A little while back, I was talking to someone who’d just been given some pretty shocking ‘advice’ from one of their spiritual advisors. The ‘advice’ was shocking for a few different reasons:

1) They hadn’t actually asked for it;

2) It involved some very big, very complicated decisions with far-reaching implications for the rest of their life; and

2) It completely contradicted everything else that this spiritual advisor had been telling them to do.

Now, what would you do, if that happened to you?

Before you answer that, let me tell you what I thought about the whole sorry saga. I thought that in every direction and in every way possible, God is pushing more and more of us to start thinking for ourselves again.

For the last few decades, ‘outsourcing’ has been the big thing: we’ve been encouraged to outsource our health to the medical profession, our child-rearing to therapists, our marriages to relationship counsellors, and our spiritual development and connection to God to various ‘holy’ intermediaries.

You can probably guess what I’m going to say now:

THIS IS NOT THE JEWISH WAY!!! (and yes, I am shouting.)

The Jewish way is for each of us to take responsibility for ourselves, and our own lives and souls, and our own relationships.

Who can know us better than ourselves? Who has got more of an interest in things turning out well for us, than we do? Who is in a better position for working out all the messages and clues that God is sending down to each one of us, every second of the day, than us?

There’s a famous story told about the Steipler Rav, who was a very big tzaddik who lived in Bnei Brak a generation ago. The Steipler could be very blunt, and sometimes seemed a little exasperated by the numbers of people coming to him for blessings and advice.

Once, he turned to his companion and said incredulously: “Do the people who are coming to me for a blessing really think that I’m going to do a better job of it, than if they would just go and pray to Hashem for their own needs?!”

Of course, let’s be clear that going to a tzaddik like the Steipler in our own times, is a very beneficial, wonderful thing. But even Rav /shalom Arush has written that a tzaddik’s blessing is limited by the work the person getting the blessing is willing to do for, and on, themselves.

So where does all this leave us, and our attempts to work out what God wants from us, and how to relate to all these authority figures in various areas of our lives?

The ‘expert’ checklist:

Here’s what I think: regardless of whether you are dealing with a doctor, or a lawyer, or a rabbi, or a therapist or any other ‘expert’, the first thing you should do is check the following:

1) Are they humble?

2) Are they compassionate?

3) Do they listen to you like you’re a valuable human being, or talk over you and ignore or rubbish your opinions?

4) Do they admit to making mistakes, or try to paint themselves as being perfect and ‘superior’?

5) Do they have God in their lives, in any real, tangible way?

5) Do they encourage you to think for yourself, or do they try to make you feel small, stupid and insignificant, and greatly in need of their vastly superior wisdom and knowledge?

 

This last point really contains all the others. I’ve seen Rav Arush in action a number of times; my husband and I have also tried to ask to ask him a number of things. Almost always (with a few small exceptions), he’s put the onus for making the decision back on us, and encouraged us to talk to God about what’s going on in our lives, and to get guidance that way.

He gives advice, but he doesn’t issue commands. He gives strong guidance, indirectly, throughout his books and classes but when it’s one-on-one, he respects your free choice and normally only hints at things.

This was also the way of Rebbe Nachman, who made it a point NEVER to tell people what to do directly, and only ever gently advised them. If a huge tzaddik like Rebbe Nachman didn’t think it was appropriate to boss people around, that speaks volumes.

So let’s sum it up like this: if your ‘expert’, whoever they are, likes offering unsolicited advice to you, revels in telling you (or even ‘ordering’ you) to do things; and tries to blame you, subtly or otherwise, for making ‘wrong’ decisions – walk away.

If they don’t encourage you to believe in yourself, and in your own decision-making abilities, and in your own value as a unique human being – walk away.

God wants you to talk to Him, and to think for yourself, in every area of your life. I know, it’s so tempting to try and outsource your decisions and responsibility to others. But it’s truly a case of ‘buyer beware’, because the people you’d really want to tell you what they think usually won’t; and the people who can’t wait to tell you what they think are usually the very last people you should be listening to.

Does it ever happen to you that you sometimes feel like you’re in some sort of weird screenplay of your own life? That never happened to me so much in London, but since I’ve lived in Israel, every week has had its own share of unusual events that I sometimes just pinch myself to make sure it’s all actually real.

I don’t have anything particularly ‘out there’ to share with you (this week…) but it’s just the small, unusual circumstances that make up my every day life that sometimes amaze and baffle me, in equal measure.

