If you’d have asked me that question even five years’ ago, the answer would have been an aggressive, uncompromising OF COURSE THEY SHOULD!!!!

Living in Israel is a mitzvah, arguably the biggest mitzvah in the Torah, and certainly the best (and probably only…) way of really achieving our spiritual tikkun, or rectification, in the world.

Like many other people who made aliya at great expense and effort, I went through quite a long stage of feeling personally offended by Jews (especially frum Jews) who refused to move here, and who refused to make the same sorts of sacrifices I’d done, to try to give God what He wanted.

Now, I’ve mellowed out a lot about this question, and I’ve come to understand that like everything else in life, things aren’t so simple, or so black and white.

In theory, there is absolutely no question that every Jew should be yearning, or trying, to live in Israel. No question at all.

But in practice?

It’s really not so simple.

It comes down to this: the spiritual level of the nation of Israel is at such a low level, that even the ‘frummest’ Jew in chutz l’aretz will probably struggle mightily to come up to even the ‘lowest’ level of day-to-day emuna that’s required for a Jew to really stay living in Israel.

That’s why so many people can’t hack it, and leave.

It’s like when God overturned the mountain and held it above our heads to ‘force’ us to accept the Torah. Really, we wanted to do the right thing, we wanted to live that Torah-centric spiritual life, but we also knew just how hard it was going to be, and how much self-sacrifice it was going to require, and for most of us, we simply couldn’t ‘choose’ that path unless we were forced into it.

I’ve come to think that making aliya is operating along the same paradigm.

Every Jewish soul, at its core, really wants to live in Israel. But as the thousands of people who have tried and then left again can tell you, sometimes the day-to-day challenge of having to really LIVE your emuna, and not just talk about it in a nice online shiur somewhere, are so difficult, many people simply can’t hang on.

If I didn’t have Rebbe Nachman and Breslov and hitbodedut, I have no doubt that I also couldn’t have managed to ‘hang on’ and come through all the difficulties we’ve had the last 12 years.

As I’ve been saying all week, Israel is the land of emuna, it’s the land of spiritual rectification. It’s the place where you really come face-to-face with yourself, and your real issues, and all the stuff you need to really work on and fix. And to put it bluntly, so many of us are in such a mess these days, we probably couldn’t withstand such a direct ‘view’ into our souls.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone who moves here, or who lives here, is doing the work.

There’s a kind of ‘soft’ option that many olim take which is that they try to recreate the superficiality and comfort of chutz l’aretz in their own communities here.

Without naming names, there are places in Israel that feel to me SO like chutz l’aretz when I go to visit them. There’s the same focus on externals, the same excessive materialism, the same mad rush to work, and obsessions with socializing and making money.

But you know what? Even though a lot of the people in those communities are trying very hard to live in ‘Anglo bubbles’ or ‘French bubbles’ or even, ‘Russian bubbles’, ultimately it’s still not really the same. It IS still Israel, and the kedusha, and the Divine Providence is still there, beckoning people to drop the pretense and get to know their real souls.

I’ve seen people literally go crazy, trying to drown out the insistent, spiritual call to God that reverberates in all parts of Israel, even in the most secular and materialistic neighborhoods.

So yes, it often looks the same, but it’s really not feeling the same.

I used to judge people in these ‘bubbles’ very harshly, but now I’ve come to realize that we all have our breaking point, and our snapping point, and even just moving to Israel in the first place can take many people far, far beyond it.

So let them keep their American dishwashers, and their English obsession with house prices, and their crazy workaholic schedules so they don’t have to think too much.

Because at least, they’re still here, and maybe in the future, their kids will have the energy and strength to continue the spiritual work their parents have begun.

Which brings me back to the question on the table: should people move to Israel, or not?

And the answer I have now is this:

EVERYONE should WANT to move to Israel.

But realistically, a whole bunch of people wouldn’t last five minutes here. Most of the secular, assimilated Jews in chutz l’aretz already know this, on some level, which is why for the most part they aren’t flooding into the country, or even visiting it for holidays.

God hits you smack in the face as soon as you step off the plane at Ben Gurion, and if you’re estranged from God, that can be an extremely challenging experience.

So it’s the ‘frum’ Jews in chutz l’aretz we’re really talking about – the ones who are apparently trying to have a connection with the Creator, and striving to work on their souls. I say ‘apparently’ because it underlines the point I made earlier: in truth, our generation is on such a low spiritual level, that even the frummest-looking Jew, externally, can be effectively ‘switched off’ from God.

Israel opens up that connection to the Creator, and to emuna, in a very real, very powerful way. (Often via financial difficulties, enormous spiritual angst, childrearing issues etc etc). But if the bulb can’t handle the current – it explodes.

Sure, the bulb can also explode in chutz l’aretz too – and it’s doing that with increasing frequency. More and more ‘frum’ kids going off the derech, more and more fatal overdoses in the frum community, more and more abuse, more and more Jews marrying out.

Chutz l’aretz is a disaster zone, spiritually.

I know that if I’d stayed in England, my kids would have probably gone off the derech, I probably would have a nervous breakdown, and my marriage would be in tatters.

I knew that even when I lived there, which is why I was so desperate to get out of there, even though life appeared so ‘perfect’, externally. But if the person I was then had known just how hard the last 12 years would have been, would I still have got on that plane?

