In Breslov, we take a look at some of the core Breslov beliefs, explore some Rebbe Nachman books, and some Rebbe Nachman quotes, meet some of the leading Breslov Rabbis of modern times, including Rabbi Eliezer Berland, and look at:

  • Breslov hasidim
  • Breslov Torah
  • Breslov Books
  • Azamra Breslov
  • Breslov customs
  • Everything Breslov
  • Breslov Rabbi Eliezer Berland
  • Breslov hitbodedut
  • Breslov communities in Israel
  • Breslov Jew
  • Breslov Jerusalem
  • Breslov Leaders
  • Breslov Learning
  • Breslov Lectures
  • Breslov Meditation
  • Breslov Mea Shearim
  • Breslov News
  • Breslov Nachman
  • Breslev Noahide
  • Breslov Quotes
  • Breslov Stories
  • Breslov Teachings
  • Breslov Therapy
  • Breslov Zionism
Drone view of a city

A little while back, another email popped into my inbox, from someone who had been so traumatized and ‘burnt’ by their experiences with a false rabbi, that they’d decided to leave Yiddishkeit.

Ever since I wrote the ‘how to spot a false rabbi’ post for Rav Arush’s site, I’ve been getting emails like that, from other people who have been so betrayed and hurt by the ‘religious’ leaders they trusted that it’s plunged them into a huge crisis of faith.

Some of them manage to swim to the other side, and to pick up the pieces of their life within a Jewish orthodox framework again. But some, don’t.

Also a little while back, someone else told me about some really bad advice they’d got from another ‘religious’ influencer, this time an orthodox woman who’s pretty famous on the rent-a-rabbanit circuit.

For reasons of privacy, I won’t share all the juicy details, but let’s just say that the advice was SO bad it was almost fantastically unbelievable that someone could give it over with a straight face.

Now, I’m a big believer in people being able to think for themselves, and to decide for themselves and being able to develop their intuition and self-knowledge to a place where they can actually really trust themselves.

The key, if not the only way, to doing this is by regularly talking to God for an hour a day, aka the practice of hitbodedut, or personal prayer.

When you take that time to reflect on past events, how you reacted, how you felt, what you said, what you thought, what’s bothering you now – PLUS  you’re actually including God in the whole process, and asking Him to show you your own biases and blind spots and issues – then sooner or later, God will start showing you the right thing to do; God will start giving you some amazing advice, and God will clear away all the doubts and confusion that we’re all so filled with today, to shine a light on the correct path to follow.

So when I got the phone call from my confused and panicked colleague – who’d been bowled over by the breath-takingly bad advice they’d been given and had no idea what to do next – the first thing I asked them is:

What do YOU think about it?

Once they’d got over the shock of being allowed their own opinion, they could very quickly see for themselves that the advice they’d been given was 100% a crock, and that the person handing out the advice from that place of apparent wisdom and superiority was actually a complete phony.

Dear reader, Rebbe Nachman warned us that in the time before Moshiach, false leaders preaching falsehood would abound.

It takes a lot of self-work, and hitbodedut to be able to figure out who these false leaders actually are, especially as so many of them are wildly popular on the rent-a-rabbi-or-rebbetzin circuit, and public success brings its own patina of respectability and credibility along with it.

But here too, Rebbe Nachman gave us a clue as to how to proceed. In his Book of Traits (Sefer HaMiddot) Rabbenu tells us the following:

If you do not become attached to known liars, you will merit discerning who hypocrites are.

My perush on this: The more we strive after truth, and particularly, the truth about what we ourselves need to work on and fix, and the truth about how flawed we actually are, the easier it’ll be to spot the fakers in our midst, and to call a spade a spade.

Perush 2: It’s hard to think of a group of people that would be more worthy of the epithet ‘known liars’ than our modern media.

Ergo, stay away from your news feed and you’ll also start to figure out who the problematic people are, in our midst.

Rebbe Nachman also tells us:

There are those who are great apostates and heretics, but they do not reveal their heresy and people are not aware of the need to guard themselves from them. However, through conducting oneself modestly, one is saved from these heretics.

My perush: Modesty isn’t just about dressing in long skirts and covering our hair. There’s an inner dimension to modesty, which is where we try to avoid honor and publicity and ‘notoriety’ – which is the polar opposite from how the heretics act, even the externally very pious ones.

They’re all out there trying to make a name for themselves, and trying to influence the masses, and trying to be the ‘A’-list speakers and top advice givers in the country.

(To my shame, I think I’ve also been a little too caught up in this mindset in regards to trying to sell my books, and I’m seriously considering scaling everything back at the moment, and just letting God do as He sees fit.)

When we’re trying to be modest like that, then the crass people who are self-promoting (only for outreach purposes, natch); and having their faces plastered all over the place (only for the sake of Heaven, natch); and charging premium prices for people to attend their classes (only for the sake of Bank Mizrachi, natch) – those people and us, well, we just won’t mix.

We won’t like them, and they won’t like us, and via this mechanism, we’ll be saved from the false leaders, heretics and purveyors of bad advice with a first-class hechsher.

It’s such an upside-down world at the moment.

The people on the top are, for the most part, really big scumbags. The people on the bottom are, for the most part, the most decent, salt-of-the-earth people you could hope to find. (There’s always exceptions, of course, just to maintain free will and make it really hard to figure out what’s actually going on.)

But you know why that is, don’t you?

Because when Moshiach comes, the whole world is going to flip. God is going to rip the masks off all the false leaders out there, and He’s going to show us what’s really going on behind closed doors in a million different ways.

