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Judaism definition
Judaism beliefs
Judaism origin
Judaism meaning
Judaism a very short introduction
Judaism a way of being
Judaism basic beliefs
Judaism belief system
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Judaism explained

There is no place where God isn’t – Rebbe Nachman of Breslev

As often happens, when I opened up Likutey Moharan I got to a lesson (number 33) that seemed very appropriate to the whole discussion of finding God even in those places where it appears He isn’t.

Like, in all those conversations we all have with the ‘difficult’ characters in our lives who like to refer to us as ‘parasites’ or ‘leeches’; or all the difficult circumstances we sometimes find ourselves in; or even, just in our mundane interactions with the ‘real’, or materialistic world.

Sometimes, it can be so easy to forget that God really is behind all this stuff.

Here’s a little of what Rabbenu says about the subject:

“…one must know that ‘The world is filled with His glory’ (Isaiah 6:3), and that there is no place where He is not (Tikkuney Zohar #57, 91b) – He fills all worlds and surrounds all worlds (Zohar III 225a)…..

“As our Sages have already revealed to us, in all material phenomena and in all foreign languages one can find Godliness, for without His Godliness, they have no life and no existence at all.

“However, that life-force and Godliness is minimal and in extreme constriction, only enough life-force to sustain that thing and no more. This is because God contacted His Godliness in many and various constrictive ways…until the central point of the material world, which is the realm of the klipot (forces of evil)….

“And this is the meaning of the Yerushalmi verse, “If someone asks you, ‘Where is your God?’ answer him, ‘In the great metropolis of Rome.’….This person who asked…is certainly sunken in the realm of the klipot, for he has separated himself from the Omnipresence…and expressed his belief that God doesn’t exist where he is.

“Thus tell him: “Even where you are, sunken in the realm of klipot, even there you can find His Godliness, for He sustains everything…and from there you can bind yourself to Him and return to Him in complete repentance.

“He is not far from you, only that where you are, there are many concealing garments.”

All of us can come back to God in the blink of an eye, because wherever we find ourselves in the world, including in all the spiritual filth and heresy that unfortunately characterizes so much of modern life, there too, we can find God.

All we have to do is look.

I had some correspondence after the last post, which prompted me to clarify something that I’ve been thinking about writing about for a while.

Judaism doesn’t believe in ‘good’ or ‘bad’ people.

It believes in ‘good’ or ‘bad’ deeds, thoughts and actions. If a person’s actions are overwhelming of the ‘good’ variety, Judaism then tells us that person is a Tzaddik, or holy person, and we are further told that if we see a Tzaddik doing something bad, we should judge them favorably, and believe that they already made teshuva for it.

By contrast, xtianity teaches that the world is split into ‘good’ people – who believe in yoshki – and ‘bad’ people, who don’t. Once someone is assured they are a ‘good person’, they are then at liberty to do the most atrocious, awful, terrible things to other human beings, secure in their self-assessment that they are a ‘good’ person.

That thinking is behind most of the suffering occurring in the world, because even the most hardened, evil people in the world believe on some level that even their worst excesses and cruelties are somehow justified, and therefore ‘good’.

This thinking is also underneath a whole bunch of xtianity-inspired mental illnesses like Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), where the narcissist can’t accept that they are anything other than perfect, and believe that they always act in perfect, ‘good’ way regardless of how many bodies they leave behind them.

When a person believes they are ‘good’, fullstop, they usually aren’t so concerned with identifying, acknowledging and dealing with their negative character traits.

But here’s the thing: no-one is perfect, and for as long as we’re down here on planet earth, it’s because we still have work to do to improve and perfect our characters.

Even Moshe Rabbenu, arguably the most ‘perfect’ servant of God who ever lived and an indisputable Tzaddik of tremendous proportions still had some anger issues to work out, even when he was 120 already. When he hit the rock instead of speaking to it because Am Yisrael had gotten him so riled up, he was 120!

If someone like Moshe Rabbenu wasn’t embarrassed to admit his faults publicly, then surely we don’t need to be so coy about accepting that we still have stuff to work on.

Another big difference between Judaism and other religions, especially xtianity, is this notion that ‘good’ people go to Heaven, and ‘bad’ people go to Hell – and it’s a permanent, everlasting, unfixable thing, which is probably also why so many people are petrified of accepting they may not be perfect paragons of virtue.

Judaism teaches something completely different. Judaism says: every good deed that you do, you’re going to get some heavenly reward for it. And every bad deed that you do, that you didn’t make teshuva for, you’re going to have to atone for it somehow, either by spending some time in Gehinnom (for up to 12 months), or by being reincarnated again (if your sins were against your fellow man – Gehinnom only atones for sins between man and God.)

Again, there ARE some exceptions to this rule, most notably for atheists, who could end up spending all of eternity in Gehinnom if they persist in denying God for their whole life and don’t make teshuva before they die.

But if you’re a bog-standard person with issues who’s done a lot of bad things that you haven’t made teshuva for (like most of humanity…) BUT you believe in God, then your stay in Gehinnom is capped at 12 months – and then you get a measurement of eternal paradise as your reward for each and every good deed that you did.

To sum this up: xtianity says that only ‘good’ people go to heaven, and that a person is only ‘good’ if they believe in yoshki, regardless of how they act or treat other people in real time.