I don’t know.

Which brings me to the last, very important, point: We need God to get us to Israel. And we need God to keep us here.

The point of Jewish life is to forge that bond, that connection with God. Living in Israel accomplishes that like nothing else can.

People don’t ‘stop’ being religious when they move to Israel. But they do get real.

And the sad fact is that so many of the people in chutz l’aretz, even the most externally pious looking ones, are fundamentally estranged from Hashem.

Of course, they can’t admit that openly – or even privately, to themselves. Which is why they talk about the terrible secular government, the crazy house prices, the expense of living here, the terrorism, the pull to a secular lifestyle.

And really, all the criticism they level at Israel is true, at least on some level.

But that’s not the real issue.

The real issue is that if you try to live in Israel without God, sooner or later it’ll break you, or it’ll break your pretense of being a superficially pious Jew.

I’ve seen that happen SO many times.

But maybe, it’s only once we realize just how broken we really are, spiritually, that we’ll start doing what’s required to fix the problem, and we’ll start rebuilding our relationship with Hashem from the ground up.

And while that process can only be completed in Israel, it can be started everywhere.

Even in chutz l’aretz.

The Four Cardinal Sins of sinat chinam.

Rav Ofer Erez’s recently gave an awesome shiur (click HERE to watch it, with full English subtitles) about how our sinat chinam, or baseless hatred, is delaying the geula, I thought it would be good to take a proper look at the four cardinal sins he described.

I know what you’re going to tell me: Hey, there’s only THREE cardinal sins, idiot!

(See, we all have some work to do on our compassion, victory-seeking tendencies and judgmental attitudes…)

While it’s true that the ‘cardinal sins’ usually refer to immorality, bloodshed and idol-worship, Rav Ofer pointed out that sinat chinam, or baseless hatred is worse than all three – and it can usually be divided up into four main areas, namely:

  • Hatred
  • Jealousy / envy
  • Anger
  • Judging other people harshly (how I’m translating hakpada – I’m happy to hear any other suggestions for a better way of translating that word.)

Every time we’re indulging in one of these four cardinal sins against a fellow Jew, we’re delaying the geula, plain and simple.

And as Rav Ofer explained, Chazal teach us that even just feeling these emotions internally, without actually expressing them externally in specific words and action STILL COUNTS AS SINAT CHINAM.

And sinat chinam is what destroyed the second temple and let us into our current, millennia-long exile.

And sinat chinam is what’s delaying the geula, and is delaying the rebuilding of our third temple and the ushering in of true global peace and acknowledgment of Hashem.

Right, so now we have that clear, let’s take a look at what sorts of very common things (that we all do, including me, a lot) count as sinat chinam, so we can start to get a real grip on the problem:

  • Bearing grudges
  • Indulging in long, pointless rants about how ‘evil’ particular sections of the Jewish community are
  • Judging people harshly over one ‘negative’ comment, or ill-thought-out response they might have made (especially online…)
  • Judging people harshly because they disagree with us (even about really important things)
  • Hating people in our hearts, which means we secretly want bad things to happen to them (like getting wiped out by an asteroid belt, or a forest fire, or an enormous tsunami etc), or for them get to in trouble with the IRS, or gloating or feeling secretly satisfied when ‘the truth comes out’
  • Publicly pointing out other people’s flaws
  • Preaching at other people about what THEY are doing wrong, instead of focusing on what THEY are doing right
  • Preaching at other people about what THEY are doing wrong, instead of focusing on what WE are doing wrong
  • Making trouble between different Jews, or different groups of Jews – and this includes stirring trouble in our families, or trying to get a parent, or a sibling, or an aunty, or whoever, to take sides in our arguments
  • Calling other Jews ‘Erev Rav’
  • Trying to take someone down, or take someone out, because we’re jealous of them (and as Rav Ofer pointed out, this one is particularly tricky to deal with as we often have NO IDEA just how jealous and envious we are of other people.)

Again, this is just stuff that I do myself, all the time, (or at least, have done a lot of in the past…), so feel free to flesh the ‘sinat chinam’ list out in the comments.

To stick with the jealousy thing for a moment, the first or second time I went to Uman, I had an immensely powerful dream where I realized for the first time in my life just how driven by jealousy I actually was.

And this was back when I had a nice house, my OK life, and everything was still running smoothly, at least on the outside.

But it was only when I had that dream that I actually got how envious I was of people who had more kids, or more money, or more success, or a nicer, bigger house. That’s one big reason why it’s good to go to Uman, because somehow the Tzaddikim there introduce you to your real self, and show you just how far from perfect you really are.

(And the opposite is also true: when you go to Uman feeling at the lowest rung of humanity, you get picked up off the floor and new life is breathed into you.)

So, whenever you find yourself competing or comparing, or feeling like a winner, or (more usually….) feeling like a loser in life, if you take a closer look at what’s really going on underneath, I’m pretty sure you’ll spot a fat wodge of jealousy, peeking out.

