Ladies, it’s really happening!

This Sunday at 10am Jerusalem time (7 hours ahead of EST), we’ll be kicking off the first Zoom class for ladies only, with yours truly.

The idea is to talk about how we can apply some of Rebbe Nachman’s, and Rabbi Berland’s, teachings to our own lives and experiences.

This week, I opened up one of the Rav’s books to get some inspiration for how to kick off, and it opened up to some interesting ideas on humility, so that’s the topic we’re going to kick off with, and we’ll see how things develop.

I’m going to keep the first few classes to 30 minutes, while we figure out how they are going to work best. The idea is for me to set the tone, but I really want YOU to be the ones talking and sharing and discussing, as you get so much input from me anyway, via my blog.

I’m putting the Zoom link for the first class here:

 https://zoom.us/j/231772543

Show up 5 minutes earlier if you’re not sure how to use Zoom, to get comfortable with the set up.

It’s ladies only, so don’t worry about having your video or audio switched off.

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If you can’t make it live (and I know there were a lot of ladies in the US who expressed an interest, but who can’t make this time slot) – replays will be available, but only sent out to people who sign up. Once I move house again in 3 weeks, I’ll look to add another slot, maybe on Mondays, that will work for people in the US, too.

You can sign up below, and I’ll also put this link in my sidebar, and in the sidebar of my blog on ravberland.com, too, to make it easy to access.







Get the replays of the Breslov Womens’ class!

The only way to get the link for the replay of Rivka’s weekly Breslov Women’s class is to sign up!

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BH, I'm a little nervous about this, but also quite excited. For years now, I've had the privilege of getting to know some really amazing women, all over the world, and I've been wishing that there was a way more of us could get to know each other.

And now, there just might be!

So, take the plunge with me, and let's see where this goes. No-one has to come every week - not even me! - and in the meantime, it would be so nice to spend half an hour a week chatting things through with other ladies who also happen to really believe in God...

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And in the meantime, the better half has also taken the plunge, and started recording a 5 minute parsha shiur, you can catch his first one here:

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He was also a little nervous - new beginnings are always hard.

But something beautiful is starting to sprout here, BH, in more ways than one.

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Last week, I had a little nervous breakdown.

The only reason it was little, as opposed to BIG, is because on Thursday morning I told my husband that if I didn’t make it out to Uman for Shabbat, I was probably going to crack up into a million pieces.

The warning signs had been gathering steam for two weeks, but we were deep in a massive cash crunch, so there was just no way I could get to Uman. Then on Tuesday, I was chasing some receipts for my husband’s end of year when we realized we’d been accidentally overcharged for something by 4, 000 shekels – the cost of spending Shabbat in Uman.

So, my husband asked for repayment, and Thursday morning, we booked the flight.

Thank God, because I was in such a low place by that point, I felt like the sky was falling in.

Usually, I’m pretty open about what sparks all this stuff off, and I can tell you that I’m definitely dealing with a million and one big stressors at the moment, that have all been depleting my strength and challenging me. I’ll list them here, to make it neat, but that’s not really what sent me off the deep end.

  • I have to move apartment by end of Feb, and still haven’t found somewhere.
  • I have to complete the purchase of an apt in Harish by end of Feb, and the bank turned down the mortgage.
  • I have to complete my ‘Crush your stress’ masterclass (haha!) and start marketing it properly.
  • I have to somehow figure out tickets for trips to the US and UK for family simchas.
  • My kid wants to drop out of school again.
  • My other kid is leaving her National Service half way through the year

All these stressors could easily pass for ‘the reason I’m cracking up’, and in the past, I’ve made the mistake of thinking they are the root cause of my emotional distress.

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But last week, I realized they are just the icing, not the cake.

The stuff that was really causing me to crack up last week is far more intangible. It just runs so deep, and goes to the heart of this whole idea of what I’m really meant to be doing in the world.

After 46 years, I realized that I’m still the perpetual weirdo, that I’m never going to see things the way other people do, or react to things ‘normally’, or be able to fit myself into the neat little boxes that apparently suit ‘everyone else’ – whoever the heck they are.

I’ve been fighting that clarity since I could think, because it brings a whole big bag of loneliness and self-doubt along with it. For four and a half decades, I’ve been waiting for me to mellow enough to fit in with the world, or for the world to speed up enough to keep up with me.

And last week, I finally understood that it’s never going to happen.

That understanding totally blew me out the water, and left me feeling like ET would feel once he understood the Mothership was never showing up to take him back home.

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I am a perpetual weirdo, stuck in a place where no-one is ever going to ‘get’ me.

This has implications for a lot of things, not least all my ongoing attempts to keep trying to ‘brainwash’ people – including my family members – into seeing things and experiencing things the way I do.

Up until last week, I thought it was just a matter of time until everyone comes around and starts to pick up the same vibes I do about things. Just a bit more ‘Moshiach light’ needs to slip under the door, just a bit more ‘Moshiach consciousness’ needs to shine in through the windows, and they will finally understand.

But now, I accept that’s never going to happen.

So last week, I fled to Uman to get some advice about how I’m meant to relate to myself in this new paradigm.

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Now I know I’m just never going to get that meeting of minds I’m craving, that sense of connection, now I know that I have to keep ‘the real me’ mostly under wraps if I want to have peaceful relationships and not cause constant friction, how do I relate to myself? How do I like myself?

