader, they didn’t hesitate. Despite the fact that only one of them had ever done it before, and that it took a good 40 minutes for them to work out how to work the jack, how to get the bolts off the wheel, how to stick the other wheel on (all with the help of their trust i-Phones…) – they worked with such good grace and patience.

Not for the first time, I said a small prayer of thanks that I live where I live, with the people who live around me.

Where else would I have felt happy asking a gang of strange teenage boys for help? Where else would they have said ‘yes’, and so happily obliged me? Where else would they actually have figured it all out in a way that I was happy to drive my car after they were done?

Who is like your people, Hashem!

On the short drive back to Jerusalem, I pondered why it’d all happened. I mean, nothing happens for no reason, and clearly God was hiding some sort of big message in my near miss. It struck me just as I turned into my own street that I had a couple of people I needed to apologise to.

A couple of years’ ago, I got caught up in a completely skewed mindset that made it a mitzvah to point people’s ‘bad’ out to them, and I’d said a few things to a couple of people that I really shouldn’t have.  I realized God was prompting me to make amends, to change direction, and to return and fix things that needed fixing, instead of driving off to the next big adventure.

I heeded the message, and I wrote a couple of emails as soon as I got back.

Nothing happens for nothing in life.

If I nearly crashed, got a flat, and got helped in such an unlikely way, it was clearly designed to teach me something.

At least patience – to happily sit behind the faffing old granny, so that I didn’t get caught up in a near miss. And gratitude – that I didn’t have a bad accident; that those kids helped me to change my wheel so graciously. And humility – to know I’m not in charge of my life, and to remember that broken things need to be fixed, even if they weren’t broken on purpose.

One of my elderly relatives has reached that stage in their life and health that they have been moved to an old age home here in Israel.

As nearly all of their closest relatives live abroad, it’s falling to me to make the occasional visit to see how they’re doing.

My relative suffers from dementia; we don’t have a language in common; and I’m not close to them in any way. But a mitzvah is a mitzvah, so last week I collared my husband (to do the double mitzvah of keeping me company) and we went to visit.

The place itself was actually relatively cheerful: most of the nurses were Jewish, and we got there just in time for the parsha of the week, that was being given over by a super-jolly frum lady. Which was lucky, because the rest of the experience was actually quite wrenching.

Our relative sat stoically in a chair, and I pretended to talk to her in English, and she pretended to answer me in French.

So far so good. But then one of the elderly men seated next to us started cursing everyone around them for being heartless, because they wouldn’t bring him a doctor to treat his terrible stomachache.

Now, the nurses were not cruel or heartless. I watched them dealing with the other patients, many of whom are seriously ill and plugged into all sorts of strange things on the wall of the dining room, and they are also caring for my relative very nicely, thank God.

The man’s problem is that he still thought that doctors could solve or cure all of his problems, but clearly, they couldn’t. One nurse after another explained that they’d checked him, and that there was nothing wrong with his stomach, and no medicine that would help him. But the man wasn’t buying any of that, and he carried on cursing and shouting until despair overcame him, and he sank his head down on the table in front of him and started weeping.

At that point, my husband got that funny fixed smile on his face that usually tells me he’s not feeling too happy.

But I’d made a deal with myself that we were going to visit for an hour or so, and I had to stick to it, however uncomfortable.

I looked around the room at most of the lonely, sick old people who were having troubles breathing, and troubles eating, and troubles even just ‘being’, in the most basic sense of the word, and I sighed a big sigh as I started to ponder the prospect of it being me sitting there like that, in another 40 years.

Would I also be suffering so much as so many of the people around me? Would I also be sitting there, waiting for the misery to end in some way?

But then I decided: no, I wouldn’t. First of all, I already know that doctors can’t cure all that ails me, or medicate my pain away. Second of all, I talk to God every single day, and when you’re in the habit of doing that, the spectre of loneliness doesn’t scare you in anywhere near the same way. Lastly, I really hoped that in contrast to my relative, my own children would still live in the country, and that I would have a close relationship to them, and to my grandchildren.

We’d speak a common language. I’d know who they were. Hopefully, they’d want to come and visit, at least for a short while, and I would still be able to love them in some way, even if my body was old and broken.

At least, that’s what I hope and pray for.

We left, and in the car park my husband burst into muffled sobs. It took him a while to calm down (he’s not a big fan of hospitals or nursing homes) and it turned out he’d been very affected by what he’d seen, and the seeming futility of life.

Is that how it ends? Broken bodies and demented minds? Lonely, bitter, crazy people? Why come into the world, only to leave it like that?

We talked, and I reminded him of what carries me through these difficult situations and thoughts: this world is just a corridor, it’s not the main event. Often, people spend their whole lives trying to run away from God and their spiritual selves. When they’re old and sick, God has one last chance to bring them back to Him, to get them fixed, spiritually, and to teach them the true meaning of life.

It’s not about amassing money, wealth, success of status.

It’s not about doing what we want, or having things turn out the way we planned.

It’s about building a relationship with God, serving Him to the best of our ability, and regretting all the opportunities we missed to love others (and ourselves…) more, and to build the world in some way.

And even if you’re incapacitated, and hooked up to a million tubes, and you barely know your own name, there’s still a part of you that can connect to your Creator, acknowledge His Omnipresence, and yearn to love more.

And if you manage to do that by the end of your life, then regardless of how bad it looks on the outside, you still achieved everything.