Revisiting the Mirror Principle (aka that problem you’re shouting about in everyone else is really just your own.)

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.

An infographic showing how to make teshuva using the BESHT's Mirror Principle

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.

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You might also like these posts:

Another Look at the Mirror Principle

 

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.

Defining the role of the Baal Teshuva.

Recently, I had an email exchange with someone that inspired this post, that I’m calling the Baal Teshuva Manifesto. Baal Teshuvas, or BTs, have a crucial part to play in the unfolding redemption process, but where a lot of us seem to be getting stuck is that we think we have to be ‘carbon copies’ of the frum-from-birth crowd to be serving Hashem properly.

And this isn’t true!

God went to great lengths to stick us in whatever spiritual holes we found ourselves in before we realized we have a soul, and a much deeper spiritual purpose in life. What follows is going to explore this notion in much greater depth, but the basic idea is this:

The F-F-Bs have their own path, their own derech, and their own very important spiritual job to do in the world, which I’d sum up simplistically as:

Teaching Jews how to serve God with the yetzer tov, or good inclination.

By contrast, Baal Teshuvas also have their own path, derecho and spiritual job to do in the world, which I’ll sum up simplistically as:

Teaching Jews how to serve God with their yetzer hara, or evil inclination.

Most people in the FFB world didn’t grow up watching endless Disney, or having George Michael songs hardwired into their prepubescent heads, or spending pointless weeks on package holidays in places like Marbella or Cancun.

They don’t have those memories, they don’t have those challenges, they don’t have those issues and triggers.

When they go back to ‘home’, home is Torah, home is Shabbat, home is yiddishkeit, and unless they grew up in emotionally abusive, neglectful or otherwise disturbed homes, they will have very strong, happy childhood memories of these things. And those happy memories will reinforce the desire to do these things again, in their adult life.

By contrast, ‘home’ for many or even most of us Baal Teshuvas is linked to things that are the antithesis of yiddishkeit. Like movies, inappropriate dress, inappropriate behavior, Michael Jackson, God-less secular culture, and many modes of thinking and being that simply doesn’t go together with being a religious Jew.

And that’s usually the case even if the people in these homes were warm, wonderful, genuinely caring and giving. (Which these days, is clearly a big if).  So part of the BT’s brain is literally hardwired to feel ‘at home’ in tumah, and in all the secular culture that so many of us kicked off and left behind, because we could see that it’s empty and destructive.

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So now, let’s walk through the typical process of making teshuva to see what happens next:

  • There’s a spiritual awakening of some kind, and the Baal Teshuva realizes they have a soul, and that God is requiring more of them than spending their life chasing after money or gratifying their ego and lusts.
  • The Baal Teshuva starts to learn about keeping mitzvahs, and starts to learn more Torah.
  • If they have a very strong desire to feel accepted, and to feel as though they ‘belong’ in their new community (which most of us have) they will try to dress the part as soon as possible, and will try to conform to as many of their new communities rules and regulations as quickly and as consistently as possible.

We’ve all been told that idea that the outside influences the inside, and it’s true to a great degree – but it’s also simplistic. Because sooner or later, there comes a time, there comes a place, where the ‘outside’s’ ability to really change the inside stops.

There’s a core of a person that is hardwired in childhood, and that will ‘pull’ the adult person, and catapult them towards certain things that are viewed as sources of tumah, or spiritual pollution, in the frum world.

Some examples from my own experience include:

  • Secular reading material
  • Being online
  • Secular music and ‘culture’
  • Holidays
  • Nice clothing
  • Working out / playing sports
  • Nicely appointed homes

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Now, it’s clear to us all that if a person can get through life happily and healthily without any of the above, that’s clearly 100% the best way to be for a frum Jew. But the problem is this:

Most of us Baal Teshuvas have some part of our brain that God has hardwired to feel ‘at home’ in the tumah.

And when we completely turn our backs on that tumah, that usually also means that we’re turning our backs on some integral part of ourselves. That part that has fond memories of watching Thriller. That part that really enjoyed reading A Little Princess. That part that actually wants to retrain to become a lawyer, or a doctor, or to go into business, instead of just sitting there learning Torah 24/7. That part that is dying, literally, to play a game of tennis, or shoot some hoops.

Not only that, because we’re fighting so hard to keep that ‘bad’ part of us in its box, that usually means that we can’t tolerate any whiff of anything or anyone that is going to entice us back to that tumahdik stuff, or put us in the place of having to admit that at least a bit of us is still drawn towards it.

So we stop talking to our old friends, and we stop attending family events, and we make all sorts of excuses why we no longer need to be in touch with people – our fellow Jews.

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I’ve been through this process myself, and at this stage, this is what I think about it:

When you’re dealing with people who don’t respect your choice to live a religious life, and who are constantly trying to pull you back to the tumah¸ you have to put some big barriers up, and step away and go and work out who you really are and what you really want, without any sabotage from family members.

BUT – family members will only try to sabotage your process of self-discovery if the relationship is already dysfunctional. If the relationship is healthy, and if the lines of communication between child and parent, or husband and wife, or brother and sister, are working properly, you will still be able to navigate the changes together.

Disagreements will be ironed out, clashes will get resolved, problems will be solved with a lot of dialogue, mutual respect, and will to compromise to get the best possible outcomes for everyone involved.

Again, I think it’s fair to say that most Baal Teshuvas have experienced the ‘sabotage’ model over the ‘support’ model, and at least some of the reasons for this are obvious:

When God and Torah is out of the picture, self-development and working on our bad middot are also often out of the picture.

We are drawn to yiddishkeit in the first place, because we recognize something is lacking, something isn’t working so well, in our lives. We can see that having a relationship with God, and following His mitzvoth, is the path out of the emotional wilderness, and that’s why so many of us make a lot of self-sacrifice to try to change our lives around to give God what He wants.

And that motivation can keep us going for years.

This is the stage of the Baal Teshuva process where we’re learning to serve Hashem with our yetzer tov¸or our inclination for good, and it’s an absolutely crucial part of the process that can’t be skipped.

But that’s not where the process stops, and this is where many of the BTs I know, including me and my husband, kind of came unstuck. The FFB world could tell us all about making kugels, and singing zmirot, and having 400 people for Seder night, and selling our cars to pay for our kids’ tuition in yeshiva.

But it couldn’t teach us how to take that ‘hidden’ part of us, that part of us that’s hardwired to be at home in the world of tumah, and to make that part holy, too.

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It’s obvious why not: FFBs don’t have that challenge, they don’t have that issue, they don’t have those problems. (Again, this is an over-simplification to make the point. There are massive middot issues in the FFB world too, I know. But for different reasons that are beyond the scope of this post.)

FFBs are serving God in a different way, and they have a different job to do in the world.

I have to choose my words very carefully here, because God forbid this should be misconstrued as saying the forbidden is permissible. That’s not at all what I’m saying here. The forbidden is still forbidden, but God has given Baal Teshuvas a job to do in the world, and we can only do it properly if we’re really being ‘us’, and not pretending to be ‘perfect frummers’.

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Let’s see if I can explain what I’m really trying to say here, by framing things through my own experiences.

By profession, I’m a journalist and writer, a communicator, and I do it very well. When I was in London, I was a professional in the street, and a Jew in the home. I.e. my job was my job, and then I did my best to do things like keep Shabbat and kosher, and to pay tzedeka, too. My kids were sent to orthodox Jewish schools, we ate in a Succah on Succot etc etc.

But my Judaism didn’t really come past the door of my home, it didn’t really accompany me into my job working for Government ministers, or writing for papers.

Then I hit Israel, and over a year or two I came to understand I had a lot of work to do to make my Judaism consistent, and to be living a genuinely Jewish life.

I stopped working, I started covering my hair, I started dressing much more modestly, I only bought Badatz chickens, I threw away all my secular books and albums, and stopped watching movies… This is the ‘external’ part of the Baal Teshuva process, where we can get so machmir about the externals. You can sum this up in the phrase: the mitzvoth between man and God.

Then, thanks to Breslov and Rebbe Nachman’s teachings, especially his advice to talk to God for an hour a day, I started the real, internal part of the Baal Teshuva process, which is basically avodat hamiddot, or working on rectifying my negative character traits. You can sum this up as the mitzvoth between man and man.

This is still very much an ongoing process, and it will be until 120. It’s not fast work, it’s often extremely painful and difficult – but it’s also a crucial part of the teshuva process. And thank God, by trying to see everything that happens as some sort of message or prod from Hashem, and by talking to Him a lot about what’s going on, a lot of things have moved and improved.

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One of the biggest blessings of trying to do this work on the mitzvoth between man and man, this avodat hamiddot, is that it transformed my relationship with my children.

Once I internalized that my children are just my mirrors, and that God is trying to show me something by way of my kids and their issues that I myself need to work on, a whole bunch of new paths and insights into the teshuva process started to open up.

Especially five years ago, when my oldest started listening to secular music, used her own money to buy a smartphone, and started wearing short sleeve T-shirts. Initially, I tried to use brute force to squash all this tumah down. We had such big shouting matches, such big disagreements, and this carried on for about a year and a half.

Then, she developed a weird health problem that I knew 100% was emotional, and somehow ‘mirroring’ me. I sent her off to my One Brain woman, and I got the clear message back that I had to let my daughter choose her own path in life, and stop trying to keep her ‘frum by force’ – or risk her getting ill, God forbid.

I did a big hitbodedut on it all, because I was so confused.

God wants us to dress tzniusly! He wants us to ditch the smartphones! I know this is true 100%. At the same time, the emuna rules were telling me something more, something extra, an additional nuance: God wants all that, for sure. But He wants people to choose it for themselves. You can’t just force your kids into towing the line. If you do that, they will either rebel or turn into unthinking, unfeeling, frum robots.

I got that message.

But now, I was stuck with a massive problem, because all the things that I’d thrown out of my life – like secular music, and jeans – was coming back into it. For the last 10 years, I’d dealt with my pull to this tumah by completely closing it out, and shutting the gates. But now if I did that, my daughter was going to be shut out with it, and caught on the other side, away from me.

And that was simply not something I was prepared to do.

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But in the meantime, all my attempts to keep up with Cohens, and to look the part of the externally FFB family, were completely wrecked by these kids of mine, who resolutely insisted on being who they were.

They get that from me, and I can’t complain.

But it took me another year or so of constantly praying to try to find the right path through all the muddle to realise something amazing:

Tolerating my kids meant that I also started to tolerate myself much more, too.

That part of me that still liked secular stuff, and that still wanted to wear long jeans skirt and crazy, colorful hats, and that still wanted to interact with the secular world. But now, on completely different terms. Now, I didn’t want to write ‘secular’ stuff then go back to my home life as a believing Jew.

Now, I wanted my Jewish beliefs to infuse and inform everything I do in the secular world.

That’s when I started down this path of trying to combine secular knowledge and information with emuna and Torah, but with the emphasis firmly on the Torah being right, no matter what science or secular knowledge actually says.

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Take the age of the world.

The old version of me was very happy with the ‘Science of God’ approach which seemed to marry modern science with the Torah, in a way that said ‘see, the Torah is not against what modern science is saying at all!’ That worked for me then, as my internal focus was still really secular.