How do I use all my ‘weirdness’ in a way that will still benefit the world, without causing me all this heartache because I feel so lonely and misunderstood so much of the time?

That’s why I came knocking on the door of Uman, the only place that makes me feel a little bit ‘normal’.

There was no bolt of lightning, no neon sign that suddenly lit up over the Tziyon saying

Rivka, do THIS!!!!! Be like THIS!!!! Just change THIS!!!!

But I came to Uman dragging a whole big chain of doubt, unhappiness and emotional pain behind me, and mostly, it’s gone.

I’m feeling connected back to my soul and connected back to God and the true Tzaddikim again. I have a lot to figure out still, but somehow, everything is going to turn out for the best.

And now, I have to get on with finding somewhere to live, and putting the finishing touches to my ‘Crush your stress’ course (haha!)

God certainly has a sense of humour.

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It’s not easy to give.

But the people who most benefit from our generosity is…ourselves.

I just wrote a whole, long piece about two families who need some serious help to get their children married off this week. Long story short, they need to find $4000 each to pay for the most basic, subsidized wedding you can make, without just eloping.

They’ve raised $2,000 so far – which is totally awesome, and has made all the difference in the world to the family involved. And you can read more of my musings on the whole subject of giving tzedakah on the ravberland.com site, HERE.

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I’m not going to repeat myself, but I do want to just amplify one of the points I made over there, which is that I’ve noticed that the yuckiest people I routinely have to deal with – the critical, judgmental, evil-eyed blamers who are constantly moaning and complaining about how hard their own lives are, and trying to squeeze attention and money out of everyone else whilst giving nothing back – also seem to be the people who are most allergic to the idea of:

  1. Giving tzedaka to other people
  2. Doing pidyon nefeshs 
  3. Rabbi Berland being a big Tzaddik.

It’s amazing to me, how it all seems to go together, but now that I’ve seen this pattern show up again and again and again, I just wanted to flag it here.

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There is one reason why people are ‘anti’ Rav Berland and this is it:

Their own middot suck.

That’s it, that’s the whole ‘big secret’ behind his widespread persecution.

Thank God a million times, I’m not on that side of the equation.

Because the other thing that I’ve noticed is that these people with bad middot live very difficult lives, that are full of harsh judgment and suffering. No-one likes them, no-one wants to hang out with them, and their own families are ‘nightmares on Elm Street’, because when you get all those bad middot amplifying through the children….and the grandchildren….and the siblings….and the parents….

Well, let’s just say it’s unpleasant.

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So, don’t think you’re doing anyone else a favor, when you give tzedaka, or do a pidyon, or work on your bad middot, because you’re really not. There is one person you are helping out, and that is yourself.

And we all need all the help we can get. So even if you just have $5 spare  – or $1 spare – do yourself a favor, and go buy yourself some Divine compassion. You can do that by going HERE, and helping two God-fearing families to marry off their children with a basic measure of dignity.

But let’s be clear, every penny given is not really helping them, even though that’s how it’s dressed-up.

It’s only helping us.

And we all need all the help we can get.

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Buy your better middot, sweetened judgment and Divine compassion for as little as a buck, by going HERE.

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UPDATE, FRIDAY 20TH DECEMBER, 2019:

Baruch Hashem, so far they raised around $3600, and they managed to get both couples married off. It mamash took so much of the pressure off the families, so thanks to everyone who contributed. But you don’t have to stop here! Go back, and donate again – $5 even, it all makes a difference, because the families still have to find the remaining $4,400 to cover their debts, and for families like these, that amount is an enormous debt.

I realised this week, that I’ve been in a pretty good mood the last two days because every time I think about how much stuff I’ve got to sort out, and get on with, and work on – in so many ways – just knowing that I went and helped these families a little is making me think on some level, Hashem is going to help me too, bezrat Hashem.

Not because I deserve anything, because I don’t.

But just because it’s a spiritual rule, that God treats us the way we treat others, and I’m doing my best to stop judging harshly, and just to shut up and give a bit of help and kindness.

In the meantime, here’s the father of the bride from yesterday’s wedding, thanking the donors who helped to make it happen. If you gave something, watch this and kvell, and if you didn’t – it’s never too late! Even a $1! What do you care? You’ll buy yourself a smile for the rest of the day.

Buy your better middot, sweetened judgment, Divine compassion and inner smile for as little as a buck, by going HERE.

Photo by Kat Yukawa on Unsplash.

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I want my site to be for stressed-out women, not conpiracy-minded men.

Two weeks ago, I kind of had an ‘epiphany’ moment, about my life and my writing.

For years, I’ve been writing blog posts and articles and even books that have often been very serious, and very ‘justice warrior’-oriented, and where I’ve really tried to do my bit to expose evil and go after the bad guys.

Where did that approach get me?

Honestly…. Not so far. I have a couple of thousand readers of my blogs, the majority of whom Google Analytics tells me are men….

Those men don’t buy my books. They aren’t really the ‘tribe’ I want to interact with, or write for, however nice they actually all might be. So once I took the time to actually read my Google Analytics report (for the first time in 8 years!) I realized that something fundamental has to change here, in the way I’m trying to write for and interact with my audience.

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Part of me really loves all the buzz of reporting news, and ‘badness’, and unmasking the truth.

That’s my investigative journalist side – the side that lost me my job all those years back, on one of London’s Jewish papers, and has gotten me sued a couple of times, and has kept me awake on countless nights, fighting the dark forces in my head.

