An integral part of Jewish life is all of the Jewish holidays that stud the Jewish calendar, and set a pace for Jewish life that has been continuing unbroken for more than 300 years.

Many outsiders often want to know, ‘What are the Jewish holidays in September, or around Easter?’ They want the Jewish festivals explained to them, as they see whole Jewish communities dressed up in disguise around Purim time, or menorahs being lit around hanukkah.

And there are also a growing number of Jews who don’t much about their own religious birthright and traditions, like Yom Kippur the day of atonement, a fast day where Jews neither eat or drink; Sukkot the festival of booths and lulavs and etrogs, or Purim, where we hear Megillat Esther, drink wine and eat a feast – all for the highest spiritual reasons!

In this section, we’ll get to grips with the chagim, as they are called in Hebrew and try to put together something of a ‘Jewish holidays for dummies’ guide, as the holidays are experienced by yours truly.

We’ll take a look at things like:

  • How to celebrate them
  • The meaning of Jewish holidays
  • Explaining the chagim
  • The importance of Jewish holidays like Passover, Pesach and Rosh Hashanah
  • share some holiday facts, and Torah sources about the festivals

And a few other things, besides, including how hard it can sometimes be to get into the right frame of mind to really celebrate the festival or day the way God really intended, plus the rarely understood inner dimension of the holidays and festivals.

There seems to be an unfortunate tradition in my house that every Jewish holiday for the last few years has been attended with its own share of challenges and difficulties.

I tried to escape fate this year by checking into a hotel for Rosh Hashana, which worked for two days – but boy, did it catch up with me by Succot.

This last Succot was arguably the worst, or second worst I ever had, in terms of my matzav ruach and overall mood. I spent pretty much the whole of Succot crying my eyes out in the pit of despair about the mess I felt my life was in.

I was pretty nervous about Purim, too, as that’s also traditionally marked the start of a really difficult few weeks heading into Pesach. This year, Purim was bland, but OK – which is much, much better than it usually is, at least for me. So I was cautiously hopeful that I’d get to Seder in reasonably good shape.

Despite a few last minute issues and challenges, we got to a few hours before Pesach, and it was all going far more smoothly and enjoyably than usual. I’d warned my whole family we were going to enjoy seder night this year, even though we had no guests and were by ourselves again, as it’s been the last three years.

Apart from one absolutely massive argument between my husband and a kid an hour before Pesach about setting the table for seder (which ended on a positive note) – it was pretty smooth sailing.

Until about half an hour into the seder, when I started to feel pretty yucky.

Hmm.

Maybe, I hadn’t eaten enough all day? (Very possible…) Maybe, the argument had been more upsetting and draining than I’d realised at the time? (That could be…) Maybe, I was such an alcoholic lightweight that even one inch of fizzy wine mixed with grapejuice was more than I could handle on an empty stomach?

I held on until we got to the meal, ate my full share of matza, lettuce and chicken soup – and then started feeling even worse. I got shooting pains down the outside of my legs, and a migraine-type feeling of severe heaviness descended upon me, completely knocking me out.

I could barely even bench, let alone continue on to the end of the Haggada and drink another two cups of grape juice. I asked for a quilt and fell asleep on the couch before we even got to opening the door to rain down retribution on the anti-semites of the world.

I woke up a couple of hours later feeling even worse, and went straight to bed.

The next day, I was completely out of action and felt like I was back in the exhausted ‘burn-out mode’ I’ve had on and off for the last five years.

But this time round, I had no idea why! Usually, I have such big things going on that I’m amazed I’m still walking around some weeks, but nothing so ‘big’ happened before Pesach this year. But nevertheless, I still felt half-dead.

Gosh. I had that sinking feeling that Pesach was going to be a complete spiritual wash-out again.

The next day, I barely had energy to get out of bed. But my husband coaxed me to come out with him to visit Hevron, even if only for a few short minutes – and I somehow managed to get dressed and follow him out to the car.

The Hall of Yitzhak and Rivka in Hevron is only open on chol hamoed, and the small entrance to the underground tombs is located there. Some years, I’ve had the most amazing uplift from sitting close to that small hole in the ground that’s reputed to be the entrance to Gan Eden, so I didn’t want to miss out, if at all possible.

I sat there for half an hour.

The first ten minutes I felt so exhausted again I could barely speak. God, am I going to have months of ill-health and exhaustion again? Am I going to be struggling to find the energy to get out of bed again, and start worrying that ‘something’ is going really wrong health-wise, like happened a couple of years’ ago?

As I pondered that question, I realised I was actually feeling better. After half an hour, I was feeling so refreshed I decided to go for a little walk around the Jewish area of Hevron. I tagged on the back of a tour that was going through the ancient Jewish cemetery located on Tel Hevron, or the mound of earth where the biblical Hevron of the Patriarchs was located.

Hardly any of this Tel has been excavated by archaeologists, I suspect because they would find so much overwhelming evidence of the Torah’s veracity, and the Jewish roots that go so deep in Hevron, that could cause a lot of ‘trouble’ for the world’s politicians and atheists.

On the way, we stopped at the ancient grave of Ruth the Moabitess, and Yishai (Jesse) the father of King David.

The view was gorgeous, the grave was very picturesque, and for a moment, I got a taste of Hevron from 3,000 years ago.

It was magical.

In what is becoming a recurring theme at the moment, I sighed a big sigh and wished that Jews could live more freely in Hevron, and in Jerusalem, and in many other parts of Israel. It’s our country! God gave it to us! Why are places like Ruth and Yishai’s grave effectively ‘off-limits’ to Jews for 360 days of the year?

