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.

I had a few comments from the post ‘Waiting for miracles’ which I wanted to respond to as an actual post.

One of my big dilemmas is how I share the real challenges I have without putting people off the idea that talking to God regularly, and doing six hours of hitbodedut, can really and truly help them in their lives.

There are things I didn’t clarify in the last post which I’m hopefully going to make clearer in this one, and thanks to everyone who prompted this discussion with their input and feedback, as I think these ideas are very important to lay out on the table. The other thing to state at this point is that hard as I’m trying to put this stuff across correctly, I’m often still struggling myself to really know what the heck is going on.

I don’t pretend to know the mind of God, or anything even close. All I’m doing is sharing my insights and experiences.

What’s the point of praying?

The first point is about the true purpose of prayer, and particularly of hitbodedut. If we believe that the point of prayer, and the point of doing hitbodedut, is to force God to give us what we want, then sooner or later, we’re going to get pretty disappointed.

Why?

Because not everything that we want is good for us, or part of God’s plan for our life and our spiritual rectification. Some people need to be poor; some people need to be single; some people need to be childless, or chronically ill.

If I’m trying to ‘force’ God to give me money when my life’s plan requires me to be poor, I’m probably not going to get very far. So then, why pray?

There’s two answers to this:

  • We can’t know if our poverty (to stick with that example) is part of the permanent plan, or a temporary ‘blip’ on the radar designed to get us to work on our middot, our Torah observance and our connection to Hashem more. The only way we can find that out is to work on our middot, Torah observance and connection to God, and see if something shifts. More often than not it will and it does, because most difficulties are temporary, and come only to strengthen our religious observance and characters, in some way.
  • If our poverty is a permanent feature of our lives, then the only way to really make peace with it, and to not have it destroy every other area of our lives and happiness, is by regularly talking to God, and working on our character and middot, especially our emuna.

To bring this back to my own experiences, I still don’t know if my financial issues are temporary, or permanent. But either way, doing hitbodedut regularly, including an occasional six hours, is the only way I’m going to happily cope with my reality in any case.

With hitbodedut, I have one bad day every so often when the whole world feels like its crashing down. Without hitbodedut, I think I’d be having a bad life. Full stop.

The main problem with the ‘pseudo-Breslever’ is that he never pointed out that God could say ‘no’ to your prayers, even if you sat there for a whole year solid doing six hours every day. The pseudo-Breslever taught that people can force God to do their will, simply by racking up the hours they spend in hitbodedut.

This is a powerfully seductive message, and one of the main reasons the pseudo-Breslever seems to be getting more and more popular, because we all like to think that there’s some way that we can wrest control of our lives away from God.

By contrast, Rav Arush teaches that prayers typically get answered in one of the four following ways:

  • Immediately
  • Partially over time (i.e. you see gradual improvements)
  • Nothing for ages, and then everything suddenly falls into place
  • Only in the world to come (i.e. you don’t see any obvious advantage to your prayers in your lifetime.)

Clearly, number 4 sucks!

But sometimes, in some areas, number 4 is perhaps what we’re dealing with. In other cases, it may be number 3, and we just haven’t ‘got there’ yet, and the only way we’ll ever know is to continue praying.

Which brings me to the other point I wanted to make in this post, that if we approach hitbodedut, and talking to God, as a valuable end in and of itself, then it’s always worthwhile and never pointless.

I’m still talking to God for an hour every single day, Baruch Hashem. Some days, it’s pretty pedestrian nothing to write home about, other days I get some simply mind-blowingly awesome insights (many of which have made it into my books and blog posts…)

And it’s not me who’s deciding if my hitbodedut is going to be amazing or pretty ho-hum – it’s God. But either way, my soul needs that regular fix, that regular time to be connected back to God. My hitbodedut literally keeps me sane, even when the world is going bonkers around me.

The odd bad day notwithstanding, my hitbodedut keeps me going, it helps me to decompress from stressful events, and it helps me to ‘catch’ my bad middot and unhealthy actions and reactions that otherwise I’d be completely clueless about.

