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

Someone said to me the other day:

‘The real battle today, in terms of idol worship, is in healthcare. We’ve got a real fight on our hands to show people that they don’t have to rely on doctors and medicines.’

My friend is a frum Jew, very involved in trying to promote more awareness about the potential harm associated with vaccines, and is part of the more alternative health scene, with a focus on healthy eating.

But here’s the rub: the big ‘healthcare’ idol worship problem we’re up against isn’t only on the conventional side of things; it’s also very much alive and kicking in the alternative healthcare world, too – and in some ways, even more problematic.

Before I continue, here’s the definition of ‘idol worship’ that I’m working with, so we’re all nice and clear what the problem actually is:

Idol worship is any time a person thinks they can cut God out of the picture, and achieve some aim or get some benefit ‘under their own steam’.

So, if you’re sitting with a doctor or psychiatrist who’s telling you how the latest little designer pill is going to cure all your woes without any further input, effort, or prayer from you – and you believe them – that’s idol worship.

Or, if you’re sitting with some meditation guru, who’s telling you how saying ‘om’ and emptying your mind completely of all thought is going to cure all your woes (again, without any further input, effort or prayer from you) – and you believe them – that’s idol worship.

As you’re probably working out for yourselves, idol worship is currently happening all over the place, from your dentist, to your reflexologist, to your macrobiotic diet expert, to your OBGYN, to your acupuncturist and your pediatrician.

The world is full of health ‘experts’, alternative and mainstream, physical and mental, Jewish and otherwise, who are trying to tell you that they can cure you, heal you, make you better, while God is completely out of the picture.

But while conventional medicine is only messing things up at the level of the body, or the Nefesh, which is the lowest and most coarse of the five levels of our soul, many alternative practices work on the principles of energy medicine, which tap right into the higher levels of the soul, namely the Ruach and Neshama.

To put this a little more clearly, Western medicine can (and often does…) kill your body. Alternative medicine can (and often does…) kill your soul.

There are three ‘cardinal sins’ that a Jew is meant to die, instead of transgressing: murder, idol worship, and sexual immorality.

If ‘murder’ is what Western Medicine specializes this (and please read THIS if you think I’m being overly dramatic, here) – then the other two are definitely the professional reserve of the alternative health world.

When God is out of the picture, for example, then you start getting all sorts of just plain evil messages about health and happiness being directly connected to your reproductive organs. Louise Hay, founder of the alternative health empire Hay House, regularly advises people to pleasure themselves as a ‘release’.

Spiritually, wasting seed is probably the worst thing you can do, in terms of destroying the world and fuelling the forces of evil (if you don’t know why, THESE ARTICLES set the problem out, very clearly).

But when God is out of the picture – hey, what do you care?

Even yoga, that kosher pig of a discipline, is very focused on reproductive energy. There’s all this talk about harnessing something called ‘kundalini’ energy, which is described as being a very powerful, ‘snake-like’ energy, that’s coiled at the bottom of the spine.

Hmm. SNAKE-ENERGY, anyone? Am I the only one picking up this clue?

Yoga journals are replete with stories of regular yoga fans who got zapped by a massive dose of ‘snake-energy’ and never recovered their mental or physical health, as a result. This stuff is dangerous, because it’s working at a much higher level of the soul, but still disconnected from God.

Maybe, the rest of the world can handle it better because their souls don’t have the huge spiritual potential of a Jewish soul. But for Jews, when their healthcare gets disconnected from God, that’s a disaster.

Because (and here I’m going to shout, sorry) NOTHING IS NEUTRAL IN THE WORLD.

Either something and someone is attached to God, and coming from a good place, or they’re disconnected from God, and coming from a bad place.

I will write more on this separately, as I experienced something recently (well, quite a few things actually) that really brought this point home to me in a very clear way.

If you asked me what’s better: go Western, and risk killing the body, or go Eastern, and risk killing the soul – at this stage, I really don’t know what I’d suggest.

But one thing I can tell you for sure, even at this stage of trying to figure it all out: If you don’t put God in your own personal picture, your chances of staying happy, healthy and holy are pretty much zilch.

And if that doesn’t scare you into doing at least a little bit of hitbodedut, at least a little bit of the time, then I don’t know what will.