But these days, my approach is completely different. These days, my internal focus is now much more Torah, so I’m looking at science with new eyes, with the fundamental understanding that if the Torah says the world is 5779 years old, that is the reality – and then, how does that stack up with modern science?

And this approach is what’s helping me to spot all the lies and flaws and propaganda inherent in so much of how modern science dates world events.

To put this another way, I see a lot of what I’m writing as a bridge between secular and holy, between night and day, between tahor and tamei.

And this brings me back around to why God made Baal Teshuvas, and why we’re missing the point when we stay stuck in stage 1 of the teshuva process, just trying to be carbon copies of the FFBs that we see around us.

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God wants us Baal Teshuvas to be a connecting bridge in the Jewish world.

He knows that even if we’re currently living in Meah Shearim, and speaking Yiddish with our 15 children, and wearing our stripey dressing gowns, that we still have a totally secular family left behind in Chul.

And what connects that totally secular family to God, and to purity, and to Tzaddikim, and to Torah is us.

We are that bridge, we are that unifying substance. But only if we’re still in touch with the secular family. And now, do you see why God has hardwired some of that tumah into our souls, still, and why we have to actually acknowledge the reality of who we are, instead of pretending to be who we are really not, which causes us to act like ‘frum robots’?

Because that secular stuff is what greases the wheels of communication between us, and keeps the dialogue open, and helps us to see that we’re really not so different, after all.

Totally secular sister who’s married out is not going to be able to grasp in a million years a conversation about the Ramchal’s glosses, or the subtleties of not performing melacha on Shabbat. If that’s all you have to talk about, you can’t connect, you can’t discuss. The conversation will get more and more awkward until it finally dries up, and you just never speak anymore, and she doesn’t feel comfortable coming over any more, and her kids grow up knowing about the ‘crazy frum uncle’ who cut all his family out of his life.

So what does God do? He gives you a strange urge to listen to a Robbie Williams song, or to read an article about how fat he’s got – and now you have something to talk to secular sister about that she can really relate to. Is it tahor? Not at all! For an FFB, it’s completely tamei, completely inappropriate.

But for a Baal Teshuva with a bunch of secular relatives, who’s still trying to keep the lines of communication open, so that secular sister feels comfortable coming over for a meal on Shabbat, or joining in a seder on Pesach?

It’s just the ticket.

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Do we want to be like secular sister and her family?

Of course not!

Do we want our kids to be like secular sister and her family?

Of course not!

And again, this is where maximum caution is advisable, because we can’t sacrifice our own family, our own yiddishkeit, just to try to keep on good terms with secular sister.

But we also can’t tell God lies about where we’re really holding, either.

As soon as our kids get to a certain age, as soon as our families get to a certain stage, where they have a strong base, a strong faith, and they know who they are and why they are doing things, religiously, we have to reach back out to our secular family members.

We have to try to connect to the more secular Jews in the world, and shine some of the Torah’s light into their lives, in a way they can really relate to it. That might mean knowing who the latest yucky celeb is, that might mean keeping up on the news, it might mean holding down a real job, it might mean tolerating the sight of female elbows at a seder table.

So much of this is completely inappropriate for a FFB, because they have a different job to do in the world. Half their family, half their experience, half their soul, isn’t caught up in that place of tumah, in that place of secularity, they have no reason to connect to that world.

But for us Baal Teshuvas? The picture is completely different.

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So now, tachlis, how can we now what God is really expecting of us, and whether we have the balance right, and we’re really serving God in the capacity He intended for us, with both our yetzer hara and our yetzer tov, and whether we’re really being honest about where we’re actually holding?

Here’s a few questions to ask, to try to find out:

  • Do you feel energized and happy about the life you’re leading, or miserable and resentful?
  • Do you radiate happiness and contentment to other people, or do you give the impression that your life is a drag and that you’re full of anger and resentment?
  • Do you have ‘secret vices’ that you like to pretend you don’t have – TVs in the airing cupboard, a secret addiction to YouTube videos, a penchant for Mills and Boon novels that you try to keep hidden under the bed, an urge to watch a baseball game, or to go and play some tennis or take a bike ride?
  • Are you open about your issues and experiences and past (particularly with your immediate family members)?
  • Do you feel empty, phoney, or like you’re pretending to be someone you really aren’t? (If the answer is ‘yes’, what do you usually try to do to fill that space?)
  • Do you often catch yourself saying things you don’t really believe, or going along with things that you haven’t really bought into?
  • Are you harshly judgmental about other Jews’ level of observance? (This one is often a big, red flag that there’s a big pot of jealousy bubbling away somewhere inside.)
  • Do you have good relations with your less religious family members? If the answer is ‘no’, have you ever explored how your own bad middot, or your own issues, might be causing at least some of the problems?
  • What do you see your children mirroring back at you? What parts of your hidden self are your children reflecting back at you?
  • How can you use your ‘hidden’ self to put more of God’s light and love out into the world?

I have about another 50 questions I could add to this list, but let’s stop here for now.

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I want to tell you the story of someone I knew way back when, who I used to learn with when I first got to Israel.

We were both from the same part of town back in the old country, and we knew some of the same people, except while I was ‘Modern Orthodox’ and then on the way to Breslov chassidut, she’d been totally immersed in secular culture, before making a 180 degree change to become ‘chareidi’.

We intersected when I was in Modiin, and she was in a chareidi city that was very black and white, and was dressing the part of the frum matron 100%.

She was so judgmental of my early attempts to (partially…) cover my hair with a beanie. She told me that I may as well not bother, if that was how I was going to do things. This sort of angry, harsh judgment used to come out of her a lot, and she really looked down her nose at her ‘secular’ relatives – even though some of them where actually paying to support her and her husband’s Torah lifestyle.

But she had a good sense of humor, and we had Terry Wogan to connect us, so I stayed in touch with her for a couple of years. Until we had the conversation about the tattoo and the kids.

Because yes, Mrs Perfect Chareidi had a big tattoo hidden away under her navy pinafore, part of her previous life when she attended raves and was living with a non-Jewish man. One time, I’d picked her up to drive us both down to the Kotel, and I happened to be playing some Breslov trance music that I’d picked up from the Chut Shel Chesed bookstore.

Five seconds into the ride, she completely wigged-out, and started ranting at me for listening to ‘traif’ music.

I told her I’d got the CD from Chut Shel Chessed – and the artist was a Breslov chassid with massive payot who was only singing about Rabbenu, God and Torah. I had no idea why she was reacting so badly.

She demanded I turn it off – which I reluctantly did. But me being me, I had to ask why.

Why are you going crazy about this music? What’s the real problem?

That’s when she told me about the raves she used to go to, and the tattoo, and the non-Jewish man she used to live with. The music had triggered her back into that past life, and she was obviously trying very hard to keep all that stuff firmly boxed-up and hidden from view.

So then I asked her, Do your children know about your past? Have you told them?

She said she hadn’t, and that her rebbetzin had told her that she never should, because it would only confuse them. When I heard this, I was momentarily speechless.

But if you haven’t told them you didn’t used to be religious, so then how do you explain your secular parents to them? How do you explain about your sister, who married out? They’ve met your mum and dad, they can see they aren’t at all religious. How are you explaining things to your kids?

The short answer: she wasn’t. She couldn’t. And they were small enough to not really know to ask awkward questions.

We lost touch shortly after this conversation, as I was finding her self-righteous, judgmental angry rants about other people (and myself…) increasingly hard to handle. But sometimes I wonder, how did her kids turn out?

When kids grow up in a house like that, that’s so full of secrets and lies, where so many topics are ‘off limits’, that causes them all sorts of spiritual, emotional and even physical issues.

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From my own experiences, I’ve seen that when we try to deny, ignore or negate that ‘secret self’ of ours  – often for the very best reasons – we pay a big price for it within our family unit.

God made us who we are.

God made it that we’re still drawn to things that aren’t ‘good’, however hard we try.

While we’re praying to be permanently freed from the clutches of tumah, we also need to look around, and to ask ourselves why God is putting us in those low places, still, and what good we can do there.

If we look around, most of us will clearly see that there are other Jews – other family members – who are also stuck down there, in the dark. And when we bring God’s light down into those low places, we are illuminating it for them, too.

But only if we’re really being us, really connecting to God, and really being honest about what’s going on, and why.

So let’s end this Baal Teshuva Manifesto with a call to truth:

Dear Baal Teshuva, please just be your real self, warts n’all!

God made you like this for a very important reason, because you have a job to do in the world, and a part to play in the forthcoming redemption. God wants all of His children to be redeemed, not just the frummies. And that’s where you come in, sweet BT, who will always feel caught between two worlds, and not really belonging to either.

You are a bridge, connecting the different sections of the Jewish community.

You are a unifier.

You are creating achdut every time you are just yourself, and every time you are trying to bring God down into those low places on YouTube, or into your Isrotel holiday, or into your terribly imperfect seder with secular relatives who keep muttering that none of this stuff every really happened.

Every time you manage to connect all that tumah back to God, and all those people who are lost in the world of tumah back to God, you make Him so very happy.

And you are doing the job that God created you to do.

So continue on!

And don’t feel bad that you’re not a ‘perfect frummer’.

You have a different role to play in the world, and when you start to accept that, and to really embrace it, you will feel so much happier and content.

And so will your kids.

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Continuing the discussion, I had a couple more questions on hitbodedut which I’m going to answer below as part of a Frequently Asked Questions post, that I’ll add to as and when I get more questions on the subject that are not ‘big’ enough to merit their own post.

Q: What about Reb Noson’s famous saying, “If I see a lack somewhere, I know that either people didn’t pray about it, or they didn’t pray about it enough”? I think Rav Arush quotes it somewhere in “The Garden of Emuna”. How do you understand it now, in light of your experiences?

In Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom (the English translation of Shevachay HaRan and Sichos HaRan, by the Breslov Research Institute), pg 368, it says the following:

[The Rebbe said]: “You must pray for everything. If your garment is torn and must be replaced, pray to God for a new one. Do this for everything. Make it a habit to pray for all your needs, large or small.

Your main prayers should be for fundamentals, that God should help you with your devotions, that you should be worthy of coming closer to Him.

Still, you should also pray for even trivial things. God may give you food and clothing and everything else you need, even though you do not ask for them. But then you are like an animal.

“God gives every living thing its bread without being asked. He can also give it to you this way. But if you do not draw your life through prayer, then it’s like living like an animal. A man has to draw all of his necessities from God via his prayers.”

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The first thing we have to really clarify is what sort of ‘lack’ are we talking about, here? In our superficial, money-obsessed, materialistic world, the word ‘lack’ automatically conjures up a lack of stuff.

  • I lack a big, expensive house…
  • I lack a fancy car….
  • I lack the money to go on holiday…
  • I lack the ability to eat out in expensive restaurants and to buy nice clothes…

And so on, and so forth.

Clearly there are material needs – part of what Rebbe Nachman refers to as ‘trivial things’ – that are still very important for a person. If we don’t have enough food to eat, we can’t pay the rent, we can’t buy even the basic clothes we need – that’s going to impact our ability to serve Hashem in some very big, fundamental ways.

Where there is no flour, there is no Torah.

From my own experiences with my husband not working, neither he nor I could really learn Torah properly, or really work on anything spiritual except just clinging on to our sanity and trying to keep hold of some emuna, when we ran out of money.