So for those reasons, it’s still very, very good.

In our very superficial world, I understand that the pseudo-Breslevers we fell foul of were trying to package hitbodedut in a way they thought would really sell to the masses, i.e. as a spiritual way of getting God to do what we want.

But if these people were genuinely doing hitbodedut themselves, i.e. asking God what HE wants from them, instead of the other way around, then they would have realized that their approach was incorrect, and also potentially very damaging, long before they turned it into a whole career for themselves.

Now, here’s the good news: After I wrote ‘waiting for miracles’, I went and did some hitbodedut and I discovered something wonderful: I still believe in miracles after all. That in itself is a miracle. My husband is a miracle. My kids are miracles. Being able to type, and think and see is all miracles.

My hitbodedut is what helped me to see that while the other miracles I’m waiting for – like a house of my own, a bit more financial security, a community etc – haven’t appeared (yet!), my life is still full of massive miracles.

So, to sum up: If you want to try to force God to do what you want, hitbodedut may well still work for you, but there are no guarantees. But, if you want to be able to live your life happily even when God isn’t giving you what you want – then hitbodedut will work every single time.

When I first started doing some serious hitbodedut, or personal prayer, I got a lot of miracles.

My kids were miraculously accepted to a popular school that had ‘no room’ for new students. We sold a house in Israel from start to finish in 6 weeks – plus it sprung a huge, enormous leak in the middle of the sale that caused terrible water damage everywhere, but everything still went through. We found a just-about-affordable house to buy in a new location that was standing empty in the middle of April, when we had to move, etc etc etc.

So five years’ back when my husband had been influenced by what I’ll call a ‘pseudo-Breslov’ spiritual guide who loved to tell his students that with enough prayer, you could force God to give you anything you wanted, and wanted to quit his job to ‘let God provide’ I went along with it.

You should know that I did a lot of soul-searching about this decision first, and the answer that I got back in my hitbodedut was always ‘let him quit’. Not because it was going to be easy or a walk in the park – anything but – but because it was going to rectify a lot of things, spiritually.

In the meantime, my husband quit and was happy as a lark for around a month.

Then the economic reality started to sink in, and he started to do one six hour prayer session after another, asking God to send him the money we needed to survive, without him working.

Just to complicate matters, we were also trying to move to Jerusalem at the time, as our rabbi (not the pseudo-Breslover) had made some very strong statements that all of his students should live in Jerusalem, and we were trying to comply. I was also doing lots of six hour sessions – I forget how many – devoted to asking Hashem to help us to find and buy our own suitable place in Jerusalem.

This is where the story seems to have gone a little ‘wrong’, at least from my very limited perspective.

My husband’s prayers for parnassa apparently weren’t answered: things got so bad financially that we ran out of money for food, and a couple of good friends kept us afloat for two months so we could even afford ‘luxuries’ like toilet paper, while our house sale went through and we could breathe a little again.

In the meantime, the ‘pseudo-Breslover’ had done such a good job of convincing my husband that work was evil and bad that the only way he could contemplate going back to work without upsetting Hashem was by trying to open up an ‘outreach’ place in the Old City, which burned through a huge amount of our house money, and ended in total, abject failure.

Even then, my husband struggled so much to overcome all the programming from the ‘pseudo-Breslover’ to be able to go back to work again. It took a couple of chats with Rav Arush (and probably a secret bracha…) and many long months of complete mental torture before he could pull himself together and go back to being a lawyer again.

In the meantime, we’d run out of money for a deposit.

And that wasn’t the only challenge on the house front, the one that I’d been praying for so much, for so many months and now years. At the time we moved to Jerusalem, we found what we thought was an ideal, big, spacious flat that also had a separate rental unit. This was just after we sold our house, so we could still just about afford it.

We got down to trying to go to contract – and the seller promptly told us they were doubling the price to more than 4 million shekels, WAY out of our budget.