I know when Moshiach comes, these questions will finally be addressed and resolved, but in the meantime they are piling up higher and higher in the corners of my life.

But the good news: I came back from Hevron feeling so much better, physically and spiritually and not for the first time, I was reminded of the enormous spiritual power these holy places contain, albeit it’s often so hidden.

But the day is coming soon when that ‘hidden’ holiness, that hidden, beautiful Jewish spirituality, that hidden face of God, is going to be revealed in all its glory – and transform the whole world.

As the ‘craziness’ of this year’s Purim ebbed and flowed again, I started to think about what aspect of Purim is actually the hardest, at least for me.

Actually, I didn’t think about it all, as I immediately knew what aspect of Purim nearly ALWAYS causes me the most stress and anxiety: mishloach manot.

Back in London, I could spend literally hours in traffic jams trying to deliver my ‘nosh packages’ to friends who were often also out in their cars, trying to deliver their ‘nosh packages’ back. It never occurred to me that this was:

  1. a) A huge waste of time

AND

  1. b) Almost certainly didn’t really count as a true mishloach manot, which is meant to be a gift of two different bits of real food that would be ready to chow down on immediately. But I wasn’t going to start cooking up a storm for my 84 best friends at that stage of my life.

Then, we got to Israel, where Purim is taken more seriously, in some ways, not least because the country as a whole ‘closes’ for Purim, in a similar way to what happens on Shabbat.

Which is when I hit the next state of mishloach manot madness:

People were literally cooking mini-gourmet meals for a hundred friends and neighbors, and getting every member of their family involved in the mammoth delivery project that entailed.

That first year, I also had plans to turn out 50 home-baked mini quiches and a personal side-salad, until God sent me a timely bout of dysentery that meant I couldn’t get out of bed or eat for the whole week before Purim, and I barely managed the mitzvah at all that year.

It was so embarrassing: wave upon wave of baskets were showing up at our door, and we had zip, nothing, nada to give in return. Which is when I learnt the law of reciprocity: if thou shalt not return mishloach manot, thou won’t get any the following Purim.

Even though I had my act more together the following Purim (slightly…. As we were moving house and community the day after the festival….) I sent out 30 mishloach manot, and got around five back (mostly fumbled together behind the door, as the host asked me to wait with a slightly stressed smile on their face.)

The following year, I really, really tried harder with mishloach manot.

I planned it two months in advance, and I cooked, made and bought whatever was necessary to make it proper. Dear reader, that community was built on a steep hill, and as I took the turn leading up the mountain a little too sharply, all my carefully arranged hummus, side salads and home made rolls upended and smashed into my car door.

Disaster!!!

I salvaged whatever I could, and had another bout of mishloach manot-induced depression to deal with. Next year, I vowed to buy everything ready-made and ready wrapped, anchored down with 200 metres of cellophane and ribbon.

But of course I didn’t, because by then I’d moved community again and I was in my ‘extreme healthy eating’ phase of life, which made the whole subject of Purim and mishloach manot SO stressful from start to finish. What to make that wasn’t toxic that people would actually eat?!?! AND that would look nice?!?!?

Again, I spent hours baking healthy cookies, and then artfully arranging them on a plate with nuts and dried fruit. No cellophane now for me!!! I wasn’t about to add to the landfill just so my mishloach manot would look nice or stay on the plate!!!!

So of course, they didn’t.

The delivery got so stressful as I had to drive at three miles an hour to prevent all my artful arrangements from moving around…and then people looked at the home-baked cookies suspiciously, and I could read their thoughts: “Is this a good enough hechsher, if it’s homemade?!?? Are dates still on the ‘OK’ list?!?!?” (There was a lot of ‘pious’ kashrut concerns going on over there….)

The following year, I had an epiphany:

No more driving the mishloach manot around! I’m giving to whoever I can walk to within 15 minutes of my home and that’s it.

Which was mostly good, except I still had a few awkward moments when people unexpectedly gave us me a mishloach manot, and I had nothing to give them because I refused to just repackage other people’s nosh behind the door…

By the following year, I had other ‘concerns’ about mishloach manot, because I’d learned the mitzvah was actually better done by giving to people you didn’t like (and who didn’t like you…), or who weren’t part of your usual Chevra.

The problem was not how to find these people, but how to whittle them down to under 50….

Then we moved to Jerusalem, and by that point, I almost gave up on mishloach manot. I was so lonely here the first year, I had no idea how to fulfill the mitzvah, really. I didn’t know anyone. That year, my kids saved the day. On Purim morning, one daughter noticed I’d done absolutely zip all about mishloach manot, and decided to make pancakes for all of our neighbors in our building. One cooked, and the other one packaged and delivered – and I was so grateful to them, because it really made me feel a little more alive and part of things.

Last year, I decided on the simple, easy route: A good bottle of wine, and some super-badatz baklava, for five people within walking distance. Two of my packages went to people I didn’t really like, two went to externally ‘secular’ people, and one went to my nearest neighbor.

One of those negative relationships actually really turned around as a result, and I was thrilled.

Which brings us up to this year. This year, again, that familiar ‘despairing’ feeling took hold before Purim, and made it very hard for me to get to grips with mishloach manot again. I didn’t want to just hand out junk and nosh, but I had no energy to plan or make anything else. I was hit with a very strong wave of ‘can’t be bothered’, which only disappeared the morning of Purim (we celebrate Shushan Purim in Jerusalem, so the shops were still open on everyone else’s Purim.)

That’s when I decided the following: I’m going to make a healthy, easy Israeli breakfast for the three people I like, who live close to me. And that’s what I did.