When you can’t buy food, when you can’t buy toilet paper, when you’re worrying about the electricity getting switched off, you have zero peace of mind and very little ability to sit down and pray (unless you’re genuinely a huge tzaddik, which honestly? Most people are not.)

That’s why you need a minimum amount of ‘flour’ before you can have some Torah, and that’s why Rebbe Nachman says you should certainly be praying for your ‘trivial’ physical needs, even though they aren’t so ‘spiritual’.

There’s so much fake piety washing around the frum world that sometimes, even basic ideas like this aren’t properly understood. You can’t expect a kid to want to live and love a life of Torah learning if they live in a home where there is no food on the table, and no shoes for them to wear.

A few, extremely righteous people, can live like that, and love Torah so much they won’t feel the material lack and the physical deprivation, but most of us are no-where near that level. So, we have to have the basic stuff we need to feel sufficiently taken care of, physically and materially.

BUT – then Rebbe Nachman comes to warn us – don’t take praying for the gashmius to an extreme.

Don’t think that praying for stuff is the point, because it really isn’t.

The ‘lack’ that Rebbe Nachman is talking about is first and foremost spiritual. We lack daat, (deep spiritual understanding). We lack emuna, the real belief in God, and God’s goodness. We lack self-awareness and empathy. We lack good middot. We lack closeness to Hashem.

It’s these spiritual lacks that are really causing us all the other lacks in our life, be it ‘lacks’ in health, money, success, shalom bayit, inner peace, whatever it is.

Rebbe Nachman teaches in Likutey Moharan that all our suffering is caused by a lack of daat – a lack of spiritual understanding. When a person has daat, they don’t suffer, regardless of what’s going on in their lives, and they don’t feel that they lack anything – even if they really are objectively lacking.

How do we get more daat, and fill in more of these spiritual ‘lacks’?

By talking to God on regular basis.

The more we do that, the more we’ll start to understand how our bad middot and lack of emuna is really at the root of all the other ‘lacks’ and suffering that we’re experiencing.

Also, when you go through an experience where you have no toilet paper, you can’t put food on the table, you can’t move forward in life, no matter how hard you try, that starts to teach you to have more humility and more gratitude.

Everything is a free gift from Hashem.

God decides the outcome of everything, not our practical effort, and not even how much time we spend doing hitbodedut.

In the West, we take so much for granted, and have such high expectations. We think God owes us a whole bunch of stuff. It’s not enough we have food, it has to be expensive organic, or fancy restaurant. It’s not enough we have a roof over our head, it has to be completely renovated and massive. It’s not enough we have our own healthy teeth in our gums, they have to be totally straight and pearly white.

The Sages teach that a person dies with not even half of his desires fulfilled.

Again, the more we work on the underlying spiritual causes for our sense of ‘lacking’, the more appreciation we’ll develop for what we do have, and the easier we’ll find it to be happy with our lot – however God has decided ‘our lot’ should be.

But with the proviso that our basic physical needs have to be being met, because otherwise, the anxiety and stress of not having enough food, or money to pay rent and bills etc, will just take us out, mentally, and close down our ability to think.

And if you can’t even think straight, it’s very hard to pray, and it’s very hard to have the peace of mind, or yishuv daat required to think things through to see what you might need to be doing differently, to get things to improve.

But once these basic needs have been met – and our basic needs are far more ‘basic’ than most of us are willing to accept, in 2018 – then should focus on acknowledging our blessings, and put the emphasis on developing our relationship with God and fixing our bad middot.

Q: How can one do an hour every day without repeating oneself, being bored to death and feeling that this is not really conducive to constant growth?

This is a good question, and it really goes to the heart of what is hitbodedut really for?

We’re taught that three things are acquired through suffering:

  • Torah
  • Eretz Yisrael
  • The world to come

This teaches us that true spiritual growth is always ‘earned’ via suffering, in some way or other.

There’s an idea that we don’t keep mitzvahs because they actually give us so some tangible benefit, although clearly, they often do. Rather, there’s a higher level of keeping mitzvahs just because God said to do them, which is called lishma, for its own sake.

Yes, a person can keep Shabbat because it gives them a break from work, and it gives them quality family time, and they enjoy the socializing, or the extra time to read and learn Torah, or the Shabbos shluff on Saturday afternoon, or the great cake their wife makes for Shabbat.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying all these ‘fringe benefits’ of keeping Shabbat, and we’re meant to find ways to honor the Shabbat, and to make it more enjoyable and something to look forward to, physically.

But all that stuff is not the main point.

The main point of keeping Shabbat is because God told us to do it.

And we have to keep Shabbat even if we’re bored to tears, lonely, forgot to cook anything beforehand, or are generally really just not enjoying it so much.

(So many baal teshuvas will tell you the first time they tried to keep Shabbat, they nearly went crazy from the boredom and ‘tedium’ of the day. Beginnings are always hard, especially when it comes to spiritual matters where the results and benefits are often so intangible.)

It’s the ‘suffering’ that we’re willing to go through to acquire these mitzvahs that really make them so precious in God’s eyes, because then it’s clear that we’re only doing them because God said so. Lishma. And not because we are feeling some huge benefit ourselves.

Same with doing hitbodedut for an hour.

Why do an hour?

Because Rebbe Nachman told us to. There is no other reason for doing an hour. Why did Rebbe Nachman tell us to do an hour? Because he could see there is some massive spiritual benefit associated with talking to God for an hour a day, that you just don’t get any other way.

Do we believe Rebbe Nachman knows what he’s talking about?

(You can answer that quietly).

But, if the answer is ‘yes’, if we really do have emunat tzaddikim, and we believe that Rebbe Nachman is a big Sage, and we are relying on his much greater spiritual insight and knowledge, then we’ll take his advice to do an hour a day very seriously.

But then, what do we do if we’re not really enjoying it, if it’s just too hard?

Let’s go back to the Shabbos example.

The BT really wants to keep Shabbat, he knows it’s the right thing to do, he knows it’s what God wants, he even knows that at some point, he’ll see huge benefits from keeping Shabbat. There are some BTs that can go ‘cold turkey’ and just start keeping Shabbat fully from day one. But there are others, many others, who can’t.

This BT also wants to keep Shabbat.

But…he’s addicted to his i-Phone. He’s addicted to watching movies. He’s addicted to going to the beach with his friends on Shabbat, or going to watch football.

What do we say to this BT? Do we say ‘give up, and don’t bother! It’s just too hard!’

Nope.

Instead we say – keep aiming for small but steady improvements.

Every week, try to do a bit more to ‘remember’ the Shabbat, and a bit less to desecrate it. Do Kiddush Friday night, stay home, try to bench after the meal. Work up slowly, slowly.

We also give him strategies to make keeping Shabbat a bit easier and less onerous. Start trying to keep Shabbat in the Winter months, when it’s cosy to stay home Friday night and the day is over by 5pm.

Try to find friends to invite over, and get invited out, so you don’t get so bored and the time will pass faster. Start learning more, so you understand why keeping Shabbat is so important. Speak to other BTs who started keeping Shabbat, to see if they can give you any useful tips or encouragement, or tell you about the benefits they started to see in their own lives.

Same with hitbodedut.

It’s not perfect? It’s not a full hour? You get bored and antsy?

Don’t give up!

Keep aiming to do the full hour. Keep asking God to show you why it’s important to do it, keep building the will to eventually do a full hour.

Sooner or later, it will come, if you don’t give up on it.

There’s one more thing to add here, and that is this:

Whatever is stopping you from doing hitbodedut, that’s what is also holding you back in your real life, too.

That’s why if you can ‘fight through’ the obstacles to doing an hour of hitbodedut, you’ll also start to see a whole bunch of things start to move in other ways, as well.

If you want to take hitbodedut up a level, consider talking to God for six hours straight.

Let’s carry on the discussion that we started in the previous post on regularly talking to God, aka doing hitbodedut, but today we’re going to explore the idea of the talking to God for six hours straight hitbodedut session in more detail.

As I mentioned in the last post, the first time I was motivated to do a six hour talking to God session was when I had a health scare when I was 35, that scared the flipping pants off me.

To put it simply, God very often uses fear to get us to turn to Him, and start really talking.

And fear is certainly what started me off down the path of doing regular, long hitbodeduts. Fear of falling ill, fear of something with the children, God forbid, fear of losing my home, fear of losing my marbles…. You get the idea.

I would arrive in those early six hour sessions with a whole lot of fear, and I would basically spend six hours trying to turn my ‘fallen fear’ into true yireh shemayim, or fear of Hashem, so that I could start to breathe a bit easier and take down the intensely uncomfortable sensation of deep panic and anxiety that were accompanying the fear.

But that wasn’t the only motivation for those early six hours. Another big, huge motivation could be summed up like this:

Forcing God to give me what I want.

And this is what I’m going to focus on today, because I have learned over the last few years that prayer actually doesn’t work like that, it’s not meant to work like that, and if you go in to long hitbodeduts as a way to try ‘force’ Hashem’s hand, it’s just going to boomerang on you.

I know, I know: there’s a marketing issue going on here.

Because we’re superficial, Westernised, control-freak Anglos, we really buy into the message that we can ‘control’ the Creator of the world via six hour hitbodedut sessions. That’s a powerful motivator, that’s a very good way of getting us to dip our toe in the hitbodedut water to start to try it.

Maybe, we need to have hitbodedut packaged like that initially, because who knows if we’d ever feel like trying it, otherwise? But this approach is not describing the whole, complicated reality of the relationship with Hashem, and the best way to show you its beauty, but also its limitations, is to tell you what happened to me, on a few different occasions.

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WHEN THE ‘FORCING’ DIDN’T WORK, EXAMPLE 1: HAVING MORE CHILDREN

One of the biggest motivators for doing hitbodedut for me, initially, was to try to ‘force’ God to give me more children. Baruch Hashem, I have two wonderful daughters, 18 and 15 now, but I wanted more. And God didn’t want to give more to me, so I spent years, and years, and years trying to ‘force’ God to give me more kids via hitbodedut.

After about 5 years of doing this, the penny started to drop that while the hitbodedut wasn’t really working in this area, regularly talking to God every single day had been cleaning up my bad middot, and leading to a lot of insights and teshuva in many other ways.

And it was also making me a much better, happier and more empathetic and emotionally ‘there’ mother.

But still, when I was having my bad days, the first weapon my yetzer would use to attack my efforts at hitbodedut was my apparent ‘failure’ to force God to give me more kids. At that stage, I was still buying into the message that the only reason God wasn’t giving me more kids is because I hadn’t done enough hours of hitbodedut, so I just kept racking up more and more hours, more and more six hour talking to God sessions.

This continued until around 4 years ago, when I had 4 early miscarriages in the space of a year and a half.

To say this was a huge test of faith is a massive understatement.

All this was occurring when we were having difficulties in a bunch of other areas as well, and the miscarriages on top of everything else we were going through really, nearly, broke me.

It took me a good two years of picking through the rubble of that experience to draw some positive conclusions, but this is what I realized, after a lot more introspection and prayer:

  • Because I didn’t ‘let go’ and accept God’s plans for me to have not more kids, and because I kept trying to ‘force’ Him to give me more kids, I ended up with the worst of both worlds:

I conceived four more kids, and then I lost them all. (Thank God, it was all very early miscarriages, there was a lot of kindness even in the harsh judgement.)

