So much of Jewish life revolves around the Jewish community.

Wherever Jews happen to live, whatever language they happen to speak, whatever Jewish traditions, customs and laws they happen to keep (or not…) being part of a community will often figure as a very major part of Jewish life.

No two communities are the same, each is a unique blend of the history, personalities, beliefs and customs that have molded it over the generations. While so many of the different community customs have been lost over the years, many Jews are still striving to maintain their cultural heritage, and to apply to Jewish life in the modern world, in the face of a growing number of issues, challenges and changes.

In this category, we’ll take a look at a bunch of topics including:

  • Jewish Communal Events – what’s really shaping modern Jewish life
  • Jewish News – the information that we really need to know about living as a Jew today
  • The importance of Jewish communal life
  • History of Jewish community – in all sorts of different places around the globe
  • Day-to-day relationships – both intramural and extramural, with other peoples and faiths
  • Modern values in kehillas – and how they are changing, sometimes unrecognisably, from traditional Torah values
  • Jewish community issues and challenges – both within Israel, and abroad
  • Community leaders, rabbis, and personalities.

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

There’s two main problems going on:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Case in point:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s been so hard to deal with the last few years is not so much the money issues, because hey, who doesn’t have money issues one way or another in 2017?

The main thing that’s been so hard for me to overcome is the overwhelming sense of loneliness that so often floods up a week or two before the next Jewish holiday. Anglos are very social creatures. When Pesach looms around the corner, or Rosh Hashana, or Purim, or whatever it is, our first thought is ‘who can we invite’?

At this stage in the game, I realize that part of the reason that God has put me in a space and a place where there are very few opportunities to invite or be invited is because socializing on Jewish festivals and shabbat is often just another form of unhealthy ‘escapism’.

The people I know who have the hardest times just ‘being’ – being themselves, being with their close families, being honest about who and what they really are – are the same people I see repeatedly knocking themselves out on the social circuit.

In London, I used to be like that too.

It was unthinkable for me to spend a whole Shabbat without being invited out, or having guests, for at least one of the meals. The times that happened were so few and far between, and nearly always made for a pretty unpleasant Shabbat.

Shabbat is quiet. There’s no i-Phones, no internet, no work, to movies, no soccer games, no arts and crafts or cooking to distract you away from your inner dimension. If the ‘inner dimension’ is a place where you’re happy to hang out, that’s great, and can be the springboard to enhanced awareness and spirituality. Which is really the original purpose of Shabbat.

But when you’re NOT so happy to spend quiet time in your ‘inner dimension’ – a quiet Shabbat can leave you rolling around on the floor tearing your hair out.

Which is why so many of us Anglos like to entertain so very much, so stop those overwhelming feelings of existential angst and loneliness from surfacing.

I’m the same way!

Except, God hasn’t been letting me get away with it anymore the last few years. Since we moved to Jerusalem two and a half years’ ago, I can count the number of times we’ve been invited out on one hand. I try to invite ‘in’ as much as I can, but that’s also been tricky.

Part of the problem is that there is space for another four people around my table, and most of the families we’d like to invite are much, much bigger than that. But, there’s also the ‘teenager’ factor, which works in two ways:

1) Often, my teenagers feel very awkward around people they don’t know, especially if those people appear to be more ‘more frum’ or different ages than they are, so they don’t enjoy meals with guests so much.

2) We don’t really ‘fit’ into any recognizable Jewish box, so while my husband dresses like a chareidi Kollel guy, I dress chardal (kind of…), one kid dresses ‘dati leumi’ and the other one ‘dati lite’.

Trying to find guests that are comfortable with my family’s diversity is also not so simple, especially when you have factors involved like guarding the eyes, setting a good example to smaller kids, insisting that girls need to wear socks, etc….

It takes a lot of good will on both sides of the equation to make it all ‘work’.

If I feel I’d have to cajole a kid into wearing socks to the table or dressing differently than they usually would in order for my guests to feel comfortable, then I usually can’t invite those guests, however much I personally like them.

Having more money or a bigger apartment won’t solve these issues. But, maybe they’d let me run away from the loneliness a bit more (because I’d build my teenagers their own ‘shabbat’ annex and pretend they didn’t exist.)

My husband and I have no close family in Israel. When the Jewish holidays roll around, I’m getting taken out by a feeling of complete isolation and ‘aloneness’, and that’s what’s so hard for me to come to terms with and accept. I moved to Israel to live a fuller Jewish life. I left behind family and a lot of close friends to be here.

I’ve mostly made my peace with not having a lot of money, a career, external ‘success’ etc, but I can’t make my peace with the loneliness. How can it be that I live in a country of six million Jews, that all my neighbors are Jews, that most of them are even frum Jews – and yet, I dread Jewish holidays because I have no shul I feel comfortable in, no community to belong to, and no-one to spend the meals with?

I miss people.

I miss having friends I could pop in to talk to on Shabbat. I miss having a shul that I knew was ‘my shul’ whenever I HAD to go, like on Rosh Hashana, or to hear Parshat Zachor.

