Last week, a good friend of mine insisted that I borrow a book from her called ‘The Tipping Point’, by Malcolm Gladwell.

I’d heard about Gladwell previously, as he wrote a book called ‘Blink’ which basically explained how the gut reaction we have about people is right almost 100% of the time (if only we would pay enough attention to it…)

The book sounded interesting, so I was happy to oblige her, and the little bit I’ve managed to read so far has been very worth my while. But that’s not what this post is really about.

On Shabbat, I was doing a longer hitbodedut (personal prayer session) to deal with all the ‘stress vibes’ that seem to be pouring down from Shemayim at the moment, when I suddenly started having this strong idea that I’d passed the tipping point, somehow, in my life.

Hmmm.

Dear reader, the main way I know if something is from my own imagination (and therefore, wishful thinking) or from a holier source, (and therefore,  more worthy of attention) is how much I take it at face value, and how much I argue against it.

The times when I’m arguing, that’s usually when the penny drops that it may actually be true, in whatever sense that word is to be understood, in these contexts.

So I sat there having a back and forth with God for a good hour about where all this ‘tipping point’ nonsense was coming from.

I mean, things are definitely much better, in nearly every way, than they were last year. But last year was so bad, that pretty much the only way it could be worse would be if I was now pushing up the daisies, God-forbid.

My books have tanked; my unlimited ability to keep churning things out has stalled; my excitement about doing mitzvahs has all but disappeared. Purim is two days away, and I still have no idea what Mishloach Manot I’m making for who, or how I’m delivering them. I have guests for seuda, but no idea what I’m cooking. I have zero enthusiasm for dressing up, hearing the megillah, nothing.

Of course, I’m still going to do it all, because mitzvahs are mitzvahs. But I’m not sure where my spiritual joie de vivre has disappeared off to at the moment, and it’s a little worrying.

So in the middle of all this apathy, resignation and doubt that I’m ever going to get anything to actually change, shift or move in my life, in the ways I would like, God sends me a brainwave that I’ve somehow reached the tipping point.

For an hour straight, that’s what I was getting.

“God, how do I know that I’m not just making all this stuff up because I got that book from my friend?” I wanted to know.

“Biti, Who do you think arranged for you to get that book?” came the reply.

I love arguing with God, because He’s always got the soundbites that trump mine, and that’s quite a rare experience for me. 😉

So here I am, apparently past the tipping point, but feeling pretty listless and pointless and aimless about it all.

For the last few years, my life has been so ‘interesting’, in that Chinese curse type way, that I can’t conceive of a tipping point being anything but good. If it comes, it will tip me over from frustration to satisfaction; from losing (all the time, at everything) to maybe being successful; from small-minded mochin dekatnut into expansive-thinking mochin degadlut.

I think I’d like that.

But tipping points are not always objectively good.

If the world tips over into chaos, war and terrorism, that’s probably ‘bad’. If the economy finally succumbs to reality and tips over into massive deflation and depression, that’s also probably ‘bad’ (although then, maybe I’d stand a chance of being able to afford to buy a house again.)

If people wake up one day to a world where Donald Trump is president of the US (how crazy is that?) or worse, Hillary Clinton is, then that would be a pretty big tipping point. (American Jews: buy your place in Israel now.)

But the whole thing with tipping points is that we’re not in control of when or how they happen. They can’t be designed by us, controlled by us, or guided by us. As Gladwell’s book makes clear, tipping points are somehow orchestrated from Above, and they usually catch everyone by surprise.

So, I admit that if my personal inability to get anywhere with my writing tips over into some sort of success, I’d be thrilled. If my family finally gets to settle down and live somewhere happily for more than three years, I’d be thrilled. If my finances would tip over from ‘just getting by’ to ‘financially comfortable’, I think I’d like that.

But if I was on the other side of the fence, and currently enjoying my stability, money and materiality, then the potential tipping points looming on the horizon would be scaring the pants off me.

On Tuesday, I had 99% of my new ‘Decision Making’ course done, when I asked someone male who I live with, who we’ll call ‘Ron’ to protect the guilty, to read it and tell me what they thought.