But really, where did that part get me, or get anyone else?

I’m pondering that a lot at the moment.

Nearly all the baddies I’ve exposed are still going strong… the bad people are still being protected and defended by the other bad people… No-one really did any major teshuva as a result of what I’ve written about this stuff, or changed their life in any fundamental way.

And I don’t know what I’ve really got out of blogging about these things, all these years.

Honestly.

So much effort, for so little anything much.

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Two weeks ago, I was ready to start ripping a whole bunch more lies and masquerades to shred in print, and to set out ‘the bad’ in that obvious, hard-to-argue-with way that clears up so many questions, and brings sterling clarity to an issue.

But God kept stopping me from doing that, in my hitbodedut.

And for two weeks, I didn’t know why.

But in the meantime, I had this course on the backburner about reducing stress I’m trying to do for women, so I’ve been turning my attention to that, while I’m waiting for the clarity to descend about where I go to next in my writing.

Yesterday, I think I started to get my answer. Yesterday, I taught two classes on how to start de-stressing over Zoom, and I learnt something profound:

I totally loved interacting with those women.

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I totally loved teaching about something that really help people tachlis, in their real life, to stop feeling so stressed and anxious and to start to feel like they really can cope, with all the cack we all have to deal with, and that there is fundamentally nothing wrong with them.

All stress is really just a call to action, a message that something needs to change – and that something, nine times out of ten, is internal.

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So, I came back on to rivkalevy.com yesterday, after doing the usual rounds of the 4 blogs and sites I read every day, once, just to stay up on things.

And that’s when it hit me:

I don’t want to be writing about politics or current affairs anymore.

I don’t want to be trading barbs with nutso bloggers who get all their life force from taking provocative stances online and making dumb statements guaranteed to rile people up.

I want to be a force for good in the world.

So, I am hoping to be taking my writing on this blog in a different direction. More along the lines of the Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife – but way more upbeat and actually helpful!

I have been through so much stress, so many crazy experiences the last few years, that God has really shown me how to deal with, using the teachings and advice of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, and his students.

I want to help other people – and specifically, other women – to access that light more easily, and to enjoy it in their own lives.

And I can’t do that, if I’m constantly picking fights with nutso bloggers, or opining on pointless politics, or trying to deal with negative commentators who have massive chips on their shoulders. It can honestly ruin my week.

I don’t want to deal with those people any more, I don’t want to cater for them. I don’t want my site to attract that sort of person, because they have been tying up my energy and my headspace for years and years, and preventing me from doing what God really created me to do in the world.

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So, I’m going in a different direction here on rivkalevy.com, where the focus is going to be far more on stressed-out WOMEN and far less on conspiracy-theory-enjoying men.

And far more on putting together real, practical EMUNA EXPERIENCES to help my readers navigate their lives as happily as they can, holding God’s hand, and far less on self-righteous, impractical rants about what everyone else needs to do, to fix the world.

I’m nothing special, not at all. But I do have a bunch of very bad middot that God has helped me to get a grip on (mostly….). If Rebbe Nachman’s advice worked for me, it can work for anyone – and that’s what I’m going to start focusing on doing, sharing that stuff out, as best I can.

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I was so stoked yesterday, to teach those classes.

I was so thrilled, when another reader called to tell me how much the ‘stress exercise’ had helped her sort something out, in her actual, real life.

So guys, you can carry on reading this blog if you want, but I’d much prefer you tell your wives about what’s going on here now, and let them take over. And nutsos, you can also carry on reading this blog if you want, but I’d honestly much prefer that you don’t, because we are about to blast off into the realm of EMUNA EXPERIENCES, where humility, caring and compassion for others are going to be the name of the game.

There are plenty other blogs out there providing a steady diet of propaganda, fake prophecy, self-righteous opinion and scare stories.

I’m retiring from that field.

I have much bigger and better things to do with my time, a lot of ladies out there who I know I can really help, bezrat Hashem.

And that’s the focus going forward, to build a tribe of LADIES who are trying to bring geula really the only way we can, i.e. by working on ourselves, and our emuna and our stress, and our relationships with our fellow Jews.

This blog, my writing, me  – we’re ready to evolve out of the pupa, and to start doing something useful in the world.

I have to say, I’m pretty excited.

TBC

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Photo by Ian Parker on Unsplash

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For the last 20-something years, my arguments with my husband have progressed along the same, well-worn path.

I state something that to his ears sounds fantastic, unbelievable, incredible, and sooner or later, he tries to close the argument down with the statement: ‘that’s not logical.’

Who knew, that I’d married Mr Spock?

A lot of his ‘logical’ tendencies have been useful to me, because he’s forced me time and time again to find the ‘logical’ process underpinning what I’m grasping intuitively. Man, the arguments we’ve had, about everything from erev rav, to personality disorders, to how the human body really works, all the way up to how ‘emuna’ is meant to fit into the logical picture.

He’s forced me to pin things down logically again and again, and that’s mostly been very helpful.

But this week, when we were having another one of our ‘discussions’ about whether it’s really possible for Disney to be working with the CIA to put ‘mind control’ cues in its movies, and he delivered his that’s not logical statement again, I suddenly realized something massive:

Why is ‘logic’ the final arbiter of what’s right or wrong, here?