This year, my husband and I barely got any mishloach manot from anyone, as he gave to his rabbis, and the law of reciprocity doesn’t hold over there.

In the past, that would have made me feel pretty sorry and down, and unloved. This year, I was grateful that I didn’t have a mound of waffley and MSG-drenched bizzli to somehow get rid of.

Friendships aren’t built on mishloach manot, or at least, they shouldn’t be.

I didn’t spend stressful hours cooking mishloach manot treats. I didn’t spend hundreds of shekels buying bottles of wines and fancy-wrapped baskets. I didn’t get super-stressed on Purim morning as I had 347 mishloach manot to deliver before the Purim seuda, and no time to really get that done.

I’m sure the yetzer will still figure out a way to make next year’s mishloach manot another challenge, but this year, for once, after I got past the blahs,  it actually all turned out really good.

TIPS FOR DE-STRESSING MISHLOACH MANOT:

  1. Don’t drive ANYWHERE Purim morning.
  2. If you need to deliver to people who don’t live close, arrange to meet them in shul after the Megillah reading, and swap baskets there.
  3. Keep things simple: the basic mitzvah is to deliver two items of ready-to-eat food, to two different people. That’s it!
  4. Dare to be different. You don’t HAVE to buy huge baskets of cellophane nosh just to fit in. But, you also don’t need to make gourmet quiches, if that’s just not ‘you’.
  5. Keep it practical. A tin of tuna and a jar of mayonnaise fulfills the mitzvah perfectly – without a bamba or bizzli in sight!
  6. Don’t beat yourself up over your mishloach manot: There will always be people who do this better, nicer, fancier, healthier… If you managed to do the mitzvah at all, in whichever way you did it, celebrate that fact! Even that is not so easy, these days.
  7. Don’t beat yourself up over not getting mishloach manot, or not giving it to the ‘right’ people: Much easier said than done, I know, but mishloach manot is NOT meant to be a popularity contest, or a test of your mettle as a Jewish woman.
  8. Notice any ‘negative’ feelings that bubble up on Purim, and pray on them. Purim is blessed with the energy of transformation. Every year, I have insights from my mishloach manot that encourage me to work on myself, try to do things differently, and to notice what ‘vested interests’ still come attached to some of my mitzvah observance. We’re all a work in progress, and nothing underlines WHAT that progress might need to be more than mishloach manot.

God seems to put a different ‘flavour’ or spiritual essence into the air around each of the Jewish holidays.

So it is, before Purim time, I always seem to feel like my life is spiralling out of control and that I barely have time to breathe.

Let’s be clear that I haven’t even got anywhere near to deciding what I’m doing for mishloach manot, who I’m sending them to (or not….) or what’s going to be with the Purim Seuda. Even though it’s already only a couple of days’ away, those things are just not on my radar yet.

Since Rosh Chodesh Adar, I’ve just been running, running, running.

Running to this Rosh Chodesh event, that kid’s performance, this kid’s high school, to the post office, to the Kotel. Of course, these are only the ‘external’ descriptions of what’s going on. The real running is happening internally, where I feel I haven’t been able to sit down, focus or relax properly for weeks.

Mamash, I’ve been caught up in some sort of internal ‘storm wind’ (which as we know is one of the four spiritual ‘klipot’, or forces of evil) which keeps me on edge, on my toes, and running, running, running so fast I don’t have time to breathe, or think, and certainly not to do the washing or shopping.

(Lucky for me, God also made my washing machine malfunction. Since it ‘zapped’ me with static electricity last week, it’s been taking all the lights out every time I turn it on, and I’m running too fast to be able to stop and fix it…Once my husband realises he has no underwear left, I’m hoping he’ll knuckle down and take a look at it. And then also do five loads of laundry. A girl can hope.)

Of course, all this running around is also occasionally dumping me into the midst of the ‘volatile fire’ klipa, too.

Yesterday, I had a road rage incident in the (predominantly Arab…) Jerusalem suburb called ‘Ir David’, the site of the biblical city of David.

Long story short, my kid had a production in the Jewish community hall there, and I had to drive all over Ir David to get to it. The parking was behind a carefully-monitored gate, which I missed and overshot by 2 metres. As I was trying to reverse back, an Arab minibus came right up behind me, and absolutely refused to let me back up.

We got into a standoff for five minutes – because Ir David is a one-way system, and I didn’t want to have to drive all the way around it again – but the Arab driver refused to back up – and boy, my Moroccan genes kicked in.

If my kid wasn’t in the car to calm me down there would have been another stabbing in Jerusalem yesterday – I’ve had gouged his eyes out with my car keys. As it was, I drove off like a woman possessed, loudly cursing the Arabs of Ir David with both windows of my car open.

Five minutes later, when I calmed down a bit, the ‘depressed cloud’ klipa showed up.

Man, after all this work I can still lose it and turn into an enraged would-be murderer…. Luckily, I had a chocolate bar stashed in my bag for this sort of existential spiritual emergency, and after I polished it off, I felt a little better.

But the point is this: Purim is a few short days away, that time of miracles, everything turning around for the best, and profound spiritual work. And I’m so far away from tapping into it this year, and I seem to be running even further away with each hour that passes.

Usually, my hitbodedut, or personal prayer grounds me enough that I can stop running for at least an hour.

But even there recently, my mind has been flitting all over the place and I can’t catch hold of myself, really.

I don’t know what the answer is. I hope God is going to rescue me from the storm wind, and the volatile fire, and the depressive dark cloud soon. And, if I’m really lucky, He’ll do it before Sunday so I can actually get my act together and sort out my mishloach manot, costume and Purim seuda.