Everything where we wanted to buy literally doubled over-night, giving us no options to even consider. We struggled to even find a rental, and ended up with an overpriced, small place with a neo-Nazi landlord from Tel Aviv who used to launch surprise raids on ‘his apartment’ where he’d stalk around the place yelling at me for ruining it’s aesthetic appeal by hanging my washing up.

Then, he jacked up the rent unilaterally after four months, giving us a week to agree or find someone else – so we found somewhere else.

The very modest apartment in the most downtrodden building in the area, where I’ve now been for two years.

Over the holidays, I was struggling mightily with many things this year, but a huge issue has been the question of where did all my prayers go? Where did all my husband’s prayers go? As well as doing loads of six hours, we also give a minimum 10% charity, and it says you can test God on charity, that if you give generously He’ll pay you back.

In two more days, I have to sign the lease on this place for another year. I can’t move anywhere more affordable without seriously disrupting my kids again, who now have friends in the area, and also my husband, who is close to the Yeshiva.

Plus, I kind of like my area, except for the fact that I need a million dollars to even consider buying my own apartment here, and renting something decent will set me back a cool 10-12,000 shekels a month. Even the rent I’m paying on my dumpy place is more than my mortgage used to be.

We’ve started trying to save for a deposit, but at the rate we’re going it will take us about 60 years to get there….

And in the meantime, I feel like I just can’t carry on living where I live anymore. I can’t entertain. I have no space to myself. It’s pretty hard for me to cook in my tiny kitchen. I have just one toilet and germ issues about other people using it. (Please note: I’m an Anglo who has lived in very big houses up unto this point, so I’m clearly moaning about things that a lot of Israelis don’t even notice.)

The only solution appears to be an open miracle…but over the holidays, I realized I’ve given up on miracles. After so many years, so many prayers that apparently weren’t answered, something has broken on the ‘waiting for miracles’ front.

Rav Berland teaches that when there is nothing else to say, nothing else to pray, you just have to dance.

I schlepped all over the place yesterday on Simchat Torah, trying to find somewhere to dance. It wasn’t so successful. So in the end, I came home and tried to dance by myself for a bit, to Rebbe Nachman’s song:

‘Mitzvah gedola lehiot be simcha’.

I know big miracles are possible. I know they do occur. What I still don’t know at this stage is whether I’m going to get one again. Part of me can’t wait around for miracles any more without going absolutely crazy. (As I type this, someone has been loudly drilling next door for an hour already, and the whole place is shaking. I read all those stories about authors taking off to quiet country hideaways for a year to write their latest books and I can’t help laughing my head off.)

At the same time, part of me knows I have no choice except to wait around for miracles.

If I give up on God’s mercy at this point, it really won’t be pretty.

So, what did I read in Likutey Moharan, that helped me to start to get more of a correct Jewish perspective on the whole meditation thing?

I opened up randomly to Part I:78, and this is what I read:

 “Where do Jewish souls come from? – From the world of speech…

Jewish souls come from the world of speech…

Now, speech is an aspect of Malchut / Kingship, as Elijah said: ‘Malchut is the mouth.’ It is also an aspect of the Divine presence, which always dwells with [us], without a moment’s interruption….

When one unifies speech with God… then, “God’s glory will be revealed,”… the radiance of His presence, which is an aspect of the Malchut, is revealed and enhanced.”

 

WHAT THIS MEANS, TACHLIS:

Jews can’t just spend hours in silent meditation or mindfulness. We need to SPEAK (i.e., talk to God, confess what’s going on in our lives, what we’re struggling with, what help you need.) Just meditating on a leaf for 13 hours is NOT the path of a Jewish soul.

I already started to feel better, as I could see that there was at least one reason why the whole ‘silent meditation’ thing really isn’t the Jewish way. Jews believe in the power of prayer; we know that God spoke the world into creation, and that speech is what differentiates us from the animals.