So our work for today is this:

JUST ACKNOWLEDGE THE PROBLEM

If you want to do this in a really serious way, (because heh, you REALLY want the third temple to be rebuilt already…) try the following:

  1. Take a piece of paper, and write down the four cardinal sins across the top of the page.
  2. Next time you’re doing your daily hour of talking to God, think back over the last 24 hours, and see how many of your interactions, conversations or thought processes was connected to one of these four cardinal sins, in some way.

When you got ANGRY at the checkout girl, that’s clearly ANGER.

If you got irritated with someone because of something they wrote or commented about online, that’s certainly JUDGING HARSHLY (and depending on how many Moroccan genes you possess, it could also come under HATRED and ANGER, too).

If you find yourself feeling sorry for yourself because Mrs Whatshername up the street just bought a new car, or went for a nice holiday or has great-looking hair in their thumbnail or [fill in the blank – anything else people like to post pictures up about on Facebook] – then that’s clearly JEALOUSY – but again, could fit into the other categories too, depending on where you take it.

If you’re like most people, the idea of doing this could actually be making you feel pretty uncomfortable.

It’s human nature to run away from, and whitewash our flaws and negative attitudes. But here’s what Rav Ofer had to say about this:

“The closer a person comes to Hashem, the more of their own flaws they own up to.”

So, it’s actually a good thing to admit to being a hate-filled, jealous, frothing-at-the-mouth, highly-critical crazy person!

(Hi five me! I’m finally doing something right…)

I’m planning on returning to this subject shortly, God willing, to share some more practical tools, tips and ideas for how we can really get geula going now, and the third temple rebuilt.

But let’s sum up where we’ve got to so far:

Criticising other Jews, even if they ARE evil / nasty / cowardly / immoral etc is ONLY DELAYING GEULA. Ditto, hating other Jews, ditto, raging against other Jews, ditto, being jealous of other Jews.

(Yes I know, pretty much the only safe thing to blog about is recipes.)

The only thing that’s going to speed geula up at this point is WORKING ON OURSELVES, and especially the four cardinal sins of:

  • Hatred
  • Anger
  • Jealousy
  • Harsh judgment (of PEOPLE, not of CHARACTER TRAITS or BEHAVIOURS).

All this stuff is so very hard, isn’t it?

I’m also feeling a little overwhelmed by the scope of the spiritual task we have to accomplish to get Moshiach the sweet way.

But even though maybe we can’t complete the job, we’re not free to ignore it, and pretend it’s everyone else’s problem, either.

(But sometimes, that sure does sound tempting.)

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Recently, I had an email exchange with someone that got me thinking about how when Moshiach really does, actually, well and truly show up, most people are going to think he’s a cult leader.

You can understand why.

Moshiach will be a hugely charismatic, magnetic person of immense holiness and charm, that the Jewish soul will automatically gravitate towards, and want to nullify themselves to.

That’s part of the beauty and majesty of the Moshiach! The Moshiach will have a global soul that contains a spark of every Jew on the planet, and we’ll all want to get close to him, and soak in his immense spiritual light.

But until the Moshiach is completely and undeniably revealed as the Moshiach, he’s going to look like one of the most convincing cult leaders you’ve ever met.

And here lies the conundrum.

As I’ve written about a lot here, there are an awful lot of what Rebbe Nachman calls ‘Rav de klipa’, or rabbis of the dark side out there in the world. God already warned us that for every ‘light’ He created, there would be darkness, and for every ‘good’ He created, there would be bad, until Moshiach comes and the whole world is spiritually rectified and evil permanently vanquished.

Also as I’ve written about elsewhere, Moshiach’s coming is not a one-shot dramatic affair where he steps off a plane in Ben Gurion airport, or holds a coming out party and voila, instant Moshiach and geula.

Nope.

It’s going to be a long, drawn-out affair, like the sunrise, growing stronger and stronger from moment to moment until everyone has to admit that day has come. But while we’re still in the process of transition, there’s going to be a lot of murky stuff mixed into that sunrise.

Lots of ‘rabbis’ pretending to be what they really are not. Lots of psychos taking advantage of trusting members of the public, to act in the most evil, anti-Torah, unethical ways. Lots of ‘cult leaders in waiting’ trying to take advantage of our yearning for Moshiach to pull a fast one over us and pull us away from God, has va halila.

So what’s a person meant to do?

Some of us are solving this problem by plain blank refusing to acknowledge Moshiach in any real way. Sure, they’ll discuss the idea theoretically, but any suggestion that a real person could actually be Moshiach, or that this could actually happen in their lifetimes (especially if they live outside of Israel…) will elicit a dramatically negative response.

One such person who holds this view of all things Moshiach told me:

‘Look what happened with Chabad! We don’t want something like that to happen again!’

as justification for why they were so ‘anti’ the whole talking about Moshiach thing.

So then, I started to ponder: what really happened with Chabad?

Sure, there are still a few people walking around with the mistaken idea that the Lubavitcher Rebbe will come back from the dead to lead us. But I’m not sure even that is so terrible. When Moshiach is revealed, they’ll see that they’re wrong, and end of story.

(There’s a whole big discussion in the Gemara about just this idea, of whether the Moshiach can come back from the dead, and the Gemara – after a long discussion – asserts that this will not be the case. I don’t know much about the Moshiach, but I can tell you that he definitely knows more Gemara than I do, and abides by all aspects of Jewish halachic law…)

And in the meantime, what really happened with Chabad? Simply that hundreds of thousands of Jews started to yearn for Moshiach to come, in fulfillment of the Rambam’s 13th Principle of Faith, and made a whole bunch of teshuva in readiness for that moment.

