I’ve been reading up on the history of Shabtai Tzvi and Jacob Frank who were false messiahs from 350 and 250 years ago, respectively.

In the process, I uncovered a great many new facts that I didn’t know before, and also some questions that continue to beg answers, even in our times. So without any further ado, let’s dive into the world of these false messiahs, who continued to shape the Jewish community in so many ways, long after their deaths.

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The story begins in Izmir, Turkey, when the Turkish Jew Shabtai Tzvi (1626-1676) (who I’ll call SHATZ for short) announces he’s the long-awaited messiah of the Jewish people. Initially, many Jews – including a great many learned rabbis – believe his claims.

But SHATZ has been dabbling in the Kabbalah and the occult, and he quickly develops a theology of going against the Torah of Moses, and deliberately doing the opposite of any given commandment. His reasoning is that now that the Moshiach has come, ‘evil’ has returned to its root in good, and there is no such thing as ‘bad’ anymore.

To prove this, he and his followers start creating new ‘Jewish festivals’, based on their own experiences and the ‘miraculous events’ occurring within their community, and abolish traditional fasts, particularly Tisha B’Av.

The Sabbateans also publically reject the Talmud, i.e. the Oral Law, and heap scorn on the heads of the rabbis who wrote it, claiming they distorted original Judaism.

It’s important to note that this is the same claim the xtians make against Judaism. They also reject what they term ‘rabbinic Judaism’, but rabbinic Judaism is the Oral Law, and it’s an integral part of Judaism that was also given to Moshe Rabbenu alongside the Written Torah at Sinai.

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In the best ‘National Enquirer’ tradition, SHATZ star really takes off after the rabbis expel him from Salonika for ‘marrying’ a Torah.

That’s when he moves to Jerusalem and acquires his own prophet by the name of Nathan of Gaza. Nathan of Gaza proclaims that SHATZ is the Moshiach in 1665, and by October of that year, the news already hit the European Jewish communities

The Chmielnicki Uprising (1648-1657) had killed a third of Europe’s Jews at this point, they were desperate for salvation. Also, the xtians believed that the End of Days was going to begin in 1665 – and that’s why the English decided to let the Jews return to the UK in 1655, because they figured it wouldn’t be long before they’d return to Israel, in any case.

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 This Nathan is an extremely convincing spokesman, and quickly hits on the idea of smearing anyone who denies the ‘moshiach-ness’ of SHATZ as being from the ‘Erev Rav’.

In the meantime, stories start to abound within the Jewish community (but are often quickly suppressed) that the SHATZ and his very large group of followers are engaging in shockingly illicit activities, including wife swapping, incest, deliberately eating pork and public orgies (to name but a few).

Very few rabbis seem to be prepared to publically call the SHATZ out on all the immorality and licentiousness surrounding him, although Rabbi Jacob Sasportas (1610-1698) and the Chacham Tzvi take the lead in opposing him. Rabbi Sasportas becomes the sworn enemy of the Sabbateans, and states that they are Erev Rav. But few people take this seriously, until SHATZ converts to Islam on September 15, 1666 on pain of death.

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At that stage, his followers split into three main groups:

Group 1: Well-meaning Jews who were duped into believing that SHATZ is the Moshiach between 1665 and his conversion in September in 1666. Large numbers of this group make teshuva after Shabtai becomes an apostate, and return to the Jewish fold.

Group 2: Crypto-Sabbateans – who maintain a pious Jewish exterior, but who engage in all sorts of licentious behavior behind closed doors, and continue to believe that SHATZ actually is the Moshiach.

Group 3: Hard-core Sabbateans, many of whom also sham convert to Islam, but whose real religion continues to be Sabbateanism. The infamous ‘Donmeh[1]’ of Turkey belong to this last group. Many of these Jews schism off and out of the Jewish community, at this point.

But not all of them, especially in Podalia and Eastern Europe.

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SHATZ dies in 1676 – but that doesn’t faze his followers, or derail the ‘SHATZ is Moshiach’ propaganda machine.

In order to keep the show on the road, his leading followers come up with the idea that Shabtai Tzvi’s soul will conveniently ‘reincarnate’ in one of his followers 49 days after his death.

That person becomes the new leader, and the messianic fervor that’s powering the Sabbatean’s activities continue to churn, and bring in new adherents, power and funds. The Sabbatians teach that the the original Shabtai Tzvi will come back from the dead, as part of techias hameitim, and take over where he left off.

The Sabbatean community continues to emphasize kabbalah over normative halacha, but have a status within the Jewish community similar to the Karaites – i.e. both the xtians and the Jews of that time still consider them to be Jewish, at least technically, but a sect, not normative Judaism.

Xtians eye these developments with great interest. The Karaite community in Amsterdam at this time is being financially supported by the Protestants there, who want to undermine ‘Rabbinic Judaism’ by presenting the Karaites as being more authentic, and more akin to the original Jews.

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So, for the next 100 years or so, the Sabbatean community continues.

It is more ‘openly’ Sabbatean in Turkey, and more ‘secretly’ Sabbatean elsewhere, particularly in the 4 lands of Poland, and especially in the Polish province of Podolia, which covers an area consisting of modern-day Ukraine and Moravia.

Podolia borders Turkey, and there is a lot of exchange between the Jews of these areas.

So far, I probably haven’t told you too much you didn’t know before. But hang on, because here where the story ramps up a level.

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At exactly the same time that the Baal Shem Tov and chassidut appears on the scene in the Ukraine (Podolia), Jacob Frank also shows up. It’s a well-known spiritual principle that every good thing has its ‘bad’ mirror image. God arranges things like this, in order to maintain free choice, and that’s often why things can seem so confusing to us mere mortals.

We see that rabbi with a shtreimel, this rabbi with a beard…. They both appear to be identical, from the outside, yet one is a destructive luminary of fire, and the other is a holy luminary of light. And unless we’re continually asking God to show us the truth, we can very easily find ourselves being tugged after those charismatic – but false – luminaries of fire.

So, at this period of time, from the 1730s on, there are a number of Jewish ‘wonder workers’ stalking all over Europe, some of whom – like the Baal Shem Tov – are holy of holies, and others of whom – like Jacob Frank, and Samuel Falk of London – are actually fakers who are using dark kabbalah for their own ends.

(It’s a side point, but Samuel Falk was one of the leaders of the movement to get more Jews into devil-worshipping Freemasonry, in the name of Jewish ‘emancipation’. He was known as a miracle worker in London, where he acquired the name ‘the Baal-Shem of London’. I was a little shocked to learn that the picture that is usually said to be of the Baal Shem Tov is actually a picture of this guy, instead!)

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So, Frank is a Polish Jew, probably already from a family of secret Sabbatians, who moves to Turkey and is initiated into Sabbateanism on his wedding night.

All this coincides with the death of Berakhiah, the current leader of the Sabbateans who claims to be a reincarnation of the SHATZ. So Frank spots his opportunity, and claims that he’s the next link in the Sabbatian’s chain of command.

He’s a powerfully charismatic individual with a strong lust for power and celebrity, so many of the existing Sabbatean community in Turkey accept him as their leader. Frank decides to head back to Poland, where many thousands of the crypto-Sabbateans live. These people appear externally to be orthodox Jews, but are secretly doing all sorts of deviant and evil things that are totally against the Torah.

Empowered by Frank, many of these Jews – which includes a large number of rabbis – start to come out of the closet, and to openly challenge ‘Rabbinic Judaism’ by doing things like publically eating on the Fast of Esther.

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In 1656, the infamous ‘Lanckronie’ affair occurs.