I don’t know what to do about all these issues, and sometimes still, I feel very trapped and miserable about it all. On Purim, my oldest came with me to another ‘frum’ shul to hear Megilla. We lasted five minutes, then we had to go somewhere else. Even on Purim, her ‘not-so-frum teenage girl’ costume (ahem…) was more than the locals could handle (at least, that’s what she felt).

I don’t want my family to spend each holiday divided across four different synagogues, so I’ve been going with my kids to wherever they feel happiest – which is typically a 100% Hebrew speaking Israeli environment where I don’t know anyone and feel like the odd-one-out, but they have tons of their friends.

I’ll write more about this subject, but my family’s experience is just reflecting the splintering that’s occurred at the heart of the Jewish people. I guess I feel it more than most people, because I don’t have a ‘bubble’ of family and old friends from the old country to cushion me.

I think what I’m missing is a sense of unity and connection to my fellow Jew, and a feeling that I truly belong here, in the world, in Jerusalem, in Israel.

Of all the things I’m waiting for Moshiach to help me fix, this is probably the biggest.

Even before I knew Amona was being bulldozed last week (because the Israeli government was trying to do it in their usual sneaky, underhanded way) I got a phone call from my almost 16 year old asking me if I could send her permission to leave her school for a day.

“Uh, why?” I wanted to know (call me old-fashioned.)

“Mum, they’re destroying Amona, and me and all my friends from Ulpana want to go and protest. The teacher only lets if you say yes.”

As my kid was hanging on the phone waiting for an answer, a picture popped into my head, unbidden, of some black-clad kassamnik from 10 years ago, using a rubber truncheon to whack the heck out a bunch of peaceful teens who were sitting on the floor passively protesting another ‘dismantling’.

For a growing percentage of Israel’s frum community, the love affair with the Israeli police (and the IDF) is firmly over.

For all the amazing Jews who serve their country, both these organisations are ultimately controlled by anti-Torah, unethical, corrupt people who still stop at nothing to achieve their ends.

Including whacking the heck out of peaceful, idealistic teens who happen to be stopping them from doing their ‘job’ of destroying Jewish homes in Eretz Israel.

The last thing I wanted was for my kid to be one of the ones getting whacked and arrested, and I don’t know what else, because like I said, a lot of these people are plain evil and if they weren’t ‘policemen’, they’d be mafia henchmen. (Some of them probably even are.)

So what to do?

The next thought that popped into my head, unbidden, is that really, I can’t stop my daughter from doing what she wants. I like to pretend that I can, but really, I can’t.

So then, I asked God for some guidance, and heard myself telling her that as long as she was going with all her classmates, I let her go to Amona.

As I hung up, not for the first time I felt a little wistful that my family doesn’t fit the more standard ‘chareidi’ mould that frowns sternly on girls marching out on the streets. Both my girls are deeply, sincerely attached to the ‘national religious’ community, and protesting Government injustice is something they both feel very strongly about.

I get very conflicted about this stuff a lot of the time, because I know that all their protesting isn’t going to make any difference, and could just get them in a whole bunch of trouble. But at the same time, I also feel so proud of them that they care enough to put themselves on the line to protest Jewish families being evicted from their homes.

If more of the ‘grown ups’ cared as much about our fellow Jews, maybe things would look different – and much better – in Israel right now.

In the end, God worked things out nicely for both of us: my daughter was too late to ‘break into’ Amona (although she told me later that two her friends had managed to barricade themselves into one of the houses, and were some of the last ‘protesters’ to be taken out by the police).

So instead, her and her classmates joined an impromptu demonstration against the dismantlement in nearby Raanana.

But I’m still left with the question: Does all this stuff make God happy?

For all my pondering, I still really don’t know. For sure, it’s not the Torah way to encourage girls to go out to ‘battle’, in any way, shape or form, for very good reasons.

On the other hand, I know God has to be impressed by the teens’ mesirut Nefesh (self-sacrifice) and commitment to standing up for what they believe to be right. Like I said, those qualities are sadly lacking in today’s world, perhaps especially by the adults who are meant to be leading us forward and setting the example.

One thing I can tell you for sure: sooner or later, one way or another, Israel will be ruled by Torah-true Jews. If it’s not Moshiach, it’s going to be these teens all grown up and ready to vote.

And nothing and no-one will be able to stop it.

==

After I wrote this, my daughter asked me something else:

“Mum, I’m debating going to Ofra today [where the Government is going to knock down some more Jewish homes]. Do you let me?”

I sighed another deep sigh, and I explained to my daughter that I really don’t think demonstrating is going to help much, because until and unless more of us stop believing in ‘the Government’, and ‘the Likud’ and the ‘Beit Yehudi’ – and start believing in God, instead – these things are just going to keep happening, until we finally get the message.

She agreed…but she also said she feels so bad for the families involved, and wants to help them however she can.

How could I argue against that, really? I told her to ask God to give her the right idea of what to do, and left it at that.