I mean really, what’s so bad about that?

Sure, there are some crazy people that took things to extremes, but Chabad didn’t make these people crazy any more than Breslov makes people crazy. Crazy people (including yours truly…) are attracted to very big spiritual lights, as we know that’s where we’ll find the antidote for all the darkness we’re lugging around in our souls.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe was an enormous spiritual light, and very probably was the potential Moshiach of his generation. If your tikkun is to be a crazy person anyway, at least be a crazy person who keeps mitzvahs and talks (a little too much…) about the coming of the Moshiach.

But to come back to the point in hand, how are we really going to know who is a true candidate for Moshiach, and who is just a cult-leader-in-waiting, in this very difficult, confusing time before geula actually really kicks off?

There’s one answer:

Hitbodedut.

The regular practice of talking to Hashem in your own words for a fixed amount of time every day, preferably an hour.

When you talk to God regularly like this, you get connected to your soul, and to the real Tzaddikim of the generation, and to Hashem Himself, and it gets much, much harder for the fakers to fool you.

Try this exercise, to see what I mean:

Imagine a rabbi that you KNOW is good and the real deal, like the Baba Sali, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Chida, the Baal Shem Tov, Rebbe Nachman, Rav Ovadia Yosef, etc. See how they look, see how ‘big’ they are, compared to you yourself.

Now, imagine a rabbi from today meeting that ‘good’ rabbi from the past – really picture them meeting in your head – and see what happens.

I guarantee you’ll start to get some amazing insights about who is really ‘real’ and who isn’t, if you try this exercise a few times, and ask God to show you what’s really going on.

And in the meantime, this is the best and really only route for knowing who really could be Moshiach, and who is a cult-leader-in-disguise.

Don’t let the ‘Rav de klipa’s’ fool you!

And don’t be scared to join the ‘cult of Moshiach’ as soon as you’re 100% convinced inside that you’ve discovered who he is. After all, yearning for Moshiach is a fundamental part of being a Jew, and if you’re regularly talking to God about it all, He’ll certainly guide you to the right person, at just the right time.

And if you’re wrong – but attached to an enormously holy person in the meantime who could be Moshiach, but maybe isn’t – what’s so bad about that, anyway?

When my grandma died a few weeks’ back, the relative who’d been primarily caring for her decided to keep her death secret for two weeks, and to bury her all by himself.

No-one in the family came to the funeral. Two weeks later, he decided to put up the headstone all by himself – again, with no-one else in the family present.

This relative did these things because he was operating from a place of pure spite and vengeance. He was ‘paying back’ the other relatives for things he believed they did to him, and also for things he thought they should have done for him.

For two weeks after my grandma died, without anyone knowing or mourning for her, I felt SO bad in just about every way, physically, mentally and spiritually. Once the news finally came out and I went to her grave, I started to feel better in a lot of ways, but then a new test started up:

I had an overwhelming urge to find this relative and to go and punch him in the face.

Again, this was completely understandable, and not something ‘bad’, per se, as what he did was extremely awful, on a number of levels. I’m not a Tzaddik (and let me break this to you gently, dear reader, the odds are extremely high that you aren’t either) – and when you’re not a bona fide Tzaddik, you have to be honest about your bad feelings, and give them some space to be expressed, if you don’t want them to fester away and start literally killing you.

So I knew it was ok to have a day or two of feeling rage and vengeance, but then it had to stop. And getting it to stop was pretty darned hard!

Because for a couple of days there, I really hated this relative’s guts for what he did to me, my grandma, and the rest of my family.

I had to do a lot of talking to God about it all to figure out:

  • The guy is 100%, seriously mentally ill (and it’s a real shame more people don’t know how to spot this, and call it out at an earlier stage, instead of assuming that these people will behave, act and think like ‘normal’ human beings)
  • He justified his horrendous behavior by believing he had a ‘right’ to take vengeance against people who he believed (rightly or wrongly) had hurt or upset him
  • If I carried on hating him, and wanting to rip his eyeballs out, then I would be acting just like him.

And that realization brought me up short.

Objectively, the guy HAS done something awful, on a number of levels. But if I carried on hating him and wishing bad things on him, then even if I didn’t actually act on these thoughts, I’d still be guilty of the same sin he’s steeped in.

And that’s the last thing I want, because let’s remember, the guy is 100% seriously mentally ill!

So I had to do some serious, serious inner work to try to rip out all that hatred and vengeance stuff, and it was really exhausting.

As I was dealing with all that, I got some information about how the bottom has just fallen out of another hate-filled person’s life.

Again, this person has spent years and years and years hating others for doing something that hurt them, and has taken every opportunity to take vengeance, and to bad-mouth them, and to ‘punish’ them at every turn.

Here’s the thing: hate, when it’s turned outwards, for sure hurts the people it’s directed at, especially when you act in a spiteful, vindictive and cruel way towards the people you hate.

BUT, hate also corrodes our own souls, and over time, that corrosion spills over into our own health, and our own life, and our own circumstances, too.

