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

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.