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Over the last decade, I’ve been to a ton of kevarim, or graves of holy people, all over the place.

I’ve visited the patriarchs and matriarchs in Hevron; the tomb of King David in the Old City, the Rashbi, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, up in Meron; the Ari and Rabbi Yosef Karo in Tsfat; the grave of Rachel Imenu, near Bethlehem – and all the Ukraine lot besides, including Rebbe Nachman, the Berditchever and the Baal Shem Tov.

But there’s one grave that’s stood out as a ‘must visit’ – and because it’s in the middle of a heavily populated Palestinian town with pronounced terrorist tendencies, getting to it has been pretty tricky, the last 10 years.

Yosef’s tomb is in Shechem, and you can only get to it if you go as part of a midnight convoy on armoured buses, with the whole trip coordinated with the Israeli army.

Long story short, until last Sunday, I’d never been able to organize everything to go. But a couple of days’ earlier, someone told me about a trip that was leaving on Rosh Chodesh Shvat, and even sent me an email with all the details.

I called them up Sunday morning – still only half interested, if I’m honest, as I like my sleep and Shechem is a 2 hour shlep by bus from Jerusalem – and there was a place free. So I decided to go.

I get to the bus stop in Jerusalem, and the first person I see there is a former room-mate from Uman, who starts telling me the most amazing, miraculously-hair-raising true stories of sons who recovered from terminal illnesses after doing a pidyon nefesh with Rav Berland; and people who dropped dead the day after they finished translating a particular Breslev book into English; and miraculous moving-apartments-with-no-money stories.

I took a breath of cold air, and I could smell Rabbenu all around me – it was that same heady mix of uncertainty, kedusha and surrealism that so often comes with me to Uman, when I’m going to visit Rebbe Nachman.

You start feeling like ‘anything can happen’, and it can be quite unnerving, if still exhilarating at times.

The bus showed up – and it was an old bullet-proof clunker with double windows so thick and scratched, you couldn’t see out of them at all. It was like being blind-folded and led off down an alley. I tried to fall asleep, and I mostly managed.

I woke up a few minutes before the convoy drove into Shechem (at least, that’s what I guessed, because I couldn’t see a thing through the window) and then the bus pulled over to the side of the road, and we got the order to move out. I stepped out of the bus, and into Arab Nablus at 2am.

It was a cold, clear night, and you could see Yosef’s tomb 50 metres ahead – surrounded by a whole bunch of army APVs and soldiers in all sorts of combat gear, many of whom were holding really big guns.

How cool! I thought. Then: How weird, to be visiting a kever at 2am with half a platoon of the IDF and a whole, very mixed, crowd of people from across Israel.

There were families with small kids, teens, chareidim, hill-top youth with huge payot, sem girls, Chassidic matrons from Monsey, yeshiva students from London, wives, grannies and everything in between, besides.

I tried to grab two minutes by the kever, before it turned into a tin of sardines, and then I spent the rest of my short time there standing outside the building, trying to take it all in. You could see dark Nablus towering up the slopes all around the tomb, and I thought this must look pretty impressive in the day time. (Maybe one day I’ll find out…)

I tried to do some personal prayer, but the truth is that between the trip, the tiredness and the surreal situation, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed and speechless.

So I watched, and this is what I saw: secular soldiers and chareidi men laughingly posing for pictures together; hundreds of people playing musical instruments and loudly celebrating Rosh Chodesh; ‘hill top yoof’ digging up the ground near the tomb and putting up a big blue tent (I still have no idea what all that was about, but it looked distinctly naughty; two teenage girls sat on the floor wrapped in the same blanket, reciting tehillim.

And the last thing I saw, just before I left, was a couple of teenage boys lugging a six pack of coke bottles around with them. At least, that’s how it looked from a distance, until I noticed a whole bunch of tubes were sticking out of the coke box, and were attached to one of the boys. The boy looked really ill – he had that ethereal, angelic quality that a person can get when they’re physically very frail. His friend had ‘disguised’ his respirator, or whatever it was, in a coke box, so his friend wouldn’t feel embarrassed while visiting the tomb.

That sight brought tears to my ears, and I said to God: Who is like your people, Av haRachamam?

There’s me complaining about making this grueling trip in the middle of the night, but look at all the old people, and small kids, and sick teens that have showed up here today, just to celebrate with Yosef HaTzadik. Unbelievable.

A little while later, we were back on the bus, and heading back to Jerusalem. As kever trips go, it was pretty uneventful in some ways – I had no big flashes of inspiration, no massive insights, no answers to big questions. What I did have, though, was a renewed appreciation for my fellow Jews.

Who is like your people, Am Yisrael?

Will I go back? Maybe. Not soon. It took me a day to recover and I’m still a little ‘out of it’ now. But one thing I can tell you for sure: Yosef’s tomb reminded me a lot of Rebbe Nachman’s. It was the same energy, the same intensity, the same holy madness. So something tells me that sooner or later, I will be going back.