In his recent parsha sheet, Rav Shalom Arush talked a great deal about the 8th day of Chanuka, called ‘zot Chanuka’, and the amazing miraculous power contained in this day.

Now, if you already lit your lights for the 8th day before reading this, don’t panic. The spiritual power of ‘zot Chanuka’ lasts the whole 24 hours of the day – and here’s what Rav Arush has to say about it:

“It’s a day where every single one of us can work every salvation (miracle) for ourselves. We can annul from off of ourselves every bad decree, every difficulty that we’re struggling with in our lives, and every test we’re having in both gashmius (the material realm) and ruchnius (the spiritual realm).”

How do we do all this?!

Very simply, by asking God to help us with whatever we need in our own words, aka hitbodedut.

Rav Arush suggests we all do the following on zot Chanuka:

  • Set aside a chunk of time to actually do some serious, uninterrupted hitbodedut.
  • Go to a field, or some other place (even in your own house…) where you’ll be undisturbed and left alone.
  • Aim to do three hours of uninterrupted personal prayer (this is Rav Arush’s own words and instructions).
  • Don’t forget to start with thanks and gratitude, as gratitude is the main point of Chanuka, and whatever ‘thanks’ you say on zot Chanuka will accompany you the whole year.
  • After that, tell God about every difficulty you’re having in your life, and every test you’re going through.
  • Devote half an hour of prayer to each big issue, like:
    1. Shalom Bayit (relationship with your spouse)
    2. Raising your kids properly
    3. Finances
    4. Career / work
    5. Health problems (emotional and physical)
    6. Spiritual issues like bad middot, and other things you need to make teshuva for and fix
    7. Avodat Hashem – the general work of doing God’s will and getting closer to Him
  • Rav Arush ends by reminding us all to take some time to pray for the good of Am Yisrael, and particularly, he recommends that we pray for the general Shalom Bayit of Am Yisrael, as he says that’s under particular attack at the moment, and many, many people are heading for divorces as a result.

Once again, our Sages teach that on Zot Chanuka, a simple Jew like you and me can achieve the sorts of miracles and salvations for ourselves that usually only a big Tzaddik could work during the days of awe!

It’s a golden opportunity to ask God to help us with all of our needs, lacks and requirements, spiritually and physically.

So now you’ve read this, go get ‘em, tiger!

And when you get your amazing miracles, please drop me a line and tell me about them, so I can help publicise the ongoing miracles of Chanuka (both yours and mine…) hopefully for a good long time to come.

How the Erev Rav and personality disorders are connected

A little while back, I got a tweet from someone (who knew people actually read those things…) criticizing me for linking ‘mental illness’ to the Erev Rav.

As it was a one line tweet, there wasn’t a lot of detail, but I still wanted to devote a post to responding to the criticism, because like it not, mental illness and the Erev Rav ARE inextricably linked.

This is probably not going to be an easy post to read for many people, and I apologise in advance for that.

In order to explain how mental illness and the Erev Rav are linked, I have to explain how I got onto this whole subject in the first place.

HOW I GOT INTO THE SUBJECT OF RESEARCHING THE EREV RAV

Around five years’ ago, I suddenly realized that so many of the very puzzling, difficult, upsetting and frankly bizarre behaviors, relationships and situations I was experiencing at that time were because many of the people I knew had undiagnosed and unacknowledged personality disorders, and in particular, Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

NPD manifests itself in two key (and superficially opposite) fashions:

  • Smothering, bullying and controlling
  • Uninterested, ‘absent’ and neglectful

There’s SO much stuff out there in the secular world about NPD. Here’s a rough round-up of most of the main points:

PEOPLE WITH NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER:

  • Can’t accept that they are anything except 100% perfect
  • Can’t empathise with other people, or see another person’s point of view – which enables them to mistreat others in a very cruel fashion, which they feel is completely justified ‘from their point of view’.
  • Project their own bad character traits on to other people, which means they mercilessly criticize others for the same things they themselves are doing (and denying).
  • Have a superiority complex and are obsessed with keeping up appearances at all costs.
  • Have very disturbing gossiping habits, manipulate others and make serious trouble between people wherever they go.
  • Are in a barely-contained state of permanent rage and anger – but will deny they are angry.
  • Act very vindictively, spitefully. They are unable to forgive anyone they feel has slighted them, particularly by suggesting they are anything less than perfect.
  • Are incredibly selfish and self-absorbed.
  • Relate to the world in a very superficial, materialistic way. They can’t ‘relate’ to others (or themselves) in an authentic way. They aren’t interested in more spiritual ideas and concepts.

I could go on, but you get the idea. The descriptions of NPD and the other ‘Cluster B’ personality disorders fit what I was experiencing to a tee. But I knew even back then that the only truth is Torah.

So then I started researching, did the Torah describe any phenomenon that would dove-tail with the secular descriptions of how people behave and treat other people when they have a ‘Cluster B’ personality disorder?

THE EREV RAV CONNECTION

Very quickly, Hashem sent me a whole bunch of information about the Erev Rav – and that’s when things got really intense, because the typical Erev Traits as set out by our Sages, and the typical traits you find in Cluster B personality disorders fit like a hand in a glove.

God appeared to be using personality disorders, and particularly narcissism, to hide the reality of the Erev Rav people in our lives, right under our noses.

But the question haunted me for three years: Can Erev Rav / personality disordered people change? Can they make teshuva? Can they be fixed?

Most of the Jewish sources on the subject said no.

The most current secular thinking (as expressed in the DSM) also said ‘no’ – when people have a Cluster B personality disorder, and especially narcissism, there is nothing you can do to help them to change that.

