Prayer is really what’s carried the Jewish people through our long, 2,000 years of exile, since the destruction of the Second Temple.

But Jewish prayers can take many different forms. The most well known, perhaps, is the obligation for Jewish men to gather together in a minyan, or quorum of 10 men, to pray three times a day, in the morning, afternoon and evening.

In Hebrew, these are known as the shacharit, minchah and ma’ariv prayers.

But if we define ‘prayer’ as the act of talking to our Creator, or blessing Him in some way, or communicating or connecting to God, then a Jew can literally spend their whole day praying. Jewish prayers go by a bunch of different names, including:

  • Breslov hitbodedut
  • Hitbodedut meditation
  • Rabbi Nachman hitbodedut
  • Hitbodedut silent meditation
  • Bracha after food
  • Bracha before food
  • Morning blessings
  • Davening

In these posts, we’ll take a look at how, when and why Jews really pray; just how immense the power of prayer really can be, and why God is always answering our prayers on some level, even if that’s not always so obvious.

The difference one jab made.

After yesterday’s post, someone emailed me with a link to the following story, and gave me permission to reprint it here, with the writer’s real name. The family are from the States, and this account 1) really made me pretty sad and 2) really made me think, about how much of the facts concerning modern medicine are actually still being hidden from us all.

I’m still not formally ‘anti’ vaccine, but I am increasingly worried about the lack of transparency and disclosure about the risks associated with vaccines, and I have a very strong feeling that something here is really ‘not right’. But until I’ve pinned that down, I’m still exploring what’s really going on. In the meantime…

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Gittel’s Story

I was sitting in the waiting room of our Dr.’s office, waiting for the nurse to call us back. Gittel and I were there for her 14 month well visit. I watched as she ran up and down in the small waiting room, excited that 2 other little girls were there for her to play with. They were a little shy, but, unfazed, Gittel ran up to them with a big smile and initiated a playful exchange with them.

After a while Gittel came running back to me, as is normal for typical kids to do, almost to reassure herself that mommy is still there and keeping a watchful eye on her. Content after a few snuggles and a quick sip of her sippy cup, she headed back to play with the girls once again, this time stopping for a moment to say hi to some other people who had since entered the waiting room and to light up the faces of a few senior citizens who had just sat down.

This went on for almost an hour until we were finally called back.

When the nurse informed us that it was our turn, I called Gittel, who stopped what she was doing and immediately came back over to mommy. I picked her up and carried her back, as she was a little nervous, and seemed to sense a little suspiciously, that something was “up”. She responded to my reassuring hugs and loving whispers. She watched the nurse carefully as she measured her height and weight and as I answered the usual questions.

When the nurse left the room, we continued to play as we waited for the Dr. to arrive. We sang a couple of her favorite songs, she explored the office a bit and we walked up and down the hallway while we waited some more. Pretty soon it was our turn to be seen.

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There was a gentle knock on the door and the Dr. walked in.

At 14 months, most of the questions were about her development and her overall health, which thank G-d, seemed to be right on track. There was also the basic autism screening questionnaire, which, ever since our Sruly’s autism diagnosis , I viewed as both a relief, and to some degree, a mild annoyance. A relief, being that from the moment that our children are born, I am carefully scrutinizing every aspect of their development.

I am always relieved when I see that, thank G-D, everything is developing as it should. A slight annoyance, since, as the parent of a child with sever autism, for goodness sake, I could write the questionnaire, and it would be a lot more detailed then the one that they have!…. Not to mention the fact, that for the most part, I seem to know more about autism than they do. Just ask me point blank if I think she is “at risk” or possibly “on the spectrum”.

What they should be asking the parent is; may the child possibly be at risk for a vaccine injury based on their past health history? How has the child, or other family member responded to vaccines in the past (fever, lethargy, seizures etc.)? How many rounds of antibiotics has the child received since birth? Does the child have an egg, dairy or other food related allergy? Does the child exhibit symptoms of, or is known to have a mitochondrial disorder? Are there common genetic concerns such as MTHFR, etc., etc…

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In the case of our daughter Gittel, she had received two rounds of antibiotics the year prior, due to a bout of strep.

Re-establishing proper gut health after extensive antibiotic use is crucial. Pumping such a small child with the entire schedule of suggested vaccines, all while their tiny bodies do their best to re-balance themselves, is much like playing Russian Roulette. She was otherwise, thank G-d, a healthy baby. She nursed beautifully (full time!), no acid reflux, no skin issues, no thrush etc… It turns out, that even with all of these questions it is still almost impossible to predict what the outcome of a vaccine may be.

However, I waited patiently and answered all of the questions in turn.

Dr: “Is she making eye contact?”

Me: “Yes.”

Dr:  “Does she respond to you when you come into the room?”

Me:  “Yes.”

Dr: “Does she respond when you call her name?”

Me: “Yes.”

Dr:  “Does she seem interested in other kids? Does she play with them?”

Me:  “Yes.”

Dr. “Does she use her hands or fingers in an inappropriate way?”

I love this question. What they are trying to ask is, does the child exhibit any self-stimulatory behavior?

Me: “No.”

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After a few more questions, and an otherwise uneventful visit, the Dr. said that the nurse would be in shortly to administer the scheduled vaccines.

He wished us a good day and walked out. Soon the nurse entered and asked us if we were also interested in the chicken pox vaccine in addition to her MMR. Thank G-d I said no. I am honestly not sure what went through my mind at that moment and why I said “no” so quickly. It had not even crossed my mind prior to the visit. (I only learned later on that you are never give two live virus vaccines at once – kind of paradox though, being that the MMR itself contains three [attenuated] live virus vaccines….).

The nurse didn’t seem to mind that we turned down the chicken pox vaccine and proceeded to prepare Gittel for the MMR. Gittel cried briefly as I held her close, reassuring her with soft words while hugging her. The visit was over. When we arrived home, Gittel seemed understandably a little worn out, but still full of smiles and warm snuggles.

That evening however, she developed a fever.

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By the next morning, even after a number of alternating rounds of Tylenol/Motrin, the fever persisted.

What was more worrisome to me than anything else, was the fact that she had completely stopped looking at me and just sat on the floor emotionless. She displayed considerable discomfort, despite the pain killers which I had given her to bring down the fever. She wouldn’t respond to my many attempts to engage her. It almost seemed as though her inner world had completely consumed her.

Alarmed, I mentioned this to my husband, hoping that somehow he could make this stop. Or at the very least pull out his crystal ball and tell me that she would indeed go back to being herself soon. He calmly responded that she was probably just feeling “under the weather” and would soon perk up.

By day two the fever persisted. I watched with a sinking heart as she failed, most notably, to respond to her name. She just sat there. She looked sad and forlorn and didn’t seem to be “here” with us. She seemed as though she didn’t recognize her surroundings or where she was. Oh, how I wanted to know what she was thinking. What was going on in that delicate little brain of hers. Was she scared? What was she feeling? What was hurting? What did she want me to do to help make her feel better?

Still no eye contact.

I got down, face to face with her, cooed, laughed, played our usual funny games, but to no avail. She continuously turned her head to avoid me. She didn’t respond to our games of “chase”, or the thrill of Mommy coming to tickle her. She wouldn’t even smile. And those eyes, those lost eyes… She still cried when she was hungry, and gently snuggled during those intimate moments of nursing I treasured so dearly.

Somehow, instinctively, I knew that I needed help to flush her system. I began with the most natural and soothing thing I knew –  stopping all solid foods and going back to strictly nursing around the clock. She was all too happy to comply.

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Day three, the fever was still there.

I was almost pleading with my husband to see what I was seeing. I was hoping I was wrong. I was scared, very scared. I was scared that I was right. My husband still tried to reassure me that she was not herself, only because she was still under the weather from the effects of the shot. She had not only stopped eye contact, she actively avoided it!

No smiles. She stopped responding to her name. She didn’t respond to our usual fun and games. She didn’t even stop to watch her siblings, let alone interact with them. She seemed to be hardly managing or coping with what life had just thrown at her. With what life had just thrown at us all.

After 3 days, her fever subsided. For the next couple of weeks I kept trying to interact with her, to engage with her, to make eye contact, smiles, something! But there was nothing. She moseyed around the house in her own little world. She was busy. Very busy. Almost alarmingly busy. Before all of this, she used to knock down the occasional book from the bookshelf, as do most busy toddlers, and when caught in the act by either my husband or myself, she would giggle and scream in sheer delight. Knowing that we were coming closer to get her and tickle her away from her little game.

It was her way of both exploring and of successfully capturing our attention. Now, however, she seemed like she was on a very serious mission to wipe out the entire bookshelf over and over again. She was completely expressionless. She stopped responding to our playful drama when coming to get her. It was during one of these episodes, about 3 weeks after she received her shot, that my husband finally realized that I wasn’t just being overly worried.

There was indeed something alarming here….. and all too familiar…..

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Once my husband realized the magnitude of what I was seeing, it was then, that everything suddenly seemed official.

Until then I was hanging on to the small thread of hope that perhaps I really was just worrying too much. It was then that the tears began to fall. The next few months were full of prayer, specialists, supplements, therapies and more prayer. We took her to specialist who confirmed the presence of inflammation in her brain. I was so shaken by what had happened, that I was afraid to take her back to her original Dr. I assumed that he would simply dismiss our case entirely upon hearing that it was vaccine related.

I was beside myself. I couldn’t believe this was happening to a second child. How could I have been so stupid 12 years ago in letting the doctors convince me that vaccines were still unquestionably safe. That the pros very much so outweighed the cons. That all of this would have happened “regardless”.

I once again found myself in tears before G-d. “Please,” I begged, “Don’t let this happen to another child.” I don’t think I have ever before asked my Grandmothers who had passed away, to help me beseech G-d for His supernal mercy. To ask Him to help us in this time of need. I began praying and asking my Grandmothers and a dear, special and holy Great Aunt, to please daven for her as well.

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Many months went by, and thank G-d she ever so often began to smile again.

During this time we continued with her rigorous supplement regimen, therapy, nursing, praying and more praying. One night, after a couple of more months had gone by, I tearfully began to daven. I am not sure if this was the right thing to do, but I asked G-d that if this was truly the decree, if this is what was meant to be, if  He could please, please lessen the severity and make it mild. Please not so sever.

Little by little she began to make some fleeting yet noticeable eye contact. She preferred not to, however when we came “face to face” she wouldn’t actively turn her head to avoid us. She still wouldn’t react if we were coming to play chase with her from across the room, but if we made it into her personal space, she ever so slowly began to respond with smiles and giggles. She also seemed to once again, enjoy being in the company of her siblings.

At nearly a year later, she had come along way. She was still unable to communicate even her most basic needs, but she has begun to “label”. She did not respond to her name or even turn when you called her. She would however get excited with interactive games like chase, dancing and peek-a-boo. Thank G-d she still had the most beautiful smile and infectious little giggle.

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She used to sit down and get comfortable with a stack of books by her side.

Looking through each one slowly, with intent and purpose, while turning the pages slowly and enjoying every picture. She would occasionally pick up a book and go through it quickly. It was difficult however, to tell how much she understood. She seemed to enjoy watching the pages turn more so than anything else. She enjoyed sitting and playing next to other children, including her siblings, however she had stopped initiating play, as well as any other form of communication.

And her eyes.

There used to be a sparkle in those beautiful eyes. Those wise, playful yet knowing eyes. She had lost that twinkle, that spark of life. Although part of me was still hopeful, I remained cautious. And of course, there was still a part of me which didn’t want to think too much about any of it at all.

We still watch her very carefully. The specialists which we went to said, that at this young age, children can respond well to appropriate supplements and therapies. “The body,” they told us, “is a self righting ship.”