The more a person is cut off from their own feelings, the more that corrosive effect will be relayed to, amplified and picked up by their nearest and dearest, instead.

To put this another way, when we viscerally hate someone else over a long period of time, and we don’t let it go, not only can that severely damage our own health and happiness, it can very easily also stuff-up the health of the people we actually love dearly, but who are being bombarded by our ‘hate’ vibes 24/7.

(I write a lot more about the science backing up these ideas over on www.spiritualselfhelp.org.)

To sum it up, feelings trigger bio-chemical processes in the human body, both for the good and bad. And we pick up other people’s feelings, especially their strong, repressed, feelings ‘bio-electrically’ (or if you prefer to say it this way), spiritually, via our souls.

We’re all connected!

Humanity generally, and Jews specifically, which is why God made it very clear to us on repeated occasions that all Jews are responsible for each other, and part of a big, over-arching Jewish spiritual presence that the kabbalists talk about a lot.

So now, let’s bring all this down to a tachlis, practical level, and sum up the point I’m trying to make here.

1) There are a lot of truly mentally-ill, crazy people out there who are consumed by their bad middot, and continually justify their evil behavior as just ‘paying back’ the wrong that was done to them. (That’s what makes them bona fide crazy people.)

2) All of us have been hurt, and all of us have hurt others – it’s part of the human condition. (Anyone who claims they’ve never hurt anyone else is a bona fide crazy person.)

3) The more we can see God behind these ‘hurts’ that are done to us, the easier we’ll find it to let go of hatred, spite, vengeance – and a million other bad middot, besides.

4) The more we let our hate, jealousy and spite fester, the more poisonous we’ll act towards other people (and the more big sins we’ll rack up).

AND ALSO

5) The more physically and mentally ill we ourselves will become, and also the more physically and mentally ill our nearest and dearest will become, as being around a hate-filled, jealous, vindictive, cruel, crazy person is mega-stressful at every level.

Again, cleaning this stuff out of the system is really, really hard!

If we’re not talking to God every single day, it’s virtually impossible to do it. But if we ARE talking to God – it can and does move out really, really fast.

Dear reader, let’s not turn into those hate-filled crazy people we see all over the place who feel 100% justified about all the nasty, awful things they do.

We all hurt others, we have all been hurt ourselves.

It’s how we choose to react to these things that make all the difference to whether we’re going to build the world and get closer to Hashem, or destroy it.

 I find myself so hungry for real Torah at the moment – not ‘predictions’ and not fluffy stuff, real Torah that will help me make sense of everything that’s going on around me and (even more challengingly…) inside of me.

That search for real Torah that would actually answer my real questions, and work to help me in my real life, brought me to Breslov and Rebbe Nachman, and time and again, Rabbenu’s Torah has given me answers and support when I just couldn’t seem to get it anywhere else.

Yesterday, I read something on the Shuvu Banim Hebrew website that really helped me a lot, to penetrate some of the fog I’m still stumbling around in, a little. It was a shiur by a very ‘hidden’ student of Rav Berland who is apparently an outstanding Torah scholar, called Rav Avraham Hadgbi.

Rav Hadgbi was explaining why it is we hit so many difficulties, or miniot, when we’re trying to do the right thing, make teshuva, and get closer to Hashem.

He explained that if a person ‘achieved’ all this stuff all at once, immediately, his arrogance would automatically shoot up – and that is the single worst thing that can happen, because God can’t be with an arrogant person.

Rav Hadgbi also explained that when you’re following the Breslov path, Rebbe Nachman is extremely exacting about crushing any trace of pride out of his followers.

Aha!

I read that and finally, I started to get an answer that ‘worked’ for me about why so much has gone ‘wrong’ for me the last decade or so, ever since I started getting into Breslov.

God is crushing every last little speck of pride out of me.

Great!

But man, it’s so hard to endure. At this stage, I really don’t think I’ve got anything left to be proud of, from A-Z of things that people usually big themselves up on.

That’s where Rav Hadgbi also gave me a bit of chizzuk. He brought a conversation he had with Rav Berland, where Rav Berland explained that sometimes, the ‘waiting’ that’s required when you’re following Rebbe Nachman’s path can feel like it’s literally going to kill you. But, he says, if you continue to hang on, sooner or later you’ll get everything you hoped for, and more.

That rang such a big bell for me.

I was doing so much talking to God-teshuva about my eye the last few weeks, and as I kept peeling off more layers of the teshuva onion, including

  • I’m spending too much time online…
  • I’m looking at spiritually-dodgy stuff…
  • I’m not looking at MYSELF with a good enough eye…
  • I’m not looking at others with a good enough eye…
  • I’m not focusing on the right things in life…

Etc etc – and the eye still kept playing up, despite me spritzing industrial amounts of colloidal silver into it, and other eye drops, and anything else you can think of – I realized I had to be missing something still.

Finally, a couple of days ago, Hashem clued me in to the underlying emotion that’s completely stuffing my eyeball up: it’s frustration.

Man, I am SOOOO frustrated! About a million different things.

