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.

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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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If you want your marriage to last the distance, put your spouse first.

Fresh off the back of yet another awful horrible story of potential marriage break-up, God forbid, this is a plea from the heart to all married readers to

PLEASE PUT YOUR SPOUSE FIRST!!!

I’ve written about this before, but it’s not being talked about enough in the frum Jewish world, that probably the biggest reason that couples break up today is because of a very unhealthy relationship with the parents and parents in law.

And I’m including both sets of ‘parents’ and ‘parents in law’ here, because there is no such thing as only one half of the couple coming from a dysfunctional background, however it may look externally.

When people grow up in emotionally healthy, accepting, God-fearing, functional families, they simply can’t jive with a spouse who grew up in a dysfunctional family that is not all of these things (i.e. nearly everyone in 2017).

I know this flies in the face of conventional marriage guidance and Western psychological thought.

But the Zohar teaches us very clearly that husband and wife are two parts of the same soul. In some way that means that both people coming into the marriage experienced the same sorts of traumas, lacks, problems and issues – albeit it’s often dressed up in such different clothing, that usually that’s not at all obvious.

Again, if one set of parents are any admixture of emotionally unhealthy / controlling / neglectful / dismissive of their children’s true feelings / grasping / selfish / rigid / intolerant of difference / snobby / angry / jealous of their children’s love, attention and loyalty going towards a spouse (I’m missing a bunch of things out here, but you get the picture…) then IT’S IMPOSSIBLE for the other set of parents to be totally emotionally healthy.

Everyone has their issues, everyone their problems.

Some are more obvious, some are more hidden, and God puts couples together dafka to bring those ‘hidden’ issues up to the surface, so they can finally be worked on and fixed.

Dear reader, I have heard so many horror stories of parents who are so caught up in what they want, and what they prefer, and what’s good for them that they are wreaking havoc upon their children’s marriages, shalom bayit, emotional health and general well-being. I know this stuff is so hard to spot (also because it’s so common that we think it’s ‘normal’ behavior) – so here’s some examples of what emotionally unhealthy parents do, so you can see what I’m on about:

Emotionally-unhealthy parents:

  • Expect their kid to put them and their needs first, ahead of what’s good for their spouse.

This takes many forms, including: inviting themselves to stay for ages; expecting the kid to attend any events / holidays they deem necessary; making decisions on behalf of their kids without checking it’s what the kid (AND THEIR SPOUSE!!) really wants or can manage (‘we’ll all come to you for Seder again this year!’) etc

  • Only corresponding with their child, while ignoring the spouse (and their wishes) completely.

Instead of encouraging the kid to make a joint decision with their spouse, emotionally unhealthy parents completely sideline the spouse, and speak only to the kid. The spouse doesn’t really ‘exist’ – but here’s the thing, neither does the kid. It’s just harder to hide that reality from a grown-up who didn’t get used to this situation from childhood (at least, from that set of parents).

  • Criticise, pick holes in and generally slag off the kid’s spouse to the kid.

Whatever problems are going in the marriage, it’s very rarely ever only one person’s fault.

Emotionally unhealthy parents excel in seeing the ‘bad’ in the spouse, while excusing their own kids’ contribution to the situation.

This is because they see their kid as an extension of themselves, so when the kid starts acting in their marriages according to the bad middot and mentally ill behaviors they learnt at home, the parents find it very hard to accept this behavior is ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’.

If they accepted that it was ‘wrong’, they’d be acknowledging that much of their own behavior is crazy and ‘wrong’ – and emotionally unhealthy people struggle to do that tremendously.

So it’s much easier to just blame the other person and ‘the other side’ for all the issues, and avoid looking at what’s really going on in our backyards, with our own dysfunctional and destructive family dynamics.

  • Drop hints, obviously and otherwise, that if the marriage ends that’s no big loss.

This one is SO upsetting to me when there are kids involved, because the people who do this are operating from the mistaken assumption that you can somehow surgically remove a parent out of the equation and it won’t have any impact on the kids.

Sometimes, when you’re dealing with chronic abuse or a level of madness that is almost impossible to fix, it could be there is no choice except to get divorced. I understand that. But divorce even in those circumstances is still the lesser of two evils, and not a ‘good’ thing.

Whatever the parents don’t fix, it just gets passed down the line to the kids. If you don’t work together with your spouse to fix their bad traits (and also your own…) those bad traits get passed on to the next generation, who then find themselves with a huge job on their hands.

