Traditionally, Jewish values and beliefs have been based on the Torah, the five books of Moses that were handed down to the nation at Mount Sinai.

As the Torah was effectively dictated by God to Moses, the laws it contains are a Divine blueprint for a how a Jew can live a happy, healthy, spiritually-fulfilling and meaningful life.

Many of these ideas have become the bedrock of universal morality, including the sanctity of human life, and the need to give people at least one day a week of from working, have become the foundation of modern society.

The posts in this category will explore how we can try to really apply Jewish core values and beliefs to our every day life – and what can be preventing us from doing that. Along the way, we’ll take a look at:

  • Jewish community mores
  • Traditional Jewish family and marriage values today
  • Important orthodox Jewish values and how they relate to things like working on our middot, or character traits
  • Jewish morals and morality, as set out by the Torah
  • Putting the Torah’s values into practice, in our real lives- and how that so often diverges from the ‘ideal way of being’ we’re aspiring to
  • Unique vs Universal Jewish values
  • The Jewish idea of God
  • Jewish kosher
  • Jewish kosher food
  • Jewish law
  • Jewish mysticism
  • Jewish messiah
  • Jewish new year
  • Jewish news
  • Jewish orthodox
  • Jewish old testament
  • Jewish prayer
  • Jewish population
  • Jewish prayer shawl
  • Jewish rabbi
  • Jewish rituals
  • Jewish rules
  • Jewish sabbath
  • Jewish synagogue
  • Jewish seder
  • Jewish sayings
  • Jewish sects
  • Jewish temple
  • Jewish traditions
  • Jewish Torah
  • Jewish Talmud
  • Jewish terms
  • Jewish tribes
  • Zionist vs Jewish

A little while back, I got an email from someone who gave eloquent voice to the people who I often refer to as ‘anonymous psychos’.

My correspondent – who is definitely not an anonymous psycho- explained that most of these ‘anonymous psychos’ are trapped in a whole world of their own searing, emotional pain, and they aren’t really ‘seeing’ anyone else when they’re lashing out, they’re just struggling with their own demons.

My correspondent quoted the following lines from the film ‘Psycho’ (which I’ve never seen, btw, probably because I’ve had more than enough real ones to deal with):

“We, all of us, live in our own private traps, forever unable to get out. We fight, and tear, and claw – but only at the air, only at each other, and we never really budge an inch.”

I have to say, it was an extremely useful, and even impressive email, for a whole bunch of reasons. But the one I want to share with you is that I think my correspondent managed to encapsulate in a sentence or two the whole problem with why people are really hurting other people:

It’s because inside, they are themselves hurting.

Now, this isn’t to excuse the behavior for a minute, or even a nano-second. Now that I’m a whole 45 years old (!), and a parent of teens, I can see more and more clearly how parents refusing to deal with their own inner demons, and refusing to accept that so much of their own behavior is ‘psycho’ is the main reason why so many of our children are ADHD, off the derech, clinically depressed, chronically ill and stressed and abusing substances and alcohol.

What changes the whole picture – instantly – is just for us all to hold our hands up to our own ‘psycho’ tendencies, and to stop pretending that we haven’t got any issues. It gives you some instant humility to do that, and that’s probably why so many people are allergic to trying it.

Even though we all know that walking the path of humility is really the only way we can get anywhere near to Hashem.

But over the last few years, I’ve seen so many people, so many parents, approach that point of truth, that fork in the road that’s going to transform their whole relationship with other people, their whole attitude to their own issues, and transform their relationship with Hashem, and with their yiddishkeit.

And they’ve picked the other path.

The path that seemed easier, in the short-term, because it meant they could continue to cover-up and justify their own bad behavior – as their parents did before them, and as their grandparents did before them, all  the way back to Adam HaRishon.

This has happened so many times, that I’ve come to call it the approach of ‘the hiddenness within the hiddenness’. Before we get to that point of truth, we honestly didn’t know that we were behaving like psychos, or that we were hurting so many of the people around us so fundamentally, or that we were living in a world of lies and deception.

Then, God opens our eyes to what’s really going on, and gives us a choice:

On the one hand, my dear child, you can choose to acknowledge the truth, and to try to take responsibility for your own actions, and to make a commitment to get Me, God, involved in the process of fixing the mess. Because I’ll tell you straight, you can’t fix it without My help, without checking back with me every single day to figure out what’s really going on.

OR

You can make a conscious decision to push down all this stuff you’ve just discovered about how you got so messed up yourself, and how you’re now repeating the pattern with your own children, and in your own marriage, and in with your own interactions, and by so doing, turn into a REAL psycho.

I know this sounds a little harsh, but I’ve seen it play out so many times.

It’s like what happened back in Egypt, when God kept hardening Pharoah’s heart, so at some point, his freedom to choose to stop suffering, and to stop experiencing the awful plagues, leading up to the death of so many Egyptian first-born, disappeared.

The commentators ask, How can this be?! How could God remove Pharoah’s freedom of choice like that?! What’s going on?!

There are many answers to this question, but the one that speaks to me the most is that Pharoah got to that crossroads. He reached that point of truth when all of a sudden, it was blindingly obvious that God is God, and that the whole of Egyptian society, the whole Egyptian belief system, was totally built on a foundation of deception and lies.

At that point, he was given the clear choice:

Are you going to accept that God, Hashem, is running the world, and that you are full of arrogance, cruelty and bad middot? OR, are you going to carry on trying to control everything around you, and carrying on trying to enslave other people to gratify your ego and build up your empire?

If you acknowledge the truth about what’s really going on now, it’ll go so much easier for you and the Egyptian people. And if you don’t, Pharoah – then utter destruction. The lies will be exposed publically for everyone to see, in the most painful way possible.

What did Pharoah do?

He picked wrong.

He couldn’t bring himself to tell the truth because it was too difficult to face up to it, too painful, too humiliating. So from that point on, his fate was sealed, and his ability to really ‘choose’ the path of teshuva was removed.

As I write this, I wonder what would have happened if someone had told Pharoah:

Mate, you are suffering from a severe case of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. All your ancestors were cruel, God-less psychos and they treated you really badly, too. Yes, you had a nice palace to live in, and nice clothes, and great food, but that came along with a whole bunch of guilt trips, shaming tactics and a heartless, arrogant emphasis on keeping up appearances that completely killed your neshama.

And now, you are feeling totally overwhelmed with toxic shame, and fear, at the idea of turning your back on everything those ancestors of yours taught you was important in life. But you know what, Pharoah? That’s just a flashback to the past! You can handle it! You can still get past your inner critic to do the right thing, here!

I wonder.

But in the meantime, it seems to me that God is giving all of us the same choice at the moment, to either continue living in the world of lies, or to move on to a path of sincere teshuva and humility.

For one person, the test will come via their children, who are acting up in school, off the derech, miserable, ill and depressed. For another person, it’ll come via their marriage, where God is mamash shoving their bad middot directly in their faces, and pleading for them to really acknowledge the problems, and to stop pretending that it’s all the wife’s fault, and that they aren’t crazy people with massive anger issues.

For others, it’ll come via ill health, or problems making money. For others, it’ll come in smaller ways, smaller challenges, where they will be repeatedly met with the question of whether they are quite so ‘holy’ and ‘perfect’ and ‘do-gooding’ as they like to make out.

Really? Really, it’s always everyone else’s problem? Really?

Really, you yourself have absolutely nothing to work on, and all the yucky things you do are totally justified and actually even mitzvahs, or ‘good chinuch’? Really?

That’s the voice that’s whispering at all of us right now, and that’s the crossroads we’re all approaching: to be a psycho, or to be with God.

And I hope that we’ll all find the courage and the strength and the emuna to choose right, and to not

Because if the psycho had known that there was a very easy way to get out of the trap of his bad middot, and that this simply involved him saying “I’m guilty!” and asking God to help Him rectify his issues, then:

He wouldn’t be a psycho anymore.

And neither would we.

Picture the scene:

After five years of exhaustive research, you finally decide that you’re going to start eating vegetarian. You’re not a militant animal rights’ activist, you just think that it’s much healthier and better for your body to cut out things that moo, bleat, baah and squawk.

Let’s say you’re sitting there, in the school canteen, when someone enters the room who really believes that vegetarians are unnecessarily limiting themselves, and what they consume. I mean, how else are they really going to get all the B12 vits they need, if not from something that moos, bleats, baahs or squawks?

That’s a fair point perhaps.

But, does it then justify the ‘militant’ meat-eater marching up to the vegetarian, and berating them for their unnecessary and unhealthy restrictions on what they eat?

Would it justify the militant meat eater trying to slip a furtive slice of bacon in their vegemite-spread bap? Or telling them that they were being served vegetarian sausages, when really the sausages were totally meat?

What do you think?

Who do you think is being more intolerant and narrow-minded, in this example?

Now, let’s picture another scene. Let’s say a kid has a peanut allergy. You know, peanuts – those little brown things that so many people can still happily consume, and that would otherwise be a fairly nutritious and delicious part of a healthy diet.

But not for the kid with the peanut allergy. If that kid gets a whiff of a peanut, that could shove them head-long into a life-threatening anaphylactic shock. Let’s say another kid simply loves peanuts to bits. In fact, all they want to eat is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and no-one can get them to eat anything else.

So now, which kid’s ‘intolerance’ is meant to take preference, here?

The kid with the allergy, who can’t tolerate being exposed to peanuts, or the kid who can’t tolerate eating anything except peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?

If the canteen decides to get rid of all the peanuts and ban them from the school, does that make them ‘intolerant’? Or, if the school decides that it’s not fair on the other students to have to miss out on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, is their decision to tolerate peanuts on the premises correct?

Let’s make it sharper: let’s say that the peanut allergy parents are mamash pushing for peanut-free premises as they are hugely worried about what could happen to their kid if, God forbid, he should eat one, or even just inhale the scent of a peanut.

Let’s say, the peanut butter and jelly parents are mamash pushing back against this decision – because otherwise, what is their kid going to eat?! – and they write an angry letter decrying the school’s intolerance of peanut eaters.

They are right to say the school isn’t tolerating peanut eaters, aren’t they?

That makes the school intolerant, doesn’t it?

And that intolerance must be bad, mustn’t it? Because isn’t all intolerance awful?

What if the school says they won’t tolerate bad language. Or smoking. Or drug abuse. Or bullying.

That’s shockingly intolerant, isn’t it?! That’s limiting the pupils freedom of expression, isn’t it? And that must be bad and narrow-minded and un-egalitarian.

Mustn’t it?

Let’s take another example.

Let’s say, a man wants to come to work wearing just his underpants. Let’s say, he works in a very mixed, regular office where there is a fair sprinkling of old and young, male and female coworkers.

And this man wants to sit at his desk wearing just his underpants.

Should that be tolerated, by the management?

Let’s say, he has a serious case of trauma from when he was forced to wear a bright orange bell-bottomed paisley print trouser-suit (with a belt) when he was a kid in the 70s. And now, he just doesn’t like wearing clothes very much. Now, he just feels way more comfortable only wearing his underpants in public.

What would the preachers of tolerance proclaim about this case?

What would be the right thing to do? To let this man wear his skimpy undies in the office because he has serious trauma from orange flares, or to put the well-being of the rest of his office-workers first, who really don’t want to see ‘Mr Jones’ sitting there wearing just his grey pair of flannels?

Now, let’s start to switch these examples up, to make them a little bit more religious. Instead of a vegetarian, let’s have someone who eats strictly kosher badatz, or someone who doesn’t eat gebrochts on Pesach. Is it right to tolerate their strange ideas of food? Would it be right to try to force them to eat not-kosher food if they came to visit you in your home? Would it be right for them to try ‘force’ their kosher food on you, when you come to visit them?

Let’s say, instead of a peanut-free school canteen, we’re talking about a hospital in Israel. Is it ‘intolerant’ to stop hospital patients from eating chametz on Pesach if they want to, or is it ‘intolerant’ to the patients who do keep Pesach, to render the hospital totally chametzdik?

Whose distress is going to be greater? Whose life is going to be more seriously affected?

Now, let’s switch the man in his grey undies for a woman in a sheer, see-thru blouse and miniskirt. She likes to dress like that, she’s liberated, it makes her feel happy to come to the office in skirts so short, she may as well just be sitting there in her underwear.

