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

The only reason we suffer is because we lack daat

On Shabbat, I was reading through the Likutey Moharan, and I came across the following lesson, which really spoke to me. So, I thought I should copy out the main ideas, and share it with you, too.

I’m not pretending I’m on the level of emuna described below. I still feel pain, I still suffer. But, it’s definitely giving me a goal to aim for, ad 120.

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Abridged Lesson I:250, from Likutey Moharan

Know: the sole cause of all types of pain and suffering is a lack of daat (internalized spiritual knowledge), for whoever possesses daat, and knows that everything is ordained by God – that ‘God gave and God took’[1] – doesn’t suffer at all, and experiences no pain.

And even though there is pain that is inevitably felt…specifically the pain when the soul leaves the body… this pain is very light and easy to accept when one is clearly aware that everything is ordained by God.

All the more so other types of pain and suffering – they will not be felt at all if one possesses daat, for pain and suffering are mainly on account of one’s daat being taken away, so that one should experience the suffering.

This is the essence of the Jewish pain in exile: all on account of them falling away from daat, and attributing everything to nature, circumstances and fate. This is what causes their pain and suffering.

And this is caused by their dwelling amongst the goyim, and learning from them – by observing that they are very successful while the Jewish people are scorned and lowly.

So they learn from them to attribute everything to nature and circumstances. And this itself is what causes their suffering, for if they would have daat that everything is ordained [by God], they would experience no suffering at all, as said.

And indeed, the Jewish people are above nature, and only when they sin do they fall below nature, as are the non-Jewish nations of the world, who are under the dominion of fate and nature. That is why they are in exile and in pain.

But their main pain and exile is specifically because they lack daat and attribute things to nature….

…[P]rayer is an aspect of providence that transcends nature. Nature dictates such and such, but prayer changes nature….For that is our greatness – that hears our prayers, and changes nature through His providence.

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Rebbe Nachman is summing up why all the non-Jewish ideas about how the world really works, and how our physical health works, and how to be happy, and how to raise our kids, and how marriage really works simply don’t apply to Jews.

Jews are above nature, and our power lies in prayer, not in superficial descriptions of the human psyche, the human body, or even, stuff like global warming.

That’s another reason why we need to keep coming back to daas Torah to inform our thinking, even when it seems illogical or somehow ‘wrong’ to us. We only think that way because we lack daat, spiritual wisdom that we’re really internalized, and that is really shaping every aspect of how we relate to the world, and how the world relates to us.

Because otherwise, we’re stuck believing the same stuff as the non-Jewish nations do about how the world works, and prayer goes out the window, and then we spend so much of our time feeling pain and suffering.

And if there’s an alternative to that, surely we should at least consider trying it?

Everything you need to know about Pidyon Nefesh – Part 2

(See Part 1 HERE)

THE 24 HEAVENLY COURTS

In Lesson I:215 of Likutey Moharan, Rebbe Nachman tells us:

Know: There are 24 types of pidyon nefesh, corresponding to 24 courts of justice. For each and every court, there is a unique corresponding pidyon nefesh to ameliorate its judgments. Therefore, a ransom is not always effective, since not everyone knows all 24 pidyon nefesh, and even if one does, he cannot perform them, and when one does not perform the specific ransom required by a specific court, it is not effective.

Now, let’s go back to Chayay Moharan (translated as Tzaddik, #181), where Rav Natan tells us:

“[T]he Rebbe said it is impossible to make a pidyon nefesh unless one knows all 24 kinds of pidyon nefesh, and how to sweeten the judgments of the 24 courts. He compared this to someone being sued in the courts of Kiev and trying to defend himself in the courts of Kaminetz.

“How can you make a pidyon nefesh for someone if you don’t know what court they are judging him in? At that time, too, the Rebbe said that there is a pidyon nefesh so exalted, that it has the power to sweeten the judgements of all 24 courts…

“He said only one in a generation knows of those 24 pidyon nefesh.”

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So know, we’ve learned that there are 24 courts in heaven that are cranking out the judgements against us, and that in order to ‘sweeten’ the judgment against us by paying over money for a pidyon nefesh, we need to know which court is actually trying our case.

Each of our true tzaddikim have influence in one, or some, or many, of those 24 courts of justice. But there is only one tzaddik in every generation who has access to all 24 courts. And so a pidyon nefesh given to that tzaddik will clearly be the most effective.

There’s a passage from One in a Generation Volume 1 that explains this very nicely:

“Rav Berland had begun corresponding with Rav Yitzchak Kaduri in his younger years, and sent him many letters containing a number of questions he had about Kabbalah. After their correspondence had continued for some time, Rav Kaduri started occasionally telling some of the people who came to him for help that Rav Berland was the one tzaddik in the generation who controls all 24 of the Heavenly courts, and that only he could help them.

This sentiment was echoed in more recent times by Rav Yoram Abergel, zt” l, as the following account shows: “A year and a half ago, around six months before his untimely death,  I went to ask Rav Yoram, zt” l, a number of questions, and one of them concerned all the commotion surrounding the tzaddik and gaon, Rav Eliezer Berland,” explains Dan Ben-Dovid, one of Rav Abergel’s close followers.

“I didn’t really know very much at all about Rav Berland, shlita, or his Shuvu Banim community. But there was so much commotion going on around him, the matter came to my attention. So, I asked Rav Yoram Abergel, ‘Honored Rabbi, there are a lot of things being said about Rav Berland, with people saying all sorts of different things about him.’

“Rav Yoram gave me a very big smile and quietly whispered in my ear, ‘Rav Berland, shlita, rules over the 24 Heavenly courts.’”

RECAP:

Let’s recap where we’ve got to so far:

  • We all do, say and think ‘bad’ things all the time, that we don’t properly acknowledge or make teshuva about.
  • All these sins lead to harsh judgments being made against us in the 24 heavenly courts.
  • Those harsh spiritual judgments manifest as illnesses, money problems, shalom bayit issues, mental health problems, feelings of sadness and depression, relationship problems etc.
  • The suffering itself helps to atone for these sins, and to ‘pay down’ our spiritual debt.
  • But, there is another way we can ‘sweeten the judgments’ and that’s by paying a true tzaddik a sum of money to perform a pidyon nefesh for us.
  • While many of our true tzaddikim are familiar with a few of the heavenly courts where these judgments are made, only one tzaddik in a generation knows all 24 courts, and can affect the outcome in all of them.
  • A pidyon given to this one tzaddik will thus be the most effective. But pidyons given to other true tzaddikim can also work wonders, if they have influence in that specific heavenly court where the harsh judgement was actually made.
  • You have to ask God to help you find out who this ‘one tzaddik of a generation’ is, because not everyone will merit getting access to the ‘spiritual shortcuts’ this tzaddik can give them.

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THE RIGHT ATTITUDE TO HAVE, WHEN GIVING A PIDYON NEFESH

So, now we get to that part of the post that I’ve left until last, because it contains some of the knottier issues that so many people have with paying over a pidyon nefesh.

The main place to start is the knee-jerk reaction I get from so many people with very shaky belief in true tzaddikim, that you can basically sum up as: it’s just a big scam.

Why would someone believe that?

There are a few possible answers to that question. Maybe, they don’t read Likutey Moharan, and the other Breslov works. Maybe, they do read them, but don’t believe that Rebbe Nachman of Breslov was really a tremendous tzaddik who had a much better grasp of how the world really works, than they do.

Maybe, they do believe what’s written in Likutey Moharan etc, but they have real doubts about how to find the ‘one tzaddik’, or a true tzaddik, in our generation.

Maybe, they’ve paid money to pseudo-tzaddikim in the past, and didn’t see any benefit or improvement.

And the last option is that maybe they’ve paid money over to a bona fide real tzaddik, but their specific problem still hasn’t been solved.

Let’s go through all of these possibilities, and try to address them, to see what’s really going on ‘underneath’.

  • PEOPLE DON’T KNOW ABOUT THE CONCEPT OF DOING A PIDYON NEFESH, OR HOW IT’S MEANT TO WORK

This is the easiest to solve. Take a look at Likutey Moharan 1:215, and the other sources mentioned above. You can also take a look at THIS explanation of the concept of doing a pidyon nefesh, for more background.

  • PEOPLE DON’T BELIEVE THAT REBBE NACHMAN WAS A HUGE TZADDIK WHO KNOWS WHAT HE’S TALKING ABOUT

Mockery, agnosticism and arrogance are huge problems today, even in the externally orthodox world. In Sefer HaMiddot, section on Tzaddik, #134 it’s written:

Mockery prevents one from going to the tzaddikim.

It’s also written (#130):

Judgments are sweetened through faith in tzaddikim.

It’s no coincidence that the people who mock and talk against the true tzaddikim experience tremendous suffering. God should have mercy on them.