Hence, there is no motivation for a self-proclaimed ‘good’ person to examine their deeds or work on their negative character traits, because they automatically assume everything they do is justified and ‘good’ (which also happens to be the basis of a lot of mental illnesses, including NPD).

Judaism says: there are only good deeds. A person’s status as an aggregate ‘good person’ will only be determined after their death, by the Heavenly tribunal. Nearly everyone is going to go to both Heaven and Gehinnom (with some notable exceptions for Tzaddikim and atheists).

That’s why it’s such a mitzvah for a person to acknowledge their bad deeds and negative character traits in Judaism, so they can actually try to fix them, and why it’s such anathema in other religions.

We Jews have been in galut so long that we’ve imbibed a lot of the foreign dogmas and philosophies that are inimical to authentic Yiddishkeit.

Judaism teaches that our souls, that Godly part of us, is only pure and good. But the soul is surrounded by klipot, the husks of the dark side, that causes us to do things and think things we’re really not proud of. For as long as we’re in our bodies, we’re going to have to deal with the klipot that are causing our bad behavior, and to atone and make amends for the bad things we do.

When we deny that very human reality, we literally go bonkers. Remember, pretending to be perfect is the mentally-ill behavior of a narcissist. It’s the furthest thing in the world from Yiddishkeit.

I’ve been getting a few email about what the ‘Breslov’ attitude is in relation to non-Jews, and also whether Breslov believes that the Jewish people should be a ‘light unto the nations’ or not.

Let’s start with the idea that the Jewish people should be a ‘light unto the nations’. This idea is explicitly mentioned in the Book of Isiaiah three times, in the following verses:

49:6 – “It is insufficient that you be a servant for Me [only] to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the ruins of Israel; I will make you a light for the nations, so that My salvation may extend to the ends of the earth.:

60:3 – “Arise! Shine! For your light has arrived, and the glory of Hashem shines upon you. For, behold, darkness may cover the earth and a thick cloud [may cover] the kingdoms, but upon you Hashem will shine, and His glory will be seen upon you. Nations will walk by your light and kings by the brilliance of your shine.”

62:1 – “For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be still, until her righteousness emanates like a bright light, and her salvation blazes like a torch. Nations will perceive your righteousness and all the kings your honor…”

And then the general idea that the Jewish people should be active in bringing all of mankind back to serve Hashem (and that God actually very much wants that to happen), and that there is a ‘place’ for the righteous non-Jews in the post-Messianic world can be found in the following verses, all from Isiaiah:

45:21 – “There is no other god besides Me; there is no righteous god besides Me and no savior other than Me. Turn to Me be and saved, all ends of the earth, for I am God and there is no other.”

56:1 – “I will bring them to My holy mountain, and I will gladden them in My house of prayer; their elevation offerings and their feast offerings will find favor on my Altar, for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.”

60:9 – “Then the sons of foreigners will build your walls and their kings will serve you.”

61:5 – “Foreigners will stand and tend your flocks and the sons of the stranger will be your plowmen and your vineyard workers. And you will be called ‘priests of Hashem’; ‘ministers of our God’ will be said of you.” [By other people, i.e. the non-Jews].

Over in Pirkei Avot (the Ethics of the Father), Rabbi Akiva tells us in 3:14 that:

“Beloved is man, for he was created in [God’s] image. It shows an even greater love that it was made known to him that he was created in [God’s] image, as it is written, “For in the image of God, He made man” (Genesis 9:6)”

The Tosfot Yom Tov writing on this verse explains that it ‘refers to all of humankind’ – not just the Jewish people, who are referred to more explicitly by Rabbi Akiva as ‘God’s children.’

Now that we’ve established that it’s standard Jewish thought that righteous non-Jews who believe in the One true God of the Jews have a place in the post-Messianic world, and that God does want the Jewish people to play an active role in being a ‘light unto the nations’, let’s take a more specific look at what some Breslev sources say about the issue of dealing with non-Jews.

Let’s start with Rebbe Nachman, who tells us the following (in Tzaddik):

“The Rebbe said that there are seventy nations and all of them are included under Esau and Ishmael: thirty-five under one and thirty-five under the other. In the future, they will be conquered by two Messiahs, Mashiach the son of Joseph and Mashiach the son of David. There is one Tzaddik who is a combination of the two messiahs.”

From this, we can see that the basic idea is the Jewish Moshiach will ‘conquer’ the nations of the world, and presumably bring them back to belief in the one true God of Israel.

Next, let’s go to Likutey Moharan I:244 where Rebbe Moharan gives a warning to those of us who aren’t on a very high spiritual level (i.e. pretty much everyone…), when it comes to dealing with non-Jews:

“Anyone who intermingles with gentiles, that is, who has business dealings with them, must be on very careful guard that this should not harm him. Otherwise, it’s very easy to be caught in their trap and to distance oneself from one’s Jewishness.”

In other words, as soon as money, or ‘business dealings’ with non-Jews come into the picture, Jews need to be very, very careful to not compromise their Jewishness and spiritual integrity because a ‘bribe blinds the eyes of the wise’.