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I eventually gathered up the courage to return to the original Dr. who’s office administered the vaccine.

When he finished hearing our story and reading the medical and laboratory reports, he responded that in all of his many years of practice, he has never seen a reaction to a vaccine quite like this. While I found this hard to believe, he did, however, agree that it most definitely looked like a vaccine injury. He agreed that the symptoms she exhibited in the days following her vaccine seemed to indicate possible encephalitis.

He was kind enough to encourage us to file suite against the federal government’s vaccine injury court (which up until that point we never knew existed). He mentioned that any documentation relating to our daughter’s condition, which we may need moving forward, he would gladly provide us with.

Just as our visit was ending he said something which both scared me and consequently left me very skeptical of the medical establishments motives, in general. He looked at us and said, “I think we should hold off on vaccines for the next three months.” I looked at him, completely dumbfounded, almost not believing what we were hearing. After all of this, and this was still his view? I realized then and there that it wasn’t worth our time or emotional energy to argue. We promptly ended the visit and walked out.

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I know everything that goes on in this world is all part of G-d’s master plan, but sometimes I wish I could just ask G-d what exactly does He want from me?

What do I need to fix? What do I need to do to improve? I do thank G-d every day for giving us life, for keeping us together, for blessing us with all of the beautiful gifts and Brachot He has bestowed upon us. For blessing us with the thoughtful tests that He has so carefully chosen for us. I pray that all of us be blessed with immense light, love, simcha (joy), brachot (blessings), good mazal, nachas, wisdom, long life and the strength to carry on. May we all merit to greet Moshiach, together with all of Klal Yisroel, speedily in our days.

We are ready, Hashem.

We are oh, so ready.

– Matana Boloten

Originally written, Dec 2015

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You can’t read this and not cry a little bit. There is nothing I can add that wouldn’t just detract. But it’s definitely time to learn more, and to get properly informed about what are fundamentally huge choices to make about our children, and our children’s health.

Rabbi Berland’s New Prayer to Move to Israel.

So many of the people I’m in touch with want to move to Israel, but feel totally petrified about the whole idea of uprooting their whole lives, and trying to plonk them down again in a totally different country, however holy that country may actually be, and however much God really wants the Jews to move to Israel.

This is totally understandable. Moving country is not a simple thing, it has profound consequences for everyone involved. You can understand why so many otherwise believing Jews are twisting the words of the Torah, ignoring the whole ‘sin of the spies’ episode, and making all sorts of bizarre claims about there being no need for Jews to move to the Land of Israel.

The fear is in control. The fear is running the show.

Fear is one of the yetzer hara’s most powerful tools for keeping people away from doing the right thing. How many people stay trapped in a secular lifestyle, because they are scared of what people will say, or what’s going to be, if they take the plunge and start keeping kosher….

Or take the plunge and start keeping Shabbat….

Or take the plunge, and start dressing more modestly….

Or take the plunge, and ditch the i-Phone for something far more basic and better for the soul….

Moving to Israel is no different, except the fear is less about what people will say – because after all, it’s a new start, and you’re leaving the people who are against moving to Israel behind – and much more about what will be.

Will I find work?

Will I find friends?

Will I find a place to live?

Will my kids acclimatize OK?

And maybe the biggest fear of all:

Will I regret doing this for the rest of my life?

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Again, all these fears are totally, 100% normal and reasonable to have. If we don’t acknowledge that these fears are coming from a rational place, and that they have to be addressed properly, rather than squashed or mocked, then we can’t move forward with the whole discussion of moving to Israel.

Israel is the land of emuna, it’s where a person can really start to LIVE their belief that God is running the whole world, and not just talk about it.

The answer to all of the ‘issues’ stated above – the answer to every ‘issue’ and worry a person has about moving to Israel ultimately boils down to the same thing:

God is in control. Whatever God decides, that’s what’s going to happen.

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That’s a massive level of emuna to be striving for, isn’t it? And I’m not sure that I’m there myself, really, although I’d certainly like to be.

But the more we can live our life from that genuine place of really believing in Him, and really believing in concepts like reward and punishment, and really believing that 99% of the ‘yuck’ we go through in our lives we totally bring on ourselves, via our own bad middot – the more easy we will be able to deal with any potential move to Israel.

Really, there’s only one answer to ‘why move to Israel?’

I could tell you about the amazing day I spent yesterday, swimming with my family in a stream up North, together with a bunch of frum Jews with payot, and fully-clothed Beis Yaakov girls all happily splashing about.

I could tell you about last Wednesday night, when I went off to the Kotel to recite some tehillim for the Rav, and how I watched the swallows duck and dive, swooping so close to the wall before soaring back up into the heavens.

I could tell you about how everything here is kosher (I live in Jerusalem. That’s not true of everywhere in Israel, especially not Tel Aviv.)

I could tell you about the farm one of my kids went to volunteer on last week, up in the Shomron hills, that’s being started by an idealistic young Jewish couple.

I could talk about the sun, the sea, the way my soul just feels way, way happier here, and way, way more peaceful than it ever did in London.

But really, all of these things are missing the point.

The point of moving to Israel, is because it’s a mitzvah that God commanded the Jews to keep.

So maybe you’ll move here, and you really will struggle with making a living. And you really will go through years of feeling so lonely. And you really will find it very hard to ever buy your own place, especially in Jerusalem.

And maybe you won’t.

But the point is, whatever happens to us in Israel – and in New York, and in London, and in Melbourne, and in Paris – it’s all just to bring home that same message:

God is in control. Whatever God decides, that’s what’s going to happen.

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If a person is really working on their emuna, then they will increasingly be living their life according to this idea wherever they happen to live.

But there’s another point to make here, and that’s the idea of having some humility, and overcoming our own arrogance. Or to put it another way, to start thinking much more about what does God want from me, and much less about what do I want from God.

We are here to serve God, not the other way around.

Again, let’s keep things real.

This is a huge spiritual level! It’s a level that we will have to struggle and fight for ad 120. It doesn’t come easily to anyone, and especially not to those people who find it very difficult to put anyone else’s needs and wants ahead of their own.

That’s why there are two things that really clear the path to moving to Israel, and those two things are:

  1. Working on our own bad middot
  2. Working on our emuna, particularly the idea that we are in control of our lives

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We need to pray to get to Israel.

That’s part of the process of really getting ‘ready’ to actually live here. We need to pray to get here, and we need to pray that all the bad middot that are stopping us from moving somehow disappear. And then once we’re here, we need to carry on praying every single day, that we will continue to have the merit of staying here.

Because in Israel, all the bad middot that we fooled ourselves we didn’t have in chutz l’aretz come roaring out of the closet.

Because God wants us to finally start dealing with them, and acknowledging them, and to stop making excuses about what we are really down here to work on and fix.

BTW, that’s also why even the very process of moving to Israel can be so very taxing and upsetting. It’s all part of the preparation process for the spiritual work of developing some real humility, and understanding that God is in charge of the world, not us.

All this sounds like a lot of hard work, doesn’t it?

And honestly, it is.

You can totally understand why so many otherwise believing Jews would prefer to stay in chutz l’aretz and pretend that moving to Israel is something God doesn’t really require of anyone. It’s certainly much easier that way, it’s certainly much more comfortable.

At least, on one level.

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This post isn’t for those people.

This post is for the people who are really yearning and longing to get here, and who really do know that God wants the Jewish people to be in Israel, but who can’t quite manage to overcome their fears (yet!) in order to give God what He really wants.

For those people, there is a shortcut to moving to Israel, which is basically the power of prayer. Every prayer we say on this subject, shortens the road we need to walk in order to get here. Why? Because it’s tackling the obstacles that are blocking our path at their root.

A praying person is a person who already acknowledges, at least on some level, that God is in control. A praying person is someone who knows that God is behind all the difficulties, and that if we start to clean up our own act, particularly with our own bad middot like arrogance, laziness, greed and complacency, that God will then blast so many of the ‘issues’ keeping us stuck out of the way, too.

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That’s why Israel is really only acquired via prayer.

And that’s why so many of the people who actually live in Israel still haven’t really ‘got here’ spiritually, even though they moved here with their bodies, or were born here.

Those people moan all the time about what’s going on in Israel. They complain all the time about the taxes, and about other groups of Jews, and about all the ‘bad’ they see going on all around them, because the whole world is just one big mirror, and God is beaming a very unpleasant reflection straight into their faces.

Like we said above, in Israel, bad middot are amplified – both ours, and other people’s – so we’ll stop making excuses, and finally knuckle down to the work of fixing them.

Luckily, there is a shortcut. The shortcut is to get close to our true tzaddikim, to follow their advice, and to use their prayers to circumvent all the stuff that’s holding us back from being able to even describe the problem, let alone deal with it.

Rebbe Nachman’s advice to do an hour a day of hitbodedut has totally transformed my approach to the world, and it’s the single biggest ‘help’ to navigating life in Israel. You can read more about it HERE. But in the meantime, I want to share with you a prayer that Rabbi Berland just put out for people who want to move to Israel, but who are stuck, somehow.

It’s not a long prayer, but it sums up so precisely what’s really going on when people get stuck unable to make aliya, even though they admit it’s the right thing to do.

You can see the original HERE, but here’s what it says:

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A Prayer to Come to Eretz Yisrael

TO MERIT COMING TO ERETZ YISRAEL WITHOUT LOSING ANYTHING. TO SELL EVERYTHING FOR ITS FULL VALUE. AND MAY I MERIT LEAVING THE DEFILEMENT OF THE LAND OF THE NATIONS THAT WE ARE IMMERSED IN. AND MAY WE SMASH ALL OF THE OBSTACLES THAT ARE MOSTLY OBSTACLES OF THE MIND.

Master of the World, who can do everything. Merit me to go up to Eretz Yisrael with sublime self-sacrifice. That I leave all of the property and all of the belongings that I have outside of Eretz Yisrael. That I not leave anything over, that I not leave any remembrance.

Rather, I should sell everything as quick as possible at full value, and not lose even one pruta by moving to Eretz Yisrael. And may I not incur any other damages by moving to Eretz Yisrael.

For we have no more strength to stay in exile, in chutz la’aretz, even for one second.

We want to go up to the land of our forefathers, that you gave to our forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, “The land flowing with milk and honey”.

For Eretz Yisrael is holier than any other land in the world.

And Hashem Your G-d chose her over all other precious things in the world.”

Please, Hashem, merit me to go up to Eretz Yisrael with self-sacrifice,

“And bring us to Your Holy Mountain.”

For we have no more strength to stay in chutz la’aretz, but on the other hand we’ve been here for so long, in the defilement of the land of the nations, and we have no idea how to free ourselves from it.

Now we are turning to You, with humble kneeling and prostration:

Help us, Hashem our G-d, to come to Eretz Yisrael in the blink of an eye! And help us to break all of the obstacles, and all of the postponements, for the main obstacle is in the mind.   

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May Hashem help us to give Him what He really wants, as easily as possible.

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On the back of a few emails about the post on Marriage Guidance – Israel style, I just wanted to elaborate a little more on how to get a good husband:

Pray on him every single day.

Every single day, ask God to help your husband overcome his bad temper, his poor self-esteem, his confusion, his doubts, his bad behavior and warped ideas.

Because we all have these issues, even the very best of us, and a woman’s job is to help to fix her husband’s soul by praying on him (and herself and her family) as much as she can.

That is the secret ingredient, the special sauce, that can turn even the worst relationship between a husband and wife around.

Any marriage counsellor who is not telling a couple to get God involved in the process, can’t really help you long-term and is probably doing way more harm than good.

