You could sum up all the different things we’ve been learning this week about what’s causing the breakdown in tznius, and in our marital relationships, like this:

Many people today are walking around disconnected from the ‘real them’, (ie their souls and their true feelings), and on a deep level, they don’t like themselves very much.

In a nutshell, that’s the problem.

If the people who keep coming out with the horrible diatribes against the tarty women really understood that women dress and act immodestly because they fundamentally don’t value themselves, they’d understand that having a go at these women is only going to make the problem worse.

These women already feel bad about themselves. Telling them they’re going to Gehinnom for wearing a short skirt is not news to them – they’re ALREADY LIVING in their own personal Gehinnom.

So instead, we need to reach out to them, and encourage them to see their true holiness, and innate beauty and goodness. We need to start building people up – even if they’re wearing stretchy lycra and Barbie-style wigs – instead of tearing them down.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that we condone their bad behaviour. But there is a huge difference between criticising behaviour and criticising the individuals themselves.

Remember, that a lack of empathy is underneath most of the problem. A lack of empathy means that we can’t see the other person, and we don’t validate or acknowledge their experiences and feelings.

If we’re really empathising with the tarty women, it’ll be very easy for us to understand that the stretchy lycra is a cry for help, and for love and attention, and we’ll react with far more understanding, kindness and respect, as a result.

Tarty women are not ‘the enemy’. They are human beings who are struggling very much to value and like themselves, and that’s reflected in their unfortunate choice of clothing and attention-seeking behaviour.

On the other side of the equation, we also need to be praying for our men, and seeing the best in them, and encouraging them to get out of the prison of physical lust, instead of pandering to it at any price.

Really, most husbands and wives are on the same team, and they both want a lasting, loving satisfying relationship with their spouses. Just today, there’s so much confusion around that it seems like ‘the bedroom’ is the only place to achieve that deep connection. But the spiritual truth is exactly the opposite: encouraging physical lust drives many husbands and wives apart, as it makes the body the primary vehicle for ‘connection’ instead of the soul.

The more we women work on our own spiritual dimension, the more we make God a reality in our lives, and the more we pray for our husbands and sons to access and connect to their true selves, the healthier and happier our relationships – and their relationships – are going to be.

We also need to encourage them to read books that clearly explain from an authentic Jewish perspective how God is really running the world, and how their true happiness depends on them fulfilling the spiritual role that God created them for, ie, to be a giver to their wives and families, in every sense of the word

(Some suggestions for starters: The Garden of Peace, and then ‘Britti Shalom’ by Rav Shalom Arush. Click HERE to go through to the Breslev bookstore.)

This is big spiritual work, and it doesn’t come easy. Two things make this happen:

1) Prayer

And

2) Empathy

Prayer means that we get God involved in solving the problem, and we don’t fall into despair, and give up on our husbands and marriages, because we know God can turn everything around in the blink of an eye.

Empathy means that instead of blaming others, and having a go at them, and calling them ‘stupid’ and ‘dumb’, and accusing them of acting like ‘shameless animals’, we try to connect to the hurt that’s underneath the inappropriate dress and behaviour that’s occurring on both sides of the gender divide.

It means that we try to build people up, instead of tearing them down. And most of all, it means that we do our very best to give our children, our spouses, and OURSELVES as much genuine love, understanding and empathy as we can.

And if we start trying to do that, we’re already more than half-way to really resolving the problem.

So in the last post, we set out that when women dress and act provocatively, it’s usually because they’re looking for attention on the street, to make up for a lack of positive attention in their home environment.

We also touched on that fact that this often occurs because today, there is a huge lack of empathy even in the frum world, which means that many couples are finding it hard to make deep emotional bonds and attachments to each other, leading to superficial, unsatisfying relationships where the emphasis is increasingly on externals, and physicality, as opposed to the deeper, spiritual inner dimension.

In the interests of even-handedness, in this post I want to talk a little about the struggles specifically facing the men.

Spiritually, women have always been more spiritually tuned-in than men. This is one of the key reasons why we’re exempt from the mitzvah of laying tefillin, for example, as men need something concrete and physical to bind them to God, while that sense of spiritual connection often comes much easier to most women.

