Drone view of a city

Well, how was your Purim?

Uplifting? Joyful? Stressful? Spiritual?

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

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

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

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

‘What is that, anyway? A psychiatrist?’

On to the megilla reading.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hmmm.

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

Here’s what it said:

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

I liked that very much.

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

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

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.

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.