Before I threw all my secular CDs away, Queen was one of my favorite bands by a long chalk. The beats, the melodies, the guitar riffs, the clever lyrics. I loved Queen to bits. One of my all time favourite songs was ‘Under Pressure’.

Dum dum dum diddy dum dum. Dum dum dum diddy dum dum (oo-wa-oop).

Just now, my husband told me that since Chanuka, he’s been feeling like he’s been under non-stop pressure, without any let-up.

Thank God, we can pay our bills and nothing particularly ‘major’ is happening to explain this big build-up of tension and stress, but there’s no doubt about it: we’re under pressure.

And we aren’t the only ones.

As ‘the matzav’ in Israel continues to wind its way towards whatever Heavenly goal it’s being designed to achieve, I’ve noticed more and more short tempered outburst going on around me. People are honking more; they’re walking faster (or staying home…); they have less patience for people, they’re more out of it.

In short, they’re under pressure.

All of us are feeling the stress at every level of our being. That much is clear. What’s less obvious (at least to me) is what all this pressure is meant to be achieving. Because for sure, God is doing it for a good reason.

Is He trying to provoke a collective national melt-down, that will lead to a mass teshuva movement?

Is He trying to show us all that we simply can’t get by without Him any more, and He’s going to keep upping the ante until any semblance of arrogance and independence is crushed out of us?

Is He secretly working for Big Pharma, and has bought a bunch of shares in Prozac et al?

I don’t know – which is actually quite strange for me, as I like to think I at least have a small inkling of what God might be planning with all this stuff. But I don’t. Despite all my hours of praying, and all my efforts to talk to God, and all my attempts to read the runes and decode the hints He’s sending me, and everyone else, I feel that I’m currently sailing in unchartered waters.

To put it another way, I haven’t had a clue what’s been going on in my life, or around me, since Succot, and that doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon. I know the pressure is building – we can all feel it, and you’d have to be crazy to not recognize that ‘something’ is bubbling under the surface.

What the something is, or how it’s going to manifest in the world, is anyone’s guess. I hope its Moshiach. I hope its redemption. I hope it’s chanukat habayit (both personally and nationally).

But right now, all I really know is that I’m under pressure, and some days, it really feels like I just can’t take it anymore.

Today, half an hour before I meant to go out to do a bit of shopping, there was another flurry of sirens and gunshots nearby.

I don’t know if it’s a good sign (because you do actually have to carry on, and try to live while all this madness is going on around you), or it’s a bad sign (because maybe, it’s pointing to a level of spiritual exhaustion and apathy which is quite troubling) – but I’ve almost got blasé about all the craziness.

If all my family members are home, I don’t blink an eye now. If they aren’t, then it’s a little more concerning, but not the instant panic attack of a couple of months’ back. Thank God. So today, everyone was home and I wasn’t even going to check the ‘what’ of it all, except one of my kids has a kind of ‘need to know’ when she hears sirens going off.

I told her it was too early – that she should wait another 10 minutes, and then we’d probably get the first reports of what we’d just been hearing going on around us. 10 minutes later, Arutz 7 told us that a 15 year old girl had just been lightly stabbed (may she make a full recovery) up the road from us, about 10 seconds from where Rav Arush lives, and about 30 seconds from the Chut Shel Chesed yeshiva.

Like I said, I don’t know if I’ve just gone numb to it all or what, but curiosity satisfied, we put on our coats and headed into town.

Which is when I saw that Holy Bagel was gone, the latest economic ‘victim’ of the wave of terror.

Now this is the strange part: Holy Bagel closing down really upset me.

And it’s not like I was there every day, or even every week, or even every month. On the odd occasions when I wanted a bagel, that’s where I usually went, and over time, I half got to know the owners, but only in a very superficial way.

Before my own shop went spectacularly bust in the Old City last year, wiping us out financially, I never really appreciated the impact of a shop opening or closing. I never understood how much money people invested in these businesses, or how devastating it could be when one day they just disappeared.

As the perennial shopper, it was mildly interesting, a little annoying (if it was a shop I really liked) or mostly, completely not even on my radar. As the post-bankruptcy small business owner, Holy Bagel sinking hit me like a hammer blow. I really felt sorry for the owners, and found myself worrying about how they were going to make ends meet now.

I know it’s not going to hit the headlines any time soon, but businesses like Holy Bagel going bust is another, more hidden, pain caused by the latest Arab violence. Whenever I go into town now, I see more empty shops with ‘to rent’ signs stuck up on them, like ugly gaps in a row of healthy teeth.

It can’t carry on, I think to myself.

But at the same time, it is carrying on, and doesn’t seem to show any signs of letting up anytime soon.

