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.

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.

There was once a man who was down on his luck. He came to a town, and asked the locals if there was a soup kitchen in the vicinity, where he could eat something for free. They directed him to a street with large houses, and the poor man happened to knock on the wrong door.

“’I’m starving, please, I need something to eat,” he told the homeowner who opened the door. The homeowner realised that his visitor was looking for the soup kitchen, but decided to make the most of him in the meantime.

“I have a pile of wood that needs chopping first,” he told the poor man. “Chop the wood, then I’ll give you something to eat.”

The poor man worked for hours chopping the wood with his last bit of strength. Finally, feeling half dead, he returned to the homeowner and asked for some food and drink.

“Go down the road, to the soup kitchen there,” the homeowner told him. “They’ll feed you whatever you want.”

The poor man staggered down the road, stumbled into the soup kitchen and started loudly demanding that they give him some food and drink. The proprietor came over to the poor man, to find out why he was being so aggressive, and when he’d heard the whole story, he told the poor man:

“Over there, you worked for free.

“Here, you eat for free.”

This is one of Rebbe Nachman’s parables.

WORKING FOR FREE

For years, I wasted so much of my life ‘working for free’. I used to have projects with the most ridiculous, stress-inducing deadlines, high-stakes work writing communications and press releases for high-profile people in the British Government, writing for papers with circulations in the high millions.

(That was then, things are very different these days.)

So many times before I moved to Israel, I wanted to get off the rat wheel, slow things down, stop pouring my life, blood, and soul into work, work, work – but I couldn’t see a way out. I really thought my working all the hours God sends was what was going to give me a good standard of living, and happiness, and financial security.

Really?

It didn’t do any of those things. Whatever I earned, I more than spent trying to make myself feel better about how miserable I was stuck in that awful, stressful, workaholic lifestyle.

But if I didn’t work, I just would never get anywhere….

That’s what we’re all taught in the West, that’s what we all believe.

Money makes the world go round.

EATING FOR FREE

Then, I moved to Israel, and the second part of the story began.

For the first couple of years that I lived here, I continued thinking that my ‘chopping wood’ was what was going to put food on the table. But then, I chopped, and chopped and chopped some more – and we still went bust and had to sell our first house because we ran out of money.

At that point, I got very demanding with God.

“God, where’s my parnassa?!?!?’ I scolded angrily.

Couldn’t He see all the effort I was making, all the schemes I was trying, all the leads I was chasing? And nothing, nothing, nothing got anywhere or made the blindest bit of difference.

So in the end, I gave up trying to chop wood, and I resigned myself to living like a pauper for the rest of my life.

This scenario kind of replayed itself, and continued, for a decade.

Then I realised a funny thing: Even though me and my husband had been through some terrible, awful financial problems for many years, we’d never actually had a day without a roof over our heads, or some sort of food on the table.

Even when my husband couldn’t work for two years, and I had my hands full trying to keep my family together, let alone trying to find a gig chopping wood – we still had a roof over our head and food on the table.

The thought began to dawn that maybe, just maybe, money didn’t make the world go round after all.

A couple of years’ ago, BH, things started to improve financially.

But I still know that regardless of how much wood we chop – or not – we’re really still eating for free.

And that’s such a reassuring thought.

The last couple of months, it’s been striking me that more and more of us are being challenged to finally cross that ‘very narrow bridge’ that each of us has in our own lives, which is somehow separating us from God.

For one person, their ‘bridge’ might be the realization that they’ve been an absolutely awful, deranged, abusive spouse. For another person, the ‘bridge’ might be the sudden understanding that they’ve been wasting years – decades! – running after their business, or their job, or their big house in the pursuit of the chimera called ‘financial security’ which was meant to take away all their anxiety and finally make them feel good.

Yet another person has to cross the bridge that shows them that they’ve effectively turned into the parent they despised as a child, while someone else will have to cross a ‘bridge’ of extreme loneliness, or extreme despair, or extreme anger to find God and emuna and true solace on the other side.

But here’s one thing I’ve learned about crossing the very narrow bridge: no-one else can do it for you.

A spouse, a parent, a friend, even a rabbi or a Rebbe, they can stand on the side and shout encouragement, they can even tie ropes to you and try to drag you over, but when it all comes down to it, there is only one person who can actually cross that bridge: you.

