Recently, I’ve been pondering the mechanism that’s going on in a person’s brain and / or soul that prevents them from assimilating new information when it’s presented to them, and changing course as a result.

There’s been many prompts for my ponderings, vis:

  • Individuals who frequently treat others in a very selfish, manipulative and destructive way, and who continue their behavior even when repeatedly told what the problem is, and being asked to stop. (This is one of the classical behavioral issues of people with Cluster ‘B’ type personality disorders, particularly Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Anti-Social Behavior PD)
  • Individuals who continue to insist that chemical imbalances in the brain:
    1. Actually exist, despite there being no scientific evidence to support this conclusion; and
    2. That these chemical imbalances are the cause of mental and emotional issues such as depression, bipolar, schizophrenia etc; and
    3. That psychotropic drugs ‘cure’ these pretend chemical imbalances and their associated emotional issues, again even though there is no scientific evidence to prove that, and plenty of scientific evidence proving that this is NOT the case.
  • Individuals who continue to defend their position, or actions, or belief system even when clearly shown evidence and facts that flat-out contradict them. The examples of this abound, but to name a few of the more notable ones:
    1. Adherents of Darwin’s ‘theory’ of evolution, who continue to trot it out as ‘fact’ and ‘science’ and the ‘height of objective rationality’ when in fact (and I urge you to research this yourself) NOT ONE SHRED OF EVIDENCE HAS EVER BEEN FOUND, OVER THE LAST 100 YEARS, TO PROVE IT. To put this another way, believing in Darwinism is actually probably even more bonkers than believing in Scientology. And that’s saying something.
    2. People who continue to claim that yoga is ‘just exercise’ despite repeated references to the Hindu religion and idolatrous practices and texts, plus the requirement to spend 30 hours immersed in pagan texts simply to be able to teach it.
    3. People who claim the Palestinians ‘want peace’, and that Islam is a religion of peace.

 

Nuff said.

All of us have come up against these types of people or issues over time, and probably all of us have been left scratching our heads as to what exactly is going on, because on some level we can see that the failure to integrate and to respond to information is clearly a sign of mental ill-health.

Two options present themselves:

Either, there really is some sort of cognitive impairment going on (more on this in a moment); or, the people involved are morally corrupt and deliberately going out there to hurt and mislead other people by ‘playing dumb’.

The more I’ve researched this issue, the more I’m starting to believe that the issue really is one of cognitive impairment, aka brain damage.

Here’s why: I did this infographic a little while back to show how important our frontal lobes are, when it comes to things like exercising free choice, assimilating new information, and overcoming our primitive, knee-jerk reactions to act like a mensch.

When the frontal lobes are ‘off-line’, the ability to choose how to react, to weigh out our options, to see other people’s points of view, to empathise, and to respond to new information and stimulus and really internalize it is very impaired, or even non-existent.

This type of ‘brain damage’ is caused by trauma, especially the type of trauma that results from emotional neglect and abuse in childhood, plus other more obviously traumatic experiences like being bulled, being seriously ill, losing a parent via divorce or bereavement, or experiencing a bad car crash, physical assault or terrorist attack.

To put this another way: Most people today are traumatized, and the effects of being traumatized are to amplify the influence or emotional and primitive parts of the brain, and to shut down the part of the brain that enables people to process new information, consider their actions, behavior and beliefs in a rational way, and to choose to act, think or believe different, as a result.

Here’s the good news: the brain is ‘plastic’, and new research is building up by the day to prove that the function of the brain is shaped by our experiences, and that our brains continue to grow and evolve and change until we take our last breath.

Traumatised brains can be ‘un-traumatised’, and when that occurs people regain their humanity, their ability to change and to aspire, and their connection to their souls, their higher selves, and to God.

(God willing, I’m currently pulling together a whole bunch of information on the best, easiest and most effective ways of ‘un-traumatising’, and I’ll post it up when it’s ready.)

But until and unless that happens – you’re dealing with brain-damaged individuals who really can’t process the new information or facts that potentially change the whole picture.

They really AREN’T doing it just be stubborn, obnoxious, hurtful, destructive, although of course we often still experience their behavior like that, and we have to take any steps required to protect ourselves from the fall-out.