Who is like this people of Yours, Hashem?

One day very soon, the tremendous good that is the authentic Jewish people is going to rise to the top, and the bad will just disappear, like smoke.

If I was an American, I would have voted for Trump.

Why? Because I think he’ll do a very good job of putting America’s interests first. But it doesn’t follow that America’s best interests and Israel’s best interests are automatically aligned.

Here’s a newsflash: TRUMP IS THE PRESIDENT OF AMERICA, NOT ISRAEL.

The last couple of weeks, I’ve been growing increasingly perturbed by all the frum cheerleading for Trump and his Jewish connections, because it reminded me so much of the wave of euphoria that swept over frum Israel when Ariel Sharon was swept into power with a landslide mandate – and promptly pivoted 180 degrees to disengage from Gaza.

Call me a spoilsport, but I’m getting that same uncomfortable feeling re: Trump and his plans for the Middle East.

Just this week, we read in the haftorah the Prophet Ezekiel’s stern warning to Jews not to rely on any foreign power, to try and shore up their domestic security problems and only to rely on God.

What happens when we rely on the current Superpower of the moment, instead of turning to our Creator? Ezekiel tells us that anyone we lean on for support except God, they turn into the proverbial ‘broken reed’, that only pierces the palm and shoulder of the person trying to use it as a crutch.

Israel belongs to God, and it’s not up to any politician, Israeli, American or otherwise, to start throwing their weight around and deciding which part of Israel can stay in ‘Israel’ and which part gets turned into Hamastan.

In all the politically-correct talk about making peace with the Palestinians, even a lot of the people who are meant to know better seem to have forgotten that GOD is behind the Palestinian’s ongoing terrorism, violence and general awkwardness. So many of our Sages and rabbis have made it clear time and time again that God is using the Palestinians as a stick against the Jewish people, because so many of us still aren’t trying to live a Torah-true life.

If the Jews as a nation wholeheartedly come back to God, the Palestinian ‘problem’ will disappear overnight, as the whole spiritual reason for them to harass the Jews in Israel will have disappeared.

The Palestinians are here to encourage the Jews to make teshuva. Full stop.

If Trump and his advisors understand that, great! If not – it’s going to get complicated, very quickly. James Mattis, the new Defense Secretary, is not a big lover of Israel, and is a very big fan of the so-called ‘two state solution’.  Mattis wants more of the so-called ‘moderate’ Arabs to play ball, and believes that supporting a two state solution – and actually making that happen – will bring these folk around to the American side of the table.

Trump has already made it clear that his cabinet picks have free reign to set the policies that they believe will best suit the US’ interests; he’s already primed his son-in-law to bring ‘peace’ between Israel and the Palestinians; and it appears obvious (to me, anyway…) that this ‘peace’ is going to be bought by giving away parts of biblical Israel.

Sure, the deal will seem reasonable and fair to anyone who hasn’t internalized the fact that Israel belongs to God, and that God is unlikely to be thrilled with any ‘peace agreement’ with the Palestinians that isn’t predicated on wholesale Jewish teshuva. It’s very ‘fairness’ is what’s going to cause the problem, because Israel will be unable to hold out against all the pressure being brought to bear to accept this ‘fair deal’, that will lead to the creation of Hamastan.

And then – things could get very interesting.

Trump is the President of the US, and he won’t hesitate to throw Israel under a bus if and when that serves him and his country’s best interests. If he did anything else, he’d be an absolutely terrible leader of the country that just elected him.

If we’d just elected him as the prime minister of Israel, then maybe there would be more to celebrate and look forward to. As it is, I simply can’t understand why frum Jews in Israel are getting so excited about him, however pro-Israel and pro-Jewish he might be as individual.

Beating ISIS sounds great, but in practice the ‘moderate’ muslims will demand concessions for going along with the US – and guess which ‘concession’ will be top of the list?

Israel!

And Israel’s best interests.

And Israel’s so-called ‘settlements’ which are really just housing developments for Jews on the land that God owns, and God promised them for perpetuity.

Dafka, Hashem has always protected against the machinations of our openly hostile enemies, often by miraculous means.

It’s our ‘friends’ that are really worrying me at this point.

There is no place where God isn’t – Rebbe Nachman of Breslev

As often happens, when I opened up Likutey Moharan I got to a lesson (number 33) that seemed very appropriate to the whole discussion of finding God even in those places where it appears He isn’t.

Like, in all those conversations we all have with the ‘difficult’ characters in our lives who like to refer to us as ‘parasites’ or ‘leeches’; or all the difficult circumstances we sometimes find ourselves in; or even, just in our mundane interactions with the ‘real’, or materialistic world.

Sometimes, it can be so easy to forget that God really is behind all this stuff.

Here’s a little of what Rabbenu says about the subject:

“…one must know that ‘The world is filled with His glory’ (Isaiah 6:3), and that there is no place where He is not (Tikkuney Zohar #57, 91b) – He fills all worlds and surrounds all worlds (Zohar III 225a)…..