I think Jews are the only people who teach that evil speech, gossip, mockery and slander can do even more damage than physical violence or abuse. That’s because we know the spiritual power of speech – and we now that an hour spent TALKING / PRAYING to God can achieve some amazing things.

And what’s more, Rav Arush teaches that speaking to God is the single best measure of how much you really believe in Him.

If you talk to God – it’s a sign you believe in Him. If you don’t – the opposite.

But there was more.

In the same lesson (I:78), Rebbe Nachman also teaches:

 

“One lives only by breathing. But what is the breath? One exhales and inhales ruach (air)…When a person is bonded to the holy Malchut, speaking Torah or prayer, one exhales and inhales the spirit of holiness (ruach hakodesh)…

When one studies Torah…then the ‘spirit of God’, which is ruach hakodesh, ‘hovers’ above a person and one draws the spirit of life from it.

This is because without Torah, one cannot live….

Therefore, ‘The wicked are considered dead even while alive’ (Brakhot 18b), for since the cord of holiness has been cut, from where can he draw life? Rather, he draws a spirit of foolishness [evil].”

 

(As an aside, it never ceases to amaze me how I always get directed to just the right lesson in Likutey Moharan. Definitely try this for yourself at home, if you haven’t already.)

WHAT THIS MEANS, TACHLIS:

There is nothing ‘neutral’ in the world. If a Jew is doing ‘breathwork’ and focusing on their breathing etc – but failing to bind themselves to Torah, and failing to attach their breathing to God, then they are effectively attaching themselves to the opposite force in the world, i.e., the forces of evil, and the yetzer hara.

No wonder I was feeling so uncomfortable!

God has to be in the whole process right from the beginning, because otherwise every breath we’re taking is just attaching us more and more to the side of darkness and ‘no-God’, God forbid.

But there was still more.

In Lesson I:79, Rebbe Nachman says the following:

 

“The rule is that each individual must see to it that he is not an obstacle to the coming of the Messiah. In other words, one must repent fully and rectify one’s actions.”

 

WHAT THIS MEANS, TACHLIS:

Any practice we’re engaged in, however ‘spiritual’ it may be, that doesn’t encourage us and enable us to identify the things we’re doing wrong, identify our negative emotions, bad middot and unhealthy habits, beliefs and behaviors, and to fix them, is SLOWING UP THE REDEMPTION OF THE WHOLE WORLD.

So for example, meditation/ mindfulness that’s devoid of any self-introspection and / or teshuva is at best a waste of time.

By contrast, truly Jewish meditation and mindfulness (i.e., hitbodedut or talking to God) accomplishes the following spiritual outcomes:

1) It’s SPEECH (i.e. verbalised prayer) not thought, which rectifies the root of the Jewish soul, which comes from the world of speech. (This is also connected to the idea of why Jews need to say their blessings out loud).

2) It binds us to God with every breath (ruach haKodesh), as opposed to binding us to the opposite of God with every breath, God-forbid.

3) It encourages us to work on our middot – and working on our middot is the ONLY way Moshiach is going to come.

 

As always, there’s so much more to say about this. But let’s end with this idea:

If you have an hour, or half an hour, or even five minutes to spend on some form of spiritual practise, then hitbodedut, or talking to God unquestionably gives you the best bang for your buck.

Yes, it’s nice to be a raindrop, or to listen to birds chirping, but when you’re an active partner with Hashem, working on rectifying the world and your part in it, nothing else comes close.

Rebbe Nachman was right again. And not for the first time, I’ve learned a very big lesson about searching for ‘truth’ anywhere outside Yiddishkeit. It may look like a duck, and quack like a duck and walk like a duck, but really – it’s still just a kosher pig.

Now that all the hooha about yoja has dimmed down a little, I think it’s time to look at another disturbing ‘pseudo-spiritual’ practice.