  • I am really not cut out to have a big family.

It would have been better for me to accept that much earlier on, and to be counting my existing blessings, then to keep using my ‘lack of kids’ as a moaning stick against Hashem.

  • God knows exactly what He’s doing.

I love writing, I love writing blogs and books and doing all this stuff gives me a very deep and happy sense of meaning. Much as I love my kids, changing diapers and hanging out in the park has just always been difficult for me. I was not prepared to do things by half-measures, so God made sure I could spend a bunch of years focusing only on my two kids, and doing my best to give them what they needed. But at this stage, He’s given me the time and freedom to go back to my writing full-throttle – and I can do that with no guilt, and without worrying that I’m acting selfishly, because I only have two kids.

  • I couldn’t have experienced the difficulties of the last 5 years as ‘easily’ if I had a bigger family.

The rented dump fit a family of 4 perfectly. Trying to stuff a family of 5 or 6 in that space would have been extremely dangerous for everyone’s mental health (in my family – remember, we’re all different.) Also, I had bad health issues that took me out for 2 years solid – there’s no way I could have had the energy to properly care for very young children in those circumstances. And I didn’t have any support network, no local family, no neighbors to fall back on, so I count it as a huge blessing, at this stage, that I didn’t have to go through the upheavals and massive uncertainty of the last few years with more small kids to care for.

God knew what I’d have to go through in order to do more of the ‘soul rectifying’ required; He knew that I had a bunch of important things to write about, and that I’d find all this very hard to do with heavier family responsibilities.

And that’s at least part of why He didn’t answer all those prayers to have more kids.

Now, on to:

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 WHEN THE ‘FORCING’ DIDN’T WORK, EXAMPLE 2: BUYING AN APARTMENT IN JERUSALEM

Like many other people, I was very anxious about moving to Jerusalem a few years’ back, not least because I had no idea how we were going to find something decent to live in.

I was coming from a huge, new-built 5 bed semi-detached in a yishuv, and the apartments in Jerusalem were either just plain awful and completely unsuitable (and affordable) or nice and very suitable (and completely unaffordable).

I’d heard the infamous story about the yeshiva student who’d done a bunch of talking to God for six hours straight sessions and somehow got a ‘free’ apartment in Jerusalem, so I decided that in this area, I could definitely ‘force’ God to give me a nice place in the holy city.

Man, I can’t tell you how many six hour sessions I did devoted to forcing God to give me a nice place in Jerusalem, but it was scores and scores.

Here’s what happened:

We’d agreed a price on a flat in Musrara, and were moving forward with the legal process to buy it. Suddenly, the seller changed his mind about the price, literally doubled it – and we had to pull out.

At that point, all the other properties in Jerusalem also literally doubled overnight, and what had been barely affordable became impossibly expensive. I watched that Jerusalem real estate train chug out of the station – without me on board – and I couldn’t help feeling a wave of bitterness and resentment.

Why hadn’t all my six hour sessions talking to God for a house worked?

Not only that, the exact opposite happened: The first place we moved to had a neo-Nazi landlord from Tel Aviv, so we ended up moving out again after four months – to the rented dump that we spent the next three years in.

My kids came home and whispered to me that first month: Ima, my friends told me that this is place where poor people live.

What made it even more galling is that we were paying more to rent the rented dump than we’d been paying out on the mortgage of the 5 bedroom villa.

God, what happened to all my prayers for my own home!?!?!

Fast-forward to last year, and guess what?

We found another flat in that same building where we’d been gazumped four years earlier. And this time, the seller stuck to the price agreed, and went through with the sale.

And as you know, that was an unmitigated disaster, as the whole building was still half-owned by an Arab from the 1930s and the bank refused to give us a mortgage on it – but only after we signed.

Do you know what I’d been praying for, for years?

That I should be able to buy a house of my own in Jerusalem, without a mortgage.

And yet again, God answered the prayer – because I forced Him to, with all my millions of six hours – but I ended up with the worst of both worlds: I bought a house that I couldn’t afford, that I was unable to get a mortgage on.

Again, it’s taken a few months to start to pick through the rubble of what happened to find the message, the lesson, but here’s some of what I’ve come up with so far:

  • We were trying to buy an apartment in the wrong part of Jerusalem.

This was part of our ongoing ‘false piety’ issues, which saw us trying to ‘fit in’ to a community that we really didn’t belong with, even though there was a lot of overlap along Breslov lines. This deserves its own post, but to give just one example: we’ve been invited out for Shabbat more in the last 2 months, and had guests more in the last 2 months, than in the whole 4 years previous.

  • Owning my own house was rooted in some huge bad middot and arrogance issues.

Like it or not, most of us view our house as a status symbol. The bigger, the fancier, the newer – the more we pat ourselves on our internal backs. But when you rent, and you rent a dump, and that rent is more than your mortgage was – you quickly learn to stop feeling so puffed-up with pride, and obsessed with where you are ranking in the house stakes.

  • I was extremely unhappy about the prospect of taking on so much, massive, mortgage debt, but I couldn’t see any other option.

This is also connected to the ‘false piety’ issue, but we were convinced that Musrara was the only place in the whole of Jerusalem where we could live. And the prices in Musrara are through the roof, hence getting a massive mortgage seemed to be the only way to buy an apartment in Jerusalem. But now, I’m learning different. The properties in our area are easily half a million cheaper, and if / when we can ever afford to buy again, we will hopefully be able to find something way cheaper, for the same sort of space we need.

God had been giving us clues that we perhaps weren’t in the best place to stay permanently for a while, but we kept blocking them out, and stubbornly insisting that we know better. We clearly didn’t, so at this stage, I’m increasingly grateful for our house purchasing debacle. The one thing worse than being fundamentally miserable about your location in a rental is being fundamentally miserable in a place where you’ve actually bought.

On to the last example, for today:

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WHEN THE ‘FORCING’ DIDN’T WORK, EXAMPLE 3: EXPECTING TO MAINTAIN A GOOD STANDARD OF LIVING WHILE DOING NO ACTUAL WORK

And so we come on to arguably the most difficult test we had in this area of six hours, which is when my husband was encouraged by his ‘spiritual guide’ to quit his job and let God provide.

The person who told my husband this was very into his six hours, and his davening by kivrei tzaddikim, and was extremely charismatic. He also didn’t tell my husband that his wife was working a full-time job to try to keep the family afloat financially, or that he’d bought his own apartment in the area when prices were dirt cheap.

So there we were, being told that working for a living showed some sort of ‘lack of emuna’, and that coincided with a period of time when my husband was extremely unhappy in his work, and was feeling suffocated by his profession and office circumstances.

So my husband quit, and started ‘working for God’ instead, doing six hour hitbodeduts every day, as his ‘spiritual guide’ had told him to.

And I was also doing a lot of six hour sessions too, because it really didn’t take long for our financial situation to get extremely difficult.

Every day, my husband would learn some Torah in the morning, then go into the spare room and try to do his six hours. Every day, we’d be sitting there waiting for the lottery ticket win to show up, the unexpected legacy from an unknown great aunt, the massive pink diamond I was going to unearth digging in the garden….

And in the meantime, it didn’t show up.

And in the meantime, we were running out of money for food, and money to pay the rent, and my husband was in a pretty fragile state for a number of reasons, not least, that his yetzer had him convinced 100% that going back to work for a living would show a terrible lack of emuna.

So his six hours continued, my six hours continued – and friends of mine started sticking baguettes in through the kitchen window, quietly, so I could give my kids supper, while others had to buy us toilet roll, or give me a couple hundred shekels so I could actually go to the supermarket.

After two months of this, I realized we’d hit the end of the road, and we had to sell our house just to get through.

Because my husband had been so thoroughly brainwashed by the yetzer that working for a living was bad, and that all he had to do was keep praying, he couldn’t face the idea of going back to work. He felt it would be a terrible spiritual failure.

So we sold, and we had some brief financial respite, but I was still on at my husband to go back to work and end the experiment, which is when we decided to open our disastrous ‘Meaning of Life’ kiruv attraction in the Old City which blew through a whole bunch of our house money.

Of course, the ‘spiritual guide’ gave his blessing to this project too – because he had a huge vested interest in ‘proving’ the correctness of his ‘no work for the man’ derech – and when that went bust, we had one of the biggest crises of faith we ever had to face.

I am eternally grateful to Rav Shalom Arush, who gave my husband the spiritual ‘permission’ he needed to go back to work without feeling like he was the worst spiritual loser ever. And in the meantime, we were both left with massive questions about what had happened to all those six hour prayer sessions we’d done, for my husband’s parnassa.

Here’s some of what I managed to glean from that whole, sorry mess:

  • There is no ‘one size fits all approach’, when it comes to serving Hashem as a believing Jew.

God clearly wanted my husband to return to work, and to learn Torah part-time, and working as a professional is a crucial part of his spiritual tikkun.

  • It’s very easy for the yetzer to co-opt even the holiest practices, and to take them to an unhealthy extreme.

Doing six hours for parnassa is great, and something that most people can probably manage, at least once in a while. Quitting work totally to ‘work for God’ is a practice that maybe a handful of people in every generation can pull off – and most of them would have to be happy living at, or below, the breadline.

  • We had to go through that whole mess to figure out how much of an ‘ego exercise’ the six hour prayer thing had turned into.

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The more we prayed, the more arrogant we got, and the more we felt like God somehow ‘owed us’ open miracles.

God owes us nothing. Recently, I also learned from Rav Berland that the whole point of hitbodedut is to acquire more humility, not more arrogance. If God had answered our prayers to be supported in a miraculous way, we would have turned into awful spiritual egotists – and who knows what spiritual damage we would we have wreaked on the world.

My husband reminded me that there’s a story in the Gemara of a man who was travelling in the desert, and who felt so hot and tired, he asked God to send him a donkey.

God complied –and the donkey promptly died, forcing the man to stagger through the desert having to also schlep the donkey’s carcass home.

Sometimes, there are tests and difficulties we just simply have to do through, and trying to ‘force’ God to cut them short, or to make them go away, will only backfire.

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THE RIGHT AND WRONG WAY TO DO SIX HOURS

So now, let’s move to a discussion of the right way, and the wrong way to do six hours. Despite what I’ve written above, I still really enjoy doing six hours, and I’ve still seen a bunch of open miracles from long sessions talking to God.

But today, the focus of my prayer sessions is not on telling God what I want from Him, but asking God what He wants from me.

There are two principal reasons why we go through suffering, hardships and ‘lacks’:

  • To encourage us to make teshuva, and to work on the bad middot and negative character traits that are blocking all the shefa that God is trying to send down to us.
  • We have to go through something as rectification, or spiritual tikkun, for something that we did wrong, or that we didn’t do right, in a previous life.

From my experience, six hours can work wonders to clear the ‘blockages’ in our parnassa, health, shalom bayit, or parenting that are coming about because of our own lack of emuna, or bad middot.

If a person with parnassa problems sits down and says: God, I have no idea what I need to fix to get more of an income, but I know for a fact that the problem is coming from You, and is for my ultimate good, and that there’s something I need to change or fix, here – there is no question God will start to show them what’s really causing the problem.