So what, she’s making other people feel uncomfortable? So what, she’s going against the accepted dress code for the public space that is an office? Surely, its intolerant to expect her to wear more clothes?

What if you have a woman who insists on shaking hands with men, and a man who really doesn’t want to shake hands with the woman. Is he being ‘intolerant’? What if it’s the other way around? What if you have a man who just loves giving big, over-friendly hugs to his female colleagues. What if you’re a woman, and you just don’t want that guy touching you (or even, breathing the same air.)

Are you being intolerant?

What if, you can’t stand anyone shaking your hand, or kissing your cheek, because you have a strong aversion to chemical fragrances and perfumes, and even the smallest whiff of hand soap, or aftershave or deodorant makes you throw up? Now is it OK, for you to intolerantly refuse to shake hands, or kiss cheeks, with another person?

For once, I’m not going to try to wrap this post up in some neat conclusions. The point I’m trying to make here is that we’re all different, we all have different likes and dislikes, different needs, different beliefs, different priorities. It’s like the proverbial two old people in shul, one of whom wants the window open because he’s boiling, and the other who wants it shut, because he’s freezing.

Who’s right, in that example? Who’s wrong? Which one is being intolerant in the wrong way, and which one is being intolerant in the right way?

If you’re also feeling hot, you’ll go off on the guy who’s trying to close the window. If you’re also feeling cold, you’ll explode at the guy who’s trying to open it. Your view of what’s happening will be colored by your own experience, and your own preferences.

Unless God set down a clear commandment saying Thou shalt not open the window on a day where it’s below zero, all you have to go on is your own common-sense and empathy for where the other person might be coming from. If these things come to the fore, then you’ll sit down with Mr Hot and Mr Cold and try to find a way where both people’s preferences can be accommodated as much as possible, without making one of them ‘the baddie’.

Sadly, in the politically-correct mess we currently find ourselves in, God long since stopped being an arbiter of right-or-wrong for most people; common-sense is at an all-time low, and empathy – where you really make an effort to at least understand the other person’s point of view, and to at least concede that you might not be 100% correct about everything, all the time – is similarly missing from most people’s equations.

And man, are we feeling the lack.

There’s a Talmudic dictum which states:

He who is kind to the cruel ends up being cruel to the kind.

I’d like to reframe it somewhat, as follows:

He who is tolerant of the intolerant ends up being intolerant of the tolerant.

And if you look around, you’ll see that playing out all around us.

 

[1] I have no idea why anyone would actually want to eat this, but so many people from America like it, there must be more to it than meets the eye.

If you’ve been with me for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been writing about – and struggling with – internet addiction for as long as ‘www’ has been a word.

Although strictly speaking, that’s not true, because before I decided to quit my job 10 years ago, there was no real struggle: the internet had eaten me up, body, mind and soul. Once I realized just how bad my preoccupation with the net was for me and my whole family, I got the internet out of my house, and went cold turkey.

Over the next 6 years or so, I mostly had it mostly sidelined. I’d go to the local library to upload things and gorge myself on geula sites and a bit of news twice a week, but it was manageable – and I have to tell you, I got a lot of other stuff done over that time, mostly hidden in my home and internally, but still a lot.

Then for a lot of different reasons, the internet came back via a plug-in internet stick, and the internet addiction also started to creep back in under the guise of all this ‘important’ stuff that we were now doing online.

But it was kind of manageable still, until the middle of last year, when our disastrous house purchase blew up, blasting my last ounce of spiritual strength away with it.

The internet addiction roared back, and I found myself obsessively checking earthquake sites, and geula blogs, and even the occasional Youtube video or documentary.

And there was nothing I could really do about it, because there was a big, gaping hole where things like ‘satisfaction’, and ‘peace of mind’ and ‘real happiness’ should have been, but just weren’t. So all that internet stuff was my escape out of a reality that I really didn’t want to be in any more, but couldn’t see a way out of.

To put it another way: I gave up.

Of course, all still with the plug-in stick, and what I’m describing as ‘internet addiction’ probably wouldn’t even register on the radar for a lot of people, but for me, I understood that I’d got to a very low place, spiritually.

Then I had that awful experience erev Rosh Hashana, when someone who had previously been quite friendly all of a sudden did an ‘Anakin Skywalker’ and went over to the dark side. She sent me an email a few hours before Rosh Hashana began that upset me so much, it nearly threw my whole Rosh Hashana over to the forces of evil.

I wonder if she has even an inkling of the huge amount of damage and pain she caused me, with her five line email?

All of a sudden, I realized that most of the people I’d been ‘hanging out with’ in cyberspace where anonymous psychos that I actually knew next to nothing about. And that threw me for another loop, because if I hadn’t been interacting with real people, then who the heck was I actually dealing with?!

This thought creeped me out in a way that’s hard to explain, but I think it comes back down to that lack of authenticity.

I felt like I’d been participating in some warped, geula-fuelled version of The Sims for the last few years.

Anyway, straight after Rosh Hashana I deleted my blog in an attempt to avoid getting pulled into any more machloket online, and I also permanently blocked every single geula blog I’d been looking at from my PC. I figured,

maybe, this was God’s way of telling me to stop blogging, and to go and do something else, something better.

So I tried, I really did, to find those other things. I bought a new painting set, I tried to do a real shiur with real people, that didn’t exactly work as fabulously as I hoped. I got to work on the book on volcanoes. I tried a few different shuls locally on Friday night, to see if one would ‘click’.

Long story short: it all flopped. It all failed. And after two months of no blogging, I realized that God wanted me to write, and to return to blogging. And I was really angry when I found that out, because

It’s so much easier to be completely ‘offline’ than to try to use the internet judiciously.

So I started blogging again, half resentfully, and now I started to realise how much of my internet use had been done as a reaction to try to make me feel better about the mess my ‘real life’ was in.

The equation went something like this:

I feel bad / lonely / lost => go online and lose yourself in Youtube.

I feel bad / lonely / lost => go online and read a geula blog written by an anonymous psycho

I feel bad / lonely / lost => go online and post up something you wrote knocking something, or someone else, to try to make yourself feel better

Things were a little better now I’d blocked the geula blogs, but again, the internet was eating me up, body, mind and soul, and after my all efforts to run away from it, I just kind of rolled over and let it happen.

What, I’m going to try to get it out of my life again? I’m going to make another failed attempt to pull away? I can’t. I’m tired. I’m finished.

But God had other plans.

——

About three months ago, my youngest daughter started going completely beserk about what was going on in the house.

She started berating me for not doing the washing up promptly, for not doing sponga every week, for not making fancy suppers every night. She started complaining that the house smelt ‘bad’, and would come home and immediately splashing economica all around. My house smelt like a public baths for three weeks.

I’ve had to do a lot of praying to figure out what was really going on, but at its root, God sent this teenage obstinacy to me as a gift. He wanted to shake me out of my complacency, and to encourage me to make some very necessary changes in my life. But for weeks, I was trying to ignore Him.

Leave me alone, God. I can’t do all that ‘trying to improve myself spiritually’ stuff anymore. I’m finished. I’m done. I’ve officially retired from making any effort, and that’s that. Nothing else to talk about.

But God wasn’t having any of it. The teenager got more and more abusive, more and more difficult to be around, more and more stressful to live with – until I finally realized:

She is right.

She is 100% right.

I need to pull my socks up, and try to make a change for the better here.

This is so easy to type, but at the stage I’d arrived at recently, it was so very hard to even begin to contemplate.

What, I’m going to try again?!

After the million failures? Why bother? Let me continue to escape into Youtube, and gamarnu.

But God – and the teenager – didn’t give up. I got really ill around four weeks ago, and I know from experience that when a serious health issue shows up, that’s because I’m ignoring the message I’m getting at the emotional / mental level. God was giving me a shot across the bows:

Don’t keep ignoring the message to change things, Rivka, because it’s only going to lead to a bad place if you carry on doing that.

And I knew what I had to do: I had to get offline again, and stop using the internet as an escape hatch from reality.

But how?

Last month, I started looking around for hubs in Jerusalem. Long story short, there are quite a few, but all of them seemed to be miles away, in the centre of town where there was no easy parking. I didn’t have the strength to make such a big effort, so I sank back into feeling miserable and stuck, and just gave up again.

But God said:

Not so fast!

Annette Gendler, a writer friend of mine, was in town and speaking at a Writepoint evening, and invited me to come. It was pouring rain, but when I realized she was speaking somewhere that was a 5 minute walk away from my house, I decided to go anyway. The event was taking place in a hub in Talpiyot, that I’d never heard about, and all of a sudden, I started to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

I was still feeling ill, so it took me a week to get back there, but when I returned, I met the manager – and realized I knew him from London. That particular hub wasn’t so suitable for me, but he told me about another place that was also a 5 minute walk away, and which is aimed at creatives.

It would cost me 1,000 shekels a month to get a hotdesk there, but if I did it, I could get the internet out of my house again.

I wavered for a fortnight. The internet had taken over so much of my life, I knew it was going to be a huge, massive change. Also, that’s a lot of money to spend, and I wasn’t sure we could really afford it.

But somehow, last week, I finally took the plunge, and signed up for a month. I told my husband to hide the stick – and on Monday, it finally hit me just how much of an emotional ‘crutch’ the internet had become. I mamash went into some sort of drying-out crisis, like a heroin addict climbing the walls.

Now it’s just me and my life. No running away. No getting away from those lonely feelings by surfing. No dodging the dissatisfaction anymore.

I had a really hard couple of days, because all the things I’d been trying to ignore for months came sharply into focus.

But now, I’m starting to feel better again. There are things I need to work on, things I need to improve, things I need to pray about. And BH, now I’ve pulled the plug on the internet escape hatch, that stuff will start to happen again. I can’t watch Youtube in the hub – it’s a serious place, where people are doing serious work – but I can do all the stuff that I need to do online, like check emails and upload blog posts.

But not all the time, and not 50 times a day.

Hopefully, I’ve made some space to start reclaiming my life again.

And now, like magic, the teen has cheered up and stopped nagging me, even though I’m still not so hot on doing the washing up. And like magic, I’ve found the energy to start work on Secret Diary #2, which is going to be written like a real story, not just a bunch of blog posts pulled together in book. And like magic, I’m starting to get a little bit of the energy required to look the internal black hole in the face, and to get on with the job of shrinking it again.

I’m still feeling pretty shaky, emotionally and physically at the moment. I’m still feeling pretty weak. But now I’ve got the internet out of my house, I’m also feeling calmer and happier. I know there’s a lot going on out there, I know the earthquakes and meteors and volcanoes are picking up, and never mind all the political cack that passes for ‘news’.

But I also know that at this stage, I have to take a step back from that stuff, and to do much less online than I have been doing. I have other things to write, other things to think about, other stuff to work on.

And for the first time in ages, I’m looking forward to getting on with things again.


Annette just sent me a lovely post she wrote about a quick tour we took of Musrara, my old hood, when she was here a few weeks’ back. You can read it HERE.

The last few weeks, I have to admit I’ve been struggling.

First I had that three weeks of ‘flu’, or whatever massive physical detox that actually was. Then, a lot of the things I’ve been working on the last little while started unraveling again, at least in my head.

I had issues on Sasson with a writer who was plagiarizing other people’s work, but didn’t seem to understand the problem when I explained it to them – repeatedly. Then, one by one the writers all seemed to get a little discouraged, and the creativity started drying up. I tried geeing it up with ‘themes’ and offers of monthly columns, but the people in the US really wanted to be paid to contribute regularly, and the people in Israel all got too busy with other stuff to be able to write.

Then, I had the issue with the pictures of women, which was the cue for someone who doesn’t even write for Sasson to send me a massively self-righteous email, knocking for me being so small-minded, judgmental and ‘anti-equality’.

So, my motivation to continue kind of sagged, because what’s the point?

Then, I spent two whole days  trying to stick up the back posts from Emunaroma 2017 on to this site, and as I was reading through them, I started to feel like why did I waste so much of my time writing this stuff? What’s the point?

At the same time, one of my teens has been extremely challenging the last few weeks, as mentioned HERE. She wants a nice, clean, new house. She wants a different kitchen. She wants a different bathroom, and for the apartment to be in a different part of Jerusalem.

After everything that happened with the house, I sympathise with her a lot, but it’s still sometimes rubbing salt in the wound when she stomps around complaining about how old and yucky and moldy everything is.

