Why ‘confirmation bias’ is such a big spiritual problem

A long time ago, when infographics were still all the rage, I came across this infographic which clearly showed the 20 main ‘cognitive biases’, including confirmation bias. This infographic basically dissects the playbook the yetzer hara uses to convince us that we’re always right about everything, and that everyone else is always wrong. (Click the link to see a bigger version, this is just for illustration purposes.)

An infographic showing 20 cognitive biases including confirmation biasNow, I wouldn’t care so much, except that I’ve been noticing a strange phenomena around Volume II of One in a Generation, which is that most people don’t want to read it, and don’t want to talk about all the proof it contains about just how corrupt the media actually is.

For as long as the media was coming up with one false, salacious, slanderous story after another about Rabbi Berland (aka ‘Eliezer ben Etia’), my email was glowing red-hot with people wanting to have the discussion with me. Now that the other side of the story is out there, clearly, showing exactly how we all got manipulated, bamboozled and downright deceived by the MSM – no-one wants to know.

Yawn.

Now that we can conclusively show that all the lies about the Rav abusing women, God forbid, came down to the same two people who were trying to extort money out of Rabbi Berland, it’s no longer interesting.

What is still interesting, tho, is that the Rav is taking money to do pidyon nefesh for people. Ooooo, this is still so interesting, because the same ‘anti chareidi’ media who have been behind so many of the lies right from the start ran a whole big ‘splash’ campaign about it.

People paid money, and it didn’t work!!! He took money from people on their death beds!!!!

Etc etc etc.

I haven’t looked into the details of all these stories (yet…. I might do at some point) – but I personally know of two occasions when the pidyon nefesh didn’t work, and the person died. In both instances, the Rav offered to repay the whole sum.

When all is said and done, the Rav is not God, and God will still do as He sees fit.

On the other hand, I know of literally thousands of cases where the Rav’s pidyon nefesh worked open miracles, saved lives and totally turned around a lost situation. (Some of which actually happened to yours truly)

So now, who are you going to believe, the anti-chareidi, anti-God, atheist MSM with massive agendas, or people who have seen open miracles in their own lives?

Or rather, the question is who do you WANT to believe?

Because that’s really a far trickier problem. Here’s why so many people are still having a hard time believing that Rav Berland is a true tzaddik and a very holy man, as opposed to the ucky individual they read about online, and gossiped about with their friends, and attacked on Facebook:

  1. People are over-reliant on the first piece of information they hear – in this case, all the slanderous stories and lies put out by the Rav’s persecutors.
  2. People place too much credence on the limited information they have available – before they know all the facts of the matter.
  3. People like to jump on bandwagons – even when they’re heading in totally the wrong direction.
  4. People have blind spots about their own subconscious motivations and biases – so it suits them when a big Rabbi who spent his whole life telling people to ditch i-Phones and act in a holier way can be totally written off and ignored.
  5. Once people ‘choose’ a side, or a thing, they have a vested interest in protecting it at all costs – even if they’re wrong.
  6. “So many people are saying it, it must be true!!!” – of course they are, because they all read the same ucky, poisonous, anti-religion online news sites that you do.
  7. People only want to hear things that confirm their existing opinion – they are much more interested in being right than being truthful.
  8. People are very slow to change their minds about things – it can take a lot of repetition before they finally grasp what you’re trying to explain.
  9. People prefer to just gather more information, than to actually act on it – if they wait long enough, they are sure that ‘new information’ will emerge that will prove their original view point correct, and absolve them from any need to make teshuva or admit they were wrong.
  10. People are burying their head in the sand about just how bad and corrupted the MSM actually is – it’s a very uncomfortable thought to consider that the media might be spoon-feeding massive lies to the public. Much easier to ignore the whole problem and hope it will just go away by itself.
  11. “But he went to prison! There’s nothing more to discuss!!!” – this is called outcome bias.
  12. People are convinced that they know everything, and are always totally right – i.e. they suffer from tremendous arrogance.
  13. People WANT to believe that the news is factual, so that makes them believe that the news IS factual – the alternative scenario is far too scary.
  14. People believe the newest stuff is always more relevant than the older stuff – hey, all that abusing women stuff is old news!!! We already moved on to how the Rav is extorting money out of terminally-ill people now! Talk to the hand!
  15. People don’t like to re-examine the past – they prefer to deal with what’s in front of their eyes today, i.e. more lies and slanders that haven’t yet been refuted or disproved.
  16. People pander to their own world views – many people are much more ‘comfortable’ with the idea of abusive rabbis than they are with the idea that the press is a lying, manipulative, anti-God, propaganda machine.
  17. People believe what they want to believe. (This needs no additional explanation).
  18. People rely on stereotypes instead of facts – of course, all Breslov rabbis with large followings and mystical tendencies must be ‘crazy’ or ‘bad’.
  19. People believe the media is always right – because the media very rarely, if ever, tells them about the thousands upon thousands of factual errors and false stories it’s putting out there, every single day.
  20. People prefer their comfortable lies to the uncomfortable truth – even though that’s keeping them far away from God, stuck and miserable.

Truth vs lies

Sadly, I’ve come to the conclusion that the number of people who are happy to stay stuck in the web of lies and deceit that is modern life is far greater than those who are looking for the truth. And I can understand where they are coming from, kind of.

Who wants to be a social pariah by calling out all their Fakebook friends who spent two solid years posting up self-righteous rants dripping with lashon hara bout Rabbi Berland? Who wants to really take a look under the bonnet and realize just how many flaws and issues they themselves actually have? Or how many people they are hurting with their own ucky behavior?

Who really wants to ‘fess up to being duped by unethical journalists, or to following rabbis and others who aren’t the real deal, or to having a vested interest in trying to make an elderly Breslov tzaddik look ‘bad’ to make themselves feel better about their own obsessions with internet, licentiousness, gossip, ego-stroking, making money and materialism?

You can see why it’s so challenging, honestly.

But here’s the problem:

All that stuff that’s keeping us away from acknowledging the truth about Rabbi Berland is the same stuff that’s going to keep us away from the world to come, too.

Geula is mamash on the threshold, and we can’t cross over into it for as long as we’re still dragging all that arrogance, hatred and bad middot behind us. God isn’t asking us to be perfect, He knows that’s impossible. He’s just asking us to be truthful, and to put our hands up and to admit that we make mistakes, and we have vested interests, and we do a lot of things wrong and hurt a lot of people, every single day.

A bit of truth and humility is all that’s required to get us into the world to come.

But judging by what’s going on with Rav Berland and One in a Generation Volume II, even a bit of truth and humility is way beyond what most people can apparently manage.

After I wrote this post, some thoughtful person tried to educate me via email about something she called ‘toxic masculinity’. Here’s how she described it:

“[W]hat feminism opposes is something called “toxic masculinity.” Toxic masculinity is basically someone with the middos or Eisav–they pursue power, hold brute force above kindness, look after their own interests instead of others, don’t care about justice, care mostly about their own taavos and material interests. They only express motions like rage and disdain, not tenderness or compassion.