  • If you’d like to find out how to approach holistic healthcare in a spiritually-safe, authentically-Jewish way, pick up a copy of my book: Talk to God and Fix Your Health: The Real Reasons Why We Get Sick, and How to Stay Healthy, on Amazon, or the Book Depository.

Recently, I experienced something that distu disturbing things I’ve ever experienced was a group ‘spiritual healing’ session that was facilitated by an apparently ‘frum’ person.

I thought I was going to a demo of psychodrama, which is where a traumatized person asks different people to pretend to be their mum and dad, and then re-enacts certain scenarios with these ‘stand-ins’ where they get to speak up, run away, have a voice etc, often for the first time in their lives.

Bessel Van Der Kolk writes about how useful psychodrama can be for adult trauma victims who experienced very painful childhoods, so I wanted to go and hear about this approach first-hand.

That’s what I thought I was going to.

What I actually went to was something way different, and I want to share my experience with you, as I think it sums up how confusing, cloudy and even sinister things can be in the Jewish alternative health world.

I got there a couple of minutes late, when the ‘volunteer’ had already been picked, and people were sitting down in a circle, waiting for the action to begin. The facilitator asked the volunteer to pick stand-ins, who would represent different family members, and to arrange them in the middle of the circle. So far so good.

Then, the facilitator asked each of the ‘actors’ in turn about how they felt about one another, and of course, they all really loved each other, and everything was just fine and dandy.

In fact, things were so fine and dandy that it started to seem a bit pointless to me – I mean, a group of amateur actors aren’t exactly going to start revealing where all the family’s skeletons are buried, a) because they don’t actually know and b) because we all like a happy ending.

But then, as more people were picked to represent different, additional family members, something very weird started to happen.

One of the actors suddenly started to sob uncontrollably. Another one – a beautiful young girl – underwent a character transformation, that took her from being her sweet, innocent, optimistic self to a very cold, bitter and angry older woman.

It could be there were other things happening too, but because the change in the younger woman was so dramatic, I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

Long story short, the original volunteer, who’s family life history was now playing out in full colour in front of about 25 other people, was asked to join the tableau, and to start having conversations with all her ‘ancestors’.

It was clearly a very emotionally-charged event and tears were flowing freely.

But here’s the thing: As I was sitting there watching all this, I suddenly started picking up some very strong ‘feelings’ about the personalities of the ‘characters’ in front of me – and that’s when I started to freak out, because while I’m very good at reading people’s characters when they’re enclothed in a physical body and actually talking to me, I’ve never being able to read the character of some person who died a few decades’ ago, and who I’ve never met.

Afterwards, I was told that at least one of the participants also couldn’t describe what had just occurred, and said that the words she found herself saying were not really coming from her.

There were some powerful, powerful spiritual forces being unleashed in that room – and here’s where things get serious, because IF those powerful spiritual forces are mandated and accepted by orthodox Judaism, well, OK then.

But if they aren’t – then they weren’t coming from a good place. Now, I came late. It could be a prayer was said before I got there, or God was somehow involved by the facilitator in a way that wasn’t at all clear to me, I don’t know. But God wasn’t mentioned at all the whole time I was watching this, not even at the end when the facilitator told the volunteer that she’d just ‘fixed’ all her ancestral hurt and issues.

Really?

Really, you can have a group of people act like your long-dead family, and that ‘fixes’ the problem, spiritually?

Is that a Jewish idea? What about free choice? What about the idea that spiritual tikunnim actually require a lot of effort, a lot of change, and some truly difficult inner work?

I’m not ‘anti’ spiritual short-cuts if they’re coming from a good place, and they work. But this demonstration bothered me on a number of levels. As someone who’s worked very hard on trying to fix a whole bunch of stuff, I know how hard big tikunim can be sometimes – literally, you can spend years working on things and see very little movement.

So the apparent ‘ease’ of the process was problematic to me, as God very rarely works that way. The ‘other-world’ aspects of this process were also very disturbing to me, as I felt on many levels that in some way, the participants were being ‘possessed’ by spiritual forces that were external to them, and I just can’t see how that can be good, or kosher.

I felt terrible for the poor volunteer.

For all the facilitator was congratulating her on ‘fixing’ all her past and family issues, and telling her how wonderful she was going to feel now, if it was me who’d walked right into that very public display of my family’s dirty washing – in front of so many different people – that would be enough to give me a serious case of trauma, all by itself.