Because what is ‘logic’, ultimately? It’s whatever process or thought or argument you can cram into a human brain. It’s totally limited to human perception and understanding, and as we know, even the most intelligent humans only have a very small part of the picture. There is a time and place for ‘logic’ (more on that in a moment).

Human logic makes no space for God, and because it can’t tease out the ‘process’ behind miracles and other supernatural phenomena, it deals with them by pretending they don’t exist.

To put this in other words, the more a person believes that ‘logic’ is the final arbiter of right and wrong, truth and lie, the less likely it is for that person to have anything even approaching real emuna, or real emunat tzaddikim.

I know that’s a big statement, but I’m going to back it up.

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First, let’s take a look at what logic actually is, and where it comes from. This is from Wikipedia:

Logic (from the Ancient Greekλογικήromanized: logikḗ[1]) is the systematic study of the form of valid inference, and the most general laws of truth.[2] A valid inference is one where there is a specific relation of logical support between the assumptions of the inference and its conclusion. In ordinary discourse, inferences may be signified by words such as therefore, thus, hence, ergo, and so on.

There is no universal agreement as to the exact scope and subject matter of logic (see § Rival conceptions, below), but it has traditionally included the classification of arguments, the systematic exposition of the ‘logical form’ common to all valid arguments, the study of proof and inference, including paradoxes and fallacies, and the study of syntax and semantics.

Historically, logic has been studied in philosophy (since ancient times) and mathematics (since the mid-19th century), and recently logic has been studied in cognitive science (encompasses computer sciencelinguisticsphilosophy and psychology).

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In other words, logic is a form of Greek-inspired philosophy.

So, whenever someone makes the ‘logic’ of a supposition the acid test of whether it’s ‘true’ or not, they are effectively operating out of a system of Greek heresy, instead of Jewish belief.

Let’s give some concrete examples.

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There’s an idea in Judaism that if your finances are hitting the skids, you should make an effort to go and give even more money to charity. That way, you’ll sweeten whatever spiritual judgments are keeping you poor and constricted.

Now, does this sound logical?

At this point in time when you’re finding it hard to even scrape together the money for the rent, you’re meant to go and give even more money to charity?!?!

It’s totally illogical.

And yet, it works. I’ve lost count of the number of times that immediately after we paid a big whack of charity we couldn’t really afford, or a big pidyon that squeezed us financially, how much new business flowed in through my husband’s doors, afterwards.

Essentially, there is very little ‘logic’ behind any of the mitzvoth we keep, whether it’s avoiding shatnez, eating kosher, keeping Shabbat, paying 10% of our income to charity. Sure, Jews with a more philosophical bent have tried to make Judaism jive more with Greek philosophy by trying to assign reasons to mitzvoth that make sense to human logic.

But ultimately?

All the mitzvoth we keep boils down to emuna, to faith, to the idea that we can’t understand everything, however big our brains are.

Behind all this talk of ‘logic’ there is so much arrogance, so much ga’avah.

It takes some real humility to admit that we still know so very little about what’s really going on, and that our ability to grasp what’s really going on in the world is actually incredibly limited.

So, when people start boasting about how ‘logical’ they are, and how they think ‘logically’, what they’re really saying is:

“I have very little emuna, and I’m incredibly arrogant.”

Now that we all know that, hopefully more of us will start to challenge ‘logic’s’ stranglehold on our public discourse.

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All that said, logic and human reasoning still has a place in our lives.

God runs the world according to His spiritual rules, and we have to follow those rules to the best of our ability. If God has built the world in such a way eating fast-food usually makes us ill, and treating people badly usually makes us social lepers, and running in front of speeding cars on the highway usually makes us dead – we have to respect those rules.

Go right ahead, and make a logical calculation about whether you should dash across the road in front of that articulated lorry – but remember that all these logical ‘rules’ aren’t presenting the full picture of how God is actually running the world.

Illogical, miraculous and supernatural things are occurring to every single one of us, all the time.

Why?

Because God is running the world, and God is operating things at a level far, far beyond the boundaries of human logic.

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So, to sum up.

From this moment forth, just telling me something is ‘not logical’ doesn’t automatically win the argument, or close down the discussion. Heretical Greeks made human ‘logic’ the arbiter of truth, and to put it bluntly, they can get stuffed.

A multitude of sins hides behind ‘logic’, including heresy, denial of God’s omnipresent role in the world, arrogance, narrow-mindedness, argumentation for its own sake, victory-seeking, and trying to make other people appear ‘small’ or ‘stupid’.

Logic is a false god, that’s keeping so many Jews away from really developing a genuine relationship with Hashem.

Once we start acknowledging that, and once more of us start relating to a logical frame of mind as some sort of severe spiritual disability, instead of lauding and praising it, that’s when we’ll jump a whole bunch nearer to the world actually getting fixed, and redemption really happening.

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UPDATE: Thanks to Yosef for the link to this clip, which makes the point very nicely!

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Photo by Macu ic on Unsplash

On the back of a few emails about the post on Marriage Guidance – Israel style, I just wanted to elaborate a little more on how to get a good husband:

Pray on him every single day.

Every single day, ask God to help your husband overcome his bad temper, his poor self-esteem, his confusion, his doubts, his bad behavior and warped ideas.

Because we all have these issues, even the very best of us, and a woman’s job is to help to fix her husband’s soul by praying on him (and herself and her family) as much as she can.

That is the secret ingredient, the special sauce, that can turn even the worst relationship between a husband and wife around.