And any wife who is not willing to pray on her husband, is going to have plenty of challenges and heartache to deal with. (Like, more than you’d get if you were actually praying, because getting marriages to last the distance is hard work, even when you are talking to God a lot.)

We’re not talking about doing six hours a day here, or even six minutes. All it takes is a tiny bit of effort, a smidge of empathy about where all these issues the husband has is actually coming from, and a touch of emuna that God really can do anything, if we get Him involved.

Try this:

  • Buy a bumper bag of tealights, 50, or 100.
  • Light one every single day in the merit of your husband, and say a few words to God about what you’d like Him to work on, e.g. “Please help him stop being so angry, God. Please help him to like himself more. Please help him to stop worrying so much about money, and killing himself at work. Please help him to be nicer to me and the kids. Please help him to realise – all by himself – that when a man looks like he’s 8 months pregnant, no-one finds that attractive, and he needs to join a gym…” – Whatever comes to you.
  • At the end of the 50 days, take your journal and note down any improvements – because I guarantee you’ll see some.
  • Go buy another bumper bag of tealights.
  • Repeat steps 1-4 until you have the man of your dreams.

This may take some time, it’s not a ‘quick fix’, it’s true.

But if at the end of five years solid of doing this you don’t have a wonderful marriage, I’ll eat my hat.

We women, we wives, have so much power to transform, improve and rectify all the problems in our marriage. But that power is only to be found in our prayers, and if we’re not regularly talking to God, we simply can’t get to it.

And we can’t outsource the job of fixing the husband to anyone else, however much we really might want to.

I’m just cutting and pasting this from ravberland.com. BH, as many of us as possible will come, and also tell our friends and family to join in, however they can. We have come down to the wire, and from tomorrow, things are going to be very different in Israel – hopefully only in a good way!

If you’re in Israel, please make the effort to come. I heard from my source that whoever comes, things will go much sweeter for them personally, from here on in.

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Make or Break – Everything depends on tonight!

Six years ago, the landscape in Eretz Yisrael – particularly for religious Jews – was pretty bleak. Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid had just come to power, and they wasted no time in imposing a raft of laws designed to break the Torah world, and uproot a Torah-observant lifestyle.

Civil marriages, banning circumcision, forced drafting of chareidi young man into the army – and everyone knew this was only the beginning of an onslaught against orthodox Judaism.

Ultimately, the war against Torah Jewry was stopped by a war of a different kind, when the Gaza border erupted in rocket attacks, where thousands of rockets rained down on the country on many separate occasions, but most notably, as the precursor to Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, and Operation Protective Edge in the Summer of 2014.

And then, there was the Iranian nuclear threats against Israel, which had the Israeli government totally panicked that Israel was in the cross-hairs of an Iranian nuke, God forbid, with no way of preventing it.

At precisely that time, Rav Eliezer Berland went into exile, and took it upon himself to be slandered and humiliated, in fulfillment of Rebbe Nachman’s teaching in Likutey Moharan, I:260 that:

“The name is the soul….This concept involves the surrender of the soul…to sanctify God’s name….

The same applies to the loss of one’s [good] name, specifically, for a person with a famous name….

But another person does this intentionally and consciously, surrendering his soul for the sanctification of God’s name. He surrenders his fame – his “name”, corresponding to the soul – and on account of this, although he is renowned, he is not famous at all.

On the contrary: everyone talks about him, conjuring stories about him that he would never have dreamed of doing. He experiences this as if he was literally being killed. He does this intentionally, because it is a literal self-sacrifice of soul, for the name is the soul, as said, and he experiences it as death.

But in this way, he saves the Jewish people from what would have happened to them in order to facilitate this unification, as said, and by thus sacrificing his soul, which is his name, he spares them.”

Over the last six years, there have been many atzerets, or prayer gatherings.

They’ve all been held at crucial points in the unfolding process of trying to sweeten the massive judgments that are due to come down to the world before the next stage of the redemption process can begin.

Some were held at the Kotel, some were held at Hevron, at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, and all of them helped to avert disaster, and to move us on to the next stage.

But tonight’s prayer gathering is probably the last of its type, and the most important one of all.

Over the last few months, Rav Berland has been hinting that we have come as far as we can go with the current situation, and we are now at a vital crossroads.

If 50,000 people show up this evening, to come and pray with the Tzaddik and add their ‘soul power’ to that of the Tzaddikim, then we can still sweeten what’s to come considerably, and have the best shot of having geula “the sweet way’.

If not…We dread to think what is around the corner.

Rav Berland told us months ago that our enemies have tens of thousands of rockets pointed at Israel, primed and ready to go, and that no “Iron Dome” can help stave off disaster. He told us recently that the decrees had been postponed for six years, since 2013, but now we are at the turning point, once again.

He said just a couple of days ago that there is an awful decree that has been made in Heaven, that the anti-Torah politicians are going to re-start their war against the Torah world in 10 days time.

And every time there is a war against Torah in Israel, that very quickly leads to a war of a different type, on our borders.

THIS IS MAKE OR BREAK.

There will be a live hook-up here, on the ravberland.com site, for those who are physically unable to come because they live outside of Israel. For everyone else, we urge you to please attend the prayer gathering this evening, which will begin at 10pm at the Mearat HaMachpela in Hevron.

There will be subsidized buses leaving from across the country, and this appears to be our last chance to come together in unity and prayer, to bring the next stage of redemption the sweet way.

Please, come yourself, and encourage others to come too, or at least, to join in online and add their prayers to the tefillot of those who are participating in person.

Because it’s clear that from this point on, things are going to change radically – and only our prayers together with the tzaddikim of the generation is going to enable those changes to happen the sweeten way.

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TO REGISTER FOR A SUBSIDIZED BUS,

PLEASE CALL: 077-229-2222

Then, please press:

#2 – To register for a bus into Hevron and back.

Then, press the number according to the telephone prefix for your area, as follows:

PHONE NUMBER BEGINS WITH:

02 – dial 2

03 – dial 3

04 – dial 4

08 – dial 8

09 – dial 9

You will then hear a list of different cities that the buses are departing from in those areas, and you can press the number of your city, to hear where and when the buses are leaving.

THE PRAYERS WILL START AT 10PM TONIGHT.

There is also an option to drive in to Kiryat Arba yourself in your own car, and then to take one of the shuttle buses that will be leaving from the gate between Kiryat Arba and Hevron.

FOR THE LIVE HOOK-UP:

Please check back here a little later on, and we will have the video of the live hook-up streaming on the site, where you can join in.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO HELP DEFRAY SOME OF THE EXPENSES OF THE ATZERET, PLEASE ALSO CALL THIS NUMBER AND PRESS #1, TO HEAR OPTIONS FOR HOW YOU CAN CONTRIBUTE.

Alternatively, you can also contribute via the DONATE tab at the top of the page [on the ravberland.com site]. Each autobus will cost 1500 to hire for the night.

UPDATE:

The make-or-break prayer gathering in Hevron with Rabbi Berland, 8.4.2019.

I’m just cutting and pasting this here, from the ravberland.com website.

The Rav has been warning about what’s happening in front of our eyes for months and even years. Before Chanuka, he told us that 50,000 people were required to come together in prayer, to sweeten the judgments hanging over the nation.

In the end, 20,000 showed up in Hevron, and another 30,000 joined in via the live link-up. It seems that was enough to tone down what was about to come next, although think back to all the people who have been killed in terror attacks since then, including Yossi Cohen, Ori Ansbacher, and just recently, Rav Ettinger in Ariel, and it’s still been pretty hard.

So now, we have another chance to BH sweeten what’s coming down the pipe.

The Rav is the real deal. He took all the disgrace and exile and imprisonment he’s suffered the last few years upon himself, to try to ‘atone’ for all the terrible things he could see gathering on the horizon.

So, if you really want geula the sweet way, without rockets, bombs, civil wars, financial collapses and I don’t know what else, mark down April 8th, 2019 as a date in your diary. If you can’t be there in person, at least make plans to join the prayer gathering in spirit, and to show Hashem you care.

Because we are coming down to the wire.

 

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Latest Details about the Prayer Gathering on April 8th, 2019

Back on December 7th, 2018, well before any Hizballah tunnels had been discovered in the North of Israel; well before rockets from the Gaza Strip were falling around Tel Aviv; long before the government collapsed, and new elections were called for April 9th, 2019, Rav Eliezer Berland put out the following message:

“They are preparing thousands of rockets”

“The whole of Am Yisrael is currently facing a terrible, threatening situation. Every part of Israel is now under threat of being deluged with rockets.

“After we saw 400 rockets falling on Ashkelon and the surrounding cities, including Beer Sheva, Netivot, Ofakim and Sderot, now they are preparing thousands and thousands of rockets, which will reach to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

“AND WE HAVE NO POSSIBILITY OF STOPPING THIS FROM HAPPENING,

[B]ecause the whole world is against us.

“They can launch 10,000 missiles, and if we fire back even just one, they will say that we are the aggressors, and they are the victims.

“They will say that we began [hostilities], and that they are simply defending themselves.

“We have no [military] might, we only have the power of tehillim (psalms). All of the State of Israel’s efforts to stop the missiles of Hezbollah and Hamas ended in failure. Every day, we are threatened with thousands of new rockets. They can reach any target precisely…

“AM ISRAEL IS IN THE GREATEST DANGER, MAMASH,

And our only possibility of coming through this lies in our mouths: “The voice is the voice of Yaakov, and the hands are the hands of Esav.” (Bereishit, 27:22).

The final moments of the State of Israel

“We are now, mamash, at the final moments that we can stay in Eretz Yisrael, in the State of Israel, because the goal of the Arabs is to destroy everyone here.

“They don’t care if its dati’im (observant Jews), chilonim (secular Jews), Chareidim, Neturei Karta – they aren’t interested.

“They want to annihilate every single Jew, until the very last one of us – regardless of whether he’s secular, or religious, or Mizrachi (Sephardi traditional), or kipat srugah (National Religious).

We are in the gravest danger

It’s written: “And I will divide them, into the light and into the dark” (Bereishit 1:4).They are not going to distinguish between the ‘light’ and the ‘darkness’. Right now, we are all in the gravest danger, mamash.

So, we need to really urge people to attend this Prayer Gathering, so that almost 50,000 thousand people will come.

“And everyone should read the whole of the Book of Tehillim, which will [form] the shoes for the Shechina… every single person is obliged to complete the book of Tehillim at the Prayer Gathering, and to make good use of this opportunity for 50,000 people to say tehillim together.

“This will (be considered in Heaven) as though a billion people are saying tehillim (psalms), and this will certainly stop the tillim (rockets).

“Only tehillim can stop the tillim – not the IDF, not weapons, not tanks, not Patriot missiles, no Iron Dome – none of these things can stop the missiles.

Only the tehillim that we will say at this Prayer Gathering can stop the missiles.

“And in the merit of this, everyone will have a long life, like Yitzhak, in the merit of participating in this Prather Gathering…. “And the Rav will of course be coming, without doubt.“The whole of Am Yisrael is invited to come to the Prayer Gathering, and to finish the book of Tehillim, and this will erase Hamas from the face of the earth.”

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Four months later, who can question the Tzaddik’s ruach hakodesh?

Details of the prayer gathering on April 9th, 2019

We are in great danger, mamash, and the Rav has called for as many people as possible to attend the forthcoming prayer gathering, to be held on the evening of April 8th, 2019, in the City of the Patriarchs, Hevron. Rav Eliezer Berland, shlita, will also be in attendance.

The gathering will begin at 10pm, and there will be subsidized buses arranged from all over the country, to bring people to Hevron.