In the alternative health world, there are three main sacred cows, as follows:

  • Yoga
  • Healthy food
  • Meditation

The basic idea is that if you do all three of these things, your life will be perfect, your will float through all your troubles like a serene fairy, and you will only enjoy complete health and happiness.

Of the three, healthy food is by far the least troubling, although it’s true that everything can be taken to an extreme when God somehow gets forgotten about.

And we’ve already gone a long way to exposing the flawed thinking (and bona fide idol worship) behind yoga – and God willing, I hope to put together a special report on why yoga is NOT for believing Jews very soon, that you can download and share around.

So that leaves us with meditation.

Now, what could possibly be wrong with meditation, you ask? Isn’t meditation just the same sort of idea as the Breslev practice of hitbodedut, or personal prayer? The short answer is: no, no, and absolutely not.

Here’s why: the goal of meditation, even so-called ‘Jewish’ meditation, is to empty your mind of all thoughts, and concentrate on your breathing, and on experiencing your ‘nothingness’. God is completely out of the picture. (More on this shortly.)

At the holistic health event, I actually went to a couple of what was billed as ‘Jewish’ meditation classes, to get a feel for what really goes on with it all, and how it compares to hitbodedut.

In one class, that had bells, and Tibetan glass bowls, and few other props (plus very strict instructions to turn all mobile phones completely off) – I spent a whole hour being told I was a drop merged in the huge Kinneret, separate but part of something much bigger. There was also a lot of talk of being merged in the ‘velvet blackness’ that exists somewhere beyond the world. Just as I started to get really uncomfortable, Hashem finally made an appearance – we were to imagine the four letters of God’s ineffable name, etc.

At the end of that class, I went over to the teacher and asked him straight out:

How does this sort of meditation help you to fix your bad middot, or negative character traits? I mean, really cool that I got to relax a little and be a raindrop in the Kinneret, but if that’s all I spent a whole hour doing every day, then what on earth was the point?

I asked the teacher (who in fairness, did seem a whole lot more sincere than a lot of the other people there) to tell me how this type of meditation had helped him to become a nicer person, or get closer to God – because when people can only tell you those types of things if they’ve actually experienced them.

He replied by telling me that I should picture Hashem’s ineffable four letter name, and picture it washing away all my bad middot. It sounds good in theory, but in practice it’s baloney. In order for us to change our negative character traits and really improve ourselves, we have to change how we treat people in the real world. We have to apologise. We have to acknowledge our bad behavior. Sometimes, we have to make some difficult choices that are going to completely shake up our lives, make us look bad, or cause us some serious discomfort.

All of that was missing in the whole ‘raindrop’ meditation thing.

I will come on to other problems with it in the next post, but I just wanted to mention the other ‘Jewish meditation’ I went to. This one was taught by a very nice, sincere rabbi who’d spent years studying the teachings of Rav Aryeh Kaplan.

Again, we had to focus on our breathing, or on the birds, and not think about anything else. Then, we had to walk around the room super-slowly, and concentrate on how our feet were lifting up and being set back down again, super-slowly.

While this was miles better than the other version, not least because the Rabbi actually talked directly about God, and about connecting to God, and even had a ‘Shema meditation’ to share with us, I still had a problem with it:

How does focusing on my breathing, or the birds, or my walking, help me to fix my bad middot? How does it help me to get the advice I need to move forward in life, or to figure out all the knotty issues and problems in my life, or to be nicer to my husband and kids?

I asked the Rabbi, and he responded along the lines that when you realize that God is behind everything, then you can’t get angry at people any more.

Again, it’s a miles-better approach than the first guy, but practically speaking? I still don’t think it’s a very practical idea. I’ve spent years working on my bad middot, and things are really not that straight-forward, easy or simple.

By contrast, Rav Arush teaches that you have to spend a full half an hour every single day, asking God to nullify a single bad character trait, or negative habit – and even then, it can still take years before it’s fully gone, particularly if it’s one of your ‘big’ issues. There’s layers and layers and layers to this stuff, which is why our Rabbis taught that it’s easier to learn the whole Shas then to change even one character trait.