“Healthy masculinity is basically someone who has “good Jewish middos”: they have self-control, pursue justice, hold spiritual (Torah) and emotional goals above material ones, look after other people, and don’t misuse power.”

Sadly, I must be an incorrigible barbarian because when I read that, I laughed so hard I nearly fell off my chair.

In my house, we all know who has got issues with so-called ‘toxic masculinity’ – and it ain’t the man! Sure, Eisav had bad middot – he was the root of evil in the world, after all. But he didn’t have bad middot just because he was a man. If you look through Tanach, there are plenty of examples of murderous, idol-worshipping women with awful middot, too.

If you crack open the book of Kings (and the book of Chronicles), you’ll find the story of the first ‘feminists’ in Tanach, (i.e. ladies who put their own ‘rights’ and own ideas about ‘religious freedom’ ahead of Torah obligations and rules).

Israel’s first ‘feminists’

First up, is Queen Jezebel, who so thoroughly ruled over her husband, King Achav (Ahab) of Israel, that she managed to induce him to build a temple to her new Baal idol, and also got his permission to kill hundreds (and maybe even thousands) of Hashem’s true prophets.

The prophet Ovadya was a steward in the King’s palace, and he managed to hide the last 100 true prophets away from Jezebel’s murderous hands in two caves.[1]

You can just imagine how the conversations in that household used to go, can’t you?

Jezebel: Achvee, all these rabbis are bothering me. Every time I want to sacrifice a child to Moloch, or burn some incense to the Baal[2], they tell me I can’t do it, it’s against halacha.

King Achav: Jezebel, my love, I can’t believe these ignorant people are discriminating against your wish to worship in the way you choose! In the name of open-minded ‘religious freedom’, I give you permission to hunt down every last one of those antiquated men with beards, and to kill them as brutally as you wish!

Jezebel: Achvee, it’s so wonderful that I married such a tolerant, non-discriminating person like you! I’m going to write a Facebook post about it.

So anyway, Jezebel clearly wore the pants in that particular household[3], and man, did she abuse her position.

As well as murdering hundreds and thousands of God-fearing people in cold blood (all in the name of ‘religious tolerance’, natch), she was also instrumental in causing the Ten Tribes to fall so deeply into idol worship, they never recovered and were permanently exiled from their land.

Again, you can imagine how that was done, can’t you?

Jezebel: Achvee, I’m not worshipping in that orthodox Temple anymore. People keep looking at me funny when I want to read from the Torah, and I keep getting comments that wearing a pant-suit to shul isn’t respectful. That’s so disrespectful of me, and my feminine power! Achvee, build me somewhere I can go and be comfortable on Rosh Hashana, and where we can sit together, and where I can also give drashas, and share the wisdom of my forefathers!

King Achav: Yes, my sweet! Let’s reform this antiquated religion of ours! It’s not suitable for modern times, for modern women like yourself. And I’m also sick of that bearded fruitcake Elijah threatening me with God’s wrath every time I break out the cheeseburgers. And he was also pretty unhappy that I married you in the first place in that civil ceremony. These people belong in the dark ages! What shall we call this new Temple of ours? Temple of the ‘Baal’?[4]

Jezebel: I prefer ‘Temple of the Isha’.

So anyway, Jezebel was a real power-house.

She managed to get a bunch of idolatrous temples built up all over Samaria and the Kingdom of Israel, and to pull millions of Jews away from believing in God, and His Torah, and His tzaddikim (the ones she hadn’t just murdered in cold blood.)

But that still wasn’t enough for her. That pesky kingdom of Judah, to the south, was still worshipping the One True God in the Temple in Jerusalem, and the people there simply weren’t interested in having ‘Welcoming the Baal’ ceremonies in the Women’s Courtyard every month. So one day, Jezebel had an idea.

Jezebel: Achvee, let’s create an organization that will promote women’s rights, and minority rights, and Baal worshippers’ rights, and get those pesky orthodox rabbis and their stupid religion out the way. All their talk of serving Hashem is just stopping people from living in harmony, and coming together. It’s so much easier to serve the Baal! He lets you marry whoever you want, eat whatever you want, do whatever you want, and you can even spend Yom Kippur sunbathing on the beach in Tel Aviv!

We need to re-educate those dumb, backwards people in Jerusalem, and get them to stop shoving their old, outdated ‘Torah’ down everyone else’s throats.

So, King Achav called together his accountants and lawyers, and together they created The New Jerusalem Foundation, which would channel millions of dollars to every subversive idol worshipper they could find in the Kingdom of Judah.

And their work bore poisonous fruit very quickly!

Within a decade or two, after constant sniping from the feminists on Facebook, even the otherwise righteous Judean King, King Jehoshaphat decided that in the name of achdut and tolerance (and to stop all the carping), he should marry his son, Crown Prince Jehoram, to Princess Ataliah, the daughter of Jezebel and Achav.

Like her mother before her, Ataliah was a hard-core feminist, and a worshipper of the Baal[5]. The first thing she did was encourage her husband to murder all his siblings after he ascended the throne of Judah, so he wouldn’t have any competition. Jehoram, King of Judah, initially wasn’t so sure, but Ataliah managed to persuade him[6].

Ataliah: Jehoree, what’s the big deal?! Don’t tell me you really buy into all that 10 commandments stuff about ‘Don’t murder!’ That’s so pre-historic of you! All that stuff was just made up by rabbis to keep open-minded Baal-worshippers like us under their thumb! Do you know how many people I know, who left Yiddishkeit, because they weren’t allowed to sacrifice their child for the Moloch? We need to open things up here, and tolerate the different streams of Judaism. Baal Judaism and Moloch Judaism is just as valid as ‘orthodox’ Judaism![7] And where I come from, everyone is murdering their siblings to keep hold of their throne. It’s real politik, the way the world really works! Stop being such a doss!

Jehoram, King of Judah didn’t want to be thought of as backwards or as discriminating against his wife’s more modern beliefs – and he was also a little concerned about losing his revenue stream, if one of his siblings made a grab for the throne – so he acquiesced, and had all his brothers murdered[8] in the name of ‘freedom OF, and freedom FROM religion’.

Fast-forward 20 years, and things were going downhill for both kingdoms.

Both countries were being continually harassed and threatened by external enemies from both the North and the South. Achav was dead, his idol-worshipping son Jehoram, King of Israel, had just been murdered by the Israeli General, Jehu, who then also went after Jezebel.

Jezebel heard him coming inside the palace, and her last recorded act (which she live streamed on her i-Phone) was to apply mascara to her eyes, and fix her hairdo[9], before being pushed out of a window at the royal palace.

Forget about praying, or making teshuva a moment before she died, that stuff wasn’t for a modern woman like her.

(After viewing the footage, feminists in Jerusalem were horrified by this senseless violence against one of their own, and organized a vigil in her memory in Tel Aviv, which was attended by 20,000 prominent idolworshippers.  Channel 2 also covered the story, and blamed her death on – who else? – the rabbis).

The idol-worshipping Jehoram, King of Judah had died from an incurably painful intestinal disease, and his son, the anti-Torah[10], idol-worshipping Ahaziah, had made the mistake of going to visit his cousin, the King of Israel, just as Jehu was killing the whole royal family, so he was also murdered.