(Hint: it’s usually connected to a hidden anger problem, and how they treat their wife.)

There’s no question that they’ll start to gain a whole bunch of insights into their difficulty earning a living, and that they’ll get the inspiration and the motivation required to improve matters as much as they can.

If it then turns out that the parnassa problem is an unavoidable spiritual tikkun, doing the six hours will also help the person to stand up in the test, and come through it in one piece.

This is a great, wonderful, amazing, awesome way to do six hours for parnassa.

BUT, if a person sits down, and says: God, I need enough money to buy a new i-Phone, a new car, a new apartment in Jerusalem ­– who the heck says that God wants that for you?! Or that this would be good for you?! Or that you’d be able to handle the awful feelings of arrogance and pride that would assail you, if God started doing open miracles like this for you?

Are you seeing the difference, here?

Again, let’s take another common example. Say someone is having issues with their kid. Say, the kid just isn’t tidying their room, isn’t praying the way the parent would like them to be, is being a smart mouth, etc.

If the parent sits down and says: God, please show me what’s ailing my child, and what we can do to try to help them fix the problem at its root! Please help my kid to feel happier, please help them to get a grip on their yetzer. Please show me what we need to change in the home – what I need to work on myself, as their parent – to get things to turn around – this is a great way to do six hours.

But, if the parent sits down as says: God, my kid is acting like such a jerk. Please fix it that they should start tidying their room, respecting me properly, and going to shul on time so my husband doesn’t get upset – this isn’t the point of six hours.

Why not?

Because instead of recognizing that the kid’s behavior is an invitation for the parent to dig deeper and work on their own bad middot and lack of emuna, the parent is just trying to get God to get the problem to go away, without being willing to change anything or make teshuva about anything. They are making the whole issue the kid’s problem – and this is the opposite of real emuna.

Real emuna tells us God is behind everything, God is doing everything for our ultimate good, and that there is a message for what we need to change, fix, recognize and improve in every little thing that happens to us.

To put this in different words:

When you ask God to help you clear up a spiritual problem, when you recognize that God is sending the problem because He wants YOU to change something, He wants some teshuva out of YOU – then six hours can and does work a treat.

But, when you just ask God to make your material problems go away, or to just give you what you want, and you’re not willing to even consider WHY the situation may be happening in the first place, or whether what you want is really the same as what God wants, or to examine your own deeds – then the six hours might still work. But it really might not.

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REAL LIFE EXAMPLES OF WHERE SIX HOURS WORKED FOR ME

I’ve had a bunch of miracles occur as a result of doing six hours, but each one required some sort of teshuva or change.

  • Getting my kids into the ‘right’ school was mamash an open miracle – because the school had a waiting list, and neither of my kids could read well (or at all…) and we weren’t at all connected in the sorts of useful ways that get you into schools. I did a bunch of six hours, but I also had to make my peace with the idea that the answer really could be ‘no’, and that if that was the case, God knew better than I did what was best for my kids.
  • Making peace with my crazy house seller was mamash an open miracle – and it took loads and loads of six hours, and loads of working on myself to overcome my own anger and bitterness, and to try to build some emuna, and to try and trust God more and accept His will, whatever the outcome ultimately was going to be.
  • My husband rebuilding his business from scratch in less than 6 months was mamash an open miracle – not least because all his clients are in the UK, and he had no intention of commuting, or hiding his payot. God fixed things that as soon as my husband made the decision to go back to work, new clients started to come to him, with hardly any effort on his part. It really showed us that once my husband was in alignment with what God wanted for him, all of his six hours on making parnassa were put to really good use, and nothing was wasted.
  • Staying married is mamash an open miracle – I think this is true for most people in their 40s today, let alone people like us who have been through so much extreme craziness the last few years. Not only are we still married, we both actually still enjoy each other’s company, and like spending time together and talking to each other. I know all my six hours for my shalom bayit have had a hugely positive effect on my marriage.
  • Having a good relationship with my teens is mamash an open miracle – And I’ve also seen a lot of their issues move and dissolve after doing a six hours on their behalf. Even for issues that are currently ‘stuck’, like the acne issue, all the six hours I’m doing on that subject are being used to help my kid in a myriad other ways. Apart from the acne, there’s a bunch of other things that have improved significantly or disappeared as issues, over the last few months, and I’m sure the six hours I do for her has a lot to do with it.

I just want to stress something again here:

I often don’t see anything change, directly, from the six hours, but I nearly always feel happier and better after doing it. And while I don’t get a lot of obvious, open miracles, I do get a lot of unusual ‘coincidences’ that I know are 100% from Hashem.

Also, my life circumstances means that talking to God a lot is fairly easy for me to do and doesn’t require a lot of self-sacrifice. I’m think if someone had to make a huge effort to do a six hours, they would probably see far more ‘miraculous’ results, far more obviously, than has generally been my experience.

The reward is always commensurate with the effort, so please do try a six hours at least once yourself if you want to try to take your relationship with Hashem to the next level, even if it’s hard.

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SOME TECHNICAL POINTERS

As always, there’s so much to say, but let’s end with some technical pointers for how to do a ‘good’ six hours.

  • YOU DON’T HAVE TO TALK ABOUT ONE SUBJECT THE WHOLE TIME.

What I do, is that I will say at the outset that ‘this 6 hours is in the merit of my daughter’s acne clearing up’, or ‘it’s in the merit of Rav Berland having a refuah shleima’ or whatever it is, then I will talk about whatever God puts into my head. If it’s a particular subject where I have some work to do – anything to do with myself or my family directly falls under this heading – then I will try to specifically talk around the topic, to see what clues God will give me about what’s really going on. Making teshuva and getting the message is a big part of taking the time to do a six hours.

  • YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO IT IN ONE PLACE.

I often do some sort of combo where I’ll start off the six hours in bed, then go for a ‘hitbodedut’ walk, then do some ‘housewife hitbodedut’, then crack open a Likutey Moharan for inspiration, or head up the road to Kever Rochel or the Kotel. Kivrei Tzaddikim can be very good places to do hitbodedut, but unless the kever is somewhere like Uman, Meron, or the Baba Sali in Netivot, it can be hard to sit there for a whole six hours straight. So if you can’t spend the whole six hours somewhere, that’s fine – just go for an hour or two then head back home to complete the rest.

  • YOU CAN PRAY FOR MATERIAL THINGS, BUT THE MAIN FOCUS SHOULD BE ON THE SPIRITUAL SIDE.

Remember that God is not a caspomat. If you haven’t got a good spiritual reason for the material thing you’re asking for, chances are high that it’s not really something you should be praying about, or at least, not something you should be doing a whole six hours on.

  • FOCUS ON THE PROCESS, NOT THE OUTCOME.

If your hitbodedut is about getting closer to God, and trying to live your emuna, and trying to work on your bad middot, or figuring out the message, it’ll work beautifully every single time. But if it’s only about achieving a particular ‘thing’ or aim, or solving a particular problem, there’s no guarantee that God will give you what you want.

  • ASK GOD WHAT HE WANTS FROM YOU, DON’T JUST TELL HIM WHAT YOU WANT FROM HIM.

There’s a reason you haven’t got your own home, or you can’t lose weight, or your i-Phone keeps breaking, or you can’t meet the rent bill, or He’s not giving you more kids. Doing six hours is a great opportunity to explore what those reasons might actually be, and figure out what God is expecting from you, before your situation can change for the better.

  • NO PRAYER IS EVER WASTED, BUT IF YOU TRY TO FORCE GOD’S HAND INTO GIVING YOU SOMETHING THAT ISN’T ULTIMATELY GOOD FOR YOU, IT WILL ONLY BOOMERANG.

God has good reasons for everything. If something isn’t coming – and you’ve made teshuva, and you’ve done all you can to fix up your side of things – then it’s a good idea to try to accept God’s will, and to ask for emuna and bitachon, instead of redoubling your six hour efforts to ‘force’ God into giving you what you want.

 

  • I’m very happy to write more on this subject, just let me know what other questions or issues you have, that you think I might be able to help clarify. And in the meantime, I really hope God will help us all to experience the real pleasure of speaking to Him, and connecting our souls back to Source.

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You might also like these articles:

Everything you need to know about the art of hitbodedut, aka the practise of talking to God.

I had a request to write a bit more about hitbodedut, or the practice of talking to God in your own words every single day.

Rebbe Nachman writes in Likutey Moharan 2:25 that:

Hitbodedut is the most exalted and paramount spiritual practice of all. It involves setting a time for oneself of at least an hour to meditate in seclusion in some room or in the field, expressing oneself before one’s Maker with well-tailored arguments in an expedient, but graceful and appeasing way, begging God to truly bring us closer to His service.”

Rabbenu continues a little further down:

“Even when one’s words are blocked, and one is unable to open one’s mouth and speak before God, this itself is very great, i.e. preparing ourselves to stand before God, and desiring to speak, even when we can’t….

“We should beg God for mercy and compassion, so that He opens our hearts to be able to express ourselves before Him.”

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So far, so good.

The person who emailed me told me they keep falling asleep when they try to do hitbodedut, so they wanted some advice / chizzuk on how to handle this, so in their merit, I decided to write this post.

So many things have been written about hitbodedut by so many people, many of whom are far ‘higher’, spiritually, than I am. (Like, by about a billion spiritual miles…) At the same time, I’ve been doing regular hitbodedut now for something like 12 years, and I do an hour every day, minimum, as Rabbenu recommends us to do.

And I have a lot of firsthand experience of how I’ve seen hitbodedut, the practice of talking to God in our words, has truly changed my life, not always in such simple ways. So let’s begin with a brief history of how I got started, and why.

I started doing hitbodedut back in 2006, during our first year in Israel, when we’d moved to Modiin from London, and our life was lurching from one crisis to another, and I really didn’t know how to cope with it all anymore. As I look back on it now, I see we’ve had the same sort of tests for 12 of the last 13 years, and it’s only in 5777 /8 that we started to make the real, deep teshuva required to finally get things to improve a little.

So, here’s a little of what was going on back in 2006, in Modiin:

  • We were fighting with family members:
  • My PR business was going down the tubes and starting to accumulate a bunch of big debt
  • My husband got made redundant by his London law firm who had agreed to him working remotely from Israel before we made Aliyah – but then changed their minds without telling him, and started looking for his replacement.
  • My kids were climbing the walls, as I was always ‘absent’ emotionally, either working like a dog or worrying about work.
  • Our house got burgled.
  • Our social situation started to get precarious, because all the other olim we were friendly with didn’t really want to hear about all the difficulties we were going through.
  • The depression I’d been dealing with for decades bubbled up again, and I could spend days crying, immobilized on a sofa, or in bed.
  • Our shalom bayit was going down the toilet because of all the pressure.

What’s the answer a Western-educated person would give about how to handle all this?

Clearly “Go to a shrink!!” That’s what everyone was telling me.

So I went – to about 3 different shrinks because most of them were just so bad, sometimes for 3 times a week – and honestly, it was making it all worse.

They’d want me to keep track of my dreams, and then we’d have to talk about it, or they’d ask me leading questions about my parents, and I’d have to veer away from that conversation at a million miles an hour. To put it another way, they’d be picking at very deep emotional scabs for 50 minutes, then just when I was feeling my most raw, they’d pack up for the day and send me home to deal with the fallout.