And here, I was being told that listening to birds and watching myself walk slowly was going to do the trick….

Who was right?

Was I just being judgmental, or was there some other, deeper, reason for how uneasy and uncomfortable I was feeling about the whole subject? I came home, cracked open Rebbe Nachman’s Likutey Moharan – and the answer was staring me straight in the face. I’ll share it with you in the next post, God willing.

Last Pesach, my husband got me a blue opal bracelet, set in copper settings.

(It sounds kinda weird, I know, which is probably why the man in the shop gave it to him for a bargain basement price). But when he brought it home and I put it on, I knew exactly what the message was: Fire and Ice.

Somehow, God was giving me a hint that this was the year that I was finally going to figure out how to balance those two elements, those two extremes, in myself, and my life and my work.

With God’s help, I wrote and published five books in the last year since Pesach, that tried to encapsulate the ‘fire’ of trying to live a spiritual, soul-full life in the middle of the emotionally ice-cold, ‘factual’ rationalism and fake materialism of our modern world.

But then…

The fire seemed to have sputtered out a little a couple of months’ ago. The fuel ran low, the replenishments ran out, and I kind of burned myself out in a big way, on many different fronts.

My ideas and my insights kept going, but my motivation to share them, or to believe that they might change the world in some way disappeared. I found myself stuck. Actually, I found myself completely frozen in place, unable to move forward in any direction.

After everything….what? What’s the point? What’s the point of writing things that people can’t relate to? What’s the point of talking about things that no-one wants to listen to, or believe? What’s the point of trying, when nothing ever gets anywhere?

What’s the point?

At this pretty low stage in my life, one of my daughters started blasting out a secular song from the Disney move ‘Frozen’. (She’s hitting that nearly teenage stage, and while we’ve made a point of banning secular music up until now, there comes a stage where you have to let it go a little.)

And guess what: The name of that song is: ‘Let it go’ – something that I’d been praying on for months, already, in my hitbodedut (personal prayer sessions). So instead of yelling at her and confiscating her phone, I knew it was a clue about something from Upstairs. So I went to find the lyrics, and here’s what I got:

The snow glows white on the mountain tonight,
not a footprint to be seen.
A kingdom of isolation and it looks like I’m the queen.
The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside.
Couldn’t keep it in, Heaven knows I tried.
Don’t let them in, don’t let them see.
Be the good girl you always have to be.
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know.
Well, now they know!
1

Let it go, let it go!
Can’t hold it back any more.
Let it go, let it go!
Turn away and slam the door.
I don’t care what they’re going to say.
Let the storm rage on.
The cold never bothered me anyway.

(I have no idea what the movie is about, BTW, but given that it’s Disney, no doubt it’s up to no good.)

So anyway, here I was, feeling ‘frozen’ in my life, and stuck, and here’s my daughter playing ‘Let it go’ full blast, and then here’s all these lyrics that seemed to really resonate with me (all except the bit about not crying, because clearly, I’ve been crying a lot the last few days, and I’m not even sure why.)

That’s the ice bit of the equation.

Last week,  I started to feel really unwell again, which hasn’t happened for a few months. (If you want to know how I could write a book called ‘Talk to God and Fix Your Health’, let’s just say I had to figure it all out the hard way.)

I anyway had an appointment scheduled with my reflexology lady, so I went even though I felt really poorly. And this is what she told me:

“Something’s moving! Your foot is full of fire today, and it’s not normally like that.”

My reflexologist practices according to a theory that divides the foot into four elements, namely earth, water, fire and air. Apparently, my foot is mostly ‘water’ with some air thrown in.  But seemingly, not anymore! As of the end of last week, the fire is back.

I know what the fire is: it’s Rabbenu.

Every single time I feel I’m spiraling down into ‘FREEZE/FROZEN/DEPRESSED’, I get a burst of the fire again, to thaw me out and keep me going.