Any marriage counsellor who is not telling a couple to get God involved in the process, can’t really help you long-term and is probably doing way more harm than good.

And any wife who is not willing to pray on her husband, is going to have plenty of challenges and heartache to deal with. (Like, more than you’d get if you were actually praying, because getting marriages to last the distance is hard work, even when you are talking to God a lot.)

We’re not talking about doing six hours a day here, or even six minutes. All it takes is a tiny bit of effort, a smidge of empathy about where all these issues the husband has is actually coming from, and a touch of emuna that God really can do anything, if we get Him involved.

Try this:

  • Buy a bumper bag of tealights, 50, or 100.
  • Light one every single day in the merit of your husband, and say a few words to God about what you’d like Him to work on, e.g. “Please help him stop being so angry, God. Please help him to like himself more. Please help him to stop worrying so much about money, and killing himself at work. Please help him to be nicer to me and the kids. Please help him to realise – all by himself – that when a man looks like he’s 8 months pregnant, no-one finds that attractive, and he needs to join a gym…” – Whatever comes to you.
  • At the end of the 50 days, take your journal and note down any improvements – because I guarantee you’ll see some.
  • Go buy another bumper bag of tealights.
  • Repeat steps 1-4 until you have the man of your dreams.

This may take some time, it’s not a ‘quick fix’, it’s true.

But if at the end of five years solid of doing this you don’t have a wonderful marriage, I’ll eat my hat.

We women, we wives, have so much power to transform, improve and rectify all the problems in our marriage. But that power is only to be found in our prayers, and if we’re not regularly talking to God, we simply can’t get to it.

And we can’t outsource the job of fixing the husband to anyone else, however much we really might want to.

So there I was, walking along the pavement and minding my own business on Shabbat, having a chat with God, when I came to cross the road, and a man with a shaved head, designer shades and a deep tan parked his car straight in front of me.

Er, OK.

I went behind the car, to carry on crossing, and then he started reversing up – and at that point, I thought I was dealing with some sort of nutso chiloni who was trying to kill me. I crossed over, and then I heard the window of the car being buzzed down, and he called out to me in Hebrew:

Geveret, can I ask you a question?

Uhoh, I thought to myself, here it comes.

Some sort of anti-religious tirade, some sort of pointed statement about ‘disgusting’ religious people, something like that. But I’m not scared of psychos, and I figured if God wants me to have a bit of verbal ‘scrubbing’, there’s no point running away.

So I turned around to him, and I said efshar, you can ask. I was stunned by what came next:

What would you say to a wife, who each time her husband says ‘my heart hurts me’, she tells him ‘my father’s heart also hurts him’?

I thought I mis-heard initially, so I asked him to repeat what he’d just said. He did, and then he added:

It’s been like this for seven years already, and I feel like I want to kill myself.

OOOOOKAYYYY.

So, God, You’ve clearly decided to put me in the middle of a matzav, as they call them in Israel.

But, if God wants to put you square in a matzav, there’s no point running away. I went over to where the man was, and he told me: Speak to my wife, she’s in the back.

The back window was buzzed down, and there sat a youngish woman, with a toddler on her knee. I looked at her, she looked at me. I asked her:

Is he a good husband? He’s not beating you up, do you love him?

She nodded and nodded some more. So then, I took a deep breath, and God gave me these words to say to her:

Men are like big children. They need a lot of attention, and a lot of love. Your husband is jealous of your dad. You need to make your husband #1 priority in your life. The Torah tells us that, first the husband – and he has to make you his first priority, too – and then the children, and only after that, the parents.

Then I told her:

Your son is half of your husband. It’s a lot of effort to deal with these husbands, it’s very hard work, but you have to help your husband get fixed, so it will help your kid to be happy, too. I’m 45, I’ve seen so many women walk away from their difficult marriages thinking that will solve the problem. It doesn’t. It just messes up the children worse than anyone could imagine.

I’ve been married 22 years now, thank God, and every time it gets hard, I go and talk to God about what’s going on, and ask for help. It’s work, it’s effort, but it’s so worth it, for your children.

She looked at me with tears in her eyes, and I gave her arm a squeeze.

In the meantime, the guy in the front seat turned around with a stunned look on his face, and started yelling in English:

May God bless you! May God bless you!

Buy your wife lots of presents, and be nice to her, I told him, as I walked away from the car, and continued on down the street.

God, what the heck was all that about? I wondered afterwards.

I mean, I hate giving advice, I hate getting involved in matzavim, it usually only leads to lots of problems and issues, and these things are not simple.

But then I calmed down, when I remembered I hadn’t chosen to be a ‘mobile marriage counsellor’, I got ‘happened upon’, I didn’t choose it.

The next thing I thought, is that so many problems occur in the world generally, and in marriages specifically, because of poor communication. This couple clearly loved each other, but the yetzer had managed to ‘eat’ their words, which is why God had to arrange for a complete stranger to say what needed to be said.

The last thing I thought is,

Who is like Your people, Hashem?

Those who don’t live in this country can tell me about all the so-called chilonim who “don’t keep Shabbat” until they are blue in the face, and they will never understood the real situation that is going on in Israel. The Jews here are massive souls, and the most profound, real and deep conversations can happen anywhere, even on a pavement in the middle of a Shabbat morning with total strangers.

That chiloni’s blessing was worth its weight in gold to me. It was such a kiddush Hashem.