On this note, Rav Shalom Arush once went to speak to a church in South Africa who’d just bought a very large amount of his emuna books. He got on stage in front of 5,000 people and told them in Hebrew: “You are all fornicators and idol worshipers!” That’s a classic example of not letting money and business dealings compromise your Jewishness and spiritual integrity.

The last thing to quote for now, which I think sums up the position and also includes the deeper kabbalistic underpinnings of why a Jewish Moshiach comes for the benefit of the whole of mankind, comes from Rav Berland’s speech to more than 8,000 people at the Winter Stadium, a few years’ back, when he said:

“When Rebbe Nachman was alive, he stated that he stood as guarantor for the whole world – for all of mankind, including the Jews, the non-Jews and everyone else. Because the Tzaddikim told Hashem to go ahead and create all of mankind, while the angels told Him not to bother, because in the end he would only end up failing, and there was only a miniscule chance of him making Teshuva.

“But I say different! I say that there’s only a miniscule chance of him not making Teshuva, and that’s what this gathering is all about – to encourage everyone, Jews and non-Jews alike, to make Teshuva and to return to their Father in heaven!

“God created everyone in His image, and in every person there is a spark of the Divine, in every Jew and in every non-Jew – the spark of God is in everyone, and we are all created in God’s image. And the whole point of this gathering is to spread the light of Hashem, and the light of Rebbe Nachman, to the whole world, to every Jew and to every non-Jew….

“…As soon as the whole world recognizes Hashem’s greatness, we’ll be able to immediately rebuild the third Temple, and to see the revival of the dead.”

The Jewish people is about Tikkun haolam, or the rectification of the whole world, and bringing the whole world back to God, the Jewish way. That means the non-Jews accept the 7 noachide commandments, stop with all their yoshki, muhammed and booda rubbish, and accept that God is running the world (without any help from anyone else) and that the Torah is true, and the Jewish people are God’s representatives.

That pretty much sums up the authentic Jewish approach that you’ll find in Breslov, and also any other Jewish group that has a deep knowledge of our sources, and a strong grasp of what the whole concept of the Moshiach, and Tikkun haolam is really all about.

If you’ve been listening to my podcasts on the Erev Rav, or even buying my book and reading it (God bless you…) then you’ll know that speaking lashon hara and making trouble between people is probably the number one top Erev Rav trait.

Of the Vilna Gaon’s five main groups of Erev Rav behaviours, he himself stated that the very worst one was speaking lashon hara and causing strife. This group was so bad, the Vilna Gaon called the people who indulged in this behavior ‘Amalekites’, and had some very harsh things to say about them, including that they’d have to disappear out the world completely before Moshiach comes.

Here’s the thing with lashon hara: the person who wants to do it always has a number of justifications and excuses for indulging themselves.

Some of the most popular include:

  • It’s true
  • People need to be warned about the problem
  • Those nasty, evil people have it coming to them, anyway
  • It makes for interesting reading, or conversation
  • It’s fun to stir up a whole bunch of drama and then feed off other people’s upset, shame and strong emotions

Of all of these, number two is probably the most problematic, because it sounds the most sincere, holy and community-minded.

Consequently, it’s all too easy for our yetzer haras to pull the wool over our eyes, and convince us that we need to go all out on an ‘information’ campaign to warn others about the negative situations / actions / threats that we believe are occurring.

Here’s the thing, though: As soon as we open our mouths to start slagging other people off – EVEN IF ITS TRUE – we instantly become part of the problem, instead of part of the solution. The Chofetz Chaim had some very harsh things to say about people who regularly spoke badly of others, including calling them ‘baalei lashon hara’ and saying that such people were committing so many awful sins every time they opened their mouth, they should be given a wide berth and considered as though they were a very wicked person.

God has created the laws of lashon hara such that it’s pretty much impossible to talk openly and negatively about named individuals in a public forum without transgressing them in a pretty big way.

On occasion, some individuals are so dangerous, nasty and evil, that the Beit Din, or big Tzaddikim, will take the very unusual step of warning the public away from that person. When it’s done by a Beit Din or a bona fide Tzaddik, you can be sure that the halachas governing talking negatively about others for a positive purpose (l’toelet) have all been carefully considered before any action was taken.

But generally speaking, calling people out in public is completely forbidden, and transgresses the 31 laws associated with lashon hara.

So now, you might be thinking: What’s going on here??!?

If people are doing things that are wrong, or are acting unethically or inappropriately, surely God wants as many people to know about that as possible?

Dear reader, I have struggled with this issue so very many times. Each time I exploded another crack-pot religious phoney, for example, my instinct was to write a warts n’all expose about them, so no-one else would get duped.

Thankfully, my husband has a much cooler head than mine, and insisted that we speak to Rav Arush before taking any irrevocable steps to ‘name and shame’ anyone. Doubly-thankfully, Rav Arush gave me excellent advice to keep my mouth shut, and let God handle things.

Why is this excellent advice? Because like we said, as soon as you speak lashon hara, you become part of the very problem you’re trying to solve. You become another force for evil and strife in the world, all with the very best intentions.

When all is said and done, how do I know that my assessment of the other person is really correct?

How do I know that I’m really as objective as I’d like to think? How do I know that the problem is 100% their problem, and not 100% my own problem? Let’s remind ourselves that every evil-speaking, hyper-critical poisonous person out there doesn’t see themselves that way at all. In their world, they are always the victim, or the hero, and completely justified in everything they say and do to others, however horrible.