The Gemara also teaches us that 10 measures of speech descended to the world, and that women took nine of them. Rav Arush, in Women’s Wisdom, explains that God gave us the power of speech so that we would use it to pray for our husbands and families.

Rav Arush also explains that women have been doubly-blessed: first, we have the spiritual insight and emotional intelligence to see what’s going wrong in our families, and to see what’s lacking, spiritually-speaking. Then, we have ten times the power of men to pray about the problem, and get it fixed.

If we’re spiritually-tuned in and regularly praying for our families, this system works great. But if we’re not? It’s a huge struggle – and the people who fall the first, and the hardest, are the men in our lives.

Remember, they don’t have the same level of innate spirituality and connection to their souls that women do. In today’s world, overflowing with smut, and pandering to the ‘red-blooded male’s’ basest instincts on all fronts, our men need all the spiritual help they can get to re-attach to holiness and God, and to remember that they’re here to work on their souls, and not just to get their physical kicks in life.

The Zohar teaches that men are meant to be givers, and women receivers. In today’s upside-down world, men are being encouraged to take whatever they can get, in whatever way they can get it – even in the frum world.

There are a precious few voices in the wilderness trying to highlight the problem of how spiritually upside-down everything is today on the relationship front, most notably Rav Shalom Arush, but they are facing an uphill battle.

So let’s break the problem facing the men down, into manageable chunks:

1) Men innately have a much greater pull to physicality, lust and superficial relationships than women.

2) Modern society is exacerbating the problem a million-fold, with its emphasis on physical beauty and obsession with self-gratification.

3) Men who grow up in homes where a) their emotions aren’t recognised, validated and nurtured (ie, there is very little empathy) and b) no-one is praying for them to overcome their innate difficulties to dig deep, and get ‘real’, spiritually and emotionally, get disconnected from the real them, namely their souls.

4) They feel this lack of connection, to God, to their own souls, and to the others in their life, especially their wives, but they lack the emotional tools to describe it, even to themselves. So they go after physical relationships and external beauty to try and fill the hole, because the physical world is their main frame of reference – even if they’re apparently very ‘religious’.

5) This creates a situation where even in marriage, the men get stuck behind this wall of emotional numbness, unable to really connect to their wives on the emotional and spiritual level. The wives feel this lack – and try to solve the problem by trying to attract more attention, and by becoming more ‘giving’, anyway they can. The husbands feel this lack, and try to solve the problem by becoming more physically demanding in their relationships with their wives, thinking that more physical contact will equate to a genuinely closer connection. But usually, the opposite happens.

Let’s be clear that this is all usually happening under the surface, and that neither husband nor wife really understands what is going on, or why. All they know is that they both feel lonely, misunderstood and somehow ‘distant’ from their spouse, without having the first clue why, or what to really do about it.

Now that we’ve clearly set out the problem, in the next post, I’ll share some ideas for how to start turning this heart-breaking state of affairs around.

Moving past the blame game

As the previous post touched on, the lack of tznius behaviour and dress on the religious Jewish street is highlighting the fact that a lot of things today are very messed up.

It’s crazy that frum matrons are wearing Barbie-style wigs and such tight clothes that it almost looks like they’re vacuum-packed. It’s also crazy that so many apparently respectable, religious men think it’s OK to make terrible, misogynist comments about women (while drawing heavily on their 5th Marlboro Light).

And the craziest thing of all, is that anybody actually thinks for a minute that blaming the women for dressing untzniusly, or blaming the men for being self-righteous, selfish jerks is actually going to achieve anything positive, and get things to move. (Although, I did that myself in the last post….)

So what will get things to move?

Well, as I touched on in the last post, we need to start asking big questions about WHY so many women are dressing so untzniusly, across all parts of the Jewish world, in the first place.

My thought is this: they want attention.

Why do these beautiful, innately holy women want attention from the street? Usually, because they’re not getting enough positive attention at home.

And this is where we start to hit a huge, ginormous can of worms, because Jewish home life is really struggling in 2015, even in the most orthodox of homes.