This is when Frank and his followers first come to the attention of the wider Jewish and xtian authorities, for behaving in some very disturbing ways. The matter is investigated, and it’s discovered that the rabbis of Lanckronie, Busk and Krzywcze are all Sabbatians – and starting to act in increasingly brazen ways.

Frank and his followers – which at this point, number anywhere between 1,000 – 15,000 – portray themselves as a separate and ‘more authentic’ stream of Judaism. They start requesting an area of land from the catholic Polish authorities where they can live semi-autonomously.

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Moving back to Poland is a big deal for Frank.

At that time, the Jews can’t really own land, they can only rent it. After Shabtai Tzvi fails to deliver on returning the Jews to their own homeland in Israel, Frank and his followers decide to give up on Israel, and transfer “Sabbatian messianic hopes connected to the Land of Israel to Poland”[2] instead.

Frank starts giving sermons where he tells his followers:

“Poland was ‘the ground for the ascension’ – the place where the Shechinah would rise out of the earth.”[3]

The Frankists are keen to break the link between ‘redemption’ and getting land for the Jews, and also believe in the final unification of world faiths before ‘the End’.

So, there are two things going on now. First, Frank and his followers want to own their own land, and they are happy to suck up to the xtians and to play their game in order to acquire some status and wealth. But second, there really is a philosophical underpinning for everything they’re doing, based (loosely) on Shabtai Tzvi’s distorted teachings.

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At this stage, Rabbi Jacob Emden, son of the Chacham Tzvi, heads the growing opposition to the Sabbateans.

In May 1756, following the Lanckronie scandal, the Sabbatians are formally put in cherem, and the study of kabbalah is outlawed for anyone under 40 years of age.

The Rabbis also release a statement that:

“On the basis of the codifiers, we pronounce that it is a positive commandment to kill them [i.e. the Frankists].”

Off the back of this announcement, the Jews subsequently kill 18 Frankists in Podolia and wound another 30.

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Frank flees back to Turkey – where he secretly converts to Islam and become ‘Ahmed Frank’. But he has a lot of competition in Turkey, where the Donmeh hold sway, so Frank decides to head back to Poland in June 1757.

At that time, he approaches the Polish Church to request they organize a disputation between the Frankists and the formal Jewish community, claiming that ‘Sabbatianism’ is closer to original Judaism because they don’t hold by the Talmud (i.e. the Oral Law).

This is music to the bishops’ ears, especially as Frank and his followers are willing to claim that the Talmud encourages Jews to sacrifice xtians and to use their blood in matzahs, in order to spite the formal Jewish community that’s attacking them.

So, the infamous blood libels were actually begun by apostate Jews who were looking for a way to break rabbinic control over the Jewish community. It’s totally shocking, isn’t it?

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The confrontation happens on June 20, 1757 in Kaminetz, and amongst the 9 points being argued by Frank we find these:

#6 We believe that God may take upon Himself mortal human flesh… [this was phrased carefully as Frank believed that this applied to Shabtai Tzvi and then himself – but he made it sound at this stage as though he was talking about yoshki]

#7 In accord with Daniel’s prophecy, we believe the city of Jerusalem will not be rebuilt until the end of time.

#8 We believe that the Jews have waited in vain for the messiah to come and to bring them happiness and grant them power over other nations.

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Unsurprisingly, the catholic Bishop of Kaminetz, Dembowski, states the Frankists have won and decrees that the Talmud should be burnt.

It’s a pyrrhic victory for the Frankists, though, because Bishop Dembowski unexpectedly dies very soon after this. Xtian sources explain that a plague breaks out in Kaminetz, and the Bishop’s ghost is seen walking around by residents.

The xtians decide to dig the Bishop’s body up and behead it – their way of ‘killing’ his ghost – but it doesn’t work. The plague intensifies, and now the Bishop is seen walking around carrying his head under his arm. So now, the xtians dig his body up again, and burn it in the same place where the Talmud was burnt – and the plague and the ghost subsequently disappear.

Fancy that.

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With their main supporter dead, the Frankists are now in a very vulnerable position.

Up until now, they haven’t wanted to convert to xtianity, but they’ve burnt their boats with Judaism, and the Jewish community no longer considers them to be Jews.

At this point, Rabbi Emden and his supporters, chiefly a man named Baruch Yavan, decide the best way to deal with the Frankists is to bribe the catholic church to pressure them to convert out of Judaism. They expend a lot of money and effort on bribing the Papal Nuncio in the region to make this happen, and it pays off.

A second dispute is held in Lvov (Lemberg) on July 17-19, 1759, where amongst the 7 points being debated, the Frankists claim:

  • All the prophecies about Moshiach have already been fulfilled.

  • Moshiach is G-d, who took human form.

  • So all sacrifices and ceremonies should be abolished now.

  • Everyone should follow Moshiach’s teachings, for ‘salvation lies only within it’.

  • The Talmud encourages the Jews to perform human sacrifices and to shed xtian blood.

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Long story short, immediately after this dispute in Lvov, Frank and between 1,000-7,000 of his followers convert to xtianity, including the Rabbis of the polish towns of Busk and Gliniany.

To give just one example of the scale of what happened, two thirds of the Jewish community of Busk convert.

To put this in context, only 4 communities in Poland at this time had more than 3,000 Jews, and Lvov – with 7,400 Jews – was the second biggest Jewish community in the country.

This is a totally massive blow to the Jewish community.

Yet, Rabbi Emden and many of his circle, including the Vilna Gaon, celebrate this mass conversion as a ‘miracle from heaven’, as now they don’t have to deal with the Frankists in-house anymore.

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By contrast, the Baal Shem Tov takes this mass conversion very hard, and dies the following year.

According to Wikipedia:

“After the mass conversion of the Frankists, the Baal Shem Tov allegedly said that as long as a diseased limb is connected with the body, there is hope that it may be saved; but, once amputated, it is gone, and there is no hope.”

Writing in Likutey Moharan, I:207, Rebbe Nachman has this to say about it:

“This was what caused the departing of the Baal Shem Tov, who had said that he would depart on account of the Shabtai Tzvi episode. Several of the leaders of the generation and outstanding scholars had become followers of Shabtai Tzvi, who had fooled them, as well known.

“They left the community and spoke evil against the entirety of the Oral Torah (i.e. the Talmud) because harsh gevurot had come upon them and they did not ameliorate them…Thus, they spoke evil words against the community, and these words befell the leader of the generation, who at that time was the Baal Shem Tov, which is what caused his departing.

“And the Baal Shem Tov is quoted as saying that the Shabtai Tzvi episode caused two holes in his heart, which causes his departing. This is because speaking against the Oral Torah and speaking against the tzaddik of the generation is one and the same thing.”

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Let’s sum up the rest of Frank’s story as briefly as we can, as it’s actually not what I want to focus on.

Frank is imprisoned by the Catholic church in 1760 when they realise he’s still claiming to be the messiah to his own followers. In 1767, Frank approaches the Russians and offers to become Greek Orthodox, together with his thousands of followers.

(By way of context, the massacre of Jewish martyrs in Uman that caused Rebbe Nachman to request to be buried there happens in 1768. Given all the voluntary conversion to xtianity that was going all around them in the Jewish community, we can see that the Jewish martyrs behavior was even more exemplary than perhaps we realized.)

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When Russia conquers Poland in 1772, they free Frank, who goes to Moravia, which is part of the Hapsburg Empire.

There, he becomes a celebrity, and hobnobs with monarchs, all on the promise of being able to deliver up thousands of Jews for conversion. For example, just two months after Frank arrives there, another 8 families convert in Prozznitz – including the rabbi!