And God will redeem His people with love.

Nothing but nothing can strain a marriage faster than dysfunctional in-laws.

I’ll never forget the first year I was with my husband: The week before Pesach he disappeared for two days to go and help my healthy, 50-something mother-in-law clean her house for the upcoming festival.

To say I was upset is something of an understatement. We were both working full-time jobs at the time, I couldn’t afford cleaning help, and instead of rolling up his sleeves to help me – he scarpered for 48 hours to go and clean another woman’s house! I didn’t realise it then, but I’d been struck by the 11th plague of Pesach, aka, dealing with the in-laws.

I’ve been married now for 20 years, and as my own children start to grow up I can see how this sort of situation can develop so easily, if the parents don’t keep reminding themselves that what’s best for them is not always and absolutely what’s best for their children.

The Torah makes it very clear when it tells the man that he should leave his parents and ‘cleave to his wife’.

His wife is the other part of his soul, and vice-versa. Happy marriages are built on the strong foundation of mutual respect and always putting what’s best for your spouse ahead of what’s best for your parents and other extended family members.

In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to make this point so strongly. In a perfect world, parents and in-laws would be telling their married children this themselves. They’d say things like: ‘We’d love to have you come to us for seder this year, but only if that’s what you and your wife would really like to do, too.”

Or, they’d phone up and tell their married children: ‘Please check this with your spouse before agreeing anything with me, but would it be OK if we joined you for Pesach this year? And be completely honest, I won’t be upset if you say no. I know how much you both have going on in your lives at the moment.”

In that sort of healthy, open environment where free choice is allowed, and the spouse of the married child feels seen, respected and heard by their in-laws, the friction on the marriage will be kept to a barely-there minimum.

Sadly, that’s not how so many families operate today.

——

Today, many people are having to deal with selfish, egotistical and home-wrecking in-laws who treat their children (and their children’s spouse….) as an extension of themselves, and therefore people who can be bossed around, guilt-tripped, taken advantage of and stressed-out whenever they feel like it.

And there are few festivals that bring their destructive behaviour and attitudes out more than Pesach.

There’s a few reasons for this. Firstly, seder is a big production. Controlling parents who insist on everything being about them usually take it extremely hard when their married children actually want to live a little independently, and run a seder their own way. I know people in their 40s with many children of their own who have NEVER conducted a seder in their life.

Why not?

Because their parents wouldn’t hear of it.

Each year, the seder has to be with family, and of course, that means with their family, according to their rules and whims. Do you know how emasculating it is for a 40-something year old man to sit at the table like a little kid, unable to ever be the ‘head’ of his own seder table?

Pesach is the time of kingship, or Malchut. Seder night is when that measure of ‘malchut’ or rulership descends to each man’s table, and each man’s home for the coming year. If your father or father-in-law keeps happing your husband’s ‘rulership’, that has enormous consequences for his self-esteem, ability to make money, and the peace in your home.

Another flash point can be when parents get on a bit, and then start inviting themselves to your home for the whole of the holiday because organising everything is so stressful, expensive and time-consuming, and they’ve run out of energy.

Again, if you’re OFFERING to have them stay with you, out of 100% free choice and not because you’ve been guilted into doing it, or are worrying about the consequences of saying no, nothing could be more wonderful.

But if that’s not the case – and with the sort of difficult in-laws I’m talking about, that’s really NOT the case – then seder night and the holiday becomes a powder keg placed under your shalom bayit, just waiting for ‘Bubbe’ to show up and light the fuse.

Because ‘Bubbe’ will expect things done her way, and food served that she’s used to, and the same songs sung in the same order as she always did it by her own table. Also, ‘Bubbe’ will go to great pains to invite as many of her extended family and friends to your home, too, to share seder with her. And again, she’ll just expect you to agree to that, regardless of how much additional stress it causes you.

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When you live in Israel and your in-laws come from abroad, there can be the added issue of your in-laws deciding to stay with you for the whole of the holiday to:

  1. Save them having to clean their own homes or buy Pesach food;

and

  1. Save them having to go to a hotel (which is what they’ve effectively turned you into).

Again, if you WANT to have your in-laws living with you for a whole nine days, great! But if you don’t? And they start playing your spouse off against you, and getting them to agree to have the come against your wishes? They just ignited World War III in your marriage.

(I won’t even get into the problems that can crop up when you’re more observant than your parents in this post, which is a whole other can of worms. Basically, just times all the difficulties and potential flashpoints by 500…)

So, what can you do to keep your marriage intact, and your in-laws under control this Pesach?

Here’s a few guidelines that will help, if you can actually implement them:

1) Maintain a united front

No decisions should be made unilaterally by either spouse. Everything has to be discussed upfront and agreed by both parties well in advance of seder night.

2) Set down firm boundaries, and stick to them

If you can manage seder night (just about…) but you can’t manage a whole eight days of the in-laws in your home, make that very clear to your spouse and to them – and don’t be guilted or shamed out of doing what’s best for yourself and your own family.

3) Be honest about what’s really going on

Often, it takes us and our spouses many years to realise that our in-laws don’t always have our best interests at heart. Remember, a husband and wife are one soul. If your spouse doesn’t like your parents, it’s usually because your parents aren’t treating them (or you….) very nicely.