“As our Sages have already revealed to us, in all material phenomena and in all foreign languages one can find Godliness, for without His Godliness, they have no life and no existence at all.

“However, that life-force and Godliness is minimal and in extreme constriction, only enough life-force to sustain that thing and no more. This is because God contacted His Godliness in many and various constrictive ways…until the central point of the material world, which is the realm of the klipot (forces of evil)….

“And this is the meaning of the Yerushalmi verse, “If someone asks you, ‘Where is your God?’ answer him, ‘In the great metropolis of Rome.’….This person who asked…is certainly sunken in the realm of the klipot, for he has separated himself from the Omnipresence…and expressed his belief that God doesn’t exist where he is.

“Thus tell him: “Even where you are, sunken in the realm of klipot, even there you can find His Godliness, for He sustains everything…and from there you can bind yourself to Him and return to Him in complete repentance.

“He is not far from you, only that where you are, there are many concealing garments.”

All of us can come back to God in the blink of an eye, because wherever we find ourselves in the world, including in all the spiritual filth and heresy that unfortunately characterizes so much of modern life, there too, we can find God.

All we have to do is look.

Once, there was a rabbi who didn’t have any kids.

Finally, he had an only son, and he raised him and married him off.

This son would sit and study in a room upstairs, as the wealthy are wont to do. He would constantly study and pray. But he felt that something was lacking, although he didn’t know what. Somehow, he couldn’t feel any ‘taste’ in his studying and prayers. When he confided in two of his friends, they told him to go and visit a particular Tzaddik.

This young man had done a good deed that had caused him to become an aspect of the ‘lesser light’ [i.e. the moon].

This only son told his dad that he couldn’t ‘taste’ anything in his religious devotions, and because he felt this lack and he didn’t know why he felt it, he wanted to go and visit this Tzaddik.

“Why should you go and visit him?” his dad replied. “You’re a more accomplished scholar than he is. You have better yichus [lineage] than he does. It’s really not fitting for you to go and visit him. Please give up on this idea.”

The dad continued nagging in this way until he managed to dissuade his son from going.

The son returned to his studies, but again he felt something was lacking. He went back to his two friends, and they again advised him to go and see this Tzaddik. Again, the young man went to talk to his father about it, and again his father put him off the whole idea, and prevented him from going. This happened on a number of occasions.

The son continued to feel this lack, however, and he really yearned to fill it. He had no idea where is was coming from. Again, he came to his dad and kept on pestering him until finally the father was forced to make the trip with him. The father didn’t want his son to travel alone, because he was an only son.

“See!” exclaimed the dad. “I’m even coming with you! And I will show you there is nothing special about this Tzaddik.” With that, they harnessed their carriage and set off.

“Let’s make a test,” said the dad. “If everything goes smoothly, then this [trip] is from Heaven. And if not, then it’s not from Heaven and we’ll go back home.”

They continued travelling until they came to a small bridge where one horse lost its footing, and then the carriage overturned and they almost drowned.

“See!” said the dad. “Things didn’t go smoothly. Heaven doesn’t approve of us making this trip.”

And with that, they returned home, and the son again returned to his studies.

But once again, he saw that something was missing in himself, even though he couldn’t identify what exactly it was. He went and pestered his father, and his father again agreed to come with him [to visit the Tzaddik]. As they were travelling, his dad made another test, like he’d done the first time, about everything going smoothly.

As they were travelling, both of the carriage’s axels suddenly broke.

His dad exclaimed: “See! We’re being told not to continue! Is it normal for both axles to break at the same time? We’ve used this carriage many times before, and nothing like this has ever happened.”

Again, they went back home.

The son went back to his schedule of learning, but he felt that same lack again. His friends urged him to make the pilgrimage [to the Tzaddik], and he went and pestered his father again, who ended up coming with him again.

The son said that this time, they shouldn’t make another test. It was normal for a horse to occasionally slip, or for an axle to break. This time, they would continue on unless the ‘sign’ was really obvious.

They travelled on until they came to an inn, where they rested. They met a merchant, and started chatting to him, as merchants do, but they didn’t tell him where they were going. The rabbi was embarrassed to admit that he was going to visit this Tzaddik.

They continued to discuss politics and worldly affairs, until the conversation somehow came around to the subject of Tzaddikim, and how to find them. [The merchant] started telling the rabbi about a particular Tzaddik in a certain place, and about other [Tzaddikim] in other places, and they started discussing the Tzaddik who they were going to visit.

“Him?! He’s worthless!” exclaimed [the Merchant]. “I’m coming from him now, and I was there when he committed a sin!!!”

“My son!” said the rabbi. “See what this merchant is telling us, in all innocence!* And he’s just come from there!” And with that, they returned home.

Soon afterwards, the son passed away, and he came to his father, the rabbi, in a dream looking really angry.

[His dad] asked him why he was so angry.

“Go to the Tzaddik that I wanted to visit, and he’ll tell you why I’m so angry!” replied the son.