  • PEOPLE DON’T KNOW HOW TO FIND A ‘TRUE TZADDIK’, OR WHO TO TRUST TODAY

This is another easy issue to resolve: Ask God to show you who is the real deal. There is no other way of finding it out.

Within 3 days of me and my husband starting to do this a few years back, we got some very definite answers that completely transformed our life.

  • PEOPLE HAVE BEEN BURNED BY ‘PSEUDO-TZADDIKIM’ IN THE PAST, AND ARE NOW VERY WARY

I have so much sympathy for you, as I also went through something similar. The answer, again, is to start exploring the issue in hitbodedut, and to ask God to show you which bad middot tripped you up into wanting to believe these pseudo-tzaddikim were the real deal.

Speaking for myself, I got tripped up by my own arrogance, anger and harshly judgmental tendencies. It was only once I’d suffered through a whole bunch of horrible things that I bought on myself with these bad middot that I was willing to start acknowledging my own issues. At that stage, I started to see through the ‘pseudo tzaddikim’ I’d been enamored with, and also came away from reading stuff from the autistics etc, and life started to be so much nicer and better.

The whole world really is a mirror. The more we work on our own bad middot, the more we’ll naturally be attracted to good, honest and true tzaddikim.

  • PEOPLE HAVE PAID A PIDYON NEFESH TO A REAL TZADDIK AND THEY DIDN’T SEE ANY MOVEMENT

Of all the issues, this is clearly the hardest one to really address. What’s going on with that?

A little while back on the ravberland.com website, I read THIS story, about a man who had to go back to Rav Berland 12 different times, to pay 12 different pidyon nefesh, before his son came out of the coma he’d been in for 10 years.

After I read that story, I did a lot of pondering about it, to try to really understand what was going on there.

Why didn’t the Rav just tell the man to pay one, massive, pidyon nefesh upfront, and gamarnu? Or, why didn’t the Rav explain to the man that he’d need to pay 12 different pidyons before it would work, instead of telling him each time his son would now wake up?

I was very puzzled about this, so I did some hitbodedut on it and here’s what I got back:

The Rav is not a caspomat. Even though doing a pidyon nefesh is a powerful spiritual shortcut, it doesn’t mean that we ourselves don’t have to also make our own teshuva, and also keep working on our own emuna, and particularly, our own emunat tzaddikim.

It’s still a joint effort.

The miracle that man was asking for, to resuscitate a boy who’d been in a coma for 10 years, was absolutely enormous, by any measure. Clearly, the money alone couldn’t pull it off. The father also needed to ‘deserve’ the miracle he eventually got by:

  1. Going through the tremendous suffering of having his hopes dashed on 11 different occasions, before his son finally regained consciousness, and
  2. Working on his emunat tzaddikim, in a very real way, to not go sour half-way through the process and start bad-mouthing the Rav to anyone who would listen for not ‘delivering’ on what he’d promised.

And those three things together is what lead to the harsh decree ultimately being torn up, and the boy waking up.

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What can we learn from this?

I know so many people who have seen swift, immediate and massive turnarounds from doing a pidyon nefesh with Rav Berland. They have no questions. I also know people who have seen immediate but small improvements, that are slowly gathering steam. Most of those people also don’t have questions about what’s going on, and can see it’s a process.

Then there are those who apparently see no change, no turnaround.

Like the man in the story.

We had something a little similar when our house purchase went so spectacularly wrong, last year. My husband paid a pidyon – and nothing seemed to move. Then he went back and the Rav told him to pay another pidyon – and nothing seemed to move.

Then, he went back again, and the Rav told him to pay another pidyon, and that’s finally when we got the breakthrough that helped us to get out of the whole mess and put it behind us.

For a few weeks there, we also had no idea what was going on, But we knew one thing: no money you give to a true tzaddik is ever wasted.

God decreed we had to go through that horrible house purchase, clearly it was something we had to experience. But paying the pidyon meant we could get out of the yucky situation as soon as we’d done the tikkun, and that we wouldn’t be permanently traumatized and embittered by it.

After it happened, we learned a great deal about ourselves, and what we still needed to make teshuva about, and at this stage, I can see that I deserved what happened 100%, and I’m grateful for it.

That experience brought out a whole bunch of ‘bad middot’ that had been hiding out in my blind spot, and that I had no idea were even there.

Our true tzaddikim are operating on a level far, far above us. We have no idea what’s really going on, what really needs fixing. Sometimes, the amounts of money required to ‘fix’ the problem are so astronomical, most people would baulk at the sums.

Maybe that’s why, sometimes, the Rav splits it up into many different payments.

Maybe that’s why, sometimes, we also have to continue to suffer for a bit, or have to work on our emunat tzaddikim, or have to make an effort to not start slandering and spreading lashon hara.

Because that suffering also atones, and brings down the ‘debt’, that teshuva also atones for us, until the pidyon can actually take care of the rest.

Who knows?

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WHEN YOU SHOULDN’T GIVE A PIDYON NEFESH

So, let’s end this post with a brief discussion about when you shouldn’t pay a pidyon.

Don’t do a pidyon nefesh if:

  • You aren’t doing it 100% with a full heart – i.e. you aren’t 100% happy to give over the money, regardless of the outcome, or you begrudge the payment.
  • You won’t be able to stop yourself from slandering and speaking badly if it doesn’t work out how you wanted it to.
  • You don’t really believe in the concept of doing a pidyon nefesh, and secretly think it’s ‘just a scam’.
  • You don’t have a lot of patience, and expect everything to be rectified ASAP (the one place this doesn’t apply is with life-threatening emergencies where time is of the essence. But even then, it may take a day or two, a week or two.)

If that might happen, it’s better for you – way better for you – to keep your money to yourself.

Giving a pidyon to a real tzaddik is a tremendous zchut, a tremendous merit – just as giving any money / gifts / help to them is.

If you’re relating to the whole thing like it’s some transaction at Walmart, that comes with a money-back guarantee – you probably shouldn’t be doing it. Remember what Rabbenu taught us in Sefer HaMiddot:

#153 Someone who draws close to the Tzaddik, but who doesn’t do it innocently, will eventually become an opposer.

Our true tzaddikim are not salesmen, they don’t ‘owe’ us anything. On a number of occasions, I’ve seen with my own eyes how Rav Berland has either refused to respond to requests to a do a pidyon, or how he’s given the petitioner a blessing, or a prayer to be recited, or a practice to be followed, instead of paying over money.

We pay over the money for a pidyon nefesh to help ourselves, not to help the tzaddikim we’re giving the money to. But we’re not always helped in the ways we expect. Vis:

#172 Through the gifts that one brings to tzaddikim, a person can subdue their enemies, and neutralize the evil spirit that hovers over themselves.

#182 One who benefits the Tzaddik from his belongings, it is as if he benefited all the Jewish people, and he is saved from death.

#196 Connection to the Tzaddik is a great healing.

#209 Through the livelihood people provide for the Tzaddik, all their sins are forgiven, just as the Cohen’s eating of the sacrifices atoned for those who offered them.

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May God help us to develop the emuna, and the emunat tzaddikim we really require to get through the last of these birthpangs of Moshiach in one piece.

Click HERE for more posts on Pidyon Nefesh.

 

Everything you need to know about Pidyon Nefesh – Part 1

The whole idea of giving a pidyon nefesh to a real Tzaddik has to be one of the most misunderstood, confusing and murky concepts in Jewish thought.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to deal with this subject via email, or a phone call, so I think the time has come to try to sort it all out in a methodical fashion, and bring as many of the sources and explanations as I can into one post.

(Now that I’ve actually written this, I’m going to split it up into two posts, one after the other.)

But before we can get to the basic idea behind a pidyon nefesh (which is not just a Breslov idea, btw, and not even just a Chassidic idea. Many Sephardi kabbalists also hold by the idea of doing pidyon nefesh) – we first have to talk a bit about the idea of the True Tzaddik.

Which is probably the second most misunderstood, confusing and murky concepts in Jewish thought, so this is going to be one heck of a long post!

After some consideration, I thought the easiest way to dive into the topic is to just bring some of what Rebbe Nachman explains about the Tzaddik, and true tzaddikim, in his book, Sefer HaMiddot.

QUOTES FROM SEFER HAMIDDOT (Taken from the chapter called Tzaddik):

#12 Putting in effort to draw close to tzaddikim is beneficial for serving God.

#20 Don’t be disturbed by the fact that the tzaddikim accept financial support from others in order to run their households with wealth and honor – would it be better for them not to take from others, and not to lead? For the more delight and expansion the Tzaddik has, the more his soul expands, and then there is a resting place in which the Divine Presence may dwell. Therefore, one should not come to the house [of a Tzaddik] empty-handed.

#40 In the merit of serving a great man, one is saved from death.

#46 Giving money to benefit a tzaddik is like serving in the Holy Temple.

#82 Sometimes, a tzaddik elevates someone and then humiliates them, and this is for the person’s benefit.