You don’t notice that, you’re not aware of it, because that’s how it’s been since you were born. But an outsider can spot the issues much more easily. So if your spouse doesn’t like your parents, carefully consider WHY that is, and what your parents might need to explore in order to improve the relationship.

4) Move to a different country

Sometimes, some in-laws are so impossible to deal with that moving far, far away from them is the only option to protect your marriage and mental health. This isn’t always a cast-iron solution – especially if they can easily afford air-fare and you have a big home – but it’s still a good start.

Pesach is the festival of freedom and redemption. It’s a time when a man should be a ‘king’ in his own home (serving Hashem…) and his wife his ‘queen’. It’s a night of royalty, not slavery.

So if you have difficult in-laws, emancipate yourself from their unreasonable demands and selfish behaviour, and this year ask God to help celebrate the holiday the way He truly intended.

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The surrendered husband

Please put your spouse first

 

I first put this up over three years’ ago, but I think it’s time it got another airing.

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The phone rang in Yaacov’s tent, and he rushed to pick it up before it woke the sleeping baby Reuven, who’d just dozed off.”Hello?”

“Bruvs! Is that you? It’s your big brother Esav!”

Yaacov’s stomach flipped over. What did Esav want? And why was he calling him now, in the middle of the night?

Didn’t he know normal people were usually asleep at 2am? Yaacov cleared his throat, and replied in a guarded but friendly way:

“Hi, Esav. How are you doing? Is everything OK with mum and dad?”

“Yeah, they’re fine. Can’t complain, can’t complain. But Bruvs, what’s this ridiculous nonsense I’ve heard, that you’re working for your wives?!?”

Yaacov could feel the condescension dripping off the phone. He wiped the sweat off his forehead: this was going to be a tricky conversation, he could tell.

“What’s the problem? I didn’t have any money for a dowry, so I had to come up with the goods somehow, to pay for the weddings.” Yaacov swallowed back the additional information that the reason he didn’t have any money is because Esav’s son Eliphaz had stolen everything he had, at knifepoint. Somehow, details like that never went over so well with his big brother.

“Bruvs, that’s just not the way! You’re putting the whole family to shame. I know in chutz l’aretz people think it’s OK for men to go out to work, but that’s not the true, holy way.”

Yaacov rolled his eyes. Here it comes, he thought.

“If Dad knew that you were working, he’d have a heartattack. You’ve got it all round the wrong way, bruvs. You’re wives should be working for you. Between them, they’d bring in a pretty decent wage, and you wouldn’t have to lower yourself to look after someone else’s sheep. I mean, where’s your self-respect? Where’s your pride? You used to be the best learner in town, and now look at you: a shepherd. When’s the last time you even opened a Gemara, bruvs?”

Yaacov swallowed heavily. Esav always had a real way with words. He could take the most ridiculous ideas, and make them sound incredibly convincing. If you weren’t careful, you could end up believing all his evil nonsense, and then you’d be in real trouble.

“Esav, supporting the family is the man’s responsibility. Our mother never went out to work for a day in her life. Dad took care of all the finances, and that’s what I’m doing, too.”

“Pah! That was then,” Esav spat back. “Things have changed! It was different in the old days. It’s a stain on the family’s honour that you, the son of the holy Yitzhak, should be wasting your time with something as trivial as earning a living. I mean, what do you think your wives are for, you numbskull?”

As always when he was talking to Esav, Yaacov realized he just couldn’t win. His brother always had an answer for everything, and if Yaacov dared to point out that Esav’s family wasn’t exactly the paradigm of perfection, he’d just spark off World War I.

But everyone knew that behind closed doors, Esav’s domestic situation was a mess:

Esav’s kids regularly got into trouble at school, and were always beating people up, stealing stuff and generally destroying the peace of any place they went. His wives were sullen, disgruntled women who hated their husband, but were too scared to leave, or to try to change anything.

There was just no talking to Esav: he always thought he was right, and doing all the wrong things for the loftiest of ‘right’ reasons. From experience, Yaacov knew the best thing was to hold his tongue, and let his brother speak his piece – then hang up, as quickly as possible, without making a scene.

So it was. When Esav had finally finished haranguing his brother for his ‘un-Jewish’ practices, it was 3am, already.
Yaacov hung up, then gazed at his sleeping wife – this time Leah – and her baby son, Reuven. Sure, working was no fun. He missed the times he’d spent learning Torah in the tents of Shem and Ever tremendously. But he knew that he was doing what God wanted.

He’d seen how harassed Esav’s wives looked; they were always running around from work to yoga to Facebook, trying to do a million things at once, and killing themselves to ‘keep up appearances’ at all costs.

Yaacov was working himself to the bone on his father-in-law’s farm, but he knew he didn’t really have any choice. Right now, that’s what God wanted from him. Maybe when the kids grew up, he’d be able to return to his holy books again.

As he reached over to blow out the candle flickering next to his bed, Yaacov reflected on the dictum that ‘you can’t build a mitzvah on the back of an aveira’ – it never worked.

Esav had always excelled at doing precisely that, but Yaacov knew his path was different. His way of trying to serve God, and of trying to build the world, didn’t always look so externally impressive, or religiously showy, but long-term, he knew it was going to bear the sweetest of fruit.

Instead of talking about ‘surrendered wives’, we should focus on the ‘surrendered husband’.

I don’t really follow trends in the secular world so much these days, but even so, it’s come across my radar that there’s a new approach to making your marriage work which is called: ‘The surrendered wife’.