And lastly, I felt really bad about the actors. I mean, no-one asked them, or warned them, that they might have some sort of disembodied spirit taking them over for an hour. These things are serious, spiritually-speaking, and we can’t just mess around with them at a whim, or deal with them superficially, or follow the mores of different religions or different ‘experts’ as to what’s really going on and what long-term damage it might do – because they don’t know!

I came out of that ‘healing experience’ extremely confused and disturbed. I came home, told my daughter what I’d just seen, and she involuntarily shuddered and said:

‘Uggh, that sounds a bit like avoda zara to me,’ holy soul that she is.

After thinking about it a lot, and praying about it, and asking God for some clarity and guidance, I think she’s right.

Yes, Western medicine is corrupt, and drugs and surgery literally kill as much as they cure. Yes, a lot of the more alternative, natural treatments are much closer to the Torah ideal of how we should treat mental and physical illness – but not all of them.

As the alternative movement gathers steam in the world generally, and in the Jewish world more specifically, all of us need to really be on guard to check, double-check and check again that the treatments and therapies we’re engaging in really ARE kosher.

Just because someone looks frum, doesn’t mean things are being done in a genuinely frum way.

There’s a huge amount of clarification that’s required, as we inch forward into this more spiritual way of being before Moshiach. So don’t be scared to ask hard questions, to insist on being shown how God is being included in things, and which rabbis have mandated the approach or practices you’re being offered, and lastly, don’t be scared to stand up and walk away, if you have to.

That’s not always easy, but when you’re dealing with matters where the stakes are just so high, sometimes you simply have no other choice.

UPDATE:

Two years later, I happened to bump into the ‘volunteer’ by the grave of Rabbi Meir Baal HaNess In Tiveria. I asked her if she thought the ‘family constellation’ experience had helped her at all, to resolve the issues she’d been experienced. She replied that it hadn’t changed a thing. So, caveat emptor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here’s how it’s affecting us:

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

I could carry on, but you get the idea.

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

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

Some common examples of this could include:

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

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

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

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

I’m exhausted just from typing that.

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

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

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

So how do we leave the Land of Money?

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

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

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

This is why.

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

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

On Tuesday, I had 99% of my new ‘Decision Making’ course done, when I asked someone male who I live with, who we’ll call ‘Ron’ to protect the guilty, to read it and tell me what they thought.

An hour later, this was the verdict: “This is brilliant stuff!” he said. But then, he completely ruined it by adding: “But no-one is ever going to buy your stuff, because you talk about God too much, and you’re too ahead of your time. It’s unsaleable.”

Dear reader, to say I felt like all the air had just been let out of my balloon is a gross understatement of how completely and utterly gutted I felt at that particular moment.

It’s one thing to give up a highly-lucrative job to follow the dictates of your soul (and to give your poor, neglected children some attention). It’s another thing to end up going through some incredibly tough times financially, when you start wondering if you should jack-in all your aspirations of writing meaningful, useful stuff to go and be a secretary, or something, to help pay off all the bills.

And then, it’s something else entirely when after all your inner struggles to try to give God what He wants, and to do the right thing, and to put some real spiritual light into the world, someone called ‘Ron’ comes along and tells you that because you can’t stick a price tag on it, it’s essentially a huge waste of time.

I spent the rest of Tuesday eating chocolate and feeling pretty miserable, as though my life, and everything I’ve learned and everything I’ve gone through the last few years was completely pointless, because it couldn’t help me get a mortgage. But BH, I did some kick-arse hitbodedut the next morning, and God gave me some profound reassurance that I should continue, regardless.

“But God, what about the house we just can’t afford to buy, unless I start bringing in some more cash? What about the mortgage?”

That’s when God gave me the clarity of the decade:

“Making money is not your job. It’s Ron’s problem.”

Hmm.

In fairness to Ron, he was massively disappointed on my behalf that my books weren’t really selling, and was also feeling a little guilty that he hadn’t been able to make enough over the last year to get us anywhere closer to ever owning our own home again. On some level, I think we’d both felt that if only my stuff could start earning something, that would solve all the problems.

Except….

God felt differently about the whole thing. You see Ron, like many other men out there, doesn’t always believe in his own abilities to do some wonderful things in the world. And like many other men in the world, Ron has a tendency to look for the short-cuts and the easy routes that aren’t really solving the problem, but are softening the edges of it.