Some examples:

  • My youngest came home yesterday, and told me a really funny, ‘hilarious’ story of how her friend’s house in Maaleh Zeitim (a neighbourhood on the outskirts of the Mount of Olive cemetery, very close to the Temple Mount) got firebombed, by an Arab throwing a Molotov cocktail.
  • My neighbours just bought (and subsequently sold…) a dog that was half Rottweiler, and half Pekinese. Now, I know these things are technically possible, but when I saw that super-aggressive fuzzy slipper with sausage legs, I thought someone was playing a bad joke. I mean, it kind of boggles the mind.
  • I went out for a walk on Yom Yerushalayim (‘Jerusalem Day’) a little while back, and the streets were awash with literally hundreds of thousands of Jewish teenagers, waving Israeli flags and buying every piece of junk food in sight. It was awesome to behold, in every sense of the word.

 

And then there’s the more routine, but no less amazing things, like the fact that I live 15 minutes’ walk away from where King David is buried. Sometimes, I say a few Psalms, and then I get completely weirded-out by the fact that the person who wrote them is interred so close to my home. I mean, that’s just an amazing thing.

Then, there’s the soundtrack that God chooses to accompany my own particular film. Sometimes, I’ll walk into a shop and they’ll be blasting out one of my favourite secular songs from twenty years’ ago, and it always stops me dead in my tracks. Music comes from a very ‘high’ place, spiritually, and it can literally transport you across years and countries and mindsets.

I walk into the shop a 40-something Jewish housewife in Israel, and I walk out a teenage girl in London (or Canada. The moving-around thing’s been happening for decades already.)

A few days’ ago, I was having a bad day. One of my kids started playing some obscure CD by Israeli Singer Gad Elbaz that we’ve had forever, but one of the songs suddenly really grabbed my attention: It was a musical rendition of Psalm 23.

You know the one:

God is my shepherd

I shall not lack.

He lays me down in lush meadows,

He leads me by tranquil waters.

He restores my soul.

He leads me on paths of righteousness, for the sake of His Name.

Even though I walk in the valley overshadowed by death,

I will not fear evil, because You are with me.

To say I was transfixed was an understatement.

Once my kids went to school, I had the song on ‘repeat’ for about 2 hours solid.

How did God know that I so needed to hear that song, just then?

How did King David know that I’d be feeling exactly that way, when he wrote that Psalm? (Maybe he also had melodramatic females in his household?).

Point is, it was the perfect soundtrack for that particular scene.

I’m at that stage in the script of my life where enough suspense has built up over the last year, that it’s time for the denouement, already. I have no idea how the happy ending comes, but I’d like to believe it IS coming, and probably in a hugely unexpected way, like all the best plots.

Moshiach shows up on a donkey and gives my kids a lift to school, in the Old City? I find that $3 million in cash is stuffed in the pipe that keeps backing-up into my toilet? Someone gives me a fat advance to write my life story? Who knows.

All I can tell you, is that the screenplay has never had a dull moment, and while there have definitely been a lot of tear-jerking parts to it, it’s always been more of a comedy than a tragedy – and may it continue thus.

Sarah came home to the tent one day very het up. Avraham came over to ask her what was troubling her, and Sarah let rip.

“The ladies by the well are all talking about me! They’re telling me that instead of staying home and kneading dough all day, I should go and get a job as a secretary, so you can just devote yourself to learning Torah, like a real gadol hador!”

Avraham was taken aback.

“Well, but if you do that, Sarah my love, who’s going to look after young Yitzhak?” Sarah shrugged her shoulders, and said in a hesitant voice:

“Well, I saw an ad in the local Pirsumit magazine that Hagar’s started up a new childcare facility. I think she’s roped Yishmael into keeping the kids entertained by showing them how to catch rabbits, or something…”

Avraham shook his head solemnly.

“Sarah, my love, this doesn’t sound right at all. How are we meant to pass on our holy Jewish beliefs and heritage to our son if he’s off shooting pigeons with his somewhat reckless brother? (Avraham always excelled in phrasing things gently.)

“How would that benefit us? How would that build the world? No, my dear, you stay home and look after our precious son, and I’ll continue to study Torah every chance I get, when I don’t have to look after the estate or make small-talk with the locals.”

Sarah cheered up tremendously, once she heard Avraham’s wise words, and disappeared off to her tent to get the next batch of dough prepared.