It’s such a strange time, isn’t it? And I have no idea what’s going on, or what is going to be. A few months’ ago, you could smell Moshiach in the air. Now? You can’t. Or at least, I can’t. Where did he go? Is he coming back soon? Are we still heading for geula, or is all this Arab terror a diversion and a red herring?

I don’t know. But what I can tell you is that the Arabs aren’t just trying to kill people, they’re also trying to kill the Israeli economy. And if Jaffa St is anything to go by, the patient is approaching a critical state.

This Shabbat was pretty weird.

First, ten minutes before it came in, someone I don’t really know called me up trying to invite themselves over for Shabbat. My first impulse was to try to accommodate them, but then I realized:

  • I already have guests for Shabbat
  • I was planning to spend a bit of quality time with my oldest kid Shabbat afternoon
  • Being called up 10 minutes before Shabbat is actually NOT OK.

So I politely demurred, and requested more notice next time they wanted to check if they could come for a meal. Of course, I then spent the next 30 minutes feeling guilty about not being a balaboosta-ish ayshet chayil, despite all my reassurances to myself that I’d done the right thing. But it put me in a funny mood.

Friday night, we hung out at home instead of going to the Kotel, as two people got stabbed to death on our usual route down to the holy wall, just outside the Jaffa Gate, and one of my kids was a bit freaked out about it all. Also strange.

Then, Saturday morning I kept trying to do my usual hitbodedut session, but couldn’t stay awake.

I often daydream, but I very rarely completely conk-out. Two hours later, I think I’d managed about 5 lucid sentences, but I had to get up and go to hear Rav Arush speak at the yeshiva, so I called it a day. Weird.

On the way to the yeshiva, I suddenly started feeling so cross and annoyed with everybody – just stam, because. No obvious reason. I walked up to the yeshiva darting arrows at everyone with my eyes. I don’t know why, I just suddenly couldn’t stand humanity collectively, so I sat in the corner trying to listen to the Rav while fighting off a huge ‘I hate everyone’ yetzer hara. Bizarre.

I met my husband outside, and he told me that he’d also just got into two spontaneous small ‘fights’ with two different people, apropos of nothing. Hmmm. Clearly something in the air.

On the way home from the yeshiva, someone stopped us close to our house, to ask us if we were planning to continue on to the Kotel, because ‘the police have just closed the area because  there’s been another stabbing’. I haven’t yet checked the news to see what really happened, but in the meantime, the weirdness continued.

Our guests came and went, very nicely. Then, my kids got into the biggest argument they’ve had for about six months, complete with wrestling, slapping and punching. One wanted to go into the old city for her regular youth group meeting, and the other one was scared because of what our passerby had told us that morning.

It was a monumental struggle between ‘business as usual’ and ‘too scared to go out’, and I had no idea what to do about it all, or where I was holding myself with it all.

I ended up walking the one kid in to the Rova (after we’d managed to find the keys to the front door that the other one had hidden…) and we had a big, emotional chat about what was going on, which was good, but very intense.

Motzash, I came back and my husband told me: ‘There’s a lot of din in the air at the moment, isn’t there?’ I could only agree. I have no idea what it all means, or what it’s all about, but I really hope it dissolves soon.

In the last one of this week’s posts, I want to take a look at the good that came out of my experience with the religious phoneys, because surprisingly, there has been a lot of it.

The first good I gained from the whole experience is:

It made me much more humble.

There’s nothing like realizing you’ve been duped, or that you’ve made some massive errors of judgment, to bring you down a few pegs, and to help you realize that for all your talents and abilities and knowledge, you still can’t do a thing right without God.

Before the wheels came off the ‘religious phoneys’ bus, I was very self-sanctimonious, intolerant and judgmental of other people – especially those people who wanted to earn a decent living and not live in a dump.

How superficial and gashmius they are! I would think to myself.

Then, me and my husband seriously hit the skids for two years, we lost our home, we nearly ran out of cash, and we had weeks where even putting food on the table was a struggle. It was a massive wake-up call that we weren’t Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, and couldn’t make do with one outfit every 12 years and a carob for Shabbat lunch.

Now, I’m so grateful for the opportunity to make and have parnassa, and I’m so ‘anti’ all these religious phonies that make orthodox men feel bad, or flawed somehow, for doing an honest day’s work, and looking after their families the way God intended.

It made me much more real.

(I know, that one’s a bit scary J).

You know, I absolutely love long jeans skirts. Always have, always will. I decided five years’ ago that jeans skirts were not befitting my level of religious phoniness, and I gave them up.

Now, they’re back – I got one custom-made by someone in the States, exactly how I like it. And I LOVE wearing it! I feel so grateful that God a) gave me the money to buy it b) found me a cheap tailor and c) let it fit so nicely. I feel like a million tznius bucks in my jeans skirt, and it puts me in a good mood just pulling it out of the cupboard.