There is a general lack of caring, or empathy, in the world today, that underlies so many of the problems that the Jewish community is experiencing. I can’t really do any justice to this topic in a short post, so for now, I just want to start focusing on one aspect of it: the general lack of caring and empathy in the relationship between husband and wife.

‘Empathy’ means that you can relate to another person enough to put yourself in their shoes, and to see things from their point of view. When children are raised with enough empathy and caring, that in turn gives them the ability to empathise with, and care for, others, when they become adults.

When children aren’t raised with enough empathy and caring – then they can’t give it over to anyone else. Not their spouse, not their kids, not anyone. This reflects itself in self-centred, inflexible, stubborn behaviour, and when taken to an extreme, can blossom into a personality disorder.

Now, giving, caring and empathising doesn’t just mean you buy people stuff, and wash their clothes and cook for them (although sometimes, these are very welcome external expressions of caring.)

When you care and empathise about someone else, you take time to talk to them; you give their ideas and opinions ‘space’; you do your best to accept differences of opinion, especially non-crucial ones like what sort of kippa they want to wear, or what colour they want to paint their room.

But when caring and empathy is lacking, people can’t relate to each other on this deep, emotional level; and their relationship become controlling and superficial, and all about ‘keeping up appearances’.

So what does all this have to do with tznius, and the Jewish family?

Great question!

As mentioned yesterday, the Zohar explains that the women are just reflecting the men they are married to. The men have their heads in their Gemara, or in their i-Phone, or in their football game (depending on the community). Externally, they may be doing all the ‘right’ things, but emotionally? So many men today are completely unavailable.

The wife normally wants a deep, fulfilling connection with her husband. After some time passes, she starts to realise that apparently, she can’t get it (I’ve met a lot of women who gave up on ever having a ‘real’ conversation with their husband a long time ago) – so she starts to look elsewhere for attention and fulfillment.

Let’s be clear that this is not the wife’s fault, and it’s not the husband’s fault, and it’s also not the parents’ fault.

It’s a post for another time, but there are many, many reasons why empathy has gone AWOL from so many people’s lives today; some of them are spiritual; some of them are energetic; and all of them have coalesced in our generation, to create some huge problems.

The main question for us, is what do we DO about it?

And God willing, I’ll start trying to answer that in the next couple of posts.

A little while ago, I received an email from someone (heck knows how I got on their list… ) describing women in the most derogatory terms.

They were ‘shameless animals’, who selfishly and thoughtlessly paraded around the Holy City in their stretch lycra, making it impossible for impeccably holy, God-fearing men like the sender of the email, to even step out of doors.

Something should be done about these shameless hussies!

(I got the feeling that the sender of the email would be quite keen on locking the offending women up in big boxes, or at the very least chopping-off the offending parts of their anatomy.)

Now, tznius, or rather the lack of tznius even on the frum street, is a huge, ginormous problem. I’ve had my eyes pop out of my head on many occasions, at some of the lack of clothing going on. It’s very degrading to me, as a woman, to see my fellow women strutting their untznius stuff, and getting ogled by all the lechers.

Some part of me just wants to pull the poor, untznius woman aside and tell her:

“God loves you so much, you holy Jew! Don’t cheapen yourself by tarting yourself up like this: look behind you, at all the attention you’re drawing from those horrible, lecherous men. There is a better way to feel good about yourself!”

Of course, I don’t. Maybe one day, God will show me how to pull that one off.

But the point is, it’s completely unfair to keep the discussion about tznius, and it’s lack, solely on the women’s side of the court.

Let’s take wigs: I hate wigs, I don’t get wigs, I can’t stand wigs, I’ve never worn a wig in my life. I get 100% that wigs are causing a lot of problems on the tznius front. So far so good. But why aren’t people asking the question of question: WHY are so many women wearing wigs in the first place?

Sure, part of it is that they want to look the best they can be (and I’ll come back to this point in the next post). But another big part of the equation is that their husbands often enjoy the attention their wife gets if she makes a ‘splash’ with their buddies. And another, often huge, part of the problem is that many of these ladies are working women, or otherwise in situations where there is a lot of social pressure to ‘keep up appearances’. It takes a lot of self-confidence to stick out from the crowd.