Mold always shows up in old apartments in Israel when it rains. And sure enough, I’m catching it spread across whole walls, and popping up behind a bed in our room, and behind the shelves and bookcase in the girl’s room.

Ah, now I understand why the rent was so reasonable.

In the meantime, my heart kind of sank again, because if it was my house, I’d do my best to tackle the mold problem fundamentally. But as it isn’t, all I can do is keep returning every few days with some wipees and bleach. I know it’ll be back again in a week or two, so again I had that feeling what’s the point?

Then I started reading an absolutely awful book – with no less than three rabbinic approbations! – which basically claimed that living in Eretz Yisrael is a total waste of time, and even a ‘sin’, because the State of Israel was created by reshaim who were using the State to uproot and replace religion and Torah.

That last bit is correct, but the rest of the author’s ideas – about massive Tzaddikim who live here being ‘reshaim gemorim’, or that the Six Days War was totally not miraculous, or that a Jew can live a perfectly nice life in Lakewood (without the high taxes, army service and threat of a nuclear Iran) – and be a better Jew than someone who sacrificed so much to live in the Holy Land totally and utterly depressed me.

The book is 1500 pages long, and by the middle, I started to doubt my own sanity for believing in the geula and Moshiach.

My husband saw what was going on, and took the book away to throw it out. I should have guessed it was bad news, and it had a whole chapter devoted to the ‘Erev Rav’ (who of course, only live in Israel….), and was packed to the gills full of lashon hara, arrogance and anti-emuna statements.

I learnt some interesting stuff still, which I may write about another time, but only if it’s going to help bring Am Yisrael more together, not divide us.

But I started to see why so many of the ‘ultra-orthodox’ Jews in the US and UK have absolutely no desire to make aliya – and even think it’s a mitzvah to look down on people who did, and to disdain those of us who really do believe that you should be ready for Moshiach every day, every moment, even if it’s never going to happen in your own lifetime.

There have been a few more disappointments and disses going on too, behind the scenes, which meant by the time we got to yesterday, I was feeling like my whole life is a total waste of time.

Not just what’s the point of writing? But, what’s the point of me?

Yesterday, I tried to do an imperfect long chat to God about it all, and by the end of that, I was in floods of tears.

I just felt so low and worthless, like whatever I do just fails and is pointless.

I drove out to Ashdod to take a look at the sea, and I felt a bit better. But when I got home, it all came crashing back down on me.

You’re pointless, Rivka. Nothing you do is ever going to get anywhere. You’ve been living in fantasy world getting ready for geula and Moshiach for the last 13 years, when you could have just stayed in London and enjoyed yourself. What an idiot, that you gave up your career and your house and your social group for this.

Man, it was bad.

I was a gibbering wreck when my husband came home, and I couldn’t even tell him what the problem was for the first two hours, I was crying so much and feeling so pointless.

I went to have a shower (that often helps when you’re in the middle of a nervous breakdown, btw), and by the time I was done, I could explain the issue.

I’m worthless, and nothing I’ve done matters in any way, shape or form. I have totally wasted my life, the last few years.

He looked at me blankly.

Then, he started the fight back.

I’m doing a little better today, although I’m still pretty shaky.

I’m still struggling to believe that I’m worth something, even if I’m not earning money. And that I’m a good enough mum, even if we live in an apartment that’s covered with mold and that doesn’t have a lot of home-made cookies in the pantry. And that I’m a good enough Jew, even though I have been finding so many things difficult recently, and I’ve run out of spiritual energy on so many fronts.

Of course, it was only after my total freak-out that I realized it’s Rosh Chodesh Adar – uniformly the most challenging time of the year. Last year, I signed the contract on the awful apartment on Rosh Chodesh Adar, and we all know what a ‘blessing’ that turned into.

I know we’re taught Adar is when the happiness appears, but my experience is that usually, the lead up to Purim is the darkest time of the year, and it’s only on Purim day itself that the heaviness starts to lift, and the light starts to shine through again.

And this year, we have two Adars!

We need all the help we can get, to make it through to Pesach in one piece.


After I wrote this, I checked my emails and found that Mary in NY had sent me this clip, from Rav Ofer Erez.

It was exactly what I needed to hear, and it explains (with English subtitles in 3 1/2 minutes) why we’re all feeling the pressure right now.

Over to Rav Ofer:

 

Revisiting the Mirror Principle (aka that problem you’re shouting about in everyone else is really just your own.)

Over on spiritualselfhelp.org last week, I wrote a piece about the Baal Shem Tov’s ‘Mirror Principle’ – together with this nifty infographic which set out the main points. A lot of people don’t like the Mirror Principle, because our yetzers have us programmed to go around pointing fingers at everyone else’s ‘bad’, while completely ignoring our own.

An infographic showing how to make teshuva using the BESHT's Mirror Principle

This is a big part of why I just can’t read rants any more, however more ‘holy’ they appear to be, because the person criticizing others for sure has some shade of the problem they are critiquing.

Not 100%, maybe, not exactly the same, but for sure some percentage of the same problem they are dissing in the other person, some shade of it in their own lives.

There’s a lot of confusion about how the mirror principle actually works, because a lot of people believe that if it’s not exactly the same problem, if it’s not exactly the same degree of the problem – then they are completely off the hook, and they can just continue to point fingers at other people so self-righteously, while completely ignoring their own flaws.

But the mirror principal also doesn’t mean that we just ‘whitewash’ the obvious bad we see around us, either, obviously not.

It just requires us to be honest – with ourselves and others – that if we feel the need to ‘have a go’ about something publically, or to vocally criticize another person, that we should also acknowledge that we also have that problem, too. So then we need to go away afterwards and figure out what percentage, what shade of that issue we ourselves are exhibiting.

Because it’s never 100% the other person who has the problem, and that we’re totally fixed and rectified.

At the very least, we have 1% of something to go away and work on, before that ‘rankling’ feeling will go away, and we’ll finally get some inner peace.

Of course, I have to practice what I preach. I can’t just write about all this stuff then ignore my own ‘mirrors’ that God is being so careful to show me.

So last week, I had a chat with a good friend of mine who was giving over a piece of ‘Torah’ which just sounded plain wrong, and really rubbed me up the wrong way. Without getting into the details of the Torah (which I went to check up afterwards, and which really does appear to be ‘wrong’) – I reacted so badly to what she told me, that I felt I had to apologise for my reaction while I was actually having it.

Now, in the past, I would just have launched straight into an attack on the credibility of the person who gave this Torah over. But after I’d been thinking about the mirror principle all week, I was a bit more spiritually prepared to look past the other person’s obvious ‘wrong’, and to ponder what God was trying to actually show me, instead.

What I came up with was the idea that I’m sick to the back teeth of all these ‘know it alls’ that really don’t know all that much at all, especially when it comes to the deeper ideas of the Torah, who are probably misleading a whole bunch of people. Now I was up to the next, far harder stage: seeing where that applies to me.

Because as the mirror principle clearly states, when you’re having a strong reaction to something, it’s never a case of it being 100% all the other guy’s fault.

So I did some hitbodedut on that idea this morning, and I came to the conclusion that more often than I’d like, I still find myself sliding in to ‘know it all’ rant-y posts. I don’t want to be writing that stuff anymore, and it’s a big reason why I actually pulled the plug on Emunaroma a few months’ back, because honestly? Who cares what I think?

At least, who cares what I think about very deep concepts that really, you need to be the gadol hador to really have a strong claim to actually know what you’re talking about?

So then I started to wonder, where does this strong urge to start opinionating, and to start acting like a know-it-all really come from? What’s underneath it, emotionally? The answer that came back was this:

Rivka, it happens when you’re feeling like a loser.

Aha! That was actually a useful piece of information. So then I had to ask,

God, how do I get rid of this? I’m sick of being pulled into pointless arguments that only lead to more sinat chinam, I’m sick of writing from an arrogant place. So, how do I stop feeling like a loser? What can I replace ‘feeling like a loser’ with?

The answer came back:

Try replacing it with some happy humility, instead.

So, that’s what I asked God to give me, happy humility.

Over Shabbat, I cracked open a book that I bought in the UK a few months back, that was basically talking about how bad the ‘Zionist enterprise’ is, and why orthodox Jews don’t need to live in Israel until the Moshiach actually comes.

It’s a big book – 1500 pages long – but around 1/3 of the way through, I came to realise how the author was pointing out all the ‘big bad’ in the other camp – and he’s right in most of what he was saying – but was completely missing the ‘big bad’ in his own.

I.e., the mirror principle was completely lacking over there, which is why the author felt justified in putting together 1500 pages of pretty much unadulterated sinat chinam. This is what’s holding up Moshiach – this is what’s been holding up Moshiach for the last 2,000 years, already.

Right now, God seems to be sending an atmosphere of harsh hakpada, or strict judgment down to the world.

It’s almost as though He’s shining a very strong spotlight of everyone else’s bad, and making it so easy to point fingers at what everyone else is doing wrong, and how annoying they are, and what bad middot everyone else has.

Why is He doing this?

Maybe, because He really want us to see what we ourselves need to fix. Because we all know, it’s so very easy to spot everyone else’s issues, and to call them out, but when we do that, we completely miss the point:

That we can only fix ourselves, that we can only rectify ourselves.

The last thing I just wanted to include here is the idea that the Tzaddik is just a mirror. The Tzaddik is completely rectified, so 100% what we see reflecting back at us is just our own inner dimension.

That’s why so many of the people who are ‘anti’ the Tzaddikim are clearly lunatics with a lot of mental issues. Whatever your issue is, the Tzaddik is going to shove it in your face so clearly, you can’t ignore it anymore, and if you can’t accept that you are the one with the problem, then you are going to just project it on to the Tzaddik instead.

For example, for as long as I can remember, I’ve had a really bad yetzer to get into fights and arguments with other people, which I always used to justify as standing up for the truth, yadda yadda yadda.

So, I got to Rav Berland, and the Rav arranged things that I’d get into the middle of the most machloket and self-righteous arguments I’ve ever had to deal with in my life. And after a couple of years of it, I was totally and utterly sick of fighting with people.

The Rav broke my yetzer for picking fights!

But, if I hadn’t been aware that the fighting and arguing was my own problem, then God forbid I could have fallen into the trap of complaining about the Rav, for setting things up in such a way that I was finding myself arguing all the time over ‘the facts’.

We are all down here because we have work to do.

Over the next few weeks and months, for sure a lot of yucky behavior is going to be coming to the fore, because things can only be fixed when they are recognized and acknowledged.

And the key to coming through this stage OK and with our relationships and sanity intact is the mirror principle. Sure, other people have problems and issues, that’s a given. But if God is showing those issues and problems to us, and it’s upsetting us, then that means we also have the same problem to deal with.

And we have to knuckle down, and get on with the work of rectifying it.

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You might also like these posts:

Another Look at the Mirror Principle

 

AKA, Serving God on the Down

“[T]he terms ‘running’ and ‘returning’ are used in Ezekiel (1:14) and describe the chayot. They refer to two different facets of phases of divine service. They apply to everyone, no matter how low his level.

“There are times when everyone feels inspired in his devotions. This happens especially when a person is praying. He suddenly feels a burst of enthusiasm and says the words with tremendous fervor. This is the phase of ‘running’.

“But then, the inspiration and the fervor pass, and all that is left is a trace. This is the phase of “returning”.

“For most people, the main effort and work come in trying to achieve the ‘running’ – the moment when the heart ‘runs’, so to speak, in fervent devotion.  ‘Returning’ is something easy for them, because that is their nature….

“Both ‘running’ and ‘returning’ are necessary parts of serving God.”

#252 from Tzaddik, by the Breslov Research Institute. Also see Likutey Moharan I 6:4

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m a period of ‘returning’ at the moment.

Elsewhere, I call this ‘serving God on the down’ – you know, when you can’t really be bothered to listen to more Torah classes, or to take on more observances, and also when you’re finding it hard to get your act together to do even the basic stuff you know you should be doing.

Like making supper. Or hanging the washing. Or even, just stringing more than a couple of monosyllables together to talk to your husband and kids.

When this stage hits, it can often feel like we’re falling far away from Hashem, God forbid, but that’s where Rabbenu comes in to tell us don’t make that mistake!

Don’t start telling yourself that you’re ‘bad’, or ‘worthless’, or that God doesn’t love you, or that He doesn’t see all your efforts.