An hour later, this was the verdict: “This is brilliant stuff!” he said. But then, he completely ruined it by adding: “But no-one is ever going to buy your stuff, because you talk about God too much, and you’re too ahead of your time. It’s unsaleable.”

Dear reader, to say I felt like all the air had just been let out of my balloon is a gross understatement of how completely and utterly gutted I felt at that particular moment.

It’s one thing to give up a highly-lucrative job to follow the dictates of your soul (and to give your poor, neglected children some attention). It’s another thing to end up going through some incredibly tough times financially, when you start wondering if you should jack-in all your aspirations of writing meaningful, useful stuff to go and be a secretary, or something, to help pay off all the bills.

And then, it’s something else entirely when after all your inner struggles to try to give God what He wants, and to do the right thing, and to put some real spiritual light into the world, someone called ‘Ron’ comes along and tells you that because you can’t stick a price tag on it, it’s essentially a huge waste of time.

I spent the rest of Tuesday eating chocolate and feeling pretty miserable, as though my life, and everything I’ve learned and everything I’ve gone through the last few years was completely pointless, because it couldn’t help me get a mortgage. But BH, I did some kick-arse hitbodedut the next morning, and God gave me some profound reassurance that I should continue, regardless.

“But God, what about the house we just can’t afford to buy, unless I start bringing in some more cash? What about the mortgage?”

That’s when God gave me the clarity of the decade:

“Making money is not your job. It’s Ron’s problem.”

Hmm.

In fairness to Ron, he was massively disappointed on my behalf that my books weren’t really selling, and was also feeling a little guilty that he hadn’t been able to make enough over the last year to get us anywhere closer to ever owning our own home again. On some level, I think we’d both felt that if only my stuff could start earning something, that would solve all the problems.

Except….

God felt differently about the whole thing. You see Ron, like many other men out there, doesn’t always believe in his own abilities to do some wonderful things in the world. And like many other men in the world, Ron has a tendency to look for the short-cuts and the easy routes that aren’t really solving the problem, but are softening the edges of it.

In our modern world, sending the woman out to ‘earn some money’ is often the knee-jerk reaction that most of our Rons have, when faced with some sort of financial short-fall in the family finances.

But here’s the rub: men earn their emuna via making parnassa, and women get it from fixing their families.

I didn’t make up these rules, God did, as a result of chet Adam.

But in the meantime, they are cast-iron rules of the game, and we ignore them at our own peril. Here’s what happens when we ladies forget that Rons are the ones that need to be earning the money: We get duped into taking stressful, soul-destroying jobs, or going for high-flying careers, that fill our whole day with deadlines and pressure and give us precious little time or head-space for dealing with our real full-time job, i.e., fixing Ron and all the Ron Juniors.

Then, things on the home front start breaking down – this kid comes home from school with an ADHD diagnosis, that kid starts going off the derech, instead of fixing Ron, going to work just puts even more pressure on our relationship – and before you know it, the family side of things starts looking really pear-shaped.

Yes, I’d really love my own house again. Yes, I’d really love to have a bit more financial ease.

BUT.

My work, unsaleable as it might currently be, is actually something very precious.

It’s taking Jewish concepts and Breslov insights, and turning them into bona fide practical strategies for how to live life with God, in real time.

After thinking things through last week, (and yelling at Ron a lot), I realized that I would rather carry on doing what I’m doing, and rent for the rest of my life, than sell myself out just to own a house. This stuff has huge repercussions. I know that it’s big stuff, spiritually (and if anyone actually reads it, I think they’ll feel the same way.) And a house is finite and gashmius.

I can’t take it with me at the end of 120 years.

To his credit, Ron was very chastened by the end of Thursday, and by Friday, he was working on his plan for his next new business. It’s up to God if it actually get anywhere, but in the meantime, peace has returned to Gotham City. I’ve returned to my keyboard. And the problem of ‘whose job is it to make the money, anyway?’ has been successfully laid to rest.

At least, for now.

I got back from Uman yesterday afternoon.