#107 Sometimes, through giving one bit of satisfaction to the Tzaddik, and through the little action one does for him, one merits the World to Come.

#122 The blessing of a Tzaddik is a pidyon.

#127 One who puts the Tzaddik to the test, it’s as if he put God to the test.

#130 Through faith in Tzaddikim judgments are sweetened.

#136 There is no Tzaddik who does not endure attackers and investigators.

#150 God gives parnassa to a tzaddik through the community, in order that he will have some connection with them, and so that when God remembers the Tzaddik, he remembers them as well.

#151 The coming of Moshiach depends on drawing close to the Tzaddik.

#153 Someone who draws close to the Tzaddik, but who doesn’t do it innocently, will eventually become an opposer.

#172 Through the gifts that one brings to tzaddikim, a person can subdue their enemies, and neutralize the evil spirit that hovers over themselves.

#182 One who benefits the Tzaddik from his belongings, it is as if he benefited all the Jewish people, and he is saved from death.

#196 Connection to the Tzaddik is a great healing.

#209 Through the livelihood people provide for the Tzaddik, all their sins are forgiven, just as the Cohen’s eating of the sacrifices atoned for those who offered them.

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Ad kan, from Sefer HaMiddot. As always, it’s highly recommended to look up the quotes yourself, as I just picked out a few, and there’s much more that could be said.

What I wanted to try to bring out with these quotes are two key points:

  • Giving money / help / gifts / support to tzaddikim is always very beneficial to a person, and goes a long way to cancelling out our sins and helping us to overcome our yetzer haras and negative character traits. And this is without us even getting into the specific discussion about a pidyon nefesh, which we’ll come to shortly.
  • All of the things described above only apply to True Tzaddikim – and not ordinary rabbis and rabbanits, nice as they might be. Even more so, these benefits don’t apply to giving money to ‘pretend’ holy people.

From my own experience, I know it’s very, very hard to really know who is ‘real’ and who isn’t today, let alone who is a ‘true tzaddik’ and who isn’t.

There is only one way to really know this with certainty, and that is:

To pray on it, and to ask God to show you who is a real tzaddik.

Yes, we’re talking about doing regular hitbodedut again, because without it, you’ll trip up. Even with it, you’ll probably still trip up, especially at the beginning. Why? Because we are drawn to the rabbis and rabbanits that most mirror and reflect our own views and beliefs back at us.

If we are angry, judgmental, arrogant hypocrites who think we’re perfect and all the problems in the world are simply everyone else’s fault – that’s the sort of people we’ll be drawn to, those are the types of Torah classes and ideas and ‘proofs’ we’ll want to hear. It takes a lot of time to start clearing all those bad middot out of the way, but when that starts to happen, we’ll find ourselves open to hearing about judging others favorably, and about taking responsibility for our own issues, and about working more on our own bad middot.

And that’s when God will start to draw us closer to the really holy people, the true tzaddikim in our midst.

So, the first part of the equation is that giving money and gifts to true tzaddikim is always beneficial to a person, at least in the spiritual realm, but that it’s not so easy to know who a true tzaddik is, and there are a lot of ‘pseudo-tzaddikim’ out there.

Now, let’s talk more about the concept of the Pidyon Nefesh itself.

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REBBE NACHMAN EXPLANS WHY WE SHOULD DO A PIDYON NEFESH:

In the Kitzur Likutey Moharan (translated into English as ‘Advice’, by the Breslov Research Institute), it says the following about Pidyon Nefesh:

  • When a person is sick, a pidyon nefesh (monetary redemption) is the pre-requisite of any cure. Only after the redemption has been made does the Torah give the doctor permission to cure (See Likutey Moharan, II:3)

  • When a person fills the mouths of the Sages with wine, it is accounted for him like a redemption (LM 1:41)

  • Getting up for Tikkun Chatzot (the midnight prayer for rectification) has the same power as a redemption.

  • It is a good practice to always give money for a pidyon nefesh. This is the way to sweeten the power of harsh judgments at all times, and to be saved from them. Even when nobody in the house is sick and you have no particular problems, it is still good to present money for a pidyon nefesh, in order to prevent any problems or sickness, God forbid (Chayey Moharan Section on Serving Hashem, 92).

This isn’t just anyone telling us this, it’s Rebbe Nachman, one of the biggest rabbis in Jewish history.

And he’s spelling it out clearly, that if you want the best chance of avoiding harsh sicknesses and other big difficulties, you should regularly pay a pidyon nefesh, even if you’re not currently experiencing any problems!

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HOW DOES A PIDYON NEFESH WORK?

To understand this, we first have to state something obvious, but which is often so hidden from so many of us, in our ‘pretend perfect’ world:

Nobody is perfect, and every single one of us is constantly transgressing Torah commandments and hurting other people every minute of every day.

The best way to minimize the judgements against us is by going over the past 24 hours in hitbodedut, to try to figure out if that angry outburst, that slanderous email, that nasty behavior, that spiteful comment, was really as justified and ‘holy’ as it seemed at the time.

This is a crucial part of the teshuva process, and if we’re doing regular teshuva, that’s the main way how we can keep these harsh heavenly decrees that are building up against us every single day in check.

But, even if we are regularly doing that (and especially if we’re not…) we all have our blind spots, we all have our flaws and issues, particularly in the area of man and his fellow man. And if those sins aren’t properly atoned for, they can cause harsh judgments to be sent down to us by the Heavenly Court.

Those harsh spiritual judgments manifest in all sorts of ways, including financial problems, health problems, shalom bayit problems, mental health issues where we just feel sad and depressed all the time, problems with the kids etc etc etc.

Now, the suffering itself atones for our sins.

This is a well-known concept, that when we’re going through harsh experiences, that is ‘paying down our debt’, spiritually. That suffering cleans off the spiritual stains we have on our souls, as a result of all the stuff we’re doing wrong (constantly….) that we aren’t acknowledging, or making teshuva about.

ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, THE SPIRITUAL DEBT WE’VE RUN UP HAS TO BE PAID OFF.

There are three main ways we can do this:

  • Clean it off with daily hitbodedut / cheshbon hanefesh / teshuva (but remember, we all have blind spots, which means that we’re for sure not catching everything we’re doing wrong and need to fix.)
  • Experience the suffering we brought down on ourselves as a result of our own behavior and flaws.
  • Pay a pidyon nefesh, a sum of money for a redemption, to a true tzaddik, which is a different sort of ‘suffering’, because parting with our cash is very hard for most of us to do.

The Tanach makes regular reference to money as damim, ‘bloods’.  Why is it called this?

Because we literally sweat and spill our own blood in order to earn that money, to get it together. It’s very dear to us, we’ve sacrificed so much time, effort, energy, whatever to attain it.

And there’s another factor to toss in here, which is that some of our suffering – especially in this generation, the last before Moshiach finally comes – is because of sins that we committed in past lives.

When that’s the case, we can’t even get to it via a daily teshuva process, however much we try. So then we’re really left with just the last 2 options on the list.

And sometimes, even a pidyon nefesh can’t get us out of the harsh decree, because that is our tikkun for a previous life, and it can’t be avoided.

In the next post, let’s take a look at how the pidyon nefesh process actually works, in Shemayim.

Can ‘orthodox Jew’ ever go together with ‘feminist’?

That’s what I find myself wondering more and more at the moment. Yesterday, a news story came to my attention that a bunch of Reform feminists, plus one apparently ‘modern orthodox’ feminist have decided to sue Ikea.

What was the furniture store’s terrible crime? In 2016, Ikea Israel made the mistake of trying to reach out to the chareidi community by printing a catalogue specially for them, that didn’t include any pictures of women in it.

Instead of applauding Ikea’s attempted sensitivity for the orthodox world, instead of adopting the maxim of live and let live, instead of letting the orthodox world decide for itself what sorts of pictures it wants to see in the publications that it brings into its home, a group called the “Israel Religious Action Center”, decided to sue Ikea Israel, instead.

WHO RUNS THE ‘ISRAEL RELIGIOUS ACTION CENTER?’

A quick look at the IRAC website tells you that IRAC’s Executive Director is Anat Hoffman, who you may well recognise as the ‘founder and director’ of the infamous Women of the Wall. IRAC describes itself as “the legal and advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel.”

IRAC has certainly been busy the last few years. Here’s some highlights from its website, where we’re told that:

IRAC plays a lead role in battling attempts by religious extremists to limit the participation and visibility of women in the public sphere in Israel, reversing the phenomena of gender segregation and exclusion and achieving remarkable success.

(Again, please remember that these people are the notorious Women of the Wall.)

Here’s some of what they’ve been up to, before the got around to suing Ikea:

1) In June 2017, they sued El Al to stop women or men asking to switch seats, if they didn’t want to sit next to someone of the opposite gender.