Jewishly, this appears to be very connected to the idea of karet, or being cut-off from God and the Jewish people.

Traumatised people are literally cut-off from their frontal lobes, and their ability to actualize the higher potential and spiritual light they most definitely still contain.

But I’m optimistic that as more of the research starts to build up, and as more of the daat, or intrinsic knowledge of how the world really works, starts to flow down to us in anticipation of Moshiach and redemption, the very challenged individuals in our midst (including ourselves!) will be given all the help we need to truly start to heal, and to be the enormous forces for true spiritual good in the world that God created us to be.

 

Ken yiyeh ratzon, Amen.

Today (June 3) is the day of Yesod she be Yesod in the counting of the Omer, or ‘foundation focusing on foundation’, or ‘sense of purpose focusing on sense of purpose’.

Yesterday, I got a phone call asking me if I’d heard any more about Rav Berland’s imminent arrival back in Israel. I hadn’t, but I sent my husband off to yeshiva to find out from his source if there was any more news.

Then, I did the usual trip around some of the geula blogs to see if anyone had anything about the Rav’s return. There was a post over on Shirat Devorah (see HERE) with a clip from Rav Dovid Kook, the kabbalist in Tiveria, explaining how Rav Berland’s return to Israel is going to usher in the redemption.

I so hope that’s the case.

This counting the Omer has been such an intense time, that maybe, just maybe, geula really is around the corner.

I hope that by the time you read this, today, Rav Berland WILL be back home, and that things WILL be proceeding geula-wise, the sweet way. Because today is ‘foundation of foundation’, and the biggest tzadikim are said to be the ‘foundation of the world’, so it would be very fitting if today was the day Rav Berland returned.

(BTW – if you haven’t yet paid your 98 nis monthly protection pidyon from terrorists, please go HERE to do that ASAP. Even if geula comes the sweet way, there’s still going to be quite a rough ride involved, at least in parts, until we really finish the process.)

As for me, I’m spiritually exhausted at the moment.

Every day since Rosh Chodesh Nissan has brought its own trials and tribulations, and ‘middot  growth opportunities’.  It seems to me that God is dealing out a whole bunch of last chances to people, to take their blinkers off and finally see what’s going down in their lives.

It’s like there’s all this spiritual light coming down into the world ahead of Moshiach, but wherever it hits a ‘blockage’, it’s causing a lot of pain and drama and anxiety. Clear the blockage (which is usually related to working on a bad character trait, or a weak connection to Hashem) – and the light can pass through your life easily again, giving everything a rosy, warm glow.

Don’t clear the blockage (which is what I’m still seeing SO many people do) – and you literally start to crack-up and go insane.

Thus it is that the problems are spiraling up out of control, the negative character traits are coming to the fore like never before, and the health issues are plummeting to greater depths.

Why?

Hashem gave us a clue as to why this is all happening in last week’s parsha, where we learned of the many curses that would befall Am Yisrael if they related to God ‘casually’. That’s an interesting word, isn’t it?

What does it mean to relate to God casually? Maybe, it means that we don’t even take God into account, and pretend like everything that happens is completely random and down to chance. Maybe, it means that even though we profess to be believing Jews, we still don’t want to admit that God is behind every tiny thing that’s going on in our lives, so we make big speeches about ‘how it’s impossible to know what God wants’, etc, or how ‘everyone has their troubles’, so we don’t need to be too fussed to try to work out WHY God is making us sick, or poor, or miserable.

Maybe, it means that we relate to God like a lifestyle choice, something to boost our energy and give us a high, like a good workout or spinach smoothie, just somehow better.

Or maybe, we talk about how God is going to do a whole bunch of things to everyone else, leaving us to blog contentedly about the destruction of the world that somehow isn’t going to affect us.

God wants us to put Him first, even when it’s inconvenient, uncomfortable and difficult. He wants us to explore every little thing that happens to us from a place of understanding that it’s part of the meaningful dialogue Hashem is trying to have with us, about what we need to acknowledge, work on, or fix, in some way.