For more details of the buses, and / of if you want to donate to help defray some of the costs of the transportation, please call: 077-229-2222

No one should be missing.

The only reason we suffer is because we lack daat

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

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

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Abridged Lesson I:250, from Likutey Moharan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continuing the discussion, I had a couple more questions on hitbodedut which I’m going to answer below as part of a Frequently Asked Questions post, that I’ll add to as and when I get more questions on the subject that are not ‘big’ enough to merit their own post.

Q: What about Reb Noson’s famous saying, “If I see a lack somewhere, I know that either people didn’t pray about it, or they didn’t pray about it enough”? I think Rav Arush quotes it somewhere in “The Garden of Emuna”. How do you understand it now, in light of your experiences?

In Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom (the English translation of Shevachay HaRan and Sichos HaRan, by the Breslov Research Institute), pg 368, it says the following:

[The Rebbe said]: “You must pray for everything. If your garment is torn and must be replaced, pray to God for a new one. Do this for everything. Make it a habit to pray for all your needs, large or small.

Your main prayers should be for fundamentals, that God should help you with your devotions, that you should be worthy of coming closer to Him.

Still, you should also pray for even trivial things. God may give you food and clothing and everything else you need, even though you do not ask for them. But then you are like an animal.

“God gives every living thing its bread without being asked. He can also give it to you this way. But if you do not draw your life through prayer, then it’s like living like an animal. A man has to draw all of his necessities from God via his prayers.”

==

The first thing we have to really clarify is what sort of ‘lack’ are we talking about, here? In our superficial, money-obsessed, materialistic world, the word ‘lack’ automatically conjures up a lack of stuff.

  • I lack a big, expensive house…
  • I lack a fancy car….
  • I lack the money to go on holiday…
  • I lack the ability to eat out in expensive restaurants and to buy nice clothes…

And so on, and so forth.

Clearly there are material needs – part of what Rebbe Nachman refers to as ‘trivial things’ – that are still very important for a person. If we don’t have enough food to eat, we can’t pay the rent, we can’t buy even the basic clothes we need – that’s going to impact our ability to serve Hashem in some very big, fundamental ways.

Where there is no flour, there is no Torah.

From my own experiences with my husband not working, neither he nor I could really learn Torah properly, or really work on anything spiritual except just clinging on to our sanity and trying to keep hold of some emuna, when we ran out of money.

When you can’t buy food, when you can’t buy toilet paper, when you’re worrying about the electricity getting switched off, you have zero peace of mind and very little ability to sit down and pray (unless you’re genuinely a huge tzaddik, which honestly? Most people are not.)

That’s why you need a minimum amount of ‘flour’ before you can have some Torah, and that’s why Rebbe Nachman says you should certainly be praying for your ‘trivial’ physical needs, even though they aren’t so ‘spiritual’.

There’s so much fake piety washing around the frum world that sometimes, even basic ideas like this aren’t properly understood. You can’t expect a kid to want to live and love a life of Torah learning if they live in a home where there is no food on the table, and no shoes for them to wear.

A few, extremely righteous people, can live like that, and love Torah so much they won’t feel the material lack and the physical deprivation, but most of us are no-where near that level. So, we have to have the basic stuff we need to feel sufficiently taken care of, physically and materially.

BUT – then Rebbe Nachman comes to warn us – don’t take praying for the gashmius to an extreme.

Don’t think that praying for stuff is the point, because it really isn’t.

The ‘lack’ that Rebbe Nachman is talking about is first and foremost spiritual. We lack daat, (deep spiritual understanding). We lack emuna, the real belief in God, and God’s goodness. We lack self-awareness and empathy. We lack good middot. We lack closeness to Hashem.

It’s these spiritual lacks that are really causing us all the other lacks in our life, be it ‘lacks’ in health, money, success, shalom bayit, inner peace, whatever it is.

Rebbe Nachman teaches in Likutey Moharan that all our suffering is caused by a lack of daat – a lack of spiritual understanding. When a person has daat, they don’t suffer, regardless of what’s going on in their lives, and they don’t feel that they lack anything – even if they really are objectively lacking.

How do we get more daat, and fill in more of these spiritual ‘lacks’?

By talking to God on regular basis.

The more we do that, the more we’ll start to understand how our bad middot and lack of emuna is really at the root of all the other ‘lacks’ and suffering that we’re experiencing.

Also, when you go through an experience where you have no toilet paper, you can’t put food on the table, you can’t move forward in life, no matter how hard you try, that starts to teach you to have more humility and more gratitude.

Everything is a free gift from Hashem.

God decides the outcome of everything, not our practical effort, and not even how much time we spend doing hitbodedut.

In the West, we take so much for granted, and have such high expectations. We think God owes us a whole bunch of stuff. It’s not enough we have food, it has to be expensive organic, or fancy restaurant. It’s not enough we have a roof over our head, it has to be completely renovated and massive. It’s not enough we have our own healthy teeth in our gums, they have to be totally straight and pearly white.

The Sages teach that a person dies with not even half of his desires fulfilled.

Again, the more we work on the underlying spiritual causes for our sense of ‘lacking’, the more appreciation we’ll develop for what we do have, and the easier we’ll find it to be happy with our lot – however God has decided ‘our lot’ should be.

But with the proviso that our basic physical needs have to be being met, because otherwise, the anxiety and stress of not having enough food, or money to pay rent and bills etc, will just take us out, mentally, and close down our ability to think.

And if you can’t even think straight, it’s very hard to pray, and it’s very hard to have the peace of mind, or yishuv daat required to think things through to see what you might need to be doing differently, to get things to improve.

But once these basic needs have been met – and our basic needs are far more ‘basic’ than most of us are willing to accept, in 2018 – then should focus on acknowledging our blessings, and put the emphasis on developing our relationship with God and fixing our bad middot.

Q: How can one do an hour every day without repeating oneself, being bored to death and feeling that this is not really conducive to constant growth?

This is a good question, and it really goes to the heart of what is hitbodedut really for?

We’re taught that three things are acquired through suffering:

  • Torah
  • Eretz Yisrael
  • The world to come

This teaches us that true spiritual growth is always ‘earned’ via suffering, in some way or other.

There’s an idea that we don’t keep mitzvahs because they actually give us so some tangible benefit, although clearly, they often do. Rather, there’s a higher level of keeping mitzvahs just because God said to do them, which is called lishma, for its own sake.

Yes, a person can keep Shabbat because it gives them a break from work, and it gives them quality family time, and they enjoy the socializing, or the extra time to read and learn Torah, or the Shabbos shluff on Saturday afternoon, or the great cake their wife makes for Shabbat.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying all these ‘fringe benefits’ of keeping Shabbat, and we’re meant to find ways to honor the Shabbat, and to make it more enjoyable and something to look forward to, physically.

But all that stuff is not the main point.

The main point of keeping Shabbat is because God told us to do it.

And we have to keep Shabbat even if we’re bored to tears, lonely, forgot to cook anything beforehand, or are generally really just not enjoying it so much.

(So many baal teshuvas will tell you the first time they tried to keep Shabbat, they nearly went crazy from the boredom and ‘tedium’ of the day. Beginnings are always hard, especially when it comes to spiritual matters where the results and benefits are often so intangible.)

It’s the ‘suffering’ that we’re willing to go through to acquire these mitzvahs that really make them so precious in God’s eyes, because then it’s clear that we’re only doing them because God said so. Lishma. And not because we are feeling some huge benefit ourselves.

Same with doing hitbodedut for an hour.

Why do an hour?

Because Rebbe Nachman told us to. There is no other reason for doing an hour. Why did Rebbe Nachman tell us to do an hour? Because he could see there is some massive spiritual benefit associated with talking to God for an hour a day, that you just don’t get any other way.

Do we believe Rebbe Nachman knows what he’s talking about?

(You can answer that quietly).

But, if the answer is ‘yes’, if we really do have emunat tzaddikim, and we believe that Rebbe Nachman is a big Sage, and we are relying on his much greater spiritual insight and knowledge, then we’ll take his advice to do an hour a day very seriously.

But then, what do we do if we’re not really enjoying it, if it’s just too hard?

Let’s go back to the Shabbos example.

The BT really wants to keep Shabbat, he knows it’s the right thing to do, he knows it’s what God wants, he even knows that at some point, he’ll see huge benefits from keeping Shabbat. There are some BTs that can go ‘cold turkey’ and just start keeping Shabbat fully from day one. But there are others, many others, who can’t.

This BT also wants to keep Shabbat.

But…he’s addicted to his i-Phone. He’s addicted to watching movies. He’s addicted to going to the beach with his friends on Shabbat, or going to watch football.

What do we say to this BT? Do we say ‘give up, and don’t bother! It’s just too hard!’

Nope.

Instead we say – keep aiming for small but steady improvements.

Every week, try to do a bit more to ‘remember’ the Shabbat, and a bit less to desecrate it. Do Kiddush Friday night, stay home, try to bench after the meal. Work up slowly, slowly.

We also give him strategies to make keeping Shabbat a bit easier and less onerous. Start trying to keep Shabbat in the Winter months, when it’s cosy to stay home Friday night and the day is over by 5pm.

Try to find friends to invite over, and get invited out, so you don’t get so bored and the time will pass faster. Start learning more, so you understand why keeping Shabbat is so important. Speak to other BTs who started keeping Shabbat, to see if they can give you any useful tips or encouragement, or tell you about the benefits they started to see in their own lives.

Same with hitbodedut.

It’s not perfect? It’s not a full hour? You get bored and antsy?

Don’t give up!

Keep aiming to do the full hour. Keep asking God to show you why it’s important to do it, keep building the will to eventually do a full hour.

Sooner or later, it will come, if you don’t give up on it.

There’s one more thing to add here, and that is this:

Whatever is stopping you from doing hitbodedut, that’s what is also holding you back in your real life, too.

That’s why if you can ‘fight through’ the obstacles to doing an hour of hitbodedut, you’ll also start to see a whole bunch of things start to move in other ways, as well.

If you want to take hitbodedut up a level, consider talking to God for six hours straight.

Let’s carry on the discussion that we started in the previous post on regularly talking to God, aka doing hitbodedut, but today we’re going to explore the idea of the talking to God for six hours straight hitbodedut session in more detail.

As I mentioned in the last post, the first time I was motivated to do a six hour talking to God session was when I had a health scare when I was 35, that scared the flipping pants off me.

To put it simply, God very often uses fear to get us to turn to Him, and start really talking.

And fear is certainly what started me off down the path of doing regular, long hitbodeduts. Fear of falling ill, fear of something with the children, God forbid, fear of losing my home, fear of losing my marbles…. You get the idea.

I would arrive in those early six hour sessions with a whole lot of fear, and I would basically spend six hours trying to turn my ‘fallen fear’ into true yireh shemayim, or fear of Hashem, so that I could start to breathe a bit easier and take down the intensely uncomfortable sensation of deep panic and anxiety that were accompanying the fear.

But that wasn’t the only motivation for those early six hours. Another big, huge motivation could be summed up like this:

Forcing God to give me what I want.

And this is what I’m going to focus on today, because I have learned over the last few years that prayer actually doesn’t work like that, it’s not meant to work like that, and if you go in to long hitbodeduts as a way to try ‘force’ Hashem’s hand, it’s just going to boomerang on you.

I know, I know: there’s a marketing issue going on here.

Because we’re superficial, Westernised, control-freak Anglos, we really buy into the message that we can ‘control’ the Creator of the world via six hour hitbodedut sessions. That’s a powerful motivator, that’s a very good way of getting us to dip our toe in the hitbodedut water to start to try it.