When you divorce, your ability to fix your spouse – and the parts of your spouse that are PART OF YOUR CHILDREN – diminishes considerably.

You don’t get the same siyatta dishmaya, you don’t have the same motivation to do six hour sessions, to pour your heart out to God to help you, to help your spouse, to fix the problems in your family.

Getting divorced is SO much easier than dealing with disappointment, frustration and thwarted dreams day in and day out. At least, that’s how it looks, if you pretend that your spouse is not an integral part of your kids, and the other half of your own neshama…

The buck stops with us! Don’t give up on your marriages! Don’t give up on your spouses!

I know it’s so, so hard, I really do.

But getting divorced is NOT an easy option (even when there are extreme circumstances and your God fearing Rabbi is counselling you that this is truly the best option for you and your family.)

For so many people, it’s the apparent shortcut out of all the drama and hassle that turns into the longest and most painful road of your life.

Just ask the divorcee I hear screaming most nights a week that she’s going crazy, and can’t do it all by herself anymore!!! Ask the lost, miserable kids I see wandering around my neighborhood, smoking cigarettes at age 11 and getting into all sorts of trouble. Ask the dad who misses his kids so badly, and who dies a bit more inside every time he thinks of his kids growing up in some other man’s house.

Fight for your marriages, fight for your spouses! Don’t leave your kids to rectify all those massive bad middot they inherited by themselves!

Pray your hearts out!

Be aware that most of us come from highly dysfunctional families, and that if you’re seeing that by your spouse’s family, it’s 100% for sure also lurking in your own background too, just waiting for you to wake up and acknowledge it, and to fix the problem in your own family tree.

And the first way to start that process is this:

PUT YOUR SPOUSE FIRST.

May God bless us all with the emuna, strength, patience, prayer, perseverance and love we need to hold our families together in these extremely troubling times.

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All week, every time I go to the hub to try to get online, Hashem is giving me 10 minutes, max, before He pulls the plug.

Let’s be clear that everyone else’s connection to that same internet is fine. But as soon as I’ve done the bare minimum of what I came to do online – zap! – the connection disappears and nothing I do brings it back.

Yesterday, I got a call from M., who asked me some very thoughtful things about using smartphones. The basic gist of our conversation was this: clearly, the technology is very bad, and is very addictive, and is causing millions of people (millions of Jews…) enormous difficulties on just about every level.

But M. made a hugely important point, that people only get addicted to this stuff in the first place because they are feeling some huge ‘lacks’ in their real lives, and that’s especially the case when a couple is going through a very difficult patch in their marriage and family life.

Clearly, internet addiction and smartphone use is a kind of emotional ‘crutch’, a form of escapism that people use to give them some respite from their own, truly very difficult, lives and personal relationships.

So given that, what’s really the answer, to taking down our time online and minimizing our connection to smartphones?

Over on spiritualselfhelp.org, I’ve just put up a kind of ‘three stage plan’ that sets out how to start the long process of overcoming our internet / screen addictions. As I mentioned in a previous post, internet is akin to food for most of us today, so at least at this stage of human development, the question is how can we interact with it in the most healthy, and least spiritually-damaging way? And not: how can we get rid of it entirely (although man, I really DO wish that was a practical option, and who knows, maybe one day soon it will be again.)

I go into the practical aspects a lot more on spiritualselfhelp, but here’s the crucial first step behind what I’m proposing over there:

STEP 1) ADMIT THE PROBLEM

Many people balk even at this first stage, because they already really know in their heart of hearts, that they’re using the internet / eye-phones / social media / obsessive checking of news sites as an emotional crutch or to self-soothe, or to ‘escape’ from their loneliness and frustration.

That was certainly what was going on with me, a couple of weeks’ back, when I realized I was smothering down a whole bunch of dissatisfaction and bad middot by checking my emails five times a day.

The more we ignore our real feelings and real issues, the bigger that pile under our mental carpet grows, and the scarier it becomes to lift the lid on what’s really happening in our lives. I take a fairly honest look at my real life on a fairly frequent basis, and I still had quite a tough week as all my ‘repressed stuff’ gushed out into the world again.

If people have been repressing things and ignoring their true feelings etc since childhood, or for any length of time, then to rip the scab off that massive wound simply isn’t going to work for most people.

So, admitting to the real problem has to be done cautiously, and with a lot of self-compassion, prayer and patience.

And what is the real problem, ultimately?