More and more, I’m accepting those parts of myself that might not be ‘black and white friendly’, but that still have their heart in the right place, and are not contravening any of God’s halachas.

It made me more compassionate (especially about my kids).

The most judgmental, intolerant, hate-filled people are those that feel that they ‘denied’ themselves something they really want, and can’t stand to see other people doing or having those same things.

I used to be so down on kids for not dressing so frum, and for not wearing socks. Now that I’ve eased up on myself, I’m much more tolerant, understanding and forgiving of them – and guess what? Their tznius is better than it’s been for years.

My kids truly were just mirroring my inner dimension back at me. The more I reclaim the parts of that ‘lost self’ that are compatible with yiddishkeit, albeit still not ‘standard’, the less of a big deal my kids are making about keeping mitzvahs.

They’re doing more, and they’re doing it much more happily – and so am I! Accepting myself, my real self, was key to me enjoying my yiddishkeit again, and that’s what my kids are reflecting back to me in spades.

I got my sense of humour back.

There are so many things that you just have to laugh at them, or go mad.  When I was being a religious phoney, life got way too serious and ponderous. God has a sense of humour: He wants us to laugh at ourselves, and to not take everything so darned seriously all the time. He’s running the world, not us.

I learned that humility and humour go together – if you can’t laugh at yourself, it’s because you’re taking yourself way too seriously, and that’s coming from arrogance, not holiness.

 I like people again.

This one was one of the biggest presents of all: I like people again, even if they don’t keep Shabbat, don’t live in Israel and don’t believe everything I do.

Now I’m admitting, accepting and loving my own imperfections, I’m not challenged or annoyed by other people’s, which means that I can focus much more on all the tremendous good around me, and in others, instead of getting so caught up in negative judgment calls about the ‘bad’.

I’m much happier.

I got so stuck trying to meet the religious phonies’ impossibly fake level of Torah observance (ie, they like to pretend that they’re in a place they really aren’t, and then make you feel bad that you’re not also at that incredibly high level) – that I was getting very little joy from any of the mitzvahs I was doing.

Now, I don’t take my mitzvahs for granted, and I know that every little thing I do is a present from God, and not an automatic right, or self-created achievement.

I’ve stopped worrying about money.

All my life, I was chasing after the illusion of stability and financial security, as being the answer to all my troubles. We went so low financially last year, that I truly believed I was going to end up in a dumpster. So then I decided, if I’m anyway going to end up in a dumpster, let me buy a nice dress while I still have some cash…and a new PC….and a new duvet set…and a bottle of Chanel No. 5 perfume…

Ironically, hitting the skids cured me of my obsession with money. I understand profoundly that as long as God wants me alive, He’s going to pay for me to live. And that ‘living’ doesn’t just mean a roof and food, it also (especially in our generation) means buying myself the clothes and other bits I need to feel like a human being, without feeling guilty that I’m so ‘gashmius’.

There’s probably a lot more to say, but that will do for now.

Let me end with this:

  • God wants the heart.
  • God wants us to serve Him 100% happily, as us.
  • God wants us to be humble enough to accept that try as we might, we are never going to be able to give God perfection – and that’s really OK!

And if you’re not getting these messages reinforced again and again from your religious advisors, dump them pronto, and find someone else who’s more compassionate and more clued-in.

So, in the last post I was talking about how my superficially-frum bubble got burst last year,

by a few people who looked 100% the part externally, but who were actually very far away from compassion, emuna, truth and a real understanding of what God really wants from us.

For years, I’d been blindly following them down a path of increasing severity and external piety, all the while thinking that God really wanted me to graduate to a padded head-band and bullet-proof stockings, and that that would be the pinnacle of kedusha and yiddishkeit.

Man, I was so miserable being religious like that!

I felt like I’d lost everything that made me ‘me’, from my favourite jeans skirt, to my permission to read, to my ability to reach out and relate to people who weren’t super-machmir-frum-angels.

Then God did my the biggest favor of my life (although it didn’t feel like that at the time): He showed me that the people who were running off their mouths the loudest about other people’s flaws; and who were putting on the biggest show of being unimpeachable, super-holy rollers; and who were full of criticism and competition and superiority about their own apparently lofty religious levels, and what everyone else was meant to be doing – were actually very flawed people, with hugely problematic character traits.

They were selfish, jealous, competitive, untruthful, insecure and arrogant.

But they dressed impeccably in black and white, had big shtreimels, and ‘ticked all the boxes’ externally, 100%. To put it another way, they were living a huge lie, and the main people they were lying to about what was really going on was themselves.

I had such a strong reaction against their religious hypocrisy last year, that it’s only because Rabbenu was hanging on to me so tightly that I managed to hang on to my faith, albeit it still got pretty badly mangled.

It’s taken me months of praying and searching and asking God for help to really emerge out of the other side of the experience, but thank God, I think that’s the stage I’m now at. But I want to tell you what I went through, and what I learnt from it all, so it can hopefully help you to avoid having to go through the same sort of heartache and confusion.