How do we know, really, that we don’t have that same blind spot?

When you’re a huge Tzaddik, or when you’re sitting in a beit din with other pious individuals, this is much less of an issue. But when it’s you and me we’re talking about, we need to err very carefully on the side of caution.

There is a time and a place to speak badly of others, especially in any situation where abuse of minors could be occurring. But that still has to be done within the framework of speaking evilly l’toelet, for a good purpose, which is governed by many different halachas. (Check HERE for a crash course in lashon hara, which sets out the very basic principles.)

In the meantime, the sooner we eradicate the evil speech, the sooner we’ll get redemption, Moshiach and all that good stuff.

And if we can’t or won’t keep our mouths shut, and God is ready to redeem us now, then we could be in for a pretty rough ride.

We’re all so used to all the ‘birthpangs of Moshiach’ imagery that’s been tossed around for decades already, that I think many of us have forgotten what a birth is actually like.

Births are messy – blood, poop and I-don’t-know-what other gross things flying around the place.

They’re incredibly stressful – until the very last second when the baby pops out, everyone has a worry that it might not get there, God forbid, or that something could go wrong to harm the baby, or the mother.

They’re long, drawn out processes with a lot of stopping and starting – “I’m in labour!” – no, it’s just Braxton Hicks. “The contractions have started!” They’ve stopped again. “I’ve been having painful contractions for three weeks, already, I MUST be more than ½ cm dilated by now!!” etc etc

By the time the mother is ready to have the baby, she can’t move, can’t sleep, can’t really eat without getting terrible heartburn is and heartily SICK of the whole thing already – and that’s before the kid even makes it out into the real world.

Why am I telling you this?

Because I think a lot of us have a false image of what’s going to be going on in the world when Moshiach finally shows up. We think he’s going to call a press conference to announce he’s Moshiach, have a bunch of angels show up to coronate him, and then start riding around Jerusalem on his white donkey doing the ‘regal wave’ thing and magically disappearing all the problem people in our midst.

NOPE.

It’s not going to be like that at all. Moshiach is going to enter the world exhausted, after a long, difficult, messy and painful birth process where he’s been covered with every type of spiritual filth and cack you can imagine.

Remember, King David, the forbear of the Moshiach, was incorrectly considered to be a mamzer by his father and brothers for many long years, which is why he was sent out to tend the flocks and go and fight off lions and bears at just three years’ old.

Yishai was hoping something would eat him, and get rid of that ‘embarrassing’ family issue.

Remember, Tamar, the forbear of the Moshiach, was incorrectly accused of acting like harlot, when she got pregnant by Yehuda in a ‘libum’ arrangement to perpetuate her dead husband’s spiritual legacy (she had twins because she had two dead husbands to perpetuate, by that point.)

Can you imagine what Channel 2 would be saying about these people today?

“Chief Rabbi’s daughter admits to being a prostitute!!!!!!!”

“Rabbi Faker-so-so says: “This woman MUST face justice, and be burnt alive!!!”

“David’s own father shuns him: ‘The man is a MAMZER, and should be eaten by a lion!!!”

“EXCLUSIVE: David’s brothers admit: He forced the Prophet Shmuel to crown him at gunpoint!!! We’re scared for our lives!!!”

And so on, and so forth.

And then, all the armchair commentators would be having a field day.

“How can this man be KING when he’s clearly committed so many war crimes?”

“Yet another cover up by the religious establishment. King Amalek would NEVER have acted like this…”

“I can’t believe they let Tamar off the hook. She’s guilty as charged! Look at how she acted! If she wasn’t guilty, then why didn’t she just SAY THAT in court? I can’t believe these people.”

The Zohar curses anyone that views the Torah as ‘history’ with terrible curses. The Torah is a blueprint for living that’s as relevant for us today, in 2016, as it was 3,000 years’ ago.

So bearing that in mind, let me ask you something:

When the Egyptian establishment shoved Yosef HaTzaddik in prison for 12 years on the trumped-up charges of Potifar and his wife, who’s side would you have been on? I mean, Yosef went to prison!!!! For 12 years!!!! It doesn’t get more clear-cut than that, does it?

Or, when Moshe Rabbenu got shoved down a well in Midian for 12 years, who’s side would you have been on? I mean, he’s a wanted criminal in Egypt, a dangerous fugitive who killed an innocent man!!!!

Or, when Yaacov Avinu ran away from Laban, and then got chased down by him and all his men, who’s side would you have been on? I mean, WHY WAS HE RUNNING AWAY, if he hadn’t done anything wrong???? Why didn’t he stay in the country, with his wealth and his wives, if he wasn’t guilty of doing all the things that Laban was claiming????

What would Channel 2 (funded by the Rasha Corp, Inc) have to say about all these ‘so-called’ holy people?

What headlines would Arutz Sheva and the JPost be posting up? What comments would all the ‘experts’ reading about Yosef HaTzaddik from their armchairs in Eretz Yisrael be saying about him? What juicy quotes would they be squeezing out of the wicked Esav, about how terrible his brother Yaacov really was?