If you’ve been working on figuring out the truth for yourself, it will all come as a welcome relief to finally have everything so clearly laid out on the table. But if not? Let’s just say they’ll be working overtime in the cardiac arrest unit.

So, what did I read in Likutey Moharan, that helped me to start to get more of a correct Jewish perspective on the whole meditation thing?

I opened up randomly to Part I:78, and this is what I read:

 “Where do Jewish souls come from? – From the world of speech…

Jewish souls come from the world of speech…

Now, speech is an aspect of Malchut / Kingship, as Elijah said: ‘Malchut is the mouth.’ It is also an aspect of the Divine presence, which always dwells with [us], without a moment’s interruption….

When one unifies speech with God… then, “God’s glory will be revealed,”… the radiance of His presence, which is an aspect of the Malchut, is revealed and enhanced.”

 

WHAT THIS MEANS, TACHLIS:

Jews can’t just spend hours in silent meditation or mindfulness. We need to SPEAK (i.e., talk to God, confess what’s going on in our lives, what we’re struggling with, what help you need.) Just meditating on a leaf for 13 hours is NOT the path of a Jewish soul.

I already started to feel better, as I could see that there was at least one reason why the whole ‘silent meditation’ thing really isn’t the Jewish way. Jews believe in the power of prayer; we know that God spoke the world into creation, and that speech is what differentiates us from the animals.

I think Jews are the only people who teach that evil speech, gossip, mockery and slander can do even more damage than physical violence or abuse. That’s because we know the spiritual power of speech – and we now that an hour spent TALKING / PRAYING to God can achieve some amazing things.

And what’s more, Rav Arush teaches that speaking to God is the single best measure of how much you really believe in Him.

If you talk to God – it’s a sign you believe in Him. If you don’t – the opposite.

But there was more.

In the same lesson (I:78), Rebbe Nachman also teaches:

 

“One lives only by breathing. But what is the breath? One exhales and inhales ruach (air)…When a person is bonded to the holy Malchut, speaking Torah or prayer, one exhales and inhales the spirit of holiness (ruach hakodesh)…

When one studies Torah…then the ‘spirit of God’, which is ruach hakodesh, ‘hovers’ above a person and one draws the spirit of life from it.

This is because without Torah, one cannot live….

Therefore, ‘The wicked are considered dead even while alive’ (Brakhot 18b), for since the cord of holiness has been cut, from where can he draw life? Rather, he draws a spirit of foolishness [evil].”

 

(As an aside, it never ceases to amaze me how I always get directed to just the right lesson in Likutey Moharan. Definitely try this for yourself at home, if you haven’t already.)

WHAT THIS MEANS, TACHLIS:

There is nothing ‘neutral’ in the world. If a Jew is doing ‘breathwork’ and focusing on their breathing etc – but failing to bind themselves to Torah, and failing to attach their breathing to God, then they are effectively attaching themselves to the opposite force in the world, i.e., the forces of evil, and the yetzer hara.

No wonder I was feeling so uncomfortable!

God has to be in the whole process right from the beginning, because otherwise every breath we’re taking is just attaching us more and more to the side of darkness and ‘no-God’, God forbid.

But there was still more.

In Lesson I:79, Rebbe Nachman says the following:

 

“The rule is that each individual must see to it that he is not an obstacle to the coming of the Messiah. In other words, one must repent fully and rectify one’s actions.”

 

WHAT THIS MEANS, TACHLIS:

Any practice we’re engaged in, however ‘spiritual’ it may be, that doesn’t encourage us and enable us to identify the things we’re doing wrong, identify our negative emotions, bad middot and unhealthy habits, beliefs and behaviors, and to fix them, is SLOWING UP THE REDEMPTION OF THE WHOLE WORLD.

So for example, meditation/ mindfulness that’s devoid of any self-introspection and / or teshuva is at best a waste of time.

By contrast, truly Jewish meditation and mindfulness (i.e., hitbodedut or talking to God) accomplishes the following spiritual outcomes:

1) It’s SPEECH (i.e. verbalised prayer) not thought, which rectifies the root of the Jewish soul, which comes from the world of speech. (This is also connected to the idea of why Jews need to say their blessings out loud).

2) It binds us to God with every breath (ruach haKodesh), as opposed to binding us to the opposite of God with every breath, God-forbid.

3) It encourages us to work on our middot – and working on our middot is the ONLY way Moshiach is going to come.

 

As always, there’s so much more to say about this. But let’s end with this idea:

If you have an hour, or half an hour, or even five minutes to spend on some form of spiritual practise, then hitbodedut, or talking to God unquestionably gives you the best bang for your buck.

Yes, it’s nice to be a raindrop, or to listen to birds chirping, but when you’re an active partner with Hashem, working on rectifying the world and your part in it, nothing else comes close.

Rebbe Nachman was right again. And not for the first time, I’ve learned a very big lesson about searching for ‘truth’ anywhere outside Yiddishkeit. It may look like a duck, and quack like a duck and walk like a duck, but really – it’s still just a kosher pig.

Now that all the hooha about yoja has dimmed down a little, I think it’s time to look at another disturbing ‘pseudo-spiritual’ practice.

In the alternative health world, there are three main sacred cows, as follows:

  • Yoga
  • Healthy food
  • Meditation

The basic idea is that if you do all three of these things, your life will be perfect, your will float through all your troubles like a serene fairy, and you will only enjoy complete health and happiness.

Of the three, healthy food is by far the least troubling, although it’s true that everything can be taken to an extreme when God somehow gets forgotten about.

And we’ve already gone a long way to exposing the flawed thinking (and bona fide idol worship) behind yoga – and God willing, I hope to put together a special report on why yoga is NOT for believing Jews very soon, that you can download and share around.