As if to underline that point, yesterday I had this weird urge to call someone I don’t speak to very much. I called, left a message – and she called me back five minutes later from Uman, where she was praying at Rebbe Nachman’s grave.

I had no idea she was going, or that she was there.

Somewhere deep inside, a little bud of hope started to blossom again.

God DOES see me. He DOES notice my efforts. He knows how lonely the last ten years have been, and how hard I tried to fit in to all the boxes being produced for me by people I shouldn’t have trusted or listened to.

He knows how much effort I’ve made to fix things that I never even broke, and how hard I’ve tried to see the good in people, and situations, that have excelled in hurting me, and making me feel like all the problems in the world are somehow my fault.

Let it go! Let it go!

Can’t hold it back any more!

Let it go! Let it go!

Turn my back and slam the door.

Here I stand

And THERE they’ll stay.

Let it go, let it go.

The cold never bothered me anyway.

But only because I’ve got Rabbenu rubbing my feet, and giving me some will to continue.

Is it just me, or does the world feel pretty darned tense at the moment?

On the surface, not a lot is apparently going on (at least, according to the main news sites – and what do they know anyway?!)

But everyone I’m talking to right now seems to be having their own flavor of mega-stress going on. I felt like I got hit by some sort of tsunami last week, that had me off-balance and feeling half-panicked the whole time. This week, it’s already much better again, but that’s probably not least because I did a big 6 hour session of personal prayer again over the weekend, and that always works wonders (and is probably the single biggest reason why I’m not an inpatient at some loonie bin, somewhere.)

But I can see that the pressure is mounting, so I want to tell you about a few things that I think will help:

  • There is a huge prayer rally being called for Tuesday night, the Fast of Esther, in Mearat HaMachpela, in Hevron. They are literally bussing people in from all over the country for this event, which has come down the tube from Rav Berland.

(I know some people still feel a little uneasy when I mention Rav Berland, so this is the time to tell them that the chief of police who manufactured the charges against him recently went to Rav Arush, and publicly confessed what he did, because his life has been going from bad to worse as a result of the false claims he manufactured against Rav Berland, and he wanted to know how he could fix it.

Rav Arush told him that he has to come clean and tell everyone what he was involved with. The man is scared of reprisals from his superiors, but my guess is that the reprisals from his real ‘Superior’ will get so difficult, sooner or later even the Jerusalem Post will be reporting the story.)

Rav Berland predicted the current Intifada we’re going through many months before it began.

Part of why he’s wondering around the world in exile is because he took it upon himself to sweeten the very harsh judgments hanging over Am Israel. He, and many other of the real rabbis, have done so much to minimize them – but we still have our part to play, and that’s what the prayer rally is all about.

You can join one of the buses heading to Hevron Tuesday night HERE.

  • Still with Rav Berland, he recently made an announcement that the health and safety of anyone who is willing to pay a pidyon nefesh of 98 shekels a month for their family to Shuvu Banim doesn’t have to worry about getting caught up in any terrorist attacks.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like the deal of the century to me. A few months’ back, I sent in a different pidyon to the Rav about a health issue that had been troubling me for literally years – and BH, from the day I sent the request in to him (never mind, actually pay the money) the situation has been improving all the time.

Rav Berland is a huge tzaddik, and the real deal, so if he says ‘I guarantee your safety if you pay this pidyon’, then you can believe him.

  • The last thing to share with you comes from Rav Shalom Arush, who on Shabbat mentioned that Purim is the most auspicious time to pray of the whole year. Rav Arush explained that usually, he just tells people to say ‘thank you’ and to not request things, as that can stir up some big spiritual judgments and make things even more difficult for them.

But on Purim, there are no judgments! So he told everyone to pray as much as they can, and to ask Hashem for whatever they need. Usually, midnight (chatzot) is the best time of all to do this, but whatever time you manage to squeeze some personal prayer in, Purim is the day to do it.