But the ladies of the well weren’t about to give up so easily. Sarah and Avraham were so, well, old-fashioned, and stick in the mud. It was obvious to everyone (except them…) that if a couple were really serious about the Torah, the woman had to make sacrifices to enable her husband to learn 24/7.

They dispatched Zipporah, the group’s self-styled rebbetzin, to try and persuade Sarah to come round to their more enlightened view. Zipporah knocked on the tent door, just as Sarah was plaiting her challah.

“Hmm, baking again, I see,” said Zipporah, with a condescending little smile playing around her mouth.

“I love to bake!” Sarah told her, eyes shining. “It fills the whole tent with such a delicious, homey smell.”

Zipporah hrrmphed to herself, then sat herself down next to Sarah’s kneading bowl, and put a clammy hand on Sarah’s floury one, in what she hoped was an earnest, caring way.

“Sarah, I heard that Berman’s bakery up the road is looking for a new manager. You’d be perfect! No-one makes challah like you, and once you start doing your bit for the family, Avraham won’t have to waste so much time dealing with the shepherds and well-diggers. You’ll be able to afford to hire someone to manage the estate for you, while he sits in learns…In fact, I know just the person. My sister-in-law, Estie, would fit the bill perfectly.”

Sarah’s smile froze on her face.

“Zipporah, I don’t want to work. I want to raise my children. I’ve discussed it with Avraham, and he agrees that that is the right thing to do. Eliezer is helping us out, in the meantime, so let Estie take the job at Bermans’, and then everyone’s happy.”

Zipporah had had enough.

“Sarah! You are being so selfish! You’re married to the gadol hador, and it’s just not right that you’re not enabling him to learn Torah full time! I’m sure God would prefer for Avraham to be teaching and learning Torah, than having to haggle over the bushel price for goats’ wool!”

Sarah snapped back:

“If that’s true, Zipporah, then WHY did God make it the man’s responsibility to provide for his wife, and not the other way round? Avraham signed the ketuba, not me!”

Zipporah rolled her eyes skyward. Gosh, that old chestnut again. I mean, it’s just a ketuba, for goodness’ sake. No-one else took that seriously. But trust Sarah to take things at face value…

Zipporah stood up to leave.

“I see I can’t change your mind,” she said stiffly. “I have no idea how you expect to get a good shidduch for Yitzhak, with your warped beliefs that men should be off supporting their families. I expect you’ll get some lay-about daughter-in-law who thinks making a pot of soup is a big achievement. And the generation will just have to be an orphaned generation, bereft of your husband’s Torah, because you won’t swallow your pride and your funny ideas, and start your own hair accessory business…”

Sarah nodded curtly at her guest, and escorted her out the tent entrance.

Sure, Avraham’s Torah was hugely important. But if Yitzhak went off the derech, then who’d be around to learn it? Or to live it? Or to pass it on to the next generation? In her heart, Sarah knew that she’d picked the right job, whatever Zipporah and the ladies of the well might say.

A little while back, someone asked me what I do to get my kids to pray, if they don’t feel like it. I told her straight: absolutely nothing. If my kids aren’t in the mood to formally talk to the Creator of the World, that’s OK: they’re 11 and 14, respectively. They get forced to pray plenty of Amidahs in school, so they know how to do it. And when the time is right, I’m sure they are going to want to start praying a whole lot more than are right now.

I mean, how much did you want to pray when you were 14? When I was 14, praying was pretty much the last thing I wanted to do, and now I talk to God for an hour every day. (Which is an open miracle, and really nothing to do with me.)

Sure, I want my kids to be connected to Hashem, but forcing matters is only going to backfire.

Someone told me a few years’ back about their son, who was at a very serious Torah High School, where they learned a heck of a lot of gemara, and rigorously tested the students on what they were learning.

He came out of that school hating Torah.

How could he not? Cast your mind back to your school days: is there any subject that you enjoyed more after being pressured to cram for it just to score an ‘A’ on an exam? I don’t think so.

And it’s even more the case with matters of the soul, because when you force your kids to conform externally, and they go along with whatever mitzvah it is you’re pushing down their throat, on some level, you just completely killed the inner dimension of that mitzvah for them.

The reason I don’t force my kids to pray, is because I so badly WANT them to pray, when they get older. Praying, talking to God, is so often pretty much the only thing that gets me through my day. It’s an enormous spiritual gift, and one that I want to pass over to my kids. But not by nagging them, cajoling them, guilting them or bribing them to do it.