Maybe, we need to have hitbodedut packaged like that initially, because who knows if we’d ever feel like trying it, otherwise? But this approach is not describing the whole, complicated reality of the relationship with Hashem, and the best way to show you its beauty, but also its limitations, is to tell you what happened to me, on a few different occasions.

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WHEN THE ‘FORCING’ DIDN’T WORK, EXAMPLE 1: HAVING MORE CHILDREN

One of the biggest motivators for doing hitbodedut for me, initially, was to try to ‘force’ God to give me more children. Baruch Hashem, I have two wonderful daughters, 18 and 15 now, but I wanted more. And God didn’t want to give more to me, so I spent years, and years, and years trying to ‘force’ God to give me more kids via hitbodedut.

After about 5 years of doing this, the penny started to drop that while the hitbodedut wasn’t really working in this area, regularly talking to God every single day had been cleaning up my bad middot, and leading to a lot of insights and teshuva in many other ways.

And it was also making me a much better, happier and more empathetic and emotionally ‘there’ mother.

But still, when I was having my bad days, the first weapon my yetzer would use to attack my efforts at hitbodedut was my apparent ‘failure’ to force God to give me more kids. At that stage, I was still buying into the message that the only reason God wasn’t giving me more kids is because I hadn’t done enough hours of hitbodedut, so I just kept racking up more and more hours, more and more six hour talking to God sessions.

This continued until around 4 years ago, when I had 4 early miscarriages in the space of a year and a half.

To say this was a huge test of faith is a massive understatement.

All this was occurring when we were having difficulties in a bunch of other areas as well, and the miscarriages on top of everything else we were going through really, nearly, broke me.

It took me a good two years of picking through the rubble of that experience to draw some positive conclusions, but this is what I realized, after a lot more introspection and prayer:

  • Because I didn’t ‘let go’ and accept God’s plans for me to have not more kids, and because I kept trying to ‘force’ Him to give me more kids, I ended up with the worst of both worlds:

I conceived four more kids, and then I lost them all. (Thank God, it was all very early miscarriages, there was a lot of kindness even in the harsh judgement.)

  • I am really not cut out to have a big family.

It would have been better for me to accept that much earlier on, and to be counting my existing blessings, then to keep using my ‘lack of kids’ as a moaning stick against Hashem.

  • God knows exactly what He’s doing.

I love writing, I love writing blogs and books and doing all this stuff gives me a very deep and happy sense of meaning. Much as I love my kids, changing diapers and hanging out in the park has just always been difficult for me. I was not prepared to do things by half-measures, so God made sure I could spend a bunch of years focusing only on my two kids, and doing my best to give them what they needed. But at this stage, He’s given me the time and freedom to go back to my writing full-throttle – and I can do that with no guilt, and without worrying that I’m acting selfishly, because I only have two kids.

  • I couldn’t have experienced the difficulties of the last 5 years as ‘easily’ if I had a bigger family.

The rented dump fit a family of 4 perfectly. Trying to stuff a family of 5 or 6 in that space would have been extremely dangerous for everyone’s mental health (in my family – remember, we’re all different.) Also, I had bad health issues that took me out for 2 years solid – there’s no way I could have had the energy to properly care for very young children in those circumstances. And I didn’t have any support network, no local family, no neighbors to fall back on, so I count it as a huge blessing, at this stage, that I didn’t have to go through the upheavals and massive uncertainty of the last few years with more small kids to care for.

God knew what I’d have to go through in order to do more of the ‘soul rectifying’ required; He knew that I had a bunch of important things to write about, and that I’d find all this very hard to do with heavier family responsibilities.

And that’s at least part of why He didn’t answer all those prayers to have more kids.

Now, on to:

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 WHEN THE ‘FORCING’ DIDN’T WORK, EXAMPLE 2: BUYING AN APARTMENT IN JERUSALEM

Like many other people, I was very anxious about moving to Jerusalem a few years’ back, not least because I had no idea how we were going to find something decent to live in.

I was coming from a huge, new-built 5 bed semi-detached in a yishuv, and the apartments in Jerusalem were either just plain awful and completely unsuitable (and affordable) or nice and very suitable (and completely unaffordable).

I’d heard the infamous story about the yeshiva student who’d done a bunch of talking to God for six hours straight sessions and somehow got a ‘free’ apartment in Jerusalem, so I decided that in this area, I could definitely ‘force’ God to give me a nice place in the holy city.

Man, I can’t tell you how many six hour sessions I did devoted to forcing God to give me a nice place in Jerusalem, but it was scores and scores.

Here’s what happened:

We’d agreed a price on a flat in Musrara, and were moving forward with the legal process to buy it. Suddenly, the seller changed his mind about the price, literally doubled it – and we had to pull out.

At that point, all the other properties in Jerusalem also literally doubled overnight, and what had been barely affordable became impossibly expensive. I watched that Jerusalem real estate train chug out of the station – without me on board – and I couldn’t help feeling a wave of bitterness and resentment.

Why hadn’t all my six hour sessions talking to God for a house worked?

Not only that, the exact opposite happened: The first place we moved to had a neo-Nazi landlord from Tel Aviv, so we ended up moving out again after four months – to the rented dump that we spent the next three years in.

My kids came home and whispered to me that first month: Ima, my friends told me that this is place where poor people live.

What made it even more galling is that we were paying more to rent the rented dump than we’d been paying out on the mortgage of the 5 bedroom villa.

God, what happened to all my prayers for my own home!?!?!

Fast-forward to last year, and guess what?

We found another flat in that same building where we’d been gazumped four years earlier. And this time, the seller stuck to the price agreed, and went through with the sale.

And as you know, that was an unmitigated disaster, as the whole building was still half-owned by an Arab from the 1930s and the bank refused to give us a mortgage on it – but only after we signed.

Do you know what I’d been praying for, for years?

That I should be able to buy a house of my own in Jerusalem, without a mortgage.

And yet again, God answered the prayer – because I forced Him to, with all my millions of six hours – but I ended up with the worst of both worlds: I bought a house that I couldn’t afford, that I was unable to get a mortgage on.

Again, it’s taken a few months to start to pick through the rubble of what happened to find the message, the lesson, but here’s some of what I’ve come up with so far:

  • We were trying to buy an apartment in the wrong part of Jerusalem.

This was part of our ongoing ‘false piety’ issues, which saw us trying to ‘fit in’ to a community that we really didn’t belong with, even though there was a lot of overlap along Breslov lines. This deserves its own post, but to give just one example: we’ve been invited out for Shabbat more in the last 2 months, and had guests more in the last 2 months, than in the whole 4 years previous.

  • Owning my own house was rooted in some huge bad middot and arrogance issues.

Like it or not, most of us view our house as a status symbol. The bigger, the fancier, the newer – the more we pat ourselves on our internal backs. But when you rent, and you rent a dump, and that rent is more than your mortgage was – you quickly learn to stop feeling so puffed-up with pride, and obsessed with where you are ranking in the house stakes.

  • I was extremely unhappy about the prospect of taking on so much, massive, mortgage debt, but I couldn’t see any other option.

This is also connected to the ‘false piety’ issue, but we were convinced that Musrara was the only place in the whole of Jerusalem where we could live. And the prices in Musrara are through the roof, hence getting a massive mortgage seemed to be the only way to buy an apartment in Jerusalem. But now, I’m learning different. The properties in our area are easily half a million cheaper, and if / when we can ever afford to buy again, we will hopefully be able to find something way cheaper, for the same sort of space we need.

God had been giving us clues that we perhaps weren’t in the best place to stay permanently for a while, but we kept blocking them out, and stubbornly insisting that we know better. We clearly didn’t, so at this stage, I’m increasingly grateful for our house purchasing debacle. The one thing worse than being fundamentally miserable about your location in a rental is being fundamentally miserable in a place where you’ve actually bought.

On to the last example, for today:

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WHEN THE ‘FORCING’ DIDN’T WORK, EXAMPLE 3: EXPECTING TO MAINTAIN A GOOD STANDARD OF LIVING WHILE DOING NO ACTUAL WORK

And so we come on to arguably the most difficult test we had in this area of six hours, which is when my husband was encouraged by his ‘spiritual guide’ to quit his job and let God provide.

The person who told my husband this was very into his six hours, and his davening by kivrei tzaddikim, and was extremely charismatic. He also didn’t tell my husband that his wife was working a full-time job to try to keep the family afloat financially, or that he’d bought his own apartment in the area when prices were dirt cheap.

So there we were, being told that working for a living showed some sort of ‘lack of emuna’, and that coincided with a period of time when my husband was extremely unhappy in his work, and was feeling suffocated by his profession and office circumstances.

So my husband quit, and started ‘working for God’ instead, doing six hour hitbodeduts every day, as his ‘spiritual guide’ had told him to.

And I was also doing a lot of six hour sessions too, because it really didn’t take long for our financial situation to get extremely difficult.

Every day, my husband would learn some Torah in the morning, then go into the spare room and try to do his six hours. Every day, we’d be sitting there waiting for the lottery ticket win to show up, the unexpected legacy from an unknown great aunt, the massive pink diamond I was going to unearth digging in the garden….

And in the meantime, it didn’t show up.

And in the meantime, we were running out of money for food, and money to pay the rent, and my husband was in a pretty fragile state for a number of reasons, not least, that his yetzer had him convinced 100% that going back to work for a living would show a terrible lack of emuna.

So his six hours continued, my six hours continued – and friends of mine started sticking baguettes in through the kitchen window, quietly, so I could give my kids supper, while others had to buy us toilet roll, or give me a couple hundred shekels so I could actually go to the supermarket.

After two months of this, I realized we’d hit the end of the road, and we had to sell our house just to get through.

Because my husband had been so thoroughly brainwashed by the yetzer that working for a living was bad, and that all he had to do was keep praying, he couldn’t face the idea of going back to work. He felt it would be a terrible spiritual failure.

So we sold, and we had some brief financial respite, but I was still on at my husband to go back to work and end the experiment, which is when we decided to open our disastrous ‘Meaning of Life’ kiruv attraction in the Old City which blew through a whole bunch of our house money.

Of course, the ‘spiritual guide’ gave his blessing to this project too – because he had a huge vested interest in ‘proving’ the correctness of his ‘no work for the man’ derech – and when that went bust, we had one of the biggest crises of faith we ever had to face.

I am eternally grateful to Rav Shalom Arush, who gave my husband the spiritual ‘permission’ he needed to go back to work without feeling like he was the worst spiritual loser ever. And in the meantime, we were both left with massive questions about what had happened to all those six hour prayer sessions we’d done, for my husband’s parnassa.

Here’s some of what I managed to glean from that whole, sorry mess:

  • There is no ‘one size fits all approach’, when it comes to serving Hashem as a believing Jew.

God clearly wanted my husband to return to work, and to learn Torah part-time, and working as a professional is a crucial part of his spiritual tikkun.

  • It’s very easy for the yetzer to co-opt even the holiest practices, and to take them to an unhealthy extreme.

Doing six hours for parnassa is great, and something that most people can probably manage, at least once in a while. Quitting work totally to ‘work for God’ is a practice that maybe a handful of people in every generation can pull off – and most of them would have to be happy living at, or below, the breadline.

  • We had to go through that whole mess to figure out how much of an ‘ego exercise’ the six hour prayer thing had turned into.

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The more we prayed, the more arrogant we got, and the more we felt like God somehow ‘owed us’ open miracles.

God owes us nothing. Recently, I also learned from Rav Berland that the whole point of hitbodedut is to acquire more humility, not more arrogance. If God had answered our prayers to be supported in a miraculous way, we would have turned into awful spiritual egotists – and who knows what spiritual damage we would we have wreaked on the world.