2) In 2015, the sued Bet Shemesh to force orthodox neighborhoods to remove signs asking women to dress modestly in their neighborhoods.

3) In 2014, they chummed up with Kolech, which describes itself as a ‘Religious Women’s Forum’ to sue the chareidi radio station Kol BeRama.

4) Now, they’re in the process of trying to sue the IDF to stop having ‘men only’ bases: “We are currently collecting testimonies of women soldiers who were harmed by women-free areas in the army.”

5) They’re also trying to prevent higher educational facilities where men and women can study without rubbing shoulders with the opposite gender.

Ah, peace n’love.

IRAC is being at least partially funded by the New Israel Fund. We’ll hear more about them in a moment.

Anyway, back to Ikea.

——

According to Haaretz, the suit filed by the complainants said:

“The total exclusion of women and girls from the catalog sends a serious and difficult message that women have no value and there is something wrong with their presence, even in the family-home space depicted in the catalog.

“This discrimination and exclusion has severely insulted, angered and traumatized those who received the catalog.”

Puhleeeze!

Does anyone in the world really think this is true? Do they really expect us to believe that some woman, somewhere in Beitar Illit, developed PTSD from getting an Ikea catalogue that only has pictures of men in it? And if it’s true, (look! There’s a flying pig!) – why is the lawsuit being brought by a Reform pressure group run by the Women of the Wall? And what the heck is that one, token ‘modern orthodox’ woman doing there?

Questions, questions.

But more and more, I’m noticing that the women who self-describe as ‘orthodox feminists’ seem to have decidedly un-orthodox leanings.

There seems to be an awful lot of overlap between how these ‘orthodox feminists’ see the world, and how anti-God, anti-Torah, anti-rabbinic Judaism people and organisations see the world.

And the alarm bells are starting to ring pretty loudly, about where these ‘ortho-fem’ people are really coming from, who is actually funding them, and where they are trying to push us all too.

I’m not saying that all of them are anti-Torah, or anti-God, or anti-rabbis, or anti-chareidi, chas v’shalom. I’m sure there are many strong orthodox women out there who really do believe that the Torah is the living word of God, and thus inviolable.

But at the same time, I keep hearing the same sort of ugly prejudice that you get from people who are avowedly ‘anti’ orthodox Judaism from these ‘ortho-fems’, including hate-filled rants against men, rabbis and chareidi Jews.

And for all that this ‘feminism’ is dressed up in pious language and lofty aspirations, hate-filled rants are always rooted in a whole bunch of bad middot, and emotional and mental dysfunction.

Let me tell you a story that happened to me thirteen years ago, so you can see why the alarm bells are starting to ring so loud about what’s really going on with so many of these ‘orthodox feminists’.

When I lived in Modiin 13 years ago, I wore jeans and didn’t cover my hair, but I still kept Shabbat and paid 10% to tzedaka and believed very strongly in God. At that time, I participated in a women’s shiur where each woman was given the chance to teach Torah according to her own views and derech.

All the women in that shiur self-described as ‘modern orthodox’, whatever that actually meant. Some covered their hair, some (like me) didn’t. Some only wore skirts, some (like me) didn’t. The shiur was unofficially led by a woman who described herself as an ‘orthodox feminist’, and who had a whole bunch of degrees in the pointless subject of ‘gender studies’.

I liked some of those shiurim a lot. Others made me cringe, like when one woman started going on about the ‘militant nature of the Torah’, and how she ‘couldn’t believe we have a book that actually tells us to go out and kill people’.

But even when I totally disagreed with what was being said, I never tried to shut the other person down.

As time went on, the ‘ortho-fem’ woman started giving over more and more subversive shiurim that I was finding increasingly disturbing and ‘anti’ God, and ‘anti’ orthodox Judaism, and it goes without saying, ‘anti’ men and definitely ‘anti’ rabbis.

And this was back when I was still wearing my jeans and not covering my hair, so no-one can accuse me of just parroting chareidi values. (As if…)

One day, it was my turn to give a shiur, so I decided to do something on emuna, as I was just then learning about the whole idea of making God a central part of my Jewish life. I started the class off by playing a one minute snippet of a CD by Rav Brody, something along the lines of:

You know why you’ve got all these problems? It’s because you think that YOU are the boss (instead of recognizing that God is running the world).

Perhaps predictably, the ortho-feminist went ballistic, and prevented me giving over the rest of my shiur, which deteriorated very swiftly into a shouting match.

That experience went a very long way to me deciding I had to get the heck out of Modiin.

Tolerance, tolerance, that’s what they preach. Intolerant, intolerant, that’s how they act.

So we moved away, and I didn’t hear anything more of this ‘ortho-feminist’ until three years later when I discovered she’d re-invented herself as a type of ‘ortho-fem’ marriage counsellor, ‘empowering women’ – or to describe it more accurately, an ortho-fem advocate for divorce, who went round wrecking a bunch of people’s relationships and religious observance.

At that stage, I think she was still officially ‘orthodox’, and so she founded websites devoted to ‘ortho-fem’ principles, and stood on soapboxes shouting loudly about discrimination against women in chareidi society, and even wrote books colorfully depicting the ‘war’ that was apparently happening against women in Israel.

Again, still wearing her ‘orthodox’ badge, so that people in the orthodox world would take her seriously.

Because if someone from say, Meretz, was spouting all that stuff, we’d all know it was politicized baloney.

So yesterday, after I read that article about the ‘modern orthodox’ woman who is suing Ikea, I got the urge to look up the ‘ortho-feminist’ to see what’s become of her, because it sounded like her kind of stunt.

Lo and behold, I learned that she’s now studying to become a reform ‘rabbi’ (yes, I’m using offensive WHATEVER quote marks) and a few months ago, she also joined the staff of the New Israel Fund.

In case you didn’t know, the New Israel Fund is openly committed to dismantling orthodox Judaism in the State of Israel. They state as much on their website, on the page with the Orwellian title of Promoting Pluralism and Tolerance.’

So she’s definitely NOT orthodox any more (like she ever really was….) but she’s definitely STILL a feminist.

Nothing in this world is ‘pareve’ or neutral. It’s either leading us closer to Hashem, or it’s taking us further away. 13 years ago, the reform-rabbi wannabe who now has a day job at an organization that was formed to try to destroy orthodox Judaism in Israel was also griping and grumping about there not being any pictures of women in orthodox publications.

And now look at her.

All this stuff is the thin edge of the wedge.

God gave us a Torah, God gave us rules to follow. God knows exactly what He’s doing.

Is the chareidi world behaving properly and appropriately all the time? Absolutely not. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely.

But it’s not for Reform-minded feminists or the Meretz-loving New Israel Fund to decide how those changes should happen, or what those improvements should be. It’s up to our God-fearing Sages and our Torah-observant rabbis to make those decisions in accordance with halacha, the same way it’s been working since the Torah was handed down to Moshe over 3,000 years ago.

And so, we come back full circle, and I have to ask:

Can ‘orthodox Jew’ and ‘feminist’ ever really go together?

Because from where I’m standing, it’s increasingly looking like a resounding ‘no’.

UPDATE:

Following on from Ann Koffsky invitation to look at the frumwomenhavefaces.com website, in the comments section, I went to take a look.

These are my thoughts:

  1. The stated quotes from Rabbis don’t appear to have any actual Torah sources to back them up. I would like to see the Torah sources / commentaries that these opinions are based on.
  2. The FWHF website recommends that visitors: “Share these press guidelines from Chochmat Nashim with the Jewish media.”
  3. When I clicked over to see who is behind the Chochmat Nashim website, I found this statement:

We partner with leading organizations that share our goals and values, such as ITIMKolechThe Center for Women’s JusticeMavoi SatumYad La’isha and the International Young Israel Movement, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA), as well as members of Knesset, social activists, community rabbis and religious leaders.

And again, the alarm bells started ringing very loudly. Apart from the International Young Israel Movement, all the other organisations are linked to and / or receiving money from the Reform movement, and / or the New Israel Fund.

Here’s some examples:

ITIM – Has a bunch of ‘Jewish Federation’ sponsors plus donors who like to emphasize promoting ‘Jewish pluralism’ and ‘tikkun olam’ in Israel – key Reform phrases.

Kolech – Got more than $50k from the New Israel Fund last year

The Center for Women’s Justice – Got $26,750 from the New Israel Fund last year

Mavoi Satum – Got $49,000 from the New Israel Fund last year

Yad L’Isha – Got $34,000 from the New Israel Fund last year.

It’s suspiciously hard to find any transparent funding information for the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, but when I went over to their UK website, I discovered that one of their past Executive Directors is none other than my very own ‘ortho-fem’ from Modiin, – who is now working for the New Israel Fund and studying to be a reform ‘rabbi’.

So now, tell me why I should be taking ‘Chochmat Nashim’s’ claim to be an ‘orthodox’ website for women seriously, when they are ‘partnered’ with a whole bunch of organisations that are being directly funded by the New Israel Fund and Reform?