In our modern world, sending the woman out to ‘earn some money’ is often the knee-jerk reaction that most of our Rons have, when faced with some sort of financial short-fall in the family finances.

But here’s the rub: men earn their emuna via making parnassa, and women get it from fixing their families.

I didn’t make up these rules, God did, as a result of chet Adam.

But in the meantime, they are cast-iron rules of the game, and we ignore them at our own peril. Here’s what happens when we ladies forget that Rons are the ones that need to be earning the money: We get duped into taking stressful, soul-destroying jobs, or going for high-flying careers, that fill our whole day with deadlines and pressure and give us precious little time or head-space for dealing with our real full-time job, i.e., fixing Ron and all the Ron Juniors.

Then, things on the home front start breaking down – this kid comes home from school with an ADHD diagnosis, that kid starts going off the derech, instead of fixing Ron, going to work just puts even more pressure on our relationship – and before you know it, the family side of things starts looking really pear-shaped.

Yes, I’d really love my own house again. Yes, I’d really love to have a bit more financial ease.

BUT.

My work, unsaleable as it might currently be, is actually something very precious.

It’s taking Jewish concepts and Breslov insights, and turning them into bona fide practical strategies for how to live life with God, in real time.

After thinking things through last week, (and yelling at Ron a lot), I realized that I would rather carry on doing what I’m doing, and rent for the rest of my life, than sell myself out just to own a house. This stuff has huge repercussions. I know that it’s big stuff, spiritually (and if anyone actually reads it, I think they’ll feel the same way.) And a house is finite and gashmius.

I can’t take it with me at the end of 120 years.

To his credit, Ron was very chastened by the end of Thursday, and by Friday, he was working on his plan for his next new business. It’s up to God if it actually get anywhere, but in the meantime, peace has returned to Gotham City. I’ve returned to my keyboard. And the problem of ‘whose job is it to make the money, anyway?’ has been successfully laid to rest.

At least, for now.

One of my elderly relatives has reached that stage in their life and health that they have been moved to an old age home here in Israel.

As nearly all of their closest relatives live abroad, it’s falling to me to make the occasional visit to see how they’re doing.

My relative suffers from dementia; we don’t have a language in common; and I’m not close to them in any way. But a mitzvah is a mitzvah, so last week I collared my husband (to do the double mitzvah of keeping me company) and we went to visit.

The place itself was actually relatively cheerful: most of the nurses were Jewish, and we got there just in time for the parsha of the week, that was being given over by a super-jolly frum lady. Which was lucky, because the rest of the experience was actually quite wrenching.

Our relative sat stoically in a chair, and I pretended to talk to her in English, and she pretended to answer me in French.

So far so good. But then one of the elderly men seated next to us started cursing everyone around them for being heartless, because they wouldn’t bring him a doctor to treat his terrible stomachache.

Now, the nurses were not cruel or heartless. I watched them dealing with the other patients, many of whom are seriously ill and plugged into all sorts of strange things on the wall of the dining room, and they are also caring for my relative very nicely, thank God.

The man’s problem is that he still thought that doctors could solve or cure all of his problems, but clearly, they couldn’t. One nurse after another explained that they’d checked him, and that there was nothing wrong with his stomach, and no medicine that would help him. But the man wasn’t buying any of that, and he carried on cursing and shouting until despair overcame him, and he sank his head down on the table in front of him and started weeping.

At that point, my husband got that funny fixed smile on his face that usually tells me he’s not feeling too happy.

But I’d made a deal with myself that we were going to visit for an hour or so, and I had to stick to it, however uncomfortable.

I looked around the room at most of the lonely, sick old people who were having troubles breathing, and troubles eating, and troubles even just ‘being’, in the most basic sense of the word, and I sighed a big sigh as I started to ponder the prospect of it being me sitting there like that, in another 40 years.

Would I also be suffering so much as so many of the people around me? Would I also be sitting there, waiting for the misery to end in some way?

But then I decided: no, I wouldn’t. First of all, I already know that doctors can’t cure all that ails me, or medicate my pain away. Second of all, I talk to God every single day, and when you’re in the habit of doing that, the spectre of loneliness doesn’t scare you in anywhere near the same way. Lastly, I really hoped that in contrast to my relative, my own children would still live in the country, and that I would have a close relationship to them, and to my grandchildren.