When the Queen Mother Ataliah heard this, feminist that she was, what did she decide to do? She decided it was time for the Kingdom of Judah to have its first female prime minister – because anything men can do, women can do better!

So, she declared herself the ruler, then she gave orders for every single male inline to the throne (including her own children and grandchildren) to be poisoned to death.[11]

Luckily for the House of David, Ataliah’s daughter, Jehosheba, was sick to the back teeth of all the Baal worship and feminist clap-trap she’d grown up with. She’d become a sincere baal teshuva, and married the Kohen Hagadol, Jehoiada. When her mother, Ataliah, started murdering all her male grandchildren in cold-blood, Jehosheba spirited away her nephew, a baby prince called Yoash, into the Temple, where she hid him for 6 years, until she and her husband could depose Ataliah in a coup.

Ataliah never went to visit that orthodox Temple once during her reign – once she took over the country, the Baal worshipping feminists stopped having their monthly ‘do’ in the women’s courtyard – so she never figured out what was going on until it was too late[12].

Ataliah continued to worship the Baal – and a whole bunch of other idols – right up until the end, when Jehoiada had her executed, and the Talmud even relates that she ‘married’ (ahem…) an Ashera tree on a regular basis. Because hey, who needs men, right?!

Especially with all that ‘toxic masculinity’ they have going on.

It’s amazing what you can learn when you crack open the pages of Tanach, not least, as King Shlomo so wisely stated way back when:

There is nothing new under the sun.

=====

“Do not turn to idols…R Chanin said: ‘The verse is interpreted to mean: Do not turn to that which comes from your minds[13].’” – Tractate Shabbos 149a

 

FOOTNOTES:

 

[1] Kings I, 18:4

[2] “Evil though he was, without Jezebel’s contemptible influence, Achav would not have followed the Baal, which required the revolting practice of sacrificing children.” – Malbim, Artscroll footnote to Kings I, 16:31

[3] “There had never been anyone like Achav, who sold himself to do what was evil in the eyes of Hashem, because Jezebel his wife had incited him.” – Kings I, 21:25

[4] “[Achav] erected an altar for the Baal in the Temple of the Baal that he built in Samaria” – Kings I, 16:33

[5] “[Jehoram] went in the way of the Kings of Israel, just as the house of Achav had done, for Achav’s daughter had become his wife; he did what was evil in the eyes of Hashem.” – Kings II, 8:17

[6] “Scripture implies that the queen’s influence was decisive in corrupting Jehoram.” – Kli Yakar, Artscroll footnote to Kings II, 8:18

[7] “Just as Athaliah’s mother, Jezebel, brought the Baal to the Ten Tribes, so her daughter influenced Jehoram to bring it to Judah” – Artscroll footnote to Kings II, 8:18.

[8] “[Jehoram] had brothers, the sons of Jehoshaphat – Azariah, Jehiel, Zechariah, Azariahu, Michael and Shephatiah….Jehoram rose up over the kingdom of his father, and…he killed all of his brothers by the sword” – Chronicles II, 21:2-4

[9] “Jehu then came to Jezreel. Jezebel heard, and she put mascara on her eyes and adorned her head, and she looked out of the window.” – Kings II, 9:30

[10] “Rashi cites the Sages’ tradition that Ahaziah’s wickedness was so extreme…he took a Torah scroll and erased all mentions of Hashem’s name, and replaced them with the names of his idols.” – Artscroll footnote to Kings II, 9:27.

[11] “When Athaliah, Ahaziah’s mother, saw that her son had died, she arose and exterminated all the offspring of the royal family.” Kings I, 11:1

[12] “[Yoash] remained…in the Temple of Hashem, hidden for six years, while Athaliah reigned over the land.” – Kings II, 11:3

[13] The word אלילים (idols) is cognate with the word חללילים (recesses – of a man’s heart and mind) – Rashi: cf. Chidushei HaRan and Tos. Rid).

The only reason we suffer is because we lack daat

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

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

==

Abridged Lesson I:250, from Likutey Moharan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

==

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

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

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

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

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

School A had a problem with the girls in school using their phones too much, and probably surfing inappropriate content.

School A was a ‘religious’ school, inasmuch as it wanted its students to keep Shabbat and kosher, and to believe in Hashem, and to grow up wanting to live in Eretz Yisrael, and being good people, and keeping the Torah as much as they could.

With no pressure.

Many of School A’s students had their nose pierced, and five earrings in their ear, and the school also turned a blind eye to the girls who wore jeans under long tunics. The school also encouraged the students to decorate the walls, and were thrilled when one girl drew a massive ‘Ha Esh Sheli’ picture on the upstairs wall, while another girl penned a saying from Rebbe Nachman next to it.

For the end of year play, the school decided to stage a drama that was based on the story of a young woman who used to be chareidi, but who fell off the path – but then returned wholeheartedly and more sincerely than before, after a trip to Uman. School A isn’t perfect, not at all. There’s a lot of issues, a lot of people struggling with their yiddishkeit and their emuna.

But School A is honest about what’s going on, and isn’t trying to hide things under the carpet.

So when School A realized there was a phone problem, they decided to organize a panel, and to invite student representatives from each of the classes, to sit on it, together with some parents and teachers. They also decided to bring in a bunch of different speakers, and to start sharing around educational material about the dangers of smartphone addiction – for everyone, grownups included – for the panels to discuss, and to help formulate a healthy, workable policy for the school that really tried to tackle the problem at its root.

They sent a letter home to the parents to inform them of what was going on, and invited any interested parent to come and join one of the panels.

School B also had a problem with the girls in school using their phones too much, and probably surfing inappropriate content.

School B was a ‘religious’ school, inasmuch as it had a reputation it felt it had to maintain, and a public image to guard. Of course, it also wanted its students to keep Shabbat and kosher, and to believe in Hashem, and to grow up wanting to live in Eretz Yisrael, and being good people, and keeping the Torah as much as they could.

But that wasn’t the priority.

The priority was for the school to retain the appearance of its students being the ‘right sort’ of religiously observant, and to dress the right way publically. Nose rings were banned (so the girls who had them bought clear bits of plastic to stick in their noses during school hours.) Skirt lengths were religiously policed (so the girls bought skirts that were super-easy to roll down for school, and then way, way up for on the way to and from school).

And the end of year play could only be done by students who were either studying dance or drama as part of their curriculum, because the main thing was that it should appear to be a totally professional production.

School B isn’t perfect, not at all. There’s a lot of issues, a lot of people struggling with their yiddishkeit and their emuna.

But School B isn’t being honest about what’s going on, and believes that lots of pious lectures from the school’s educators about having emuna, etc, is all that’s required to really tick the ‘personal development’ box.

(Most of the students in School B are on Ritalin or Concerta.)

So when School B realized there was a phone problem, they decided to resolve it in a very superficial way. They sent a pompous letter to all of their parents informing them that any student coming to school without the Etrog filter on their phone, or otherwise with a ‘kosher’ (WHATever) smartphone would have the phone confiscated and get into lots of trouble.