The more I’m looking into this topic, the more it stinks to high heaven.

The ‘ortho fem’ movement is being funded and organised by people who openly state they want to take down orthodox Judaism.

Caveat emptor.

==

You might also like these articles:

The First Feminist in Israel

Healthy role models for Jewish women

Yesterday, I went back to Hevron, to go and so some hitbodedut at the Mearat HaMachpela, the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

So often, when I’m struggling with big decisions, big confusions, big inner turmoil, I’ve gone back to sit at a holy place – like Hevron, like Kever Rochel, like the Baba Sali, like Uman – and the clouds start to part, and a light starts to shine on a way out of the madness.

Like everyone else, I have a lot going on.

So, I was in Hevron yesterday, pondering on a lot of different things, when I happened to pick up a little booklet of Rav Shalom Arush’s ‘pearls of emuna’, that someone had left next to the grille overlooking the tomb of Avraham.

I picked it up, opened it up randomly, and got to a passage that (from memory) said something like this:

Rebbe Nachman writes in Likutey Moharan that the whole point of life is to keep giving the honor, the kavod, back to Hashem. And human beings are very bad at this, and they just want to keep trying to wrestle the honor that’s due to God back to themselves, in all types of different ways.

He brought direct quotes from Likutey Moharan, but I can’t remember the reference. But that was the gist.

And as always, it dealt so precisely with so many of the things I’m wrestling with, right now.

Like, why I am so terribly bothered and disturbed by all the rampant ‘self-promotion’ that’s going on all over the place, where even the yearning for geula seems to have been harnessed to a Paypal account.

And like, why I’m so terribly bothered by all these ‘rockstar rabbis’ and ‘rockstar rabbanits’ who speak so very eloquently, and who plaster themselves all over Youtube, and who seem to pop up like a rash on colorful glossy posters on lampposts and walls all over the Holy City of Jerusalem (and elsewhere…)

And like, why it upsets me so much that so very many of our ‘leaders’ – religious and otherwise – are clearly just ‘leading’ because of what’s in it for them, and their egos, and their bank accounts, and their social media following.

God is out the picture, fundamentally, even in the orthodox Jewish world.

So few people today are doing their Torah classes lishma, in order to give the honor due to God.

That’s strong language, I know, so let me try to explain what I’m talking about with some real-life examples.

A few years’ back, one of my neighbors strong-armed me into attending a ‘self-development / emuna’ workshop, by a well-known ‘rockstar rabbanit’ type in her home, because the rabbanit wanted a guarantee that at least 10 people would commit, “to make it worth her while”.

I baulked when my neighbor told me the cost was 50 shekels a class, and that I’d have to pay 400 shekels up front, to cover the whole 8 weeks.

Why so expensive?! I wanted to know.

Then I went to check out the slick website, the slick promo video, and I saw I’m dealing with a serious business person here, who is packaging their ‘Torah’ in a very commercially-sensible way. And I could see how making it financially ‘worth her while’ was actually the goal, the focus, of everything she was doing.

And then I baulked even more, because we’re warned away from people who turn their Torah learning into a ‘hammer’ with which to build up their own personality cults, and bank accounts.

But my neighbor wouldn’t relent, so I agreed to come and try one class (for 50 shekels…) and then to decide if I wanted to continue. I sat there, listening to some very warped ideas about how we can ‘force’ God to do what we want, and to give us what we want, and I came away extremely disturbed.

Because that’s total baloney. The real definition of emuna is accepting God’s will happily, while trying to work on the bad middot that are ‘blocking’ all the good stuff that God wants to send down to us.

But I guess that’s not such a commercially-viable message, and that no-one would want to pay 50 shekels a class just to be told their own bad middot are causing them all the problems.

Another time, a different ‘rockstar rabbnit’ rolled into town, and again it was an-singing, all-dancing event that was so expensive to attend, it actually provoked a storm of outrage in the village.

Why so expensive?! Everyone wanted to know.

But then, when you saw the fancy venue that was hired, and the expensive light and sound crew, and you counted the number of dancers, and comedians, and singers and performers who were the ‘warm up’ for that rockstar rabbanit, it all made perfect sense.

It was slick entertainment being packaged as Torah, and it was totally focused on the ‘feel-good’ factor, instead of the ‘actually becoming good’ factor – which again, is a much harder sell, commercially.

Again, I came away with a very uncomfortable feeling about it all, especially when I saw the queue of women lining up to get a ‘blessing’ and advice from the rabbanit after the show. I know firsthand how much damage bad advice can do to people who have been fooled into believing they’re dealing with a bona fide tzaddik.

You throw away your own critical thinking, you override your own gut feelings – and ultimately, the person isn’t really a tzaddik, doesn’t have any more of a connection to God than you do, and is really just dressing their own opinions and biases up as ‘ruach hakodesh’, or some sort of prophetic spirit.

In a nutshell: it’s extremely dangerous.

Another time, I was strong-armed into attending yet another Torah class given by yet another ‘rockstar rabbanit’, this time in Jerusalem. Again, I was left underwhelmed by the quality of the Torah being taught, and the character of the person giving it over, and overwhelmed by the insistence of the helper who waved her ‘donation cannister’ in the face of everyone who entered the room, and demanded a 30 shekel ‘donation’ before she’d let you sit down.

Ah, Torah lishma! Torah teaching for its own sake! Torah learning for God!

Not.

Not at all, actually.

I know rabbis and rabbanits need to eat, I really do. I know they need to put food on the table.

But as soon as the financial consideration becomes the imperative, all that person’s Torah, all that person’s wisdom, all that person’s ‘advice’ and insight, it’s all being harnessed to power their own honor and bank account, and God is out of the picture.

Even Rebbe Nachman tells us (in Sefer HaMiddot, Tzaddik, #18):

There is a tzaddik whose fame is reknown, who later falls through lust for money.

I.e., even a bona fide tzaddik can fall into a very bad place when financial considerations becomes the main engine driving their activities.

Also in Sefer HaMiddot (Tzaddik #57), Rabbenu tells us:

There are those that expound on the Torah with eloquence, yet their words lack truth.

But man, do they make for some good entertainment!

The rabbis and rabbanits who are truly serving God lishma, truly teaching Torah lishma, often do so at such an enormous cost to themselves, and their own comfort zone, and their own finances and ego.

That’s one of the ways you can tell who is ‘real’ and who isn’t, in our confused, upside-down, back-to-front world.

I prefer to learn Torah from people who I know from firsthand knowledge often lack the funds to pay their own electricity bills. And who often go into enormous debt putting out Torah teachings, or building new kollels and yeshivas, as Rav Natan did on behalf of Rebbe Nachman, and Breslov chassidut. And who literally go through a ‘fire and water’ of disgrace and humiliation, because they want all the honor to go to God, and not to become some ‘big name’ on the Torah circuit.

Personally, I’m not on that level, no-where near it. While I’m clearly not writing to earn money (haha!) I still write to feel good about myself, to feel as though I’m doing something useful in the world. It’s not 100% lishma, it’s not totally for God

And that’s why it’s so humbling for me to watch and experience how it looks when Torah is truly being learned and taught – and lived – lishma.

This Torah isn’t light entertainment, this Torah doesn’t make for pretty Youtube videos, the people teaching this Torah aren’t showing up on the roster of speakers at the Dead Sea for Pesach.

This Torah is challenging the listeners – continually – to put their hand up and admit they aren’t perfect, and that they need to knuckle down and work on their own characters and relationships.

And that’s just not something anyone wants to pay good money to hear, is it?

But this Torah makes it blindingly clear that the honor belongs to God.

And no-one else.

And that’s how I know it’s real.

=======

UPDATE: I had a question about how paying a tzaddik a pidyon nefesh relates to what I’ve described above. BH, I will collate a bunch of sources, and answer that with some daas Torah next week some time.

It’s a complicated subject, so I can understand the confusion, and with God’s help, I will try to clarify the difference.

Can yoga ever really be ‘kosher’?

A few years’ back, on Emunaroma, I spent quite a while trying to bottom out whether yoga could really be ‘kosher’ for orthodox Jews. After a lot of digging around, the answer that crystallised was:

No, absolutely not!

Last week, a friend called me and asked me to re-post the yoga report on my new blog, as there is a 3 day ‘yoga retreat’ happening in Israel, and she was shocked that so many very orthodox women are spending a whole three days of their precious lives bowing to the modern baal that is yoga.

So, I’m reposting it below.

==

Can Yoga Really be Kosher?

Some background

For years’ now, I’ve been hearing from different people in the frum community about how ‘great’ and ‘amazing’ and ‘wonderful’ yoga is. But because I’m a religious Jew, I’ve been very wary of getting into anything that seems so connected to idol worship and the Hindu religion (more on this in a moment).