When they’re ready, it will come.

How do I know? Because while I don’t force my kids to pray, I certainly expect it of myself: I try and pray for my kids on a regular basis, whenever they seem to need it (which can be every day, sometimes.)

I’ve been paying into their ‘spiritual bank account’ for years’ already, and like I explained to them, when they’re ready to start banking their own prayers, they should hopefully find that they’ve already got a fairly large amount of spiritual credit to start off with.

It’s such an upside-down world, isn’t it? So many of us are trying to muddle through with precious little idea of what’s really right, or not, and there’s so much conflicting advice out there from ‘experts’ who talk a good game superficially, but actually don’t help you very much.

The exception to this rule in my life has been Rav Arush. Once I read his ‘Education with Love’, I just knew that all the other nonsense out there about ‘tough love’ and ‘forcing’ and ‘being strict’ and ‘manners’ was exactly that: nonsense.

You can’t force good character traits, you can only model them yourself, and hope your kids will follow suit. So if you really want your kids to pray – take the lead, and show them how to do it.

I seem to be going through a pretty heavy time at the moment, spiritually. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, some years it feels like every day of the Omer is an ordeal you just have to get through, and learn the lessons from.

Some years it’s more obvious, some years less so, and this year – it’s completely in my face from the moment I wake up.

But God always prepares the balm before the blow, so at the same time as I’m being buffeted by severe doubts in my own efforts and capabilities, and also in God’s willingness to help me out of the pit I’ve fallen into, financially and spiritually, there’s Rav Ofer Erez, explaining why it’s actually all really OK, and exactly the way it’s meant to be.

Just today, I was listening to another dynamite class of his where he was talking about galut hanefesh¸ or the exile of the soul. In a nutshell, he explained that the main difficulty for our generation is that we all know what’s true: we’ve read the books, we’ve heard the news reports; we’ve done the research on Google – but we can’t actually get there.

So on the one hand, of course we know it’s bad to smoke, and bad to eat sugar, and terrible to eat margarine, and on the other hand mmmmm, yummy donuts…

Ditto with childrearing. Yes, we all know it’s terrible to criticise our offspring, and horrendous to feed them white pasta, and border-line neglect not to have deep conversations with them at least once a month. But then, who’s got the time, energy or patience for it to be any other way, especially these days?

The same is true in every area of our lives, from our marriages, to our earning abilities (make $100k a month, from home!) to our relationship with God. We can see how it could look, should look, has to look – and we just can’t reach it.

We don’t have the strength to talk to God every day. We don’t have the energy to try and hold our husband together while we ourselves are continually falling apart. We don’t have the motivation to keep hanging on for a miracle rescue, even though we really do know 100% that God can give us one in a second.

Why?

Because we’re stuck in ‘reality’, and our current ‘reality’ and truth don’t make good bedfellows.

Which is when you can get really broken, spiritually, unless you get clued-in about what’s really going on. What’s really going on is that God has set up the rules in this generation in such a way, that’s it impossible to win the game – unless you’ve got a big tzaddik behind you.

That’s the only way to do it, and Rav Ofer explained that both the Baal Shem Tov and Rebbe Nachman were talking about how it was going to be for our generation, more than 200 years’ ago.

Spiritually-crushed people can’t just go and uncrush themselves. They need outside help just to wake up in the morning, let alone to fight off their yetzers and start drinking green smoothies.

So if you’re caught in the gap between what you know to be true, and what you want to embody, and what is actually happening in your life, join the club. It’s the exile of the soul, we’re all in the same boat, and it’s going to take a tzaddik of the calibre of Rebbe Nachman or Moshe Rabbenu to spring us out of prison.

So, about three months ago, I wrote the draft of a book about how to talk to God and fix your mental and physical health.

I tweaked it, rewrote it, tweaked it some more, then started contacting literary agents to see if anyone might be interested in helping me get a book deal. I mean, I have a blog… I’ve been writing for years… How hard could it be to get published?

The answer is: pretty darned hard.

Apparently, I need 25k followers on Twitter and 100k readers (minimum…) before anyone will touch my book with a bargepole.

The good news is: I’m 2% of the way there.

But I realised, I need some help. I bit the bullet and signed up for Twitter (which I still so don’t get, btw) – but I can’t bring myself to do Facebook. Even the thought of befriending 4000 people online gives me heebie-jeebies.