So that leaves us with meditation.

Now, what could possibly be wrong with meditation, you ask? Isn’t meditation just the same sort of idea as the Breslev practice of hitbodedut, or personal prayer? The short answer is: no, no, and absolutely not.

Here’s why: the goal of meditation, even so-called ‘Jewish’ meditation, is to empty your mind of all thoughts, and concentrate on your breathing, and on experiencing your ‘nothingness’. God is completely out of the picture. (More on this shortly.)

At the holistic health event, I actually went to a couple of what was billed as ‘Jewish’ meditation classes, to get a feel for what really goes on with it all, and how it compares to hitbodedut.

In one class, that had bells, and Tibetan glass bowls, and few other props (plus very strict instructions to turn all mobile phones completely off) – I spent a whole hour being told I was a drop merged in the huge Kinneret, separate but part of something much bigger. There was also a lot of talk of being merged in the ‘velvet blackness’ that exists somewhere beyond the world. Just as I started to get really uncomfortable, Hashem finally made an appearance – we were to imagine the four letters of God’s ineffable name, etc.

At the end of that class, I went over to the teacher and asked him straight out:

How does this sort of meditation help you to fix your bad middot, or negative character traits? I mean, really cool that I got to relax a little and be a raindrop in the Kinneret, but if that’s all I spent a whole hour doing every day, then what on earth was the point?

I asked the teacher (who in fairness, did seem a whole lot more sincere than a lot of the other people there) to tell me how this type of meditation had helped him to become a nicer person, or get closer to God – because when people can only tell you those types of things if they’ve actually experienced them.

He replied by telling me that I should picture Hashem’s ineffable four letter name, and picture it washing away all my bad middot. It sounds good in theory, but in practice it’s baloney. In order for us to change our negative character traits and really improve ourselves, we have to change how we treat people in the real world. We have to apologise. We have to acknowledge our bad behavior. Sometimes, we have to make some difficult choices that are going to completely shake up our lives, make us look bad, or cause us some serious discomfort.

All of that was missing in the whole ‘raindrop’ meditation thing.

I will come on to other problems with it in the next post, but I just wanted to mention the other ‘Jewish meditation’ I went to. This one was taught by a very nice, sincere rabbi who’d spent years studying the teachings of Rav Aryeh Kaplan.

Again, we had to focus on our breathing, or on the birds, and not think about anything else. Then, we had to walk around the room super-slowly, and concentrate on how our feet were lifting up and being set back down again, super-slowly.

While this was miles better than the other version, not least because the Rabbi actually talked directly about God, and about connecting to God, and even had a ‘Shema meditation’ to share with us, I still had a problem with it:

How does focusing on my breathing, or the birds, or my walking, help me to fix my bad middot? How does it help me to get the advice I need to move forward in life, or to figure out all the knotty issues and problems in my life, or to be nicer to my husband and kids?

I asked the Rabbi, and he responded along the lines that when you realize that God is behind everything, then you can’t get angry at people any more.

Again, it’s a miles-better approach than the first guy, but practically speaking? I still don’t think it’s a very practical idea. I’ve spent years working on my bad middot, and things are really not that straight-forward, easy or simple.

By contrast, Rav Arush teaches that you have to spend a full half an hour every single day, asking God to nullify a single bad character trait, or negative habit – and even then, it can still take years before it’s fully gone, particularly if it’s one of your ‘big’ issues. There’s layers and layers and layers to this stuff, which is why our Rabbis taught that it’s easier to learn the whole Shas then to change even one character trait.

And here, I was being told that listening to birds and watching myself walk slowly was going to do the trick….

Who was right?

Was I just being judgmental, or was there some other, deeper, reason for how uneasy and uncomfortable I was feeling about the whole subject? I came home, cracked open Rebbe Nachman’s Likutey Moharan – and the answer was staring me straight in the face. I’ll share it with you in the next post, God willing.

One of my favorite Rebbe Nachman stories is ‘The Master of Prayer’, which tells the story of a King and his 9 advisors, and how they all get lost and separated from each other as a result of a raging storm-wind.

In the story, each of the 10 lost members of the King’s court becomes the King (or Queen) of a different, misguided faction, until they are reunited. One misguided faction decides that sex is the main point of life; another, that fine food is the goal; yet another, that wisdom is the key thing to pursue.

And then there’s the inhabitants of the Land of Money, who are so obsessed with money that they literally worship the wealthiest members of their land as ‘stars’ and ‘gods’, while treating the poorer inhabitants as lowly animals. In the Land of Money, how much bling you’re flashing around, how many zeros you have in the bank, that’s the only thing that counts, and that’s the only measure of success.

Most of the story revolves around the Master of Prayer’s attempts to rescue the inhabitants of the Land of Money from their delusions, and to reunite the King’s lost advisors – both of which he ultimately accomplishes.

In the story, Rebbe Nachman explains that the lust for money is the hardest one to overcome.

Elsewhere, he brings that Pesach is the festival that comes to rectify the lust for money. Which is where things now start to dove-tail in a pretty neat way, because we all know that Pesach is always just SO expensive.

Even if you live in Israel, and you’re not going crazy trying to find Kosher for Passover plasticware in triple-sealed bags, Pesach still costs money. The matzahs aren’t cheap; the wine isn’t cheap; you need a seder plate, different pots, different plates – it’s all money. And never mind if you’re staying in a hotel in Israel for the holiday. And never mind double if you’re trying to celebrate it in Chut L’Aretz.

Why is this?