I know from myself, that if I was in my old job in the UK, I’d probably have to wear a wig to work, or risk being censured by my very formal, British bosses, if I covered my hair with a scarf, the way I do in Israel.

A lot of women wear wigs because that’s more acceptable in the work place, and because everyone else is doing it, in their communities. In the home, you can wear your dressing gown all day and not bat an eyelid – but a lot of these very ‘pious’ men want their wives out all day, working their socks off to support the family.

But this isn’t just a superficial or academic discussion, it’s a very serious spiritual malaise. Underneath all the ‘hell and brimstone’ stuff about tznius, and about those evil, foxy ladies that are pulling men to eternal perdition, there runs a very deep, very nasty current of almost Xtian-like misogyny.

Xtians just lurve all that ‘original sin’ and ‘evil mother Eve’ stuff. They love to blame the woman for all the problems in the world, and paint the men as whiter-than-white, which is why many Xtian clergy make it a virtue to never get married.

BUT THIS IS NOT THE JEWISH WAY!!!

(Yes, I am shouting).

The Jewish way (via the Zohar Hakodesh and Rav Arush) teaches that women are simply the mirrors of their husbands, reflecting the traits and mores that their husbands need to work on, and fix. The Jewish way also teaches (via the Ari HaKodesh) that in the generation before Moshiach, all the women are completely fixed (emphasis mine). They’re only back here to help their husbands get their spiritual act together.

Back in the Garden of Eden, God had a go at ADAM, not at his wife. If God was sticking up all those bright fluorescent posters around the Garden of Eden, they would probably read something like this:

HOLY JEWISH MEN!!!!!

Save your souls, and stop trying to blame the poor women for all your problems and weaknesses.

You have a lot of spiritual work to do, and the first place to start is with yourself. Your wife is just reflecting your inner dimension back at you.

If you start treating her in a more loving, caring way, and you give her the attention, empathy, and love that an individual with true yireh shemayim should shower on his wife, all the tznius problems will go away, pronto. (And it would also really help if you ditched your i-Phone and stopped ogling all the ladies walking past you on the street.)

I know it’s not easy to keep your eyes to yourself, but if you ask Me for help, instead of pretending you’re some sort of Tzadik, things would be going so much better for the Jewish people.

So take pity on your souls, our holy Jewish brothers, and don’t say you weren’t warned: If your wife is dressing like a tart, it’s because you’re not giving her enough attention, love and caring.

Anyone disregarding this poster will be boiled alive in a huge vat of coffee.

Now, that’s what I call a really effective tznius call to action.

Does it ever happen to you that you sometimes feel like you’re in some sort of weird screenplay of your own life? That never happened to me so much in London, but since I’ve lived in Israel, every week has had its own share of unusual events that I sometimes just pinch myself to make sure it’s all actually real.

I don’t have anything particularly ‘out there’ to share with you (this week…) but it’s just the small, unusual circumstances that make up my every day life that sometimes amaze and baffle me, in equal measure.

Some examples:

  • My youngest came home yesterday, and told me a really funny, ‘hilarious’ story of how her friend’s house in Maaleh Zeitim (a neighbourhood on the outskirts of the Mount of Olive cemetery, very close to the Temple Mount) got firebombed, by an Arab throwing a Molotov cocktail.
  • My neighbours just bought (and subsequently sold…) a dog that was half Rottweiler, and half Pekinese. Now, I know these things are technically possible, but when I saw that super-aggressive fuzzy slipper with sausage legs, I thought someone was playing a bad joke. I mean, it kind of boggles the mind.
  • I went out for a walk on Yom Yerushalayim (‘Jerusalem Day’) a little while back, and the streets were awash with literally hundreds of thousands of Jewish teenagers, waving Israeli flags and buying every piece of junk food in sight. It was awesome to behold, in every sense of the word.

 

And then there’s the more routine, but no less amazing things, like the fact that I live 15 minutes’ walk away from where King David is buried. Sometimes, I say a few Psalms, and then I get completely weirded-out by the fact that the person who wrote them is interred so close to my home. I mean, that’s just an amazing thing.