By myself.

After three months of this, I could see it really wasn’t working, but I didn’t know what else to do. So then, I heard a CD from Rav Arush where he basically said that talking to God was the single address, the single practice, that would solve the problem – whatever the problem.

And that nothing else would really do the job.

I came back to my latest shrink, I told her that I had to try and figure things out directly with God, and she was nice enough to give me her blessing, even though as a devoutly secular women, she was sure this was just another manifestation of mental illness.

I was still feeling really depressed at this stage, so all I could manage was 10 minutes. For 10 minutes a day, for three days, I just kept asking God to lift the depression off me, and let me start functioning again without all the terrible heaviness and crying.

You know what?

God answered that prayer.

I won’t say I never got depressed again, as it’s a process that requires a lot of self-awareness, teshuva and prayer, but that was the last time I had a depression that lasted more than a few days – and I was convinced that hitbodedut really worked, because for decades already, nothing else had managed to tame the depressions.

So from that point on, I asked God to help me talk to Him every single day, come what may.

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Again, I started small.

10 minutes every day, while I was washing the dishes.

Then, I went up to 15 minutes, then 20, then half an hour, then 40 minutes, then 45.

And that’s where I got stuck for about 2 years. Try as I might, I simply couldn’t break the 45 minute barrier and make it through to the magical one hour. I literally would get a sensation as though I was jumping out of my skin and couldn’t sit still for a second more.

But I didn’t give up.

God helped me to carry on at that 45 minute level, and then one day, for the first time ever, I managed to reach the hour, and I knew that some big spiritual test had been passed.

In the meantime, life had only continued to get more and more complicated and difficult externally, so talking to God really became my lifeline. Talking to God led to some fundamentally huge changes at that point, like:

  • Moving out of Modiin
  • Quitting my business, to try and be more of a full-time mother (which is enough to give any F/T career woman a serious attack of the heebee jeebees.)
  • Getting more ‘frum’, covering my hair, encouraging my husband to learn in yeshiva in the morning
  • Getting to work on my huge anger issues, and other bad middot, which had been mostly under the radar up until then.
  • Going cold-turkey on the internet, and going back to a ‘normal’, non-internet phone (this still predated the time of i-Phones).

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When I was 35, I had a health scare that shook me up enough, I was motivated to do my first ever six hours, by the Kotel.

Honestly?

It was complete mental torture. One of the most difficult things I’ve done, in a lot of ways, because the urge to just stop, to break, to run away from talking to God, was at times completely overwhelming.

But I was scared about my health, and that’s what kept me going. At the end of it, I was so pleased to have got that ‘six hour’ thing under my belt – and I felt even happier a couple of weeks’ later when I got the ‘all clear’ from the doctor, and the scary symptoms literally disappeared by themselves, overnight.

So from that point on, I started regularly doing a six hours, as much as once a month, and I’d often do it while I was digging through the wasteland that was my garden in the Gush. That felt so appropriate, somehow, as I’d be digging up the root of an ancient weed that was embedded a metre down, and spread and knotted in a million directions, while also asking God to help me uproot internal ‘weeds’ like anger and jealousy, that seemed to be equally entrenched.

Gush Etzion is when all the demons I’d been trying to avoid and run away from for years finally started gushing out of the system, and if I hadn’t been talking to God every single day for an hour or more, I literally would have gone crazy.

As it was, I only went half-crazy, but a lot more stuff started to move and change as a result, like:

  • I went to Uman, to Rebbe Nachman’s grave, for the first time.
  • We moved house and location in order to send our kids to what we hoped would be a much better school, religiously.
  • My husband started learning at the Chut Shel Chesed Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
  • My husband decided to open up his own law practice.

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So now, I’m in a new community, and the first two years were pretty good, by any standard.

We had friends, we had other English-speaking people around who were ‘Breslov friendly’, my husband’s parnassa was doing well, I was busy ghostwriting books for Dr Zev Ballen, blogging for Breslev.co.il and writing my first book, called The Happy Workshop.

And in the meantime, I was still talking to God about a lot of things, because the kids were still experiencing a lot of difficulties, and I’d learned from Rav Arush’s ‘Education with Love’ book that their problems were really just mine and my husband’s.

Like, one kid had awful, debilitating stomachaches that nothing could cure or get to go away.

I decided to do a six hours devoted to her health issues, and by the end of that, I got some massive insight that her emotional stomachache was really just my emotional stomachache, that had been transposed.

The next three days after that hitbodedut, I was laid up in bed with an awful, killer stomachache – but the kid got better from that point on, and never had that type of stomachache again.

So for two years, I felt we were making slow but steady progress on our bad middot, and that we were slowly, slowly starting to fix a lot of the flaws and mistakes and problems with our parenting.

But then, clearly, we reached the next stage of the ‘teshuva’ process, when God whipped the rug right out from under our feet and sent our life into major free-fall.

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It started when my husband’s father died very unexpectedly, the day after Succot.

From that point on, all the monsters that had been lumped under the family rug for decades started to crawl out, and long story short, we got to a place where we were once again:

  • Fighting with family members
  • Socially isolated
  • Financially in trouble, and forced to sell the house
  • Having awful shalom bayit issues
  • Experiencing serious illnesses because of all the stress
  • Having massive difficulties with our kids

And clearly, I’m leaving a bunch of stuff out here.

Once again, hitbodedut and Uman is what got us through in one piece.

As each day’s new troubles and difficulties hit, I’d run to God for comfort, for clarity, for reassurance, for emuna. Some days I was so distraught, so lost, all I could do was sit there mouthing Ein Od Milvado over and over again.

Other times, I’d sometimes fall asleep while I was talking to God, but I didn’t mind when that happened, as it wasn’t all the time, and it’s often a sign that the ‘light’ that’s coming down is just too big to get hold of consciously, so God knocks you out to operate.

(Having said that, if you fall asleep every single time you do hitbodedut that’s not so helpful, and you may want to change how you do it, like going to a public place, or doing it while you take a walk, or sweep the house.)

There were a lot of six hours going on at that stage, too, because we’d run out of money and had been advised to just go and ‘work for God’, i.e. do long hitbodeduts every day, and in the merit of that, God would do miracles for us.

I will cover this topic in a future post, because it’s part of how I came to a crucial understanding about what talking to God regularly is all about, and I don’t want to lump it all to this post as it’s pretty crucial.

But suffice to say, that you can’t view hitbodedut, or doing 6 hours, through the prism of trying to force God to give you what you want.

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It’s much, much more about figuring out what God really wants from you.

Talking to God regularly has given me so much clarity about things, so much insight into my own nature and yetzer, and by extension other people’s, too. It’s not always been easy to ‘hold’ that knowledge. There were times when I honestly think I went a bit crazy from it, in the way that’s commonly referred to in Israel as ‘too much light’.

For example, when new BTs kind of lose the plot and go overboard in a million different ways, that’s because it’s ‘too much spiritual light’ to really handle. Their souls want more connection to God, but their minds and their middot can’t really process things so fast, which is often when you end up with a machmir external yiddishkeit that’s paired with immature character traits and a narrow, very judgmental mind-set.

But at that point, talking to God helped me figure out a whole bunch of things (eventually…) like:

  • How our bad character traits literally make us physically ill
  • How personality disorders and Erev Rav traits were totally describing the same phenomenon
  • How we can’t stand up in the tests we need to go through, in order to really fix our neshamas, without a very strong connection to the true tzaddikim
  • How most people are simply lying to themselves about the true, negative, impact their bad character traits are having on others, especially their spouse and children.
  • How so much of the difficulties we go through in our life are really ‘inherited’ from our forebears, or from previous lifetimes. So for sure, we still ‘deserve’ them 100%, but it’s not always true that our actions in this lifetime is what’s causing us the problem.
  • And, most importantly of all, how following Rebbe Nachman’s advice of talking to God regularly for an hour a day (and regularly going to Uman) is THE ONLY WAY to fix the problem, at its root.

I know that last point is quite a statement, but after everything I’ve witnessed going on around me the last few years, and also within me, I stand by it 100%.

Unless a person is regularly talking to God for an hour a day, they simply won’t have the spiritual ‘muscle’ required to be able to distinguish the yetzer hara from the yetzer tov on a regular basis, and especially when it comes to really figuring out what they need to work on and change.

I’m not talking about before we lose our temper, or say or do something we badly regret. Even the biggest tzaddik can fall prey to a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction brought about by their bad middot, and it’s the work of 120 to be able to uproot these impulses entirely.

I’m talking about after we’ve said or done something bad, or negative, and we’re still just justifying ourselves and coming up with tons of excuses to paint ourselves, and our behavior, or misjudgment, or mistake as whiter than white.

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Truth requires hitbodedut, it’s as simple as that.

And without truth, people don’t realise or accept just how much teshuva they really still need to make, especially when it comes to how they treat their spouse and kids.

At the same time, hitbodedut also overcomes the inbuilt tendency to be too hard on ourselves, and to beat ourselves up over every little thing. That’s also a big part of not being able to distinguish the yetzer hara from the yetzer tov, because when God is bringing something that needs fixing to your attention in hitbodedut, He always does it gently.

But the yetzer just starts screaming in your face that you’re baddddd!!! And you did something wrongggg!!! And you’re worthlessssss!! And now, you’re going to get in so much trouble!!!

And who is going to make teshuva when that’s what they feel they have to go through every time they want to even take a peek at what they might need to fix? Answer: no-one.

But when you’re regularly doing hitbodedut, you’ll start to get some insight into why you’re acting the way you are, and you’ll start to be able to develop some real compassion for yourself, even while taking a much firmer stand on the negative actions and behaviors that really do need looking at and fixing.

(I talk a lot more about all this ‘snake brain’ vs ‘human brain’ stuff in THIS post.)

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SO, HOW BEST TO DO IT?

Here’s some tips to get you started:

  • Start small.

It can even be just a minute a day, if you’re pushed. It’s not so much about how long, but how consistent when you first start trying to talk to God, so pick a time frame that you know you will have the willpower to stick to, long term.

  • Do it every single day.

Even if you don’t feel like it. Even if you feel rotten. Even if you’re in a bad mood. Even if you’re in the best mood. Think of it like a meeting with the boss, a date with the man of your dreams, a lunch with a brilliant book agent (if you’re also a struggling writer J ) It’s not something you’re going to miss, come hell or high water. And I warn you now, that when your yetzer realizes that you’re trying to talk to God, it will throw everything at you, to try to prevent it.

  • Turn off your phone.

I think one of the reasons I’m so not ‘into’ the whole smartphone thing is because I know I can live without it for a whole hour every day. Do you know how liberating it is to not have to keep checking Whatsapp? (I’m guessing, as I don’t have it….) Phones are the #1 enemy of people trying to make some time to talk to God, so switch it off.

  • Do hitbodedut somewhere you feel comfortable.

At the beginning, a lot of people tend to feel ridiculous talking ‘to the wall’. What, I’m just going to sit here talking ‘to the wall’?!

But there are worse things.

I walk around my neighborhood doing hitbodedut, and I can tell you for sure that many people now have me pegged as one of the higher functioning mentally-disabled adults that go to the day centre just up the road from me.