Because dear reader, you should know that in my previous life in the UK, I was the furthest thing from a loser you could imagine. I had a very high-profile, well-paid job, I ran my own company, I had a nice house, I had a good circle of friends, I gave a lot of charity, I’d just had my second child after years of infertility, I had a wardrobe full of really nice looking clothes – and truthfully, I was one of the most arrogant people you could probably ever wish to NOT meet…

So yes, I completely get that God had to take it all away to humble me, and because He’s God, He’s done a really thorough, excellent job, baruch Hashem.

The only issue I have with it all is that it seems to be taking so long for me to come out the other side of it all. I mean, 12 years SOLID of being a loser is pretty hard to take for most people, and two days’ ago, I realized it’s underneath my eye issues. Hard as I’ve tried to let go, and to have emuna about everything, the fact that I’ve continued my slide towards Class A loser status – despite tons and tons of effort to make something, anything, happen different, or better –  is really messing up my health.

Two days’ ago, I realized I just have to let it all go, if I want to get better again.

I have to stop railing (internally…) against my fate. I have to stop pretending I’m not jealous of the people who haven’t had to go through all this stuff, and to face up to my bad middot squarely, and deal with them properly.

I’ve got to stop thinking that God – or anyone else – owes me anything at all, because really, they don’t! Everything, everything, everything is a free gift.

That people even bother to read my blog is a gift. That I can type (or see…) is a gift. I have to stop hanging out waiting for ‘more’, because that ‘more’ is causing me so much frustration, it’s nearly killing me.

And in the meantime, at least now I know Rebbe Nachman is behind it, and that it’s all purposeful, which is really reassuring, because when you start to feel like you’re ‘bad’, or ‘cursed’ for your life to be so difficult all the time, that’s a very hard place to be in.

All that’s going on is that I’m being a Breslov loser, as described by Rav Hadgbi, in order to crush every last little bit of arrogance and pride out of me.

Yet again, Breslov Torah came through for me with some real answers to my real problems. And all I – we – have to do, dear reader, is hang on a little bit longer, and we’ll get everything back again, even better than it was before.

But minus the ego problem.

Last week, I nearly gave up.

I nearly pulled my blog off the web, I nearly retired from writing, I nearly gave up on my books, and on my efforts to make a difference in the world, everything.

Like so many of us, I’ve had one enormous challenge after another to deal with the last couple of months, in just about every area. Every time I stood back up, some other ‘spiritual tsunami’ showed up to knock me back down, and I couldn’t wait for the Omer to be finished, already, so life could return to being a bit more ‘normal’ and placid.

God had other plans.

The day before Shavuot, I got a nasty letter from an immoral, rapacious firm of Israeli lawyers telling me they were suing me for 40,000 shekels for illegally using an image of Rav Berland.

It took me a day or two to get the letter properly translated, and in the process of doing that it also transpired that this firm gets a percentage of whatever they can wring out of whichever poor sap they targeted, and so they aren’t interested in apologies and token payments.

They want money – lots of it! – tens of thousands of shekels, and that’s the end of the story.

Dear reader, for the last three years of blogging, I’ve been so careful with copyrighted images, but I made a mistake and thoughtlessly used a picture in the public arena under the impression that I was covered by the ‘fair use’ provision in Israeli law.

And now I’m being sued for 40,000 shekels….

The last couple of years, I’ve really struggled with the idea that my profession as a paid journalist effectively disappeared over the last decade. It used to be that I’d write, and get paid a packet. These days, I write and it only costs me money.

I’d made my peace with that too, mostly, but the enormity of the sum involved, and the fact that it was dafka a picture of Rav Berland that sparked off the lawsuit, pretty much brought me to my knees.

For a couple of days, I had such a crisis of faith that I really just wanted to pull the plug on everything and give up there and then. Because I KNOW that I’m getting hit with so much of this stuff because the yetzer wants me to stop blogging about the Rav, and to stop defending him publicly, and to stop explaining what’s going on.

Spiritually, you don’t get anything as big as that for free.

I knew this from when I used to write for Rav Arush’s site, that every ‘real’ piece I posted up that would hopefully really make a difference, and could potentially really help people, would come at the price of me experiencing more madness and turmoil in my private life.

Again, over the years I’ve made my peace with that, mostly, but the ‘price’ got so large last week, I almost gave up and put up the white flag.

‘OK, yetzer, you win! It’s not enough that my books don’t sell, I get grief over email from demented people, and I’m constantly questioning whether I’m doing what God really wants me to do with my life. Now, you’re also fleecing me out of 40,000 – when I’m trying to figure out how to pay for my kids’ braces and only recently stopped panicking about being able to put food on the table… You win! I give up! I will quit writing and go get a job packing groceries somewhere.’

(That last bit is a lie: my spoken Hebrew is so awful I probably couldn’t even get a job packing groceries….)

To sum it up, I got completely buried in an avalanche of despair and bitterness, and I ran out of the energy required to continue.

This continued for two days, and I started spiralling further and further down until God gave me the brainwave of trying to take a note to Rav Berland. So I collared my poor husband, and we walked over to the Rav’s building. I was crying my eyes out the whole way (as I had been for two days, already) so it was left to my husband to hand the note over to one of the court-appointed security guards outside the building who’s effectively become another of the Rav’s unofficial gabbays.

Two minutes’ later, I started to feel like some of my strength was returning. I stopped crying…I stopped feeling like I just wanted to run away from my life, and from Israel…I stopped feeling that horrible, dead-end despair where you just feel like you’re sinking, sinking, sinking and nothing can ever reverse the decline.