Then, there’s the soundtrack that God chooses to accompany my own particular film. Sometimes, I’ll walk into a shop and they’ll be blasting out one of my favourite secular songs from twenty years’ ago, and it always stops me dead in my tracks. Music comes from a very ‘high’ place, spiritually, and it can literally transport you across years and countries and mindsets.

I walk into the shop a 40-something Jewish housewife in Israel, and I walk out a teenage girl in London (or Canada. The moving-around thing’s been happening for decades already.)

A few days’ ago, I was having a bad day. One of my kids started playing some obscure CD by Israeli Singer Gad Elbaz that we’ve had forever, but one of the songs suddenly really grabbed my attention: It was a musical rendition of Psalm 23.

You know the one:

God is my shepherd

I shall not lack.

He lays me down in lush meadows,

He leads me by tranquil waters.

He restores my soul.

He leads me on paths of righteousness, for the sake of His Name.

Even though I walk in the valley overshadowed by death,

I will not fear evil, because You are with me.

To say I was transfixed was an understatement.

Once my kids went to school, I had the song on ‘repeat’ for about 2 hours solid.

How did God know that I so needed to hear that song, just then?

How did King David know that I’d be feeling exactly that way, when he wrote that Psalm? (Maybe he also had melodramatic females in his household?).

Point is, it was the perfect soundtrack for that particular scene.

I’m at that stage in the script of my life where enough suspense has built up over the last year, that it’s time for the denouement, already. I have no idea how the happy ending comes, but I’d like to believe it IS coming, and probably in a hugely unexpected way, like all the best plots.

Moshiach shows up on a donkey and gives my kids a lift to school, in the Old City? I find that $3 million in cash is stuffed in the pipe that keeps backing-up into my toilet? Someone gives me a fat advance to write my life story? Who knows.

All I can tell you, is that the screenplay has never had a dull moment, and while there have definitely been a lot of tear-jerking parts to it, it’s always been more of a comedy than a tragedy – and may it continue thus.

Sarah came home to the tent one day very het up. Avraham came over to ask her what was troubling her, and Sarah let rip.

“The ladies by the well are all talking about me! They’re telling me that instead of staying home and kneading dough all day, I should go and get a job as a secretary, so you can just devote yourself to learning Torah, like a real gadol hador!”

Avraham was taken aback.

“Well, but if you do that, Sarah my love, who’s going to look after young Yitzhak?” Sarah shrugged her shoulders, and said in a hesitant voice:

“Well, I saw an ad in the local Pirsumit magazine that Hagar’s started up a new childcare facility. I think she’s roped Yishmael into keeping the kids entertained by showing them how to catch rabbits, or something…”

Avraham shook his head solemnly.

“Sarah, my love, this doesn’t sound right at all. How are we meant to pass on our holy Jewish beliefs and heritage to our son if he’s off shooting pigeons with his somewhat reckless brother? (Avraham always excelled in phrasing things gently.)

“How would that benefit us? How would that build the world? No, my dear, you stay home and look after our precious son, and I’ll continue to study Torah every chance I get, when I don’t have to look after the estate or make small-talk with the locals.”

Sarah cheered up tremendously, once she heard Avraham’s wise words, and disappeared off to her tent to get the next batch of dough prepared.

But the ladies of the well weren’t about to give up so easily. Sarah and Avraham were so, well, old-fashioned, and stick in the mud. It was obvious to everyone (except them…) that if a couple were really serious about the Torah, the woman had to make sacrifices to enable her husband to learn 24/7.

They dispatched Zipporah, the group’s self-styled rebbetzin, to try and persuade Sarah to come round to their more enlightened view. Zipporah knocked on the tent door, just as Sarah was plaiting her challah.

“Hmm, baking again, I see,” said Zipporah, with a condescending little smile playing around her mouth.

“I love to bake!” Sarah told her, eyes shining. “It fills the whole tent with such a delicious, homey smell.”