One reason could well be that all the expense of Pesach is coming to rectify the lust for wealth, that has so many people in its grip these days.

So it was fitting that I learned the following things last week: I learned that someone who owns a company with a huge £25 million annual turnover (and £6 million gross annual profit) gives an enormous £1,000 to charity a year. (Let me translate this into shekels, for any non-Brits reading this: £6 million = 36 million shekels. £1k = 6,000 shekels)

To put it another way, they’re giving 1/6000 of their annual income to charity.

Can you imagine the embarrassment of these people, when they get up to Heaven and God starts asking them about their business dealings (which is always the first question, as God also knows how to schmooze)? First, it’ll be that puffed-up, super-successful ‘I’m a billionaire’ answer; then, God will hit them with the ‘and how much did you give to charity, from all your millions of pounds?’

And that’s when it’ll hit them: nowhere near enough.

What an embarrassment!

This week, I also met a bunch of people from the UK, some of whom asked me the standard opening gambit question of:

‘Am I working now?’

I said no – proudly – and explained that I’m writing books about holistic health instead.

They immediately changed the subject to something more interesting and meaningful, i.e. the luxury flat they’re currently building, as home number three.

I waited to see if I was going to get that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that used to happen when I’d walk into some of the ‘superior’ and ‘financially successful’ minefields laid out all over the place in London. But you know what? It didn’t come! After waiting a few minutes for any delayed reaction, I realized that I’d finally got out of the Land of Money, and that I didn’t give a stuff that I’d failed the finances test.

I’ve seen so many people with so much more money than me, in so many different circumstances and places, this Pesach.

I used to feel a little jealous about the apparent ‘easy life’ they seemed to have, but now I’ve realized something profound that’s changed the whole picture: When you live in the Land of Money, you’re far away from God.

Until and unless that changes, it doesn’t matter how much cash you’ve stashed, how big your mansion is, or how impressive your annual turnover is, when it comes down to the things that really make life meaningful, happy and fulfilling, you’re still pulling a big, fat ZERO.

One of my favorite Rebbe Nachman stories is ‘The Master of Prayer’, which tells the story of how a great storm wind comes and throws the world into chaos, scattering the King’s ten advisors in the process.

The Master of Prayer is one of these advisors, and he takes it upon himself to go round the world reuniting the King with the other advisors, and rectifying all the countries who are now following ‘foolish’ beliefs about the meaning of life, as a result of the terrible storm they went through.

One group believes that the purpose of life is to eat; another that’s it to procreate; another chooses wisdom; another picks honor etc etc, but the most problematic land of all is the Land of Money.

You see, in all the other lands, there’s at least a moment, a second, when they’re satiated with their particular lust or desire, which gives the Master of Prayer an opportunity to come and talk to them about serving God, and the real meaning of life. But in the land of money, that simply never happens: they think about money ALL THE TIME, and it colors their every thought and every waking moment.

Worse, the people of the Land of Money literally kill themselves for money; and they also turn their richest citizens into ‘stars’ and ‘gods’ (Rebbe Nachman’s language…) who they worship incessantly.

By contrast, people without a lot of money are considered to be sub-human animals, and given no respect, rights or accorded even basic human dignity. As a result, the Master of Prayer is finding it next to impossible to rectify the inhabitants of the Land of Money, and to bring them back to God.

By this point, you may well be squirming a little in your seat, because guess what?

 In 2016, nearly all of us are living in the Land of Money!

And here’s how it’s affecting us:

  • It’s killing our marriages – because either or both parents are obsessed with parnassa, and never seem to be making enough to pay for all the ‘necessities’ of modern life, even when they both work full-time and bring home a packet. Then, all the blame and mutual recriminations start, which can poison relationships to their core very quickly.
  • It’s killing our kids – especially if the mum has a full-on ‘career’ that requires an awful lot of attention and time. The kids take a back seat to the boss, or the business, and they get ‘scheduled’ to death to enable mom to keep to her timetable. If their personal crises happens in a ‘scheduled’ moment – all well and good. When they don’t – it’s a huge problem for everyone, and the kid doesn’t always come first.
  • It’s killing our happiness – because people in the Land of Money never have enough, and they’re always worrying that they’ll be demoted to ‘animal’ status if they don’t keep earning a fortune (even when they have millions already in the bank…) To keep your humanity and dignity intact, remember this: money serves us, not the other way around. If I’m scared to spend money, it’s because I’m making that dollar bill more important than my own happiness and wellbeing.
  • It’s killing our souls – because when you’re thinking about money 24/7, you simply don’t have time to think about things like praying, or taking a time out to reflect on life, or to appreciate that GOD is giving us our parnassa, and we’re not achieving it by our own efforts.
  • It’s killing our bodies – because when people are stressed about money all the time, and working like dogs, and living above their means and borrowing huge amounts, and constantly worrying that they don’t have enough or won’t have enough, that puts so much pressure on the body that sooner or later, a whole bunch of nasty illnesses and diseases start to show up.

I could carry on, but you get the idea.

To sum up the problem, it’s like this:

When people live in the Land of Money, money is the first consideration, and beats out everything else.

Some common examples of this could include:

  • “I can’t make Aliyah, because I’m worrying about parnassa”
  • “I can’t quit my soul-destroying job, because I’m worrying about how to pay my huge mortgage if I do that”
  • “I can’t buy myself a new dress / new saucepan / new pair of shoes /[some other basic necessity], because I’m worrying about my money running out if I do that”
  • “I can’t give 10% of my income to charity, because I won’t have enough for myself then”
  • “I can’t stop running on the treadmill to make more money, because if I do that the money won’t just appear by itself.”