It’s just we can’t always be serving God on the ‘up’. We also have to serve Him on the down.

And it’s much easier to do that than you might think.

All it really means is that you turn around, and you search for God in the low place that you currently find yourself in, and connect it all back to Him.

God, I still want to serve You even though I got a little too caught up recently in dumb music videos on Youtube.

God, I still want to serve You even though I don’t feel like saying a Tikkun Haklali today, or going to hear a shiur.

God, I still want to serve You even though I seem to have completely run out of energy and ideas again.

That’s all we have to do to serve God on the down.

These are heavy days, hard times. The last couple of days, I’ve really been feeling like the ‘spiritual molasses’ has returned again, after a few days’ break, and it’s hard to do anything again.

But I can still serve God from this dark, unproductive place.

How?

Just by wanting to, even if the effort itself, the act itself, the improvement itself, is beyond me right now.

All I have is my wanting to do better, but I’m sending all that back up to Hashem, and this is all I need to do stay connected.

I’m heading down again right now, God, but wherever I land, You’re coming with me. BH, I’ll be back on the up, and ‘running’ and spiritually inspired again soon.

But right now, I’m serving You on the down.

And when we tell God that, we make Him very happy.

Sigh.

Sometimes, I get so frustrated by all this fake, politically correct ‘equality’ stuff that is really just another excuse for people with bad middot to start taking out their own issues and frustrations on everyone else.

Recently, I had to send another email around to Sassonmag.com writers, to remind them to please avoid any photos of ladies next to their pieces. This has been the policy of Sasson since its inception, just sometimes people forget, as people are wont to do, especially when swimming in the moral swamp of the internet.

There are a few reasons why I wanted to avoid pictures of ladies on Sasson. One of them is that I want it be an inclusive site for as many frum Jews as possible, and if there are photos of ladies on the site, that’s going to unnecessarily exclude a whole bunch of people.

It’s like having a ‘Badatz’ certification on your restaurant. If it’s ‘Badatz’, most people will eat there. If it doesn’t have a hechsher, most people who are interested in consuming kosher food simply won’t eat there. The same sort of idea applies to sites that are trying to cater to the orthodox community.

So, inclusivity is one reason why I don’t want pictures of ladies on Sasson.

But there’s another, much more important reason why I don’t want pictures there, or also here, on rivkalevy.com, which you can sum up like this:

Personally, I don’t want my photo everywhere.

Personally, I don’t want to be put under pressure to ‘wig up’ or slap on the make-up in order to be taken seriously as a writer. Personally, I don’t want my writing, my ideas, to be judged on how I look.

I want people to relate to my writing, not to my photograph, and in this image-gorged world, that is becoming an increasing rarity.

There’s something else, too.

Personally, I don’t want my husband looking at sites where all those gorgeous lipsticked women are showing their best side to the camera, while they give over their insights and Torah. Call me crazy! Call me idiotic! But I strongly prefer that my husband ‘relates’ to other women as little as possible.

There’s something else, too.

Personally, I don’t want my two teenage daughters to get sucked into that fake, false world of ‘appearance’, where the message they are getting 24/7 is that appearance is EVERYTHING.

If you’re fat, if you’re ugly, if you’re teeth stick out, if you have bad acne, or frizzy hair of a terrible dress sense – no-one is going to take you seriously, honey.

That’s the message the world of images gives women, especially young women.

And I’m so grateful that the world of Torah, the authentic, frum Jewish world, is giving out the opposite message:

That it’s the inside that counts.

That it’s the neshama that counts. That it’s not the packaging a person’s soul comes in that’s really important, but how that soul is acting, and what that soul is saying.

Sadly, there appear to be a whole bunch of apparently ‘frum’ women out there fighting to put all the focus on the outside, and on external appearances. These superficial ‘fighters for women’s freedom’ are trying to force women’s pictures into every single space under the guise of ‘equality’.

Now, I believe in the principle of free choice. You want to slap big, faux-glamorous pictures of yourself with your too-wide fake smile all over the place, please go right ahead. It’s a free country after all, and free choice is the whole reason God created us.

But I get extremely upset when these individuals try to force everyone else into following their dictates, with the same sort of ‘shaming’ and pressure tactics psychos of all stripes have been using online for two decades, now.

These people go on about how ‘unfair’ it is to women, to not have their images in frum publications. They go on about how ‘fanatical’ it is, and how ‘extreme’ it is, and how ‘backwards’ it is. They regret how ‘closed minded’ publications and institutions are that follow this policy, which smacks to them of – eek! – some sort of ‘ultra orthodox’ or chassidic mind control.

I’ve been pondering on all this OTT hysteria for a while, but after writing my post on BTs, I think I’ve got a bit more insight into what’s going on. From what I can see, all of the women (and PC men) clamoring for more women in frum publications are baal teshuvas.

They are people who left the secular world behind, and now seem to be kind of chafing at the restrictions that come as part and parcel of being an orthodox Jew. Instead of accepting that the fault, the issue, the problem is really with them, these people are trying to get past their discomfort by attempting to change the orthodox world to ‘fit’ with their own, still half-secular worldview.

In some ways, I understand it, at least a bit.

For a while there, I also bought into all those internet ‘experts’ telling me and everyone else who wants to listen that people relate more to an image, they trust you more when they see an image, they will buy more of your product, book more of your services if they can see you…

So says all the internet experts.

But God is totally out of the picture with this approach, and it’s just not going to lead to any real, or lasting blessings.

I learned this the hard way.

Two years ago when I published the Secret Diary, I managed to get an interview about the book into the Jewish Press. We were all set to go – when I got the bombshell request that I had to give them a couple of pictures of me, to go with the piece.

Can’t we just stick with the cover of the book?

I pleaded with them. After all, that cover had been so complicated to sort out, precisely because I was trying to avoid untznius images of women. But no, we couldn’t. And I’m sorry to tell you, my emuna wobbled and I gave in and sent them a couple of pictures.

You know what? I don’t think I sold as much as a single copy of the book, thanks to that interview. Nothing. Nada. Nega nega tory. And in the meantime, I don’t know what having those pictures ‘out there’ cost my neshama spiritually, but it definitely wasn’t worth it.

Thanks to all those ‘fighters for women’s freedom’ out there, who are increasingly making it impossible for frum women to participate in anything unless they are willing to be photographed publically, I wasn’t given a choice to not have any images next to my piece in the paper.

Way to go, sisters! Thanks so much for emancipating me like that!

Thanks to you and all your self-righteous outrage and politically-correct ‘piety’, I got stuck having to buy into the warped values and upside-down ‘equality’ of the world of images – that same world that bought us Harvey Weinstein, #Me Too, and an ongoing dumbing down of standards, morals, dress and behavior in the public arena.

Personally, I don’t want to look at pictures of women.

Personally, I don’t want my husband to look at pictures of women.

Personally, I don’t want my kids to be caught up in that world that degrades and downgrades women to just another ‘pretty face’ or piece of cleavage, or curly wig.

I want there to be a safe space, an alternative to the world of images.

Not everyone has to think the same way. Not everyone has to want pictures of women on their sites – even if they are women themselves, as I am.

And there are some very good reasons for that, including that God has put a whole bunch of rules in place for religious Jews that often seem to hold us back, or cause us some sort of material disadvantage, but which really only lead to tremendous blessings for us.

Those blessings are often hidden, and aren’t immediately obvious. That’s part of the test. But they are definitely there.

For example, my husband and I don’t have smart phones. Even though my children do, neither of them has internet access, and whatever they do have on there is also being filtered by Etrog. They basically use their phones for Whatsapp, pictures and music – that’s it.

Tell me, how many people have 18 year olds with smartphones who are completely disinterested in the world wide web, or 15 year olds with smartphones who don’t give a hoot about Instagram?

I know my mesirut nefesh to avoid smart phones is having some massive, positive repercussions on my family, even though it means I can’t film myself giving over ‘wisdom’ every five minutes, or thinly-disguised plugs for my books, to post up on Youtube and Instagram and Facebook.

Another thing: Baruch Hashem, my husband works as a lawyer, and I’m continually amazed at how God is sending him clients. My husband does no marketing, works afternoons only, as he learns in the morning, and doesn’t have Whatsapp. And yet, God is continually sending him more clients and good parnassa, BH.

Over the last few years, I honestly did have a few occasions when I felt that I was missing out on being able to publicise my work, my books, my ideas, to a wider audience because I couldn’t just video classes on Google hangouts and upload them to Youtube.

But you know what?

More and more, I’m starting to see what a blessing it is to be out of all that social media murk.

I’m seeing the toll it’s taking on people spiritually, I’m seeing how much of their soul, their values, their yiddishkeit, their connection to Hashem, they are really selling out, for precious little real return, appearances notwithstanding.

So, I’m standing firm on the ‘no pictures of women’ thing.

Call me backwards, call me discriminatory, call me narrow minded, whatever you want (I know you’re going to anyway.)

But understand something:

A Jew never misses out by trying to do the right thing by Hashem, and by following the path of self-sacrifice to keep God’s laws.

Just sometimes, it can take a while for that to become obvious.

Defining the role of the Baal Teshuva.

Recently, I had an email exchange with someone that inspired this post, that I’m calling the Baal Teshuva Manifesto. Baal Teshuvas, or BTs, have a crucial part to play in the unfolding redemption process, but where a lot of us seem to be getting stuck is that we think we have to be ‘carbon copies’ of the frum-from-birth crowd to be serving Hashem properly.

And this isn’t true!

God went to great lengths to stick us in whatever spiritual holes we found ourselves in before we realized we have a soul, and a much deeper spiritual purpose in life. What follows is going to explore this notion in much greater depth, but the basic idea is this:

The F-F-Bs have their own path, their own derech, and their own very important spiritual job to do in the world, which I’d sum up simplistically as:

Teaching Jews how to serve God with the yetzer tov, or good inclination.

By contrast, Baal Teshuvas also have their own path, derecho and spiritual job to do in the world, which I’ll sum up simplistically as:

Teaching Jews how to serve God with their yetzer hara, or evil inclination.

Most people in the FFB world didn’t grow up watching endless Disney, or having George Michael songs hardwired into their prepubescent heads, or spending pointless weeks on package holidays in places like Marbella or Cancun.

They don’t have those memories, they don’t have those challenges, they don’t have those issues and triggers.

When they go back to ‘home’, home is Torah, home is Shabbat, home is yiddishkeit, and unless they grew up in emotionally abusive, neglectful or otherwise disturbed homes, they will have very strong, happy childhood memories of these things. And those happy memories will reinforce the desire to do these things again, in their adult life.

By contrast, ‘home’ for many or even most of us Baal Teshuvas is linked to things that are the antithesis of yiddishkeit. Like movies, inappropriate dress, inappropriate behavior, Michael Jackson, God-less secular culture, and many modes of thinking and being that simply doesn’t go together with being a religious Jew.

And that’s usually the case even if the people in these homes were warm, wonderful, genuinely caring and giving. (Which these days, is clearly a big if).  So part of the BT’s brain is literally hardwired to feel ‘at home’ in tumah, and in all the secular culture that so many of us kicked off and left behind, because we could see that it’s empty and destructive.

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So now, let’s walk through the typical process of making teshuva to see what happens next:

  • There’s a spiritual awakening of some kind, and the Baal Teshuva realizes they have a soul, and that God is requiring more of them than spending their life chasing after money or gratifying their ego and lusts.
  • The Baal Teshuva starts to learn about keeping mitzvahs, and starts to learn more Torah.
  • If they have a very strong desire to feel accepted, and to feel as though they ‘belong’ in their new community (which most of us have) they will try to dress the part as soon as possible, and will try to conform to as many of their new communities rules and regulations as quickly and as consistently as possible.

We’ve all been told that idea that the outside influences the inside, and it’s true to a great degree – but it’s also simplistic. Because sooner or later, there comes a time, there comes a place, where the ‘outside’s’ ability to really change the inside stops.

There’s a core of a person that is hardwired in childhood, and that will ‘pull’ the adult person, and catapult them towards certain things that are viewed as sources of tumah, or spiritual pollution, in the frum world.

Some examples from my own experience include:

  • Secular reading material
  • Being online
  • Secular music and ‘culture’
  • Holidays
  • Nice clothing
  • Working out / playing sports
  • Nicely appointed homes

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Now, it’s clear to us all that if a person can get through life happily and healthily without any of the above, that’s clearly 100% the best way to be for a frum Jew. But the problem is this:

Most of us Baal Teshuvas have some part of our brain that God has hardwired to feel ‘at home’ in the tumah.