“Yes, he did exactly the same thing to me before he left – and that’s also why he ran away!” Esav would tell Channel 2, in an exclusive interview. “He stole my blessings! No one can trust him!”

And then, they’d wheel in one of Esav’s wives (with her face blurred and identify disguised) to pile on the ignominy.

People, the creation is renewed every day! King Shlomo told us there is nothing new under the sun.

Each of our biggest Tzaddikim was covered with spiritual filth, lies, controversy and scandal. It’s always been that way, and until Moshiach comes, it will continue to be that way.

In case you’re still unsure, here’s a few more ‘big’ Tzaddikim, many of whom were pegged as being the potential ‘Moshiach’ of their generation, and who were persecuted by the authorities of their time, and vilified by their fellow Jews, including even ‘religious’ people:

The Rashbi – Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai – who ran away from the Roman police and sat in a cave learning Torah for 12/13 years.

Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol – who was wrongly excommunicated by the Sanhedrin until a day before his death.

The Baal Shem Tov – excommunicated and vilified by even some of the biggest rabbis of his day.

The Baal HaTanya – Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad chassidim, who was persecuted and repeatedly slandered to the secular authorities (including by so-called ‘frum’ Jews…), resulting in him being chased all over the country, and spending time in prison.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslev – Another huge Chassidic master, the Shpola Zeide, took against Rebbe Nachman and started a slanderous campaign against him, that began so much of the controversy against him. Even his own uncle, another Chassidic Master Rabbi Baruch of Medzhiboz, opposed Rebbe Nachman for a time. (Can you imagine the juicy quotes Channel 2 would have tried to get out of him?)

Rabbi Natan Sternhartz – who took over from Rebbe Nachman, and who suffered the most terrible persecution, including being falsely accused of all sorts of things, and spending period of time in exile and imprisoned by the secular authorities. And who was behind this libelous, slanderous and even murderous campaign? (Because at one point, they dispatched a murderer to kill Rav Natan, but the man killed the wrong ‘Rav Natan’ and his family instead?) – RABBIS! And not just any rabbis, the most influential rabbis of their time, including the Savraner Rebbe.

History is simply repeating itself.

If you don’t know what happened before, you won’t know how to pass the test this time around. Again, the main point is that our biggest Tzaddikim have always been slandered, persecuted and chased by the evil people in our midst. That’s just how it is.

But how embarrassing, if you get up to Shemayim and they show you all the times you pinged on that horrible libel about Yosef HaTzaddik…or all the times you rushed to judgment against the ‘dangerous fugitive’ Moshe Rabbenu…or all the times when you could have stood up and defended King David, but instead you put the boot in, instead.

We read that stuff now, and OF COURSE we see how holy our Tzaddikim actually were, and how misguided (at best…) the people were who were persecuting them and slandering them.

But that’s the test.

Moshiach is not going to be ‘elected’ like a president.

Redemption is a birth process. It’s messy, filthy, stressful, confused and incredibly taxing, spiritually. There are people who are literally trying to kill our holy people, just like they’ve been doing all down history. Do you REALLY want to be a partner in their activities? Do you really want to end up where Korach ended up, or where Potifar’s wife got to, or even Absalom, King David’s son, who ended up in the lowest pit of Gehinnom?

So take a breath, and try to put the modern events unfolding right now in their proper, historical and spiritual context. As a people, we’ve been down this path before – many times – and always made the same mistake. If we really want Moshiach to happen, this time we need to really see what’s going on – all the lies and forgeries and slander that’s happening – and to pick the right side.

picture of a man holding a burning newspaper

It’s known that the Chofetz Chaim believed that lashon hara, or evil speech, was the main cause of our long, bitter exile.

The Chofetz Chaim stated on more than one occasion that as soon as the sin of lashon hara was fixed, the exile would end and the Moshiach would come.

Rav Chaim Dovid Stern stated that ‘Rav Berland is the last test before Moshiach.’

What does this test involve?

Lashon hara, in all its many, soul-destroying forms!

How do we pass this test? By not engaging in any of the forms of evil speech that destroyed our Second Temple, and are keeping us in exile. Sadly, most of us don’t seem to realize how much of what we’re saying and doing, especially online, is directly contravening the laws of lashon hara in the worst ways.

So to fix that, I’ve put together this crash-course in Lashon Hara, based on the practical halachas contained in the book: Purity of Speech.

Basic background to Lashon Hara (evil speech)

Every time a person engages in Lashon Hara, they can transgress 17 negative and 14 positive mitzvot.

The Torah tells us we shouldn’t ‘peddle’ gossip to other people by passing on ‘juicy’ information – even when it’s true!

And that we also shouldn’t accept, or cause other people to accept, false reports.

These are mitzvot d’orayta, straight from the Torah.

THE DEFINITION OF LASHON HARA:

Lashon Hara is when someone speaks evilly about, or believes someone else’s evil report about another Jew. Specifically, the evil speech about another Jew does one of the following things:

  • Degrades the other Jew in the eyes of other people
  • Causes that other Jew shame
  • Causes him financial loss.

AGAIN, THESE RULES APPLY EVEN WHEN THE INFORMATION IS TRUE. WHEN THE INFORMATION IS FALSE AND LIBELLOUS, THEN THE TRANSGRESSION IS MANY, MANY TIMES GREATER. AND WHEN THE PERSON BEING SPOKEN ABOUT IS A HOLY RABBI, THE SIN IS COMPOUNDED.