When [the dad] woke up, he said: “That [dream] was just a coincidence.” When he had the same dream again, he still said that it was just a meaningless dream. But once it happened for a third time, he realised that it was important, so he set out [to visit the Tzaddik].

On the way, he met the same merchant who he’d met whilst travelling with his son. He recognised him, and said:

“Aren’t you the one I met at the inn?” “You certainly did see me,” this other replied. Then he opened his mouth and said: “If you want, I’ll swallow you!”

“What are you talking about?!” [the rabbi] asked.

The merchant replied: “Do you remember when you were travelling with your son? First the horse slipped on the bridge, and you turned back. Then, the axles broke. Finally, you met me and I told you that [the Tzaddik] was worthless. Since I got rid of your son, now you can make the trip.

“[Your son] was an aspect of the Lesser Light. The Tzaddik was an aspect of the Great Light [i.e. the sun]. If the two had come together, the Moshiach would have come. But now that I caused him to pass away, you can make the pilgrimage.”

As he was speaking, [the merchant] vanished, and [the rabbi] was left talking to the air.

When [the rabbi] finally got to the Tzaddik, he screamed: “Woe! Woe! Woe to those who are lost and can no longer be found!” May God return our lost ones, Amen.

[Rav Natan comments:] The merchant in this story was the Evil One himself. He had disguised himself as a merchant in order to fool the rabbi. When he met the rabbi the second time, he tormented him for listening to his advice. This is his [i.e. the Evil One’s] way, as is known. May God only protect us!

* They did not consider that ‘the merchant’ might have had an ulterior motive, or might have been an opponent of the Tzaddik. (Rimzey Maasioth).

The moral of the story: Don’t listen to any lashon hara about true Tzaddikim, even if the person telling you the slanders appears to be a ‘big rabbi’ who claims he ‘knows people this happened to.’

Really? These people are just working to stop people from getting close to the true Tzaddikim, and are preventing Moshiach and the geula from coming.

I had some correspondence after the last post, which prompted me to clarify something that I’ve been thinking about writing about for a while.

Judaism doesn’t believe in ‘good’ or ‘bad’ people.

It believes in ‘good’ or ‘bad’ deeds, thoughts and actions. If a person’s actions are overwhelming of the ‘good’ variety, Judaism then tells us that person is a Tzaddik, or holy person, and we are further told that if we see a Tzaddik doing something bad, we should judge them favorably, and believe that they already made teshuva for it.

By contrast, xtianity teaches that the world is split into ‘good’ people – who believe in yoshki – and ‘bad’ people, who don’t. Once someone is assured they are a ‘good person’, they are then at liberty to do the most atrocious, awful, terrible things to other human beings, secure in their self-assessment that they are a ‘good’ person.

That thinking is behind most of the suffering occurring in the world, because even the most hardened, evil people in the world believe on some level that even their worst excesses and cruelties are somehow justified, and therefore ‘good’.

This thinking is also underneath a whole bunch of xtianity-inspired mental illnesses like Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), where the narcissist can’t accept that they are anything other than perfect, and believe that they always act in perfect, ‘good’ way regardless of how many bodies they leave behind them.

When a person believes they are ‘good’, fullstop, they usually aren’t so concerned with identifying, acknowledging and dealing with their negative character traits.

But here’s the thing: no-one is perfect, and for as long as we’re down here on planet earth, it’s because we still have work to do to improve and perfect our characters.

Even Moshe Rabbenu, arguably the most ‘perfect’ servant of God who ever lived and an indisputable Tzaddik of tremendous proportions still had some anger issues to work out, even when he was 120 already. When he hit the rock instead of speaking to it because Am Yisrael had gotten him so riled up, he was 120!

If someone like Moshe Rabbenu wasn’t embarrassed to admit his faults publicly, then surely we don’t need to be so coy about accepting that we still have stuff to work on.

Another big difference between Judaism and other religions, especially xtianity, is this notion that ‘good’ people go to Heaven, and ‘bad’ people go to Hell – and it’s a permanent, everlasting, unfixable thing, which is probably also why so many people are petrified of accepting they may not be perfect paragons of virtue.

Judaism teaches something completely different. Judaism says: every good deed that you do, you’re going to get some heavenly reward for it. And every bad deed that you do, that you didn’t make teshuva for, you’re going to have to atone for it somehow, either by spending some time in Gehinnom (for up to 12 months), or by being reincarnated again (if your sins were against your fellow man – Gehinnom only atones for sins between man and God.)

Again, there ARE some exceptions to this rule, most notably for atheists, who could end up spending all of eternity in Gehinnom if they persist in denying God for their whole life and don’t make teshuva before they die.

But if you’re a bog-standard person with issues who’s done a lot of bad things that you haven’t made teshuva for (like most of humanity…) BUT you believe in God, then your stay in Gehinnom is capped at 12 months – and then you get a measurement of eternal paradise as your reward for each and every good deed that you did.

To sum this up: xtianity says that only ‘good’ people go to heaven, and that a person is only ‘good’ if they believe in yoshki, regardless of how they act or treat other people in real time.