In the meantime, lots and lots of the girls figured out how to bypass the filter. Lots and lots of girls had a ‘kosher’ phone for school, and a totally unfiltered phone for everywhere else. The school knew this was happening, but the school didn’t care, because the only thing it was really worried about was looking the part.

As the months wore on, more and more of the girls in School B started to drink alcohol. And to smoke cigarettes. And to stop dressing tzniusly. And even, to stop keeping Shabbat. As long as they didn’t do this on the school’s time, or on the school’s premises, the school turned a blind eye to it.

It didn’t send out any letters to the parents, it didn’t organize any special educational events, because doing that would be an admission that School B’s students had a problem, and School B wasn’t about to do that in a rush. There was an appearance of perfection that needed to be maintained.

But the behavior, attitudes and environment in the school continued to erode.

Eventually, things got so bad, that even School B realized it had to do something. So, it sent out a carefully worded letter to the parents, informing them that from now on, there would be zero tolerance for any lack of respect towards the teachers, or absence of derech eretz.

The problem was definitely all with the students, and School B would be launching another series of preachy, fake-emuna type lectures from its highly unpopular and hypocritical educators, to try to get the student in the school to stop being so bad.

When the parent of one of the girls in both these schools read those emails – which popped into her inbox 10 minutes apart – she called up the kid in School B, and she told her:

We need to get you out of that place ASAP. It’s only going to get worse from here.

And thankfully, Hashem heard that parent’s heartfelt prayer that her kid should go somewhere far less hypocritical, and far more spiritually healthy, where the people in charge saw their students with a good eye, and did their best to relate to them as precious, if struggling, human beings, instead of ‘robots’ or enemies.

The End.

Or really as we all know, just the beginning.

A little while back, I got an email from someone who gave eloquent voice to the people who I often refer to as ‘anonymous psychos’.

My correspondent – who is definitely not an anonymous psycho- explained that most of these ‘anonymous psychos’ are trapped in a whole world of their own searing, emotional pain, and they aren’t really ‘seeing’ anyone else when they’re lashing out, they’re just struggling with their own demons.

My correspondent quoted the following lines from the film ‘Psycho’ (which I’ve never seen, btw, probably because I’ve had more than enough real ones to deal with):

“We, all of us, live in our own private traps, forever unable to get out. We fight, and tear, and claw – but only at the air, only at each other, and we never really budge an inch.”

I have to say, it was an extremely useful, and even impressive email, for a whole bunch of reasons. But the one I want to share with you is that I think my correspondent managed to encapsulate in a sentence or two the whole problem with why people are really hurting other people:

It’s because inside, they are themselves hurting.

Now, this isn’t to excuse the behavior for a minute, or even a nano-second. Now that I’m a whole 45 years old (!), and a parent of teens, I can see more and more clearly how parents refusing to deal with their own inner demons, and refusing to accept that so much of their own behavior is ‘psycho’ is the main reason why so many of our children are ADHD, off the derech, clinically depressed, chronically ill and stressed and abusing substances and alcohol.

What changes the whole picture – instantly – is just for us all to hold our hands up to our own ‘psycho’ tendencies, and to stop pretending that we haven’t got any issues. It gives you some instant humility to do that, and that’s probably why so many people are allergic to trying it.

Even though we all know that walking the path of humility is really the only way we can get anywhere near to Hashem.

But over the last few years, I’ve seen so many people, so many parents, approach that point of truth, that fork in the road that’s going to transform their whole relationship with other people, their whole attitude to their own issues, and transform their relationship with Hashem, and with their yiddishkeit.

And they’ve picked the other path.

The path that seemed easier, in the short-term, because it meant they could continue to cover-up and justify their own bad behavior – as their parents did before them, and as their grandparents did before them, all  the way back to Adam HaRishon.

This has happened so many times, that I’ve come to call it the approach of ‘the hiddenness within the hiddenness’. Before we get to that point of truth, we honestly didn’t know that we were behaving like psychos, or that we were hurting so many of the people around us so fundamentally, or that we were living in a world of lies and deception.

Then, God opens our eyes to what’s really going on, and gives us a choice:

On the one hand, my dear child, you can choose to acknowledge the truth, and to try to take responsibility for your own actions, and to make a commitment to get Me, God, involved in the process of fixing the mess. Because I’ll tell you straight, you can’t fix it without My help, without checking back with me every single day to figure out what’s really going on.

OR

You can make a conscious decision to push down all this stuff you’ve just discovered about how you got so messed up yourself, and how you’re now repeating the pattern with your own children, and in your own marriage, and in with your own interactions, and by so doing, turn into a REAL psycho.

I know this sounds a little harsh, but I’ve seen it play out so many times.

It’s like what happened back in Egypt, when God kept hardening Pharoah’s heart, so at some point, his freedom to choose to stop suffering, and to stop experiencing the awful plagues, leading up to the death of so many Egyptian first-born, disappeared.

The commentators ask, How can this be?! How could God remove Pharoah’s freedom of choice like that?! What’s going on?!

There are many answers to this question, but the one that speaks to me the most is that Pharoah got to that crossroads. He reached that point of truth when all of a sudden, it was blindingly obvious that God is God, and that the whole of Egyptian society, the whole Egyptian belief system, was totally built on a foundation of deception and lies.

At that point, he was given the clear choice:

Are you going to accept that God, Hashem, is running the world, and that you are full of arrogance, cruelty and bad middot? OR, are you going to carry on trying to control everything around you, and carrying on trying to enslave other people to gratify your ego and build up your empire?

If you acknowledge the truth about what’s really going on now, it’ll go so much easier for you and the Egyptian people. And if you don’t, Pharoah – then utter destruction. The lies will be exposed publically for everyone to see, in the most painful way possible.

What did Pharoah do?

He picked wrong.

He couldn’t bring himself to tell the truth because it was too difficult to face up to it, too painful, too humiliating. So from that point on, his fate was sealed, and his ability to really ‘choose’ the path of teshuva was removed.

As I write this, I wonder what would have happened if someone had told Pharoah:

Mate, you are suffering from a severe case of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. All your ancestors were cruel, God-less psychos and they treated you really badly, too. Yes, you had a nice palace to live in, and nice clothes, and great food, but that came along with a whole bunch of guilt trips, shaming tactics and a heartless, arrogant emphasis on keeping up appearances that completely killed your neshama.

And now, you are feeling totally overwhelmed with toxic shame, and fear, at the idea of turning your back on everything those ancestors of yours taught you was important in life. But you know what, Pharoah? That’s just a flashback to the past! You can handle it! You can still get past your inner critic to do the right thing, here!

I wonder.

But in the meantime, it seems to me that God is giving all of us the same choice at the moment, to either continue living in the world of lies, or to move on to a path of sincere teshuva and humility.

For one person, the test will come via their children, who are acting up in school, off the derech, miserable, ill and depressed. For another person, it’ll come via their marriage, where God is mamash shoving their bad middot directly in their faces, and pleading for them to really acknowledge the problems, and to stop pretending that it’s all the wife’s fault, and that they aren’t crazy people with massive anger issues.

For others, it’ll come via ill health, or problems making money. For others, it’ll come in smaller ways, smaller challenges, where they will be repeatedly met with the question of whether they are quite so ‘holy’ and ‘perfect’ and ‘do-gooding’ as they like to make out.