If you’re worrying about your cred, or if you live in a small town where looking like a mad person isn’t actually an advantage for keeping the real crazies away, or if you’re worried you might bump into your boss or school principal, then it’s probably better to start off in your own home.

If you have a garden to sit in (and it’s not blizzarding or pouring) that’s often a good option, but be 100% guided by where you’ll feel comfortable actually talking. Out loud. Which brings me to the next point.

  • Yes, your lips have to move.

Not all the time, as talking to God is just as much about listening as it is talking, but if your lips aren’t moving and you’re just thinking it in your head, it’s not going to change the world in the same way.

God spoke the world into creation, and speech is still vested with a tremendous power to change reality. So if you really want to impact your reality, you have to speak. Not just think or write. Yes, thinking and writing can also be part of the hitbodedut process, just as they could be part of a relationship or conversation with a flesh-or-blood person. But the real communication occurs via talking.

I think of it like this: talking is my half of the conversation. The thoughts that come into my head in response to what I’m saying, or the things that I sometimes write down in my journal when I’m doing hitbodedut is how God is responding to me.

  • Build up slowly to an hour.

But don’t get demoralized if it takes ages to get there, or if you get stuck. Just keep going, talking every single day, and you’ll see how things start to get easier all by themselves. Talking to God is a privilege, so just hang in there, show your willing, and sooner or later, Hashem will help you to achieve it.

  • Don’t overdo it.

I know one man who decided doing a six hours wasn’t enough – he was going to do a 12 hours!!! He did the 12 hours – and that was the first and last time he ever did hitbodedut.

That’s an extreme example, most people’s yetzers are far more subtle. They’ll just keep persuading you if one hour is good, two hours is better – and if you have the time and inclination to do that, great!

The problem comes when you don’t have the time or inclination, but your yetzer has you convinced that doing less than 3 hours a day just isn’t worth it. Once you reach the hour a day, that is all you really need. There is no obligation to do more. If you really like talking to God, and you really want to talk longer, that’s great, go right ahead.

But if the idea of having to do more than a hour makes you feel a little resentful or burdened, or if you feel bad that you’re only  doing an hour….that’s a yetzer, and you should call it out.

(There’s another very common yetzer trick too, where it tries to persuade people that if they can’t do an hour straight off the bat every single day, they shouldn’t do anything at all. Again, this is baloney. Start small, keep it regular and build it up over time, and if you do that, you’ll end up acquiring hitbodedut as an enduring practice, not just a flash in the pan.)

  • Don’t try to control the process.

Yes, I know that there are shitot or methods for starting with thanking, then going into self-accounting and ending up, briefly, with requests. If that works for you, great, keep doing it. There’s also a shita that says go through the last 24 hours, and try to think about every thought, word or deed to see if it was OK. Again, if that works for you, great, keep doing it.

I’ve never done my hitbodedut either of those ways. The one thing I do is to start off by making a declaration that I am binding myself to the tzaddikim, and binding myself to the mitzvah of loving my fellow Jew as myself, as found in the back of Rav Arush’s book In Forest Fields.

Then, I’ll say some thank yous about whatever comes to mind – some days that lasts less than half a minute, others, it can go for much longer. And then, whatever God puts into my head is what I talk to Him about.

Sometimes, I’ll have the intention to discuss subject A, and subject B is what I end up doing the whole hour on. I’ve learnt that whatever God wants me to look at, that’s what is going to come into my hitbodedut.

I get some of my best article ideas walking around on a Shabbat morning, for example. I used to feel a bit bad about this, until I realized that for whatever reason, this is how God is making things play out.

So, if apparently random, weird, unrelated or ‘secular’ things start coming into your hitbodedut – let them, and don’t try to force the issue. God knows what He’s doing.

  • But do feel free to look for some inspiration.

When I have some thorny issue, or dilemma, or big question, I sometimes go and look for some ‘clues’ in holy works about what is really going on, here.

For example, this morning I was talking to God about a certain issue that one of my kids has, and I decided to go to my ‘Tehillim cards’, and to just take one randomly, as a starting point. I got one that said “Let go, then you will know I am Hashem” that had a picture of a man on a horse jumping over the Grand Canyon.

It sparked off a whole flood of thoughts and emotions – not least, that the last time I tried to ‘let go’ I just ended up crumpling at the bottom of the cliff, because it didn’t seem like God had caught me at all.

That opened up a whole line of enquiry that shone a spotlight on some unhelpful attitudes that have been hiding out and tripping me up for quite a while, which today I finally started to get a grip on.

I did quite a long hitbodedut on it today (4 hours), and by the end, I came to realise a lot of things about my failed house purchase, for example, and why it really was a hidden blessing. Very hidden! So hidden, it’s taken me 6 months to even start figuring it out, but thanks to hitbodedut, the answers are starting to come as to why that had to happen.

So if you’re stuck, feel free to look for some external inspiration to kick-start the conversation, and then see where God will take you.

  • Don’t do hitbodedut like a self-righteous jerk.

How I wish someone had told me this when my kids were younger, but if your kids need you – and it’s important – then your hitbodedut really has to wait, or get split up and disturbed. It took me years to realise that not talking to my kids because I was talking to God was actually not the smartest thing to do, for a lot of reasons.

When the penny finally dropped, I started doing my hitbodedut much earlier in the day, before they woke up, so I wouldn’t have to choose between talking to them or talking to God.

These days, I will also interrupt hitbodedut for my husband too, if necessary, and very rarely for others who have a serious need to speak to me right then.  I used to have pronounced OTD tendencies that made me feel like I’d have to start the whole hour over again if I got interrupted, or that it wouldn’t ‘count’ if someone else interrupted it. I’ve since realized that I was just being crazy J. Nowadays, if I get unexpectedly interrupted, I’ll just add an extra 5-10 minutes on to the end, and I know God understands and it still counts as a full hour.

  • If your hitbodedut isn’t working for you, change it up

If you keep falling asleep, that’s probably because you need to do something active while talking to God, like taking a walk or hanging the laundry, or going for a drive. If you can’t concentrate, maybe you need to just go somewhere quiet and sit. If you can’t find time to do it in the evening before you get too tired, do it first thing when you wake up. If you can’t even think before lunchtime, do it later.

Do it with a coffee in your hand, or a fruitjuice, or even a piece of cake – whatever it is that’s going to get you looking forward and willing to talk to God.

If your hitbodedut isn’t working for you, then try to figure out why. Many mums feel guilty taking the time for themselves, for example, which is when ‘housewife hitbodedut’ can really come into its own. You’re doing the chores you need to do, while also taking care of your inner dimension.

If you just can’t find an hour any way you slice it, split it up into two half an hours a day, or three 20 minutes. The point is to just keep coming back and trying again and changing things, until you find the way that works for you.

8 years ago, I used to get up at 5.30 every morning, and walk around my village for an hour talking to God, before my kids woke up. Then we moved to Jerusalem, and walking around early felt less ‘safe’, and my kids started staying out so late that I just couldn’t wake up at 5.30 anymore either, so it switched to 6.15 in bed.

Starting last year, after we moved to Baka, I’ve gone back to trying to do it walking around when I wake up, most days. But some days I also do it in the car, if I have a long drive somewhere, or I’ll do it painting, or (rarely….) tidying my house, or even at Kever Rochel of the Kotel.

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There is really no one way of doing hitbodedut.

If you enjoy talking to God, if you are starting to get some insights into your life, relationships and behavior, then keep doing it the way you are! And if not, then consider what tweaks are required to help you get more out of it.

But don’t give up!

Because regular hitbodedut is the only way anyone can really make the leap from fake, pretend-perfect person to real, I-know-I’m-crazy, happy Jew.

And to give Seal the last word: we’re never gonna survive, unless, we get a little crazy.

  • If you have questions or comments about the practical aspects of doing hitbodedut, ask away, or email me, and I’ll do my best to respond.

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So much is going on at the moment.

Last Wednesday, December 26, 2018, Israel was hit by no less than 8 earthquakes ranging between 2.1 and 3.8. That’s an unusually large number of earthquakes in one day, and the 3.8 hit in the Dead Sea Basin region. All this was going on in Israel the same day that Mount Etna volcano in Italy was hit by a 5.1 quake, and started erupting lava from its flanks.

Then today / yesterday, North Egypt was hit with a highly unusual 4.0 earthquake.

Seismic and volcanic activity is picking up across the planet, and according to Dutchsinse (who is a more accurate earthquake forecaster than any of the, ahem, professional earthquake organisations with huge vested interests in playing all this stuff down) – it’s going into an upswing again, over the next few days.

You probably know that Anak Krakatau erupted big time last week, which generated an undersea landslide which in turn caused a tsunami to hit the Java and Sumatra Islands. Lots of people died in that disaster, and thousands were displaced. I have a feeling that there a lot of submarine volcanic eruptions happening right now, that aren’t being reported for the simple fact that hardly any underwater volcanoes are being monitored.

In fact, even when these volcanoes are relatively close to shore, most of the time the volcanologists still have no idea if they’re actively erupting or not, unless they happen to have people on site looking at it when it blows.

But if you want to know what’s causing all these dead fish to keep washing up all over the place, my bet is that they’re getting caught up in deep sea underwater eruptions.

In the meantime, according to official science, the world gets on average 20 7.0 or greater earthquakes a year.

In the month between November 30 and December 29, 2018, there were five of these events:

  • Nov 3 – 7.1 in Anchorage, Alaska
  • Dec 5 – 7.5 in New Caledonia
  • Dec 11 – 7.1 in the South Sandwich Islands
  • Dec 20 – 7.4 in Ostrova, Russia
  • Dec 29 – 7.2 in the Phillipines

Seismic activity is clearly picking up.

To come back to the volcanoes for a moment, official estimates say that usually, anywhere between 50-70 volcanoes erupt in any given year. In 2018, 77 volcanoes popped off (some repeatedly, but they are still only counted as one eruption) – a 10% increase on the high end estimate.

And this is probably only the beginning.

In the meantime, back in Israel, the Tsfat Breslov leader Rav Elazar Mordechai Koenig, z”tl, died yesterday. And two days ago, Rav Eliezer Berland put out a message asking everyone to pray for him to not be taken from the world before Pesach 5779, and that he should live until 210.

I got chills when I read that, because I feel fundamentally in my bones that Rav Berland is really keeping us all going, and keeping Am Yisrael safe, and God forbid a million times over that he should be taken from the world before we get Moshiach and geula.

Because things are challenging enough as it is.

Do you know how much happened, since the Rav called for that prayer gathering in Hevron? Since then:

  • The IDF discovered a whole bunch of massive, multiple tunnels dug by Hezbollah from Lebanon into Israel.
  • We had another ‘mini’ intifada, where there were at least 4 terrorist attacks, and 3 people killed and another 10 or so injured in the space of 4 days.
  • Trump announced he’s pulling US forces out of Syria.
  • Israeli elections were called for April 9, 2019 (just three days after Rav Berland called for the next atzeret, on Rosh Chodesh Nissan).
  • The stock market dropped massively, sparking fears that we’re heading into a re-run of 2008.

And that’s just the stuff I know about – and really, I don’t read the news.

It feels like we’re on a knife-edge again.

And now, so many of our tzaddikim are passing away, or seem to be seriously ill.

Man, we all just need to pray a lot at the moment, and to focus urgently on making peace with our fellow Jew, getting real, and getting offline as much as possible.