‘But yoga can be kosher!’ I’ve been assured repeatedly, and I never pushed the issue very much because a) I still wanted to get Shabbat invitations, and b) I wasn’t really interested in doing it anyway.

When I started to develop an interest in alternative medicine, I made a point of seeking out a knowledgeable, well-respected orthodox Rabbi in Sanhedria, to ask him what was acceptable, halachically, and what wasn’t. He gave me guidelines that things like acupuncture and acupressure and even applied kinesiology – where everything is directly ‘hands-on’ and there’s no indirect, invisible ‘forces’ at play – are halachically OK.

But anything to do with chakras, or anything hands-off (like the type of healing that occurs with Reiki, for example,) was not.)

I did  more research, and was told that a rabbinic research group had been put together a few years’ back by one of the ultra-orthodox organisations in Israel, to explore what was ok, Jewishly, and what wasn’t. The basic conclusion is that most of the things coming out of China were OK, but the practises coming out of India were NOT OK.

I also discovered that Rav Elyashiv had given a ruling about kisufim (the use of magic) in alternative medicine, that basically said that anything where it couldn’t be shown scientifically how it actually worked to help a person heal, should be considered kisufim and avoided by Jews.

In recent years, there have been many studies done to show that the body is made up of electrical impulses, that each cell is polarized with an electrical charge, and that the traditional acupuncture points of Chinese Medicine actually correspond to areas where the electrical ‘charge’ of the skin is much greater than in surrounding areas.

Long story short: Chinese Medicine now has a proven scientific basis for how and why it works, and is thus acceptable for orthodox Jews.

But the same can definitely NOT be said for the Indian healing tradition, which includes multiple references to energy centres (the chakras and the nadis) and working with the ‘astral’ body, i.e., a person’s soul. Yoga is part of the Indian healing tradition.

So, can it be ‘kosher’?

——

Yoga’s bad vibe

Let me start by explaining how I came to be researching this topic. A few weeks’ ago, I finally attended my first apparently ‘kosher’ yoga class. The teacher was a very lovely woman, but the spiritual ‘vibe’ I got from attending the class was so disturbing to me – despite the fact that all we seemed to be doing was some nice stretching exercises – that I decided to check things out properly, to see what’s really going on with ‘kosher yoga’.

I decided to buy a book on the history of yoga by yoga expert Georg Feuerstein, which would set everything out, and explain where yoga had come from. Immediately, the first red flag went up as I started to read some of the comments about yoga being the ‘midwife’ of at least four idolatrous religions; and how it was ‘impossible to separate yoga from Hinduism, just as it’s impossible to unscramble an egg.’

There was also a lot of talk about how it helps people to tap into to the ‘mythical energy of the serpent’, and a whole bunch of other stuff that frankly made my hair stand on end.

Let’s be clear that the people discussing yoga in this fashion were adepts and experts who really knew what they were talking about, and who didn’t have a vested interest about pretending that yoga was nothing to do with religion.

They stated very clearly that it was a religious, spiritual practice, associated with many of the world’s most idolatrous religions.

Things did not look very promising, initially, but I decided to wait and see what the book said, before really making up my mind.

Then, someone contacted me complaining that I should look at the ‘secular’ branch of yoga as taught by BKS Iyengar, and practiced in the West, which was all about health benefits and exercise, and nothing to do with religion at all.

——

There is no such thing as ‘secular’ yoga

I went to check out BKS Iyengar – and got to an official site that was dripping with idol worship and full of prayers offered up to the dead founders of yoga, who had now been officially deified (including by BKS Iyengar, himself).

(As a side note, whenever you do that ‘OM’ chant, the underlying intention is that you are praying to an idol.)

The more I was scratching the surface of yoga, even apparently ‘secular’ yoga, the more I was finding references and connections to idol worship – so much so, that I literally started to feel a little nauseous about the whole affair.

The next thing I did was go back to our halachic sources, to check what it says about idol worship.

The Torah gives us two very clear commandments in connection with the severe prohibition against idol worship (I’m quoting the notes to the Artscroll Tractate of Avodah Zarah, 11a):

  • “And you shall not follow their rituals – Leviticus 18.3 – which proscribes rituals that are used in idol worship.”
  • “And you shall not act according to their practices – Exodus 23-24 – which forbids any practices specific to idolatrous peoples, even those that have nothing to do with idolatry.”

On the face of it, even if yoga was ‘secular’ and ‘just exercises’, as is claimed by the kosher yoga crowd, and even if you got rid of the salutations to the sun and the chanting,

Jews are still forbidden to do it because yoga is indisputably a practice that’s specific to idolatrous peoples.

——

Trying to track down the halachic approval for yoga

So now, we hit the next stage of the process: trying to track down the rabbis who had apparently approved yoga as kosher, to hear from them how their rulings squared with the above Torah laws.

And this is where things have become very interesting!

I was put in touch with a yoga teacher who had apparently received the halachic OK from two well-known orthodox figures. When I asked for more details, she told me she’d been told verbally by one of them that yoga was OK if she just avoided the ‘salutations to the sun’ and the chanting stuff.

I have been trying to get hold of that person to speak to them, but so far they haven’t returned my emails. (If he does, I will update you.)

It turned out the other figure had never spoken to her directly, and to my source’s credit she was unwilling to name them or pass on what they’d said as she’d only heard it second-hand (and as I’m learning with this stuff, even the ‘first-hand’ approvals have to be taken with a huge pinch of salt.)

But she put me in touch with the ‘orthodox’ yoga teacher who’d trained her – and hundreds of others in the orthodox world – who she was sure could give me more details about the halachic backers of ‘kosher’ yoga.

This is an excerpt of our email exchange, after I’d asked the teacher (very politely) if she could please give me details of the Rabbinic backers who had certified her yoga courses for the orthodox Jewish world:

I would love to be part of this discussion however this is the craziest month for me with school ending, camp coming, Shavuot around the corner, and my program starts in a month so everyone is calling.

I can only tell you Rivka that I have done extensive research on this and there is a false understanding that the modern postural practice of yoga, which we westerners practice, is rooted in Hinduism.  I am sending you this article to read which explains it all http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/living/not-as-old-as-you-think#page3.  There are major Rabbanim that poskin that yoga is fine so long as it is done for health purposes and that it practiced as an exercise or a path to wellness and health. 

Other than this I can’t get into a whole dialogue about it because of my time constraints but just know that the poses were influenced greatly by western fitness models and you don’t have to worry about it.

I responded:

I took a look at the article, thanks, and it’s not at all clear. It’s obviously a very hot topic of debate within the yoga world itself about whether yoga can truly be cut off from its hindu origins, and the person who wrote the article appears to be a lone voice in the wilderness, saying that it can. Do you have any other references?

Also, I just looked up your teacher’s site (as per your info on your site) and was a little surprised that it said the following – the part about her system of ‘flow yoga’ being ‘rooted in the ancient system of Tantra’ etc. So clearly, her yoga DOES have a spiritual basis rooted in hindu tradition, as she herself is publicising on her site.

I’m curious if that’s the same style of flow yoga that you’re teaching and certifying via [YOUR YOGA COLLEGE]?

And if yes, I really do need the names of your halachic poskim.

(The ‘orthodox’ yoga teacher had apparently learned her completely ‘secular’ yoga practices from someone who studied directly from a tantric master, and who happily teachers her yoga in temples dedicated to ‘Lord Shriva’.)

This is what I got back:

Hi Rivka

Why are you inquiring about this? I don’t know of your intentions for why you are asking all these questions. Are you thinking of learning yoga. ? Do you want to teach it? Are you upset observant Jews are teaching yoga?

I responded:

Let me ask you a question: Why are you being so reticent about giving me the names of your halachic poskim? What’s the big deal? If it’s ok, halachically, let me know who your rabbis are who have sanctioned it, and end of story.

My intention is this: I am trying to find out if yoga is halachically OK for Jews to do.

I am writing up my discoveries as I go along, and I’m sharing what I’m learning with others.

If you have halachic sanction from orthodox rabbis, please give me the names so I can contact them for further details. If you can’t do that, then it suggests that the issue is not as straightforward as you’re representing it to be.

I got this response back (peace ‘n love, man…)

It doesn’t suggest anything. I am straightforward. I have dealt with people like you in the past and frankly I don’t have the time of day to deal with it. We have 100% have called Poskin and got permission to practice yoga.  Now it’s your turn to do the same. Call your Rabbis and speak to them about your particular situation.  I am not interested in being scrutinized nor will I pass the name out of my Rabbis. Yoi have your own Rabbis, own community and own hashgafa so get ypur answera from your own community. It was rude of you to look up my teachers bio (who I learned with 20 years ago when I wasn’t frum) & question my authenticity based on her bio. Please don’t write me and go do your own research into the topic. Next time you have questions such as this try not to approach a person with such judgement and maybe you will learn something.