Really? Really, it’s always everyone else’s problem? Really?

Really, you yourself have absolutely nothing to work on, and all the yucky things you do are totally justified and actually even mitzvahs, or ‘good chinuch’? Really?

That’s the voice that’s whispering at all of us right now, and that’s the crossroads we’re all approaching: to be a psycho, or to be with God.

And I hope that we’ll all find the courage and the strength and the emuna to choose right, and to not

Because if the psycho had known that there was a very easy way to get out of the trap of his bad middot, and that this simply involved him saying “I’m guilty!” and asking God to help Him rectify his issues, then:

He wouldn’t be a psycho anymore.

And neither would we.

If you’ve been with me for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been writing about – and struggling with – internet addiction for as long as ‘www’ has been a word.

Although strictly speaking, that’s not true, because before I decided to quit my job 10 years ago, there was no real struggle: the internet had eaten me up, body, mind and soul. Once I realized just how bad my preoccupation with the net was for me and my whole family, I got the internet out of my house, and went cold turkey.

Over the next 6 years or so, I mostly had it mostly sidelined. I’d go to the local library to upload things and gorge myself on geula sites and a bit of news twice a week, but it was manageable – and I have to tell you, I got a lot of other stuff done over that time, mostly hidden in my home and internally, but still a lot.

Then for a lot of different reasons, the internet came back via a plug-in internet stick, and the internet addiction also started to creep back in under the guise of all this ‘important’ stuff that we were now doing online.

But it was kind of manageable still, until the middle of last year, when our disastrous house purchase blew up, blasting my last ounce of spiritual strength away with it.

The internet addiction roared back, and I found myself obsessively checking earthquake sites, and geula blogs, and even the occasional Youtube video or documentary.

And there was nothing I could really do about it, because there was a big, gaping hole where things like ‘satisfaction’, and ‘peace of mind’ and ‘real happiness’ should have been, but just weren’t. So all that internet stuff was my escape out of a reality that I really didn’t want to be in any more, but couldn’t see a way out of.

To put it another way: I gave up.

Of course, all still with the plug-in stick, and what I’m describing as ‘internet addiction’ probably wouldn’t even register on the radar for a lot of people, but for me, I understood that I’d got to a very low place, spiritually.

Then I had that awful experience erev Rosh Hashana, when someone who had previously been quite friendly all of a sudden did an ‘Anakin Skywalker’ and went over to the dark side. She sent me an email a few hours before Rosh Hashana began that upset me so much, it nearly threw my whole Rosh Hashana over to the forces of evil.

I wonder if she has even an inkling of the huge amount of damage and pain she caused me, with her five line email?

All of a sudden, I realized that most of the people I’d been ‘hanging out with’ in cyberspace where anonymous psychos that I actually knew next to nothing about. And that threw me for another loop, because if I hadn’t been interacting with real people, then who the heck was I actually dealing with?!

This thought creeped me out in a way that’s hard to explain, but I think it comes back down to that lack of authenticity.

I felt like I’d been participating in some warped, geula-fuelled version of The Sims for the last few years.

Anyway, straight after Rosh Hashana I deleted my blog in an attempt to avoid getting pulled into any more machloket online, and I also permanently blocked every single geula blog I’d been looking at from my PC. I figured,

maybe, this was God’s way of telling me to stop blogging, and to go and do something else, something better.

So I tried, I really did, to find those other things. I bought a new painting set, I tried to do a real shiur with real people, that didn’t exactly work as fabulously as I hoped. I got to work on the book on volcanoes. I tried a few different shuls locally on Friday night, to see if one would ‘click’.

Long story short: it all flopped. It all failed. And after two months of no blogging, I realized that God wanted me to write, and to return to blogging. And I was really angry when I found that out, because

It’s so much easier to be completely ‘offline’ than to try to use the internet judiciously.

So I started blogging again, half resentfully, and now I started to realise how much of my internet use had been done as a reaction to try to make me feel better about the mess my ‘real life’ was in.

The equation went something like this:

I feel bad / lonely / lost => go online and lose yourself in Youtube.

I feel bad / lonely / lost => go online and read a geula blog written by an anonymous psycho

I feel bad / lonely / lost => go online and post up something you wrote knocking something, or someone else, to try to make yourself feel better

Things were a little better now I’d blocked the geula blogs, but again, the internet was eating me up, body, mind and soul, and after my all efforts to run away from it, I just kind of rolled over and let it happen.

What, I’m going to try to get it out of my life again? I’m going to make another failed attempt to pull away? I can’t. I’m tired. I’m finished.

But God had other plans.

——

About three months ago, my youngest daughter started going completely beserk about what was going on in the house.

She started berating me for not doing the washing up promptly, for not doing sponga every week, for not making fancy suppers every night. She started complaining that the house smelt ‘bad’, and would come home and immediately splashing economica all around. My house smelt like a public baths for three weeks.

I’ve had to do a lot of praying to figure out what was really going on, but at its root, God sent this teenage obstinacy to me as a gift. He wanted to shake me out of my complacency, and to encourage me to make some very necessary changes in my life. But for weeks, I was trying to ignore Him.

Leave me alone, God. I can’t do all that ‘trying to improve myself spiritually’ stuff anymore. I’m finished. I’m done. I’ve officially retired from making any effort, and that’s that. Nothing else to talk about.

But God wasn’t having any of it. The teenager got more and more abusive, more and more difficult to be around, more and more stressful to live with – until I finally realized:

She is right.

She is 100% right.

I need to pull my socks up, and try to make a change for the better here.

This is so easy to type, but at the stage I’d arrived at recently, it was so very hard to even begin to contemplate.

What, I’m going to try again?!

After the million failures? Why bother? Let me continue to escape into Youtube, and gamarnu.

But God – and the teenager – didn’t give up. I got really ill around four weeks ago, and I know from experience that when a serious health issue shows up, that’s because I’m ignoring the message I’m getting at the emotional / mental level. God was giving me a shot across the bows:

Don’t keep ignoring the message to change things, Rivka, because it’s only going to lead to a bad place if you carry on doing that.

And I knew what I had to do: I had to get offline again, and stop using the internet as an escape hatch from reality.

But how?

Last month, I started looking around for hubs in Jerusalem. Long story short, there are quite a few, but all of them seemed to be miles away, in the centre of town where there was no easy parking. I didn’t have the strength to make such a big effort, so I sank back into feeling miserable and stuck, and just gave up again.

But God said:

Not so fast!

Annette Gendler, a writer friend of mine, was in town and speaking at a Writepoint evening, and invited me to come. It was pouring rain, but when I realized she was speaking somewhere that was a 5 minute walk away from my house, I decided to go anyway. The event was taking place in a hub in Talpiyot, that I’d never heard about, and all of a sudden, I started to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

I was still feeling ill, so it took me a week to get back there, but when I returned, I met the manager – and realized I knew him from London. That particular hub wasn’t so suitable for me, but he told me about another place that was also a 5 minute walk away, and which is aimed at creatives.