There is so much that could be said, but I’m going to concentrate on two things, to try to make my point: the latest Star Wars movie, and my husband’s green jumper.

Last week, I saw an ad for another Star Wars installment, replete with an ancient-looking Harrison Ford (is that a wig, or what?) and all the latest hi-tech hoopla. I got pretty weird after I saw the ad, and started to feel all weepy, but didn’t know why.

A few hours of personal prayer later, and it struck me that I’ve seen every one of the previous 6  Star Wars movies, and they were kind of ‘movie milestones’ that cemented other key things in place that were going on in my life. In short, Star Wars isn’t just a movie for me, it’s a kind of self-reference point, a way of me pegging myself in the world. And now, that frame of reference was gone, and I was feeling pretty lost again about who I really was.

Then, the little voice in my head told me: give yourself permission to go and see it. So I did: I imagined getting it out on DVD; sitting down at my pc to watch it; how it would look, how I would feel before, during and afterwards. And at the end of that process, I knew with complete certainty: I do not want to watch this! It’s a waste of time, and will fill my head and soul with a lot of damaging stuff.

I felt so good!

The old ‘superficially-religious’ me would never have heard that little voice out; I’d have been far too worried about ‘where is this going to lead…’ – which means that really, I’d have been really pining to see the movie on the inside, where stuff really counts. This way, I brought the whole issue out into the open, and I CHOSE not to see it. And the difference is enormous.

Next, I came and had a serious talk with my husband about the whole ‘package’ we got sold by the religious phoneys a few years’ back, who made us feel like we were so materialistic for doing things like holding down a job, wanting a nice place to live, and not devoting ourselves to the cause (ie, their cause…) 24/7.

Thanks to them, my husband felt like he was a terrible person for working.

Thanks to them, we both felt like we were letting God down, every time we wanted to take a day’s holiday, or buy something new that wasn’t directly connected to keeping Shabbos or a yom tov. Thanks to them, we ended up financially broke, spiritually broken and completely alone in the world, trying to jump through more and more impossible hoops to keep their harsh version of God appeased.

(Yes, I know it was all from God, and all for the good, but that’s a post for another time.)

So I came and asked my husband: that favorite olive green jumper of yours, that you couldn’t quite throw away, even though it wasn’t black or white. Do you think God would mind if you wore it again? Do you think you’ll be letting God down, somehow, if you decided that the ‘real you’ likes wearing olive green jumpers?

He looked at me shocked. But now he’s thinking it over, and we’ll see what happens next.

The point is not that he should, or shouldn’t wear it: the point is, that he, and me, and all of us, should be asking ourselves

what does God really want?

Because there’s a lot of people out there telling us that God wants padded head-bands, and impossible religious perfection, and miserable, super-machmir, intolerant, superficial yiddishkeit that looks so impressive, but feels so horribly wrong.

But really? God wants the heart.

And if it happens to come packaged in an olive green jumper, I  have a feeling that’s fine by Him.

A couple of days’ back, one of my kids came to me with a strange complaint: she was having troubles remembering stuff.

She couldn’t remember what our last house looked like, what she’d just learned for an exam etc etc.

First things first: I freaked out, and started imagining all the worst possible scenarios, God forbid. Then, God calmed me down a bit and I realized that my kid is completely sleep-deprived, and operating in zombie mode. We had a chat about doing less social activities, and trying to get at least 6-7 hours sleep a night, regularly, and I felt a bit happier and calmer.

But still not 100%.

So the next day, I had a long chat with God about it all, because He likes to use my kids to bring my attention to things I’ve been sweeping under the carpet for years, and I had the feeling that another ‘message’ had just been delivered, that needed decoding and responding to. Sure enough, I lifted up the corner of the mental rug, and all this icky stuff started tumbling out.

To cut a long story short, the last two years’ has been about me and my husband trying to find the ‘real us’ in the middle of all the pseudo-frum, keeping up appearances stuff that can happen in the baal teshuva world (and many other places, too).

For many years, we were taking our cues from people who were far more superficial, and far less ‘plugged in’ to authentic yiddishkeit than was apparent. God is not always so subtle: last year, my main influencer and my husband’s main influencer were both revealed as religious phonies within a week of each other – and the impact stuck us harder than anything else we experienced in that terrible two years.

Thank God for Rav Arush. He’s what kept me and my husband afloat, as we struggled to find ourselves in the wreckage of who we thought we really were, and what we’d been told, and all the confusion about what God really wanted from us, given that we’d been following advice for years that had come from a very warped source – and our lives were in tatters, as a direct result.

To be blunt, I got hit by such a spiritual tsunami that I kind of shut down for a year.