My husband reminded me that there’s a story in the Gemara of a man who was travelling in the desert, and who felt so hot and tired, he asked God to send him a donkey.

God complied –and the donkey promptly died, forcing the man to stagger through the desert having to also schlep the donkey’s carcass home.

Sometimes, there are tests and difficulties we just simply have to do through, and trying to ‘force’ God to cut them short, or to make them go away, will only backfire.

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THE RIGHT AND WRONG WAY TO DO SIX HOURS

So now, let’s move to a discussion of the right way, and the wrong way to do six hours. Despite what I’ve written above, I still really enjoy doing six hours, and I’ve still seen a bunch of open miracles from long sessions talking to God.

But today, the focus of my prayer sessions is not on telling God what I want from Him, but asking God what He wants from me.

There are two principal reasons why we go through suffering, hardships and ‘lacks’:

  • To encourage us to make teshuva, and to work on the bad middot and negative character traits that are blocking all the shefa that God is trying to send down to us.
  • We have to go through something as rectification, or spiritual tikkun, for something that we did wrong, or that we didn’t do right, in a previous life.

From my experience, six hours can work wonders to clear the ‘blockages’ in our parnassa, health, shalom bayit, or parenting that are coming about because of our own lack of emuna, or bad middot.

If a person with parnassa problems sits down and says: God, I have no idea what I need to fix to get more of an income, but I know for a fact that the problem is coming from You, and is for my ultimate good, and that there’s something I need to change or fix, here – there is no question God will start to show them what’s really causing the problem.

(Hint: it’s usually connected to a hidden anger problem, and how they treat their wife.)

There’s no question that they’ll start to gain a whole bunch of insights into their difficulty earning a living, and that they’ll get the inspiration and the motivation required to improve matters as much as they can.

If it then turns out that the parnassa problem is an unavoidable spiritual tikkun, doing the six hours will also help the person to stand up in the test, and come through it in one piece.

This is a great, wonderful, amazing, awesome way to do six hours for parnassa.

BUT, if a person sits down, and says: God, I need enough money to buy a new i-Phone, a new car, a new apartment in Jerusalem ­– who the heck says that God wants that for you?! Or that this would be good for you?! Or that you’d be able to handle the awful feelings of arrogance and pride that would assail you, if God started doing open miracles like this for you?

Are you seeing the difference, here?

Again, let’s take another common example. Say someone is having issues with their kid. Say, the kid just isn’t tidying their room, isn’t praying the way the parent would like them to be, is being a smart mouth, etc.

If the parent sits down and says: God, please show me what’s ailing my child, and what we can do to try to help them fix the problem at its root! Please help my kid to feel happier, please help them to get a grip on their yetzer. Please show me what we need to change in the home – what I need to work on myself, as their parent – to get things to turn around – this is a great way to do six hours.

But, if the parent sits down as says: God, my kid is acting like such a jerk. Please fix it that they should start tidying their room, respecting me properly, and going to shul on time so my husband doesn’t get upset – this isn’t the point of six hours.

Why not?

Because instead of recognizing that the kid’s behavior is an invitation for the parent to dig deeper and work on their own bad middot and lack of emuna, the parent is just trying to get God to get the problem to go away, without being willing to change anything or make teshuva about anything. They are making the whole issue the kid’s problem – and this is the opposite of real emuna.

Real emuna tells us God is behind everything, God is doing everything for our ultimate good, and that there is a message for what we need to change, fix, recognize and improve in every little thing that happens to us.

To put this in different words:

When you ask God to help you clear up a spiritual problem, when you recognize that God is sending the problem because He wants YOU to change something, He wants some teshuva out of YOU – then six hours can and does work a treat.

But, when you just ask God to make your material problems go away, or to just give you what you want, and you’re not willing to even consider WHY the situation may be happening in the first place, or whether what you want is really the same as what God wants, or to examine your own deeds – then the six hours might still work. But it really might not.

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REAL LIFE EXAMPLES OF WHERE SIX HOURS WORKED FOR ME

I’ve had a bunch of miracles occur as a result of doing six hours, but each one required some sort of teshuva or change.

  • Getting my kids into the ‘right’ school was mamash an open miracle – because the school had a waiting list, and neither of my kids could read well (or at all…) and we weren’t at all connected in the sorts of useful ways that get you into schools. I did a bunch of six hours, but I also had to make my peace with the idea that the answer really could be ‘no’, and that if that was the case, God knew better than I did what was best for my kids.
  • Making peace with my crazy house seller was mamash an open miracle – and it took loads and loads of six hours, and loads of working on myself to overcome my own anger and bitterness, and to try to build some emuna, and to try and trust God more and accept His will, whatever the outcome ultimately was going to be.
  • My husband rebuilding his business from scratch in less than 6 months was mamash an open miracle – not least because all his clients are in the UK, and he had no intention of commuting, or hiding his payot. God fixed things that as soon as my husband made the decision to go back to work, new clients started to come to him, with hardly any effort on his part. It really showed us that once my husband was in alignment with what God wanted for him, all of his six hours on making parnassa were put to really good use, and nothing was wasted.
  • Staying married is mamash an open miracle – I think this is true for most people in their 40s today, let alone people like us who have been through so much extreme craziness the last few years. Not only are we still married, we both actually still enjoy each other’s company, and like spending time together and talking to each other. I know all my six hours for my shalom bayit have had a hugely positive effect on my marriage.
  • Having a good relationship with my teens is mamash an open miracle – And I’ve also seen a lot of their issues move and dissolve after doing a six hours on their behalf. Even for issues that are currently ‘stuck’, like the acne issue, all the six hours I’m doing on that subject are being used to help my kid in a myriad other ways. Apart from the acne, there’s a bunch of other things that have improved significantly or disappeared as issues, over the last few months, and I’m sure the six hours I do for her has a lot to do with it.

I just want to stress something again here:

I often don’t see anything change, directly, from the six hours, but I nearly always feel happier and better after doing it. And while I don’t get a lot of obvious, open miracles, I do get a lot of unusual ‘coincidences’ that I know are 100% from Hashem.

Also, my life circumstances means that talking to God a lot is fairly easy for me to do and doesn’t require a lot of self-sacrifice. I’m think if someone had to make a huge effort to do a six hours, they would probably see far more ‘miraculous’ results, far more obviously, than has generally been my experience.

The reward is always commensurate with the effort, so please do try a six hours at least once yourself if you want to try to take your relationship with Hashem to the next level, even if it’s hard.

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SOME TECHNICAL POINTERS

As always, there’s so much to say, but let’s end with some technical pointers for how to do a ‘good’ six hours.

  • YOU DON’T HAVE TO TALK ABOUT ONE SUBJECT THE WHOLE TIME.

What I do, is that I will say at the outset that ‘this 6 hours is in the merit of my daughter’s acne clearing up’, or ‘it’s in the merit of Rav Berland having a refuah shleima’ or whatever it is, then I will talk about whatever God puts into my head. If it’s a particular subject where I have some work to do – anything to do with myself or my family directly falls under this heading – then I will try to specifically talk around the topic, to see what clues God will give me about what’s really going on. Making teshuva and getting the message is a big part of taking the time to do a six hours.

  • YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO IT IN ONE PLACE.

I often do some sort of combo where I’ll start off the six hours in bed, then go for a ‘hitbodedut’ walk, then do some ‘housewife hitbodedut’, then crack open a Likutey Moharan for inspiration, or head up the road to Kever Rochel or the Kotel. Kivrei Tzaddikim can be very good places to do hitbodedut, but unless the kever is somewhere like Uman, Meron, or the Baba Sali in Netivot, it can be hard to sit there for a whole six hours straight. So if you can’t spend the whole six hours somewhere, that’s fine – just go for an hour or two then head back home to complete the rest.

  • YOU CAN PRAY FOR MATERIAL THINGS, BUT THE MAIN FOCUS SHOULD BE ON THE SPIRITUAL SIDE.

Remember that God is not a caspomat. If you haven’t got a good spiritual reason for the material thing you’re asking for, chances are high that it’s not really something you should be praying about, or at least, not something you should be doing a whole six hours on.

  • FOCUS ON THE PROCESS, NOT THE OUTCOME.

If your hitbodedut is about getting closer to God, and trying to live your emuna, and trying to work on your bad middot, or figuring out the message, it’ll work beautifully every single time. But if it’s only about achieving a particular ‘thing’ or aim, or solving a particular problem, there’s no guarantee that God will give you what you want.

  • ASK GOD WHAT HE WANTS FROM YOU, DON’T JUST TELL HIM WHAT YOU WANT FROM HIM.

There’s a reason you haven’t got your own home, or you can’t lose weight, or your i-Phone keeps breaking, or you can’t meet the rent bill, or He’s not giving you more kids. Doing six hours is a great opportunity to explore what those reasons might actually be, and figure out what God is expecting from you, before your situation can change for the better.

  • NO PRAYER IS EVER WASTED, BUT IF YOU TRY TO FORCE GOD’S HAND INTO GIVING YOU SOMETHING THAT ISN’T ULTIMATELY GOOD FOR YOU, IT WILL ONLY BOOMERANG.

God has good reasons for everything. If something isn’t coming – and you’ve made teshuva, and you’ve done all you can to fix up your side of things – then it’s a good idea to try to accept God’s will, and to ask for emuna and bitachon, instead of redoubling your six hour efforts to ‘force’ God into giving you what you want.

 

  • I’m very happy to write more on this subject, just let me know what other questions or issues you have, that you think I might be able to help clarify. And in the meantime, I really hope God will help us all to experience the real pleasure of speaking to Him, and connecting our souls back to Source.

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You might also like these articles:

Everything you need to know about the art of hitbodedut, aka the practise of talking to God.

I had a request to write a bit more about hitbodedut, or the practice of talking to God in your own words every single day.

Rebbe Nachman writes in Likutey Moharan 2:25 that:

Hitbodedut is the most exalted and paramount spiritual practice of all. It involves setting a time for oneself of at least an hour to meditate in seclusion in some room or in the field, expressing oneself before one’s Maker with well-tailored arguments in an expedient, but graceful and appeasing way, begging God to truly bring us closer to His service.”

Rabbenu continues a little further down:

“Even when one’s words are blocked, and one is unable to open one’s mouth and speak before God, this itself is very great, i.e. preparing ourselves to stand before God, and desiring to speak, even when we can’t….

“We should beg God for mercy and compassion, so that He opens our hearts to be able to express ourselves before Him.”

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So far, so good.

The person who emailed me told me they keep falling asleep when they try to do hitbodedut, so they wanted some advice / chizzuk on how to handle this, so in their merit, I decided to write this post.

So many things have been written about hitbodedut by so many people, many of whom are far ‘higher’, spiritually, than I am. (Like, by about a billion spiritual miles…) At the same time, I’ve been doing regular hitbodedut now for something like 12 years, and I do an hour every day, minimum, as Rabbenu recommends us to do.

And I have a lot of firsthand experience of how I’ve seen hitbodedut, the practice of talking to God in our words, has truly changed my life, not always in such simple ways. So let’s begin with a brief history of how I got started, and why.

I started doing hitbodedut back in 2006, during our first year in Israel, when we’d moved to Modiin from London, and our life was lurching from one crisis to another, and I really didn’t know how to cope with it all anymore. As I look back on it now, I see we’ve had the same sort of tests for 12 of the last 13 years, and it’s only in 5777 /8 that we started to make the real, deep teshuva required to finally get things to improve a little.