Frank also becomes involved with Freemasonry, and his followers are instrumental in trying to set up Freemason lodges called the ‘Order of Asiatic Brethren’ that will welcome both xtians and Jews. According to Jacob Calmonson, a leading maskil at this time,

“Jewish efforts to secure emancipation ran parallel with the history of their relations with freemasons.”

But the non-Jewish Freemasons complain, and after 1785, there is a massive clampdown on the number of Jews who can join Freemason lodges within the Hapsburg Empire. That’s when the Frankists branch out into the so-called ‘Illuminati’ Lodges.

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A year later, in 1786, Frank falls out with Emperor Joseph II and leaves for Frankfurt Am Main.

He meets Prince Wolfgang Ernst II, thanks to his Freemason connections, and the Prussian Monarch gives him a castle in Offenbach to live in, together with his children and followers.

At this stage, the Frankists and the Freemasons are both starting to be spoken of as a ‘State within a State’ and as types of international spy networks.

Frank dies in Offenbach, and his followers claim that Frank – who was meant to be ‘immortal’ – has now: “shed his human form, [to] clothe himself in divinity, so he could triumph over death.”

His children, particularly Eva Frank take over the franchise as a sort of female ‘messiah’, but don’t do nearly as well with it. Eva Frank dies in 1816, and apparently that’s where the story ends.

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Really, that story is still going.

It’s not a commonly-known fact in our times, but the main false accusations being hurled at the head of the nascent Breslov community in the Ukraine by their detractors was that they had Sabbatian sympathies.

There was so much ‘heat’ generated against Breslov that a rabbinically-sanctioned attempt was even made on the life of Rabbi Nachman’s main student, Rav Natan. Just the murder got the wrong ‘Rav Natan of Breslov’, and killed the wrong person[4].

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By the early 1800s, there were an estimated 24,000 former Jews – including large numbers of Rabbis – who had converted as part of the Frankist disaster in Poland alone.

And ‘secret Sabbatians’ still abounded, particularly in places like Czechoslavakia, Bohemia and Moravia, where they tended to keep up the pretense of Jewish observance and even extreme Jewish piety externally, whilst all the time believing and acting in ways that were totally against Judaism.

Even world-famous rabbis like Jonathan Eybeshutz were actually secret Sabbatians, and Rabbi Eybeshutz’ son, Wolf, actually became a well-known, totally immoral Sabbatian ‘prophet’ who for a time vied with Frank for leadership of the Sabbatians.

So, suspicion fell on Rabbenu and his small group of students, because while Rabbi Jacob Emden and the Vilna Gaon preached a creed of excommunication and excision from the Jewish community, Rebbe Nachman took a totally different tack to trying to solve the problem of the Frankists and crypto-Sabbatians, as we’re about to discover.

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Over Shabbat, I was pondering large sections of Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom and Tzaddik, when I realized that so many of Rebbe Nachman’s mysterious journeys were to places where key events in the Frankist history had taken place. Many decades after the disputation and Talmud burning in Kaminetz, Rebbe Nachman made a trip to the town, at the behest of the Baal Shem Tov, who he said came to him in a dream.

Jews had been banished from living in Kaminetz after 1757 after the disputation with the Frankists that lead to the burning of the Talmud and the devastating plage, but very shortly after Rabbenu’s trip there, the Jews were allowed back in.

Then in 1807, after Sukkot, Rebbe Nachman suddenly left for Lvov (Lemberg) in a big hurry – and no-one knew why. Rav Natan went running after him, and caught up with Rabbenu at Krassnoy. That was when Rabbenu first taught the lesson of Azamra I:282.

There, Rabbenu taught:

 “Know: one must judge every person favorably. Even if the person is totally wicked, one must search and find in him some bit of good, regarding which he is not wicked. By finding in him this bit of good and judging him favorably, one actually elevates him to the direction of righteousness and is able to bring him to repentance.”

In Tzaddik, Rav Natan explained that when Rebbe Nachman was giving over this lesson, “He seemed fairly pleased, and he spoke about the purpose of his journey, connecting it with the idea of the sanctuary each of the Tzaddikim builds” – as set out in Lesson I:282, where the Tzaddik can even draw the good in total sinners back to Hashem.

Once I understood what was going on all over that area at this time, so soon after Jacob Frank had lead the mass conversion of many thousands of ‘orthodox’ Jews into xtianity, I started to view these words in a totally different light.

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Rabbi Emden and the Vilna Gaon had one approach to the problem, where they basically (and arguably correctly!) termed the Frankists in their midst as unfixable Erev Rav, and attempted to cut them out of the Jewish community.

This is very much in keeping with the writings attributed to Hillel Rivlin of Shklov[5], student of the Vilna Gaon and author of Kol HaTor about the Erev Rav, vis:

“[T]he Erev Rav is our greatest enemy, the one who separates the two moshiachs. The klipah of the Erev Rav works only through deception and roundabout ways. Therefore, the war against the Erev Rav is the most difficult and bitterest of all. We must strengthen ourselves for this war, anyone who does not participate in the battle against the Erev Rav becomes, defacto, a partner with the klipah of the Erev Rav, and was better off not being born in the first place.”

But there’s one massive problem with this approach:

It doesn’t work.

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I write way more about this in my book Unlocking the Secret of the Erev Rav, and I discuss this problem a lot on my blog, too, but practically speaking, it’s impossible to really determine who is unfixable Erev Rav and who isn’t – especially when you’re dealing with pious hypocrites who keep up a façade of perfect frumkeit.

And if we look back at what happened after the Frankists were forced to convert out of Judaism, we’ll see that declaring an all-out war against them didn’t work then, either.

All that happened is that Judaism permanently lost many thousands of souls, whose children could have returned to the fold of orthodox Judaism at a later date.

Not only that, the Frankists and crypto-Sabbateans became more brazen after they were forced out of Judaism, and were spurred on to join forces with the Freemasons and to get involved in things that we are still paying the price for globally, today.

Once they were pushed beyond the pale, and totally ejected from the Jewish community, the Frankists pintele yid was effectively extinguished.

But the whole world still views them as Jews, and we Jews are being tarred with the same brush.

Even more ironically, so many of the descendants of the Vilna Gaon’s students – including the author of the Kol HaTor himself! – are today’s immoral politicians and elites in Israel. This is not a simple problem, not at all.

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As I read of events 250 years ago, I couldn’t help but be struck by the parallels today.

Today, there are still so many people flinging the ‘Erev Rav’ accusation at other Jews’ heads. There are still segments of Jewish society who are acting in some very immoral ways, both within the bounds and beyond the bounds of externally ‘orthodox’ Judaism.

In so many ways, it feels as though the same test has swung around again.

And this time, we have to try a different approach to solving the problem. It’s not going to work, to just cut off from our fellow Jew and pretend they are someone else’s problem. Each Jew is responsible for the other – and when we forget that, God has a way of reminding us.

The anti-Semites out there make no distinction between Jews in Jersey City, and Jews in Monsey, and Jews in the Conservative ‘Tree of Life’ in Pittsburgh.

We can’t cut off from all the troubling and even ‘evil’ elements in our midst, much as we might like to.

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So what’s the answer?

Azamra.

Azamra is the only way of fixing the ‘unfixable’ Erev Rav in our midst.

If we see the point of good in these people – without lying to ourselves or whitewashing their ‘bad’ – then God will do what’s required to resolve the problem, and somehow return that spark of goodness to a place of holiness.