While it’s probably too soon to say for sure (because Uman experiences don’t just happen while you’re in Uman, they kind of unfold over the next few weeks and months) – I think it was a really good trip.

There’s something so gratifying to the soul, especially when you’re an Anglo living in Israel, of spending a few days with Israelis from all backgrounds, who got the call to come to Uman and are on some sort of profound journey, that you’re sharing with them in some small way.

Like…

Avraham the ultra-Tel Aviv person, who was all designer sunglasses, flashy sneakers and ‘cool’ hair, who couldn’t put his i-Phone down for even 2 seconds (no joke). By the end of the trip, the phone was in his pocket at least some of his time – which is huge, in its own way – and the man kept a whole Shabbat away from his phone.

Nissim, the tattoo-ed shopowner, turned into a mega-chassid, and was dancing and singing niggunim all over the place. He sat avidly throughout all of Rav Ofer Erez’s shiurim, drinking in every word and asking questions afterwards.

Chen from the North lives on a ‘secular’ kibbutz – but tries to speak to God every single day.

Malka also lives on a secular kibbutz, which is ideologically ‘anti’, but got religious 18 years ago, and is now one of just 2 women who keeps Shabbat and cover their hair. Do you know how much courage it takes to do that?

Are you getting a sense of just how amazing Am Yisrael is?

Just how brave and courageous so many of us are, spiritually-speaking? How despite the tattoos, the phones, the jeans, the nonsense, so many Israelis are spiritually seeking, and asking themselves hard questions about the meaning of life, and trying to find some real answers?

I’ve lost count of the number of amazing people I’ve met like this, on my trips to Uman. If I’d met them in Israel, we’d both probably think we had nothing to say to each other, and avoid each other like the plague. But in Uman, all the pretenses somehow shatter and the sweetness that’s in every Jewish soul gushes out like a river.

You feel like you’re in a room of 40 of your closest friends after a Shabbat in Uman, and the truth is you’re having the sorts of deep conversations that seem to be getting rarer and rarer today, outside of Jewish Ukraine. It’s amazing! Again this trip, I came away with such a profound sense of happiness, that God made me a Jew, and that Jews are amazing people.

Of course, it’s not always like that.

One of the ‘hallmarks’ of Rebbe Nachman is that he raises up the lowly, and the he brings down the arrogant. So I’ve also had trips where my time in Uman was really, really hard for me. I suddenly started seeing all these things I needed to work on, particularly in regard to my middot, and how I relate to my fellow man, and let me tell you, being showing that stuff face-on come sometimes be excrutiatingly painful.

“Whaaat? I’m selfish? CAN’T BE! Don’t you know how much money I give to charity?!?!”

“What do you mean I’m angry, arrogant and judgmental?!?! Can’t you see how long my skirt is, and how much I pray?”

Etc etc etc.

Those types of insights can be very, very painful, so I go into my Uman experiences half-excited and half-wary now, wondering what’s going to turn up for me to deal with.

But baruch Hashem, it was a good trip. The people were amazing. The inner work wasn’t so painful. The insights I got were very gentle and life-affirming – and I came away feeling like I’m part of such a beautiful whole again.

It’s easy to forget that, sometimes, even when you live in the middle of Jerusalem.

So let me end like this: if you didn’t book your ticket yet, please do it! Because the most important person you get to meet in Uman is….yourself.

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.

A little while ago, I was talking to a friend of mine who told me about the latest ‘parenting craze’ to be sweeping the frum world, at least in Israel.

In a nutshell, this new system or shitta is telling parents, particularly mothers, that they have to find out what their problem is, in order to raise their kids properly.

Apparently, the thinking is like this: if you can help the parents to uncover the ‘fatal flaw’ or big emotional problem, or personal issue that defines them and their approach to everything in life, including how they parent their kids, then you’ll help them to change their behavior, and peace will reign in Gotham City.

I know, it theoretically sounds great doesn’t it? There’s just one problem: it’s a load of baloney, and in practice it’s going to end up doing far more harm than good to everyone involved.

How do I know all this?