This has a lot of profound implications, at least for me, when it comes to trying to figure out how to help people cross their narrow bridges. As time goes on, I’m seeing more and more that really the only help I can give them is encouragement to turn to Hashem with all of their problems.

Sure, I can spend hours having lengthy conversations about how cruel and unfair and mad the world is, or how ‘horrible’ everyone else is, or how ‘x’ is really the solution to the problem (‘x’ being anything other than complete emuna in Hashem) – but ultimately, I’ve discovered that all those words don’t actually help so much.

The same goes for trying to throw money or tangible help at someone else’s ‘big issue’. Anything I can do easily, that’s not going to drag me into madness and upset in my own life, I’m willing to do 100%. But in the past I used to think that I could somehow ‘fix’ other people’s issues, if I only threw enough understanding, cash or effort at the problem.

Now I know better.

Now, I know that each of us is being challenged to the cracking point by Hashem, and that no-one else can take our problems away until and unless we make teshuva and wholeheartedly return to God.

That’s the whole point of why all the craziness is going on, and having other people step in to try to soften the blow or deflect the difficulty is actually not helping the suffering person very much at all, at this stage of the game, external appearances notwithstanding.

Tachlis, each of us has a very narrow, scary bridge to cross, to get to Hashem and Moshiach and the geula.

On one side, is all our arrogance, belief in our own abilities, ‘security blankets’ and imaginary ideas about how the world really works, and how much we’re in control.

On the other, is Hashem and emuna and the geula.

And no-one else can cross that bridge for us.

Instead of talking about ‘surrendered wives’, we should focus on the ‘surrendered husband’.

I don’t really follow trends in the secular world so much these days, but even so, it’s come across my radar that there’s a new approach to making your marriage work which is called: ‘The surrendered wife’.

I haven’t read the book (or done the course… or watched the film…) but it seems that the idea is that instead of nagging and finding fault, the ‘surrendered wife’ quietly sits there smiling demurely while her husband continues to indulge his rage fits, lack of emuna, emotional disconnect, other bad middot and drug and / or alcohol abuse.

(Of course I’m exaggerating to make a point – I hope! – because that’s what writers do.)

But that’s the basic idea of the ‘surrendered wife’. There’s just one problem with this: It’s completely and utterly backwards, according to the authentic Jewish teachings of how a marriage should really work.

Rav Shalom Arush brings down in his many books on shalom bayit (All of which have approbations from some of the biggest Gedolei Dor of the generation, including the late Rv Ovadia Yosef, z”tl) that when there are problems in the marriage, they are down to one thing, and one thing only:

THE HUSBAND’S BAD MIDDOT AND LACK OF EMUNA.

I know that doesn’t sit well with all the Western, feminist brainwashing we’ve all been bombarded with since birth, but that’s how the world works, and that’s how God created the situation.

If we don’t accept that THAT is really how marriage works, we’ll never be able to stem the disastrous tide of couples getting divorced.

To put it another way, instead of talking about the ‘surrendered wife’, we need to be talking about the ‘surrendered husband’.

Which is where we hit the first objection: So many of our men are struggling so hard with such enormously bad middot at the moment, that getting them to surrender anything today – like their obsessive TV watching, or their worries about money, or their three nightly beers- is already akin to an open miracle.

Again, let’s be clear what’s going on today: we are one of the last, if not the last generation before Moshiach comes. All of the difficult souls that haven’t been rectified over the last 5778 years are back again now, in this generation, to have one last shot at being fixed.

When someone has been letting their anger problem ride for 5,000 years already, or their spiteful, vengeful and critical tendencies grow unchecked for five millennia, that adds up to an awful lot of hard spiritual work to try to do in just one lifetime.

That’s a big part of the reason that modern life, and modern marriage, is just so hard today.

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Here’s another crucial part of the puzzle, that we can’t ignore if we want to understand how marriages REALLY work: husband and wife are two parts of the same soul. Whatever good you have in yourself, is there – often latent – in him. And whatever bad you see in yourself is somehow there – often latent – in you. And also vice versa.

On some very profound level, husbands and wives are just mirroring each other.

But here’s the thing to remember: authentic Judaism teaches that the MAN is the giver, and the woman is the receiver. Whatever the MAN gives out, gives over, gives across into his marriage and home, that’s what he’s going to get back.

Rav Arush teaches in all of his shalom bayit books that when it comes to marriage, the man is like the sun and the woman is like the moon.