I haven’t read the book (or done the course… or watched the film…) but it seems that the idea is that instead of nagging and finding fault, the ‘surrendered wife’ quietly sits there smiling demurely while her husband continues to indulge his rage fits, lack of emuna, emotional disconnect, other bad middot and drug and / or alcohol abuse.

(Of course I’m exaggerating to make a point – I hope! – because that’s what writers do.)

But that’s the basic idea of the ‘surrendered wife’. There’s just one problem with this: It’s completely and utterly backwards, according to the authentic Jewish teachings of how a marriage should really work.

Rav Shalom Arush brings down in his many books on shalom bayit (All of which have approbations from some of the biggest Gedolei Dor of the generation, including the late Rv Ovadia Yosef, z”tl) that when there are problems in the marriage, they are down to one thing, and one thing only:

THE HUSBAND’S BAD MIDDOT AND LACK OF EMUNA.

I know that doesn’t sit well with all the Western, feminist brainwashing we’ve all been bombarded with since birth, but that’s how the world works, and that’s how God created the situation.

If we don’t accept that THAT is really how marriage works, we’ll never be able to stem the disastrous tide of couples getting divorced.

To put it another way, instead of talking about the ‘surrendered wife’, we need to be talking about the ‘surrendered husband’.

Which is where we hit the first objection: So many of our men are struggling so hard with such enormously bad middot at the moment, that getting them to surrender anything today – like their obsessive TV watching, or their worries about money, or their three nightly beers- is already akin to an open miracle.

Again, let’s be clear what’s going on today: we are one of the last, if not the last generation before Moshiach comes. All of the difficult souls that haven’t been rectified over the last 5778 years are back again now, in this generation, to have one last shot at being fixed.

When someone has been letting their anger problem ride for 5,000 years already, or their spiteful, vengeful and critical tendencies grow unchecked for five millennia, that adds up to an awful lot of hard spiritual work to try to do in just one lifetime.

That’s a big part of the reason that modern life, and modern marriage, is just so hard today.

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Here’s another crucial part of the puzzle, that we can’t ignore if we want to understand how marriages REALLY work: husband and wife are two parts of the same soul. Whatever good you have in yourself, is there – often latent – in him. And whatever bad you see in yourself is somehow there – often latent – in you. And also vice versa.

On some very profound level, husbands and wives are just mirroring each other.

But here’s the thing to remember: authentic Judaism teaches that the MAN is the giver, and the woman is the receiver. Whatever the MAN gives out, gives over, gives across into his marriage and home, that’s what he’s going to get back.

Rav Arush teaches in all of his shalom bayit books that when it comes to marriage, the man is like the sun and the woman is like the moon.

If the wife isn’t getting much (or any….) light from her husband, then she has NOTHING to reflect back at him except annoyance, coldness, anger and criticism.

But if she’s getting acceptance, love and light from her husband, not only will she reflect it back at him, she’ll amplify it.

This is important to grasp, because wherever the ‘problem’ manifests in the marriage, it’s ALWAYS somehow rooted in the man, and his lack of emuna and bad middot.

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So now, what’s the woman’s part in this?

(I have two teenagers with feminist sympathies at home, so we’ve gone through this debate quite a few times already.)

Simply put: to pray on her husband, and to ask God to help him fix his lack of emuna and bad middot.

Because yes, nagging, whining and complaining doesn’t work.

But neither does just lying there like a doormat whilst your husband continues to pretend that all HIS issues are really just yours (and your mother’s….).

If I could tell new brides one thing, it would be this: don’t look away and pretend you can’t see your husband’s faults and issues and struggles, because over time they are only going to get worse!

Don’t make excuses for his critical nature, selfishness, alcoholism, complete lack of emuna, anger fits or dishonest business dealings, because whatever you don’t recognize and get to work on ASAP could really end up sinking your marriage, and your family, another 15 years down the road.

If you see your husband isn’t treating you nicely, or isn’t acting the way he should be in other areas, ask God to help you! Pray on it! Start doing an hour of hitbodedut every single day to work out what you can and should be doing with and for your husband to get these problems resolved.

Send him to Uman for Rosh Hashana! Every single year!

THIS is the wife’s part of the marriage equation, to pray her socks off and courageously look at the challenges facing her husband while still showing him a great deal of love and compassion.

After 20 years of being yelled at, criticized, mocked, frightened, ‘punished’ and mistreated, it’s very hard to do anything with love and compassion. It’s very hard to find the strength required to get God involved in turning things around. So don’t leave it until then!

Start ASAP, while your love for him and his for you is still strong enough to weather the really tough patches that are inevitably going to come, even with all your praying and all his sincere efforts to improve.

And enough, already, with all this ‘surrendered wife’ rubbish: it’s the husbands who need to ‘surrender’ their bad middot and other negative character traits, and the sooner, the better.

Sigh.

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I heard three ‘we’re getting divorced’ stories in two days last week. Am Yisrael is cracking at the seams.

Enough making excuses! Enough pretending that the goyim and all their funny ideas about women’s lib and marriage are really doing anything to help anyone’s relationship stay the course!

Go back to the authentic Jewish way, to the ‘surrendered husband’ model, and if you’re a wife, start praying your socks off for your husband to learn more emuna, and to get God more involved in the picture

Because THAT IS THE ONLY WAY THAT REALLY WORKS.

Photo by Schesco Nyarwaya on Unsplash

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