Simple: in our quest to be better Jews, and better people and better parents, me and my husband have been through a whole bunch of shitot and systems based on ideas that sounded good in theory, but were actually useless (at best) or very damaging in practice.

Christians believe that people are ‘fatally flawed’ as a result of the ‘original sin’ where Adam and Eve brought death into the world. By contrast, Jews (especially Breslev-friendly Jews) believe that people are fundamentally good, and that the real them, their soul, is only good and holy, just it got caught up in a bunch of klipot (evil husks) and yetzer haras (evil inclinations) that it needs to fight off and fight through.

That’s the work of this world, and it really can take 120 years to achieve it.

But what’s happening in even the most frum circles is that people are taking a bunch of half-baked ideas rooted in the heresy of modern psychology and psychiatry, or in the idol-worshiping notions of Christianity or the Eastern religions, and then concocting all sorts of ‘workshops’ and ‘parenting courses’ that aren’t based on truth, and only serve to drag participants’ vulnerabilities, difficulties and yetzers out for public scrutiny, without giving them a real solution for how to actually resolve them.

I know so many people, my husband included, who have been caught up and hurt in all the frum public confessionals happening all over the place.

But however these things are being dressed up and sold to others, they’re all based on the same basic principles: encourage people to admit their biggest hurts, deepest secrets and darkest shames in front of a bunch of strangers; then, have the group’s ‘guru’ explain to them – publicly – what their problem is, how it’s affecting them, and why it’s so bad. Then – leave them to deal with it. Alone.

If they start to struggle, or feel even more alone, depressed or ‘bad’, explain to them that either:

  • They didn’t get what they’re meant to be doing, or they didn’t complete the program and process properly and it’s their problem they’re so broken and can’t be fixed;

And / or:

  • Promise to give them the answer to their problem in the next workshop (or six…); or the next private coaching session (or 10…); or the next super-expensive private retreat.

I have seen people keep coming back to these ‘gurus’ and the hugely profitable organisations they’ve built on the back of other people’s suffering for literally years. For as long as they are in touch with the ‘guru’ and the system they’ve built, they’re hopeful that the answer, whatever it is, is just one more group meeting away.

But it doesn’t work like that!

Quite the opposite: as time goes on, the participants split into 2 camps: increasingly despairing, angry, empty and cynical, or completely detached from the reality of who they really are, and what’s really happening in their lives and in their relationships.

Neither of these modes is emotionally healthy, or compatible with yiddishkeit.

So what’s the answer? Where are all these frum gurus going wrong, and why are they doing so much damage?

In a nutshell, you can sum it up like this: what helps people to be better parents, and to treat their kids nicer, and to be happier people, and to be able to deal with their issues and flaws appropriately, is when they concentrate on seeing the good in themselves, and developing more self-compassion.

Remember, God arranged the world as a mirror, to show us who we really are, and what we really need to work on. If we secretly believe ourselves to be selfish monsters, or hateful failures, or fatally-flawed and unfixable in some way, that’s the ‘self’ we’ll see reflected back to us from the people in our lives, and especially our children.

The more ‘down’ we get on ourselves, the more we dislike ourselves – all for the best motives in the world – the more we’ll be irritated by, dislike and probably mistreat our kids, who are just our mirrors. By contrast, the more we learn to see the good in ourselves, and to judge ourselves with compassion and understanding, the more that inner goodness will shine out of our kids, too.

(If you’re thinking this sounds a lot like Rebbe Nachman’s Azamra, you’re dead right.)

There’s a lot more to say about this, and I think I will be coming back to this idea again and again on my blog. But for now let me leave you with this:

The single biggest thing you can do to improve your parenting, and help your kids, and to build the world, and to become the fulfilled, happy Jew God created you to be, is to learn how to love yourself, and to concentrate on finding all the good He placed in your soul.

That’s it.

And if your course, workshop, or frum guru is not telling you that, or if it’s telling you to focus on your problems, flaws and issues, then run away as fast as your legs can carry you.

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.

Time and again in my research about what makes people feel ‘alive’ and what makes them feel the opposite, God-forbid, having a well-defined sense of purpose comes pretty close to the top of the list.