Well, learn something I certainly did….

——

Wikipedia to the rescue

The proponents of ‘kosher yoga’ like to say that it’s completely secular and just exercise. But even a cursory look at Wikipedia shows that yoga and idolatry are so tightly woven together, THEY CANNOT BE SEPERATED.

  • Plug in ‘Hatha Yoga’ to Wikipedia and here’s what you’ll read, in the first two lines:

Hindu tradition believes that the deity Shiva himself is the founder of hatha yoga.[3][4][5]

In the 20th century, hatha yoga, particularly asanas (the physical postures), became popular throughout the world as a form of physical exercise, and is now colloquially termed as simply “yoga”.”

  • Plug in plain ‘Yoga’ to Wikipedia, and you’ll get this:

“In the 1980s, yoga became popular as a system of physical exercise across the Western world. Yoga in Indian traditions, however, is more than physical exercise, it has a meditative and spiritual core. One of the six major orthodox schools of Hinduism is also called Yoga, which has its own epistemology and metaphysics, and is closely related to Hindu Samkhya philosophy.”

And a little later on, you get this, in the section called ‘The Goals of Yoga’:

“According to David Gordon White, from the 5th century CE onward, the core principles of “yoga” were more or less in place, and variations of these principles developed in various forms over time:[29]

  • Yoga, as an analysis of perception and cognition; illustration of this principle is found in Hindu texts such as the Bhagavad Gitaand Yogasutras, as well as a number of Buddhist Mahāyāna works;
  • Yoga, as the rising and expansion of consciousness; these are discussed in sources such as Hinduism Epic Mahābhārata, Jainism Praśamaratiprakarana;
  • Yoga, as a path to omniscience; examples are found in HinduismNyaya and Vaisesika school texts as well as Buddhism Mādhyamaka texts, but in different ways;
  • Yoga, as a technique for entering into other bodies, generating multiple bodies, and the attainment of other supernatural accomplishments; these are described in Tantric literature of Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as the Buddhist Sāmaññaphalasutta.”

 As these excerpts clearly and unequivocably show, the focus of yoga is NOT on exercise and physical health at all. The spiritual underpinnings of yoga, and its direct connections to idol worshipping religions are so obvious, it’s hard to believe that I’m even having to write this.

——

“If you do yoga just for your physical health, then it’s ok halachically”

So now, we come down to the crux of the ‘Kosher Yoga’ argument, which is that if you only do the exercises, and you have no connection whatsoever to the philosophical or religious associations, then it’s OK, halachically.

That appears to be the current argument of the people who are convinced that yoga can be koshered. But there are a number of serious problems with this approach.

  • PROBLEM ONE: It doesn’t satisfy the Torah prohibitions we brought above, namely:

“And you shall not follow their rituals – Leviticus 18.3 – which proscribes rituals that are used in idol worship.”

“And you shall not act according to their practices – Exodus 23-24 – which forbids any practices specific to idolatrous peoples, even those that have nothing to do with idolatry.”

Who can deny that yoga is a practice that is specific to idolatrous peoples?

Who can claim that the exact same poses used in the worship of ‘Lord Shriva’ or some other idol are NOT ‘rituals that are used in idol worship’, even if the person doing them doesn’t have that specific intention?

So that’s the first, massive problem with this halachic approach, and I would love for the Rabbinic poskim who have apparently sanctioned yoga for orthodox Jews to come out of hiding, and openly explain how they have specifically addressed this issue, in their rulings.

  • PROBLEM TWO: It doesn’t work, in practice.

Why not?

Because as we’ve been learning, it’s impossible to disentangle the physical exercises from their spiritual and philosophical roots.

As soon as you call your exercise program ‘yoga’, you’ve connected it to the philosophy and spirituality of idol worship. (This is a good time to remind you that a leading branch of Hinduism is actually called ‘yoga’. If you’d be uncomfortable attending a class called ‘Xtian stretching’, then the same issue applies here.)

If you’re still not convinced that even the name is steeped in Hindu philosopy and idol-worshipping spirituality, I found the following on one of the official websites promoting Swami Vivekananda, the man credited with ‘secularising’ modern yoga for Western consumption a century ago:

“The word Yoga is FIRST defined by sage Patanjali in his book Patanjali Yoga Sutra. He summarized YOGA as CHITTA VRITHI NIRODHA.

CHITTA means MIND
VRITTI means VIBRATIONS
NIRODHA means STOPPAGE”

(As a side note, you should know that ‘sage Patanjali’ has been officially deified by many branches of the Hindu religion.)

Also, in order to qualify as an ‘official’ yoga teacher in the West (even via the apparently ‘kosher’ yoga colleges)  you are still required to learn ‘yoga philosophy, lifestyle and ethics’, that are all clearly rooted in idolatrous beliefs and philosophy, as per the below which comes from the Yoga Alliance website for registered yoga schools:

  1. Yoga Philosophy, Lifestyle and Ethics for Yoga Teachers:

30 hours

Minimum Contact Hours: 20 hours

Minimum Contact Hours w/ Lead Trainer(s): 0 hours

Special Requirements: A minimum of 2 of the above Contact Hours must be spent on ethics for yoga teachers

Topics in this category could include, but would not be limited to:

  • The study of yoga philosophies and traditional texts (such as the Yoga Sutras, Hatha Yoga Pradipika or Bhagavad Gita)

  • Yoga lifestyle, such as the precept of non-violence (ahimsa), and the concepts of dharma and karma

  • Ethics for yoga teachers, such as those involving teacher – student relationships and community

  • Understanding the value of teaching yoga as a service and being of service to others (seva)

Now, I’ve never heard of people having to immerse themselves in idolatrous texts for thirty hours just to be able to teach tennis, or a good aerobics class. Is there really anyone out there who still believes that yoga is ‘purely’ a form of exercise?

——

Yoga is not just an exercise, it’s a lifestyle choice

The last thing to say is that yoga, even the apparently ‘secular-just-for-exercise’ version is a complete lifestyle package. As soon as people get into yoga, they start wanting to learn more about it, and expand their knowledge of this amazing new ‘exercise’ their doing.

As soon as they do that – as soon as they read the information on Wikipedia, or on any other yoga site, for example – they’re connecting to the philosophy and spirituality behind the exercises, which makes it instantly forbidden to them to continue practicing yoga, even according to the halachic opinion quoted above, that it’s: ‘OK’ to do yoga if it’s completely divorced from spirituality or philosophy.

(And this is a good time to note, again, that the exercises CANNOT be divorced from the spiritual side of things, for all the reasons and more stated above.)

Where do we go from here?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about yoga-practicing Jews, even the ‘frum’ ones, it’s that they will defend their ‘exercise’ program religiously.

Again, the idol-worshipping connections to yoga are so obvious, that anyone who even researches this topic a little will quickly find stacks of information making it clear that yoga is off-limits for believing Jews.

So it comes down to this: For the God-fearing people in our midst who really want to avoid idol worship, and who are really concerned about doing what God wants, even when it involves some sort of self-sacrifice on their part, there is really no question:

Yoga is an idolatrous practice, and is forbidden. Engaging in this practice, even so-called ‘secular’ yoga will damage your soul and your connection to God and Yiddishkeit.

For the other people, who decided a long time ago that yoga was ‘kosher’ – regardless of the issues raised above – nothing I wrote here will change their mind, and they will continue to try to convince everyone else that you can really kosher a pig, and that they aren’t doing anything wrong!!!

And for the people in the middle?

Get informed.

Ask your ‘kosher yoga’ provider the name of the rabbi who certified their program – and don’t let them wiggle out of giving it you. Ask them how their apparently ‘secular’ style differs from the poses used in idol-worship (and then watch them squirm, because the whole point of certain schools of yoga is that the poses, or ‘asanas’ have to be done precisely, as taught by the (idol-worshiping) yogi masters.)

Ask them how can be sure that the 30 hours of instruction in idolatrous beliefs they had to do in order to even qualify as a teacher hasn’t seeped into the classes and exercises they’re giving over to their own students.

Go onto the internet and see for yourself how yoga is basically its own idolatrous religion.

And then you can decide which group you want to really be in: God-fearing Jews who care about their souls and their relationship to the Creator; OR Jews-for-yoga.

—–

‘I believe I get health benefits from doing yoga. What can I do instead?’

This one is easy:

Do any stretching exercises you like that aren’t called ‘yoga’, or attached to idolatrous philosophies or religions!

That could be Pilates, the Alexander technique exercises, even just the ‘plain vanilla’ stretching exercises you can find in books like ‘Stretching for Dummies’. There are many different ways that you can stretch in a truly kosher way that have nothing to do with idolatrous faiths and practices.

——

A word to our Rabbis

Let’s end with a plea to the orthodox rabbis who are apparently certifying ‘kosher yoga’ (if they actually do exist…) Dear rabbis, I know you have a very hard job of trying to bring people closer to Yiddishkeit, and trying to accommodate the strange and superficial ideas about spirituality that so many modern people have.