All of these statements have a ring of truth to them, don’t they? I know they do for me still, and I’ve been trying to leave the Land of Money for years’ already.

But there’s the problem: God is missing from this picture.

And when that happens, we start to build lives for ourselves based on the rules of the Land of Money, which states that our kids need expensive summer camps, and extra-curricular activities, and we need to be wearing labels, and to have everything matching, and that our homes need to be very big and spacious, and that every person over 17 needs their own car, and holidays are a necessity not a luxury, and that gourmet meals in fancy restaurants are what makes us happy, and guests must be offered a selection of expensive whiskeys and liquers to drink, and we must be working on plans to ‘get on’ and upscale our living arrangements, or our 401k plans, or our stockmarket holdings, or our property holdings and and and….

I’m exhausted just from typing that.

Here’s another problem that happens when you live in the Land of Money: You’ll literally sell your soul for cash.

Just ask all the bent politicians in Israel who take bribes for ‘peace’, or who (secretly…) sold Kever David to the Vatican for some big bucks, or who are happy to let Reform partition the Wailing Wall because they waved some dollars in their face.

When you live in the Land of Money, money talks, and God doesn’t. Or at least, not to you. Or at least, not in any way you care to listen to.

So how do we leave the Land of Money?

In the story of the Master of Prayer, it turns out the only way people can leave is via ‘the path to the sword’, i.e. very harsh judgments.

Those judgments could be severe health issues, severe marital problems, severe problems with kids going crazy or going off the derech, severe mental illness issues, or even (perhaps ironically), severe financial issues.

You want to know why so many of us are going through so much difficulty today, in every sense of the word?

This is why.

God is trying to get us out of the Land of Money once and for all, so we can stop obsessing about earning, and instead start yearning to get closer to God and to live a more spiritual life again.

It’s hard work, I know. But you know what’s even harder work? Getting stuck in a life, in a mindset, where money is the only thing that counts, no matter how miserable it makes you, how much it wrecks your peace of mind and relationships, or how much it kills your soul, your humanity, and your spiritual dimension.

Last Pesach, my husband got me a blue opal bracelet, set in copper settings.

(It sounds kinda weird, I know, which is probably why the man in the shop gave it to him for a bargain basement price). But when he brought it home and I put it on, I knew exactly what the message was: Fire and Ice.

Somehow, God was giving me a hint that this was the year that I was finally going to figure out how to balance those two elements, those two extremes, in myself, and my life and my work.

With God’s help, I wrote and published five books in the last year since Pesach, that tried to encapsulate the ‘fire’ of trying to live a spiritual, soul-full life in the middle of the emotionally ice-cold, ‘factual’ rationalism and fake materialism of our modern world.

But then…

The fire seemed to have sputtered out a little a couple of months’ ago. The fuel ran low, the replenishments ran out, and I kind of burned myself out in a big way, on many different fronts.

My ideas and my insights kept going, but my motivation to share them, or to believe that they might change the world in some way disappeared. I found myself stuck. Actually, I found myself completely frozen in place, unable to move forward in any direction.

After everything….what? What’s the point? What’s the point of writing things that people can’t relate to? What’s the point of talking about things that no-one wants to listen to, or believe? What’s the point of trying, when nothing ever gets anywhere?

What’s the point?

At this pretty low stage in my life, one of my daughters started blasting out a secular song from the Disney move ‘Frozen’. (She’s hitting that nearly teenage stage, and while we’ve made a point of banning secular music up until now, there comes a stage where you have to let it go a little.)

And guess what: The name of that song is: ‘Let it go’ – something that I’d been praying on for months, already, in my hitbodedut (personal prayer sessions). So instead of yelling at her and confiscating her phone, I knew it was a clue about something from Upstairs. So I went to find the lyrics, and here’s what I got:

The snow glows white on the mountain tonight,
not a footprint to be seen.
A kingdom of isolation and it looks like I’m the queen.
The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside.
Couldn’t keep it in, Heaven knows I tried.
Don’t let them in, don’t let them see.
Be the good girl you always have to be.
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know.
Well, now they know!
1

Let it go, let it go!
Can’t hold it back any more.
Let it go, let it go!
Turn away and slam the door.
I don’t care what they’re going to say.
Let the storm rage on.
The cold never bothered me anyway.

(I have no idea what the movie is about, BTW, but given that it’s Disney, no doubt it’s up to no good.)

So anyway, here I was, feeling ‘frozen’ in my life, and stuck, and here’s my daughter playing ‘Let it go’ full blast, and then here’s all these lyrics that seemed to really resonate with me (all except the bit about not crying, because clearly, I’ve been crying a lot the last few days, and I’m not even sure why.)

That’s the ice bit of the equation.

Last week,  I started to feel really unwell again, which hasn’t happened for a few months. (If you want to know how I could write a book called ‘Talk to God and Fix Your Health’, let’s just say I had to figure it all out the hard way.)

I anyway had an appointment scheduled with my reflexology lady, so I went even though I felt really poorly. And this is what she told me:

“Something’s moving! Your foot is full of fire today, and it’s not normally like that.”

My reflexologist practices according to a theory that divides the foot into four elements, namely earth, water, fire and air. Apparently, my foot is mostly ‘water’ with some air thrown in.  But seemingly, not anymore! As of the end of last week, the fire is back.

I know what the fire is: it’s Rabbenu.

Every single time I feel I’m spiraling down into ‘FREEZE/FROZEN/DEPRESSED’, I get a burst of the fire again, to thaw me out and keep me going.