To put it another way, we’re back to Rav Arush’s three rules of emuna, namely:

  • Hashem is doing everything in the world
  • Everything Hashem does is for the ultimate good
  • Everything is a message

Those three rules of emuna make every tiny thing that happens to us meaningful and important; the exact opposite of casual and insignificant.

God says: ‘You want to pretend like those kidney stones are just a fluke, and nothing to do with all your bad habits and character traits? Here, try this additional debilitating illness on for size!!’

And:

“You want to pretend that you’re hitting the skids financially just because of the economic downturn!? Here, I’m going to cut every source of income you have off from you, until you finally get the message that you need to start treating your wife (the pipe of all abundance in the home) better!”

And so on, and so forth. ‘A fury of casualness’ – a maelstrom of horrible illnesses, difficult experiences, poverty and ill-health, until we finally wake up and realize that none of it was ‘casual’ or ‘random’, and everything right from the start was God.

The last few weeks, I’ve had so many messages that despite all the hard work I’ve done the last few years, THERE ARE STILL THINGS THAT NEED SOME WORK, PRONTO!

Like anger. And resentment. And rage. And hatred.

(Viz: My husband discovered that the person who damaged the windscreen wiper on our brand new car was a neighbor who hates people parking in ‘his’ spot. I was so worked up when he told me I started fantasizing about spilling a box of tacks behind the neighbor’s front wheels etc. Then, I woke up and realized this! This horrible character trait is what God is telling me needs some work! Duh!)

So God has been giving me that work to do in spades, the last few weeks. IF Rav Berland makes it back today, BH, and if the geula kicks off as predicted by Rav Kook – well then, that all makes sense.

And if not?

I guess God is fast-tracking my Teshuva and character development for some other good reason, only known to Him. And I guess that’s OK, too.

If there is one thing that I’m eternally grateful to last week’s ‘alternative health’ experience for, it’s for re-igniting my passion for Yiddishkeit.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that the last couple of years have been pretty challenging for me. Things are much better now, thank God, but last year I hit such a low place that my faith got shaken to its core.

It wasn’t just the loneliness, business failure, lack of money and self-serving religious ‘advisors’. The hardest thing of all is that I’d followed God into the wilderness, and then when things got really rough and I needed Him the most, He hid Himself from me.

Of course really, God was still guiding and supporting me all the way through, because otherwise there is simply no way that me and my family could have made it through what we experienced, and come out the other side with our health, sanity and relationships intact.

But here and there, the doubts have still lingered, and I have found myself sometimes struggling to do mitzvahs, especially the ones that I find very difficult and that don’t give me much of a happy feeling, like making challah, for example.

So last week, God gave me a huge present:

He showed me that while the orthodox Jewish world is still very flawed, and that there really is still a lot of work to do, compared to the non-orthodox and non-Jewish world, it’s still doing pretty well.

Let’s just take the issue of tznius (modesty). Tznius has been a tough subject for me, because I’ve seen how my kids (and myself…) have reacted against tznius, when it’s been given over by flawed people who have an unfortunate gift for making people feel wrong, guilty and bad about themselves. I’d love to tell you that those people are few and far between, but my experience has been that a certain type of individual – often a very competitive, superior and judgmental sort of person – just LOOOOOVES the power trip they get out of making other people’s external standards of tznius a big deal.

Time and time again, I’ve found myself caught on the horns of a furious dilemma with tznius, because I truly believe that tznius dress, behavior and attitudes are very important to Hashem.

But at the same time, I hate all the judgment, snobbery and disgusting blame and shame tactics that seem to be tied to it, especially when it comes to our children.

But last week, my ambivalence about tznius evaporated, as I saw how holy people truly are when they dress appropriately, and don’t try to draw attention to themselves with loud behavior and in-your-face antics, and do their best to keep away from members of the opposite sex.

Something else I fell back in love with: saying blessings.

Blessings on my food, blessings after going to the bathroom, blessings when I wake up in the morning, to thank God for the simple gift of just being alive. I’m so used to being around people who say blessings, that I was shocked to be around people who just shoveled their food straight down their throats without a second’s pause to thank their Creator, or who droned on and on about how much additional energy you get from raw food without once mentioning the tremendous additional spiritual nourishment you unleash from your food when you say a blessing over it.