Many people think that if they’re just writing something on the internet, that’s not Lashon Hara. This is completely untrue. It’s just as forbidden to write negative information as it is to say it.

Also, if you write something anonymously, that still doesn’t get you off the hook. God knows exactly who you are, and you’re still accountable for what you wrote about another person, and any damage you might have done as a result.

Even if the information you’re passing along is well-known and already in the public domain, it’s still forbidden to talk about it.

RECHILUS, OR CAUSING HATRED TOWARDS A FELLOW JEW

There’s another category of Lashon Hara, or evil speech, that’s called Rechilus, which involves causing other people to hate another Jew.

THE DEFINITION OF RECHILUS IS:

Anything you say or write which causes people to start hating another Jew.

If what you’re saying / writing / passing along is going to cause someone else to have ill-feelings towards a particular Jew, or group of Jews, then that is rechilut, another very serious form of evil speech.

Even if you agree with the information, it’s still forbidden to repeat it.

HOW YOU FIX THE SINS OF TALKING LASHON HARA / RECHILUT

To make Teshuva for the sin of TALKING evilly about another Jew, you have to do the following:

  • Regret doing it.
  • Confess to Hashem that by repeating negative information about a fellow Jew to other people, you did a terrible sin.
  • Take it upon yourself to work on your lashon hara problem, with the aim of not doing it ever again.
  • Ask forgiveness from the person you spoke about.

If you don’t do these four things, you didn’t fix your sin, spiritually.

WHEN IS IT PERMISSIBLE TO TALK NEGATIVELY ABOUT A FELLOW JEW?

There are some, rare, instances when it’s not only permitted to talk negatively about a fellow Jew, but you are required to do so. (Before you jump off using this as a heter, please go and talk to a Rav who knows the detailed laws required. This is just a basic guide.)

You can degrade someone if:

  • They are causing other people financial loss or physical harm, in some way
  • They habitually speak lashon hara (evil speech) about others
  • They are a ‘baal machloket’, i.e. someone who goes around deliberately causing trouble, strife and hatred between people.
  • They consistently violate the laws ‘bein Adam l’makom’ – i.e., they don’t keep the Torah’s commandments between God and man, such as keeping Shabbat, kosher, family purity etc.

Even if they meet these criteria, you can only talk negatively about them if the following 5 conditions are met:

  • The information has to be 100% true – and you need to have checked it out 100% to know that it is, and not just rely on other people’s information.
  • You can’t exaggerate one iota.
  • Your intention should be for a constructive purpose, and not just to get back at someone else or teach them a lesson
  • If there is any other way of achieving the constructive purpose other than speaking evilly, you’re required to try that first.
  • You have to evaluate your words very carefully, to figure out the potential impact on the person you’re talking about.

BELIEVING LASHON HARA

This is where it gets even more interesting, because in some ways BELIEVING lashon hara is even more problematic than speaking it. To give a common example, believing that story in the Jpost or on Arutz Sheva is just as big a sin as if you actually wrote it yourself.

It’s forbidden to:

  • Listen to lashon hara (or read it online…)
  • Believe lashon hara
  • Perform an action based on the lashon hara – like pinging that juicy article across to another 5 people with the title ‘I’m not judging, but look at this…’

Plus, the halacha states that you have to rebuke the person who’s telling you the lashon hara.

THIS APPLIES EVEN IF THE INFORMATION IS TRUE, AND IF THE 5 CONDITIONS FOR GIVING OVER INFORMATION FOR A POSITIVE OUTCOME HAVE NOT BEEN MET. WHEN THE INFORMATION IS FALSE, THE GRAVITY OF THE SIN OF BELIEVING IT IS COMPOUNDED MANY TIMES OVER.

The only times it’s OK to listen to lashon hara is when:

  • The information can directly affect you, or people who are very close to you in the future.
  • Someone is unburdening themselves to you.

The only times it’s OK to believe lashon hara is when:

  • It’s being said about a well-known rasha, or evil person
  • When a trustworthy person is saying it for a constructive purpose
  • When the conditions of ‘obvious signs’ are met:
    1. The obvious signs that the information is true should be directly related to what’s being discussed
    2. You’ve seen the ‘obvious signs’ that the information is true for yourself
    3. This information is going to directly affect you or impact you in some way.

SOMEONE IS ONLY CONSIDERED TO BE A ‘TRUSTWORTHY’ PERSON IN THESE CIRCUMSTANCES IF:

  • They’re as trustworthy as two witnesses testifying before a Beit Din.
  • They saw the negative behavior they’re talking about first hand.

And even when all these very difficult criteria are met, halacha still expects us to judge the person being spoken about favorably, especially if they’re a holy person.

A last, important, point to note is that it’s still forbidden to believe evil speech, even if it was repeated to you by a respected person, such as your rabbi, for example.

If all the conditions of passing information along l’toelet, for a positive purpose, as described above, have not been met by the ‘respected person’, then they are still transgressing the laws of lashon hara – and if you believe them and listen to them, and worse, pass the information on to others, than you are too.