As if to underline that point, yesterday I had this weird urge to call someone I don’t speak to very much. I called, left a message – and she called me back five minutes later from Uman, where she was praying at Rebbe Nachman’s grave.

I had no idea she was going, or that she was there.

Somewhere deep inside, a little bud of hope started to blossom again.

God DOES see me. He DOES notice my efforts. He knows how lonely the last ten years have been, and how hard I tried to fit in to all the boxes being produced for me by people I shouldn’t have trusted or listened to.

He knows how much effort I’ve made to fix things that I never even broke, and how hard I’ve tried to see the good in people, and situations, that have excelled in hurting me, and making me feel like all the problems in the world are somehow my fault.

Let it go! Let it go!

Can’t hold it back any more!

Let it go! Let it go!

Turn my back and slam the door.

Here I stand

And THERE they’ll stay.

Let it go, let it go.

The cold never bothered me anyway.

But only because I’ve got Rabbenu rubbing my feet, and giving me some will to continue.

Is it just me, or does the world feel pretty darned tense at the moment?

On the surface, not a lot is apparently going on (at least, according to the main news sites – and what do they know anyway?!)

But everyone I’m talking to right now seems to be having their own flavor of mega-stress going on. I felt like I got hit by some sort of tsunami last week, that had me off-balance and feeling half-panicked the whole time. This week, it’s already much better again, but that’s probably not least because I did a big 6 hour session of personal prayer again over the weekend, and that always works wonders (and is probably the single biggest reason why I’m not an inpatient at some loonie bin, somewhere.)

But I can see that the pressure is mounting, so I want to tell you about a few things that I think will help:

  • There is a huge prayer rally being called for Tuesday night, the Fast of Esther, in Mearat HaMachpela, in Hevron. They are literally bussing people in from all over the country for this event, which has come down the tube from Rav Berland.

(I know some people still feel a little uneasy when I mention Rav Berland, so this is the time to tell them that the chief of police who manufactured the charges against him recently went to Rav Arush, and publicly confessed what he did, because his life has been going from bad to worse as a result of the false claims he manufactured against Rav Berland, and he wanted to know how he could fix it.

Rav Arush told him that he has to come clean and tell everyone what he was involved with. The man is scared of reprisals from his superiors, but my guess is that the reprisals from his real ‘Superior’ will get so difficult, sooner or later even the Jerusalem Post will be reporting the story.)

Rav Berland predicted the current Intifada we’re going through many months before it began.

Part of why he’s wondering around the world in exile is because he took it upon himself to sweeten the very harsh judgments hanging over Am Israel. He, and many other of the real rabbis, have done so much to minimize them – but we still have our part to play, and that’s what the prayer rally is all about.

You can join one of the buses heading to Hevron Tuesday night HERE.

  • Still with Rav Berland, he recently made an announcement that the health and safety of anyone who is willing to pay a pidyon nefesh of 98 shekels a month for their family to Shuvu Banim doesn’t have to worry about getting caught up in any terrorist attacks.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like the deal of the century to me. A few months’ back, I sent in a different pidyon to the Rav about a health issue that had been troubling me for literally years – and BH, from the day I sent the request in to him (never mind, actually pay the money) the situation has been improving all the time.

Rav Berland is a huge tzaddik, and the real deal, so if he says ‘I guarantee your safety if you pay this pidyon’, then you can believe him.

  • The last thing to share with you comes from Rav Shalom Arush, who on Shabbat mentioned that Purim is the most auspicious time to pray of the whole year. Rav Arush explained that usually, he just tells people to say ‘thank you’ and to not request things, as that can stir up some big spiritual judgments and make things even more difficult for them.

But on Purim, there are no judgments! So he told everyone to pray as much as they can, and to ask Hashem for whatever they need. Usually, midnight (chatzot) is the best time of all to do this, but whatever time you manage to squeeze some personal prayer in, Purim is the day to do it.

Things are turning around, somehow. But I still have no idea if the hurricane is ending, or just beginning.

I got back from Uman yesterday afternoon.

While it’s probably too soon to say for sure (because Uman experiences don’t just happen while you’re in Uman, they kind of unfold over the next few weeks and months) – I think it was a really good trip.

There’s something so gratifying to the soul, especially when you’re an Anglo living in Israel, of spending a few days with Israelis from all backgrounds, who got the call to come to Uman and are on some sort of profound journey, that you’re sharing with them in some small way.

Like…

Avraham the ultra-Tel Aviv person, who was all designer sunglasses, flashy sneakers and ‘cool’ hair, who couldn’t put his i-Phone down for even 2 seconds (no joke). By the end of the trip, the phone was in his pocket at least some of his time – which is huge, in its own way – and the man kept a whole Shabbat away from his phone.

Nissim, the tattoo-ed shopowner, turned into a mega-chassid, and was dancing and singing niggunim all over the place. He sat avidly throughout all of Rav Ofer Erez’s shiurim, drinking in every word and asking questions afterwards.

Chen from the North lives on a ‘secular’ kibbutz – but tries to speak to God every single day.

Malka also lives on a secular kibbutz, which is ideologically ‘anti’, but got religious 18 years ago, and is now one of just 2 women who keeps Shabbat and cover their hair. Do you know how much courage it takes to do that?

Are you getting a sense of just how amazing Am Yisrael is?

Just how brave and courageous so many of us are, spiritually-speaking? How despite the tattoos, the phones, the jeans, the nonsense, so many Israelis are spiritually seeking, and asking themselves hard questions about the meaning of life, and trying to find some real answers?

I’ve lost count of the number of amazing people I’ve met like this, on my trips to Uman. If I’d met them in Israel, we’d both probably think we had nothing to say to each other, and avoid each other like the plague. But in Uman, all the pretenses somehow shatter and the sweetness that’s in every Jewish soul gushes out like a river.