I could go on and on with examples, but another big reason I fell back in love with Yiddishkeit last week is because I saw the futility and the arrogance of people who live their lives without God in the picture.

So many healers and therapists were queuing up, promising all sorts of benefits and cures, when it was clear that so many of them remained troubled in body, mind and spirit themselves.

To be blunt, a lot of the people I met were completely off their rocker; a lot of them were so obsessed with finding the latest ‘cure’ for their illnesses or difficulties that they had no space for social niceties or generosity of spirit; and a lot of them were so obviously lost in the world that it stretched credulity to the limit when they claimed to have found ‘the truth’.

To be blunt again, the nicest people I met last week were the ones who genuinely believed in God, however ‘religious’ they may have externally appeared to be, and who acknowledged 100% that they were just a tool in the Creator’s hand.

In my darkest days last year, I sometimes thought how my life could have been better or different, if I hadn’t tried so hard to chase after God.

You know, I’d have stayed in my soul-destroying job, treating my kids and husband like rubbish, because that would have given me far more status, external success and money. Or, I’d have yanked my husband out of yeshiva when our finances hit the skids, and forced him to get a ‘real’ job before we ended up having to sell our house just to be able to buy the groceries. Or, I’d have stopped taking the lid off all those unpleasant character traits, and bad habits and horrible beliefs I had, which forced me to look at some very unpleasant things about myself, and to actually try to change them.

Last week showed me that tough as those decisions were, and hard as the fall-out has been, particularly in terms of my finances and social status, they have brought me far more blessings than I ever realized.

No, I’m not free to hike on Friday nights, or to attend ‘spiritual’ events with members of the opposite sex, or to do whatever I think makes me ‘feel good’, even if it means trampling some of God’s laws in the process.

But you know what? I’m happy.

And if you’re a Jew, you’re only going to find true happiness and fulfilment by living an authentically Jewish life, that has God firmly in the picture.

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

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

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

Jewish souls come from the world of speech…

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

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

 

WHAT THIS MEANS, TACHLIS:

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

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

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

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

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

But there was more.

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

 

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

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

This is because without Torah, one cannot live….

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

 

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

WHAT THIS MEANS, TACHLIS:

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

No wonder I was feeling so uncomfortable!

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

But there was still more.

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

 

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

 

WHAT THIS MEANS, TACHLIS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

God is actually very simple.

He runs His world with the utmost simplicity and clarity, just we human beings like to get in the middle of things, and make them a whole lot more complicated and messy than they need to be.

For example, humanity came up with the idea that things can be ‘neutral’, i.e., neither good, nor bad, just kind of something in the middle.

Really?

That’s hogwash. There is nothing ‘neutral’ in the whole world, because if you really take things back to the most basic level, something is either ‘good’ or it’s ‘bad’, and there is nothing in between.

So now, we hit the next level of confusion and muddled-thinking: How can we know what’s truly ‘good’ and what’s truly ‘bad’, anyway? In today’s world, where moral relativism rules and the politically-correct Powers That Be keep changing the goal posts, how are we meant to be able to define ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in any meaningful way?

But God, in His infinite wisdom, even has a very simple, never-fail answer for that, too:

When something brings you closer to God, then it’s GOOD.

When something takes you further away from God, then it’s BAD.

And nowhere does this hold most true than in the realm of human health.

If walking five miles a day brings you closer to God, and is really helping you to get in touch with that spark of the Divine inside of you, aka your soul, then it’s a great thing. But if it’s doing the opposite – then it’s not.

If eating the sprouted bread is bringing you closer to God, and giving you the energy you need to fulfill your Divinely-ordained mission in the world, and to be nicer to people (including yourself) then it’s wonderful. But if your strict diet is isolating you, or stopping you from doing things that would fill you up with joy and gratitude, or causing you to adopt a judgmental, superior, or critical attitude towards your fellow human beings (or yourself) – then it’s really NOT good for you.

And so on, and so forth.

This measure of true goodness is so flexible that you can apply it to absolutely everything, from relationships, to beliefs, to habits, or even, to bars of chocolate.

Because sometimes, even eating a bar of chocolate for lunch can be a ‘good’, holy thing.