If a person really understands why they’re alive, if they really get what’s the point of being down here, then that knowledge by itself can transform their life in so many good ways. I was musing on this while I was reading Viktor Frankl’s classic work, Man’s search for meaning, where he writes about his experiences in the holocaust, and the conclusions he drew as a result.

Frankl was a secular Viennese psychotherapist who lost his parents, wife and all of his siblings bar one sister during the war. In the book, he describes how his ‘professional interest’ in how his fellow prisoners were handling the indescribable suffering of being in Auschwitz and other death camps was a big reason why he survived the war.

As soon as he could take a ‘professional interest’ and start to ponder the psychological implications of what he was witnessing and experiencing, Frankl explains that the experiences themselves became easier to manage in some way.

In one particular poignant passage, he describes how imagining he would share his new insights into human nature kept him going when he was enduring a particularly hard day of forced labour outside in the freezing Polish winter.

Another popular tactic he employed was talking to his wife in his head, and escaping into those imaginary conversations. And thus, he survived the war, and went on to develop Logotherapy, his own brand of psychotherapy where the emphasis was firmly put on encouraging his patients to find some sort of meaning to life, in order to heal their emotional problems.

While Frankl is not ‘anti-religion’, he’s clearly wasn’t an observant Jew – and that’s a real shame, because Judaism would’ve have furnished a clear-cut ‘meaning to life’ that would have prevented him from trying to re-invent the wheel.

Let me give an example I was pondering on recently:

The more I read and learn and experience, the more I realize that it’s almost impossible to raise our children without causing them some sort of severe psychological damage, with far-reaching consequences for their sense of wellbeing, emotional and physical health, and spiritual connection.

For years, I thought that if you were a healthy, well-adjusted, emotionally-balanced person, then your kids would turn out OK (just for the record, I haven’t actually ever met someone like this, but for argument’s sake, let’s pretend they exist.) But God’s been showing me recently that EVEN the most well-meaning, spiritually-connected, tuned-in, compassionate parents are STILL messing their kids up.

How can we not? Is it up to us to decide if we have to experience huge financial pressures, for example? Or severe illnesses? Or traumatic moves to different cities or different countries? Can we help it if we get depressed sometimes, or super-stressed, or overwhelmed by the difficult experiences each of us has to face? We don’t pick for our kids to have horrible teachers, or nasty bullies, or traumatic experiences with terrorists every few days.

And all this stuff leaves an indelible mark on the soul, and causes things like anxiety, fear, anger, panic, despair, and a whole bunch of other things, too.

So I was pondering: Why?

Why does God set things up that it’s impossible to raise our kids as completely whole, emotionally-healthy human beings who don’t have anxiety, panic, worry, sadness and all the rest of it?

As usual, Rav Arush gave me the answer. I was reading his new book about saying thank you and seeing miracles when he explained that our difficulties are what brings us closer to God. We suffer, we hurt, we get overwhelm, and then we actually turn around and have probably the first honest conversation of our lives with our Creator.

We realize we can’t do it by ourselves, that we need Him to help us out, pronto. And that’s the whole point of being alive.

It’s so easy to get so caught up in the secular view of the world, which sees everything as being somehow in human control and ‘solve-able’. Depressed? Take a pill! Anxious? Take a pill! Stressed? Take a pill! (You get the idea…)

But I realized that I’ve also fallen into that trap a bit, by blaming myself for all of my kids issues. Now, here’s where we hit the fine line: OF COURSE I’m to blame for my kids issues, if I take God out of the picture. I mean, I made aliya, I ran out of money, I keep moving, I’m the one who got angry, stressed, depressed, overwhelmed and who all too frequently took it out on them.

But I’ve been working on all that stuff as much as I can, and the more I clear away, the more God shows me that something had to mess them up, as that’s the whole point. It’s only in their brokenness that they’re going to get closer to God, and build their relationship with Him. So yes, God used my bad middot to do the job for a while, but now they’re receding, I see He’s still piling the pressure on my kids: terrorists are scary; ulpana is challenging and sometimes lonely; friends are frequently unpredictable and draining etc etc.