Hence, there is no motivation for a self-proclaimed ‘good’ person to examine their deeds or work on their negative character traits, because they automatically assume everything they do is justified and ‘good’ (which also happens to be the basis of a lot of mental illnesses, including NPD).

Judaism says: there are only good deeds. A person’s status as an aggregate ‘good person’ will only be determined after their death, by the Heavenly tribunal. Nearly everyone is going to go to both Heaven and Gehinnom (with some notable exceptions for Tzaddikim and atheists).

That’s why it’s such a mitzvah for a person to acknowledge their bad deeds and negative character traits in Judaism, so they can actually try to fix them, and why it’s such anathema in other religions.

We Jews have been in galut so long that we’ve imbibed a lot of the foreign dogmas and philosophies that are inimical to authentic Yiddishkeit.

Judaism teaches that our souls, that Godly part of us, is only pure and good. But the soul is surrounded by klipot, the husks of the dark side, that causes us to do things and think things we’re really not proud of. For as long as we’re in our bodies, we’re going to have to deal with the klipot that are causing our bad behavior, and to atone and make amends for the bad things we do.

When we deny that very human reality, we literally go bonkers. Remember, pretending to be perfect is the mentally-ill behavior of a narcissist. It’s the furthest thing in the world from Yiddishkeit.

There’s been so many fires going on in Israel the last few weeks.

If you read THIS POST about the luminaries of fire vs the luminaries of light, then you’ll have a pretty good idea why this is happening, spiritually-speaking.

Friday morning, I had my own taste of it.

Apartments in Israel don’t tend to have any central heating, and also tend to be really, really cold in the winter. Most people seem to buy plug-in electrical heating devices to heat the space they’re in over winter, or turn their air-conditioning units to ‘hot’.

The last few years’, we’ve been using a ‘glow in the dark’ electrified coil-type of heater – which to be honest, I’ve never liked as they always struck me as pretty dangerous. But they give off a lot of heat, and the rest of my family likes them a lot.

Which brings me to what happened last Friday.

There’s a strange thing that happens with teenagers that all the common sense rules and regulations you ever told them seem to get wiped out of their brains as soon as they hit 13.

Many of these ‘rules’ ARE just opinions, social norms, parental preferences, and the teen is justified in rethinking the validity of these types of rules. But other things – like the strict instruction to NEVER PUT CLOTHING ON THE FIRE-THING TO WARM UP – are clearly just plain common-sense and potentially life-saving.

Sadly, teens often don’t seem to realize that some rules really are inviolable, and for good reason.

Last Friday, thank God my husband was feeling really, really poorly, so he didn’t get up to go to shul like he usually does. I was finding it hard to get out of bed (occasionally that happens…) so my daughter was getting her own act together to go to school.

Eventually, I found the will to get up and make my kid a sandwich, so I opened my bedroom door – and saw a raging inferno burning away in my living room.

I didn’t have my glasses on, so it mamash looked like the whole place had gone up in flames.

I started screaming, my husband and daughter came running, and I decided that we had to get everyone out the apartment ASAP as the fire was very close to the front door and it didn’t look like we’d have much time to get out. I sent the kid to wake up her (still sleeping) sister and friend, and then I just panicked for about a minute and kind of froze in place.

Thank God for my husband.

He grabbed a cushion off the armchair and started beating the flames out. Once everything calmed down (and I put my glasses on) I could see what had actually happened.

My kid had put her jeans skirt on the fire ‘to warm up’ then left it to go and find a top. It had caught fire and fragmented into many different sections, each of which was burning. We were SO lucky that nothing else caught fire, as my apartment is on the small side, and there was a ton of very flammable stuff all around. If any of those things had caught, I wouldn’t be typing this now.

When we all calmed down a little, I realized the following:

  • If my husband hadn’t been ill and at home that morning, things would have ended very differently.
  • Staying in bed is sometimes very dangerous (who knew?)
  • Even very clever, sensitive and otherwise amazing teenagers are occasionally SO DUMB it’s astounding
  • We need to buy a radiator…

The last thing I realized is how much God loves me. I felt very strongly that if I hadn’t made all the teshuva I’d made last week to try to quench all my ‘internal fires of hatred’ against certain people, things could have ended very differently, God forbid.

Our Sages often equate anger and rage to a destructive fire. Last week I got a small taste of just how much damage these ‘fires’ can do, if we don’t make every effort to put them out ASAP.

One of the more perplexing phenomenon that I’ve witnessed time and time again is how you can get a truly amazing, big, holy Tzaddik – the real deal, 100% – but they’ll be surrounded by some of the most mentally-ill, disturbed characters you’re ever likely to meet.

This has happened so many times, in so many different situations, and with so many different Tzaddikim, that a couple of years’ back I realized it must be some sort of ‘spiritual rule’.

In fact, the bigger the Tzaddik, the crazier so many of the people on the inside of his ‘inner circle’. Then I learned that King David taught: ‘The wicked surround the tzaddik’.