So now, I’m back to the same question I’ve been wrestling with for years, already: does God want more prayer to get me bumped up to a big readership, or more effort?

Let’s be clear that before I started my blogs and new business, I’d spent approximately the last seven years ONLY praying. I had a huge reaction to my first business going down the toilet (with very little prayer and huge amounts of effort), and I felt like ‘prayer is the only way to go’.

It worked OK until my husband quit his job to join me in that approach a couple of years’ ago – and we ended up going completely bankrupt and having to sell our house just to buy groceries.

I’m still in the process of picking through the aftermath of being hit by that spiritual tsunami, and I still haven’t been able to draw any fast and hard conclusions, except maybe for one: I’m clearly not at the level where I can just sit on my couch and still be able to buy my cheerios.

So I at least got that message, and I reacted by trying my best to ‘do’ more.

But I seem to have come full-circle now, facing that same problem that’s dogged me for years. If ‘all work’ wasn’t the way to go, and ‘all prayer’ apparently wasn’t the way to go, what does that leave me with?

I know, you’re going to say ‘the balanced, middle way’, but as we’ve already discussed, balance is SO not me. But apparently, it’s going to have to be. I guess I’ll have to carry on doing the odd six hour prayer session, and then carry on finding random people on Twitter to connect to.

I think.

Unless you have any better ideas?

I was talking to my husband a little while back (hey, that still happens occasionally, BH) when he mentioned that he was still feeling a little ‘out of place’.

Despite his attempts to blend in by wearing black and white, my husband’s peyot are still less than a foot long; I won’t let him grow his beard past the point where I’d have to send a search party in to find his face; and the streimel and stripey-dressing-gown-thingy on Shabbat is definitely off limits.

So there he is, kind of stuck being a wannabe chassid.

I know what he means. I’ve spent many a long day yearning to ‘fit’ a little better than I do, and hoping to find a community of like-minded individuals – until God sent me an amazing idea about it all.

It was the day I was wondering around my hood. For some reason, I was in the Old City, then I went down to Jaffa Street to do some shopping, then later on that day, I found myself walking through Meah Shearim on the way up to Geula to buy some groceries.

It suddenly struck me how at home I felt in all these places, albeit that they’re so incredibly different from each other. If I looked like I ‘fit’ in any of these places 100%, I wouldn’t be able to explore anywhere else without feeling like a rank outsider.

It’s like all the tourists I see by the Kotel sometimes, hiding behind their cameras and i-Phones to try to quell the obvious discomfort they’re feeling about being in such unfamiliar surroundings.

The upside of belonging someone specific is that you, well, belong there. The downside, is that then anywhere else you go kind of feels weird. Thank God, I don’t have that problem. It’s precisely because I don’t really belong anywhere that I feel so comfortable everywhere, from the most secular spots to downtown Meah Shearim.

I suddenly realized last week what a blessing that is.

Do you know how many cool people I’m discovering, from all sorts of background and communities? There are some truly amazing people all over the place, and if I truly ‘belonged’ to just one community or area, I’d never know about all the other fab stuff that’s going on in other parts of the Jewish world.

So I came home and told my husband: ‘It’s great we’re social misfits! How else could we spend one Shabbat hanging out with our friends in Caesarea, and the next one in deepest Chassidville, eating our shabbos meal at separate tables for men and women? I love that we don’t fit anywhere properly!”

And now that he’s thought about it a bit (and got over the idea that the gold stripey dressing gown thingy is just not on the cards…) so does he.

A little while back, my oldest daughter decided to get what’s called a ‘rasta’. As you might have guessed, it’s the usual sort of dumb teenage idea about taking a bit of your hair, wrapping all this coloured cotton etc around it; tying a bell on the end, and then keeping it in your hair forever (until you get sick of it and have to cut it out.)

It was that or the second earring, so I said: “OK! I let the dumb rasta!”

I realised that she’d been through a lot recently, and needed some form of self-expression that wasn’t exactly traif, but wasn’t also exactly kosher.

She got the rasta, it actually so wasn’t a big deal, and that was that: she felt much happier and self-expressed and independent, and I felt like I’d got off lightly, after seeing the boy with huge holes in his earlobes where his ears used to be.

Last week, the whole family went shopping to a super-frum supermarket, to buy stuff to do a BBQ on Israel Independence Day, or Yom Haatzmaut, when my kids are off school.