If the wife isn’t getting much (or any….) light from her husband, then she has NOTHING to reflect back at him except annoyance, coldness, anger and criticism.

But if she’s getting acceptance, love and light from her husband, not only will she reflect it back at him, she’ll amplify it.

This is important to grasp, because wherever the ‘problem’ manifests in the marriage, it’s ALWAYS somehow rooted in the man, and his lack of emuna and bad middot.

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So now, what’s the woman’s part in this?

(I have two teenagers with feminist sympathies at home, so we’ve gone through this debate quite a few times already.)

Simply put: to pray on her husband, and to ask God to help him fix his lack of emuna and bad middot.

Because yes, nagging, whining and complaining doesn’t work.

But neither does just lying there like a doormat whilst your husband continues to pretend that all HIS issues are really just yours (and your mother’s….).

If I could tell new brides one thing, it would be this: don’t look away and pretend you can’t see your husband’s faults and issues and struggles, because over time they are only going to get worse!

Don’t make excuses for his critical nature, selfishness, alcoholism, complete lack of emuna, anger fits or dishonest business dealings, because whatever you don’t recognize and get to work on ASAP could really end up sinking your marriage, and your family, another 15 years down the road.

If you see your husband isn’t treating you nicely, or isn’t acting the way he should be in other areas, ask God to help you! Pray on it! Start doing an hour of hitbodedut every single day to work out what you can and should be doing with and for your husband to get these problems resolved.

Send him to Uman for Rosh Hashana! Every single year!

THIS is the wife’s part of the marriage equation, to pray her socks off and courageously look at the challenges facing her husband while still showing him a great deal of love and compassion.

After 20 years of being yelled at, criticized, mocked, frightened, ‘punished’ and mistreated, it’s very hard to do anything with love and compassion. It’s very hard to find the strength required to get God involved in turning things around. So don’t leave it until then!

Start ASAP, while your love for him and his for you is still strong enough to weather the really tough patches that are inevitably going to come, even with all your praying and all his sincere efforts to improve.

And enough, already, with all this ‘surrendered wife’ rubbish: it’s the husbands who need to ‘surrender’ their bad middot and other negative character traits, and the sooner, the better.

Sigh.

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I heard three ‘we’re getting divorced’ stories in two days last week. Am Yisrael is cracking at the seams.

Enough making excuses! Enough pretending that the goyim and all their funny ideas about women’s lib and marriage are really doing anything to help anyone’s relationship stay the course!

Go back to the authentic Jewish way, to the ‘surrendered husband’ model, and if you’re a wife, start praying your socks off for your husband to learn more emuna, and to get God more involved in the picture

Because THAT IS THE ONLY WAY THAT REALLY WORKS.

Photo by Schesco Nyarwaya on Unsplash

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When the Prophet Ezekiel was shown all the dry, dead bones in the valley, and God asks him:

‘Son of man, can these dried out, completely lifeless bits of dead people come back to life again?’

Ezekiel tells God –

‘You’re the only One Who can decide that stuff, Hashem!’

So, I’ve been pondering techiyat hameitim, or the revival of the dead, and I’ve come to realize – it’s us.

You and me. And all the other people walking around technically alive, on the outside, but dried out and dead on the inside.

People are so stuck in their phones, and their emails, and their internet because they’re looking for a connection. But the connection we all really need that’s going to revive us, and bring our souls and hearts back to life, can’t be found online.

That vision that Ezekiel had, it happened in Silicon Valley.

The Prophet was shown a picture of all these soul-dead, despairing people wasting their lives commenting on Facebook posts and obsessively checking Arutz 7 every two minutes for the ‘latest’ updates about stuff that mostly is completely irrelevant, and then God asked him:

‘Ezekiel, can all of these people step out of their technological prisons, and re-connect to themselves, and their souls, and other people again? Can they have real conversations about real stuff with real people, without having a panic attack and running away? Can they invite guests for Shabbat again? Can they tell their mum, their wife, their kid that they really love them? Can they stop hiding behind email and text and develop bona fide relationships with real flesh-and-blood people again?”

And Ezekiel took a long, hard look at all those internally dead people in Silicon Valley, and he shrugged his shoulders and said:

‘I have no idea if that’s possible, at this stage, Hashem! Everyone is so used to hiding behind their gadgets these days, reconnecting to themselves, and You, and other people would require an open miracle.’