You feel like you’re in a room of 40 of your closest friends after a Shabbat in Uman, and the truth is you’re having the sorts of deep conversations that seem to be getting rarer and rarer today, outside of Jewish Ukraine. It’s amazing! Again this trip, I came away with such a profound sense of happiness, that God made me a Jew, and that Jews are amazing people.

Of course, it’s not always like that.

One of the ‘hallmarks’ of Rebbe Nachman is that he raises up the lowly, and the he brings down the arrogant. So I’ve also had trips where my time in Uman was really, really hard for me. I suddenly started seeing all these things I needed to work on, particularly in regard to my middot, and how I relate to my fellow man, and let me tell you, being showing that stuff face-on come sometimes be excrutiatingly painful.

“Whaaat? I’m selfish? CAN’T BE! Don’t you know how much money I give to charity?!?!”

“What do you mean I’m angry, arrogant and judgmental?!?! Can’t you see how long my skirt is, and how much I pray?”

Etc etc etc.

Those types of insights can be very, very painful, so I go into my Uman experiences half-excited and half-wary now, wondering what’s going to turn up for me to deal with.

But baruch Hashem, it was a good trip. The people were amazing. The inner work wasn’t so painful. The insights I got were very gentle and life-affirming – and I came away feeling like I’m part of such a beautiful whole again.

It’s easy to forget that, sometimes, even when you live in the middle of Jerusalem.

So let me end like this: if you didn’t book your ticket yet, please do it! Because the most important person you get to meet in Uman is….yourself.

A little while ago, I was talking to a friend of mine who told me about the latest ‘parenting craze’ to be sweeping the frum world, at least in Israel.

In a nutshell, this new system or shitta is telling parents, particularly mothers, that they have to find out what their problem is, in order to raise their kids properly.

Apparently, the thinking is like this: if you can help the parents to uncover the ‘fatal flaw’ or big emotional problem, or personal issue that defines them and their approach to everything in life, including how they parent their kids, then you’ll help them to change their behavior, and peace will reign in Gotham City.

I know, it theoretically sounds great doesn’t it? There’s just one problem: it’s a load of baloney, and in practice it’s going to end up doing far more harm than good to everyone involved.

How do I know all this?

Simple: in our quest to be better Jews, and better people and better parents, me and my husband have been through a whole bunch of shitot and systems based on ideas that sounded good in theory, but were actually useless (at best) or very damaging in practice.

Christians believe that people are ‘fatally flawed’ as a result of the ‘original sin’ where Adam and Eve brought death into the world. By contrast, Jews (especially Breslev-friendly Jews) believe that people are fundamentally good, and that the real them, their soul, is only good and holy, just it got caught up in a bunch of klipot (evil husks) and yetzer haras (evil inclinations) that it needs to fight off and fight through.

That’s the work of this world, and it really can take 120 years to achieve it.

But what’s happening in even the most frum circles is that people are taking a bunch of half-baked ideas rooted in the heresy of modern psychology and psychiatry, or in the idol-worshiping notions of Christianity or the Eastern religions, and then concocting all sorts of ‘workshops’ and ‘parenting courses’ that aren’t based on truth, and only serve to drag participants’ vulnerabilities, difficulties and yetzers out for public scrutiny, without giving them a real solution for how to actually resolve them.

I know so many people, my husband included, who have been caught up and hurt in all the frum public confessionals happening all over the place.

But however these things are being dressed up and sold to others, they’re all based on the same basic principles: encourage people to admit their biggest hurts, deepest secrets and darkest shames in front of a bunch of strangers; then, have the group’s ‘guru’ explain to them – publicly – what their problem is, how it’s affecting them, and why it’s so bad. Then – leave them to deal with it. Alone.

If they start to struggle, or feel even more alone, depressed or ‘bad’, explain to them that either:

  • They didn’t get what they’re meant to be doing, or they didn’t complete the program and process properly and it’s their problem they’re so broken and can’t be fixed;

And / or:

  • Promise to give them the answer to their problem in the next workshop (or six…); or the next private coaching session (or 10…); or the next super-expensive private retreat.

I have seen people keep coming back to these ‘gurus’ and the hugely profitable organisations they’ve built on the back of other people’s suffering for literally years. For as long as they are in touch with the ‘guru’ and the system they’ve built, they’re hopeful that the answer, whatever it is, is just one more group meeting away.

But it doesn’t work like that!

Quite the opposite: as time goes on, the participants split into 2 camps: increasingly despairing, angry, empty and cynical, or completely detached from the reality of who they really are, and what’s really happening in their lives and in their relationships.

Neither of these modes is emotionally healthy, or compatible with yiddishkeit.

So what’s the answer? Where are all these frum gurus going wrong, and why are they doing so much damage?

In a nutshell, you can sum it up like this: what helps people to be better parents, and to treat their kids nicer, and to be happier people, and to be able to deal with their issues and flaws appropriately, is when they concentrate on seeing the good in themselves, and developing more self-compassion.

Remember, God arranged the world as a mirror, to show us who we really are, and what we really need to work on. If we secretly believe ourselves to be selfish monsters, or hateful failures, or fatally-flawed and unfixable in some way, that’s the ‘self’ we’ll see reflected back to us from the people in our lives, and especially our children.

The more ‘down’ we get on ourselves, the more we dislike ourselves – all for the best motives in the world – the more we’ll be irritated by, dislike and probably mistreat our kids, who are just our mirrors. By contrast, the more we learn to see the good in ourselves, and to judge ourselves with compassion and understanding, the more that inner goodness will shine out of our kids, too.