The main problem is that when someone refuses to acknowledge they are a flawed human being, and strives to maintain the illusion of their own perfection and infallibility, they won’t acknowledge any of the things they are doing wrong, or make any effort to try to fix them.

To put it another way: as long as someone clings to the notion they are only ever perfect and never make any mistakes, they stay a mentally-ill narcissist.

And that’s where I got stuck for three long years, until I read a discourse that Rav Berland gave in 2000, that completely transformed the whole picture and gave me hope for the first time that the Erev Rav / personality disordered people in our midst can change and can make teshuva, if they really want to.

I explain what Rav Berland said, and a whole bunch of other stuff about how to actually go about fixing these Erev Rav traits, in much more detail in the book, ‘Unlocking the Secret of the Erev Rav’. But I want to end this post on an ‘up’ note, and tie everything back together with my Tweeter’s original criticism of the book.

PERSONALITY DISORDERS ARE CAUSED BY TRAUMA, AND CAN BE REVERSED

Over the last two years, I’ve learned a great deal about psychiatric thought, trauma and the true causes of serious mental illnesses including personality disorders and narcissism. (Yes, I do plan on writing it all up into yet another book, and I even have a working title for it: Animal or angel? The real roots of mental illness and how to cure it.)

The upshot is this: personality disorders are a false, pseudo-scientific construct created by a ‘materialistic’ psychiatric industry that fails to put people’s soul into the picture. The main problems underpinning mental illnesses like personality disorders come down to the same main problems underpinning Erev Rav character traits, namely:

  • People are completely disconnected from God, their souls and the more spiritual aspects of life.
  • Without a strong connection to God, they are consumed by animalistic impulses and governed by bad middot that cause them to act in a personality disordered / Erev Rav type way.
  • Physiologically, personality disorders are caused by trauma, and particularly the types of trauma that come from being emotionally abused and / or neglected in childhood.
  • The single best way to strengthen the ‘good’, mature part of the brain so that it can stand up to the traumatized, primitive, ‘animalistic’ part of the brain is via regular prayer and hitbodedut.
  • It’s about TRAITS not about LABELS. Each bad character trait we eliminate brings us closer to true emotional and spiritual health, and takes us further away from acting like a mentally ill, personality-disordered Erev Rav.
  • Everybody occasionally acts like an Erev Rav. But with enough prayer, honesty and emuna, every single negative character trait can be permanently uprooted and rectified.

To sum up, personality disorders are a secular description of Erev Rav behaviors and traits.

The two are fundamentally linked, because they are describing the same phenomena, albeit one in ‘materialistic’ secular terms, and the other in Torah terms.

But the Torah’s truth, as expounded by Rav Berland, is that the Erev Rav people in our midst CAN be fixed, and sooner or later most of them will be (barring the ones who cause terrible strife and machloket amongst Jews).

But in the meantime, we still need to recognize what we’re dealing with when we come up against those difficult, arrogant, brazen and abusive characters we all unfortunately know, and to stop making excuses for what’s going on around us.

There are lots of personality disordered people in our midst. There are lots of Jewish narcissists. That’s the reality, and the Torah also told us that before Moshiach comes, the Erev Rav would return in force in order to finally be rectified. The Jewish people have been through so much trauma, I guess it couldn’t really be any other way at this stage of the game.

Calling a spade a spade and correctly identifying the emotional and spiritual problems in our midst is the first step towards really rectifying them.

Moshiach will help us to finish this job when he finally shows up, but in the meantime, we have to start that process and recognize that a lot of mental illnesses, especially personality disorders, and Erev Rav traits are essentially just two sides of the same coin.

But the key point to remember is that these mentally-ill / Erev Rav type behaviors CAN BE FIXED, and are primarily cured by working on our emuna, and making God a real and regular force in our lives.

As soon as a person says sorry, as soon as they admit they aren’t perfect, they start the long, difficult journey of fixing their souls and returning to God.

Recently, I’ve been having some correspondence with a reader about how easy it is to get swept up (and away…) with all the end of days stuff, to the point that you literally stop functioning in this world.

That happened to me for around long eight years, and while I do know that everything that happens is all from Hashem and all for the best, a part of me is still grinding an axe that my ‘pseudo-tzaddik’ spiritual guides didn’t step in and prevent me and my husband from getting too carried away.

Last year, one of my friends watched the video of Natan, the secular Israeli teen who died a clinical death, and who started sharing a whole bunch of stuff that he’d seen in Heaven, like foreign armies invading Israel in 2 days and Tel Aviv and Haifa getting nuked, God forbid.

My friend called me all het up, and asked me if she should quit her job and just spend her time making teshuva and preparing herself spiritually because, ya know, MOSHIACH IS COMING!!!!

And Moshiach is certainly coming, but the problem for me is that I quit my job, and my ‘regular’ life, and pretty much all I did was work on myself for eight years, which was all really good on the one hand, but on the other it’s still causing me some serious difficulties in my day-to-day finances and circumstances as Moshiach didn’t come in time to prevent me and my husband running out of cash.

This is what I told my friend last year:

“BH, work on yourself spiritually, do an hour of hitbodedut a day, make as much teshuva as you can – but don’t do anything you wouldn’t do if Moshiach wasn’t definitely coming tomorrow.”

Because the yetzer is very clever, and there are few tests of emuna bigger than turning your whole life around in anticipation of redemption, only for redemption not to show up on time and all your money to run out.

I always thought that me and my husband were pretty unique in how swept up we’d got in our fervent yearning for Moshiach. Part of why he struggled to go back to work so much was the idea that he was ‘selling out’ on the spiritual ideal of not being online, of guarding his eyes properly, of avoiding speaking to female clients. And on some level, he did sell out, but what could we do? Moshiach hadn’t shown up and we still had bills to pay and groceries to buy.