HOW YOU FIX THE SIN OF BELIEVING LASHON HARA

To make Teshuva for the sin of BELIEVING evil things about another Jew, you have to do the following:

  • Regret doing it.
  • Confess to Hashem that by believing negative information about a fellow Jew, you did a terrible sin.
  • You have to work on uprooting the negative impression the evil speech left on your psyche
  • Take it upon yourself to work on your problem of believing lashon hara, with the aim of not doing it ever again.

IF YOU ALSO PASSED THE INFORMATION ON TO OTHER PEOPLE, THEN A FIFTH STEP IS ALSO REQUIRED:

  • Ask forgiveness from the person you spoke about.

NB: The Chofetz Chaim describes a ‘baal rechilut’, one who repeats negative information about their fellow Jew, as a rasha, (evil person), because of the number of sins they transgress by speaking lashon hara.

PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS OF THESE LAWS TO THE SUBJECT OF DISCUSSING RAV BERLAND

If you:

  • Read a negative story about Rav Berland someone online, you transgressed the laws pertaining to LISTENING to lashon hara. Really, it’s even forbidden to read that stuff.
  • Believed the negative story that your read (or were told) about Rav Berland, than you also transgressed the laws of BELIEVING lashon hara.
  • Passed that story on to others – even if you just emailed it on to someone else, or linked to it from your facebook page without making any other comment on it – you transgressed the laws of SPEAKING lashon hara, and you need to contact Rav Berland somehow to apologise for what you did.
  • If you commented negatively about Rav Berland yourself, whether online or in person, including anything you wrote ‘anonymously’ – then you transgressed the laws of SPEAKING lashon hara and depending what you said, you might also be considered to be a ‘baal machloket’ (i.e. a rasha).

And you need to make some serious Teshuva, including contacting Rav Berland to apologise to him.

THE GROWTH IN THE THROAT

In case anyone thinks this stuff is being exaggerated, and it’s not such a big deal because ‘everyone’ is doing it, a man went to Rav Chaim Kanievsky a couple of years’ ago because the doctors told him he had a cancerous growth in his throat.

Rav Kanievsky told him that the growth had occurred because he’d spoken badly about Rav Berland. The man got on a plane to Morocco, where the Rav was then staying, to go and apologise in person to him, for what he’d said.

I’ve heard many other similar stories being reported to – where the person involved is now publicizing what they did, and what happened to them as a form of teshvua – so please, be VERY careful when discussing Rav Berland.

The honest position for most people is:

  • To accept they don’t know anything about this matter.
  • To rely on the opinions of our Gedolim, such as Rav Arush, Rav Kook Rav Stern, Rav Abuchatzeira, Rav Morgenstern etc – who have checked everything out according to the laws of Beit Din, and found Rav Berland 100% innocent of all charges (aka, emunat Tzaddikim).
  • To keep their mouth firmly shut.
  • To make any Teshuva they need to make for listening to / believing in / speaking lashon hara about Rav Berland ASAP.

Remember, Rav Berland is the last test before Moshiach.

And avoiding lashon hara and rechilut, as set out above, is the way we’re all going to pass it.

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.

What’s the Jewish hat name, and other questions

It might surprise you to know that the most popular search time involving Jews (besides Israel) is: Jewish hat name. Every single month, around 5,000 people are wondering to themselves, “what do Jews wear on their head” and “what’s that hat, that Jewish wear?”

(It might surprise you to know this, too, but hardly anyone on the web is searching for ‘Jews’. Nearly everyone is searching for ‘Jewish’, which kinda explains why traffic from search engines has been so puny, the last four years.)

So, I decided to do a post devoted to answering the question of: “What’s the Jewish hat name”, and other related questions – all phrased the same way people are searching for them on Google, so that hopefully more people will find the answers to their questions about “what do Jews wear on their head?”

Q: What’s the Jewish hat name?

A: The Jewish hat name will vary depending on what country and what community you’re in. In the US, UK and other English speaking countries with a large population of chareidi or Chassidic Jews, the hat will be called a yarmulke, which often sounds as though it’s pronounced ‘yamaka’.

So, when people want to know: how do you spell yamaka? – the answer is, you don’t spell it how it sounds.

But there’s another Jewish hat name that’s very common too, and that’s the kippah. Most of the Hebrew-speaking Jews in Israel will refer to their Jewish hat as a kippah, not a yarmulke.

Q: Kippah vs yamaka – what’s the difference?

A: While in theory, any beanie-type Jewish hat could be called either a kippah or a yamaka, in practice, there are certain types of Jewish hat that are only called by one term, or the other. For example, in Israel, there is a type of crocheted kippah that’s usually very colorful, and which can range in size from teeny-weeny, to ear-covering huge.

The smallest knitted kippah I ever saw was on the head of a teenager who was clearly making a point to his parents, and it was the size of a quarter. This type of knitted kippah is almost never called a yarmulke, as yarmulke is a term commonly used by Jews outside of Israel, and most Jews outside of Israel don’t wear a knitted kippah.

There’s many reasons for this, but a big one is that many Jews don’t feel so comfortable wearing a big, flamboyant, colorful kippah that’s going to instantly mark them out as Jews, in a world where violent anti-semitism is on the rise.