Zipporah hrrmphed to herself, then sat herself down next to Sarah’s kneading bowl, and put a clammy hand on Sarah’s floury one, in what she hoped was an earnest, caring way.

“Sarah, I heard that Berman’s bakery up the road is looking for a new manager. You’d be perfect! No-one makes challah like you, and once you start doing your bit for the family, Avraham won’t have to waste so much time dealing with the shepherds and well-diggers. You’ll be able to afford to hire someone to manage the estate for you, while he sits in learns…In fact, I know just the person. My sister-in-law, Estie, would fit the bill perfectly.”

Sarah’s smile froze on her face.

“Zipporah, I don’t want to work. I want to raise my children. I’ve discussed it with Avraham, and he agrees that that is the right thing to do. Eliezer is helping us out, in the meantime, so let Estie take the job at Bermans’, and then everyone’s happy.”

Zipporah had had enough.

“Sarah! You are being so selfish! You’re married to the gadol hador, and it’s just not right that you’re not enabling him to learn Torah full time! I’m sure God would prefer for Avraham to be teaching and learning Torah, than having to haggle over the bushel price for goats’ wool!”

Sarah snapped back:

“If that’s true, Zipporah, then WHY did God make it the man’s responsibility to provide for his wife, and not the other way round? Avraham signed the ketuba, not me!”

Zipporah rolled her eyes skyward. Gosh, that old chestnut again. I mean, it’s just a ketuba, for goodness’ sake. No-one else took that seriously. But trust Sarah to take things at face value…

Zipporah stood up to leave.

“I see I can’t change your mind,” she said stiffly. “I have no idea how you expect to get a good shidduch for Yitzhak, with your warped beliefs that men should be off supporting their families. I expect you’ll get some lay-about daughter-in-law who thinks making a pot of soup is a big achievement. And the generation will just have to be an orphaned generation, bereft of your husband’s Torah, because you won’t swallow your pride and your funny ideas, and start your own hair accessory business…”

Sarah nodded curtly at her guest, and escorted her out the tent entrance.

Sure, Avraham’s Torah was hugely important. But if Yitzhak went off the derech, then who’d be around to learn it? Or to live it? Or to pass it on to the next generation? In her heart, Sarah knew that she’d picked the right job, whatever Zipporah and the ladies of the well might say.

Out of all the Sefirot, one, Malchut, is considered to be ‘female’. The main reason for this is because Malchut only receives, while the other sefirot all ‘give’, which according to the Torah is a male trait.

Malchut is when you crown God as King of the world, primarily by seeing Him actively engaged in every area of your life. This is a working definition of what it means to have emuna, so emuna and malchut are very connected.

It’s no accident that women tend to have a lot more emuna than men; they tend to be much more connected to the spiritual realm, and much more in tune with God, and what God actually wants, especially if they’re regularly talking to Him.

Which brings me on to the main topic of today’s post:

In the story of the Exchanged Children, Rebbe Nachman explains how the main protagonist, the prince-turned-slave, is set a riddle by the land of the wise people with a foolish king, in order to become their king.

The prince-turned-slave is shown a tableau where everything has been rearranged and taken out of its proper place, and his job is to put it all back in its right order.

The first thing the prince-turned-slave does is take the rose that he finds at the bottom of the throne, in the mud, and to return it to its proper place at the top.

A few months’ ago, I was having a chat with God, like you do, and I suddenly got some startling clarity about that particular story, and what the rose represents: the rose is us!

It’s you and me, and the rest of the ladies out there.

For all the so-called progress made by the ‘Women’s Lib’ movement, women today have never been so disrespected, downtrodden and demeaned.

The Hollywood culture has turned us into bodies to be ogled and used in the most heart-breaking fashion; the materialistic culture has turned us into slaves to the paycheck, forcing us to put having a job ahead of having the time and patience we need to really nurture our families; and Women’s Lib has made us feel guilty that we’re not as competitive, unfeeling and insensitive as the men in our lives.

I’d love to tell you that things are better in the Jewish world, and especially in the religious Jewish world, but really, they’re not.

Here too, women are routinely in the mud.