So, when a reader got in touch to tell me that she’d also recently got very swept up in all the stuff on the internet (and in other places) about the end of days and Moshiach, it made me very thoughtful. There are clearly many of us out there at the moment struggling with the balance between ‘this world’ and ‘the world to come’.

With her permission, here’s a little of what she shared:

“I am normally a very calm and rational person but I felt completely paralyzed with all of this [end of days / Moshiach stuff]. I knew I had uncovered the ultimate truth and everyone else was in total denial of the hectic state of the world and thought everything was normal.

“The Talking Bone of Ov” sounded like I was when I first heard about Nibiru and other end of days stuff. I was totally overboard freaked out and glued to the news… I caught myself before I went downhill totally but there was a low point for me when my behavior was scaring my husband a bit.

“Now, I have gotten out of the Armageddon outlook and decided to favor the rabbeim that talk about Hashem’s love for us instead…

“I feel so weird sometimes as if I am floating around, not grounded at all. I had myself 100% convinced that Moshiach would be here already and therefore assumed we wouldn’t have even celebrated Rosh Hashana this year…

“Now, I am just working on strengthening my connection with Hashem and really not going crazy about other things I’m reading on all of the geula sites other than Torah. It doesn’t serve a purpose for me anymore and I have to say it turned into something negative before when I was so deep into it as I forgot how to relate to the world and everyone around me. I walked around expecting doomsday every moment and couldn’t deal with fellow frum Jews walking around as if everything was normal. My friends were planning simchas and I couldn’t fathom them actually working out to be normal simchas. I was sort of pitying them in their oblivion. The yetzer hara at its best.

“Getting myself normalized has been a huge struggle as I don’t want to go the other way. I want my emuna to be stronger than ever and I want to approach life calmly, knowing Hashem, like always, is in charge of it all.

“It’s not a bad thing that I am into the geula – that in itself is wonderful – problem is that I drove head first right into it and I couldn’t properly relate to reality and people in the same way afterwards. That took me far away from the personal geula that we all need to do within ourselves.

“There is a Moshiach element in all of us, like the Divine spark that is part of us and like the bit of the original Adam inside us that unites us all as part of humanity… I am referring to an important part of life that is often forgotten about as we work for our daily bread. We have to look for and accept that this physical world is not all there is and elevate ourselves to actually look forward to a better world that is less and less physical and more and more spiritual.”

I can SO relate.

I got a lot of chizzuk from knowing I wasn’t the only ‘crazy’ in town who was so serious about Moshiach coming I actually made the spiritual work of preparing for Moshiach my main job for eight years. (Clearly, I’m not saying I finished.)

It’s difficult for me to know where I’m really holding these days, as while my Yiddishkeit is definitely more real, more compassionate and more grounded, it’s also more accepting of ‘the real world’. My husband is back at work, back online. I accepted my daughters need to find their own way and choose their own wardrobes. Two week’s ago, I even re-did my CV for the first time in 8 years, with the vague notion that perhaps I should stop writing such spiritual blogs and books, and get a ‘real’ job writing marketing material for some hi-tech start-up.

I’m still really stuck on that last one, as REALLY, I just want the books I’ve written to start selling in their millions, and for me to solve my cash flow problem that way.

Moshiach is definitely coming. Just I’m really not sure what I’m meant to be doing with myself now until he actually shows up. But it’s nice to know I’m not the only one wrestling with that question.

Rosh Hashana is never an easy time of year for me, as I usually feel the ‘din’ in the air and I spend a lot of time in a state of advanced internal stress.

That my husband goes to Uman really helps my peace of mind, because however ‘bad’ an experience I’m having at home, at least it comforts me to know that my husband is over by Rabbenu, getting the judgments sweetened on our family for the coming year.

But still, even with all the sweetening that’s going on in Uman, the last three Rosh Hashanas have been so hard for me and my family that as Elul began a few weeks’ back, I could already feel my stomach sinking.

Elul is here…which means Rosh Hashana will soon be here….which means two days of pure torture as we all just sit in the house feeling lonely, or try to find a shul somewhere with a tune I recognize…or I start thinking back to all the ‘fun’ Rosh Hashanas I seemed to have had back in galut, when I had a nice house and a big circle of friends…

The problem is that your mindset on Rosh Hashana sets the tone for your year, so if you’re feeling down, lonely, lost, victimized and ‘bad’ it doesn’t bode so well for the next 12 months.

My girls have also had difficulties getting into ‘happy’ mode on Rosh Hashana, as all of their friends disappear to do family things, and the three of us are left sitting at home and staring at each other, trying very hard not to feel too sorry for ourselves.

But this year, God gave me an idea to do something different. This year, I found a hotel in Tiberias that was meant to be catering to the Israeli Chareidi crowd for Rosh Hashana, and we booked to stay there.

A huge weight fell off my heart to know that this Rosh Hashana, it was going to be different. I had no idea if it was going to be ‘nice’ or ‘enjoyable’, but at least different, and that was a good start.

Tiberias is much, much hotter than Jerusalem, but given that it was already October, I wasn’t so worried.

As we got in the car to head up North, the temperature slowly climbed until it hit 40 degrees… WHAT?!?!? Even in the Summer that’s rare and a heatwave. Tov. I told myself and the kids: ‘Whatever God is going to bring us on this trip, we’re going to be happy with it.”

After a massive traffic jam, we finally got there an hour before the Chag. I ripped toilet paper. I made up the third bed in the room for my daughter. I went out on to the balcony to read my ‘Seder Vidui Devarim’ looking out on to the Kinneret, and I nursed a secret hope that this Rosh Hashana would be much better than the last few.