And when we completely turn our backs on that tumah, that usually also means that we’re turning our backs on some integral part of ourselves. That part that has fond memories of watching Thriller. That part that really enjoyed reading A Little Princess. That part that actually wants to retrain to become a lawyer, or a doctor, or to go into business, instead of just sitting there learning Torah 24/7. That part that is dying, literally, to play a game of tennis, or shoot some hoops.

Not only that, because we’re fighting so hard to keep that ‘bad’ part of us in its box, that usually means that we can’t tolerate any whiff of anything or anyone that is going to entice us back to that tumahdik stuff, or put us in the place of having to admit that at least a bit of us is still drawn towards it.

So we stop talking to our old friends, and we stop attending family events, and we make all sorts of excuses why we no longer need to be in touch with people – our fellow Jews.

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I’ve been through this process myself, and at this stage, this is what I think about it:

When you’re dealing with people who don’t respect your choice to live a religious life, and who are constantly trying to pull you back to the tumah¸ you have to put some big barriers up, and step away and go and work out who you really are and what you really want, without any sabotage from family members.

BUT – family members will only try to sabotage your process of self-discovery if the relationship is already dysfunctional. If the relationship is healthy, and if the lines of communication between child and parent, or husband and wife, or brother and sister, are working properly, you will still be able to navigate the changes together.

Disagreements will be ironed out, clashes will get resolved, problems will be solved with a lot of dialogue, mutual respect, and will to compromise to get the best possible outcomes for everyone involved.

Again, I think it’s fair to say that most Baal Teshuvas have experienced the ‘sabotage’ model over the ‘support’ model, and at least some of the reasons for this are obvious:

When God and Torah is out of the picture, self-development and working on our bad middot are also often out of the picture.

We are drawn to yiddishkeit in the first place, because we recognize something is lacking, something isn’t working so well, in our lives. We can see that having a relationship with God, and following His mitzvoth, is the path out of the emotional wilderness, and that’s why so many of us make a lot of self-sacrifice to try to change our lives around to give God what He wants.

And that motivation can keep us going for years.

This is the stage of the Baal Teshuva process where we’re learning to serve Hashem with our yetzer tov¸or our inclination for good, and it’s an absolutely crucial part of the process that can’t be skipped.

But that’s not where the process stops, and this is where many of the BTs I know, including me and my husband, kind of came unstuck. The FFB world could tell us all about making kugels, and singing zmirot, and having 400 people for Seder night, and selling our cars to pay for our kids’ tuition in yeshiva.

But it couldn’t teach us how to take that ‘hidden’ part of us, that part of us that’s hardwired to be at home in the world of tumah, and to make that part holy, too.

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It’s obvious why not: FFBs don’t have that challenge, they don’t have that issue, they don’t have those problems. (Again, this is an over-simplification to make the point. There are massive middot issues in the FFB world too, I know. But for different reasons that are beyond the scope of this post.)

FFBs are serving God in a different way, and they have a different job to do in the world.

I have to choose my words very carefully here, because God forbid this should be misconstrued as saying the forbidden is permissible. That’s not at all what I’m saying here. The forbidden is still forbidden, but God has given Baal Teshuvas a job to do in the world, and we can only do it properly if we’re really being ‘us’, and not pretending to be ‘perfect frummers’.

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Let’s see if I can explain what I’m really trying to say here, by framing things through my own experiences.

By profession, I’m a journalist and writer, a communicator, and I do it very well. When I was in London, I was a professional in the street, and a Jew in the home. I.e. my job was my job, and then I did my best to do things like keep Shabbat and kosher, and to pay tzedeka, too. My kids were sent to orthodox Jewish schools, we ate in a Succah on Succot etc etc.

But my Judaism didn’t really come past the door of my home, it didn’t really accompany me into my job working for Government ministers, or writing for papers.

Then I hit Israel, and over a year or two I came to understand I had a lot of work to do to make my Judaism consistent, and to be living a genuinely Jewish life.

I stopped working, I started covering my hair, I started dressing much more modestly, I only bought Badatz chickens, I threw away all my secular books and albums, and stopped watching movies… This is the ‘external’ part of the Baal Teshuva process, where we can get so machmir about the externals. You can sum this up in the phrase: the mitzvoth between man and God.

Then, thanks to Breslov and Rebbe Nachman’s teachings, especially his advice to talk to God for an hour a day, I started the real, internal part of the Baal Teshuva process, which is basically avodat hamiddot, or working on rectifying my negative character traits. You can sum this up as the mitzvoth between man and man.

This is still very much an ongoing process, and it will be until 120. It’s not fast work, it’s often extremely painful and difficult – but it’s also a crucial part of the teshuva process. And thank God, by trying to see everything that happens as some sort of message or prod from Hashem, and by talking to Him a lot about what’s going on, a lot of things have moved and improved.

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One of the biggest blessings of trying to do this work on the mitzvoth between man and man, this avodat hamiddot, is that it transformed my relationship with my children.

Once I internalized that my children are just my mirrors, and that God is trying to show me something by way of my kids and their issues that I myself need to work on, a whole bunch of new paths and insights into the teshuva process started to open up.

Especially five years ago, when my oldest started listening to secular music, used her own money to buy a smartphone, and started wearing short sleeve T-shirts. Initially, I tried to use brute force to squash all this tumah down. We had such big shouting matches, such big disagreements, and this carried on for about a year and a half.

Then, she developed a weird health problem that I knew 100% was emotional, and somehow ‘mirroring’ me. I sent her off to my One Brain woman, and I got the clear message back that I had to let my daughter choose her own path in life, and stop trying to keep her ‘frum by force’ – or risk her getting ill, God forbid.

I did a big hitbodedut on it all, because I was so confused.

God wants us to dress tzniusly! He wants us to ditch the smartphones! I know this is true 100%. At the same time, the emuna rules were telling me something more, something extra, an additional nuance: God wants all that, for sure. But He wants people to choose it for themselves. You can’t just force your kids into towing the line. If you do that, they will either rebel or turn into unthinking, unfeeling, frum robots.

I got that message.

But now, I was stuck with a massive problem, because all the things that I’d thrown out of my life – like secular music, and jeans – was coming back into it. For the last 10 years, I’d dealt with my pull to this tumah by completely closing it out, and shutting the gates. But now if I did that, my daughter was going to be shut out with it, and caught on the other side, away from me.

And that was simply not something I was prepared to do.

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But in the meantime, all my attempts to keep up with Cohens, and to look the part of the externally FFB family, were completely wrecked by these kids of mine, who resolutely insisted on being who they were.

They get that from me, and I can’t complain.

But it took me another year or so of constantly praying to try to find the right path through all the muddle to realise something amazing:

Tolerating my kids meant that I also started to tolerate myself much more, too.

That part of me that still liked secular stuff, and that still wanted to wear long jeans skirt and crazy, colorful hats, and that still wanted to interact with the secular world. But now, on completely different terms. Now, I didn’t want to write ‘secular’ stuff then go back to my home life as a believing Jew.

Now, I wanted my Jewish beliefs to infuse and inform everything I do in the secular world.

That’s when I started down this path of trying to combine secular knowledge and information with emuna and Torah, but with the emphasis firmly on the Torah being right, no matter what science or secular knowledge actually says.

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Take the age of the world.

The old version of me was very happy with the ‘Science of God’ approach which seemed to marry modern science with the Torah, in a way that said ‘see, the Torah is not against what modern science is saying at all!’ That worked for me then, as my internal focus was still really secular.

But these days, my approach is completely different. These days, my internal focus is now much more Torah, so I’m looking at science with new eyes, with the fundamental understanding that if the Torah says the world is 5779 years old, that is the reality – and then, how does that stack up with modern science?

And this approach is what’s helping me to spot all the lies and flaws and propaganda inherent in so much of how modern science dates world events.

To put this another way, I see a lot of what I’m writing as a bridge between secular and holy, between night and day, between tahor and tamei.

And this brings me back around to why God made Baal Teshuvas, and why we’re missing the point when we stay stuck in stage 1 of the teshuva process, just trying to be carbon copies of the FFBs that we see around us.

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God wants us Baal Teshuvas to be a connecting bridge in the Jewish world.

He knows that even if we’re currently living in Meah Shearim, and speaking Yiddish with our 15 children, and wearing our stripey dressing gowns, that we still have a totally secular family left behind in Chul.

And what connects that totally secular family to God, and to purity, and to Tzaddikim, and to Torah is us.

We are that bridge, we are that unifying substance. But only if we’re still in touch with the secular family. And now, do you see why God has hardwired some of that tumah into our souls, still, and why we have to actually acknowledge the reality of who we are, instead of pretending to be who we are really not, which causes us to act like ‘frum robots’?

Because that secular stuff is what greases the wheels of communication between us, and keeps the dialogue open, and helps us to see that we’re really not so different, after all.

Totally secular sister who’s married out is not going to be able to grasp in a million years a conversation about the Ramchal’s glosses, or the subtleties of not performing melacha on Shabbat. If that’s all you have to talk about, you can’t connect, you can’t discuss. The conversation will get more and more awkward until it finally dries up, and you just never speak anymore, and she doesn’t feel comfortable coming over any more, and her kids grow up knowing about the ‘crazy frum uncle’ who cut all his family out of his life.

So what does God do? He gives you a strange urge to listen to a Robbie Williams song, or to read an article about how fat he’s got – and now you have something to talk to secular sister about that she can really relate to. Is it tahor? Not at all! For an FFB, it’s completely tamei, completely inappropriate.

But for a Baal Teshuva with a bunch of secular relatives, who’s still trying to keep the lines of communication open, so that secular sister feels comfortable coming over for a meal on Shabbat, or joining in a seder on Pesach?

It’s just the ticket.

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Do we want to be like secular sister and her family?

Of course not!

Do we want our kids to be like secular sister and her family?

Of course not!

And again, this is where maximum caution is advisable, because we can’t sacrifice our own family, our own yiddishkeit, just to try to keep on good terms with secular sister.

But we also can’t tell God lies about where we’re really holding, either.

As soon as our kids get to a certain age, as soon as our families get to a certain stage, where they have a strong base, a strong faith, and they know who they are and why they are doing things, religiously, we have to reach back out to our secular family members.

We have to try to connect to the more secular Jews in the world, and shine some of the Torah’s light into their lives, in a way they can really relate to it. That might mean knowing who the latest yucky celeb is, that might mean keeping up on the news, it might mean holding down a real job, it might mean tolerating the sight of female elbows at a seder table.

So much of this is completely inappropriate for a FFB, because they have a different job to do in the world. Half their family, half their experience, half their soul, isn’t caught up in that place of tumah, in that place of secularity, they have no reason to connect to that world.

But for us Baal Teshuvas? The picture is completely different.

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So now, tachlis, how can we now what God is really expecting of us, and whether we have the balance right, and we’re really serving God in the capacity He intended for us, with both our yetzer hara and our yetzer tov, and whether we’re really being honest about where we’re actually holding?

Here’s a few questions to ask, to try to find out:

  • Do you feel energized and happy about the life you’re leading, or miserable and resentful?
  • Do you radiate happiness and contentment to other people, or do you give the impression that your life is a drag and that you’re full of anger and resentment?
  • Do you have ‘secret vices’ that you like to pretend you don’t have – TVs in the airing cupboard, a secret addiction to YouTube videos, a penchant for Mills and Boon novels that you try to keep hidden under the bed, an urge to watch a baseball game, or to go and play some tennis or take a bike ride?
  • Are you open about your issues and experiences and past (particularly with your immediate family members)?
  • Do you feel empty, phoney, or like you’re pretending to be someone you really aren’t? (If the answer is ‘yes’, what do you usually try to do to fill that space?)
  • Do you often catch yourself saying things you don’t really believe, or going along with things that you haven’t really bought into?
  • Are you harshly judgmental about other Jews’ level of observance? (This one is often a big, red flag that there’s a big pot of jealousy bubbling away somewhere inside.)
  • Do you have good relations with your less religious family members? If the answer is ‘no’, have you ever explored how your own bad middot, or your own issues, might be causing at least some of the problems?
  • What do you see your children mirroring back at you? What parts of your hidden self are your children reflecting back at you?
  • How can you use your ‘hidden’ self to put more of God’s light and love out into the world?