I still went to bed pretty miserable and wasted, but I got up the next day with one thought in my head: I am NOT giving up! I’m not going to stop writing about the Rav, I’m not going to retreat, I’m not going to take the easy route!

The crazy Moroccan genes kicked in, in a good way, and I decided to write the last piece about the Rav I posted up here, and give the yetzer a poke in the eye.

I am not giving up, with God’s help! We’re so close to geula you can smell it in the air.

But the last few days, I came really, really close.

Recently, I’ve been having that ‘in-between’ feeling again.

I guess it happens to baal teshuvas a lot, and it must happen to English speaking baal teshuvas who moved to Israel even more, because there are so many more ‘worlds’ that we kind of fall between or outside of.

This time round, it was triggered by my kids’ choice of music. I don’t have radio in the house, we don’t watch videos on Youtube (generally…) or movies, yet somehow secular Anglo culture is still permeating the walls of my home.

My kids both have a lot of music stored on their phones, and a lot of the music they’ve downloaded wholesale from their friends includes Anglo songs by secular singers.

When I first heard Celine Dion blasting out the theme from Titanic on a kid’s phone a few weeks’ back, I couldn’t believe it.

That song used to be one of my favorites back in London, and for three years after I saw the movie, it could instantly trigger off a sobbing fit – because Leonardo di Caprio died!!!

Sniff sniff.

My kids didn’t know this, of course, but it turns out that one kid in particular likes this song, and she started playing it obsessively all over my house.

I didn’t start crying this time, (at least, not for that reason) –  which was good, but what was less good is that it instantly took me back to my London life, and many London memories, from 16 years’ ago. And once that happened, I had that weird feeling again of not really belonging anywhere. I didn’t belong in turn of the millennia London anymore; I didn’t fit into my old neighbourhood any more, I wasn’t interested in the career I’d had, or the shops I’d frequented back then.

But…It was nice to hear music in English.

The next time Celine Dion popped up was even more headwrecking: I was sitting at a mega-frum chareidi ladies event to celebrate the month of Adar, when one of the performers started singing…the theme from Titanic.

Sure, she’d changed the words to Hebrew, and was singing about getting closer to God, etc, but for me, just hearing the intro was enough to immediately whisk me back to London’s West End, and movies, and restaurants, and that whole lifestyle that I left behind again.

And this time, the contrast between London then and Jerusalem now was so big, I felt really, really out of place.

Over the last few weeks, Celine Dion and Titanic have been popping up all over the place, including shops I walk past, and on other people’s loud car radios. And each time, I have to deal with that London bit of me again.

A few days’ back, I was talking to God about it all, and I told Him:

God, I need some music that really speaks for me now. Music in English, by Jews, who are really connecting to God, and to the struggle and the beauty of being a believing Jew in this world. Yes, I know there’s a ton of music like that in Hebrew, but I need some English songs to help me finally dislodge ‘Titanic’, and to help me feel like I belong in the world a bit more.

I asked, but I didn’t think I’d find anything like that.

Then I went to Hevron over chol hamoed, and there on the music stand I picked up the latest CD by one of my favourite Israeli singers, Gad Elbaz.

It’s only when I started playing it at home that I realised: the whole CD is in English!

Gad Elbaz sings a lot about God, and faith, and the deeper side of Jewish spiritual life, but he dresses very spiffily, and also seems to be between worlds in so many ways. When I saw this video (at the bottom of the post) I nearly cried: frum Jews in New York breakdancing and talking about serving God sincerely?!

You have to be kidding me!

Finally, someone is making music for the people in the middle, who sincerely believe in God and are doing their best to keep mitzvot in a real way, but still gel their hair…

I hope you get as much of a kick out of it as I am.

What’s been so hard to deal with the last few years is not so much the money issues, because hey, who doesn’t have money issues one way or another in 2017?

The main thing that’s been so hard for me to overcome is the overwhelming sense of loneliness that so often floods up a week or two before the next Jewish holiday. Anglos are very social creatures. When Pesach looms around the corner, or Rosh Hashana, or Purim, or whatever it is, our first thought is ‘who can we invite’?

At this stage in the game, I realize that part of the reason that God has put me in a space and a place where there are very few opportunities to invite or be invited is because socializing on Jewish festivals and shabbat is often just another form of unhealthy ‘escapism’.

The people I know who have the hardest times just ‘being’ – being themselves, being with their close families, being honest about who and what they really are – are the same people I see repeatedly knocking themselves out on the social circuit.

In London, I used to be like that too.

It was unthinkable for me to spend a whole Shabbat without being invited out, or having guests, for at least one of the meals. The times that happened were so few and far between, and nearly always made for a pretty unpleasant Shabbat.

Shabbat is quiet. There’s no i-Phones, no internet, no work, to movies, no soccer games, no arts and crafts or cooking to distract you away from your inner dimension. If the ‘inner dimension’ is a place where you’re happy to hang out, that’s great, and can be the springboard to enhanced awareness and spirituality. Which is really the original purpose of Shabbat.

But when you’re NOT so happy to spend quiet time in your ‘inner dimension’ – a quiet Shabbat can leave you rolling around on the floor tearing your hair out.