The famous Jewish mystic Rebbe Nachman of Breslev taught that if we don’t consciously make the effort to attach our breath, and our thoughts to ‘good’ and to God, then we automatically become attached to the opposite.

The opposite of God is NOT neutral, although so many of us believe that such a thing exists, especially in the spiritual world.

The opposite of God is ‘bad’.

It’s evil; it’s hatred; it’s jealousy, and arrogance, and intolerance, and greed, and selfishness, and superficiality – and all those other horrible things that are making our world a difficult place to live in.

I know, that’s not at all ‘PC’, is it? Most of us don’t like to hear that the world is full of these things, even though we see human misery and suffering all around us.

So to sum up, every time we connect ourselves to God in some way, we are connecting to good, and hopefully bringing more of that good, and love and kindness into the world.

And every time we don’t, and we pretend that we don’t need to connect to the Creator, then we automatically connect ourselves to the opposite of God.

And that explains a lot about why the world currently looks the way it does, doesn’t it?

Since a few weeks’ before Pesach, I’ve been feeling pretty strange.

Yes, Pesach was very hectic this year, with lots of family coming out to Israel. Yes, I got hit with the ‘mystery’ illness that kept me feeling exhausted and out of it for around a month. Yes, my kids are both pretty unsettled in their schools, my husband is still pretty unsettled in his career, and I’m still trying to work out what I want to do when I grow up.

All these things are really just variations on a theme that has been reoccurring periodically in my life for decades: that feeling that I don’t know what I’m doing with myself, and that my life feels a bit empty and purposeless.

I’ve tried to fill that space with writing, with books, with classes, with praying, with working like a dog, with holidays, with exercising like a crazy person (many years’ ago, now…) and occasionally, even with cleaning my toilet.

Sometimes they work, more as a distraction than anything else. Usually, I have to go and do some big prayer-a-thon to get underneath the icky feeling and just reconnect back to myself, and then back to God. And THAT’s when I get some relief and some clarity and some inner peace.

(If you’re wondering, I often have to do a longer hitbodedut every week, to keep on top of the empty, pointless feeling that can swirl around me not infrequently.)

But given all that, this period of time still feels different from the usual meaningless / pointless / confused / frustrated feelings I get.

I don’t know about you, but this period of counting the Omer has been pretty intense so far. Every day seems to bring its fair share of deep, introspective work, and insights. I’ve been getting intense dreams, experiencing some weird things, and God has sent me some huge messages about what I need to work on and fix, still.

Like, I had one dream involving people I hadn’t spoken to for years, already, which made me realize I was still pretty upset at them and harbouring a huge grudge. Who knew?

Or, I had a conversation with one of my kids that left me literally gasping for breath. She mentioned something nonchalantly, like kids do, and I suddenly lost my voice and couldn’t breathe for a few seconds.

Gosh, clearly some deep, internal button had been pressed.

Who knew that stuff was still so tightly-wired up inside, and reactive?

So since Pesach has ended (and really, even before it began) I’ve been caught up in a bit of an internal maelstrom, where I know God is expecting big things of me, but I’m still finding it hard to really identify them, or give Him what I think He wants.

And it’s intense.

Do you know that Rav Eliezer Berland is in prison in South Africa, and has been kept there for over a month, already? Do you know what terrible trials and difficulties he’s going through?

Part of me feels that it’s only right that my life should feel so intense and unstable at the moment, because how can a huge Tzaddik like this be suffering so much, and we just sit here carrying on, business as usual?

In fact, the situation with Rav Berland is what makes me think, more than anything else, that this period of time is unusual, even though parts of it feel all-too-familiar. Things are getting shaken up. Things are getting broken down. Things are changing.

In which way, and what that means, I have no idea. I hope it’s going to lead to Moshiach and the temple, peacefully. But it feels like we’re definitely entering unchartered waters in some way at the moment, at least to me. And without my hitbodedut to keep me afloat, I think I probably would have sunk under all the pressure and intensity a long time ago.

Getting into Pesach this year was such a slog for me.

Around two weeks’ before the holiday, I had another dose of my pre-Pesach ‘mystery’ illness, where I start feeling so weak and horrible, it’s all I can do to get out of bed, let alone clean my skirting boards.