I dealt with whatever I had to, to keep functioning and keep my faith going at even a basic level (and even that was hard enough, let me tell you) – but a lot of the bigger questions? I couldn’t face them then, and I swept them under the carpet.

As did my husband.

We forgot. At least, we tried to. We tried to blank all the feelings of anger, denial about what had happened, betrayal, hatred, vengeance etc, and carry on being sweet, good Jews.

But God showed me with my daughter’s ‘memory blanks’ that it was time to lift the lid, and begin to deal with the rest of the fall-out. So yesterday, I began that process, and it’s already been very helpful.

Already, I’m starting to get clearer and clearer that the people who encourage others to rush out and ‘dress the part’ regardless of what’s going on internally are coming from a warped, superficial place.

People who lack compassion for the human struggle and effort that is involved in keeping even the most basic mitzvahs in today’s world, are coming from a warped, superficial place.

People who love acting like ‘Rabbi Rockstars’, where the emphasis is all about their personalities, and their amazing spiritual level, and their amazing Torah shiurim on Youtube and Twitter posts – are coming from a warped, superficial place.

If ‘Rabbi Rockstar’ can’t tell you how he sometimes struggles to get out of bed in the morning; if he casually gossips about other Torah figures; if he likes to suggest, directly or otherwise, this his prayers caused barren women to give birth, or cured cancer, or held off World War III for another 20 years, or any other of that self-serving clap-trap that is unfortunately so commonplace, and so believed by the gullible masses – get the heck away.

There are few rabbis who are more spiritually plugged in, or clued up than Rav Arush. Rav Arush’s books are full of his own personal struggles to have emuna, and be a simple Jew. Even a few weeks’ back, he was still sharing how he’d woken up one day and felt really down and depressed. And then he realized God wanted him to serve him as a depressed person that day, and he said ‘thanks’ for it.

Rav Arush is real. Rav Berland is real. Rav Ofer Erez is real.

They understand your pain, they share your problems, and they give you practical advice how to pull through.

By contrast, one of our phoney influencers told us the reason we were having such a hard time last year was because my husband hadn’t shaved his head, the authentic Breslev way, to go with his peyot. The man told us this with such contempt in his voice, and such disdain for us in his eyes, that it broke the spell I’d been under for years.

All the personal prayer, all the effort to improve, all the huge self-sacrifice we’d made to give God what he wanted, at enormous cost to us in just about every way – and this phoney was suggesting that my husband not shaving his head was all God cared about, when it came down to it.

It was so ludicrous! But at that point it showed me so clearly that external appearances were really all that counted for our religious phoney, and that he’d been advising us from that pretend, intolerant, judgemental, superior and superficially-pious place for years, without us realizing what was going on.

For weeks, even months, afterwards, I was so angry about it all, I couldn’t trust myself to write or talk about what had happened. But now, I think it’s time to remember it again, and to share my hopefully useful insights about it with you, dear reader, so we can get to a place of communal clarity about what God does and doesn’t want from us.

TBC in the next post, God willing.

God always has a sense of humour:

In the middle of me pulling together a huge mountain of evidence that ‘science’ is increasingly coming to the view that parental emotional neglect is at the heart of pretty much every mental and emotional difficulty you care to mention, from the biggest to the smallest, I suddenly realized that I’m spending far too much time typing, and not enough time interacting with my own family.

Thankfully, my daily dose of hitbodedut, or personal prayer usually helps me to catch these problems while they are still relatively small, and to hopefully nip them in the bud. So it was, that as I was mulling over the whole concept of the ‘good enough mother’, and related ideas about being a ‘good enough Jew’, that it struck me that I spent most of yesterday ignoring all my family so I could get another few thousands words of my next book typed up.

One kid had just spent two whole days doing a bunch of amazing volunteer mitzvah activities with Bnei Akiva – and I was too tired to ask her anything about it. Another was clearly bored, but I gave her some cash to buy a ‘NeoCube’ and then went back to my computer, relieved to have got out of having to do anything more ‘hands on’ and interactive.

And my husband?

What, that guy that takes out the rubbish and sings zemirot on Shabbat? Well, he got back from Uman a couple of days’ ago, and I’ve still only heard a fraction of his stories and experiences.

Not unusually in my life, things had got out of balance again.

When my kids were small, and I had a career (that actually paid me really good money…) I realized I had to choose between putting my family first, or working, because I couldn’t do both. When I quit work, it was the best decision I ever made – and also the hardest. Writing is in my blood. Interacting and communicating is my life-force. But I just knew that if I didn’t take a few years’ off from pursuing ‘my interests’ my kids were going to end up emotional and spiritual wrecks.

The last few years, I’ve had to fix so many things spiritually in myself, and I came to a point last year where I thought I’d learnt enough lessons about what was really important to risk pursuing ‘my interests’ again. And generally speaking, I think that’s probably true.

But I’m learning that every day is still a balance, and every day I have to take the time to ask the question again:

Am I being a ‘good enough’ mother?