So usually, a Jew who is wearing a kippah in public outside of Israel will wear one that is black, and less immediately obvious. And the types of communities who are ‘religious’ enough to wear a kippah full-time tend to refer to it as a yarmulke.

Q: Why do Jews wear hats?

A: Jewish men cover their heads as sign of respect to God, and as a way of acknowledging God’s omnipresence in the world. Even a not-observant Jew will usually cover their head when they attend services at a synagogue, or for other Jewish life cycle events like a wedding, funeral or Passover Seder.

In Israel, many Jewish men who otherwise don’t wear a kippah or hat will cover their head in some way whenever they are reciting a bracha, or blessing, usually on food or drink. Often, you can see some very creative ways of Jews covering their heads in this way, with napkins, tablecloths, and even their own hands being pressed into service.

A more religiously observant Jew will cover their head 24/7, because they are more aware of God’s presence in the world, and are trying to respect it, and stay connected to it, throughout all their mundane actions throughout the day.

Another less happy reason why a Jew will wear a hat, specifically, as opposed to a kippah or yarmulke, especially outside of Israel, is to try to ‘blend in’ a bit more, while still covering their heads. In recent years, the Chief Rabbi of France put out a message telling French Jews that it was preferable for them to cover their heads with a baseball cap, or some sort of other generic head gear, in public, to avoid being singled out by anti-Semites. That same message is being heard in Jewish communities throughout Europe, including Belgium and Germany.

In the UK, where I’m originally from, most Jews are usually relatively comfortable wearing an obviously Jewish kippah or yarmulke in areas with a high population of visible Jews, like Golders Green, Stamford Hill or Broughton Park. But when they go into areas with fewer Jews where a man in a little Jewish hat will stand out a mile, they will often also tend to plump for a baseball hat instead.

Q: What’s the Hasidic Jew hat called?

A: There are many different answers to this question. If you’re referring to a round, furry disk of hair that can sometimes rise up to a foot tall (!), this is called a shtreimel. This type of hat is typically worn by Hasidim on Jewish holidays, and the Jewish Sabbath, or Shabbat, as a mark of respect.

Orthodox Jews typically wear their finest clothes on Shabbat and Jewish holidays, and as shtreimels are usually very expensive to buy, they are kept for the special occasions.

Then, there’s the black fedora type hat that other observant Jews tend to wear, also throughout the week and also on Shabbat. Depending on which group of religious Jews you belong to, the style of the hat will vary. For example, Chabad Hasidim typically wear a type of black hat called a fedora with a more pinched look at the front, and a down-turned brim.

While people who belong to what’s called the more yeshivish crowd (after a yeshiva, the place where Jewish men learn Torah), will tend to wear a Borsalino style with the brim up.

Again, this changes depending on the community and country you’re looking at. One thing to note is that while you will see a lot of shtreimels even in Israel, you tend to see far fewer black hats, outside of certain enclaves. That could be because Jews in Israel feel much more comfortable wearing their little Jewish hats in public here, so they don’t need a different type of hat to cover up their kippahs or yamakas.

Q: Why do orthodox women wear wigs?

A: There is a commandment, or mitzvah, that once a Jewish women marries, she should cover her hair. There are a few different reasons given for this commandment. (Go HERE for a more in-depth discussion of this subject.)

The first reason is that hair is very attractive to other men, so when a Jewish woman covers her hair and keeps it only for her husband’s eyes, she is sending a very powerful message to other men that she is unavailable.

There are also kabbalistic reasons for covering hair, that have to do with bringing more spiritual bounty and blessings down into the Jewish home. The Jewish tradition is full of stories which clearly depict how the effort a married Jewish woman makes to cover her hair brings her all sorts of blessings in the home, including successful children and increased parnassah¸ or the ability to make a living.

Now, in terms of why do orthodox women wear wigs, specifically, we hit a big disagreement within the orthodox Jewish community itself.

The late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, z’tl, was a very big fan of orthodox Jewish women covering their hair with wigs, and that’s why you see so many Chabad ladies wearing wigs, even today.

On the other side of the debate are a number of big rabbis, including many Sephardic Rabbis, who have a very strong tradition that married women should only cover their hair with a hat or scarf, and not with wigs.

The issue is still being hotly debated, and each orthodox community has its own guidelines and mores. In practice, many orthodox women outside of Israel will choose to cover their hair with a wig over a hat or scarf simply to avoid drawing unnecessary attention to themselves.

For example, when I was coming through Manchester airport a little while ago, because I was covering my hair with a hat, as opposed to a wig, I was called over by the security staff, and taken off to a little booth on the side where I was asked to take my hat off, so they could check it.

Man, my hair was a fright show… And that whole experience is not exactly fun, so many orthodox Jewish women in those types of situation will just prefer to wear a wig, and to blend in. Also at work, it’s often just easier to wear a wig, to avoid any awkward situations or potential discrimination.

In Israel, far, far fewer women wear wigs, and most of the married women who choose to cover their hair do so with headscarves, in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

Again, I could write a whole book on the topic of “Jewish head covering female”, but I hope this gives you the main idea.

  • If you have any other questions about Jewish hat names, or other aspects of Jewish life, please leave me a comment, and I will do my best to answer your questions. You might also want to check out the Judaism 101 category, for other articles exploring basic Jewish concepts.