It would cost me 1,000 shekels a month to get a hotdesk there, but if I did it, I could get the internet out of my house again.

I wavered for a fortnight. The internet had taken over so much of my life, I knew it was going to be a huge, massive change. Also, that’s a lot of money to spend, and I wasn’t sure we could really afford it.

But somehow, last week, I finally took the plunge, and signed up for a month. I told my husband to hide the stick – and on Monday, it finally hit me just how much of an emotional ‘crutch’ the internet had become. I mamash went into some sort of drying-out crisis, like a heroin addict climbing the walls.

Now it’s just me and my life. No running away. No getting away from those lonely feelings by surfing. No dodging the dissatisfaction anymore.

I had a really hard couple of days, because all the things I’d been trying to ignore for months came sharply into focus.

But now, I’m starting to feel better again. There are things I need to work on, things I need to improve, things I need to pray about. And BH, now I’ve pulled the plug on the internet escape hatch, that stuff will start to happen again. I can’t watch Youtube in the hub – it’s a serious place, where people are doing serious work – but I can do all the stuff that I need to do online, like check emails and upload blog posts.

But not all the time, and not 50 times a day.

Hopefully, I’ve made some space to start reclaiming my life again.

And now, like magic, the teen has cheered up and stopped nagging me, even though I’m still not so hot on doing the washing up. And like magic, I’ve found the energy to start work on Secret Diary #2, which is going to be written like a real story, not just a bunch of blog posts pulled together in book. And like magic, I’m starting to get a little bit of the energy required to look the internal black hole in the face, and to get on with the job of shrinking it again.

I’m still feeling pretty shaky, emotionally and physically at the moment. I’m still feeling pretty weak. But now I’ve got the internet out of my house, I’m also feeling calmer and happier. I know there’s a lot going on out there, I know the earthquakes and meteors and volcanoes are picking up, and never mind all the political cack that passes for ‘news’.

But I also know that at this stage, I have to take a step back from that stuff, and to do much less online than I have been doing. I have other things to write, other things to think about, other stuff to work on.

And for the first time in ages, I’m looking forward to getting on with things again.


Annette just sent me a lovely post she wrote about a quick tour we took of Musrara, my old hood, when she was here a few weeks’ back. You can read it HERE.

I wrote this last Thursday, February 7th.

The last few days, I’ve been mostly staying at home, because this week it feels like ‘out there’ got dangerous, somehow.

The last two days, I’ve also been having weird dreams again. One night, it was the face of the ugliest person I’d ever seen in my life, who was chasing me around and I couldn’t get away from it. I woke up screaming.

Then yesterday night, I dreamt that I’d just moved into a massive, luxurious mansion, built of Jerusalem stone cobbles and filled with OTT swimming pools like one of the hotels in Las Vegas (I’ve never been, but so I’ve heard.)

BUT – there was some sort of massive leak / waterfall happening, cascading down the roof, and when we and the 400 people who were apparently visiting me in the mansion went up to see what was going on, this toddler started crawling on a very dangerous low wall overlooking the stairs – and fell off before I could grab him.

It was a long way down, and he was comatose – I knew it was a really bad fall, but I had the impression that he was still alive, and would make it.

Then, unbelievably, another small kid fell off the same wall – and I had the impression that this one had died.

I started yelling at the people in my mansion to keep their kids away from the wall and to pay attention to where they were, and what they were doing, but no-one was paying attention to me, because they were enjoying themselves way too much. So, I stood by the wall, and just kept grabbing the kids as they fell off, pulling them back.

In the dream, I was thinking:

“What’s the point of owning a house if it’s just going to spring massive leaks, and kill people?”

There was also a man in my dream, a writer, who initially was really bad, but who by the end made teshuva.

I woke up, and I repeated Rabbenu’s instructions for defusing difficult dreams, by saying: “It’s just a dream” three times.

But then it struck me: this whole dream, and the one before with the ugly person, had to do with talking lashon hara and hating other Jews.

In the first dream, the ugly person was an newspaper editor, and he was chasing me around with gossip and yucky information about other people. And the second dream, I realized, was all about the temple.

The kids who were falling off the ledge represented the destruction of the Temples. The first kid who fell and went comatose represented the destruction of the first Temple, which was a serious blow to the Jewish people, but which we recovered from, mostly, after 70 years.

The second kid who fell and apparently died was the destruction of the Second Temple – which we’re still suffering from after 2,000 years. And the 2-3 kids that fell off afterwards, but who I managed to grab back by their clothes, are the Third Temple, which God keeps trying to build, but which we keep torpedoing by our behavior and attitudes towards each other.

The problem that is causing all this death and destruction is sinat chinam, or the baseless hatred of other Jews that causes people to go around saying horrible, hateful and hurtful things to each other, and about each other.

And that sinat chinam is most destructive closest to home, with our children. It’s mamash destroying the next generation.

Whenever you see people who are publically and poisonously shooting their mouths off about ‘the problems’ they see in other Jews, and other groups of Jews, you can take it as read that they are also negative, critical, neglectful and abusive parents and spouses.  It can’t really be any other way.

Real tzaddikim don’t rebuke like that. They talk about particular bad behaviors, thought patterns or actions that are ‘wrong’ and ‘bad’ and that we all need to work on. They don’t talk about specific Jews being ‘bad’, and place themselves on a platform of being ‘the perfect rebuker who never does anything wrong’.

So, instead of giving these ‘sinat chinam’ types of people a platform to spread hate, and an audience to eagerly lap it up, we should be running away from them as fast as our legs can carry us.

Because this is what is preventing the geula, and this is what is damaging our own relationships, especially with our own children: sinat chinam and lashon hara.

There’s a lot more to say, but hopefully a word to the wise will suffice.

More and more, I’m starting to feel as though some big change, some big transformation really is on the horizon. And the only way we can really prepare for it, wherever we live, is to continue to work on our own bad middot, and particularly the tendency to speak badly of others, and to hate them in our hearts, even while we’re so politely smiling at them.

==

The day after I had this dream, and wrote the above, we got the awful news of the rape and murder of Ori Ansbacher, a beautiful 19 year old girl who was doing her year of National Service at Ein Yael national park.

There’s a news blackout on a lot of the details, but it was awful, awful, awful.

All this stuff hits so very close to home, when you have teenage daughters yourself. And probably, even if you don’t.

We need geula the sweet way as fast as possible, before any more of our children ‘fall off’ and get smashed on the rocks of evil speech and hating our fellow Jew in our heart. God forbid, we should have any more of these sorts of evil tidings.

The last few weeks, I have to admit I’ve been struggling.

First I had that three weeks of ‘flu’, or whatever massive physical detox that actually was. Then, a lot of the things I’ve been working on the last little while started unraveling again, at least in my head.

I had issues on Sasson with a writer who was plagiarizing other people’s work, but didn’t seem to understand the problem when I explained it to them – repeatedly. Then, one by one the writers all seemed to get a little discouraged, and the creativity started drying up. I tried geeing it up with ‘themes’ and offers of monthly columns, but the people in the US really wanted to be paid to contribute regularly, and the people in Israel all got too busy with other stuff to be able to write.