ANSWER: That we feel disconnected from God, our souls, and the people we most love.

Tachlis, that we feel profoundly lonely in our marriages, ignored by our parents, and unknown on a deeper level by even our closest friends.

THAT’s the real problem underpinning internet addiction (and every other addiction and bad midda and negative habit in the whole world.)

Coming to terms with that problem is a lifetime’s work, so this first step has to be attempted with maximum self-compassion, and with a lot of talking to God about what’s going on, every single day.

Without that strong connection to Hashem, most people will simply be unable to find the strength to acknowledge the REAL problem underpinning their internet addiction, and to face up to their true feelings and circumstances.

Then, we can talk about the more practical aspects of how to minimize internet and eye-phone use as much as possible, and I do that HERE over on spiritualselfhelp.

This year, it’s more important than ever to send your husband to Uman for Rosh Hashana.

I know, I could give you the whole big shpiel about how if you send your husband to Uman for Rosh Hashana, it will bring world peace, and speed the coming of Moshiach, and help to rectify the whole of Am Yisrael.

And that stuff’s all true, and all described in detail in various Breslov sources. But girlfren, really? You should send your husband to Uman for Rosh Hashana because between you and me, I know how annoying that guy can be, at least occasionally.

Yes, he’s sweet, and good-hearted and hard-working and often quite loving and generous. But he’s also half-earth, and that ‘earthy’ bit of him is far to drawn to making money, and cheering on the team, and spouting off ridiculous opinions, and spending too much time watching movies or surfing online.

I know how hard you’ve tried to get him to make more effort with the kids, and to get him to stop walking around like an egotistical stuffed-shirt, and to get him to open up and to be ‘real’ about what he’s really feeling, and what fears and worries he’s got that are really causing him to act and believe the way he does.

I know all this stuff makes pulling teeth (the old fashioned way, with a piece of string and minus anaesthetic…) look like a walk in the park, which is why I’m here to tell you straight what works to get the guy back on the right spiritual path. And it’s spelled:

U-M-A-N.

Like so many of the Uman ladies out there, I don’t send my husband for an expensive, inconvenient jaunt to anti-semitic Ukraine just for the heck of it. I encourage him to go because I know how much spiritual help he’s going to get by Rabbenu at Rosh Hashana, that’s going to carry him – and me – through all the challenges we have to face in the coming year.

I know that sending my husband to Uman for Rosh Hashana means he’s going to come back with a drop more humility, a tad more introspection, an ounce more gratitude and generosity, a page more of learning, a bissel more emuna.

The guy goes to Uman, and he comes back and realizes all by himself, without me saying a word, that he needs to spend more quality time with the kids, or that he needs to stop worrying about money so much, or that he needs to start playing soccer again. (Hey, not every revelation you get in Uman is easy to predict…)

When our blokes go to Uman, they come back better husbands, and nicer dads. They come back with a lot more of a clue about their real path in life, and how best to travel it. And most important of all, they come back with much more appreciation for their homes, families and the good cooking of their loving wives.

And this stuff is priceless, never mind all the other spiritual ‘saving the world’ stuff that goes on there at Rosh Hashanah time.

There’s still time to book his ticket and lodging, and to make it even easier for you, I’ve pulled together some numbers to call. Try:

Derech Tzaddikim: +972-2-541-0100 – www.zadikimtours.com

David Bargshtein Tours: +972-2-999-2955 – david@dbtours.co.il

Netivim Tours: +972-2-633-8444

Glatt Tour: +972-2-547-7600 – www.glattour.com

I know it’s not easy to pull the money together, I know it’s not easy to manage without him over the High Holidays for a few days, I know it’s mamash mesirut Nefesh (self-sacrifice) for the ladies who stay behind with their challenging broods.

I’ve had some years where I have absolutely dreaded the logistical part of sending my husband to Uman, because it means I’ve been stuck alone with my kids over a three day Yom Tov. Before I moved to Jerusalem, I’d at least get regular invitations as an ‘Uman Widow’ to break up the time, and I had a regular place in the local shul.

But since I’ve lived in the Holy City, Rosh Hashana each year has been quite a struggle. I don’t know where I’m davening (or sometimes, even if I’m davening…), I have no invitations, I have to deal with stroppy teenagers who think I’m retarded all by myself, without my husband acting as their foil.

But you know what? It’s still so worth it. Why do I say that?

Let me end by sharing the story of a lady I met a few years’ back, who was adamant that her husband shouldn’t go to Uman at Rosh Hashana, because Rosh Hashana was family time.