A ‘good enough’ wife?

A ‘good enough’ friend?

A ‘good enough’ Jew?

And recently, the answer has been coming back a bit too often: “no, you’re not! You’re getting too preoccupied with minutiae again, you’re losing track of the importance of people, of the beauty of a walk or conversation with someone you care for that isn’t ‘goal-orientated’.”

I bet you’d like to know how I’m defining ‘good enough’…

Well, it’s like this: Good enough is definitely NOT full-time perfect, 100% altruistic and angelic. If it was, no-one could achieve it, which would kind of defeat the whole point.

‘Good enough’ is a state where generally, I put my kids and husband and God and my own soul first enough of the time to let them know I care about them, I love them, and that they are the most important things in the world to me.

That doesn’t mean that I immediately stop what I’m doing every time my kid or husband wants something, for example, but that I stop enough times for them to know that if I didn’t stop on this occasion, either what I’m doing is really important, or what they want is really not.

Being ‘good enough’ means that when I know I’m dropping the ball, I don’t just sweep that understanding under the carpet or make excuses; I try to fix the problem.

So today, once I realized that it wasn’t ‘good enough’ that I hadn’t taken the time to ask my kid about her volunteering experiences, I decided to walk her to the bus-stop this morning, so she could tell me a little.

I was so pleased I did. I felt like the balance was starting to swing back again towards ‘good enough’, before I’d done enormous emotional damage to my child and made her feel unloved and invisible.

Being a parent, being a mother, is a huge responsibility, especially in this generation of emotional disconnect. If not for hitbodedut, I shudder to think how bad things could get before I’d take my head out of the computer and realize that my family, my children, my marriage were melting down.

And I don’t have wifi at home…I don’t have an i-Phone…I barely spend any time at all doing ‘extra-curricular’ activities with girlfriends, and having hour long catch up sessions on the phone.

And I’m still struggling to be ‘good enough’.

I know this isn’t easy reading. But I want you to know, dear wife, dear mother, that you, me and all of us CAN achieve that level of ‘good enough’ where our kids will turn out emotionally and spiritually-healthy, and know that they’re loved.

There’s a few things that will help us along the way:

  • Brutal honesty that often, we’re not ‘good enough’ and that the internet, the TV, the Facebook, and all the other external ‘fluff’, materialism and superficiality is still taking up far too much space in our lives
  • Huge amounts of self-compassion – that we want things to be different, that we want to be ‘good enough’, that we really do love our kids tremendously, and at least WANT to be ‘good enough’ for them
  • Massive amounts of humility – that without God in the picture, and regular doses of personal prayer, we’re not going to come anywhere near to really being ‘good enough’
  • Optimism and hope – that even when we’ve messed it up, and wrecked the relationship, and acted consistently selfishly, that it often only takes one sincere gesture, one genuine apology, one attempt to validate and accept the other person’s hurt feelings, to tip the whole thing back over into the measure of ‘good enough’ again.

And how to spot a real one…

There are many things that I loved about Rav Trugman’s latest book, ‘Prophecy and Divine Inspiration’, but one of my favourites was his discussion about false prophets – because in this time of geula blog madness, it’s still very much a ‘live’ issue.

After the last round of terrible, blood-curdling predictions on one side, and reassuring if concerned statements from our true Tzadikim that the situation is indeed grave, but that teshuva, tefilla and tzedaka can still sweeten everything, I decided that we could probably all need some help, to work out which modern-day ‘prophets’ are actually the real deal, and worth listening to.

Enter Rav Trugman. In the chapter on clarifying prophecy and Divine inspiration, he brings down the Rambam’s pre-requisites for someone claiming prophecy to even get past the starting gate.

According to the Rambam, an individual needs to have the following qualities in order to qualify as a ‘potential true prophet’:

  1. Deep wisdom
  2. Broad-minded knowledge
  3. The ability to be in control of his or her physical urges, as well as to be unaffected by the vanities of the material world.
  4. The prophet-in-waiting has to be involved in holy pursuits at all times.

Rav Trugman also explains that the Rambam says that a prophet has to prepare themselves carefully to receive the flow of Divine information, and that they have to be in a state of absolute joy. “Prophecy does not come to one who is sad or lazy.”

That’s a lot of food for thought, isn’t it? Let’s break it down even further, and make it even more crystal-clear.

Deep wisdom

Deep wisdom doesn’t mean someone once read a book of kabbalah, had a funny dream, can translate Hebrew to English (or vice-versa) or correctly predicted who was going to win Israel’s last elections.

Broad-minded knowledge

Finding allusions to the latest autistic  pronouncements in the latest Brad Pitt film they just watched doesn’t count. (By way of comparison, the sages of the Sanhedrin had to know 70 languages, and be whizzes at maths, logic and natural science before they’d even be considered for a place.)