It’s happened like clock-work three years’ in a row now, and while the first year I was seriously worried I was dying, by this stage I KNOW it’s a spiritual / emotional thing – which makes it easier to deal with, in some ways, but still pretty challenging when it comes to actually getting stuff done for Pesach.

This year’s dose of spiritual malaise took me out for three days, and when I finally had the energy to get out of bed again, I had just over a week to get EVERYTHING done. Which is when my yetzer kicked in big time.

It started reminding me about all those people who get taken away to luxury hotels for Pesach… and all those people who have family around to make Seder for them and share the load… and all those people who can afford to get cleaning help, at least occasionally, to do what must be done before the holiday.

Dear reader, I moped around feeling so sorry for myself, and so unfortunate, and so ‘low’ in so many ways, leading up to Seder night.

I really felt like I was trapped in the land of bad middot, and I had no idea how I was ever going to get out of it.

What was keeping me going was the thought that hopefully, Seder night would be the breakthrough I needed, to stop feeling like such a sad loser and to see things start turning around again.

Seder night arrived – but my enthusiasm didn’t. The first half an hour, I sat there staring at the other three people around the table, and I just wanted to cry. Just me and my immediate family AGAIN. Another year where I felt more dead than alive, going into the Festival of freedom and redemption. Another year where despite my best efforts to grow, change and improve, my life still seemed to be stuck in a very despairing, negative place.

Sigh.

Of course, I’m a grown-up, so I didn’t say any of this stuff.

I just sat at the table with my pretend fixed smile on my face, trying to make out like I was really enjoying the whole proceedings. But underneath? I was drowning in misery.

Just then, the kid who is my mirror (and who’d also been feeling really unwell the week leading up to Seder) spoke up:

“I hate Pesach!” she declared loudly and with feeling, before we’d even got up to singing ‘Ma Nishtana’. “I hate it even more than Purim!” (Which is saying something, because this Purim she spent the whole holiday violently throwing up.)

Long story short, I suddenly realized that God was not going to let me get away with my secret despair, and that something had to change pronto, or else we were about to have the worse Seder ever.

When you have a small family like mine, everyone has to participate at Seder, and sit at the table, because one missing person is really a whole world.

I was off ‘missing’ in my head, and my kid decided to absent herself to go sit on the couch, leaving my husband and other kid desperately trying to raise everyone’s spirits and rescue our Festival of Freedom.

Just then, I stopped moaning and started thanking God.

‘Thanks, God, that me and my kid both hate Pesach. Thanks, God, that hard as I try to be a good Jew and keep mitzvot, somehow or other the rug keeps getting pulled out from under my feet, and I can’t seem to give You the joy, happiness and enthusiasm I’d really like to. Thanks, that I often go into these holidays feelings so lost and lonely – even more than usual. Thanks that I am NEVER going to be the subject of a Feldheim biography on ideal Yiddishkeit…’

Suddenly, the cloud lifted a little, and my kid came back to the table.

Next, I asked my family what was the worse Seder we’d ever had – and as everyone remembered this bad experience or that, I suddenly realized that every single one of our ‘worst’ Seders had been with other people. Here I was, moaning about it being just us, while actually, ‘just us’ was a pretty good deal!

We could all take the Seder at the pace we wanted to; it was much more relaxed and informal; I hadn’t killed myself making 18 side-dishes for guests; no-one was arguing about who was going to sing Ma Nishtana; I wasn’t being bored to death by the 100th dvar Torah…

Hmmm.

Maybe things weren’t so bad after all!

A few minutes later, me and my mirror had seriously cheered up, and we were both actually (whisper this…) enjoying ourselves.

Later on in the week, I spoke to some relatives about how their family-filled, luxurious Seders had gone. One had ended up in hospital with their kid on Seder night thanks to a serious asthma attack, while the other was completely exhausted from being up until five in the morning, and couldn’t wait for their ‘real’ holiday to begin.

Hmmm.

Pesach continued to be challenging in other ways this year, but the unifying theme throughout the last week (at least for me) is that appearances can be very deceptive, especially at this stage of the game.