From my own experience, when I do ‘Azamra’ on the yucky people out there, that’s precisely when their bad deeds start to catch up with them, and their suffering grows so great that they are prompted to make teshuva in some way, however small.

Rabbenu’s approach works, however you care to define that word.

And cutting people out of our lives and publically degrading them doesn’t. All that does is give more ammunition to the anti-Semites out there, who are churning out stuff 24/7 about the Rothschilds, and the Mossad, and the State of Israel being behind all of the world’s woes.

God is in control, here, not us.

God wants us to do Azamra on all the Jews we know.

If more of us can follow this approach, then the terrible scar left by Jacob Frank and his followers, and Shabtai Tzvi and his acolytes, will finally heal.

And the Temple will be rebuilt peacefully, in our days.

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FOOTNOTES:

[1] Today, there’s an estimated 100,000 donmeh living in Turkey.

[2] The Mixed Multitude: Jacob Frank and the Frankist Movement (1755-1816), by Pawel Maciejko.

[3] Ibid

[4] See Through Fire and Water.

[5] Hillel Rivlin is also an ancestor of the current President of Israel, Ruby Rivlin.

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Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

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This year, I want us all to come back together.

The last four days, I’ve been squiring my 11 year old niece – and her mum – around a whole bunch of different sites in Israel, in preparation for her upcoming batmitzvah.

We went to Kever Rochel; walked on top of the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem; plunged 40 metres below ground to visit a 2,000 year old mikva beneath the Kotel that still has water in it; did the ‘Journey to Jerusalem’; had a look at the amazing finds from the 1st Temple they unearthed in the Givati car park in the City of David; heard the story of how Nechemia rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in just 52 days; and ended up today in Shiloh, the place where the Mishkan came to rest for 369 years, and where Hannah’s prayer for a son become our blueprint for heartfelt prayer.

It’s been epic.

Every now and then, when I catch a glimpse of Israel, of Jerusalem, through other people’s eyes, it reminds me of the tremendous privilege I have, of living here.

And that’s what makes it all worthwhile, even tho honestly? Being apart from my brothers, my siblings, and their children and their lives, is sometimes so painful.

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I dropped my SIL and niece at Ben Gurion airport a few hours ago, and my niece asked me:

“Are you going to cry when we’re gone? Are you going to miss us?”

I’m a tough old boot, I reassured her. I’m not going to cry.

She looked at me.

“My daddy cried at the airport when we were going home after visiting Uncle A.,” she told me. “Daddy and Uncle A. are besties.”

Her daddy is my brother, and her Uncle A. is my other brother. I see her London-based daddy maybe once a year, if I’m lucky, and Uncle A. lives in the USA, and I’ve never actually met three of his four kids. I’ve seen him twice in the last 15 years in person.

I have another sister in the States, too, who I haven’t seen in six years, and haven’t met her kid. I have another brother in the UK who I also see on average once every three years. (Hey, there’s a silver lining to everything…)

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But this is the price of making aliya, of trying to give God what He wants, and of moving to Israel.

Sometimes, it’s pretty lonely. Sometimes, it’s pretty sad.

I lit my Chanuka candles with such a deep sigh this evening.

God, is it too much to ask for me to see more of my family? Should I just cut my losses, and try to focus on my two kids, who Bezrat Hashem will live in Israel with their husbands and children, and then I’ll finally get some extended family within 2,000 miles?

Honestly? Sometimes I get so petrified that my kids will end up moving out of Israel, God forbid, and then I’ll have this awful experience on both ends. I know I’m not in control, I know I can’t guilt my kids or pressure them to live their life in a way that suits me. But if they end up living out of Israel, I’d be heartbroken.

Because already, we’re all so scattered around.

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Every family simcha involves massive expense and many holiday days.

I have 3 bar / bat mitvahs next year, all in chutz l’aretz, and I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to pull it all off.

How I wish, with all my heart, that I could just get in the car, drive an hour or two, and meet up with a bruvs, and their family. Just pop in for an hour, a cup of tea, and then come home again.

It’s never going to happen.

This is one of the very painful parts of making aliya.

So, I lit my candles today in a somber mood, wondering if this might be the year that all the divisions, all the distance, all the separations that seem to be keeping me away from the people I like and love – in so many different ways – will finally be smashed into pieces.

That’s what geula is really about, isn’t it?

Us all coming back together, as one people with one heart in one country, and with the psychos doing a 180 degree turnaround to actually be part of the solution, instead of causing the problems….

That’s what I wish for this Chanuka.

That is my Chanuka prayer.

I hope God is listening.

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It’s not easy to give.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their own middot suck.

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

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

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

Well, let’s just say it’s unpleasant.

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

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

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

It’s only helping us.

And we all need all the help we can get.

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

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UPDATE, FRIDAY 20TH DECEMBER, 2019:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Kat Yukawa on Unsplash.

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Everything has a deeper reason.

Two years ago, the fake ‘Yeshiva World’ news site ran a shocking!!!! ‘expose’ into Rabbi Berland spinning a dreidel in the middle of the Maariv prayers.

Because Yeshiva World News is written by a bunch of morons who apparently don’t know a lot about the deeper reasons for many Jewish customs (and also apparently can’t spell), they believed that this was something ‘shocking’, that all their readers should know about, and be encouraged to condemn in the comments section!!!!

We already wrote HERE about how sites like Yeshiva World News are creating new anti-Semites with almost every headline they pen, and as the violent anti-semitism heats up in the US, it seems a good time for many Jews there – and elsewhere – to do some serious soul-searching about how attitudes and practices in the orthodox Jewish community may be greatly contributing to the problem.

Because nothing  is stam, a coincidence, or an accident.

Everything is from Hashem, everything contains a message, about what we might need to work on, acknowledge, recognise, change or fix.

God is so merciful, God is so compassionate. All He wants is for us to just be honest, and to admit that we’re really not acting the way we should be, and to have a little more humility, and to accept that we’re really not the ‘religious big shots’ we like to pretend we are.

That’s all He wants from us, some candor, and an admission that we are guilty of really not being very good Jews!!!

Because as soon as we admit that, we’ll understand that we can’t do this by ourselves, and we’ll start looking for that one in a generation, that Tzaddik, who is really going to help us get through this gilgul in one piece, get us to the promised land, and get us into the world-to-come.

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In the meantime, a couple of weeks ago the Rav gave over a very interesting lesson, which you can read HERE, where he explained some of the deeper mystical significance behind spinning the dreidel. He said:

The dreidel is linked to redemption

…”You redeemed the tribe of Your inheritance.” Rabbenu (Rebbe Nachman) says that the first letters of this [in Hebrew], Galta Shevet Nahalat Har (Tzion) are Gimel, Shin, Nun and Hei – the letters written on the four sides of the dreidel.

THIS IS NES GADOL HAYAH SHAM (A GREAT MIRACLE OCCURRED THERE).

But now, the Zionists changed it to a Pey.

(The Shin on the dreidel stands for sham – ‘there’, i.e. Eretz Yisrael.  Jewish communities in the diaspora still have driedels with the letter Shin, but when the secular Zionists created the State of Israel, they decreed that the ‘Shin’ should be switched to a Pey – which stand for po, here. I.e., that the great miracle happened here, in Eretz Yisrael.)

We must change it back to Shin, because great secrets are bound up with this!

This is related to the verse, “You have redeemed the tribe of Your inheritance, this mountain of Tzion You have dwelled within it.”

Because through [spinning] the dreidel, the Beit HaMikdash will be built.