Aha! I wasn’t going bonkers. I knew there must be something ‘deep’ going on here, because if someone on the low level of yours truly can figure out that these people are nasty and mentally ill, surely huge Tzaddikim – who can see right through a person, to the innermost recesses of their soul – couldn’t be fooled so easily?!

This is not a ‘theoretical’ discussion, at least, not for me.

As you know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, my husband and I got burned by one ‘false’, mentally-ill spiritual guide after another, all of who came with impeccable credentials. They looked the part (from a distance…); they talked the part (as long as you kept the conversation short, felt hugely honored for having the ‘privilege’ of being spoken to, and didn’t do anything else expect stroke their massive egos…); and most disturbing of all, they came with a patina of having been ‘pre-approved’ as a kosher, upright person by their (highly publicized…) associations with bona fide Tzaddikim.

After the last one exploded in our faces two years’ ago, leaving me with a ginormous crisis of faith that very nearly took me out, I decided I had to go and find out why the tzaddikim in the middle of the circle of madness hadn’t done more to warn me and protect me from these dangerous, mentally-ill, spiritually-corrupt individuals.

The discussion (in my hitbodedut…) went something like this:

“Do you know how bad, spiritually, these people really are?” They did. “Do you know how much suffering they caused me and my family, and how they nearly destroyed my faith in Hashem and his true Tzaddikim?” They did. “So, then why didn’t you stop them? Why are still keeping them so close? Why are you allowing them to continue to fool people, and to hurt them?”

The answers I got back were truly enlightening, and I’m sharing them with you here, dear reader, in case they can help you, too.

The true Tzaddikim know 100% about just how bad their mentally-ill ‘circle’ is. So why are they keeping them around?

There’s a few answers:

  • Firstly, some of the crazies are actually useful, as long as you don’t get too close to them. As we said, from a distance they play the part of a pious, upright Jew very well, and as long as you’re only dealing with them ‘at a distance’, they can’t do you a lot of harm, and they’re also probably giving you more ‘straight’ information and advice then many other people today, by sheer dent of the fact that they are at least connected to real Tzaddikim.

The problem comes when people take them too seriously, and actually believe that these people are ‘tzaddikim’ in their own right, but that’s not a problem for most of the people out there today.

  • If these people weren’t ‘encircling’ the Tzaddikim, they’d be out there doing much more damage to mankind. The point here is that these people are spiritually-corrupt, mentally ill, and (usually…) ruthlessly ambitious. The Tzaddik acts as a kind of ‘brake’ on their behavior, so at least it won’t go too far.

 

  • Whatever happened to me and my husband, we were meant to go through it as part of our Tikkun, or spiritual rectification. If it hadn’t been those particular nasty people who caused us so many difficulties, it would have been others. But it had to happen, and the fact that it happened ‘under the aegis’ of the bona fide Tzaddikim meant that we also enjoyed their spiritual protection to pull us through the experience in one piece.

 

  • The Tzaddikim themselves suffer incredibly from having to keep these people happy. The first people the crazies mistreat and cause problems for are the Tzaddikim they’re encircling. They can’t help it: as we noted, they’re mentally ill. They’ll keep a limit on their bad behavior and lack of respect towards the Tzaddikim in public, but in private they yell at them, rant at them, make ridiculous demands of them, treat them like ‘mates’, instead of holy Tzaddikim, and generally try to control them and manipulate them in a million different ways.

 

Now, I’m no Tzaddik. If I had to spend any time around such spiritually-corrupt, horrible people like this, I’d vomit.

But our Tzaddikim are even more atuned to evil and corruption, and even more affected by it. Which means that it’s a huge, enormous effort of will for them to keep these people in their inner circle, and to not boot them out. Which brings us to our next point:

  • The Tzaddikim keep these people close, because that’s what God wants. God wants these mentally-ill individuals to have the very best chance of ultimately making Teshuva, so he sticks a huge Tzaddik in front of their face to show them how they should really be acting, in the hopes that one day, the lesson will be learned. (God is clearly a huge optimist.)

The true Tzaddikim want to give God what He wants, even when it entails huge suffering and self-nullification on their behalf. Even if it means they end up being apparently ‘controlled’, at least on some level, by the mentally-ill people they’re surrounded by.

For as long as God wants that to be happening, the Tzaddikim will continue to give it to Him.

As noted above, I’m SOOOO not a Tzaddik. We can’t understand the level of self-control and self-nullification (or bitul) to God’s will these people have. If it was us, we’d complain! We’d clean house! We’d get rid of all these disgusting people who are making our lives miserable and tarnishing our reputations in 10 seconds! But the Tzaddikim aren’t like us – they’re Tzaddikim!

Time and again, I keep telling people that without doing regular hitbodedut (personal prayer), you have no chance of really understanding what’s going on today. Without my hitbodedut discussion, I would have harbored a huge grudge against the ‘tzaddikim’ that had apparently closed their eyes to the terrible spiritual corruption in their midst.