We went downstairs to the lobby to wait for supper, and were quickly surrounded by Jews of every type: Sephardim with the standard ‘Tunisian Savta’ in a wheelchair; Chareidim with a bunch of kids; the odd tattooed, tanned woman in a tank top who looked like she’d been dragged there against her will, to be with the mishpacha.

There seemed to be a few single women there too, older types who either wanted a break from all the cooking and / or just wanted to be somewhere around people for Rosh Hashana.

To cut a long story short, despite the rattling aircon in our room, the very hot, humid weather and the fact I was staying with two teenagers (!) we actually had the best Rosh Hashana for a very long time, baruch Hashem.

Watching all the complicated family dynamics playing out all around us worked a treat to make me see how spending holidays with ‘family’ is usually a bittersweet experience. My kids loved the 8 desserts – and better yet, hated the 8 desserts by the end of their stay as they realized that while it all looked so good, it made them feel like they wanted to throw-up afterwards.

I realized my cooking is still pretty darned good (a huge thing for me…) and also, that my life, my kids, my family is also very nice exactly how it is.

As a couple of bonus treats, God arranged for us to somehow find Rav Dov Kook’s shul in Tiberias, so I got to see him from the women’s section and hear some shofar blowing there. And on the next day, we managed to track down the ‘Tomb of the Imahot’, where six of our righteous women are buried, including Moshe’s mother and wife, Bilha, Zilpa and Elisheva, the wife of Aaron HaKohen.

The feeling I got by the holy mothers was so nice, I stayed there for 45 minutes saying some Tikkun Haklalis.

Towards the end of the Chag, I noticed one of the signs the organisers had posted up on the wall telling guests that their mood on Rosh Hashana was a good indication for the sort of year they were going to get. For the first time in about five years, I felt good on Rosh Hashana, and calm, and at peace, and happy.

Yes, it cost a lot of money to go there. But it helped me and my family go into the new year with feelings of gratitude and contentment, instead of feeling lonely and dissatisfied.

And getting a good start like that was worth every single penny.

Elul is never a ‘neutral’ month.

It’s the last month of the year, the King is in the field, and all the spiritual debts that have been riding the whole of the year fall due.

I’ve had some Eluls that were so bad, I just wanted to crawl under my quilt and come out again for Succot. Every day, some other huge challenge was happening, and I literally couldn’t cope any more. (This was three years’ ago, when the whole world was stuffed to the gills with spiritual judgments. I think everyone I knew had a terrible year that year, one way or another.)

This Elul isn’t like that, thank God, but what it is is really, really exhausting. No matter what time I wake up in the morning, I still feel I don’t have enough time to get ‘everything’ done, and I’m running late.

No matter how early I go to bed at night, I still feel pretty exhausted.

I know enough about basic health stuff to know it’s not food related, exercise related, or even, emotions-related (which with me is usually the biggest culprit). There is something coming into the world – my world – from the outside, slowing me up, and making me feel completely out of it and lethargic.

As I’ve mentioned before, I often get like this just before a big war, or before some big judgment or other starts to manifest itself in the world. So far, it’s so quiet in Israel – so bizarrely quiet, even – that doesn’t appear to be the explanation this time. (But you never know what the lead-in time with these things are…)

So what else could it be? Stress? Nibiru’s gravitational pull playing havoc with the human body? Moshiach?

Really, I have no idea.

But what I can tell you is that it seems like many other people have also been taken out by ‘Elul exhaustion’ the last couple of weeks.

When God’s ready, I’m sure He’ll resolve the mystery. In the meantime, I really do feel like crawling into bed, turning the light off, and waking up again towards the end of October, just in time to put my Succah up.

Since a few weeks’ before Pesach, I’ve been feeling pretty strange.

Yes, Pesach was very hectic this year, with lots of family coming out to Israel. Yes, I got hit with the ‘mystery’ illness that kept me feeling exhausted and out of it for around a month. Yes, my kids are both pretty unsettled in their schools, my husband is still pretty unsettled in his career, and I’m still trying to work out what I want to do when I grow up.

All these things are really just variations on a theme that has been reoccurring periodically in my life for decades: that feeling that I don’t know what I’m doing with myself, and that my life feels a bit empty and purposeless.

I’ve tried to fill that space with writing, with books, with classes, with praying, with working like a dog, with holidays, with exercising like a crazy person (many years’ ago, now…) and occasionally, even with cleaning my toilet.

Sometimes they work, more as a distraction than anything else. Usually, I have to go and do some big prayer-a-thon to get underneath the icky feeling and just reconnect back to myself, and then back to God. And THAT’s when I get some relief and some clarity and some inner peace.

(If you’re wondering, I often have to do a longer hitbodedut every week, to keep on top of the empty, pointless feeling that can swirl around me not infrequently.)

But given all that, this period of time still feels different from the usual meaningless / pointless / confused / frustrated feelings I get.

I don’t know about you, but this period of counting the Omer has been pretty intense so far. Every day seems to bring its fair share of deep, introspective work, and insights. I’ve been getting intense dreams, experiencing some weird things, and God has sent me some huge messages about what I need to work on and fix, still.

Like, I had one dream involving people I hadn’t spoken to for years, already, which made me realize I was still pretty upset at them and harbouring a huge grudge. Who knew?

Or, I had a conversation with one of my kids that left me literally gasping for breath. She mentioned something nonchalantly, like kids do, and I suddenly lost my voice and couldn’t breathe for a few seconds.

Gosh, clearly some deep, internal button had been pressed.