Because when we spin the driedel, we spin the letters Gimmel, Shin, Nun and Hey around, and by way of this, Mount Tzion will be rebuilt – only by way of the driedel. We need to spin the dreidel every day, we need to be spinning the driedel every moment, every second.

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If I’ve learnt one thing about true tzaddikim, it’s that you should try to take whatever they say as seriously as possible. Literally, whole worlds depend on this. So then, I ran into a problem:

Where am I going to find a dreidel in Israel that has a Shin instead of a Peh?

It’s really not an easy thing, as of course every dreidel here has a peh, for po – here, the miracle happened here, in the Land of Israel.

Yesterday, an email landed in my inbox offering me a hand-carved dreidel from the Galilee with a ‘shin’ for just 22 shekels! Result!!!

So, I’m ordering mine today, and in the meantime, I thought I should put the details up here too, in case anyone out there would also like to fulfill the words of the Tzaddik HaDor, and spin their dreidel with a Shin, on Chanuka.

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Here’s the details:

Hand made wood every piece is unique.
Wood
22 shekalim
possible with a wooden plate to spin on
together 36 shekalim
2  dreidels and one plate for 74 AIYN DALET
TRUE TZADIKIM
050 3900777
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When more of us turn away from the fake news sites, and the fake blog sites, who really just confuse and mislead so very many people, and who obscure the truth by trying to push themselves forward, instead of humbly guiding people towards the sources of real Torah, real truth, in the world, Moshiach will come.
I’m not a betting woman, but I’m still willing to wager that Rabbi Berland knows far more about why spinning a dreidel is important that YWN. And so this Chanuka – for the first time ever! – I’m going to give it a shot.
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You might also like this article:
https://rivkalevy.com/the-birth-of-moshiach/

Over Shabbat, I dusted off some of my journals from the last few years, and I had a quick leaf through.

What struck me – almost instantly – is how much better my life has got since I found out about Rabbi Eliezer Berland, and took that leap of faith to pay that first pidyon over to him, when he was still in South Africa.

I wrote about that HERE, but long story short, by the time I’d got to Rav Berland and Shuvu Banim, I was totally exhausted and miserable from trying to live a life filled with what I’d like to call ‘ugly’ emuna.

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Ugly emuna works like this:

You deeply internalize that God is doing everything, that everything is for the best, and that there is no “suffering without sin”. You try to find the message in everything, and as your fear of being punished for sinning grows – because let’s face it, we’re all full of sins 24/7, even when we’re doing our very best to act and dress and speak appropriately – you live in fear of the bolt of lightning striking at any second, because no-one is perfect.

Then, you get caught up in what I call the ‘unwinnable game’.

This is where you know that ‘spiritual perfection’ requires that you never speak badly of anyone; and judge everyone favorably; and never lose your temper; that you should wear bullet-proof tights and only dark clothes; that you should spend hours reciting the shemoneh esrei, and only live in Jerusalem, and only ever say ‘thank you’ for everything that happens, however hard and horrible it feels, and only have emuna 24/7.

And you just can’t do it.

You try, you really try, but you just can’t do that, or at least not all the time, not consistently.

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And that’s when the emuna you’re trying to have can turn pretty ugly.

Because you’re sitting there, waiting for the lightning bolt to strike, because that’s what you’re being taught, that everything that’s going ‘wrong’ in your life is because you don’t have enough emuna, or because you’re not praying enough, or not ‘properly’, or because of all the terrible sins you’re doing….

And on some level, this is all true.

That’s why it’s so devastating.

And then, life gets pretty hard and miserable and horrible, because all these yucky things keep happening to you, and no-one is talking about tikkunim that you have to go through from previous lives, that just have to happen regardless of how much teshuva you make in this lifetime (more on this in a mo….)

And no-one is talking about things like ‘inherited stress’, where so many of your bad middot and deepest emotional issues have actually been passed down the chain from your grandparents, and great-grandparents, exactly as described in the Torah, in Ki Tetzae.

And no-one is explaining that only coming closer to the generation’s True Tzaddik, and doing pidyonot with the True Tzaddik, and following the True Tzaddik’s advice, and praying in the True Tzaddik’s minyan is the only way you can really get all that stuff ‘sweetened’ and cleaned up without having to go through a lot of terrible suffering.

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So then, even though your ‘authentic’ self occasionally just has an overwhelming need to do something ‘bad’, like listening to Sweet Child O Mine, or to watch some Superman clips on Youtube, or to dress like yourself, instead of ‘perfect Meah Shearim’, you don’t do that because you’re so worried about getting immediately punished by the lightning bolt.

There is no suffering without prior sin.

And let’s not even talk about the awful pressure you pile on your kids to be perfect!!!!

Because if they aren’t perfect, you live in fear of what terrible judgments they could bring down on their heads, God forbid – and on yours, too.

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And then, you start to hate every single moment of your life, because you can’t really live it as ‘you’, and instead you’re trying to maintain a façade of perfect, emuna-dik ‘perfection’.

When there is such a profound disconnect between who God created you to be, and who you’re pretending to be, that can effect your mental and physical health in a whole bunch of very negative ways.

In my case, I had at various times debilitating exhaustion, chronic and severe aches and pains in every part of my body, stomachaches, headaches, eye aches, skin issues – clearly, I’m not even telling you all the gory details. Suffice to say, trying to live that life of ugly emuna was making me miserable, ill – and also horribly judgmental and jealous of those people who weren’t stuck trying to win the unwinnable game.

In that way, ugly emuna was like growth serum for all of my worst bad middot.

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It made me callous and even pleased when other people hit a tough patch, because then I felt it wasn’t just me who was suffering so much. It made me jealous of all those people who weren’t dressing so tznius, or praying so much, and who still had nice homes, and nice incomes and bigger families and better health and much better prospects than me.

What’s going on here, Hashem???? Where’s the justice??? Why haven’t they been struck by a lightning bolt yet????

As this continued on, I got more and more miserable, judgmental, harshly critical, bitter and arrogant, until absolutely no-one wanted to hang out with me and even my siblings started avoiding my phone calls.

And honestly, who could blame them?

And then, the judgments start piling up thick and fast, because Hashem prizes peace between people so very highly, and He can’t stand it when you keep preaching your arrogant emuna screeds at everyone, and having so little compassion for their suffering, and judging everyone so very harshly, because clearly they deserve all their suffering!!!! Look at the way they dress!!!!

Sigh.

This is ugly emuna.

And man, it nearly totally ruined my life.

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I literally got to the stage, which lasted for about two years, where I actually didn’t want to be alive any more, if this is how I’d have to keep living.

Stuck in the unwinnable game, where apparently the only way I could keep Hashem happy was to become a ‘fake pious’ version of myself that was totally disconnected from the person that God really created me to be.

I’m a bridge between worlds, a connection between Rabbi Nachman and Axel Rose.

And for as long as I wasn’t doing that job in the world, and not being the real me God created me to be, I was miserable, physically ill, and so very lonely.

But what could I do???? If I left that path of ugly emuna, I was so very scared that the lightning bolt was going to immediately crash through the roof. That’s why I kept it going for so long. I was petrified of what was going to happen, if I quit.

Thank God a million times, Hashem had mercy on me.

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One day, my husband brought back a Knishta Chadar – a copy of the Shuvu Banim newsletter that contained a mixture of Rabbi Berland’s Torah, plus updates about his latest movements and miracle stories – and I was blown away.

Wow! There’s a tzaddik of this caliber in our generation?! I had no idea!!