What does God say after that?

He tells Ezekiel to speak to the ‘bones’, and they start to come together – but they’re still internally dead and all dried out. So then God Himself tells the ‘ruach’ to come from all four directions of the world, and to revive these people.

Do you know what ‘ruach’ is, really?

It’s the second soul level that’s directly connected to our emotions. And that’s the bit that’s completely dessicated, dead and AWOL in 2017. People are scared to feel what they really feel. To say what they really think. To try to connect to the people they really want to connect to. To love the people they really care for.

To be themselves.

And that’s the bit that the rabbis and the prophets can’t do for us, even though they can weld us back together as a people, as a nation, as Jews. The ruach, the emotion, that bit’s going to come directly from Hashem.

And straight after these ‘dead bones’ get their emotions back, we get achdut, unity and connection, and then Ezekiel’s stunning vision of peace:

“I will make them into ONE nation in the land…and ONE king will be a king for them…there will be ONE shepherd for all of them…I will be a God to them and they will be a people to Me. Then the nations will know that I am Hashem, Who sanctifies Israel.”

Ah, connection.

That’s what we’re all really yearning for, isn’t it? And not just the wi-fi version.

Recently, I went back to the UK for a three day ‘whirlwind visit’ to stay with my husband’s family, in the North of the country.

The trip was pretty uneventful, even sometimes nice – which is why I really couldn’t understand why I came back feeling so awful.

The day we landed back in the Holy Land, I got into an extremely blue funk and found myself sniffling and feeling very sorry for myself a lot of the time. OKAYYYY, so I don’t own a house anymore; OKAYYY, I don’t really have a career (although I do have a full-time, mostly unpaid job writing all this stuff on my blogs and putting together amazing, useful books that really don’t sell very well…)

OKAYYY, life can still be a little challenging.

They’re still stabbing Jews to death, and shooting Jews up, in my Jerusalem neighbourhood right next to the Old City. But really? Why so down and glum for days and days?

If I’ve learnt one thing over the last few years, it’s that when these weird moods descend on me they are usually some sort of ‘blast from the past’ – either it’s something from childhood, or some sort of spiritual ‘tikkun’ or rectification that’s left over from a previous lifetime (or even, a previous relative) that God is now giving me the job of sorting out.

So I booked an appointment with my ‘One Brain’ lady, and a couple of days’ ago, I found out what was really underneath my massive attack of the blahs.

When I was nearly six years old, my mother was expecting one of my brothers and the pregnancy had been difficult, so she was put on strict bedrest. Me and my four year old brother were sent up to the North of the UK to stay with my grandparents for a few weeks, until after the birth.

Clearly, I must have found the whole thing incredibly traumatic, because until it came up in One Brain as the reason why I was feeling so yucky – like I was completely lost in the world, and didn’t have a ‘place’ anywhere, or anyone or anything I belonged to – I’d totally blanked it.

All I remembered about that stay with my grandparents is that I ate a lot of crisps.

But the barely six year-old me had been completely petrified that I’d somehow been ‘abandoned’ with my strict grandparents, and stuck in a strange new school where no-one spoke to me or gave me any sign that I even still existed.

If someone told me it was only going to be for three weeks, I didn’t remember that. It seemed to me I was going to be stuck in that horrible unfriendly school, with my cold, strict grandmother, for the rest of my six-year-old life.

All I remember is eating my bag of crisps in the playground, and feeling completely alone in the world.

That’s exactly the feeling I had when I returned from my three day trip staying in the North of the UK at my kids’ grandparents, where I’d also been eating a lot of crisps and doing particularly ‘British’ day out type things in the Summer drizzle.

Clearly, it triggered that whole lost memory from when I was six, and for a week I was an inconsolable basket case.

Thank God for One Brain!

I arrived at my session feeling SO down, and I left an hour later feeling put back together again, having been rescued from that 37 year old trauma that I’d somehow fallen back into.

But it really got me thinking: if something so short-lived, and relatively innocuous could still be exerting such an impact on me as a 43 year old woman, just imagine how many of us are suffering from our unresolved childhood traumas!

No-one was to ‘blame’ for what happened – my mother couldn’t look after us and follow doctor’s orders, and my elderly grandparents had to stick us in the local school to preserve their own sanity.