We’d speak a common language. I’d know who they were. Hopefully, they’d want to come and visit, at least for a short while, and I would still be able to love them in some way, even if my body was old and broken.

At least, that’s what I hope and pray for.

We left, and in the car park my husband burst into muffled sobs. It took him a while to calm down (he’s not a big fan of hospitals or nursing homes) and it turned out he’d been very affected by what he’d seen, and the seeming futility of life.

Is that how it ends? Broken bodies and demented minds? Lonely, bitter, crazy people? Why come into the world, only to leave it like that?

We talked, and I reminded him of what carries me through these difficult situations and thoughts: this world is just a corridor, it’s not the main event. Often, people spend their whole lives trying to run away from God and their spiritual selves. When they’re old and sick, God has one last chance to bring them back to Him, to get them fixed, spiritually, and to teach them the true meaning of life.

It’s not about amassing money, wealth, success of status.

It’s not about doing what we want, or having things turn out the way we planned.

It’s about building a relationship with God, serving Him to the best of our ability, and regretting all the opportunities we missed to love others (and ourselves…) more, and to build the world in some way.

And even if you’re incapacitated, and hooked up to a million tubes, and you barely know your own name, there’s still a part of you that can connect to your Creator, acknowledge His Omnipresence, and yearn to love more.

And if you manage to do that by the end of your life, then regardless of how bad it looks on the outside, you still achieved everything.

Trying to see the good is sometimes so hard for me. So I decided to devote a good chunk of time to at least trying to switch into seeing more of the good in my life, and having more gratitude.

This is what I did as part of my most recent six hour ‘only say thank-you-athon’:

I first warmed up with a whole bunch of genuine thanks for many of the blessings in my life. I thanked God for my husband, my kids, my health, my home, my ability to type, my ability to think, my ability to write, hot water in the shower, food in the fridge, clean socks living right near to the Kotel etc etc.

I first did that for two hours, because I knew the next part was going to be much tougher: saying thank you for the things that have caused me a lot of pain and heartache over the last few years.

I decided to do a mind-map of all the hard stuff I wanted to say thank you for, so that I could go through each item one by one, thank for it, and then try to see what good had actually come out of it.

I’m not going to share the whole list with you (because let me tell you, I used the biggest bit of paper I had and I still had to write small), but I wanted to share some of the highlights, because it was an amazing exercise to do and I hope maybe it will inspire you to do your own version.

So on my massive bit of paper, some of the ‘lacks’ I wrote down were as follows:

  1. Professional success and accomplishments
  2. My own home
  3. Old friends and new friends
  4. Family support and financial help
  5. A bath
  6. A community

First, I said thanks for all these ‘lacks’.

Then, I started to break them up into all the different elements of ‘lack’ I felt they represented.

  • When I left my career, I went from earning loads of money to earning barely anything; I also lost a lot of social status, and I struggled for years to find a sense of purpose. (thanks, God!)
  • Ironically, I’ve moved so, so many times in my life, but I hate moving, and always have daydreams of settling down in my own cosy home. When we burned through all our house money, that meant we no longer had a deposit to be able to afford to buy a house again. So even though my husband is now back at work, it seems as though I’m going to be stuck renting forever. (thanks, God!)
  • It’s pretty lonely where I live. No-one ever pops in to say hello, and I have no friends within a 20 minute walk of my home. (thanks, God!)
  • Someone was telling me about someone they know whose parents helped them buy a flat outright in Jerusalem, so they can continue learning without having to worry about paying rent – and I got so jealous. (thanks, God!)
  • I have to get to my mikva 40 minutes ahead of shkia to make sure I get dibs on the only bath, and then I have to clean it like a crazy person because I have germ issues…(thanks, God!)
  • I don’t feel I ‘fit’ anywhere. I’m not part of any community. I don’t have that sense of belonging anywhere. No-one invites me for Shabbat, and I have very few people locally that I can invite, too. I have nowhere to daven. (thanks, God!)

Ready for the magic to begin?

After I’d spent some time sincerely saying thanks for these (and a few hundred other) things, God started to show my something amazing: why it was actually the best outcome it could be for me.