Then, I had the issue with the pictures of women, which was the cue for someone who doesn’t even write for Sasson to send me a massively self-righteous email, knocking for me being so small-minded, judgmental and ‘anti-equality’.

So, my motivation to continue kind of sagged, because what’s the point?

Then, I spent two whole days  trying to stick up the back posts from Emunaroma 2017 on to this site, and as I was reading through them, I started to feel like why did I waste so much of my time writing this stuff? What’s the point?

At the same time, one of my teens has been extremely challenging the last few weeks, as mentioned HERE. She wants a nice, clean, new house. She wants a different kitchen. She wants a different bathroom, and for the apartment to be in a different part of Jerusalem.

After everything that happened with the house, I sympathise with her a lot, but it’s still sometimes rubbing salt in the wound when she stomps around complaining about how old and yucky and moldy everything is.

Mold always shows up in old apartments in Israel when it rains. And sure enough, I’m catching it spread across whole walls, and popping up behind a bed in our room, and behind the shelves and bookcase in the girl’s room.

Ah, now I understand why the rent was so reasonable.

In the meantime, my heart kind of sank again, because if it was my house, I’d do my best to tackle the mold problem fundamentally. But as it isn’t, all I can do is keep returning every few days with some wipees and bleach. I know it’ll be back again in a week or two, so again I had that feeling what’s the point?

Then I started reading an absolutely awful book – with no less than three rabbinic approbations! – which basically claimed that living in Eretz Yisrael is a total waste of time, and even a ‘sin’, because the State of Israel was created by reshaim who were using the State to uproot and replace religion and Torah.

That last bit is correct, but the rest of the author’s ideas – about massive Tzaddikim who live here being ‘reshaim gemorim’, or that the Six Days War was totally not miraculous, or that a Jew can live a perfectly nice life in Lakewood (without the high taxes, army service and threat of a nuclear Iran) – and be a better Jew than someone who sacrificed so much to live in the Holy Land totally and utterly depressed me.

The book is 1500 pages long, and by the middle, I started to doubt my own sanity for believing in the geula and Moshiach.

My husband saw what was going on, and took the book away to throw it out. I should have guessed it was bad news, and it had a whole chapter devoted to the ‘Erev Rav’ (who of course, only live in Israel….), and was packed to the gills full of lashon hara, arrogance and anti-emuna statements.

I learnt some interesting stuff still, which I may write about another time, but only if it’s going to help bring Am Yisrael more together, not divide us.

But I started to see why so many of the ‘ultra-orthodox’ Jews in the US and UK have absolutely no desire to make aliya – and even think it’s a mitzvah to look down on people who did, and to disdain those of us who really do believe that you should be ready for Moshiach every day, every moment, even if it’s never going to happen in your own lifetime.

There have been a few more disappointments and disses going on too, behind the scenes, which meant by the time we got to yesterday, I was feeling like my whole life is a total waste of time.

Not just what’s the point of writing? But, what’s the point of me?

Yesterday, I tried to do an imperfect long chat to God about it all, and by the end of that, I was in floods of tears.

I just felt so low and worthless, like whatever I do just fails and is pointless.

I drove out to Ashdod to take a look at the sea, and I felt a bit better. But when I got home, it all came crashing back down on me.

You’re pointless, Rivka. Nothing you do is ever going to get anywhere. You’ve been living in fantasy world getting ready for geula and Moshiach for the last 13 years, when you could have just stayed in London and enjoyed yourself. What an idiot, that you gave up your career and your house and your social group for this.

Man, it was bad.

I was a gibbering wreck when my husband came home, and I couldn’t even tell him what the problem was for the first two hours, I was crying so much and feeling so pointless.

I went to have a shower (that often helps when you’re in the middle of a nervous breakdown, btw), and by the time I was done, I could explain the issue.

I’m worthless, and nothing I’ve done matters in any way, shape or form. I have totally wasted my life, the last few years.

He looked at me blankly.

Then, he started the fight back.

I’m doing a little better today, although I’m still pretty shaky.

I’m still struggling to believe that I’m worth something, even if I’m not earning money. And that I’m a good enough mum, even if we live in an apartment that’s covered with mold and that doesn’t have a lot of home-made cookies in the pantry. And that I’m a good enough Jew, even though I have been finding so many things difficult recently, and I’ve run out of spiritual energy on so many fronts.

Of course, it was only after my total freak-out that I realized it’s Rosh Chodesh Adar – uniformly the most challenging time of the year. Last year, I signed the contract on the awful apartment on Rosh Chodesh Adar, and we all know what a ‘blessing’ that turned into.

I know we’re taught Adar is when the happiness appears, but my experience is that usually, the lead up to Purim is the darkest time of the year, and it’s only on Purim day itself that the heaviness starts to lift, and the light starts to shine through again.

And this year, we have two Adars!

We need all the help we can get, to make it through to Pesach in one piece.


After I wrote this, I checked my emails and found that Mary in NY had sent me this clip, from Rav Ofer Erez.

It was exactly what I needed to hear, and it explains (with English subtitles in 3 1/2 minutes) why we’re all feeling the pressure right now.

Over to Rav Ofer:

 

Over on spiritualselfhelp.org last week, I wrote a piece about the Baal Shem Tov’s ‘Mirror Principle’ – together with this nifty infographic which set out the main points.

A lot of people don’t like the Mirror Principle, because our yetzers have us programmed to go around pointing fingers at everyone else’s ‘bad’, while completely ignoring our own.

This is a big part of why I just can’t read rants any more, however more ‘holy’ they appear to be, because the person criticizing others for sure has some shade of the problem they are critiquing.

Not 100%, maybe, not exactly the same, but for sure some percentage of the same problem they are dissing in the other person, some shade of it in their own lives.

There’s a lot of confusion about how the mirror principle actually works, because a lot of people believe that if it’s not exactly the same problem, if it’s not exactly the same degree of the problem – then they are completely off the hook, and they can just continue to point fingers at other people so self-righteously, while completely ignoring their own flaws.

But the mirror principal also doesn’t mean that we just ‘whitewash’ the obvious bad we see around us, either, obviously not.

It just requires us to be honest – with ourselves and others – that if we feel the need to ‘have a go’ about something publically, or to vocally criticize another person, that we should also acknowledge that we also have that problem, too. So then we need to go away afterwards and figure out what percentage, what shade of that issue we ourselves are exhibiting.

Because it’s never 100% the other person who has the problem, and that we’re totally fixed and rectified.

At the very least, we have 1% of something to go away and work on, before that ‘rankling’ feeling will go away, and we’ll finally get some inner peace.

Of course, I have to practice what I preach. I can’t just write about all this stuff then ignore my own ‘mirrors’ that God is being so careful to show me.

So last week, I had a chat with a good friend of mine who was giving over a piece of ‘Torah’ which just sounded plain wrong, and really rubbed me up the wrong way. Without getting into the details of the Torah (which I went to check up afterwards, and which really does appear to be ‘wrong’) – I reacted so badly to what she told me, that I felt I had to apologise for my reaction while I was actually having it.