She was experiencing some serious difficulties with him, and his behavior, and no therapist or counsellor could touch them with a barge pole.

So, I suggested she send him to Uman for Rosh Hashana, and I got back a very stony stare, and a big explanation of how Rosh Hashana was a time when the family should be together. As the marriage continued to head South, each year I’d call her up in July and suggest that maybe, just maybe, this was a good time to send her husband off to Uman.

Each time, she emphasized how important it was for her family to stay together, and there was nothing I could say or do to change her mind.

Then last year, she got divorced.

It really was so very important for her family to stay together, and maybe if she’d sent her husband off to Rebbe Nachman, they’d have had a better chance of making that happen.

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As you might have expected, trying to get The Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife distributed to regular, orthodox Jewish bookstores is proving to be EXTREMELY difficult.

There’s two main problems going on:

1) Frum Jewish publishing is actually an enormous cartel operation.

Most of the book publishers expect authors to pay around $10,000 to cover all the costs of designing, printing and distributing their own books.

If an author is unwilling or unable to put up this sort of money – and they aren’t directly related to the Baba Sali, or a ‘Rock Star Rabbi / Rabbanit’ type themselves- then most of the Jewish publishers won’t touch them with a barge pole, no matter how interesting or appropriate their books may be for the frum audience.

The corollary to this is that so many of the books that you find on the shelves of orthodox book sellers are there because the person is connected or wealthy, as opposed to a good writer. (Yes, that starts to explain a lot doesn’t it?)

2) Frum Jewish publishing is pushing a distorted image of observant Jewish life.

This was kind of the problem I tripped over with the cover of the Secret Diary, because OFFICIALLY, all the people buying books in frum Jewish bookstores aren’t meant to be surfing the internet, watching movies, or owning i-Phones.

In reality – probably the vast majority of people who shop in frum Jewish bookstores, particularly in the English-speaking world, are doing all those things. But SHUSSSSHSH!!!! Don’t tell the orthodox Jewish publishers, because they still think that Jewish women are all called ‘Breindy’ and obsessed with making the perfect kugel!!!!

‘Breindy’ doesn’t have any problems, has perfect faith and has no need of books that realistically portray orthodox Jewish life, because ‘Breindy’ is a Jewish superwoman with 15 kids, two jobs, a husband in full-time learning, and a stunning 200 sqm home that she keeps immaculately stocked with 5 different types of homemade kugel!!!!

And if your life isn’t like ‘Breindy’s’ – then what on earth are you doing trying to find suitable reading material in a frum Jewish bookstore?!?!

Of course, the real reality is that even ‘Breindy’ is cracking at the seams in 2017, and has just upped her dosage of anti-depressants…but SHUSSSSSSH!!!! Let’s not talk of such things.

This ‘head in the sand’ approach to frum life means that while the shelves are full of inspiring stories from previous generations of women who could make one chicken stretch to generously feed 38 starving orphans with leftovers; and full of ‘uplifting’ Holocaust tales of every stripe (including wonderfully illustrated holocaust strip cartoons for the kiddies…); and full of ‘perfect kugel’ cookbooks and ‘frum’ fiction that I find terribly disturbing for SO many different reasons – they’re generally very empty of real books by real Jewish women, that portray the challenges and beauty of real Jewish life.

I.e., books like The Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife (and pretty much anything else that I write).

Case in point:

I just emailed one of the frum book publishers to see if I could pay to get The Secret Diary distributed via them, and all they did was take a look at the cover, and then pointblank refuse. Even if I paid to print a thousand copies by them, they still won’t guarantee they’d distribute it.

So dear reader, not for the first time I find myself a little stuck between the familiar rock and the hard place.

For as long as the frum Jewish book world – and the out-of-touch people running it – refuse to carry books that are ‘real’ portrayals of orthodox Jewish life, albeit with a lot of God and emuna mixed in, frum people have little choice but to get their ‘real’ books about real problems and challenges from the secular world.

And make no mistake, that’s what’s happening. Even in the hallowed halls of Meah Shearim, people are turning to Tony Robbins and Dr Mercola for advice on how to solve their real problems and crises, because the frum world is still pretending that we’re all supermen and superwomen, with all emuna, all the time, and a never-ending obsession with creating the perfect kugel.

Frum women aren’t being given an authentic voice in our communities, and we are all paying the price for that in so many different ways. If they aren’t a ‘Breindy’, none of the men who are running the Jewish publishing business are remotely interested in what they have to say.