I know it’s a very hard sell to get people to believe that body, mind and soul are really connected (which is why a Jew can’t just eat what they want, and why we go to mikva, and why we dress modestly, for example.)

But please don’t certify any more ‘kosher yoga’ programs until you’ve really done your homework about the idolatrous roots of this stuff, and the spiritual implications of ‘just doing the poses’.

Giving a hechsher to idol worshipping practices is hugely problematic, and should not be done lightly.

(Remember, in order to be a certified instructor, you have to have spent a minimum of 30 hours learning ‘philosophy, ethics and lifestyle’, as discussed above, which basically boils down to 30 hours of instruction in idolatrous ideas and philosophies).

If you decide it IS possible to make a form of ‘kosher’ yoga, then please publicize your rulings, and please give enough detailed explanation so the masses can also understand why doing even a ‘kosher’ form of yoga doesn’t infringe the serious Torah prohibitions against:

And you shall not follow their rituals – Leviticus 18.3 – which proscribes rituals that are used in idol worship.”

And you shall not act according to their practices – Exodus 23-24 – which forbids any practices specific to idolatrous peoples, even those that have nothing to do with idolatry.”

May Hashem help us all to have the clarity to differentiate between good and bad, spiritual light and spiritual darkness, and the courage to act on our holy convictions, even when it’s very difficult for us.

======

You can download this whole post as a PDF here:

Can Yoga really be Kosher

UPDATE:

Orthodox holistic practitioner Efraim Geltman from Jerusalem Health sent along the following links from Rav Ginsburg, which makes the point even more sharply:

http://www.inner.org/chassidut/yoga-can-it-be-kosher-rav-ginsburgh-addresses-the-question

http://www.inner.org/questions-and-answers-about-harav-ginsburghs-position-on-yoga

Daas Torah: The Torah sources on avoiding images of women.

Following on from this post on Daas Me, Rachel wanted to know what the Daas Torah sources are for not looking at images of women (and why orthodox publications are actually acting correctly, by not showing images of women.)

I asked Rabbi Reuven Levy (aka ‘the husband’) to pull some of the sources together, and this is what he put together.

I would love to see the Torah sources (as opposed to the ‘Daas Me’) from the orthodox folk who disagree with me on this subject. Please do post them up in the comments section.

Sources on avoiding images of women:

Do not stray after your heart and after your eyes”. (V’lo taturu acharei levavechem veacharei eineichem) (Bamidbar 15:39)

“You shall guard yourself (v’nishmarta) against any evil thought” (Devarim 23:10).

A man may not gaze upon a beautiful woman even if she is unmarried” (Gemara, Avoda Zara 20a).

The Smak (30) says that “v’lo taturu” applies only when one stares for the purpose of an immoral act. If one enjoys the beauty of a woman, but has no intention to commit an immoral act, he violates “v’nishmarta“. This distinction is reached independently by the Igros Moshe (Even Hoezer 1:69). However, the Mishna Berura (75:7) states that staring at a woman to enjoy her beauty is a violation of “v’lo tauru“.

Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer 21:1):

  • It is forbidden to look at a woman’s beauty (even without any intention to enjoy her beauty).
  • It is forbidden to look even at her little finger, if his intention is to enjoy himself by looking.

R’i considers this law to be d’Oraitta, min ha Torah, in the case of a married woman, or any other woman forbidden to him.

Chazal say sinning through one’s eyes is in some ways worse than the actual act of sin:

(i) As one does not feel he has done anything wrong or harmed anyone, so he does not make teshuva;

(ii) When one sins with one’s intellect he is misusing his most precious G-d given asset, which may be considered worse than sinning with a lesser important part of the body (Rambam, Morei Nevuchim 3:8 and Nefesh HaChaim 1:4);

(iii) Shame or fear of others can cause a person to abandon his sin, this is not the case with sins involving thought (Derech Pikudecha).

Even looking at a woman without the intention of committing a transgression causes the images to be engraved upon one’s mind, damaging the soul (Chessed LeAvraham, Nahar 33).

Looking at a forbidden sight, such as a woman not permitted to him, creates klipot and shedim (Taharas HaKodesh 3).

It’s just a man’s problem if he looks. It’s nothing to do with me?

Wrong.

It’s a d’Orraitta transgression to put a stumbling block in front of someone [lifnei ever..] (Vayikra 19:14).

This means that even if the woman is dressed modestly, or it’s only a ‘head shot’, if she is beautiful to look at, she is transgressing this commandment by putting her picture in a public forum.

It’s forbidden for a man to look at a woman’s beauty, including just her face.

NB – this does not mean a woman is prohibited from showing her face or walking around in public modestly dressed. If a man, by chance looks up and sees a woman, so long as he looks away, he does not commit a sin.

So, here the woman is not responsible if the man has a ‘second look’ or stares at her. However, when posting a picture of herself, it is far more likely that a man will look at her picture closely, particularly if she is ‘good looking’, and thereby transgress. A man is (usually) not embarrassed to look at a woman’s picture (particularly) if no one else is with him at the time. However, he would be embarrassed to stare at her in the street.

But surely it’s ok for the purpose of fulfilling a Mitzvah, such as teaching Torah?

No, this would be a mitzvah that is brought about through a transgression [mitzvah ha’ba’ah b’aveirah]. In such a case, the mitzvah is void, and all you have is the transgression.


Ad kan, from Rabbi Reuven.

So, why are all these very frum, very tznius women happy to have pictures of themselves posted all over the net?

I don’t know.

But I’d love to find out if there is any daas Torah backing up that decision, or if it’s all just a reaction to pressure from the ‘ugly feminist’ crowd (i.e. people who believe it’s OK to do this either because a) they are feminists who don’t think keeping Torah commandments is so important or b) they think the women putting their pictures up are de facto ugly, so actually not transgressing any of the Torah commandments.)

So, that’s the question:

Are there any Torah sources on the other side of the debate, or is it all Daas Me?

Daas Torah, or ‘Daas Me?’

Recently, I got into a ‘discussion’ over email about our policy of not having any pictures of women up on the Sassonmag.com website.

Long story short, one of the writers for the site felt so strongly about this decision, they decided they can no longer write for Sasson. Dear reader, I’d love to tell you that I took this decision calmly and in a considered way, like someone with good middot and a mature outlook, and with full emuna that if God wanted things that way, it’s for sure for the best.

That’s not exactly what happened.

What rankled me the most is that I felt that the site – and yours truly – were being accused of being ‘intolerant’, and this unspoken accusation lit me up like one of Saddam’s scuds.

(If you want to know why I write so much about how psychos behave, it’s because I am one.)

So anyway, I wasted a lot of time having a back and forwards with the person in question, that was growing more and more frustrating, at least for me. Thursday night, I printed off all the email correspondence I’d had, and came to show it to my husband for his view of things.

As a lawyer in the secular world, and as someone who regularly learns gemara, my husband has a very good grasp of underlying arguments, and he’s also extremely logical in his approach. Sometimes, that can also drive me bonkers, as I go so much on gut and intuition, but in this case it was a decided blessing.

He read the back and forth, and then he told me:

“This discussion is essentially meaningless and can never be resolved, because there are no Torah sources being referenced, and there is no daas Torah here. It’s really just ‘daas me’.”

Daas Torah roughly translates as the ‘wisdom / insight / knowledge of the Torah’. I.e., it’s the Divine knowledge that Hashem clothed by way of the Torah, and by way of halacha, and it’s the only real point of reference for being able to know what is truly right and wrong.

As soon as we come away from our Torah sources, our halacha, our proper orthodox rabbinic responsa, we are no longer dealing with Hashem’s wisdom and insight, we are dealing with ‘daas me’ – i.e. our own views and opinions.

And while there are places where daas me is definitely valid – like, for example, deciding what to make for supper, or what color to paint the kitchen – for the really important stuff, daas Torah needs to be informing our thinking, if we really want to be trying to do the right thing by God, and giving Him nachas.

I suddenly had an Eureka! moment, and realized that this is a big reason why I just can’t be bothered with so many of the sites that I used to avidly gobble down every day (sometimes, even including my own): it’s all daas me, and very little daas Torah.

And who needs it?

All these arguments and discussions and having a go, who needs it?

Bezrat Hashem, with God’s help, I will be doing my level best to steer clear of daas me in my writing now. Not that I won’t discuss things or won’t share ideas, but I’ll be darned careful to make sure that opinions are at least based on daas Torah, and not just flowering out of daas me.

And if I come away from that, you are cordially invited to (gently…) remind me of it.

====

You might also be interested in these posts:

Does ‘orthodox Jew’ ever really go together with ‘feminist’?

The first feminist in Israel

Daas Torah: Sources on avoiding images of women

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.