I would have got so self-righteous, judgmental and slanderous, God forbid.

With hitbodedut, it’s still been a real struggle to understand what’s going on (at least enough to have peace of mind…) But eventually, I got there. Thank God, I didn’t shoot my mouth off until God showed me what was really happening! Thank God, I didn’t rush to attack holy Tzaddikim, just because they’re surrounded by some very difficult, nasty people!

Thank God, that even though I was sorely tempted to ‘name and shame’ the individuals involved, I’ve kept my mouth shut. Sure, I hate what they’re up to. Sure, I still wish that they will be unmasked, so that other people won’t be hurt by them the way I got hurt. But God knows what He’s doing, the true Tzaddikim know what they’re doing, and when all is said and done, I really no nothing at all.

The last piece of good that came out of all this stuff is that I turned a lot of my insights and experiences into my book, Unlocking the Secret of the Erev Rav. While I can’t tell people WHO the crazies are, I can still describe how they act, so you’ll hopefully be able to work it out for yourselves.

You can buy Unlocking the Secret of the Erev Rav on Amazon and on The Book Depository

There was great excitement in the town: the town crier had just gone round the streets yelling at the top of his voice:

“The bone has a message! The talking bone of Ov has another message! Everyone come gather in the town square!”

Mothers rushed out of their homes, leaving their boiling pots of soup unattended. Fathers put down their Gemaras and left their shop-fronts: The Talking bone of Ov had a message! They were about to find out what was really going on in the world.

Only in the house of Rabbi Gershon did this news not cause a stir. Rabbi Gershon was sick of all the messages from the talking bone of Ov, and also its competition, the talking bone of Yidoni. It was never uplifting messages about how much God loves His people. It was never a message to make real teshuva and to come back to God, and to start treating other people more kindly and more gently.

The talking bone of Ov was always full of ‘oys!’, and full of the whole-scale destruction of the Jewish people and conspiracy theories that elbowed God out the picture, and just caused people to walk around panic-stricken about the terrible tidings they’d heard.

Who needed that?!

In his youth, Rabbi Gershon had also been a follower of the talking bone of Ov, but in recent years, he’d started to ponder why the talking bone never mentioned the nation’s holy rabbis, and all the work they were doing to sweeten the decrees hanging over the Jewish people. It never talked about the importance of going to Uman for Rosh Hashana. It never brought messages of hope…

Still, he knew why people continued to run out of their homes to listen to the talking bone of Ov every few weeks: human beings hate uncertainty. We all like the idea that we know what’s coming next, and that we’re prepared for it. Knowledge is power.

Rabbi Gershon sighed deeply and picked up his chumash. He started to read again about divination and sorcery, and why our Sages had outlawed all those weird attempts at trying to predict the future like raising the dead, or listening to a talking bone that someone had shoved in their armpit.

Information is power. Knowledge is power. But information can also be used to mislead and deceive, and knowledge can also be used to control and manipulate.

Rabbi Gershon sighed again. When the sages of the generation pasted up posters telling the town residents to stop speaking so much lashon hara, and to spend more time praying and learning Torah and less time visiting the local market and circuses, no-one was interested. No-one ran from house to house, trying to gather a crowd to hear what the Sages were saying.

But this talking bone of Ov showed up, and hey presto! It immediately pulled in a crowd of thousands with its messages of imminent death and destruction.

Did people realize how ridiculous they looked, hanging on every word of a talking bone?!? Did they understand that there are no short-cuts, spiritually-speaking, and that the only people who really knew what was going on hardly ever communicated that to the masses?

Did they understand that the only way to get though the world in one piece was by making sincere, genuine teshuva, and coming back to God? It didn’t matter how many tins of tuna the talking bone told you to stock up on, how much death and destruction was being predicted (typically to coincide with the next Jewish holiday…) – even if you knew all that, even if it was true, how was it really going to help you?

Rav Gershon’s ponderings were interrupted from shouts and screams from the street. As his friend Shlomo rushed past, Rav Gershon called to him from the window, and asked him what was going on.

“The talking bone has predicted that a tidal wave will smash into our village on Shabbat, and destroy everyone who isn’t wearing sackcloth and ashes. I’m running over to Rami Levi right now to pick up some sackcloth, and 50 tins of tuna,” Shlomo called over his shoulder.

“But we’re 3,000 foot up a mountain!” Rav Gershon called after his friend. “And the sea is 30 miles away!” But Shlomo had disappeared already.

Rav Gershon sighed again. Shabbat would come, and be ruined for most of the villagers who would sit there with fear in their hearts and terror on their faces. Never mind that the last 83 predictions of earthquakes hitting on Chanuka, nuclear bombs being dropped on Pesach, and ginormous Martian cockroaches invading on Purim hadn’t materialized.

Whatever the talking bone said, that was law.

Rav Gershon returned to studies, and pondered the world around him. A world were people preferred to listen to talking bones, CNN and Arutz Sheva, instead of listening to the words of our true sages.