So, here’s a little of what was going on back in 2006, in Modiin:

  • We were fighting with family members:
  • My PR business was going down the tubes and starting to accumulate a bunch of big debt
  • My husband got made redundant by his London law firm who had agreed to him working remotely from Israel before we made Aliyah – but then changed their minds without telling him, and started looking for his replacement.
  • My kids were climbing the walls, as I was always ‘absent’ emotionally, either working like a dog or worrying about work.
  • Our house got burgled.
  • Our social situation started to get precarious, because all the other olim we were friendly with didn’t really want to hear about all the difficulties we were going through.
  • The depression I’d been dealing with for decades bubbled up again, and I could spend days crying, immobilized on a sofa, or in bed.
  • Our shalom bayit was going down the toilet because of all the pressure.

What’s the answer a Western-educated person would give about how to handle all this?

Clearly “Go to a shrink!!” That’s what everyone was telling me.

So I went – to about 3 different shrinks because most of them were just so bad, sometimes for 3 times a week – and honestly, it was making it all worse.

They’d want me to keep track of my dreams, and then we’d have to talk about it, or they’d ask me leading questions about my parents, and I’d have to veer away from that conversation at a million miles an hour. To put it another way, they’d be picking at very deep emotional scabs for 50 minutes, then just when I was feeling my most raw, they’d pack up for the day and send me home to deal with the fallout.

By myself.

After three months of this, I could see it really wasn’t working, but I didn’t know what else to do. So then, I heard a CD from Rav Arush where he basically said that talking to God was the single address, the single practice, that would solve the problem – whatever the problem.

And that nothing else would really do the job.

I came back to my latest shrink, I told her that I had to try and figure things out directly with God, and she was nice enough to give me her blessing, even though as a devoutly secular women, she was sure this was just another manifestation of mental illness.

I was still feeling really depressed at this stage, so all I could manage was 10 minutes. For 10 minutes a day, for three days, I just kept asking God to lift the depression off me, and let me start functioning again without all the terrible heaviness and crying.

You know what?

God answered that prayer.

I won’t say I never got depressed again, as it’s a process that requires a lot of self-awareness, teshuva and prayer, but that was the last time I had a depression that lasted more than a few days – and I was convinced that hitbodedut really worked, because for decades already, nothing else had managed to tame the depressions.

So from that point on, I asked God to help me talk to Him every single day, come what may.

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Again, I started small.

10 minutes every day, while I was washing the dishes.

Then, I went up to 15 minutes, then 20, then half an hour, then 40 minutes, then 45.

And that’s where I got stuck for about 2 years. Try as I might, I simply couldn’t break the 45 minute barrier and make it through to the magical one hour. I literally would get a sensation as though I was jumping out of my skin and couldn’t sit still for a second more.

But I didn’t give up.

God helped me to carry on at that 45 minute level, and then one day, for the first time ever, I managed to reach the hour, and I knew that some big spiritual test had been passed.

In the meantime, life had only continued to get more and more complicated and difficult externally, so talking to God really became my lifeline. Talking to God led to some fundamentally huge changes at that point, like:

  • Moving out of Modiin
  • Quitting my business, to try and be more of a full-time mother (which is enough to give any F/T career woman a serious attack of the heebee jeebees.)
  • Getting more ‘frum’, covering my hair, encouraging my husband to learn in yeshiva in the morning
  • Getting to work on my huge anger issues, and other bad middot, which had been mostly under the radar up until then.
  • Going cold-turkey on the internet, and going back to a ‘normal’, non-internet phone (this still predated the time of i-Phones).

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When I was 35, I had a health scare that shook me up enough, I was motivated to do my first ever six hours, by the Kotel.

Honestly?

It was complete mental torture. One of the most difficult things I’ve done, in a lot of ways, because the urge to just stop, to break, to run away from talking to God, was at times completely overwhelming.

But I was scared about my health, and that’s what kept me going. At the end of it, I was so pleased to have got that ‘six hour’ thing under my belt – and I felt even happier a couple of weeks’ later when I got the ‘all clear’ from the doctor, and the scary symptoms literally disappeared by themselves, overnight.

So from that point on, I started regularly doing a six hours, as much as once a month, and I’d often do it while I was digging through the wasteland that was my garden in the Gush. That felt so appropriate, somehow, as I’d be digging up the root of an ancient weed that was embedded a metre down, and spread and knotted in a million directions, while also asking God to help me uproot internal ‘weeds’ like anger and jealousy, that seemed to be equally entrenched.

Gush Etzion is when all the demons I’d been trying to avoid and run away from for years finally started gushing out of the system, and if I hadn’t been talking to God every single day for an hour or more, I literally would have gone crazy.

As it was, I only went half-crazy, but a lot more stuff started to move and change as a result, like:

  • I went to Uman, to Rebbe Nachman’s grave, for the first time.
  • We moved house and location in order to send our kids to what we hoped would be a much better school, religiously.
  • My husband started learning at the Chut Shel Chesed Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
  • My husband decided to open up his own law practice.

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So now, I’m in a new community, and the first two years were pretty good, by any standard.

We had friends, we had other English-speaking people around who were ‘Breslov friendly’, my husband’s parnassa was doing well, I was busy ghostwriting books for Dr Zev Ballen, blogging for Breslev.co.il and writing my first book, called The Happy Workshop.

And in the meantime, I was still talking to God about a lot of things, because the kids were still experiencing a lot of difficulties, and I’d learned from Rav Arush’s ‘Education with Love’ book that their problems were really just mine and my husband’s.

Like, one kid had awful, debilitating stomachaches that nothing could cure or get to go away.

I decided to do a six hours devoted to her health issues, and by the end of that, I got some massive insight that her emotional stomachache was really just my emotional stomachache, that had been transposed.

The next three days after that hitbodedut, I was laid up in bed with an awful, killer stomachache – but the kid got better from that point on, and never had that type of stomachache again.

So for two years, I felt we were making slow but steady progress on our bad middot, and that we were slowly, slowly starting to fix a lot of the flaws and mistakes and problems with our parenting.

But then, clearly, we reached the next stage of the ‘teshuva’ process, when God whipped the rug right out from under our feet and sent our life into major free-fall.

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It started when my husband’s father died very unexpectedly, the day after Succot.

From that point on, all the monsters that had been lumped under the family rug for decades started to crawl out, and long story short, we got to a place where we were once again:

  • Fighting with family members
  • Socially isolated
  • Financially in trouble, and forced to sell the house
  • Having awful shalom bayit issues
  • Experiencing serious illnesses because of all the stress
  • Having massive difficulties with our kids

And clearly, I’m leaving a bunch of stuff out here.

Once again, hitbodedut and Uman is what got us through in one piece.

As each day’s new troubles and difficulties hit, I’d run to God for comfort, for clarity, for reassurance, for emuna. Some days I was so distraught, so lost, all I could do was sit there mouthing Ein Od Milvado over and over again.

Other times, I’d sometimes fall asleep while I was talking to God, but I didn’t mind when that happened, as it wasn’t all the time, and it’s often a sign that the ‘light’ that’s coming down is just too big to get hold of consciously, so God knocks you out to operate.

(Having said that, if you fall asleep every single time you do hitbodedut that’s not so helpful, and you may want to change how you do it, like going to a public place, or doing it while you take a walk, or sweep the house.)

There were a lot of six hours going on at that stage, too, because we’d run out of money and had been advised to just go and ‘work for God’, i.e. do long hitbodeduts every day, and in the merit of that, God would do miracles for us.

I will cover this topic in a future post, because it’s part of how I came to a crucial understanding about what talking to God regularly is all about, and I don’t want to lump it all to this post as it’s pretty crucial.

But suffice to say, that you can’t view hitbodedut, or doing 6 hours, through the prism of trying to force God to give you what you want.

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It’s much, much more about figuring out what God really wants from you.

Talking to God regularly has given me so much clarity about things, so much insight into my own nature and yetzer, and by extension other people’s, too. It’s not always been easy to ‘hold’ that knowledge. There were times when I honestly think I went a bit crazy from it, in the way that’s commonly referred to in Israel as ‘too much light’.

For example, when new BTs kind of lose the plot and go overboard in a million different ways, that’s because it’s ‘too much spiritual light’ to really handle. Their souls want more connection to God, but their minds and their middot can’t really process things so fast, which is often when you end up with a machmir external yiddishkeit that’s paired with immature character traits and a narrow, very judgmental mind-set.

But at that point, talking to God helped me figure out a whole bunch of things (eventually…) like:

  • How our bad character traits literally make us physically ill
  • How personality disorders and Erev Rav traits were totally describing the same phenomenon
  • How we can’t stand up in the tests we need to go through, in order to really fix our neshamas, without a very strong connection to the true tzaddikim
  • How most people are simply lying to themselves about the true, negative, impact their bad character traits are having on others, especially their spouse and children.
  • How so much of the difficulties we go through in our life are really ‘inherited’ from our forebears, or from previous lifetimes. So for sure, we still ‘deserve’ them 100%, but it’s not always true that our actions in this lifetime is what’s causing us the problem.
  • And, most importantly of all, how following Rebbe Nachman’s advice of talking to God regularly for an hour a day (and regularly going to Uman) is THE ONLY WAY to fix the problem, at its root.

I know that last point is quite a statement, but after everything I’ve witnessed going on around me the last few years, and also within me, I stand by it 100%.

Unless a person is regularly talking to God for an hour a day, they simply won’t have the spiritual ‘muscle’ required to be able to distinguish the yetzer hara from the yetzer tov on a regular basis, and especially when it comes to really figuring out what they need to work on and change.

I’m not talking about before we lose our temper, or say or do something we badly regret. Even the biggest tzaddik can fall prey to a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction brought about by their bad middot, and it’s the work of 120 to be able to uproot these impulses entirely.

I’m talking about after we’ve said or done something bad, or negative, and we’re still just justifying ourselves and coming up with tons of excuses to paint ourselves, and our behavior, or misjudgment, or mistake as whiter than white.

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Truth requires hitbodedut, it’s as simple as that.

And without truth, people don’t realise or accept just how much teshuva they really still need to make, especially when it comes to how they treat their spouse and kids.

At the same time, hitbodedut also overcomes the inbuilt tendency to be too hard on ourselves, and to beat ourselves up over every little thing. That’s also a big part of not being able to distinguish the yetzer hara from the yetzer tov, because when God is bringing something that needs fixing to your attention in hitbodedut, He always does it gently.

But the yetzer just starts screaming in your face that you’re baddddd!!! And you did something wrongggg!!! And you’re worthlessssss!! And now, you’re going to get in so much trouble!!!

And who is going to make teshuva when that’s what they feel they have to go through every time they want to even take a peek at what they might need to fix? Answer: no-one.

But when you’re regularly doing hitbodedut, you’ll start to get some insight into why you’re acting the way you are, and you’ll start to be able to develop some real compassion for yourself, even while taking a much firmer stand on the negative actions and behaviors that really do need looking at and fixing.

(I talk a lot more about all this ‘snake brain’ vs ‘human brain’ stuff in THIS post.)

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SO, HOW BEST TO DO IT?

Here’s some tips to get you started:

  • Start small.

It can even be just a minute a day, if you’re pushed. It’s not so much about how long, but how consistent when you first start trying to talk to God, so pick a time frame that you know you will have the willpower to stick to, long term.

  • Do it every single day.

Even if you don’t feel like it. Even if you feel rotten. Even if you’re in a bad mood. Even if you’re in the best mood. Think of it like a meeting with the boss, a date with the man of your dreams, a lunch with a brilliant book agent (if you’re also a struggling writer J ) It’s not something you’re going to miss, come hell or high water. And I warn you now, that when your yetzer realizes that you’re trying to talk to God, it will throw everything at you, to try to prevent it.

  • Turn off your phone.