Here’s a taste of what I started to get:

  • Once I got out the secular rat-race, it freed me up to really start learning and living about life differently. As a result, I’ve already written 5 books, I have 3 blogs, and I’m on a mission to share what I’ve learnt with others. I’m SO much happier writing about emuna and God-based holistic health than I was writing speeches for ministers about why everyone needs a pension.
  • If we’d have bought that flat 2 years’ ago, we’d be so miserable right now. I’m not sure I’m in the right place, and until I know where I really will be happy, and who I really am (which is getting closer all the time…) it’s much better for me to have the freedom to rent. When I know where it’s really good to settle down, THEN God will give me the money for a house.
  • Do you know how much I get done on an average day? It’s mindboggling…and there’s no way I could write so much, so fast, if I had more people to talk to in the day. People actually go away for 6 month retreats to write, and here, God gave me that peace and quiet in my own home.
  • When you don’t have others to rely on, you have to turn to God for your needs. You have to trust Him much more. You have to really live your emuna that God’s looking after you. It is really, really nice to have parents support you if they can afford to do that, but if they can’t (or won’t), it’s because God wants you to deal direct.
  • You know, I am going to appreciate having a bath again SO MUCH when it happens. Also, it’s taken my OCD tendencies down a notch, because there’s only so much cleaning you can do before someone starts banging on the door and asking when you’re coming out.
  • I was a wannabe charedi person when I moved to Jerusalem. Now, I learned I’m not. If I’d found a community of lovely people back then, I’d be stuck trying to fit in when it wasn’t really the right mode for me. God saved me a lot of hassle by not making me have to choose between being true to myself and having friends. The community will come when I know what it is I really need and want.

How’s that for amazing?

Thanks God!

At the end of the process, I stopped carrying that grudge around with me that’s been weighing me down for years, already. I know I have to carry on working my gratitude, but it really was a huge weight off to know that God doesn’t secretly have it in for me; that Rav Arush was right about everything (including doing six hours, moving to Jerusalem, and saying thank you); and that life is coming good, even if the ‘good’ isn’t exactly what I had in mind.

“I said thanks, and I saw miracles!”

Last week, I read something that completely changed my take on how difficult my life seems to have been the last decade:

Don’t collect things, collect experiences.

By the ‘stuff’ measure, the last few years’ have been almost a complete bust. I have less net worth at 42 than I had at 23 – and that’s sometimes a pretty painful realization. (Hopefully at least one of my books will take off big-time in the next 20 years or so, so I can afford to retire at some point.)

Buying stuff has been very far down my ‘to do’ list for years now, partially because I just couldn’t afford much, and partially because the shine went off all the gashmius and I realized that keeping the clutter, gadgets and outfits to a minimum actually makes me feel much happier.

But that London part of me still occasionally registers its displeasure with the way things have turned out. I mean, I can’t afford my own house! I don’t have a bath! I don’t have a garden! I can’t entertain more than two (thin) people at a time in my compact flat! Etc etc etc

London Rivka tells me: ‘You know, I hate to share this, but I think we might officially be a loser…’

And until I read that line about collecting experiences instead of stuff, I didn’t really have much to argue about.

But now? Now it’s all different!

Because while my bank account has been pretty empty the last decade, my experience bank has been full to busting. I’ve been to Uman 8 times; I lived in so many different places in Israel (and elsewhere); I’ve met so many interesting people; I’ve lived 50 lifetimes in the past 10 years, and packed so much into every day.

Now, I go to the Kotel pretty much every Friday night – and it’s an amazing experience that money really would be no substitute for. I’ve seen my kids blossom and grow into the most amazing young people, with far more insight, maturity and wisdom than I ever had at their age. Me and my husband could write 50 books about the challenges we’ve had to weather in our 19 years of marriage, from multiple moves, to multiple bankruptcies, to health issues, family issues, infertility issues, crazy friend issues, crazy rabbi issues – you name it, we’ve had a dose of it.

And until last week, I’d filed all that stuff away in the ‘debit’ column, but no more!

Now I’m starting to see that every single experience I had gave me something priceless. I learned so much. I grew so much. I hope I improved so much and worked on a bunch of bad middot that otherwise I wouldn’t have got near in a million years, if I was still pulling things off on the ‘more stuff’ front.

As time goes on, I’m truly feeling like the stuff comes along as the cherry, once you’ve experienced whatever it is you’re meant to, and squeezed every last drop of knowledge out of it.