The more ‘shiny’ and ‘successful’ and ‘sociable’ it looks from the outside, probably the worst it’s actually feeling.

I learnt that lesson big time this Pesach.

I hope God’s going to help me to remember it.

So, what’s the ‘big idea’ behind 49 Days?

Well, it’s like this: God created the world via 10 ‘worlds’ or spheres of energy, that are commonly referred to in the Jewish mystical tradition, (a.k.a. Kabbalah) as Sefirot.

According to the Kabbalah, these 10 sefirot are split into three higher ones, and seven lower ones – and the seven lower ones are associated with a whole bunch of different things, including the main ‘attributes’, or character traits, that us human beings are meant to work on and perfect.

There are different ideas as to what each of these seven Sefirot are actually referring to.

In the Hebrew, they are listed as:

Chesed

Gevurah

Tiferet

Netzach

Hod

Yesod

Malkhut

(Btw, if you want more of a deeper understanding about the different Sefirot, I highly recommend the book Sefirot (what else?), by Rabbi Haber. Click HERE to take a look at it on Amazon.)

My take on what these seven attributes are telling us to work on is as follows:

  • Love & relationships
  • Self-improvement
  • Truth
  • Seeing the good / specialness
  • Gratitude
  • Sense of Purpose
  • The Spiritual Dimension

 

Now, the best time to work on perfecting these seven attributes / worlds / character traits is considered to be the 49 days between Passover, and the Jewish festival of Shavuot, that occurs exactly seven weeks’ later.

Now, this is where the 49 Days interactive journal can come in, because each day it will spell out what particular character traits need some work, and give you an exercise to do that will really tap-in to the spiritual energy of that day, to get things moving.

  • You can buy 49 Days on Amazon HERE, and on the Book Depository HERE.

And so, it is Pesach

This year has gone by in such a blur, that I almost can’t believe Pesach is here again.

What? So soon??!

How did that happen?

On the one hand, I’m so looking forward to having a week off from cleaning and writing and just plain thinking; but on the other hand, I’m kind of feeling a bit lost in the chag this year.

In the past, I feel that I’ve prepared much more for the holiday than I have this year.

There were years that I cleaned more (much more); years where I listened to more classes about leaving Egypt, and all that stuff. Years where I had lots of guests for seder (or even, some guests for seder).

Last year, I came into Pesach so finished that all my super-machmir habits kind of got smashed, and it’s interesting to see that my lack of oomph is continuing 12 months later, albeit in a much gentler and less dramatic way.

I just don’t really have energy for Pesach at the moment, it seems.

Not the cleaning, not the cooking, not the spiritual preparation, nothing.

On Shabbat, Rav Arush told the yeshiva to try and get everything done by Thursday afternoon, so that we’d have the energy to actually enjoy the seder a little bit, and to grab hold of some of the spiritual light that comes down on that most special of nights.

So now, I’m trying to get it all there, wherever ‘there’ actually is, by Thursday. But the idea that I’m somehow going to get filled up with light this Seder night seems quite bizarre to me, if I’m honest.

A few weeks’ ago, I realized that at least for me, ‘Egypt’ is my bad middot and negative character traits. Am I really going to be able to kick free of them once and for all, on Seder night?

Am I really going to get redeemed from the endless rush that seems to be my life, and everyone else’s?

Am I – and everyone else that I know – really going to finally accept the idea that there is more to life than the relentless chase after money?

You know, I have a few friends that I’ve known for ages and ages who I haven’t seen smile, properly, in about five years. Is that going to change, this Seder night? Are all the sad, stressed, lonely, lost people out there finally going to get redeemed, and start enjoying their lives the way God intended?

I SO hope so.

But, I’ve hoped for these things, and more, in years’ past, too.

Why is this seder night going to be any different from usual?

Ma nishtana, ha lila hazeh?

I guess I’ll have to wait for God to show me.

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

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

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

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

But then…

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

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

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

What’s the point?

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s the ice bit of the equation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let it go! Let it go!

Can’t hold it back any more!

Let it go! Let it go!

Turn my back and slam the door.

Here I stand

And THERE they’ll stay.

Let it go, let it go.

The cold never bothered me anyway.

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