Yet the echo of what I felt then, at six, still managed to drag me straight down to the bottom of the emotional pit almost four decades later. It’s a bit mind-boggling, isn’t it?

The other thing I thought is that God clearly wants all these things addressed and sorted out now, which is He’s put things like ‘One Brain’ into the world. I do an hour of talking to God every day, BH, and that’s helped me get on top of so many of my bad middot and issues.

But sometimes, things are ‘under the radar’, and I just can’t get to them with my conscious mind, because either they happened to someone else, or I blanked them because they were too traumatic to deal with.

And that’s where One Brain comes in very nicely.

I’m not saying everyone needs to go find a One Brain person ASAP. Another thing I’ve learned over the last few years is that when God is in the picture, a whole variety of different therapies and approaches can help us cure our problems. There’s no ‘one correct way’ of doing anything, health-wise, and as long as we’re regularly talking to God and taking His cues about what areas we need to work on next, He’ll send us the right help, the right people, the right book, at the right time.

What I AM saying, though, is please just know that if you feel like you’re going crazy, or you got super emotional or down for no obvious reason (i.e. not just because you’re hanging out with obnoxious, abusive narcissists or you’re doing things that are mamash killing your soul) – then there could be a whole bunch of reasons why that’s happening.

Like, maybe you just got tripped into a traumatic ‘flashback’ from the past, that God now wants you to deal with.

I’m just saying.

And in the meantime, I’m off British-style ready salted crisps for a while.

If you’d have asked me that question even five years’ ago, the answer would have been an aggressive, uncompromising OF COURSE THEY SHOULD!!!!

Living in Israel is a mitzvah, arguably the biggest mitzvah in the Torah, and certainly the best (and probably only…) way of really achieving our spiritual tikkun, or rectification, in the world.

Like many other people who made aliya at great expense and effort, I went through quite a long stage of feeling personally offended by Jews (especially frum Jews) who refused to move here, and who refused to make the same sorts of sacrifices I’d done, to try to give God what He wanted.

Now, I’ve mellowed out a lot about this question, and I’ve come to understand that like everything else in life, things aren’t so simple, or so black and white.

In theory, there is absolutely no question that every Jew should be yearning, or trying, to live in Israel. No question at all.

But in practice?

It’s really not so simple.

It comes down to this: the spiritual level of the nation of Israel is at such a low level, that even the ‘frummest’ Jew in chutz l’aretz will probably struggle mightily to come up to even the ‘lowest’ level of day-to-day emuna that’s required for a Jew to really stay living in Israel.

That’s why so many people can’t hack it, and leave.

It’s like when God overturned the mountain and held it above our heads to ‘force’ us to accept the Torah. Really, we wanted to do the right thing, we wanted to live that Torah-centric spiritual life, but we also knew just how hard it was going to be, and how much self-sacrifice it was going to require, and for most of us, we simply couldn’t ‘choose’ that path unless we were forced into it.

I’ve come to think that making aliya is operating along the same paradigm.

Every Jewish soul, at its core, really wants to live in Israel. But as the thousands of people who have tried and then left again can tell you, sometimes the day-to-day challenge of having to really LIVE your emuna, and not just talk about it in a nice online shiur somewhere, are so difficult, many people simply can’t hang on.

If I didn’t have Rebbe Nachman and Breslov and hitbodedut, I have no doubt that I also couldn’t have managed to ‘hang on’ and come through all the difficulties we’ve had the last 12 years.

As I’ve been saying all week, Israel is the land of emuna, it’s the land of spiritual rectification. It’s the place where you really come face-to-face with yourself, and your real issues, and all the stuff you need to really work on and fix. And to put it bluntly, so many of us are in such a mess these days, we probably couldn’t withstand such a direct ‘view’ into our souls.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone who moves here, or who lives here, is doing the work.

There’s a kind of ‘soft’ option that many olim take which is that they try to recreate the superficiality and comfort of chutz l’aretz in their own communities here.

Without naming names, there are places in Israel that feel to me SO like chutz l’aretz when I go to visit them. There’s the same focus on externals, the same excessive materialism, the same mad rush to work, and obsessions with socializing and making money.

But you know what? Even though a lot of the people in those communities are trying very hard to live in ‘Anglo bubbles’ or ‘French bubbles’ or even, ‘Russian bubbles’, ultimately it’s still not really the same. It IS still Israel, and the kedusha, and the Divine Providence is still there, beckoning people to drop the pretense and get to know their real souls.