So if you’re currently struggling to have much to show for yourself materially-speaking (and even if you’re not…) I invite you to join me in changing the focus completely around, and looking at life as more a collection of experiences, than a collection of things.

It’s a small mental switch, but it’s put me in the best mood I’ve been in for ages.

I just finished the book: Anatomy of an Epidemic, by Robert Whitaker,

and I was shocked at just how many lies are being told by modern psychiatrists to keep the ‘consumers’ coming to their doors for psychiatric medicines, many of which are addictive, all of which are expensive, and most of which give their users far more mental and physical health problems than they solve.

This week, I’ve written a series of detailed posts about what’s going on with big pharma and the psychiatrists over on the spiritualselfhelp.org website, and I highly recommend you take a read BEFORE you or your loved ones agree to pop any pills recommended by a psychiatrist, regardless of how ‘frum’ they may be.

The biggest lie – that to this day has still not been proven with any evidence – is that people only have mental and emotional illnesses because of chemical imbalances in their brain.

Psychiatrists started telling this lie 30 years ago because it seemed like a plausible hypothesis, and at the time their revenues were seriously dwindling because why spend a fortune on a psychiatrist when you can go to a therapist, coach or counsellor instead?

So psychiatry fought back by updating the Diagnostic and Statistician’s Manual in the 1980s, and creating literally hundreds of new mental illnesses that could be ‘cured’ by medications that only the psychiatrists could prescribe. Overnight,  they were back in business, raking in the dollars again from people eager to ‘cure’ their chemical imbalances, and able to buy that second home in Cape Cod.

There was just one problem: the chemical imbalance doesn’t exist.

For any mental illness.

So it’s all a crock of lies.

Which is why the drugs they prescribe often do far more harm than good – and as the bandwagon has gathered speed, and they’ve started inventing ‘disorders’ for children too, now, the evidence is stacking up at a terrifying rate that they are literally maiming hundreds of thousands of patients, worsening their mental health issues, cutting 20-25 years off their life expectancy, and getting them stuck in a ‘drug trap’ that’s incredibly difficult to escape.

In the non-frum world, maybe we wouldn’t expect any better. But how can it be that frum psychiatrists are pushing these drugs to their patients? How can it be that frum schools are demanding that kids be drugged-up with ineffective, dangerous Ritalin? How can it be that the frum poster people of psychiatry aren’t ashamed to tell us that depression is just like diabetes, and is caused by a chemical imbalance?

I’m by no means a medical expert, but if the information about the terrible damage psych drugs are doing to people is out there and readily available – and has been for at least a decade already – why do our frum psychiatrists not know about it?

Chazal teaches us that ‘a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise’ – and as always, they knew what they were talking about. Patients will eagerly queue up to be ‘cured’ of their chemical imbalance, but trying to get people to do the real work of examining the true causes and cures of their emotional difficulties is always a much harder sell.

Trouble is, God wants option 2. The drugs don’t work, they just make things worse. Why? Because God doesn’t want any easy options or quick fixes for that stuff, as that would kind of bypass the whole point of creation.

You can understand (maybe…) why secular psychiatrists prefer drug dealing to encouraging their patients to fulfill their spiritual potential and to put God more in the picture. But what excuse do frum psychiatrists have? (If you’re a frum psychiatrist and you’re reading this, please write in and tell me, I’d love to know your side of the story.)

And how can we, as a community, continue to sanction and even encourage the use of psychiatric drugs when they are literally destroying people, body, mind and soul?

Zyprexa makes that packet of cigarettes look positively tame, by comparison.

I know, many people are desperate for relief, and mental issues are amongst the most torturous to experience – believe me, I know! But drugs is not the answer. If they were, God would make the drugs work, and He isn’t (at least, not in the way that actually fixes the underlying problem.)

So what’s the answer? To put it very simply, we need to live the sort of lives God wants for us, deal with our emotional problems and relationship challenges honestly, and put God much more in the picture than He currently is.

Over on the spiritualselfhelp.org website, I hope to start fleshing out these ideas in much more practical depth over the next few weeks, and I’d love your feedback. We aren’t going to find the solution to mental illness in Pfizer’s laboratories; rather, we’re going to find it in personal prayer, and a courageous determination to stop living all the lies that characterize modern life, and to finally come clean about what’s really happening behind closed doors.