I read 2, 3, 4 Knishta Chadars, and then I decided we should try to ask the Rav a question about what we needed to do, to get our lives out of ugly emuna mode, and into a healthier, happier place. The answer came back: my husband should start learning in Shuvu Banim.

So he did.

And we never looked back.

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The change was instantaneous.

All of a sudden, we started to hear shiurim about how sticking close to the True Tzaddik can sweeten all the terrible tikkunim a person is fated to go through because they were slaughtering their children to Moloch 3,000 years ago, and a huge weight rolled off of me.

The more me and my husband started to drink from Rav Berland’s wellsprings of Torah and emuna, the happier we started to feel again. The more I started to internalize that God really loves me – and everyone else – and that He’s constantly looking for ways to justify me, and to judge me favorably.

The more I started to understand that as long as I keep doing my hitbodedut, and keep working on my bad middot, and keep trying to see the good in other people, instead of judging myself and everyone so harshly, and pretending to be what I really was not, the better my life would become.

Within a few months, my health improved tremendously, I got my joie de vivre back, and my relationship with my kids – which had basically gone totally off a cliff when I was stuck in ugly emuna mode, which demanded unattainable perfection from them, too – made a 180 degree turnaround for the better.

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In a nutshell, I started to enjoy living my life again.

because now, I was living it as me, and trusting that the True Tzaddik was shielding me from the harsh judgments I’m still inevitably building up all the time, because I’m not perfect.

Sure, I have to still try to catch my bad deeds, and my bad actions, and to try to improve and take responsibility for them. But because the pressure is off and the awful, ugly emuna-induced fear has gone, I’m also finding that part of the process way easier, too.

Now that I’m so much happier myself, my jealousy has receded a million percent. Now that I’m doing a better job of judging myself with a good eye, I’m finding it way easier to judge other people favorably, too. And now that I’m enjoying my life again, I’m finding it so much easier to thank God – sincerely! – for so many of my blessings.

It’s not perfect, I’m not perfect. I’m a work in progress and still very flawed.

But learning that ‘4th rule of emuna’ changed everything around for me and my family, and turned the ugly emuna that was actually really just killing me, into something beautiful, and life-affirming and humbling.

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So what is the 4th rule of emuna?

I would sum it up like this. The 4th rule of emuna is:

That there is a True Tzaddik in the world that we need to discover, and to stick close to, if we want to be able to avoid the terrible suffering that we would otherwise have to go through, because of tikkunim from our past lives.

That means following his advice, attending his minyan, learning his teachings, and humbling ourselves to be part of his community and his sphere of influence.

True, sometimes that’s hard.

But ugly emuna thrives wherever there is arrogance, harsh judgment and hypocrisy, and all of those things wither pretty fast when you’re at Shuvu Banim.

You get kids running you over with strollers, people smacking you in the face (accidentally…) with their bags, you stand up for hours during the prayers because there are no chairs. And when you tell people who your Rav is, that doesn’t always go down so well. It can be very humbling, very challenging, in a few different ways.

And sometimes, there are other tests designed to take you down a peg or two, like buying a house you can’t get a mortgage on, or starting a business (or three…) that goes no-where.

But all of these things are temporary issues, temporary challenges, just to scrub more of your arrogance out of the system, and to shine a spotlight on more of the bad middot you still didn’t work on, and to help you to understand that there is no perfection. And that’s ok.

God already knows that about you.

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So, I read my notebooks today, and I was so very grateful that God had mercy on me, and let me get closer to Rabbi Berland, the True Tzaddik of the generation, so my ugly emuna could transform into something much more beautiful and life-affirming.

And that can happen for you, too.

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Photo by Jordan Whitfield on Unsplash

If there’s one thing you can learn from the Gemara, it’s how to discuss things like a mensch.

Let me start off by saying I know a volcano exploded in New Zealand with a lot of casualties a few days’ ago. Most people don’t know this, but the city of Auckland – New Zealand’s capital city – is built on a massive, active volcanic field.

That this hasn’t happened before is really just miraculous – and as we covered a while back in THIS post about the Grand Solar Minimum that started last year, the earthquakes and the volcanic explosions are due for a massive uptick all over the world in the next two decades – unless something ‘supernatural’ happens to sweeten them all.

I also know there was a terror attack in Jersey City, and that American anti-semitism also seems to be coming to a boil. At the end of this post, you’ll find a bunch of articles related to that topic, if you’d like to revisit them.

So, I’m not ignoring these things, just they aren’t my priority at the moment.

My priority is trying to figure out some more of the things that are keeping us all stuck, miserable and away from Hashem, because as soon as more of us break out of our inner galut, the outer galut – together with all its terrible issues and suffering – will get fixed, too.

Because the main – and actually only – thing keeping us in galut, and keeping all this suffering spinning around, is that we’re whitewashing and justifying our own bad middot, instead of trying to work on them.

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‘My rabbi is better than yours’

So, with that intro, I thought I’d take a look at what I’m going to call ‘my rabbi is better than your rabbi’ syndrome, which is basically more of that ‘partisan politics’ that’s poisoning the whole world, just it’s dressed up in pious clothing.

One of the reasons that I loved Breslov so much, when I finally stumbled across it, was because Breslov puts a big emphasis on respecting other Rebbes, and other orthodox Jewish paths, even when they don’t always agree with the Breslov shita.

After years of one-dimensional Torah from people who only ever seemed to quote the same small handful of sources, the same small group of commentators, the same small group of rabbis that they found ‘acceptable’, I got to Breslov, and it was like the whole panoply of the Torah was restored to the discussion.

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Breslov rabbis were as happy to quote the Vilna Gaon and Rav Shach as they were the Baal Shem Tov and Rebbe Nachman.

Whoever had a good piece of Torah to teach, a good lesson to share, that commentator would be quoted and referenced, regardless of whether they were Sephardi, Ashkenazi, Litvak, Chassid, pro-zionist, anti-zionist – it didn’t matter! This was so refreshing to me, not least because I’ve learned that any system of ideas, or approach that has to be ‘green-housed’ to survive is just not very robust.

If an idea or approach can only thrive if it’s surrounded by an unquestioning echo-chamber that’s stuffed full of sycophants and yes-men, that’s extremely problematic – and it’s also extremely un-Jewish.

Because the Jewish way is NOT just to accept things in an unquestioning way, especially not big ideas about what God really wants from us. The Jewish way is to argue all over these subjects, and to really ‘wrestle with the truth’, because only in that way will our own biases and blind-spots get some light shone onto them.

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God is way, way bigger than any human being can grasp.

God’s Torah is the blueprint for creation, it stands to reason that even the greatest of us is going to grasp only a part of what’s really going on.

That’s why there is such an emphasis put on Jewish unity, because it’s only once you’ve got the opinion of the 599,999 other Jews around the table that you’re going to be able to start even approaching the real truth, the real wisdom contained in the Torah.

The Sages in the Gemara recognized this, and that’s why you find so very many debates between the different rabbis who are discussing these profoundly deep ideas, and trying to tease out what the truth really might be.

The Talmud is literally full of thousands upon thousands of arguments.

And some of those discussions are really not politically correct at all. It is one rabbi explaining to another rabbi why they think they are wrong, and some of the wording is often quite harif.

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For example, I just opened up the tractate of Gemara that happened to by lying on my coffee table, and got to this discussion in Shabbat 89a:

“One of the rabbis asked Rav Kahana: Have you ever heard what the meaning is of the name Mount Sinai?”

Rav Kahana tries to answer the question a couple of times, but the Rabbi he’s talking to is not impressed with his responses, and tells him:

“He told [Rav Kahana]: Why did you not frequent Rav Pappa and Rav Huna the son of Rav Yehoshua, who delve into Aggadah? If you had, you would know the answer to my question!”