The ability to control their physical urges, and be unaffected by the material world

Any wannabe-prophet who is giving over their ‘nevua’ via Facebook, or who has their own twitter account, is clearly not meeting these requirements.

Has to be involved in holy pursuits at all times

There’s a lot of people trying to wave their ‘real prophet’ credentials in our faces, without a whole lot to back it up.  I’ve also been taken in by these people in the past, sadly. It was only when I got to Jerusalem and I saw really holy people like Rav Shalom Arush and Rav Ofer Erez in action, and the humility they have, and the utter simplicity and sweetness they have, and the lack of arrogance and superiority they evince, that the penny dropped that

Rabbis with their own YouTube channel, blog, Facebook accounts and personal agenda to be the next Moshiach are simply not anywhere near the same playing field, kedusha-wise.

That doesn’t mean you can’t be holy, and still doing good work online, or still be holy and coaching little league, or visiting chocolate factories, or riding horses in your spare time. But it definitely does mean that you aren’t in the really big leagues when it comes to kedusha, where the potential prophets are hanging out.

You need to be prepared to get prophecy

Some half-baked idea you had while washing up that WW3 is starting tomorrow is just not going to cut the mustard. Ditto some vague dream that you had, where Obama was riding a white donkey into Jerusalem (unless you spent the 40 days prior to having that dream fasting and praying in the desert somewhere…)

You need to be happy

And this, dear reader, is where so many of today’s false internet prophets are really falling down. When Rav Arush or Rav Berland says ‘trouble’s brewing’ you can believe they aren’t just scaremongering or going on a power trip so fifty people will comment on their post.

The only time they say hard things is in order to get us to make the teshuva we need to turn things around.

In recent years, every time we get to parsha Mikeitz, where Yosef HaTzadik is finally freed from prison, and finally gets to see what all his suffering, loneliness and pain was for, I find myself getting in a funny mood.

You’re meant to find yourself in every letter of the Torah, somehow. Somehow, God’s put a coded message for every single one of us, into every nuance, every detail, every cantillation mark. Sometimes, you need to be a genius like Rebbe Nachman or the Vilna Gaon to have a clue about working them out. Other times, the messages hit you straight in the face with the force of a punch, and then you have to be a fool to miss them.

Yesterday, I read the parsha Mikeitz, and when Yosef starts sobbing when he sees his brothers, it struck me: the man went through a personal shoah. He lost his home, his family, everything he held dear, his status. He almost lost his soul, when enticed by Potifar’s wife, and then his faith in humanity (again…) when he was unfairly incarcerated as a result of doing the right thing.

How could he not lose his faith in God, when stuck in a hellish Egyptian prison for 12 years, all alone?

The fact that he didn’t shows how much he earned the appellation ‘ha tzaddik’. But existential loneliness, when God hides His face from you, and you have no-one in your life to love, or to love you back, is one of the worst punishments known to man.

Somehow, Yosef comes through all that. He finally gets out of prison. He finally rebuilds his life, albeit still all alone in his Egyptian splendor, with no old friends to reminisce with; no siblings to joke around with, or remember things with; no parents to encourage him from the side, and tell him how proud they are of him.

And then his brothers show up, and Yosef has to set a chain of events in train that will atone for their previous misdeeds against him, and rectify them for the future. And in the middle of all this, he suddenly realizes that these are his brothers. He’s reunited with his family physically, but spiritually and mentally, he suddenly realizes that what was, was. It can’t be regained, it can’t be rebuilt on the same foundations, because such a huge shift has occurred to the very foundation of who Yosef now is.

He’s a man who was sold out by his family, and treated mercilessly by the people who should have loved him the most.

He’s a man who had to face the most difficult, alien, exile alone, bereft of all sources of comfort except his emuna that God would eventually remember him, and turn it all around. He’s a man for who all the illusions and pretensions people like to have that ‘they are there for each other’, and that ‘they really care about each other’, and that ‘you don’t have to suffer alone’ had disappeared like smoke. And once those daydreams go, you can’t get them back, for all the wishing in the world.

So I think he was crying a little about what was, and what had been lost, and what had been done to him. But mostly, he was crying because even though they were all reunited again, really, he was as alone as he ever was. Maybe even more so.

The brothers could never go back to being true ‘brothers’ to Yosef, because even though he forgave them unconditionally, they couldn’t really forgive themselves.

Yosef was a permanent, and permanently uncomfortable, reminder to them of their own flaws and limitations and capacity for evil, and there was nothing Yosef could do to erase that knowledge, and truly regain his family.

I think this story has to resonate for anyone who’s a baal teshuva; anyone who’s made Aliya; anyone who found their life going in a direction that changed them fundamentally, even for best of reasons. The ultimate outcome is only good, the spiritual rewards are more than worth the pain and the effort.

But the aloneness of it all seems to stay with you forever.