And that’s the way it’s meant to be.

To put it another way, our suffering is what gives our life meaning, and what ultimately makes it worthwhile. I know that’s a bizarre idea on many levels, but recently, it’s been coming into clearer and clearer focus.

The meaning of life, what gives our lives purpose, is to get closer to God. Full stop. That’s why God fills the world with pain and suffering, and doesn’t give us all mansions, yachts and perfect health. At some point, hopefully the equation will change, and people will want to get closer to God even amidst their bounty – I think that’s the promise of Moshiach.

But we’re not quite there yet (at least, I’m not). Which means that each day still has its measure of pain, and its share of challenges. But I’m no longer wondering why it has to be that way.

Trying to see the good is sometimes so hard for me. So I decided to devote a good chunk of time to at least trying to switch into seeing more of the good in my life, and having more gratitude.

This is what I did as part of my most recent six hour ‘only say thank-you-athon’:

I first warmed up with a whole bunch of genuine thanks for many of the blessings in my life. I thanked God for my husband, my kids, my health, my home, my ability to type, my ability to think, my ability to write, hot water in the shower, food in the fridge, clean socks living right near to the Kotel etc etc.

I first did that for two hours, because I knew the next part was going to be much tougher: saying thank you for the things that have caused me a lot of pain and heartache over the last few years.

I decided to do a mind-map of all the hard stuff I wanted to say thank you for, so that I could go through each item one by one, thank for it, and then try to see what good had actually come out of it.

I’m not going to share the whole list with you (because let me tell you, I used the biggest bit of paper I had and I still had to write small), but I wanted to share some of the highlights, because it was an amazing exercise to do and I hope maybe it will inspire you to do your own version.

So on my massive bit of paper, some of the ‘lacks’ I wrote down were as follows:

  1. Professional success and accomplishments
  2. My own home
  3. Old friends and new friends
  4. Family support and financial help
  5. A bath
  6. A community

First, I said thanks for all these ‘lacks’.

Then, I started to break them up into all the different elements of ‘lack’ I felt they represented.

  • When I left my career, I went from earning loads of money to earning barely anything; I also lost a lot of social status, and I struggled for years to find a sense of purpose. (thanks, God!)
  • Ironically, I’ve moved so, so many times in my life, but I hate moving, and always have daydreams of settling down in my own cosy home. When we burned through all our house money, that meant we no longer had a deposit to be able to afford to buy a house again. So even though my husband is now back at work, it seems as though I’m going to be stuck renting forever. (thanks, God!)
  • It’s pretty lonely where I live. No-one ever pops in to say hello, and I have no friends within a 20 minute walk of my home. (thanks, God!)
  • Someone was telling me about someone they know whose parents helped them buy a flat outright in Jerusalem, so they can continue learning without having to worry about paying rent – and I got so jealous. (thanks, God!)
  • I have to get to my mikva 40 minutes ahead of shkia to make sure I get dibs on the only bath, and then I have to clean it like a crazy person because I have germ issues…(thanks, God!)
  • I don’t feel I ‘fit’ anywhere. I’m not part of any community. I don’t have that sense of belonging anywhere. No-one invites me for Shabbat, and I have very few people locally that I can invite, too. I have nowhere to daven. (thanks, God!)

Ready for the magic to begin?

After I’d spent some time sincerely saying thanks for these (and a few hundred other) things, God started to show my something amazing: why it was actually the best outcome it could be for me.