I’ve seen people literally go crazy, trying to drown out the insistent, spiritual call to God that reverberates in all parts of Israel, even in the most secular and materialistic neighborhoods.

So yes, it often looks the same, but it’s really not feeling the same.

I used to judge people in these ‘bubbles’ very harshly, but now I’ve come to realize that we all have our breaking point, and our snapping point, and even just moving to Israel in the first place can take many people far, far beyond it.

So let them keep their American dishwashers, and their English obsession with house prices, and their crazy workaholic schedules so they don’t have to think too much.

Because at least, they’re still here, and maybe in the future, their kids will have the energy and strength to continue the spiritual work their parents have begun.

Which brings me back to the question on the table: should people move to Israel, or not?

And the answer I have now is this:

EVERYONE should WANT to move to Israel.

But realistically, a whole bunch of people wouldn’t last five minutes here. Most of the secular, assimilated Jews in chutz l’aretz already know this, on some level, which is why for the most part they aren’t flooding into the country, or even visiting it for holidays.

God hits you smack in the face as soon as you step off the plane at Ben Gurion, and if you’re estranged from God, that can be an extremely challenging experience.

So it’s the ‘frum’ Jews in chutz l’aretz we’re really talking about – the ones who are apparently trying to have a connection with the Creator, and striving to work on their souls. I say ‘apparently’ because it underlines the point I made earlier: in truth, our generation is on such a low spiritual level, that even the frummest-looking Jew, externally, can be effectively ‘switched off’ from God.

Israel opens up that connection to the Creator, and to emuna, in a very real, very powerful way. (Often via financial difficulties, enormous spiritual angst, childrearing issues etc etc). But if the bulb can’t handle the current – it explodes.

Sure, the bulb can also explode in chutz l’aretz too – and it’s doing that with increasing frequency. More and more ‘frum’ kids going off the derech, more and more fatal overdoses in the frum community, more and more abuse, more and more Jews marrying out.

Chutz l’aretz is a disaster zone, spiritually.

I know that if I’d stayed in England, my kids would have probably gone off the derech, I probably would have a nervous breakdown, and my marriage would be in tatters.

I knew that even when I lived there, which is why I was so desperate to get out of there, even though life appeared so ‘perfect’, externally. But if the person I was then had known just how hard the last 12 years would have been, would I still have got on that plane?

I don’t know.

Which brings me to the last, very important, point: We need God to get us to Israel. And we need God to keep us here.

The point of Jewish life is to forge that bond, that connection with God. Living in Israel accomplishes that like nothing else can.

People don’t ‘stop’ being religious when they move to Israel. But they do get real.

And the sad fact is that so many of the people in chutz l’aretz, even the most externally pious looking ones, are fundamentally estranged from Hashem.

Of course, they can’t admit that openly – or even privately, to themselves. Which is why they talk about the terrible secular government, the crazy house prices, the expense of living here, the terrorism, the pull to a secular lifestyle.

And really, all the criticism they level at Israel is true, at least on some level.

But that’s not the real issue.

The real issue is that if you try to live in Israel without God, sooner or later it’ll break you, or it’ll break your pretense of being a superficially pious Jew.

I’ve seen that happen SO many times.

But maybe, it’s only once we realize just how broken we really are, spiritually, that we’ll start doing what’s required to fix the problem, and we’ll start rebuilding our relationship with Hashem from the ground up.

And while that process can only be completed in Israel, it can be started everywhere.

Even in chutz l’aretz.

Few things are more misunderstood than the concept of the Erev Rav.

Like most of the people reading this, the first time I heard about the Erev Rav in any ‘real’ way was from the autistics.

The more I read the autistics, the more I started suspecting other people of ‘being’ Erev Rav (ER, for short). Initially, it answered so many questions, cleaned up so many problems! I mean, the only reason that a Jew would or could act in such a horrible, disgusting way could only be because they must be Erev Rav….

Like many others, the ER quickly became a kind of obsession by me. And when I get obsessed with things, I research them as much as I can, and I try to bottom them out as much as possible. So, I threw myself into reading anything I could about the ER, including a document called ‘The Modern Erev Rav’, which brings together a lot of the sources in English.

By the time I’d finished going through that document, I had a very clear understanding of what sorts of things the Erev Rav did, and that the Vilna Gaon, amongst others, was telling me that I should cut them out of my life and avoid them as much as possible.