I have about another 50 questions I could add to this list, but let’s stop here for now.

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I want to tell you the story of someone I knew way back when, who I used to learn with when I first got to Israel.

We were both from the same part of town back in the old country, and we knew some of the same people, except while I was ‘Modern Orthodox’ and then on the way to Breslov chassidut, she’d been totally immersed in secular culture, before making a 180 degree change to become ‘chareidi’.

We intersected when I was in Modiin, and she was in a chareidi city that was very black and white, and was dressing the part of the frum matron 100%.

She was so judgmental of my early attempts to (partially…) cover my hair with a beanie. She told me that I may as well not bother, if that was how I was going to do things. This sort of angry, harsh judgment used to come out of her a lot, and she really looked down her nose at her ‘secular’ relatives – even though some of them where actually paying to support her and her husband’s Torah lifestyle.

But she had a good sense of humor, and we had Terry Wogan to connect us, so I stayed in touch with her for a couple of years. Until we had the conversation about the tattoo and the kids.

Because yes, Mrs Perfect Chareidi had a big tattoo hidden away under her navy pinafore, part of her previous life when she attended raves and was living with a non-Jewish man. One time, I’d picked her up to drive us both down to the Kotel, and I happened to be playing some Breslov trance music that I’d picked up from the Chut Shel Chesed bookstore.

Five seconds into the ride, she completely wigged-out, and started ranting at me for listening to ‘traif’ music.

I told her I’d got the CD from Chut Shel Chessed – and the artist was a Breslov chassid with massive payot who was only singing about Rabbenu, God and Torah. I had no idea why she was reacting so badly.

She demanded I turn it off – which I reluctantly did. But me being me, I had to ask why.

Why are you going crazy about this music? What’s the real problem?

That’s when she told me about the raves she used to go to, and the tattoo, and the non-Jewish man she used to live with. The music had triggered her back into that past life, and she was obviously trying very hard to keep all that stuff firmly boxed-up and hidden from view.

So then I asked her, Do your children know about your past? Have you told them?

She said she hadn’t, and that her rebbetzin had told her that she never should, because it would only confuse them. When I heard this, I was momentarily speechless.

But if you haven’t told them you didn’t used to be religious, so then how do you explain your secular parents to them? How do you explain about your sister, who married out? They’ve met your mum and dad, they can see they aren’t at all religious. How are you explaining things to your kids?

The short answer: she wasn’t. She couldn’t. And they were small enough to not really know to ask awkward questions.

We lost touch shortly after this conversation, as I was finding her self-righteous, judgmental angry rants about other people (and myself…) increasingly hard to handle. But sometimes I wonder, how did her kids turn out?

When kids grow up in a house like that, that’s so full of secrets and lies, where so many topics are ‘off limits’, that causes them all sorts of spiritual, emotional and even physical issues.

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From my own experiences, I’ve seen that when we try to deny, ignore or negate that ‘secret self’ of ours  – often for the very best reasons – we pay a big price for it within our family unit.

God made us who we are.

God made it that we’re still drawn to things that aren’t ‘good’, however hard we try.

While we’re praying to be permanently freed from the clutches of tumah, we also need to look around, and to ask ourselves why God is putting us in those low places, still, and what good we can do there.

If we look around, most of us will clearly see that there are other Jews – other family members – who are also stuck down there, in the dark. And when we bring God’s light down into those low places, we are illuminating it for them, too.

But only if we’re really being us, really connecting to God, and really being honest about what’s going on, and why.

So let’s end this Baal Teshuva Manifesto with a call to truth:

Dear Baal Teshuva, please just be your real self, warts n’all!

God made you like this for a very important reason, because you have a job to do in the world, and a part to play in the forthcoming redemption. God wants all of His children to be redeemed, not just the frummies. And that’s where you come in, sweet BT, who will always feel caught between two worlds, and not really belonging to either.

You are a bridge, connecting the different sections of the Jewish community.

You are a unifier.

You are creating achdut every time you are just yourself, and every time you are trying to bring God down into those low places on YouTube, or into your Isrotel holiday, or into your terribly imperfect seder with secular relatives who keep muttering that none of this stuff every really happened.

Every time you manage to connect all that tumah back to God, and all those people who are lost in the world of tumah back to God, you make Him so very happy.

And you are doing the job that God created you to do.

So continue on!

And don’t feel bad that you’re not a ‘perfect frummer’.

You have a different role to play in the world, and when you start to accept that, and to really embrace it, you will feel so much happier and content.

And so will your kids.

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Continuing the discussion, I had a couple more questions on hitbodedut which I’m going to answer below as part of a Frequently Asked Questions post, that I’ll add to as and when I get more questions on the subject that are not ‘big’ enough to merit their own post.

Q: What about Reb Noson’s famous saying, “If I see a lack somewhere, I know that either people didn’t pray about it, or they didn’t pray about it enough”? I think Rav Arush quotes it somewhere in “The Garden of Emuna”. How do you understand it now, in light of your experiences?

In Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom (the English translation of Shevachay HaRan and Sichos HaRan, by the Breslov Research Institute), pg 368, it says the following:

[The Rebbe said]: “You must pray for everything. If your garment is torn and must be replaced, pray to God for a new one. Do this for everything. Make it a habit to pray for all your needs, large or small.

Your main prayers should be for fundamentals, that God should help you with your devotions, that you should be worthy of coming closer to Him.

Still, you should also pray for even trivial things. God may give you food and clothing and everything else you need, even though you do not ask for them. But then you are like an animal.

“God gives every living thing its bread without being asked. He can also give it to you this way. But if you do not draw your life through prayer, then it’s like living like an animal. A man has to draw all of his necessities from God via his prayers.”

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The first thing we have to really clarify is what sort of ‘lack’ are we talking about, here? In our superficial, money-obsessed, materialistic world, the word ‘lack’ automatically conjures up a lack of stuff.

  • I lack a big, expensive house…
  • I lack a fancy car….
  • I lack the money to go on holiday…
  • I lack the ability to eat out in expensive restaurants and to buy nice clothes…

And so on, and so forth.

Clearly there are material needs – part of what Rebbe Nachman refers to as ‘trivial things’ – that are still very important for a person. If we don’t have enough food to eat, we can’t pay the rent, we can’t buy even the basic clothes we need – that’s going to impact our ability to serve Hashem in some very big, fundamental ways.

Where there is no flour, there is no Torah.

From my own experiences with my husband not working, neither he nor I could really learn Torah properly, or really work on anything spiritual except just clinging on to our sanity and trying to keep hold of some emuna, when we ran out of money.

When you can’t buy food, when you can’t buy toilet paper, when you’re worrying about the electricity getting switched off, you have zero peace of mind and very little ability to sit down and pray (unless you’re genuinely a huge tzaddik, which honestly? Most people are not.)

That’s why you need a minimum amount of ‘flour’ before you can have some Torah, and that’s why Rebbe Nachman says you should certainly be praying for your ‘trivial’ physical needs, even though they aren’t so ‘spiritual’.

There’s so much fake piety washing around the frum world that sometimes, even basic ideas like this aren’t properly understood. You can’t expect a kid to want to live and love a life of Torah learning if they live in a home where there is no food on the table, and no shoes for them to wear.

A few, extremely righteous people, can live like that, and love Torah so much they won’t feel the material lack and the physical deprivation, but most of us are no-where near that level. So, we have to have the basic stuff we need to feel sufficiently taken care of, physically and materially.

BUT – then Rebbe Nachman comes to warn us – don’t take praying for the gashmius to an extreme.

Don’t think that praying for stuff is the point, because it really isn’t.

The ‘lack’ that Rebbe Nachman is talking about is first and foremost spiritual. We lack daat, (deep spiritual understanding). We lack emuna, the real belief in God, and God’s goodness. We lack self-awareness and empathy. We lack good middot. We lack closeness to Hashem.

It’s these spiritual lacks that are really causing us all the other lacks in our life, be it ‘lacks’ in health, money, success, shalom bayit, inner peace, whatever it is.

Rebbe Nachman teaches in Likutey Moharan that all our suffering is caused by a lack of daat – a lack of spiritual understanding. When a person has daat, they don’t suffer, regardless of what’s going on in their lives, and they don’t feel that they lack anything – even if they really are objectively lacking.

How do we get more daat, and fill in more of these spiritual ‘lacks’?

By talking to God on regular basis.

The more we do that, the more we’ll start to understand how our bad middot and lack of emuna is really at the root of all the other ‘lacks’ and suffering that we’re experiencing.

Also, when you go through an experience where you have no toilet paper, you can’t put food on the table, you can’t move forward in life, no matter how hard you try, that starts to teach you to have more humility and more gratitude.

Everything is a free gift from Hashem.

God decides the outcome of everything, not our practical effort, and not even how much time we spend doing hitbodedut.

In the West, we take so much for granted, and have such high expectations. We think God owes us a whole bunch of stuff. It’s not enough we have food, it has to be expensive organic, or fancy restaurant. It’s not enough we have a roof over our head, it has to be completely renovated and massive. It’s not enough we have our own healthy teeth in our gums, they have to be totally straight and pearly white.

The Sages teach that a person dies with not even half of his desires fulfilled.

Again, the more we work on the underlying spiritual causes for our sense of ‘lacking’, the more appreciation we’ll develop for what we do have, and the easier we’ll find it to be happy with our lot – however God has decided ‘our lot’ should be.

But with the proviso that our basic physical needs have to be being met, because otherwise, the anxiety and stress of not having enough food, or money to pay rent and bills etc, will just take us out, mentally, and close down our ability to think.

And if you can’t even think straight, it’s very hard to pray, and it’s very hard to have the peace of mind, or yishuv daat required to think things through to see what you might need to be doing differently, to get things to improve.

But once these basic needs have been met – and our basic needs are far more ‘basic’ than most of us are willing to accept, in 2018 – then should focus on acknowledging our blessings, and put the emphasis on developing our relationship with God and fixing our bad middot.

Q: How can one do an hour every day without repeating oneself, being bored to death and feeling that this is not really conducive to constant growth?

This is a good question, and it really goes to the heart of what is hitbodedut really for?

We’re taught that three things are acquired through suffering:

  • Torah
  • Eretz Yisrael
  • The world to come

This teaches us that true spiritual growth is always ‘earned’ via suffering, in some way or other.

There’s an idea that we don’t keep mitzvahs because they actually give us so some tangible benefit, although clearly, they often do. Rather, there’s a higher level of keeping mitzvahs just because God said to do them, which is called lishma, for its own sake.

Yes, a person can keep Shabbat because it gives them a break from work, and it gives them quality family time, and they enjoy the socializing, or the extra time to read and learn Torah, or the Shabbos shluff on Saturday afternoon, or the great cake their wife makes for Shabbat.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying all these ‘fringe benefits’ of keeping Shabbat, and we’re meant to find ways to honor the Shabbat, and to make it more enjoyable and something to look forward to, physically.

But all that stuff is not the main point.

The main point of keeping Shabbat is because God told us to do it.

And we have to keep Shabbat even if we’re bored to tears, lonely, forgot to cook anything beforehand, or are generally really just not enjoying it so much.

(So many baal teshuvas will tell you the first time they tried to keep Shabbat, they nearly went crazy from the boredom and ‘tedium’ of the day. Beginnings are always hard, especially when it comes to spiritual matters where the results and benefits are often so intangible.)

It’s the ‘suffering’ that we’re willing to go through to acquire these mitzvahs that really make them so precious in God’s eyes, because then it’s clear that we’re only doing them because God said so. Lishma. And not because we are feeling some huge benefit ourselves.

Same with doing hitbodedut for an hour.

Why do an hour?

Because Rebbe Nachman told us to. There is no other reason for doing an hour. Why did Rebbe Nachman tell us to do an hour? Because he could see there is some massive spiritual benefit associated with talking to God for an hour a day, that you just don’t get any other way.

Do we believe Rebbe Nachman knows what he’s talking about?

(You can answer that quietly).

But, if the answer is ‘yes’, if we really do have emunat tzaddikim, and we believe that Rebbe Nachman is a big Sage, and we are relying on his much greater spiritual insight and knowledge, then we’ll take his advice to do an hour a day very seriously.

But then, what do we do if we’re not really enjoying it, if it’s just too hard?

Let’s go back to the Shabbos example.