Here’s a taste of what I started to get:

  • Once I got out the secular rat-race, it freed me up to really start learning and living about life differently. As a result, I’ve already written 5 books, I have 3 blogs, and I’m on a mission to share what I’ve learnt with others. I’m SO much happier writing about emuna and God-based holistic health than I was writing speeches for ministers about why everyone needs a pension.
  • If we’d have bought that flat 2 years’ ago, we’d be so miserable right now. I’m not sure I’m in the right place, and until I know where I really will be happy, and who I really am (which is getting closer all the time…) it’s much better for me to have the freedom to rent. When I know where it’s really good to settle down, THEN God will give me the money for a house.
  • Do you know how much I get done on an average day? It’s mindboggling…and there’s no way I could write so much, so fast, if I had more people to talk to in the day. People actually go away for 6 month retreats to write, and here, God gave me that peace and quiet in my own home.
  • When you don’t have others to rely on, you have to turn to God for your needs. You have to trust Him much more. You have to really live your emuna that God’s looking after you. It is really, really nice to have parents support you if they can afford to do that, but if they can’t (or won’t), it’s because God wants you to deal direct.
  • You know, I am going to appreciate having a bath again SO MUCH when it happens. Also, it’s taken my OCD tendencies down a notch, because there’s only so much cleaning you can do before someone starts banging on the door and asking when you’re coming out.
  • I was a wannabe charedi person when I moved to Jerusalem. Now, I learned I’m not. If I’d found a community of lovely people back then, I’d be stuck trying to fit in when it wasn’t really the right mode for me. God saved me a lot of hassle by not making me have to choose between being true to myself and having friends. The community will come when I know what it is I really need and want.

How’s that for amazing?

Thanks God!

At the end of the process, I stopped carrying that grudge around with me that’s been weighing me down for years, already. I know I have to carry on working my gratitude, but it really was a huge weight off to know that God doesn’t secretly have it in for me; that Rav Arush was right about everything (including doing six hours, moving to Jerusalem, and saying thank you); and that life is coming good, even if the ‘good’ isn’t exactly what I had in mind.

“I said thanks, and I saw miracles!”

No, this isn’t another ‘drugs gone mad’ post…

Believe it or not, Rav Dessler actually brings this story from the Gemara, where a young father loses his wife, and can’t afford to pay a wet-nurse to feed his child (clearly, this is before the days of Materna.) So then, God does a miracle for the man, and has him grow boobs in order to nurse his own child.

The Sages of the Gemara are split in their view of whether this is a good thing or not. One says: “How great is this man, for whom such a miracle was performed!” The other says: “How lowly is this man, for whom the order of creation was changed!”

This discussion takes place in Rav Dessler’s essay on ‘Torah and Economic Activity’ in Michtav Me Eliyahu, where he brings the five levels of faith that people are on, when it comes to earning a living.

The five levels are as follows:

Level 1) The highest level is that of the person who…now sees the natural and the miraculous both as open miracles, having realized that ‘nature’ has not independent existence at all…His worldly needs can now be given him in way that are openly miraculous. There is no longer any need to conceal the miracle from him.

Level 2) There is another person who may have reached a very high level of faith, but when he searches the depths of his hear he finds that nature and miracle are not completely equal for him. He has not yet reached the ultimate perfection of trust. Consequently, he will not find miracles attending his path.

Level 3) The third level refers to those people whose faith is strengthened by miracles, while it is weakened by natural processes. Such people should reduce their use of natural means as far as possible.

Level 4) People…who do not recognize miracles when they see them, can derive no benefit from being dealt with in a miraculous fashion…they will be dealt with by providence in ways that seem to conform to natural patterns…If he becomes poor and downtrodden, and in spite of all his endeavors care and deprivation are his lot, he may eventually face a moment of truth. He may realize that all his efforts were of no avail and, heartbroken, he may turn to Hashem in prayer.

Level 5) Some people may completely fail to recognize God’s providence and may go in for worldly endeavor in a big way – and their activities may be blessed by Heaven…Why are they not taught the error of their ways by poverty and suffering?…The answer is…they are so far gone that they are no longer worthy of attention from on high.

When my husband quit his job to ‘let God provide’ – as he’d been encouraged to do by his then rabbi – I knew we weren’t on the level to really live that reality.

But it’s only when I came across this that I realized we were aiming for Level 1 – which even Yaacov Avinu didn’t think he was on – when really, we were at tops, Level 3, same as the man who grew boobs.

The two years we were trying to rely on miracles, we got a lot of them, but they weren’t exactly enjoyable, or easy, or something that helped us make friends and influence people. In fact, they often did quite the opposite, because when all is said and done, who wants to hang out with a guy who grew miraculous boobs?!