Independence Day is a political hot-potato in Israel, and people can make all sorts of assumptions about you based on:

  • How many Israeli flags you have decorating your house and car, and how prominently they’re displayed
  • Whether you listen to music conspicuously on that day (as it’s always in the middle of the Omer, when you’re not meant to be listening to music, unless you consider Independence Day to be a quasi-religious ‘holiday’ like Purim)
  • Whether you’re buying any of the following things: BBQs, charcoal, chicken wings and skewers.

In some neighbourhoods, do any of the above and they’ll stone you. In others, don’t do any of the above, and they’ll stone you.

We went shopping for our BBQ stuff in the big chareidi supermarket in a super-glatt part of town, where black is always the new black. We go there every week, but this week, my oldest daughter started to feel very flustered, and wanted to leave after 5 minutes.

‘What’s the matter?’ I asked her.

“Ima, people are staring at me, and it’s making me feel really weird.”

Hmm. Why were they staring? Was it the BBQ briquettes, sticking out of the trolley? Or maybe, it was the bumper pack of hotdogs that was practically playing ‘HaTikva’ all by itself?

Then it hit me: it was the dumb rasta.

People’s eyes were literally sticking out of their head, even though I’ve seen much less modest things going on with a few of the secular customers that also shop there.

Bizarre.

In the car home, my daughter explained the problem:

“Ima, you look like you’re normal dati (religious); Abba looks like he’s chareidi (black and white with peyot) and I look dati leumi (national religious, I guess what you’d call ‘modern orthodox’ outside of Israel). People can’t work out how we all fit together, and that’s why they were staring so much.”

I actually found this pretty amusing. What, does everyone dress the same in these people’s families? (Ok, scratch that, it was rhetorical.)

I guess the real question I want to ask is why does everyone dress the same, in these people’s families?

How can you have honest self-expression, acceptance and individuality, if everyone’s wearing the same style? I know in my family, I have fiercely resisted ‘the uniform’ – but I certainly wasn’t going to impose my preferences on my husband, who loves his black and white to bits.

Ditto for my kids: the rasta is dumb and borderline untznius. BUT – my daughter needs to learn that for herself, so she can get it out of her system and hopefully grow up to love turtlenecks.

After our discussion, I wondered what would have happened, if I’d gone against the clues God was sending us in the Summer, and shoved our daughters in chareidi school against their will.

One probably would have toed the line (I think…) But the other would have kicked so hard I may have lost her, at least temporarily, God forbid. But then I wonder: don’t all teenagers need to be able to ‘self-express’, at least occasionally, however dumb and borderline tasteless it is? And if they can’t do that when they’re 14 without being stared at and judged, then when can they?

The last little while, I’ve been hearing lots of stories from lots of people with a common theme: people are being tested to cracking point in a particular area (or more usually, five areas at once); they pray, they up their mitzvah ante, they sincerely try to do everything everyone tells them to get their miracle, or salvation – and it doesn’t come.

Often, not only does the miraculous salvation not show up after all that spiritual effort, the problem can even get worse.

I’ve experienced this myself, and to say it can cause enormous challenges to your faith and emunat tzadikim is probably the understatement of the century. Thankfully, our true holy people are aware of this phenomenon, and they aren’t scared to address it.

On Shabbat Rav Arush gave a shiur talking about precisely this, where you pray and pray for the miracle to show up already, and still you’re stuck with the problem. So then, what does he suggest you do?

Simple: instead of praying for the problem to disappear, start praying instead to be happy with the problem.

Why? Again, simple: in our generation, we all have no end of trials and tribulations and soul corrections to get through, to clean off our 5,000 year-long slate. I’ve said it before, and I’ve said it again, that we’ve all been here tens of times before – and stuffed it up repeatedly – and now, there’s no more second chances and we HAVE to get it right.

That’s means an awful lot of soul corrections to get through, in a very short amount of time. That means, practically, that you ping from one painful problem to another, and sometimes it seems like the suffering and hardship is never going to end.

Yes, of course we deserve it! We coasted the last 50 lifetimes, we ate traif, we sacrificed our children to Moloch, we chose to leave yiddishkeit to become ‘enlightened’ wannabe goyim 150 years ago – and know we have to clean all that stuff off our souls.

God sent us down here with a lot of work to do, and so much of it is painfully excruciating and confusing and difficult. And here’s the kicker: WE HAVE NO CHOICE. We have to go through it in order to get cleaned up.