I hate all the stereotypes that abound in the religious world, and that are used to hit various groups over the head with, so I’m going to pause, and let you look around your own community, your own group, to recognise how this may be playing out in your world.

What I see, is tired, stressed female faces on every side; I see lonely woman who clearly feel ‘something’ has gone wrong; I see daughters growing up promising themselves they are never going to live like their mothers; I see wives and girlfriends hoping and wishing it could somehow be different, and that the men in their lives could somehow grow up, and start treating them with respect and genuine love and caring.

I see this happening all over the place. It’s not confined to any single stereotype, community or neighbourhood. We women are in the mud.

We need someone, somehow, to take us from our lowly position, and replace us as the beautiful crown of our homes. Rav Arush, bless him, has been trying to do this for a few years’ already, with his books about marriage.

In those books, Rav Arush makes it clear that it’s the man’s role is to GIVE and the woman’s role is to RECEIVE. That’s how God made the world. That’s the right order of things.

So in this week of Malchut, let me give us all a bracha that things should return to their right place, and that we women should be raised out of the difficult places we currently find ourselves in, in every sense of the word.

A little while back, someone asked me what I do to get my kids to pray, if they don’t feel like it. I told her straight: absolutely nothing. If my kids aren’t in the mood to formally talk to the Creator of the World, that’s OK: they’re 11 and 14, respectively. They get forced to pray plenty of Amidahs in school, so they know how to do it. And when the time is right, I’m sure they are going to want to start praying a whole lot more than are right now.

I mean, how much did you want to pray when you were 14? When I was 14, praying was pretty much the last thing I wanted to do, and now I talk to God for an hour every day. (Which is an open miracle, and really nothing to do with me.)

Sure, I want my kids to be connected to Hashem, but forcing matters is only going to backfire.

Someone told me a few years’ back about their son, who was at a very serious Torah High School, where they learned a heck of a lot of gemara, and rigorously tested the students on what they were learning.

He came out of that school hating Torah.

How could he not? Cast your mind back to your school days: is there any subject that you enjoyed more after being pressured to cram for it just to score an ‘A’ on an exam? I don’t think so.

And it’s even more the case with matters of the soul, because when you force your kids to conform externally, and they go along with whatever mitzvah it is you’re pushing down their throat, on some level, you just completely killed the inner dimension of that mitzvah for them.

The reason I don’t force my kids to pray, is because I so badly WANT them to pray, when they get older. Praying, talking to God, is so often pretty much the only thing that gets me through my day. It’s an enormous spiritual gift, and one that I want to pass over to my kids. But not by nagging them, cajoling them, guilting them or bribing them to do it.

When they’re ready, it will come.

How do I know? Because while I don’t force my kids to pray, I certainly expect it of myself: I try and pray for my kids on a regular basis, whenever they seem to need it (which can be every day, sometimes.)

I’ve been paying into their ‘spiritual bank account’ for years’ already, and like I explained to them, when they’re ready to start banking their own prayers, they should hopefully find that they’ve already got a fairly large amount of spiritual credit to start off with.

It’s such an upside-down world, isn’t it? So many of us are trying to muddle through with precious little idea of what’s really right, or not, and there’s so much conflicting advice out there from ‘experts’ who talk a good game superficially, but actually don’t help you very much.

The exception to this rule in my life has been Rav Arush. Once I read his ‘Education with Love’, I just knew that all the other nonsense out there about ‘tough love’ and ‘forcing’ and ‘being strict’ and ‘manners’ was exactly that: nonsense.

You can’t force good character traits, you can only model them yourself, and hope your kids will follow suit. So if you really want your kids to pray – take the lead, and show them how to do it.

I seem to be going through a pretty heavy time at the moment, spiritually. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, some years it feels like every day of the Omer is an ordeal you just have to get through, and learn the lessons from.

Some years it’s more obvious, some years less so, and this year – it’s completely in my face from the moment I wake up.

But God always prepares the balm before the blow, so at the same time as I’m being buffeted by severe doubts in my own efforts and capabilities, and also in God’s willingness to help me out of the pit I’ve fallen into, financially and spiritually, there’s Rav Ofer Erez, explaining why it’s actually all really OK, and exactly the way it’s meant to be.