Mommy and me doesn’t want him; his mates down the pub don’t want him; even his mum thinks he’s a little strange and off-putting and tries to keep the visits short and sweet.

Sure, it’s still a spiritual level higher than most people probably ever get within spitting distance of – but it’s a not a ‘good’ place to be, is it?

Where did he buy clothes? Did the boobs disappear again, once the kid grew up, or was he stuck 42DD forever? These are all very important questions, because as Rav Dessler and the Gemara makes clear, miracles don’t always, or even usually, come for free.

So where are we holding now that we’re definitely not in the relying on Heaven for everything category? I’d love to say it’s level 4 – I’d love to say we’re now back to working hard, while still knowing that God truly is providing everything, and there are days when I really believe this. But not always. Sometimes, I still complain. I still feel aggrieved when I hear of rich foreigners buying up all the apartments in Jerusalem, which means us poor locals can’t even get a foot in the door. I still worry sometimes about ‘what will be?’

Sometimes, I feel like an open miracle is the only way I’m ever going to own my own home again.

So maybe, it’s somewhere between 3 and 4. Who knows. The point is, just because someone is getting miracles, even a lot of them, doesn’t mean they’ve completely made it in the spirituality stakes.

It’s possible they could be at Level 1 – if they’re the generation’s equivalent of the Rashbi.

Or, they could be holding at Level 3 – unnatural boobs, no friends, but at least their kid has some milk to drink.

Or, they could even be at Level 1, where their success is miraculous because God has decided to give up on them, and not send them any material difficulties or hardships. From the outside, it’s often impossible to tell.

Personally, I’m not having enough financial success to be at Level 1, or enough horrible challenges to be at Level 2, or enough open miracles to be at Level 3, so maybe it is Level 4 after all. I guess we’ll see what happens next.

Before I threw all my secular CDs away, Queen was one of my favorite bands by a long chalk. The beats, the melodies, the guitar riffs, the clever lyrics. I loved Queen to bits. One of my all time favourite songs was ‘Under Pressure’.

Dum dum dum diddy dum dum. Dum dum dum diddy dum dum (oo-wa-oop).

Just now, my husband told me that since Chanuka, he’s been feeling like he’s been under non-stop pressure, without any let-up.

Thank God, we can pay our bills and nothing particularly ‘major’ is happening to explain this big build-up of tension and stress, but there’s no doubt about it: we’re under pressure.

And we aren’t the only ones.

As ‘the matzav’ in Israel continues to wind its way towards whatever Heavenly goal it’s being designed to achieve, I’ve noticed more and more short tempered outburst going on around me. People are honking more; they’re walking faster (or staying home…); they have less patience for people, they’re more out of it.

In short, they’re under pressure.

All of us are feeling the stress at every level of our being. That much is clear. What’s less obvious (at least to me) is what all this pressure is meant to be achieving. Because for sure, God is doing it for a good reason.

Is He trying to provoke a collective national melt-down, that will lead to a mass teshuva movement?

Is He trying to show us all that we simply can’t get by without Him any more, and He’s going to keep upping the ante until any semblance of arrogance and independence is crushed out of us?

Is He secretly working for Big Pharma, and has bought a bunch of shares in Prozac et al?

I don’t know – which is actually quite strange for me, as I like to think I at least have a small inkling of what God might be planning with all this stuff. But I don’t. Despite all my hours of praying, and all my efforts to talk to God, and all my attempts to read the runes and decode the hints He’s sending me, and everyone else, I feel that I’m currently sailing in unchartered waters.

To put it another way, I haven’t had a clue what’s been going on in my life, or around me, since Succot, and that doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon. I know the pressure is building – we can all feel it, and you’d have to be crazy to not recognize that ‘something’ is bubbling under the surface.

What the something is, or how it’s going to manifest in the world, is anyone’s guess. I hope its Moshiach. I hope its redemption. I hope it’s chanukat habayit (both personally and nationally).

But right now, all I really know is that I’m under pressure, and some days, it really feels like I just can’t take it anymore.