Things are turning around, somehow. But I still have no idea if the hurricane is ending, or just beginning.

Today, I was meant to be driving up North, to see a friend there and have a day out.

On my way out of Jerusalem, I saw I was running low on gas so I stopped at the ‘Yellow’ just by the city entrance to fill up before heading out.

As luck (i.e. God) would have it, I got stuck behind an older woman who was having all sorts of trouble with her car. She couldn’t open the cap for the petrol; she couldn’t get her credit card to work; she couldn’t fit the nozzle into the petrol tank; she couldn’t get a receipt printed out.

By the end of the whole palaver, I was starting to get pretty antsy.

My fingers started drumming on the steering wheel. My leg started involuntarily tapping. Then, when she got back in her car and started faffing around with her lights, her hair, her seat – I don’t know what – I got impatient and beeped her. Not loud and aggressively, but just to remind her that five other people were waiting for her to drive off, already, so they could also get on with their day.

She ignored my beep.

She got out of her car, went to browse in the Yellow’s snacks section, and only then returned and finally put her key in the ignition. It took her another two minutes to figure out the gears and steering wheel, and as soon as I could, I overtook her on the way out of the petrol station, desperate to not get stuck behind her for another five minutes as she tried to figure out how to actually leave the petrol forecourt.

Less than a minute later, I nearly crashed.

I was in the fast lane behind a high truck who was driving fast, but not abnormally so. Suddenly, they skidded off into the slow lane without indicating – and I nearly ran straight into the back of a long line of parked cars, that I hadn’t seen coming because I was behind a high vehicle and it was behind a bend.

There was that horrible screech of tyres, and that heart-stopping moment where I waited to see if the brakes were going to work fast enough to avoid a horrible accident. Thank God, I skidded to a stop barely a foot away from the car in front of me.

It was a very near miss.

So near, that I realized when I started driving off again that at least one of my front tyres had exploded under the pressure of my forced braking at high speed. I pulled off the nearest exit, and parked by the Mevasseret Zion mall to take a look at the tyre. It was completely busted.

Hmm.

I had no idea how to change a tyre, and only around $20 in my wallet, which was enough to pay for a day out, but not enough to buy a new tyre.

Hmm.

Just then, I spotted a gang of four apparently secular teenage boys walking past, and I ran over to them and asked for help changing my flat.

Dear reader, they didn’t hesitate. Despite the fact that only one of them had ever done it before, and that it took a good 40 minutes for them to work out how to work the jack, how to get the bolts off the wheel, how to stick the other wheel on (all with the help of their trust i-Phones…) – they worked with such good grace and patience.

Not for the first time, I said a small prayer of thanks that I live where I live, with the people who live around me.

Where else would I have felt happy asking a gang of strange teenage boys for help? Where else would they have said ‘yes’, and so happily obliged me? Where else would they actually have figured it all out in a way that I was happy to drive my car after they were done?

Who is like your people, Hashem!

On the short drive back to Jerusalem, I pondered why it’d all happened. I mean, nothing happens for no reason, and clearly God was hiding some sort of big message in my near miss. It struck me just as I turned into my own street that I had a couple of people I needed to apologise to.

A couple of years’ ago, I got caught up in a completely skewed mindset that made it a mitzvah to point people’s ‘bad’ out to them, and I’d said a few things to a couple of people that I really shouldn’t have.  I realized God was prompting me to make amends, to change direction, and to return and fix things that needed fixing, instead of driving off to the next big adventure.

I heeded the message, and I wrote a couple of emails as soon as I got back.

Nothing happens for nothing in life.

If I nearly crashed, got a flat, and got helped in such an unlikely way, it was clearly designed to teach me something.

At least patience – to happily sit behind the faffing old granny, so that I didn’t get caught up in a near miss. And gratitude – that I didn’t have a bad accident; that those kids helped me to change my wheel so graciously. And humility – to know I’m not in charge of my life, and to remember that broken things need to be fixed, even if they weren’t broken on purpose.