(If you’re thinking this sounds a lot like Rebbe Nachman’s Azamra, you’re dead right.)

There’s a lot more to say about this, and I think I will be coming back to this idea again and again on my blog. But for now let me leave you with this:

The single biggest thing you can do to improve your parenting, and help your kids, and to build the world, and to become the fulfilled, happy Jew God created you to be, is to learn how to love yourself, and to concentrate on finding all the good He placed in your soul.

That’s it.

And if your course, workshop, or frum guru is not telling you that, or if it’s telling you to focus on your problems, flaws and issues, then run away as fast as your legs can carry you.

Time and again in my research about what makes people feel ‘alive’ and what makes them feel the opposite, God-forbid, having a well-defined sense of purpose comes pretty close to the top of the list.

If a person really understands why they’re alive, if they really get what’s the point of being down here, then that knowledge by itself can transform their life in so many good ways. I was musing on this while I was reading Viktor Frankl’s classic work, Man’s search for meaning, where he writes about his experiences in the holocaust, and the conclusions he drew as a result.

Frankl was a secular Viennese psychotherapist who lost his parents, wife and all of his siblings bar one sister during the war. In the book, he describes how his ‘professional interest’ in how his fellow prisoners were handling the indescribable suffering of being in Auschwitz and other death camps was a big reason why he survived the war.

As soon as he could take a ‘professional interest’ and start to ponder the psychological implications of what he was witnessing and experiencing, Frankl explains that the experiences themselves became easier to manage in some way.

In one particular poignant passage, he describes how imagining he would share his new insights into human nature kept him going when he was enduring a particularly hard day of forced labour outside in the freezing Polish winter.

Another popular tactic he employed was talking to his wife in his head, and escaping into those imaginary conversations. And thus, he survived the war, and went on to develop Logotherapy, his own brand of psychotherapy where the emphasis was firmly put on encouraging his patients to find some sort of meaning to life, in order to heal their emotional problems.

While Frankl is not ‘anti-religion’, he’s clearly wasn’t an observant Jew – and that’s a real shame, because Judaism would’ve have furnished a clear-cut ‘meaning to life’ that would have prevented him from trying to re-invent the wheel.

Let me give an example I was pondering on recently:

The more I read and learn and experience, the more I realize that it’s almost impossible to raise our children without causing them some sort of severe psychological damage, with far-reaching consequences for their sense of wellbeing, emotional and physical health, and spiritual connection.

For years, I thought that if you were a healthy, well-adjusted, emotionally-balanced person, then your kids would turn out OK (just for the record, I haven’t actually ever met someone like this, but for argument’s sake, let’s pretend they exist.) But God’s been showing me recently that EVEN the most well-meaning, spiritually-connected, tuned-in, compassionate parents are STILL messing their kids up.

How can we not? Is it up to us to decide if we have to experience huge financial pressures, for example? Or severe illnesses? Or traumatic moves to different cities or different countries? Can we help it if we get depressed sometimes, or super-stressed, or overwhelmed by the difficult experiences each of us has to face? We don’t pick for our kids to have horrible teachers, or nasty bullies, or traumatic experiences with terrorists every few days.

And all this stuff leaves an indelible mark on the soul, and causes things like anxiety, fear, anger, panic, despair, and a whole bunch of other things, too.

So I was pondering: Why?

Why does God set things up that it’s impossible to raise our kids as completely whole, emotionally-healthy human beings who don’t have anxiety, panic, worry, sadness and all the rest of it?

As usual, Rav Arush gave me the answer. I was reading his new book about saying thank you and seeing miracles when he explained that our difficulties are what brings us closer to God. We suffer, we hurt, we get overwhelm, and then we actually turn around and have probably the first honest conversation of our lives with our Creator.

We realize we can’t do it by ourselves, that we need Him to help us out, pronto. And that’s the whole point of being alive.

It’s so easy to get so caught up in the secular view of the world, which sees everything as being somehow in human control and ‘solve-able’. Depressed? Take a pill! Anxious? Take a pill! Stressed? Take a pill! (You get the idea…)

But I realized that I’ve also fallen into that trap a bit, by blaming myself for all of my kids issues. Now, here’s where we hit the fine line: OF COURSE I’m to blame for my kids issues, if I take God out of the picture. I mean, I made aliya, I ran out of money, I keep moving, I’m the one who got angry, stressed, depressed, overwhelmed and who all too frequently took it out on them.

But I’ve been working on all that stuff as much as I can, and the more I clear away, the more God shows me that something had to mess them up, as that’s the whole point. It’s only in their brokenness that they’re going to get closer to God, and build their relationship with Him. So yes, God used my bad middot to do the job for a while, but now they’re receding, I see He’s still piling the pressure on my kids: terrorists are scary; ulpana is challenging and sometimes lonely; friends are frequently unpredictable and draining etc etc.

And that’s the way it’s meant to be.

To put it another way, our suffering is what gives our life meaning, and what ultimately makes it worthwhile. I know that’s a bizarre idea on many levels, but recently, it’s been coming into clearer and clearer focus.

The meaning of life, what gives our lives purpose, is to get closer to God. Full stop. That’s why God fills the world with pain and suffering, and doesn’t give us all mansions, yachts and perfect health. At some point, hopefully the equation will change, and people will want to get closer to God even amidst their bounty – I think that’s the promise of Moshiach.

But we’re not quite there yet (at least, I’m not). Which means that each day still has its measure of pain, and its share of challenges. But I’m no longer wondering why it has to be that way.