Just today, I was listening to another dynamite class of his where he was talking about galut hanefesh¸ or the exile of the soul. In a nutshell, he explained that the main difficulty for our generation is that we all know what’s true: we’ve read the books, we’ve heard the news reports; we’ve done the research on Google – but we can’t actually get there.

So on the one hand, of course we know it’s bad to smoke, and bad to eat sugar, and terrible to eat margarine, and on the other hand mmmmm, yummy donuts…

Ditto with childrearing. Yes, we all know it’s terrible to criticise our offspring, and horrendous to feed them white pasta, and border-line neglect not to have deep conversations with them at least once a month. But then, who’s got the time, energy or patience for it to be any other way, especially these days?

The same is true in every area of our lives, from our marriages, to our earning abilities (make $100k a month, from home!) to our relationship with God. We can see how it could look, should look, has to look – and we just can’t reach it.

We don’t have the strength to talk to God every day. We don’t have the energy to try and hold our husband together while we ourselves are continually falling apart. We don’t have the motivation to keep hanging on for a miracle rescue, even though we really do know 100% that God can give us one in a second.

Why?

Because we’re stuck in ‘reality’, and our current ‘reality’ and truth don’t make good bedfellows.

Which is when you can get really broken, spiritually, unless you get clued-in about what’s really going on. What’s really going on is that God has set up the rules in this generation in such a way, that’s it impossible to win the game – unless you’ve got a big tzaddik behind you.

That’s the only way to do it, and Rav Ofer explained that both the Baal Shem Tov and Rebbe Nachman were talking about how it was going to be for our generation, more than 200 years’ ago.

Spiritually-crushed people can’t just go and uncrush themselves. They need outside help just to wake up in the morning, let alone to fight off their yetzers and start drinking green smoothies.

So if you’re caught in the gap between what you know to be true, and what you want to embody, and what is actually happening in your life, join the club. It’s the exile of the soul, we’re all in the same boat, and it’s going to take a tzaddik of the calibre of Rebbe Nachman or Moshe Rabbenu to spring us out of prison.

So, about three months ago, I wrote the draft of a book about how to talk to God and fix your mental and physical health.

I tweaked it, rewrote it, tweaked it some more, then started contacting literary agents to see if anyone might be interested in helping me get a book deal. I mean, I have a blog… I’ve been writing for years… How hard could it be to get published?

The answer is: pretty darned hard.

Apparently, I need 25k followers on Twitter and 100k readers (minimum…) before anyone will touch my book with a bargepole.

The good news is: I’m 2% of the way there.

But I realised, I need some help. I bit the bullet and signed up for Twitter (which I still so don’t get, btw) – but I can’t bring myself to do Facebook. Even the thought of befriending 4000 people online gives me heebie-jeebies.

So now, I’m back to the same question I’ve been wrestling with for years, already: does God want more prayer to get me bumped up to a big readership, or more effort?

Let’s be clear that before I started my blogs and new business, I’d spent approximately the last seven years ONLY praying. I had a huge reaction to my first business going down the toilet (with very little prayer and huge amounts of effort), and I felt like ‘prayer is the only way to go’.

It worked OK until my husband quit his job to join me in that approach a couple of years’ ago – and we ended up going completely bankrupt and having to sell our house just to buy groceries.

I’m still in the process of picking through the aftermath of being hit by that spiritual tsunami, and I still haven’t been able to draw any fast and hard conclusions, except maybe for one: I’m clearly not at the level where I can just sit on my couch and still be able to buy my cheerios.

So I at least got that message, and I reacted by trying my best to ‘do’ more.

But I seem to have come full-circle now, facing that same problem that’s dogged me for years. If ‘all work’ wasn’t the way to go, and ‘all prayer’ apparently wasn’t the way to go, what does that leave me with?

I know, you’re going to say ‘the balanced, middle way’, but as we’ve already discussed, balance is SO not me. But apparently, it’s going to have to be. I guess I’ll have to carry on doing the odd six hour prayer session, and then carry on finding random people on Twitter to connect to.

I think.

Unless you have any better ideas?