The BT really wants to keep Shabbat, he knows it’s the right thing to do, he knows it’s what God wants, he even knows that at some point, he’ll see huge benefits from keeping Shabbat. There are some BTs that can go ‘cold turkey’ and just start keeping Shabbat fully from day one. But there are others, many others, who can’t.

This BT also wants to keep Shabbat.

But…he’s addicted to his i-Phone. He’s addicted to watching movies. He’s addicted to going to the beach with his friends on Shabbat, or going to watch football.

What do we say to this BT? Do we say ‘give up, and don’t bother! It’s just too hard!’

Nope.

Instead we say – keep aiming for small but steady improvements.

Every week, try to do a bit more to ‘remember’ the Shabbat, and a bit less to desecrate it. Do Kiddush Friday night, stay home, try to bench after the meal. Work up slowly, slowly.

We also give him strategies to make keeping Shabbat a bit easier and less onerous. Start trying to keep Shabbat in the Winter months, when it’s cosy to stay home Friday night and the day is over by 5pm.

Try to find friends to invite over, and get invited out, so you don’t get so bored and the time will pass faster. Start learning more, so you understand why keeping Shabbat is so important. Speak to other BTs who started keeping Shabbat, to see if they can give you any useful tips or encouragement, or tell you about the benefits they started to see in their own lives.

Same with hitbodedut.

It’s not perfect? It’s not a full hour? You get bored and antsy?

Don’t give up!

Keep aiming to do the full hour. Keep asking God to show you why it’s important to do it, keep building the will to eventually do a full hour.

Sooner or later, it will come, if you don’t give up on it.

There’s one more thing to add here, and that is this:

Whatever is stopping you from doing hitbodedut, that’s what is also holding you back in your real life, too.

That’s why if you can ‘fight through’ the obstacles to doing an hour of hitbodedut, you’ll also start to see a whole bunch of things start to move in other ways, as well.

If you want to take hitbodedut up a level, consider talking to God for six hours straight.

Let’s carry on the discussion that we started in the previous post on regularly talking to God, aka doing hitbodedut, but today we’re going to explore the idea of the talking to God for six hours straight hitbodedut session in more detail.

As I mentioned in the last post, the first time I was motivated to do a six hour talking to God session was when I had a health scare when I was 35, that scared the flipping pants off me.

To put it simply, God very often uses fear to get us to turn to Him, and start really talking.

And fear is certainly what started me off down the path of doing regular, long hitbodeduts. Fear of falling ill, fear of something with the children, God forbid, fear of losing my home, fear of losing my marbles…. You get the idea.

I would arrive in those early six hour sessions with a whole lot of fear, and I would basically spend six hours trying to turn my ‘fallen fear’ into true yireh shemayim, or fear of Hashem, so that I could start to breathe a bit easier and take down the intensely uncomfortable sensation of deep panic and anxiety that were accompanying the fear.

But that wasn’t the only motivation for those early six hours. Another big, huge motivation could be summed up like this:

Forcing God to give me what I want.

And this is what I’m going to focus on today, because I have learned over the last few years that prayer actually doesn’t work like that, it’s not meant to work like that, and if you go in to long hitbodeduts as a way to try ‘force’ Hashem’s hand, it’s just going to boomerang on you.

I know, I know: there’s a marketing issue going on here.

Because we’re superficial, Westernised, control-freak Anglos, we really buy into the message that we can ‘control’ the Creator of the world via six hour hitbodedut sessions. That’s a powerful motivator, that’s a very good way of getting us to dip our toe in the hitbodedut water to start to try it.

Maybe, we need to have hitbodedut packaged like that initially, because who knows if we’d ever feel like trying it, otherwise? But this approach is not describing the whole, complicated reality of the relationship with Hashem, and the best way to show you its beauty, but also its limitations, is to tell you what happened to me, on a few different occasions.

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WHEN THE ‘FORCING’ DIDN’T WORK, EXAMPLE 1: HAVING MORE CHILDREN

One of the biggest motivators for doing hitbodedut for me, initially, was to try to ‘force’ God to give me more children. Baruch Hashem, I have two wonderful daughters, 18 and 15 now, but I wanted more. And God didn’t want to give more to me, so I spent years, and years, and years trying to ‘force’ God to give me more kids via hitbodedut.

After about 5 years of doing this, the penny started to drop that while the hitbodedut wasn’t really working in this area, regularly talking to God every single day had been cleaning up my bad middot, and leading to a lot of insights and teshuva in many other ways.

And it was also making me a much better, happier and more empathetic and emotionally ‘there’ mother.

But still, when I was having my bad days, the first weapon my yetzer would use to attack my efforts at hitbodedut was my apparent ‘failure’ to force God to give me more kids. At that stage, I was still buying into the message that the only reason God wasn’t giving me more kids is because I hadn’t done enough hours of hitbodedut, so I just kept racking up more and more hours, more and more six hour talking to God sessions.

This continued until around 4 years ago, when I had 4 early miscarriages in the space of a year and a half.

To say this was a huge test of faith is a massive understatement.

All this was occurring when we were having difficulties in a bunch of other areas as well, and the miscarriages on top of everything else we were going through really, nearly, broke me.

It took me a good two years of picking through the rubble of that experience to draw some positive conclusions, but this is what I realized, after a lot more introspection and prayer:

  • Because I didn’t ‘let go’ and accept God’s plans for me to have not more kids, and because I kept trying to ‘force’ Him to give me more kids, I ended up with the worst of both worlds:

I conceived four more kids, and then I lost them all. (Thank God, it was all very early miscarriages, there was a lot of kindness even in the harsh judgement.)

  • I am really not cut out to have a big family.

It would have been better for me to accept that much earlier on, and to be counting my existing blessings, then to keep using my ‘lack of kids’ as a moaning stick against Hashem.

  • God knows exactly what He’s doing.

I love writing, I love writing blogs and books and doing all this stuff gives me a very deep and happy sense of meaning. Much as I love my kids, changing diapers and hanging out in the park has just always been difficult for me. I was not prepared to do things by half-measures, so God made sure I could spend a bunch of years focusing only on my two kids, and doing my best to give them what they needed. But at this stage, He’s given me the time and freedom to go back to my writing full-throttle – and I can do that with no guilt, and without worrying that I’m acting selfishly, because I only have two kids.

  • I couldn’t have experienced the difficulties of the last 5 years as ‘easily’ if I had a bigger family.

The rented dump fit a family of 4 perfectly. Trying to stuff a family of 5 or 6 in that space would have been extremely dangerous for everyone’s mental health (in my family – remember, we’re all different.) Also, I had bad health issues that took me out for 2 years solid – there’s no way I could have had the energy to properly care for very young children in those circumstances. And I didn’t have any support network, no local family, no neighbors to fall back on, so I count it as a huge blessing, at this stage, that I didn’t have to go through the upheavals and massive uncertainty of the last few years with more small kids to care for.

God knew what I’d have to go through in order to do more of the ‘soul rectifying’ required; He knew that I had a bunch of important things to write about, and that I’d find all this very hard to do with heavier family responsibilities.

And that’s at least part of why He didn’t answer all those prayers to have more kids.

Now, on to:

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 WHEN THE ‘FORCING’ DIDN’T WORK, EXAMPLE 2: BUYING AN APARTMENT IN JERUSALEM

Like many other people, I was very anxious about moving to Jerusalem a few years’ back, not least because I had no idea how we were going to find something decent to live in.

I was coming from a huge, new-built 5 bed semi-detached in a yishuv, and the apartments in Jerusalem were either just plain awful and completely unsuitable (and affordable) or nice and very suitable (and completely unaffordable).

I’d heard the infamous story about the yeshiva student who’d done a bunch of talking to God for six hours straight sessions and somehow got a ‘free’ apartment in Jerusalem, so I decided that in this area, I could definitely ‘force’ God to give me a nice place in the holy city.

Man, I can’t tell you how many six hour sessions I did devoted to forcing God to give me a nice place in Jerusalem, but it was scores and scores.

Here’s what happened:

We’d agreed a price on a flat in Musrara, and were moving forward with the legal process to buy it. Suddenly, the seller changed his mind about the price, literally doubled it – and we had to pull out.

At that point, all the other properties in Jerusalem also literally doubled overnight, and what had been barely affordable became impossibly expensive. I watched that Jerusalem real estate train chug out of the station – without me on board – and I couldn’t help feeling a wave of bitterness and resentment.

Why hadn’t all my six hour sessions talking to God for a house worked?

Not only that, the exact opposite happened: The first place we moved to had a neo-Nazi landlord from Tel Aviv, so we ended up moving out again after four months – to the rented dump that we spent the next three years in.

My kids came home and whispered to me that first month: Ima, my friends told me that this is place where poor people live.

What made it even more galling is that we were paying more to rent the rented dump than we’d been paying out on the mortgage of the 5 bedroom villa.

God, what happened to all my prayers for my own home!?!?!

Fast-forward to last year, and guess what?

We found another flat in that same building where we’d been gazumped four years earlier. And this time, the seller stuck to the price agreed, and went through with the sale.

And as you know, that was an unmitigated disaster, as the whole building was still half-owned by an Arab from the 1930s and the bank refused to give us a mortgage on it – but only after we signed.

Do you know what I’d been praying for, for years?

That I should be able to buy a house of my own in Jerusalem, without a mortgage.

And yet again, God answered the prayer – because I forced Him to, with all my millions of six hours – but I ended up with the worst of both worlds: I bought a house that I couldn’t afford, that I was unable to get a mortgage on.

Again, it’s taken a few months to start to pick through the rubble of what happened to find the message, the lesson, but here’s some of what I’ve come up with so far:

  • We were trying to buy an apartment in the wrong part of Jerusalem.

This was part of our ongoing ‘false piety’ issues, which saw us trying to ‘fit in’ to a community that we really didn’t belong with, even though there was a lot of overlap along Breslov lines. This deserves its own post, but to give just one example: we’ve been invited out for Shabbat more in the last 2 months, and had guests more in the last 2 months, than in the whole 4 years previous.

  • Owning my own house was rooted in some huge bad middot and arrogance issues.

Like it or not, most of us view our house as a status symbol. The bigger, the fancier, the newer – the more we pat ourselves on our internal backs. But when you rent, and you rent a dump, and that rent is more than your mortgage was – you quickly learn to stop feeling so puffed-up with pride, and obsessed with where you are ranking in the house stakes.

  • I was extremely unhappy about the prospect of taking on so much, massive, mortgage debt, but I couldn’t see any other option.

This is also connected to the ‘false piety’ issue, but we were convinced that Musrara was the only place in the whole of Jerusalem where we could live. And the prices in Musrara are through the roof, hence getting a massive mortgage seemed to be the only way to buy an apartment in Jerusalem. But now, I’m learning different. The properties in our area are easily half a million cheaper, and if / when we can ever afford to buy again, we will hopefully be able to find something way cheaper, for the same sort of space we need.

God had been giving us clues that we perhaps weren’t in the best place to stay permanently for a while, but we kept blocking them out, and stubbornly insisting that we know better. We clearly didn’t, so at this stage, I’m increasingly grateful for our house purchasing debacle. The one thing worse than being fundamentally miserable about your location in a rental is being fundamentally miserable in a place where you’ve actually bought.

On to the last example, for today:

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WHEN THE ‘FORCING’ DIDN’T WORK, EXAMPLE 3: EXPECTING TO MAINTAIN A GOOD STANDARD OF LIVING WHILE DOING NO ACTUAL WORK

And so we come on to arguably the most difficult test we had in this area of six hours, which is when my husband was encouraged by his ‘spiritual guide’ to quit his job and let God provide.

The person who told my husband this was very into his six hours, and his davening by kivrei tzaddikim, and was extremely charismatic. He also didn’t tell my husband that his wife was working a full-time job to try to keep the family afloat financially, or that he’d bought his own apartment in the area when prices were dirt cheap.

So there we were, being told that working for a living showed some sort of ‘lack of emuna’, and that coincided with a period of time when my husband was extremely unhappy in his work, and was feeling suffocated by his profession and office circumstances.

So my husband quit, and started ‘working for God’ instead, doing six hour hitbodeduts every day, as his ‘spiritual guide’ had told him to.

And I was also doing a lot of six hour sessions too, because it really didn’t take long for our financial situation to get extremely difficult.