Now, in the past, I would just have launched straight into an attack on the credibility of the person who gave this Torah over. But after I’d been thinking about the mirror principle all week, I was a bit more spiritually prepared to look past the other person’s obvious ‘wrong’, and to ponder what God was trying to actually show me, instead.

What I came up with was the idea that I’m sick to the back teeth of all these ‘know it alls’ that really don’t know all that much at all, especially when it comes to the deeper ideas of the Torah, who are probably misleading a whole bunch of people.

Now I was up to the next, far harder stage: seeing where that applies to me.

Because as the mirror principle clearly states, when you’re having a strong reaction to something, it’s never a case of it being 100% all the other guy’s fault.

So I did some hitbodedut on that idea this morning, and I came to the conclusion that more often than I’d like, I still find myself sliding in to ‘know it all’ rant-y posts. I don’t want to be writing that stuff anymore, and it’s a big reason why I actually pulled the plug on Emunaroma a few months’ back, because honestly? Who cares what I think?

At least, who cares what I think about very deep concepts that really, you need to be the gadol hador to really have a strong claim to actually know what you’re talking about?

So then I started to wonder, where does this strong urge to start opinionating, and to start acting like a know-it-all really come from? What’s underneath it, emotionally? The answer that came back was this:

Rivka, it happens when you’re feeling like a loser.

Aha! That was actually a useful piece of information. So then I had to ask,

God, how do I get rid of this? I’m sick of being pulled into pointless arguments that only lead to more sinat chinam, I’m sick of writing from an arrogant place. So, how do I stop feeling like a loser? What can I replace ‘feeling like a loser’ with?

The answer came back:

Try replacing it with some happy humility, instead.

So, that’s what I asked God to give me, happy humility.

Over Shabbat, I cracked open a book that I bought in the UK a few months back, that was basically talking about how bad the ‘Zionist enterprise’ is, and why orthodox Jews don’t need to live in Israel until the Moshiach actually comes.

It’s a big book – 1500 pages long – but around 1/3 of the way through, I came to realise how the author was pointing out all the ‘big bad’ in the other camp – and he’s right in most of what he was saying – but was completely missing the ‘big bad’ in his own.

I.e., the mirror principle was completely lacking over there, which is why the author felt justified in putting together 1500 pages of pretty much unadulterated sinat chinam. This is what’s holding up Moshiach – this is what’s been holding up Moshiach for the last 2,000 years, already.

Right now, God seems to be sending an atmosphere of harsh hakpada, or strict judgment down to the world.

It’s almost as though He’s shining a very strong spotlight of everyone else’s bad, and making it so easy to point fingers at what everyone else is doing wrong, and how annoying they are, and what bad middot everyone else has.

Why is He doing this?

Maybe, because He really want us to see what we ourselves need to fix. Because we all know, it’s so very easy to spot everyone else’s issues, and to call them out, but when we do that, we completely miss the point:

That we can only fix ourselves, that we can only rectify ourselves.

The last thing I just wanted to include here is the idea that the Tzaddik is just a mirror. The Tzaddik is completely rectified, so 100% what we see reflecting back at us is just our own inner dimension.

That’s why so many of the people who are ‘anti’ the Tzaddikim are clearly lunatics with a lot of mental issues. Whatever your issue is, the Tzaddik is going to shove it in your face so clearly, you can’t ignore it anymore, and if you can’t accept that you are the one with the problem, then you are going to just project it on to the Tzaddik instead.

For example, for as long as I can remember, I’ve had a really bad yetzer to get into fights and arguments with other people, which I always used to justify as standing up for the truth, yadda yadda yadda.

So, I got to Rav Berland, and the Rav arranged things that I’d get into the middle of the most machloket and self-righteous arguments I’ve ever had to deal with in my life. And after a couple of years of it, I was totally and utterly sick of fighting with people.

The Rav broke my yetzer for picking fights!

But, if I hadn’t been aware that the fighting and arguing was my own problem, then God forbid I could have fallen into the trap of complaining about the Rav, for setting things up in such a way that I was finding myself arguing all the time over ‘the facts’.

We are all down here because we have work to do.

Over the next few weeks and months, for sure a lot of yucky behavior is going to be coming to the fore, because things can only be fixed when they are recognized and acknowledged.

And the key to coming through this stage OK and with our relationships and sanity intact is the mirror principle. Sure, other people have problems and issues, that’s a given. But if God is showing those issues and problems to us, and it’s upsetting us, then that means we also have the same problem to deal with.

And we have to knuckle down, and get on with the work of rectifying it.

AKA, Serving God on the Down

“[T]he terms ‘running’ and ‘returning’ are used in Ezekiel (1:14) and describe the chayot. They refer to two different facets of phases of divine service. They apply to everyone, no matter how low his level.

“There are times when everyone feels inspired in his devotions. This happens especially when a person is praying. He suddenly feels a burst of enthusiasm and says the words with tremendous fervor. This is the phase of ‘running’.

“But then, the inspiration and the fervor pass, and all that is left is a trace. This is the phase of “returning”.

“For most people, the main effort and work come in trying to achieve the ‘running’ – the moment when the heart ‘runs’, so to speak, in fervent devotion.  ‘Returning’ is something easy for them, because that is their nature….

“Both ‘running’ and ‘returning’ are necessary parts of serving God.”

#252 from Tzaddik, by the Breslov Research Institute. Also see Likutey Moharan I 6:4

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m a period of ‘returning’ at the moment.

Elsewhere, I call this ‘serving God on the down’ – you know, when you can’t really be bothered to listen to more Torah classes, or to take on more observances, and also when you’re finding it hard to get your act together to do even the basic stuff you know you should be doing.

Like making supper. Or hanging the washing. Or even, just stringing more than a couple of monosyllables together to talk to your husband and kids.

When this stage hits, it can often feel like we’re falling far away from Hashem, God forbid, but that’s where Rabbenu comes in to tell us don’t make that mistake!

Don’t start telling yourself that you’re ‘bad’, or ‘worthless’, or that God doesn’t love you, or that He doesn’t see all your efforts.

It’s just we can’t always be serving God on the ‘up’. We also have to serve Him on the down.

And it’s much easier to do that than you might think.

All it really means is that you turn around, and you search for God in the low place that you currently find yourself in, and connect it all back to Him.

God, I still want to serve You even though I got a little too caught up recently in dumb music videos on Youtube.

God, I still want to serve You even though I don’t feel like saying a Tikkun Haklali today, or going to hear a shiur.

God, I still want to serve You even though I seem to have completely run out of energy and ideas again.

That’s all we have to do to serve God on the down.

These are heavy days, hard times. The last couple of days, I’ve really been feeling like the ‘spiritual molasses’ has returned again, after a few days’ break, and it’s hard to do anything again.

But I can still serve God from this dark, unproductive place.

How?

Just by wanting to, even if the effort itself, the act itself, the improvement itself, is beyond me right now.

All I have is my wanting to do better, but I’m sending all that back up to Hashem, and this is all I need to do stay connected.

I’m heading down again right now, God, but wherever I land, You’re coming with me. BH, I’ll be back on the up, and ‘running’ and spiritually inspired again soon.

But right now, I’m serving You on the down.

And when we tell God that, we make Him very happy.