Gosh, how embarrassing for Rav Kahana, that he’s being publically exposed for not knowing everything in a forum that is going to be pored-over and learnt by millions of Jews over the next 2,000 years!

And he’s in good company, because also in Shabbat 89a, you find a whole discussion about Moshe Rabbenu – the biggest prophet the Jewish people ever had – who is also getting some mild censure from no-less than Hashem:

“The Holy One, Blessed is He, said to Moses: “Moses, are you a fibber? Of course I gave the Torah to you!”

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I’m bringing these sources from the Gemara to show that our Sages were never ‘above’ being questioned or challenged.

These arguments weave themselves throughout the whole Gemara, and lest you think that the only people who were allowed to challenge the Sages’ teachings were other Sages, the Gemara clearly shows that non-Jews –like the Sages of Athens, the daughter of Caesar – also argued with them, and were answered.

Even people from secular, criminal backgrounds, like Resh Lakish, the former robber-chief-turned-Gemara Sage were permitted and encouraged to challenge the teachings of their rabbis, in order to tease out the real truth.

It’s recorded in Bava Metzia 84 that Resh Lakish would challenge his teacher, Rabbi Yochanan, 24 times on every point he made, until the matter was properly clarified. That’s why Rabbi Yochanan was so upset when Resh Lakish died, because being challenged about what you’re teaching is how you really get to the truth.

And as the truth is the seal of Hashem, engaging in these arguments is also how we get closer to God, and closer to understanding what God really wants from us.

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Before we continue, let’s make a very important point:

While the Gemara totally encourages challenging the teachings of the Rabbis, it in no way encourages or condones personal insults, or approaching any of the Sages with anything less than total respect.

Sometimes, that can be a very fine line, and it has to be walked very carefully, and with a great deal of siyatta di shmeya. But, the Gemara makes it abundantly clear that you can respectfully disagree with a teaching, with a viewpoint, without that being a personal attack on the person whose view you are challenging.

Which brings me to the crux of this post.

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The last few days, my husband and I have been having a back and forth with someone who read my post ‘The Emuna Reboot’, and got highly offended but what they felt was ‘lashon hara’. I’ve tweaked the article to remove the thing that was ‘offending’ them, but the whole discussion kind of sharpened up for me that there were many things about that old-school ‘emuna approach’ that really don’t seem to be correct.

And just like the Sages of the Gemara took issue with each other’s teachings (‘l’havdil….), this whole ‘discussion’ has also made it obvious to me that debating and questioning ideas and teachings  about what ’emuna’ actually is, and how we truly acquire it, is actually the Jewish way.

It’s what God really wants from us.

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Sadly, we live in a period of time where flying monkeys are shaping the parameters of debate, and where any time you come close to discussing a Torah idea or teaching, they try to shut you down by loudly screeching lashon hara!!!!

But let me ask you this: If even a Tzaddik of the caliber of Moshe Rabbenu had to defend his teachings (so to speak) in the Talmud, why should any of the enormous tzaddikim of subsequent generations be exempt from having their teachings scrutinized and clarified?

This isn’t about partisan politics, or about ‘my rebbe is bigger than your rebbe’ – or at least, it shouldn’t be.

God forbid, we should utter a word of personal attack against any individual, let alone a Jewish leader, God forbid a million times over. But, to not be able to challenge a teaching?

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That’s what I’d like to see more of. Much less posturing, and much less arrogant MY chassidut / Jewish group / Rabbi / approach is the only one way of doing things!!!!

And much more hey, I don’t understand your approach, and X, Y and Z really doesn’t seem to be supported by Torah sources. Can we discuss this?

The last thing to say is that all this has made me so appreciate all the criticism, mud and insults that is being thrown at the Rav, and at Shuvu Banim, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Why?

Because at this stage, it’s very hard to be publically part of Shuvu Banim unless you are willing to do some serious work on acquiring emuna and humility, and dealing with people insulting you personally and challenging you harshly, every step of the way. I get dissed from my kids, I get challenged by my friends and neighbors, I get insulted on the internet – it’s all amazing stuff!

Because each time it happens, I have to take it back into hitbodedut and go through the process of peering into my blind spot, to find out where the truth lies. I’ve written about this before, but the truth is NEVER a 0-100% split.

Even the biggest psycho with the biggest vested interest always has something true that they’re sharing with you, that’s mixed up in all the lies and slanderous insults. One of my commentators wanted to know why I bother even reading insulting comments, or having these discussions with people.

The answer is, because they always teach me something about my own blind spot.

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God is using everyone to give us messages about what we ourselves need to work on, change and fix, and I’m certainly not a level where I can even begin to pretend that I’m perfect and have nothing left to work on or fix.

I’m not infallible. I’m a flawed human being.

And the point is, that neither should what we’re being taught by our rabbis be above question. Even the biggest Tzaddik will fall seven times, there is no such thing as a person who doesn’t sin, who doesn’t err, or make a mistake.

If that holds for Moshe Rabbenu, and Rav Kahana of the Gemara, it certainly holds for everyone else.

So, to all those people who keep trying to close down the discussion by flinging abusive insults all over the place, let me ask you something:

What are you so afraid of? What are you scared is going to happen, if we actually look at these teachings and ideas and debate them on their own merits? Why are you so bound up in your way, your rabbi, your rebbe, your chassidut, your yeshiva being ‘right’, that you keep stomping on any suggestion of exploring their teachings outside of the ‘echo chamber’?

It’s an interesting question, isn’t it?

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Photo by Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash

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Articles about anti-Semitism in the USA:

Rebbe Nachman’s advice really works.

I was feeling pretty low yesterday, as you could probably tell. I have another book that’s almost ready for the Rav, and each time I work on these books, I have a tremendous amount of obstacles, both internal and external to deal with.

So yesterday, I decided to go back to following Rebbe Nachman’s advice for how to deal with those ‘low spots’ in life, and I whacked this song on my CD (yes, I still have a CD! Stonehenge!) – and I danced to it three times in a row. By the end of that, I started to feel so much better.

But Rabbenu wasn’t done cleaning me up yet!

The Rav, Rabbi Berland, says again and again and again that the single best way to get all of your sins cleaned up, and to get yourself out of the way of the harsh judgments that manifest as sadness and depression, amongst other things, is to be on the receiving end of some harsh humiliation and bizyonot.

Yesterday, God arranged for me to get no less than three magnificently harsh, critical emails, one after another!

Baruch Hashem.

One was telling me that my books don’t count as ‘real’ books – like a siddur or a chumash – and that’s why no-one is buying them, and that also I’ve built up massive sins by linking to a video of a woman talking about all the awful stuff they put into vaccines.

Another was telling me I’m a depressed heretic with zero real emuna, who just doesn’t know how to ‘do’ emuna right, and that the real problem is that I’m basically an apikorus, because I can’t just say ‘thank you’, robotically, 50,000 times a day, when I’m going through a tough patch.

Oh, and that I also apparently don’t know how to read English, or do hitbodedut right, either.

This stuff was worth it’s weight in gold!!!

Even though the last yucky email was delivered past midnight, and actually kept me awake most of the night chewing over it in the hitbodedut that I don’t know how to do properly…

I have to tell you, I’m feeling way more upbeat today.

This is experiencing emuna  – taking Rebbe Nachman’s advice, and actually applying it to real life. And it beats the heck out of pontificating at other people about how to do it right, in theory.

BH, once I have the Rav’s book completed, I will have a lot more to share with you on that front. And in the meantime – let’s dance!