My inbox is full of people who are suffering so much hardship at the moment, and so many of them are such amazing, astounding individuals. Everyone is being challenged, everyone has their work cut out for them.

And the main work is to really just come back to God, and to know that the illusion is not going to last forever.

And to pray that our tzaddikim like Rav Berland will continue to be in good health, and to lead us forward to geula. Because while it’s hard going at the moment, it’s a piece of cake compared to what will happen if we have to go it alone.

  • Please say a tikkun haklali for Rav Eliezer ben Ettia.

Around 6-7 years ago, I went through a bunch of experiences that made me extremely wary of other people.

Long story short, Hashem arranged for pretty much every relationship I had at that time, from the most serious to the most casual, to explode in my face in an extremely traumatic way.

Clearly, I had a lot of work to do on my own bad middot (character traits).

Clearly, other people also had a lot of work to do on theirs, too.

Things got so bad, that I kind of took the equivalent of a social vow of chastity: no more friends! No more Shabbat guests! No more making an effort with anyone outside my immediate family!!

It was just too hard to have a relationship that didn’t seem way too complicated, exhausting and toxic, back then.

Thankfully, the last 2-3 years, God has slowly been moving me out of that space.

A lot of the improvement came when I stopped trying to be a ‘fake frummer’, and playing a part that didn’t suit me, and pretending to be something and someone I’m not.

I realized that for as long as I was secretly yearning for my life in London, that was translating into very harsh judgement calls against people who hadn’t (yet…) made aliya.

And, for as long as I was missing reading secular books and watching secular movies, I was so ‘anti’ all those people who felt they could combine the ‘ultra-orthodox’ or ‘chareidi’ label with massive i-Phones, Youtube and subscriptions to the National Enquirer.

Today, I read some secular stuff, non-fiction, and I’m trying to find a way of serving God with my yetzer hara, as well as my yetzer tov.

But the real breakthrough came as a result of my children, my teens.

My two precious girls who combine their father’s sweet personality with my ability to argue.

These girls have taught me so much.

They taught me that lashon hara even counts (or maybe, especially counts) in the home, and that’s there is no heter, or permission, for slagging people off behind closed doors.

They taught me that often, the very best girls, spiritually, are doing the weirdest things with their hair, clothes and nose-rings.

They taught me to stop holding the whole world, including them, including myself, to ridiculously high, unrealistic standards, that no-one can ever really get to, or maintain, at least, not before 120.

And the last, but perhaps most precious thing they taught me, is to not take things so personally, and to keep looking for reasons to play down issues and forgive other people.

Dear readers, that so was not my way, my derech, before these precious girls took me in hand.

In the past, I excelled at finding a million reasons why people are unfixable psychos, or ‘erev rav’, or toxic relations, or religious hypocrites, and once I’d found that out about them, I couldn’t speak to them or like them anymore.

And then my girls came along, and held a big mirror up, and I started to realise that sometimes (often…) I was also acting like an unfixable psycho, an erev rav, a toxic relative, a religious hypocrite.

And so many times, they forgive me for not treating them so nicely, or making their life difficult, and we worked together to try to turn things around.

And that taught me the importance of not taking things so personally, when people say things I don’t like, or act in ways that hurt me.

Sure, I don’t have to stand there while someone slaps my face because they’re having a bad, or tries to make me feel bad just to make themselves feel good, but now when that happens, I don’t automatically put that person on the ‘unfixable psycho’ list.

I take sensible measures to protect myself, and stay at a safe distance, but then, I try to understand where they’re coming from, and to see how ever-so-easily, if I didn’t have Rabbenu, and hitbodedut, and big tzaddikim like Rav Berland in my life – I could act in exactly the same way.

And more, sometimes I do act in exactly the same way.

Because I’m not perfect, and neither are they.

And then, I don’t hate that person in my heart anymore (which is not to say I automatically like or love them. If they have pronounced emotional issues that they are in denial about, I still do my best to steer clear of them.)

But even then, I don’t hate them, and I can even still find reasons and occasions to enjoy their company.

And so, the door to the social dungeon I’ve been in for well over 5 years is slowly starting to creak open again. And what’s oiling the hinges is Azamra, Rebbe Nachman’s lesson of seeing the good and focusing on the good.

First in ourselves, and then in others.

And above all, in our kids and spouses.

Challenging as they can be, my teens have been the biggest blessing in my life, and they have taught me – almost single-handedly – how to like people again.

Oooahh, there is nothing like having a couple of days off the evil internet to start to regain some optimism and joie de vivre again.

Here’s what I did yesterday:

  • Volunteered for 2 hours a local school’s garden in Jerusalem
  • Wrote up something deep and meaningful on how to forgive people who have really hurt us, for spiritualselfhelp.org
  • Went for three hours to ‘paint me pottery’ with my husband and teenage kids – we all had the best time. And my two teens even left their phones behind for the occasion, unprompted, which was stoo-pen-dous.
  • Spent two hours painting a picture of the Rav.
  • Spent an hour walking around and smelling the roses, literally and figuratively, need to where I live.
  • Swept the huge dust balls off the floor, hung up some washing, did some washing up and generally tidied the house.
  • Exercised twice – some stretching, and then some energy exercises.

I went to bed feeling stoo-pen-dous!

I got so much done that wasn’t just sitting here typing.

I also had some ‘space’ in my head to think, and here’s some of the thoughts that bubbled up:

  • I need to start writing proactively again, instead of re-acting to everything that’s going on, or not going on.
  • I need to stop writing about geula stuff, even though it’s mamash unfolding before our eyes. People are falling into yeoush and despair left, right and centre, and hitting them over the head with ‘reality’ is not going to help anyone at this point.
  • Unity is the thing to focus on – even the Queen was talking about it in her speech. “One must have achudus at this difficult time, and stop hating one’s selfish, retarded jerk of a neighbor.” I’m paraphrasing, natch.
  • I need to go back to writing creatively about life as a believing Jewish woman living in Israel. That means getting on the second volume of the Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife – but doing it with a twist. I’m currently working with Alizah, the very talented fiction editor from SassonMag.com to turn the raw material from the blog into something that’s actually a good read, as a book.

It’s time to make a new start – again!

I know I write about that a lot, but I just saw something on the RavBerland.com website that really underlined for me again how important it is to just keep starting over again when things aren’t going how we want.

Every day is a new creation, that’s what the Rav says! The path of Breslov is to just keep sweetening, and reassuring, and strengthening and picking ourselves up from the bottom of the pit, over and over again.

And not to get stuck in all the doom and gloom.

Man, I keep getting stuck in that myself, and probably I’ll get sidetracked again in the future.  But then I just have to try to pull it back faster, and start over again.

Life is good!

So, that’s what I got from my day off the evil internet, and it was so useful, BH I want to have at least one ‘internet-free’ day a week now.

With God’s help.

​I know the mainstream media really isn’t telling anyone anything much, unless they have to, about what’s really going on with ‘climate change’ in the world, and volcanoes and earthquakes.

But last week, 20 different volcanoes erupted across the planet, including the massive blast at Krakatau, Indonesia, which sparked off a volcanic tsunami that’s killed and displaced hundreds of people.

There are huge geological changes going on right now. The Krakatau blast shot sulphuric particles 55,000 ft up into the stratosphere – which means, amongst other things, that more freak weather is on the way.

A few weeks ago, Manam Volcano in Papua New Guinea also shot a bunch of fine volcanic debris and dust 40,000 ft up, into the stratosphere. I think that probably has something to do with the massive hail now falling on Sydney, and other parts of Australia.

(Although clearly, there are other more spiritual reasons for why Australia is currently getting hit with apocalyptic weather like wildfires, flashfloods and now hail the size of golf-balls.)

Things are heating up – and geologically, this is set to continue, and is probably going to get much, much more dramatic over the next 20 years, regardless of whether Moshiach shows up right now or not. If Moshiach shows up, it’ll be easier for the world. And if not, we’re on the cusp of another serious Grand Solar Minimum period, which will see dramatic global cooling, and an enormous uptick in volcanoes and earthquakes.

My husband, God bless him, is really not convinced by the Grand Solar Minimum information I keep giving him, even though it’s based on something approaching real science, for a change, and not ‘prophecies’ from autistics, or xtians with an ‘armageddon’ complex, nor politicians and professors who have made a career out of lying to the public about what’s really going on.

Things are about to get very challenging, geologically-speaking.

And if Moshiach comes now, we’ll be saved the worst of it and it’ll be sweetened. And if not, then derech hateva, naturally, we are in for a rough ride as a civilization, because mass communication and heavy industrialization has never been tested with the sort of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, freak weather and electrical discharges that are going to be unleashed with greater and greater force across the planet over the next 20 years, as part of the Grand Solar Minimum.


​So, how can we prepare for what might be coming next?

The answer is to get real, finally, and to stop wasting our precious time and effort on all the pointless circus that is politics, entertainment and the media. To take our head out of Fakebook, and to go and give our kids a hug, and to have a real conversation with the people we really love (if they didn’t get yeoush and give up on us, already.)

Getting prepared spiritually means really coming back to God, making teshuva, and accepting that life is not going to continue on as normal. One way or another, there are big changes on the horizon.

I know, its human nature to deny all this, and pretend it’s not happening. I get that, I really do!

No-one likes change, no-one likes upheaval, no-one likes the idea that we’re not in control of what’s happening.

(I feel like that person at the party that everyone sees coming, then immediately ducks into the toilets, or runs out the room to avoid…)

But – at least have a plan ‘B’, at least start admitting the thought that the world may not continue exactly how it is right now, for too much longer. At least, spend five minutes thinking about what aspects of life you might change, or do differently, if some of these big changes really are on the horizon.


​Over the last few years, I’ve seen so many people draw back from the brink, when it comes to this stuff.

The evidence piles up, the facts flow in, the obvious conclusion to be made is that something radical needs to change in their lives, for them to become the Jews God really wants them to be.

And at that point, the fear kicks in, the doubts take over – and the person freezes up and turns into a robot, going through the motions, talking the talk without really walking the walk.
I’ve seen that happen so many times.

And then, the excuses start, and the superficial approach to life gets laid on super, smotheringly, thick, and the person loses themselves in shopping, and inanity, and Fakebook, because that seems to be easier than really looking reality in the face.

And then, usually, their kids start acting up, dropping out of school, and speeding off the derech at a million miles an hour, or getting sick, God forbid, and apparently no-one knows why this is happening.

It’s happening, because we are all down here to work.

The volcanoes, earthquakes, illnesses and wars are coming because God wants the heart. He wants us to be brave enough to step out of our comfort zones, and follow Him into the desert.

As it was in Egypt, so it is again.

Which is why you can see how so many people didn’t make it out of galut, even when the world was literally crumbling around them.
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After I wrote this, I got sent an email by someone close to Rav Berland, where the Rav apparently said that there was some massively horrible thing that was meant to happen on the 10th of Tevet, but that it’s been sweetened – temporarily.

There’s still a lot of spiritual work required to get it removed, but at the very least, the awful ‘whatever it is’ (probably, another war in Israel….) got pushed off.

But that would certainly explain why I was feeling so down the last few days, and why today I’m feeling much, much happier again.

Thank God for our true tzaddikim.