Dear reader, I am DEFINITELY not a Breindy, and my kugels normally suck, big time.

I can see I’m going to have to pray on this a lot, and ask God to show me how to get past this huge obstacle. I will keep you posted.

After all the agro I got the last couple of weeks from my crazy emailers, I have to admit that I’ve been having some massive struggles with my own bad middot, and particularly the traits of vengeance and spite.

(As an aside, every time I stick up the character traits from the ‘Erev Rav’ I try to check where I’m holding on it all myself, and ‘vengeance and spite’ have been at the very top of my list, recently.)

But God has been doing His best to help me overcome these issues the last few days. For example, one of my correspondents sent me a very nice email last week on a completely different subject than my crazy relatives, but which ended with their own observation that whatever happens in our life, we have to see that God is behind it, and He’s just using people as a mirror.

Hmmmm.

As I was busy trying to avoid that idea, I went to see my lady who helps me with a lot of my psychosomatic aches and pains. Mostly, I can figure out the messages my illnesses are giving me myself in hitbodedut, but occasionally they are too much in my blind spot for me to see them myself, and that’s where this lady comes in.

She’s very connected, she’s very Israeli, and she doesn’t pull her punches about what I need to change or fix.

I love that about her! But it’s not always easy to hear it.

Since all the poisonous email stuff, I was having some sort of weird chest pain going on, and I knew it was related (pardon the pun).  This lady told me straight: “God is using this situation to give you a message. It’s going to be very hard work to hear it, because it involves breaking your ego, and that’s never easy. If you’re ready to do the work, come back next week.”

Hmmmm.

I did some hitbodedut on it all, and here’s what came up: My poison penners ARE from God, and ARE sending me and my husband a message, but it’s not directly connected to what’s going on with them (because as I mentioned already, they are certifiably crazy).

Once I wrapped my head around the idea that God is even behind the nasty emails that crazy people send, things really started to move.

I’ve learnt that the thing that most upsets you, that most grabs your attention, that most annoys you or troubles you, that’s the place to start, when trying to work out the messages God is sending each and every one of us via other people.

So I went through all the emails me and my husband received last week, and I carefully underlined the bits that really hit a nerve. By the end of it, I had a list of about 4-5 statements that really, really bothered me, and then I asked God to show me how they were connected to my real, actual life, and not all the lies being told by the crazies.

Dear reader, we came up with some really interesting messages! Like for example, it bothered me tremendously that this person called me and my husband parasites and scroungers, because we really, really aren’t. We give charity generously, we don’t ask other people for help, we try to rely on Hashem and not people in every way possible.

So I was completely offended by this statement, and I also couldn’t understand how it could be a message to me about anything. But after pondering it, I realized that me and my husband ARE still scrounging to make a decent living, and it’s something that’s upsetting both of us.

Once we got that it WAS an accurate description of something in our life that needed fixing, we could move on to the next stage of decoding the message:

How do we fix our chronic lack of parnassa, at its spiritual root?

My husband is currently working on finding the answer to that, and I’ll keep you posted.

This week I went back to my lady, and I got some more insights: She explained that spite is the one thing GUARANTEED to kill a person, physically. All the hate and rage that underpin spite does tremendous damage to a person’s health.

As I’ve been feeling pretty rotten again this week, she didn’t need to do a lot to convince me she was right. But how to get rid of it?

That’s where God came in again.

I had a couple of meaningful dreams, I went to visit the grave of Rav Yehuda Zev Leibowitz in Bnei Brak, I did a couple of hours of really useful hitbodedut, or talking to God, and voila, a few days’ later I’d got to a place where I was willing to let go of my hate and spite, because I finally understood that it was a defense mechanism that I felt I needed to keep these crazy people away from me and my family.

When I was talking to God about it all, I suddenly got that God is going to protect me from the crazies in my life, if I trust Him to do that, which means that my negative emotions are actually redundant. All my spite and hate is doing is making me sick, and it’s God who’s going to protect me anyway – so why kill myself in the meantime?!

Sigh.

Dealing with negative character traits is such hard work. But one thing keeps me going: I want to be a lover, not a hater. I want to get to the end of my 120 years knowing that whatever disgusting traits I came down to the world with, I did my very best to acknowledge them and fix them, with God’s help.

And if I manage to do that, ironically, my crazy emailers are going to get a big amount of the credit for it.

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.