I think one of the reasons I’m so not ‘into’ the whole smartphone thing is because I know I can live without it for a whole hour every day. Do you know how liberating it is to not have to keep checking Whatsapp? (I’m guessing, as I don’t have it….) Phones are the #1 enemy of people trying to make some time to talk to God, so switch it off.

  • Do hitbodedut somewhere you feel comfortable.

At the beginning, a lot of people tend to feel ridiculous talking ‘to the wall’. What, I’m just going to sit here talking ‘to the wall’?!

But there are worse things.

I walk around my neighborhood doing hitbodedut, and I can tell you for sure that many people now have me pegged as one of the higher functioning mentally-disabled adults that go to the day centre just up the road from me.

If you’re worrying about your cred, or if you live in a small town where looking like a mad person isn’t actually an advantage for keeping the real crazies away, or if you’re worried you might bump into your boss or school principal, then it’s probably better to start off in your own home.

If you have a garden to sit in (and it’s not blizzarding or pouring) that’s often a good option, but be 100% guided by where you’ll feel comfortable actually talking. Out loud. Which brings me to the next point.

  • Yes, your lips have to move.

Not all the time, as talking to God is just as much about listening as it is talking, but if your lips aren’t moving and you’re just thinking it in your head, it’s not going to change the world in the same way.

God spoke the world into creation, and speech is still vested with a tremendous power to change reality. So if you really want to impact your reality, you have to speak. Not just think or write. Yes, thinking and writing can also be part of the hitbodedut process, just as they could be part of a relationship or conversation with a flesh-or-blood person. But the real communication occurs via talking.

I think of it like this: talking is my half of the conversation. The thoughts that come into my head in response to what I’m saying, or the things that I sometimes write down in my journal when I’m doing hitbodedut is how God is responding to me.

  • Build up slowly to an hour.

But don’t get demoralized if it takes ages to get there, or if you get stuck. Just keep going, talking every single day, and you’ll see how things start to get easier all by themselves. Talking to God is a privilege, so just hang in there, show your willing, and sooner or later, Hashem will help you to achieve it.

  • Don’t overdo it.

I know one man who decided doing a six hours wasn’t enough – he was going to do a 12 hours!!! He did the 12 hours – and that was the first and last time he ever did hitbodedut.

That’s an extreme example, most people’s yetzers are far more subtle. They’ll just keep persuading you if one hour is good, two hours is better – and if you have the time and inclination to do that, great!

The problem comes when you don’t have the time or inclination, but your yetzer has you convinced that doing less than 3 hours a day just isn’t worth it. Once you reach the hour a day, that is all you really need. There is no obligation to do more. If you really like talking to God, and you really want to talk longer, that’s great, go right ahead.

But if the idea of having to do more than a hour makes you feel a little resentful or burdened, or if you feel bad that you’re only  doing an hour….that’s a yetzer, and you should call it out.

(There’s another very common yetzer trick too, where it tries to persuade people that if they can’t do an hour straight off the bat every single day, they shouldn’t do anything at all. Again, this is baloney. Start small, keep it regular and build it up over time, and if you do that, you’ll end up acquiring hitbodedut as an enduring practice, not just a flash in the pan.)

  • Don’t try to control the process.

Yes, I know that there are shitot or methods for starting with thanking, then going into self-accounting and ending up, briefly, with requests. If that works for you, great, keep doing it. There’s also a shita that says go through the last 24 hours, and try to think about every thought, word or deed to see if it was OK. Again, if that works for you, great, keep doing it.

I’ve never done my hitbodedut either of those ways. The one thing I do is to start off by making a declaration that I am binding myself to the tzaddikim, and binding myself to the mitzvah of loving my fellow Jew as myself, as found in the back of Rav Arush’s book In Forest Fields.

Then, I’ll say some thank yous about whatever comes to mind – some days that lasts less than half a minute, others, it can go for much longer. And then, whatever God puts into my head is what I talk to Him about.

Sometimes, I’ll have the intention to discuss subject A, and subject B is what I end up doing the whole hour on. I’ve learnt that whatever God wants me to look at, that’s what is going to come into my hitbodedut.

I get some of my best article ideas walking around on a Shabbat morning, for example. I used to feel a bit bad about this, until I realized that for whatever reason, this is how God is making things play out.

So, if apparently random, weird, unrelated or ‘secular’ things start coming into your hitbodedut – let them, and don’t try to force the issue. God knows what He’s doing.

  • But do feel free to look for some inspiration.

When I have some thorny issue, or dilemma, or big question, I sometimes go and look for some ‘clues’ in holy works about what is really going on, here.

For example, this morning I was talking to God about a certain issue that one of my kids has, and I decided to go to my ‘Tehillim cards’, and to just take one randomly, as a starting point. I got one that said “Let go, then you will know I am Hashem” that had a picture of a man on a horse jumping over the Grand Canyon.

It sparked off a whole flood of thoughts and emotions – not least, that the last time I tried to ‘let go’ I just ended up crumpling at the bottom of the cliff, because it didn’t seem like God had caught me at all.

That opened up a whole line of enquiry that shone a spotlight on some unhelpful attitudes that have been hiding out and tripping me up for quite a while, which today I finally started to get a grip on.

I did quite a long hitbodedut on it today (4 hours), and by the end, I came to realise a lot of things about my failed house purchase, for example, and why it really was a hidden blessing. Very hidden! So hidden, it’s taken me 6 months to even start figuring it out, but thanks to hitbodedut, the answers are starting to come as to why that had to happen.

So if you’re stuck, feel free to look for some external inspiration to kick-start the conversation, and then see where God will take you.

  • Don’t do hitbodedut like a self-righteous jerk.

How I wish someone had told me this when my kids were younger, but if your kids need you – and it’s important – then your hitbodedut really has to wait, or get split up and disturbed. It took me years to realise that not talking to my kids because I was talking to God was actually not the smartest thing to do, for a lot of reasons.

When the penny finally dropped, I started doing my hitbodedut much earlier in the day, before they woke up, so I wouldn’t have to choose between talking to them or talking to God.

These days, I will also interrupt hitbodedut for my husband too, if necessary, and very rarely for others who have a serious need to speak to me right then.  I used to have pronounced OTD tendencies that made me feel like I’d have to start the whole hour over again if I got interrupted, or that it wouldn’t ‘count’ if someone else interrupted it. I’ve since realized that I was just being crazy J. Nowadays, if I get unexpectedly interrupted, I’ll just add an extra 5-10 minutes on to the end, and I know God understands and it still counts as a full hour.

  • If your hitbodedut isn’t working for you, change it up

If you keep falling asleep, that’s probably because you need to do something active while talking to God, like taking a walk or hanging the laundry, or going for a drive. If you can’t concentrate, maybe you need to just go somewhere quiet and sit. If you can’t find time to do it in the evening before you get too tired, do it first thing when you wake up. If you can’t even think before lunchtime, do it later.

Do it with a coffee in your hand, or a fruitjuice, or even a piece of cake – whatever it is that’s going to get you looking forward and willing to talk to God.

If your hitbodedut isn’t working for you, then try to figure out why. Many mums feel guilty taking the time for themselves, for example, which is when ‘housewife hitbodedut’ can really come into its own. You’re doing the chores you need to do, while also taking care of your inner dimension.

If you just can’t find an hour any way you slice it, split it up into two half an hours a day, or three 20 minutes. The point is to just keep coming back and trying again and changing things, until you find the way that works for you.

8 years ago, I used to get up at 5.30 every morning, and walk around my village for an hour talking to God, before my kids woke up. Then we moved to Jerusalem, and walking around early felt less ‘safe’, and my kids started staying out so late that I just couldn’t wake up at 5.30 anymore either, so it switched to 6.15 in bed.

Starting last year, after we moved to Baka, I’ve gone back to trying to do it walking around when I wake up, most days. But some days I also do it in the car, if I have a long drive somewhere, or I’ll do it painting, or (rarely….) tidying my house, or even at Kever Rochel of the Kotel.

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There is really no one way of doing hitbodedut.

If you enjoy talking to God, if you are starting to get some insights into your life, relationships and behavior, then keep doing it the way you are! And if not, then consider what tweaks are required to help you get more out of it.

But don’t give up!

Because regular hitbodedut is the only way anyone can really make the leap from fake, pretend-perfect person to real, I-know-I’m-crazy, happy Jew.

And to give Seal the last word: we’re never gonna survive, unless, we get a little crazy.

  • If you have questions or comments about the practical aspects of doing hitbodedut, ask away, or email me, and I’ll do my best to respond.

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I’m now on my second official ‘teen’, which doesn’t make me the world’s expert on teens, but is giving me a lot of useful insights that I thought other people could also benefit from.

The single biggest problem I notice with teens – starting at 13/14 – is that when they acquire ‘maturity’, i.e. they get to the age where they are required to keep mitzvahs in their own right – their yetzer hara pulls a huge trick on them, and this is it:

It convinces them that they don’t have a yetzer hara.

So every time they are overwhelmed with life, depressed, annoying, selfish, thoughtless, confused, irritating, aggressive, emotional etc etc etc – their yetzer is telling them over and over again that THIS IS THE REAL YOU!!!!

This annoying, somewhat icky person IS THE REAL YOU!!!

And if the parents don’t understand what is really going on with their teens, they can unwittingly play right into the yetzer’s hand by reinforcing the message that this lazy, selfish, irritating slob is THE REAL THEM!!!

But really?

Our teens are SO good.

They are so considerate, thoughtful, caring, sensitive and deep. Just modern life overwhelms them so quickly, and then their yetzer piles in with all its poisonous ‘THIS IS THE REAL YOU!!!’ stuff, and unless the parents are there to tell them otherwise, they completely believe it.

From my own experience, the single biggest kindness you can do for your teenager is to keep re-inforcing – to them – that the real them is ONLY good.

Yes, that person who keeps leaving plates full of mouldy food in their bed (!); that person who keeps losing their Rav Kav every single week, causing a family-wide panic at 6am when they have to get the bus to school; that person who out of no-where starts ranting at you that they got all your ugly / fat / hairy genes and it’s ruining their life; that person who routinely forgets that you get up much earlier than they do, most days, and therefore need to get to bed before 2am; that person who keeps stealing your deodorant – and even your toothbrush – without telling you –

THAT PERSON IS ONLY GOOD!!!!

The more you keep reminding yourself, and your teen, of this, the better it will be for everyone.

I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but now that I’m on to my second teenager, I can see that this really is the best piece of advice a parent could have, for dealing with their teens. Because we have to understand that every time we criticise them – instead of just focusing on unacceptable behaviour, and  making it clear that this bad behaviour is simply coming from their yetzers, and NOT THE REAL THEM – we are simply reinforcing all their huge feelings that they aren’t good enough, kind enough, nice enough, clever enough etc etc etc.

And if that is programmed in too much in the teenage years, it can literally take a lifetime to overcome (with an awful amount of siyatta d’shmiya).

I get a lot of miserable teens passing through my house.

So many of my kids’ peers have really awful relationships with their parents, because the parents keep piling on guilt trips, power plays, punishments and ultimatums to try and maintain the upper hand in the relationship.

It’s so sad, because I see the gap growing between these kids and their parents, and I know where that leads: to dysfunctional families, unhappy people, never-ending tension and strife, all sorts of mental health challenges and other issues, including kids going off the derech.

So do your kid – and yourself – a huge favour, and ONLY SEE THE GOOD.

I can’t do this all the time, it’s true. There are time when I’ve completely snapped at my teens and said things I really regretted. But each time that happened, I’ve apologised profusely, and I’ve re-stated my true position, i.e. you, kid, are only good, and I’m also only good.

But man, are your yetzers on the wild side.