So over the next few years, that’s what I tried to do. (This was when I wrote that series over on www.breslev.co.il.)

As a result, I lost so many friends, stopped speaking to so many close family members, and even started suspecting my husband of being an Erev Rav.

(! – if you ever met the guy, you’ll understand just how crazy that particular statement is…)

And then, I came to the ultimately disturbing conclusion that I myself must also be an ‘unfixable’ ER, because I also spoke lashon hara (sometimes…) and made trouble between people (sometimes…) and was obsessed with making a name for myself (sometimes…)

It’s axiomatic that when you follow God’s laws, and really try to give God what He wants, you see brachas and blessings from doing that. Dear reader, all I got from cutting all the supposed ‘evil ER’ people out of my life was heaping doses of heartache, misery and suffering.

The more I tried to run away from these people, as the Vilna Gaon’s students suggested, the more I came to realize that in 2017, we are ALL Erev Rav people.

At the same time as this was going on, I realized that the secular world was also noticing the negative character traits associated with the Erev Rav, particularly the traits of lack of compassion and empathy for others and rigid thinking, and defining them as the basis of personality disorders, especially Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

According to modern psychiatry, most of these personality disorders, but especially NPD, can’t be fixed. The person with NPD will stay permanently broken, egotistical and nasty. Again, I spent years and years going through all the literature on personality disorders, and measuring it up against my own experiences of difficult people, and it dovetails amazingly with all the ‘Erev Rav’ stuff.

Except, I came to the same problem with that stuff, too: I started to notice that I MYSELF sometimes acted like I had NDP, (especially after I went through the worst year of my life, when I got hit with so many traumatic experiences that my capacity to feel compassion or empathy for anyone else pretty much completely disappeared.)

Which is when the turning point happened, and I realized that TRAUMA is what makes people act like narcissicists, etc, and what makes people act like ER, etc.

So then, I started researching trauma, and C-PTSD obsessively, and again it was a perfect ‘fit’ for what I was seeing around me and experiencing in myself, and it convinced me once and for all that just as personality disorders CAN be overcome, so can ER traits.

Then, I started looking for proof from authentic Jewish sources that this was the case, and I hit the jackpot with various teachings from Rav Berland and Rebbe Nachman himself, a lot of which I bring down in the book Unlocking the Secret of the Erev Rav.

So, here’s where we currently stand:

It’s not a Jewish idea to call someone ‘bad’, anymore than it’s a Jewish idea to call someone ‘Erev Rav’.

Xtians go in for that sort of global, meaningless ‘good and bad’ people rubbish.

By contrast, Jews talk about good and bad DEEDS, good and bad TRAITS, but we don’t give people labels like good and bad, because we understand that is something that only God is qualified to do, at the end of a person’s life, when all their merits and sins are weighed up together in the Heavenly court.

In that sense, the Erev Rav is a completely false paradigm.

Who can claim to be qualified to call someone an ‘Erev Rav’ and to assume that person can never make teshuva and will be permanently consigned to an eternity in Gehinnom?!

People with pronounced ‘Erev Rav’ traits aren’t just left-wing politicians or corrupt journalists, you know. If we’re honest, then we’ll admit that each and every one of us know people, are related to people, talk to people EVERY SINGLE DAY that fit at least some of the criteria set out by RASHBI and the Vilna Gaon (amongst others) for the Erev Rav.

We’re not just talking about Shimon Peres here, we’re talking about your ‘Erev Rav’ mum, and your ‘Erev Rav’ kid, and your ‘Erev Rav’ spouse. Do you really want all these people to be permanently consigned to destruction and Gehinnom?

And if the answer is ‘yes’, then there’s an enormous irony here, because only people who have a severe lack of compassion and empathy for other people (which remember, is one of the key traits of the ‘Erev Rav’ as identified by our Sages…) would willingly go around accusing others of being ‘Erev Rav’, with all that entails.

That’s why the authentic Jewish approach is to talk about EREV RAV BEHAVIOUR, and not EREV RAV PEOPLE.

It’s a crucial, massive distinction.

Because people can always stop behaving like ER, but they can’t stop being Erev Rav.

God is full of kindness and compassion for His creations. Does it really sound realistic to you that this kind, merciful Creator would create a category of person that can never, ever make teshuva, no matter what effort they make to improve, no matter how much suffering they go through? Does that sound ‘right’ to you?