Every day, my husband would learn some Torah in the morning, then go into the spare room and try to do his six hours. Every day, we’d be sitting there waiting for the lottery ticket win to show up, the unexpected legacy from an unknown great aunt, the massive pink diamond I was going to unearth digging in the garden….

And in the meantime, it didn’t show up.

And in the meantime, we were running out of money for food, and money to pay the rent, and my husband was in a pretty fragile state for a number of reasons, not least, that his yetzer had him convinced 100% that going back to work for a living would show a terrible lack of emuna.

So his six hours continued, my six hours continued – and friends of mine started sticking baguettes in through the kitchen window, quietly, so I could give my kids supper, while others had to buy us toilet roll, or give me a couple hundred shekels so I could actually go to the supermarket.

After two months of this, I realized we’d hit the end of the road, and we had to sell our house just to get through.

Because my husband had been so thoroughly brainwashed by the yetzer that working for a living was bad, and that all he had to do was keep praying, he couldn’t face the idea of going back to work. He felt it would be a terrible spiritual failure.

So we sold, and we had some brief financial respite, but I was still on at my husband to go back to work and end the experiment, which is when we decided to open our disastrous ‘Meaning of Life’ kiruv attraction in the Old City which blew through a whole bunch of our house money.

Of course, the ‘spiritual guide’ gave his blessing to this project too – because he had a huge vested interest in ‘proving’ the correctness of his ‘no work for the man’ derech – and when that went bust, we had one of the biggest crises of faith we ever had to face.

I am eternally grateful to Rav Shalom Arush, who gave my husband the spiritual ‘permission’ he needed to go back to work without feeling like he was the worst spiritual loser ever. And in the meantime, we were both left with massive questions about what had happened to all those six hour prayer sessions we’d done, for my husband’s parnassa.

Here’s some of what I managed to glean from that whole, sorry mess:

  • There is no ‘one size fits all approach’, when it comes to serving Hashem as a believing Jew.

God clearly wanted my husband to return to work, and to learn Torah part-time, and working as a professional is a crucial part of his spiritual tikkun.

  • It’s very easy for the yetzer to co-opt even the holiest practices, and to take them to an unhealthy extreme.

Doing six hours for parnassa is great, and something that most people can probably manage, at least once in a while. Quitting work totally to ‘work for God’ is a practice that maybe a handful of people in every generation can pull off – and most of them would have to be happy living at, or below, the breadline.

  • We had to go through that whole mess to figure out how much of an ‘ego exercise’ the six hour prayer thing had turned into.

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The more we prayed, the more arrogant we got, and the more we felt like God somehow ‘owed us’ open miracles.

God owes us nothing. Recently, I also learned from Rav Berland that the whole point of hitbodedut is to acquire more humility, not more arrogance. If God had answered our prayers to be supported in a miraculous way, we would have turned into awful spiritual egotists – and who knows what spiritual damage we would we have wreaked on the world.

My husband reminded me that there’s a story in the Gemara of a man who was travelling in the desert, and who felt so hot and tired, he asked God to send him a donkey.

God complied –and the donkey promptly died, forcing the man to stagger through the desert having to also schlep the donkey’s carcass home.

Sometimes, there are tests and difficulties we just simply have to do through, and trying to ‘force’ God to cut them short, or to make them go away, will only backfire.

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THE RIGHT AND WRONG WAY TO DO SIX HOURS

So now, let’s move to a discussion of the right way, and the wrong way to do six hours. Despite what I’ve written above, I still really enjoy doing six hours, and I’ve still seen a bunch of open miracles from long sessions talking to God.

But today, the focus of my prayer sessions is not on telling God what I want from Him, but asking God what He wants from me.

There are two principal reasons why we go through suffering, hardships and ‘lacks’:

  • To encourage us to make teshuva, and to work on the bad middot and negative character traits that are blocking all the shefa that God is trying to send down to us.
  • We have to go through something as rectification, or spiritual tikkun, for something that we did wrong, or that we didn’t do right, in a previous life.

From my experience, six hours can work wonders to clear the ‘blockages’ in our parnassa, health, shalom bayit, or parenting that are coming about because of our own lack of emuna, or bad middot.

If a person with parnassa problems sits down and says: God, I have no idea what I need to fix to get more of an income, but I know for a fact that the problem is coming from You, and is for my ultimate good, and that there’s something I need to change or fix, here – there is no question God will start to show them what’s really causing the problem.

(Hint: it’s usually connected to a hidden anger problem, and how they treat their wife.)

There’s no question that they’ll start to gain a whole bunch of insights into their difficulty earning a living, and that they’ll get the inspiration and the motivation required to improve matters as much as they can.

If it then turns out that the parnassa problem is an unavoidable spiritual tikkun, doing the six hours will also help the person to stand up in the test, and come through it in one piece.

This is a great, wonderful, amazing, awesome way to do six hours for parnassa.

BUT, if a person sits down, and says: God, I need enough money to buy a new i-Phone, a new car, a new apartment in Jerusalem ­– who the heck says that God wants that for you?! Or that this would be good for you?! Or that you’d be able to handle the awful feelings of arrogance and pride that would assail you, if God started doing open miracles like this for you?

Are you seeing the difference, here?

Again, let’s take another common example. Say someone is having issues with their kid. Say, the kid just isn’t tidying their room, isn’t praying the way the parent would like them to be, is being a smart mouth, etc.

If the parent sits down and says: God, please show me what’s ailing my child, and what we can do to try to help them fix the problem at its root! Please help my kid to feel happier, please help them to get a grip on their yetzer. Please show me what we need to change in the home – what I need to work on myself, as their parent – to get things to turn around – this is a great way to do six hours.

But, if the parent sits down as says: God, my kid is acting like such a jerk. Please fix it that they should start tidying their room, respecting me properly, and going to shul on time so my husband doesn’t get upset – this isn’t the point of six hours.

Why not?

Because instead of recognizing that the kid’s behavior is an invitation for the parent to dig deeper and work on their own bad middot and lack of emuna, the parent is just trying to get God to get the problem to go away, without being willing to change anything or make teshuva about anything. They are making the whole issue the kid’s problem – and this is the opposite of real emuna.

Real emuna tells us God is behind everything, God is doing everything for our ultimate good, and that there is a message for what we need to change, fix, recognize and improve in every little thing that happens to us.

To put this in different words:

When you ask God to help you clear up a spiritual problem, when you recognize that God is sending the problem because He wants YOU to change something, He wants some teshuva out of YOU – then six hours can and does work a treat.

But, when you just ask God to make your material problems go away, or to just give you what you want, and you’re not willing to even consider WHY the situation may be happening in the first place, or whether what you want is really the same as what God wants, or to examine your own deeds – then the six hours might still work. But it really might not.

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REAL LIFE EXAMPLES OF WHERE SIX HOURS WORKED FOR ME

I’ve had a bunch of miracles occur as a result of doing six hours, but each one required some sort of teshuva or change.

  • Getting my kids into the ‘right’ school was mamash an open miracle – because the school had a waiting list, and neither of my kids could read well (or at all…) and we weren’t at all connected in the sorts of useful ways that get you into schools. I did a bunch of six hours, but I also had to make my peace with the idea that the answer really could be ‘no’, and that if that was the case, God knew better than I did what was best for my kids.
  • Making peace with my crazy house seller was mamash an open miracle – and it took loads and loads of six hours, and loads of working on myself to overcome my own anger and bitterness, and to try to build some emuna, and to try and trust God more and accept His will, whatever the outcome ultimately was going to be.
  • My husband rebuilding his business from scratch in less than 6 months was mamash an open miracle – not least because all his clients are in the UK, and he had no intention of commuting, or hiding his payot. God fixed things that as soon as my husband made the decision to go back to work, new clients started to come to him, with hardly any effort on his part. It really showed us that once my husband was in alignment with what God wanted for him, all of his six hours on making parnassa were put to really good use, and nothing was wasted.
  • Staying married is mamash an open miracle – I think this is true for most people in their 40s today, let alone people like us who have been through so much extreme craziness the last few years. Not only are we still married, we both actually still enjoy each other’s company, and like spending time together and talking to each other. I know all my six hours for my shalom bayit have had a hugely positive effect on my marriage.
  • Having a good relationship with my teens is mamash an open miracle – And I’ve also seen a lot of their issues move and dissolve after doing a six hours on their behalf. Even for issues that are currently ‘stuck’, like the acne issue, all the six hours I’m doing on that subject are being used to help my kid in a myriad other ways. Apart from the acne, there’s a bunch of other things that have improved significantly or disappeared as issues, over the last few months, and I’m sure the six hours I do for her has a lot to do with it.

I just want to stress something again here:

I often don’t see anything change, directly, from the six hours, but I nearly always feel happier and better after doing it. And while I don’t get a lot of obvious, open miracles, I do get a lot of unusual ‘coincidences’ that I know are 100% from Hashem.

Also, my life circumstances means that talking to God a lot is fairly easy for me to do and doesn’t require a lot of self-sacrifice. I’m think if someone had to make a huge effort to do a six hours, they would probably see far more ‘miraculous’ results, far more obviously, than has generally been my experience.

The reward is always commensurate with the effort, so please do try a six hours at least once yourself if you want to try to take your relationship with Hashem to the next level, even if it’s hard.

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SOME TECHNICAL POINTERS

As always, there’s so much to say, but let’s end with some technical pointers for how to do a ‘good’ six hours.

  • YOU DON’T HAVE TO TALK ABOUT ONE SUBJECT THE WHOLE TIME.

What I do, is that I will say at the outset that ‘this 6 hours is in the merit of my daughter’s acne clearing up’, or ‘it’s in the merit of Rav Berland having a refuah shleima’ or whatever it is, then I will talk about whatever God puts into my head. If it’s a particular subject where I have some work to do – anything to do with myself or my family directly falls under this heading – then I will try to specifically talk around the topic, to see what clues God will give me about what’s really going on. Making teshuva and getting the message is a big part of taking the time to do a six hours.

  • YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO IT IN ONE PLACE.

I often do some sort of combo where I’ll start off the six hours in bed, then go for a ‘hitbodedut’ walk, then do some ‘housewife hitbodedut’, then crack open a Likutey Moharan for inspiration, or head up the road to Kever Rochel or the Kotel. Kivrei Tzaddikim can be very good places to do hitbodedut, but unless the kever is somewhere like Uman, Meron, or the Baba Sali in Netivot, it can be hard to sit there for a whole six hours straight. So if you can’t spend the whole six hours somewhere, that’s fine – just go for an hour or two then head back home to complete the rest.

  • YOU CAN PRAY FOR MATERIAL THINGS, BUT THE MAIN FOCUS SHOULD BE ON THE SPIRITUAL SIDE.

Remember that God is not a caspomat. If you haven’t got a good spiritual reason for the material thing you’re asking for, chances are high that it’s not really something you should be praying about, or at least, not something you should be doing a whole six hours on.

  • FOCUS ON THE PROCESS, NOT THE OUTCOME.

If your hitbodedut is about getting closer to God, and trying to live your emuna, and trying to work on your bad middot, or figuring out the message, it’ll work beautifully every single time. But if it’s only about achieving a particular ‘thing’ or aim, or solving a particular problem, there’s no guarantee that God will give you what you want.

  • ASK GOD WHAT HE WANTS FROM YOU, DON’T JUST TELL HIM WHAT YOU WANT FROM HIM.

There’s a reason you haven’t got your own home, or you can’t lose weight, or your i-Phone keeps breaking, or you can’t meet the rent bill, or He’s not giving you more kids. Doing six hours is a great opportunity to explore what those reasons might actually be, and figure out what God is expecting from you, before your situation can change for the better.

  • NO PRAYER IS EVER WASTED, BUT IF YOU TRY TO FORCE GOD’S HAND INTO GIVING YOU SOMETHING THAT ISN’T ULTIMATELY GOOD FOR YOU, IT WILL ONLY BOOMERANG.

God has good reasons for everything. If something isn’t coming – and you’ve made teshuva, and you’ve done all you can to fix up your side of things – then it’s a good idea to try to accept God’s will, and to ask for emuna and bitachon, instead of redoubling your six hour efforts to ‘force’ God into giving you what you want.

 

  • I’m very happy to write more on this subject, just let me know what other questions or issues you have, that you think I might be able to help clarify. And in the meantime, I really hope God will help us all to experience the real pleasure of speaking to Him, and connecting our souls back to Source.

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