No, this isn’t another ‘drugs gone mad’ post…

Believe it or not, Rav Dessler actually brings this story from the Gemara, where a young father loses his wife, and can’t afford to pay a wet-nurse to feed his child (clearly, this is before the days of Materna.) So then, God does a miracle for the man, and has him grow boobs in order to nurse his own child.

The Sages of the Gemara are split in their view of whether this is a good thing or not. One says: “How great is this man, for whom such a miracle was performed!” The other says: “How lowly is this man, for whom the order of creation was changed!”

This discussion takes place in Rav Dessler’s essay on ‘Torah and Economic Activity’ in Michtav Me Eliyahu, where he brings the five levels of faith that people are on, when it comes to earning a living.

The five levels are as follows:

Level 1) The highest level is that of the person who…now sees the natural and the miraculous both as open miracles, having realized that ‘nature’ has not independent existence at all…His worldly needs can now be given him in way that are openly miraculous. There is no longer any need to conceal the miracle from him.

Level 2) There is another person who may have reached a very high level of faith, but when he searches the depths of his hear he finds that nature and miracle are not completely equal for him. He has not yet reached the ultimate perfection of trust. Consequently, he will not find miracles attending his path.

Level 3) The third level refers to those people whose faith is strengthened by miracles, while it is weakened by natural processes. Such people should reduce their use of natural means as far as possible.

Level 4) People…who do not recognize miracles when they see them, can derive no benefit from being dealt with in a miraculous fashion…they will be dealt with by providence in ways that seem to conform to natural patterns…If he becomes poor and downtrodden, and in spite of all his endeavors care and deprivation are his lot, he may eventually face a moment of truth. He may realize that all his efforts were of no avail and, heartbroken, he may turn to Hashem in prayer.

Level 5) Some people may completely fail to recognize God’s providence and may go in for worldly endeavor in a big way – and their activities may be blessed by Heaven…Why are they not taught the error of their ways by poverty and suffering?…The answer is…they are so far gone that they are no longer worthy of attention from on high.

When my husband quit his job to ‘let God provide’ – as he’d been encouraged to do by his then rabbi – I knew we weren’t on the level to really live that reality.

But it’s only when I came across this that I realized we were aiming for Level 1 – which even Yaacov Avinu didn’t think he was on – when really, we were at tops, Level 3, same as the man who grew boobs.

The two years we were trying to rely on miracles, we got a lot of them, but they weren’t exactly enjoyable, or easy, or something that helped us make friends and influence people. In fact, they often did quite the opposite, because when all is said and done, who wants to hang out with a guy who grew miraculous boobs?!

Mommy and me doesn’t want him; his mates down the pub don’t want him; even his mum thinks he’s a little strange and off-putting and tries to keep the visits short and sweet.

Sure, it’s still a spiritual level higher than most people probably ever get within spitting distance of – but it’s a not a ‘good’ place to be, is it?

Where did he buy clothes? Did the boobs disappear again, once the kid grew up, or was he stuck 42DD forever? These are all very important questions, because as Rav Dessler and the Gemara makes clear, miracles don’t always, or even usually, come for free.

So where are we holding now that we’re definitely not in the relying on Heaven for everything category? I’d love to say it’s level 4 – I’d love to say we’re now back to working hard, while still knowing that God truly is providing everything, and there are days when I really believe this. But not always. Sometimes, I still complain. I still feel aggrieved when I hear of rich foreigners buying up all the apartments in Jerusalem, which means us poor locals can’t even get a foot in the door. I still worry sometimes about ‘what will be?’

Sometimes, I feel like an open miracle is the only way I’m ever going to own my own home again.

So maybe, it’s somewhere between 3 and 4. Who knows. The point is, just because someone is getting miracles, even a lot of them, doesn’t mean they’ve completely made it in the spirituality stakes.

It’s possible they could be at Level 1 – if they’re the generation’s equivalent of the Rashbi.

Or, they could be holding at Level 3 – unnatural boobs, no friends, but at least their kid has some milk to drink.

Or, they could even be at Level 1, where their success is miraculous because God has decided to give up on them, and not send them any material difficulties or hardships. From the outside, it’s often impossible to tell.

Personally, I’m not having enough financial success to be at Level 1, or enough horrible challenges to be at Level 2, or enough open miracles to be at Level 3, so maybe it is Level 4 after all. I guess we’ll see what happens next.