That’s why sometimes, our prayers for instant salvation and mercy appear to go unanswered: if God lets up on us before we fix whatever is broken, spiritually, then what’s really been accomplished?

So then, why bother praying, if it’s not going to change anything. Great question! Here’s what I think: The point of our prayers is to build a relationship with God and to ask Him to help us accept all the craziness going on in lives, not to get God to do what we want.

This distinction is crucial.

Acceptance is key; knowing that God is doing everything for our good is crucial; saying ‘thank you’ is the key to getting through it as fast and painlessly as possible.

So if you’re going through tough times (and let’s face it, who isn’t?), remember the following things:

1)         We’re all here to fix our souls, and that requires an awful lot of work

2)         Regularly talking to God will help you hold on and survive when you’re     reaching your fifth cracking               point today

3)         Saying ‘thank you’ is a shortcut to achieving the emuna you need to make it           through in one                     piece

4)         Accepting God’s will is what it’s all about.

God isn’t punishing us, although I know it can sometimes feel like that. He’s fixing us fundamentally, He’s doing it fast, and He wants us to know one thing: He loves us, and the more we try to focus on that and accept the temporary pain when He sends it, the faster we’ll get back to the good times.

Auras, or ‘hilas’ as they’re known in Hebrew, are a Jewish concept, and also scientifically-proven. Scientists have been using Kirlian photography for years, to measure and record the energy fields that every single living creature gives off, kind of like an invisible force-field.

In his great book called ‘The Coming Revolution’, Rav Zamir Cohen has a whole chapter showing before and after pictures of how laying tefillin can change the colour of a man’s aura; and how covering the hair can do the same for a married woman.

In the same vein, many pictures abound of holy rabbis who have a white light visibly shining from their face, or around them: that’s their aura. It’s so holy, pure and strong, even regular photography can pick it up. Remember the light that was shining from Moshe Rabbenu’s face after he’d been talking to G-d non-stop for 40 days? It’s the same idea.

Last year, I met a woman who did ‘kosher healing’, apparently in a 100% halachically-acceptable way (although now, I’m seeing that a lot of people make that claim for the alternative healing things they’re involved with, and it’s not always true.)

Anyway, she seemed pretty nice and frum, and one of the stories she told me was about trying to do a ‘healing session’ on someone who had come to her, who was really into their yoga.

Her client was a baal teshuva, or recent returnee to Judaism, and she’d left a lot of her old lifestyle and beliefs behind – but she couldn’t quite disconnect from the yoga. Every day, she’d do her half an hour of meditation, and she still attended a few classes a week at her local yoga studio in Tel Aviv, where she lived.

The healing woman told me:

“Once, she came to me straight after doing a yoga class, and her aura was completely gone. I couldn’t ‘feel’ anything to work with; it was like trying to work with a plastic mannequin, not a living, breathing human being.”

The healing lady was so shocked by the phenomenon, she mentioned it to her client, to try to work out what had caused it. The client couldn’t think of anything – except that she’d just been to a yoga class.

The next week, she came a different day – and her aura was back. The healer decided to do an experiment. She asked her client to schedule a few sessions in a row, some after her yoga class, and some not, so she could see if a pattern would emerge.

It did.

Every time the client came after doing yoga, her aura, or protective outer energy field, was completely gone.

Now, you can say all this is superstitious clap-trap; you can dismiss this as an old wives’ tale; you can jump up and down and say there’s ‘nothing wrong’ with doing a bit of stretching.

What I can tell you is this: yoga, and other disciplines like it, which are firmly rooted in idol worshipping practises and philosophies, can and do cause damage to a Jewish soul.

It may not be obvious to us, which is why we need to check things out very carefully with our learned rabbis, who usually know much more than we do about deep spiritual issues that most of us don’t have the first clue about.

As we mentioned in a previous post, if the practitioner isn’t a G-d-fearing person, they are already not going to be a healthy spiritual source of healing for you, whatever they’re doing.

If what they’re doing is also spiritually unhealthy or damaging, then you’re really asking for trouble.

I don’t know what all this means, practically – I’m still trying to work it out myself. But it seems wise to start exercising more caution about the non-Jewish disciplines and ideas and therapies we get caught up in. Yes, they sound good. Often, they even work – but if that ‘healing energy’ is not coming from G-d, then it’s coming from a very dark place. And speaking for myself, that’s definitely NOT something I want to get involved with.