Who knew that stuff was still so tightly-wired up inside, and reactive?

So since Pesach has ended (and really, even before it began) I’ve been caught up in a bit of an internal maelstrom, where I know God is expecting big things of me, but I’m still finding it hard to really identify them, or give Him what I think He wants.

And it’s intense.

Do you know that Rav Eliezer Berland is in prison in South Africa, and has been kept there for over a month, already? Do you know what terrible trials and difficulties he’s going through?

Part of me feels that it’s only right that my life should feel so intense and unstable at the moment, because how can a huge Tzaddik like this be suffering so much, and we just sit here carrying on, business as usual?

In fact, the situation with Rav Berland is what makes me think, more than anything else, that this period of time is unusual, even though parts of it feel all-too-familiar. Things are getting shaken up. Things are getting broken down. Things are changing.

In which way, and what that means, I have no idea. I hope it’s going to lead to Moshiach and the temple, peacefully. But it feels like we’re definitely entering unchartered waters in some way at the moment, at least to me. And without my hitbodedut to keep me afloat, I think I probably would have sunk under all the pressure and intensity a long time ago.

Getting into Pesach this year was such a slog for me.

Around two weeks’ before the holiday, I had another dose of my pre-Pesach ‘mystery’ illness, where I start feeling so weak and horrible, it’s all I can do to get out of bed, let alone clean my skirting boards.

It’s happened like clock-work three years’ in a row now, and while the first year I was seriously worried I was dying, by this stage I KNOW it’s a spiritual / emotional thing – which makes it easier to deal with, in some ways, but still pretty challenging when it comes to actually getting stuff done for Pesach.

This year’s dose of spiritual malaise took me out for three days, and when I finally had the energy to get out of bed again, I had just over a week to get EVERYTHING done. Which is when my yetzer kicked in big time.

It started reminding me about all those people who get taken away to luxury hotels for Pesach… and all those people who have family around to make Seder for them and share the load… and all those people who can afford to get cleaning help, at least occasionally, to do what must be done before the holiday.

Dear reader, I moped around feeling so sorry for myself, and so unfortunate, and so ‘low’ in so many ways, leading up to Seder night.

I really felt like I was trapped in the land of bad middot, and I had no idea how I was ever going to get out of it.

What was keeping me going was the thought that hopefully, Seder night would be the breakthrough I needed, to stop feeling like such a sad loser and to see things start turning around again.

Seder night arrived – but my enthusiasm didn’t. The first half an hour, I sat there staring at the other three people around the table, and I just wanted to cry. Just me and my immediate family AGAIN. Another year where I felt more dead than alive, going into the Festival of freedom and redemption. Another year where despite my best efforts to grow, change and improve, my life still seemed to be stuck in a very despairing, negative place.

Sigh.

Of course, I’m a grown-up, so I didn’t say any of this stuff.

I just sat at the table with my pretend fixed smile on my face, trying to make out like I was really enjoying the whole proceedings. But underneath? I was drowning in misery.

Just then, the kid who is my mirror (and who’d also been feeling really unwell the week leading up to Seder) spoke up:

“I hate Pesach!” she declared loudly and with feeling, before we’d even got up to singing ‘Ma Nishtana’. “I hate it even more than Purim!” (Which is saying something, because this Purim she spent the whole holiday violently throwing up.)

Long story short, I suddenly realized that God was not going to let me get away with my secret despair, and that something had to change pronto, or else we were about to have the worse Seder ever.

When you have a small family like mine, everyone has to participate at Seder, and sit at the table, because one missing person is really a whole world.

I was off ‘missing’ in my head, and my kid decided to absent herself to go sit on the couch, leaving my husband and other kid desperately trying to raise everyone’s spirits and rescue our Festival of Freedom.

Just then, I stopped moaning and started thanking God.

‘Thanks, God, that me and my kid both hate Pesach. Thanks, God, that hard as I try to be a good Jew and keep mitzvot, somehow or other the rug keeps getting pulled out from under my feet, and I can’t seem to give You the joy, happiness and enthusiasm I’d really like to. Thanks, that I often go into these holidays feelings so lost and lonely – even more than usual. Thanks that I am NEVER going to be the subject of a Feldheim biography on ideal Yiddishkeit…’

Suddenly, the cloud lifted a little, and my kid came back to the table.

Next, I asked my family what was the worse Seder we’d ever had – and as everyone remembered this bad experience or that, I suddenly realized that every single one of our ‘worst’ Seders had been with other people. Here I was, moaning about it being just us, while actually, ‘just us’ was a pretty good deal!

We could all take the Seder at the pace we wanted to; it was much more relaxed and informal; I hadn’t killed myself making 18 side-dishes for guests; no-one was arguing about who was going to sing Ma Nishtana; I wasn’t being bored to death by the 100th dvar Torah…

Hmmm.

Maybe things weren’t so bad after all!

A few minutes later, me and my mirror had seriously cheered up, and we were both actually (whisper this…) enjoying ourselves.

Later on in the week, I spoke to some relatives about how their family-filled, luxurious Seders had gone. One had ended up in hospital with their kid on Seder night thanks to a serious asthma attack, while the other was completely exhausted from being up until five in the morning, and couldn’t wait for their ‘real’ holiday to begin.

Hmmm.

Pesach continued to be challenging in other ways this year, but the unifying theme throughout the last week (at least for me) is that appearances can be very deceptive, especially at this stage of the game.

The more ‘shiny’ and ‘successful’ and ‘sociable’ it looks from the outside, probably the worst it’s actually feeling.

I learnt that lesson big time this Pesach.

I hope God’s going to help me to remember it.