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The last few days, I’ve been struggling.

There’s a lot of things going on, and I’ve been trying to ‘unpick’ why I’m having a lot of low-level yeoush, or apathy and despair, dafka now, when I have so many projects on the boil.

Part of it is the sense that nothing I do really gets anywhere. I get up, I wash clothes that end up either on the floor or back in the laundry within 2 days; I wash dishes that get dirty again; I make food that gets eaten so fast; I write blog posts that go in one eyeball and out the other; I write books that no-one buys.

And then I start to wonder: why am I doing all this? What’s the point?

In my hitbodedut, I get an answer:

This is life. What’s the alternative? If you don’t wash up, and you don’t cook, and you don’t write blog posts, and you don’t keep writing books, what else are you going to do with yourself? How would your life actually look?

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In the past, I would attribute this yeoush to the fact that I really don’t make any money, doing all the things I do, but now I know that’s a red-herring.

Sometimes, when you’re making money doing things that weary your soul and seem totally and utterly pointless, that can feel even worse.

I guess it’s just the ruach, the spiritual vibe of the planet at the moment. Even my kids have it – they are finding it really hard to know what’s the point? And I can’t really help them out of the difficulty, because I’m sharing it.

I’m trying to figure out what’s going on, how I can lift out of this and really just be grateful for all the tremendous kindnesses and goodnesses that God is continually doing for me. Part of the problem, for sure, is that it feels like the goalposts for geula keep being moved, and I just can’t keep the pace up for another 200 years.

It’s hard to get motivated to keep going, when there is no end in sight.

And right now, it feels like there is no end in sight.

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On Shabbat, I flipped open Likutey Moharan, and I got to Lesson 2:78, which is talking about how sometimes, we have to serve Hashem from a place of total simplicity, where we don’t reveal any Torah and we just engage in idle chatter.

Rabbenu explains there that it’s:

“[A]bsolutely impossible to be involved in Torah study and spiritual perceptions without a break. One must inevitably stop for a while, and during that time when one is not studying the Torah, then this Torah scholar, or spiritually perceptive person is literally in the category of a rustic.”

It’s a long lesson, but I’m picking out the parts that spoke to me. Later on, Rabbenu continues:

“In sum, one should never despair! Even a simple person who is totally unable to study Torah, or is in a place where he can’t study. Nevertheless, even when one is in a state of simplicity, one must persist in the fear of God and simple service, according to one’s capability….The main thing is to encourage oneself in any way possible. [The Rebbe interjected at this point: “For there is no such thing as a lost cause!…]”

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If it was anyone other than Rebbe Nachman saying this, I’d really struggle to believe it.

The last few weeks, I’ve been up to my eyeballs in the behind-the-scenes yuck going on in the Jewish community, past and present, here and abroad, both in the ‘religious’ and anti-religious world, and it’s been extremely demoralizing.

A few years ago, I read another passage in Likutey Moharan where Rabbenu talks about how sometimes, you have to throw yourself into the mud and filth of ‘battle’, to fight for God and for what’s right. The last few weeks, I’ve been swimming through reams and reams of spiritual ‘sewage’, and it’s been very hard to deal with.

In hitbodedut yesterday, I was telling God how I don’t mind cleaning out the odd spiritual ‘toilet’, but I’d like to be given a different job to do, at this point. Because all that yucky stuff sticks to the soul, however hard you try to scrub it off with prayer and emuna.

Let someone else do this now, God! Let someone else take over! I need a break! I need a holiday!

But…. I already know that there is no-one else. Who else would be dumb enough, to do this?

And then, there is what is going on with the Rav again, which I’m also finding pretty demoralizing.

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We’re in the middle of trying to get One in a Generation II translated into Hebrew, and published.

Last week, I called up my contact in Shuvu Banim to see how the fact-checking is going, and I got told the stunning piece of information that it’s all on hold, because five of the Rav’s gabbays got arrested by the Israeli Police last week.

I thought he was maybe joking, but after looking at the usual fake news sites including Jpost, Times of Israel, Ynet, and the worst of the lot, the Yeshiva World News, I was stunned to see it was no joke.

That crazy woman’s obviously crazy complaint is all the pretext the police here needed, to start up the whole slander-to-incarceration miscarriage of justice machine again. They are trying to put Rav Berland away for 10 years (!) for the ‘crime’ of letting people donate money to him.

And I don’t even know if I have any more strength left to protest the madness that’s going on.

What’s the point? Doesn’t it seem like the bad has won, and will just keep winning, no matter what we do?

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That’s where I was holding on Shabbat, when I was flipping through Likutey Moharan, trying to get some answers and some balm for my soul.

Usually, I just read the English translation, but there was a word I wanted to pin down properly in Lesson 2:78, so I switched to the Hebrew – and lo and behold, I found this extra few paragraphs, that had somehow been left out of the English version.

I took it as a little ‘message’ from Rabbenu, about what’s going on right now, and here’s what it said:

We need to beg Hashem a great deal to have the merit of drawing close to the True Tzaddik, because praiseworthy is the person who merits to draw close to the True Tzaddik during his lifetime.

Fortunate is he, and fortunate is his lot in life!

[For afterwards, it’s extremely difficult to draw close, and we need to multiply our prayers and supplications greatly, that we should merit in his lifetime to draw close to the True Tzaddik.]

For the baal davar (aka the satan) is making every single effort, now, to confuse the world, because Israel is now very close to the keitz (the end), and Israel now has a very great yearning and great desire for Hashem yitbarach, in a way which wasn’t seen in former times.

Every person is wistfully awaiting Hashem yitbarach.

And so, the baal davar is awakening himself over this, and is creating machloket between the Tzaddikim, and is putting a great many famous purveyors of lies into the world. And also, he’s making a big machloket between the True Tzaddikim, to the point that not a single person knows where the truth lies.

And so, we need to beg Hashem yitbarach a lot, for the merit of drawing close to the True Tzaddik.

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Ad kan, from Rabbenu.

Reading this revived me, at least a little. To know that this awfully confusing, depressing situation we’re currently going through was foreseen and written about over 200 years ago is encouraging.

Rabbenu warned us, that there would be a flood heresy and ‘evil’, the likes of which has never been seen in the world before, and that it would be very hard for us all to hang on to God and His true tzaddikim, as a result.

But hang on we must.

Because what’s the alternative?

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

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

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

Where did that approach get me?

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

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

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

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

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

I’m pondering that a lot at the moment.

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

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

Honestly.

So much effort, for so little anything much.

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

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

And for two weeks, I didn’t know why.

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

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

I totally loved interacting with those women.

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

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

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

And that’s when it hit me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I was so stoked yesterday, to teach those classes.

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

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

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

I’m retiring from that field.

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

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

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

I have to say, I’m pretty excited.

TBC

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Photo by Ian Parker on Unsplash

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It’s not all black and white after all, even in Lakewood.

Crazy times we live in, aren’t they?

I’m working so hard at the moment, trying to get my beta course on stress reduction for women up and running, and it’s so good to be trying to do something positive and uplifting, even tho it’s a lot of hard work.

I keep telling my husband: it’s good that this is our problem! It’s good that this is our stress! Long may it continue!

In the meantime, one of my readers just sent me the following letter, signed by a bunch of rabbis in Lakewood.

Personally, I’m very pleased to see some moral leadership on this subject in the American Jewish world, which is still arguing for the inviolability of free choice – even when it comes to vaccinations.

It’s a small light, in a very dark place, still.

But it’s a start.

And every dawn breaks gently.