God can do anything!

We saw in the Torah so many times – including in this week’s parshat Korach – that God was going to destroy the Jewish people because of their disgusting behaviour, but didn’t because the Tzaddik of the generation, Moshe Rabbenu, prayed for them.

Which brings me to my last point for today (although I will be returning to this subject again and again, until we all start to really get what I’m going on about here):

If we really want all the horrible ‘ER’ type traits and behavior that are definitely flowering all over the place in our modern world to really disappear, we need to pray for other people, and also for ourselves.

Again, asking God for help, and really believing in God’s mercy and compassion and willingness to help out, and really building a genuine, personal relationship with God is something that people with pronounced ‘Erev Rav’ tendencies find very difficult to do.

That’s one of the reason’s why hitbodedut, personal prayer, is the fastest and most effective way of neutralizing a person’s ‘Erev Rav’ tendencies, because it goes to the very heart of the problem, namely that ‘Erev Rav’ people don’t really believe in God in any real way, and certainly don’t believe that He’s compassionate, kind and good.

SO TO SUM UP:

  • Most people with Erev Rav tendencies CAN and WILL eventually make teshuva (as per the teachings of Rav Ofer Erez, Rav Eliezer Berland, and Rebbe Nachman).
  • We have no way of knowing who is going to ultimately going to make teshuva and who isn’t, so we have no right to call anyone a ‘permanently unfixable’ Erev Rav in the meantime.
  • The people who are most wedded to the idea of calling other people ‘Erev Rav’ are, ironically, themselves demonstrating a number of key traits of the ER, namely a severe lack of empathy and compassion for others, together with pronounced tendencies to speak badly of their fellow Jews, to stoke sinat chinam, and to create trouble, controversy and machloket between the Jewish people.

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You can buy my book, Unlocking the Secret of the Erev Rav, HERE.

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In his recent parsha sheet, Rav Shalom Arush talked a great deal about the 8th day of Chanuka, called ‘zot Chanuka’, and the amazing miraculous power contained in this day.

Now, if you already lit your lights for the 8th day before reading this, don’t panic. The spiritual power of ‘zot Chanuka’ lasts the whole 24 hours of the day – and here’s what Rav Arush has to say about it:

“It’s a day where every single one of us can work every salvation (miracle) for ourselves. We can annul from off of ourselves every bad decree, every difficulty that we’re struggling with in our lives, and every test we’re having in both gashmius (the material realm) and ruchnius (the spiritual realm).”

How do we do all this?!

Very simply, by asking God to help us with whatever we need in our own words, aka hitbodedut.

Rav Arush suggests we all do the following on zot Chanuka:

  • Set aside a chunk of time to actually do some serious, uninterrupted hitbodedut.
  • Go to a field, or some other place (even in your own house…) where you’ll be undisturbed and left alone.
  • Aim to do three hours of uninterrupted personal prayer (this is Rav Arush’s own words and instructions).
  • Don’t forget to start with thanks and gratitude, as gratitude is the main point of Chanuka, and whatever ‘thanks’ you say on zot Chanuka will accompany you the whole year.
  • After that, tell God about every difficulty you’re having in your life, and every test you’re going through.
  • Devote half an hour of prayer to each big issue, like:
    1. Shalom Bayit (relationship with your spouse)
    2. Raising your kids properly
    3. Finances
    4. Career / work
    5. Health problems (emotional and physical)
    6. Spiritual issues like bad middot, and other things you need to make teshuva for and fix
    7. Avodat Hashem – the general work of doing God’s will and getting closer to Him
  • Rav Arush ends by reminding us all to take some time to pray for the good of Am Yisrael, and particularly, he recommends that we pray for the general Shalom Bayit of Am Yisrael, as he says that’s under particular attack at the moment, and many, many people are heading for divorces as a result.

Once again, our Sages teach that on Zot Chanuka, a simple Jew like you and me can achieve the sorts of miracles and salvations for ourselves that usually only a big Tzaddik could work during the days of awe!

It’s a golden opportunity to ask God to help us with all of our needs, lacks and requirements, spiritually and physically.

So now you’ve read this, go get ‘em, tiger!

And when you get your amazing miracles, please drop me a line and tell me about them, so I can help publicise the ongoing miracles of Chanuka (both yours and mine…) hopefully for a good long time to come.