Which is why so many of us Anglos like to entertain so very much, so stop those overwhelming feelings of existential angst and loneliness from surfacing.

I’m the same way!

Except, God hasn’t been letting me get away with it anymore the last few years. Since we moved to Jerusalem two and a half years’ ago, I can count the number of times we’ve been invited out on one hand. I try to invite ‘in’ as much as I can, but that’s also been tricky.

Part of the problem is that there is space for another four people around my table, and most of the families we’d like to invite are much, much bigger than that. But, there’s also the ‘teenager’ factor, which works in two ways:

1) Often, my teenagers feel very awkward around people they don’t know, especially if those people appear to be more ‘more frum’ or different ages than they are, so they don’t enjoy meals with guests so much.

2) We don’t really ‘fit’ into any recognizable Jewish box, so while my husband dresses like a chareidi Kollel guy, I dress chardal (kind of…), one kid dresses ‘dati leumi’ and the other one ‘dati lite’.

Trying to find guests that are comfortable with my family’s diversity is also not so simple, especially when you have factors involved like guarding the eyes, setting a good example to smaller kids, insisting that girls need to wear socks, etc….

It takes a lot of good will on both sides of the equation to make it all ‘work’.

If I feel I’d have to cajole a kid into wearing socks to the table or dressing differently than they usually would in order for my guests to feel comfortable, then I usually can’t invite those guests, however much I personally like them.

Having more money or a bigger apartment won’t solve these issues. But, maybe they’d let me run away from the loneliness a bit more (because I’d build my teenagers their own ‘shabbat’ annex and pretend they didn’t exist.)

My husband and I have no close family in Israel. When the Jewish holidays roll around, I’m getting taken out by a feeling of complete isolation and ‘aloneness’, and that’s what’s so hard for me to come to terms with and accept. I moved to Israel to live a fuller Jewish life. I left behind family and a lot of close friends to be here.

I’ve mostly made my peace with not having a lot of money, a career, external ‘success’ etc, but I can’t make my peace with the loneliness. How can it be that I live in a country of six million Jews, that all my neighbors are Jews, that most of them are even frum Jews – and yet, I dread Jewish holidays because I have no shul I feel comfortable in, no community to belong to, and no-one to spend the meals with?

I miss people.

I miss having friends I could pop in to talk to on Shabbat. I miss having a shul that I knew was ‘my shul’ whenever I HAD to go, like on Rosh Hashana, or to hear Parshat Zachor.

I don’t know what to do about all these issues, and sometimes still, I feel very trapped and miserable about it all. On Purim, my oldest came with me to another ‘frum’ shul to hear Megilla. We lasted five minutes, then we had to go somewhere else. Even on Purim, her ‘not-so-frum teenage girl’ costume (ahem…) was more than the locals could handle (at least, that’s what she felt).

I don’t want my family to spend each holiday divided across four different synagogues, so I’ve been going with my kids to wherever they feel happiest – which is typically a 100% Hebrew speaking Israeli environment where I don’t know anyone and feel like the odd-one-out, but they have tons of their friends.

I’ll write more about this subject, but my family’s experience is just reflecting the splintering that’s occurred at the heart of the Jewish people. I guess I feel it more than most people, because I don’t have a ‘bubble’ of family and old friends from the old country to cushion me.

I think what I’m missing is a sense of unity and connection to my fellow Jew, and a feeling that I truly belong here, in the world, in Jerusalem, in Israel.

Of all the things I’m waiting for Moshiach to help me fix, this is probably the biggest.

God seems to put a different ‘flavour’ or spiritual essence into the air around each of the Jewish holidays.

So it is, before Purim time, I always seem to feel like my life is spiralling out of control and that I barely have time to breathe.

Let’s be clear that I haven’t even got anywhere near to deciding what I’m doing for mishloach manot, who I’m sending them to (or not….) or what’s going to be with the Purim Seuda. Even though it’s already only a couple of days’ away, those things are just not on my radar yet.

Since Rosh Chodesh Adar, I’ve just been running, running, running.

Running to this Rosh Chodesh event, that kid’s performance, this kid’s high school, to the post office, to the Kotel. Of course, these are only the ‘external’ descriptions of what’s going on. The real running is happening internally, where I feel I haven’t been able to sit down, focus or relax properly for weeks.

Mamash, I’ve been caught up in some sort of internal ‘storm wind’ (which as we know is one of the four spiritual ‘klipot’, or forces of evil) which keeps me on edge, on my toes, and running, running, running so fast I don’t have time to breathe, or think, and certainly not to do the washing or shopping.

(Lucky for me, God also made my washing machine malfunction. Since it ‘zapped’ me with static electricity last week, it’s been taking all the lights out every time I turn it on, and I’m running too fast to be able to stop and fix it…Once my husband realises he has no underwear left, I’m hoping he’ll knuckle down and take a look at it. And then also do five loads of laundry. A girl can hope.)

Of course, all this running around is also occasionally dumping me into the midst of the ‘volatile fire’ klipa, too.

Yesterday, I had a road rage incident in the (predominantly Arab…) Jerusalem suburb called ‘Ir David’, the site of the biblical city of David.

Long story short, my kid had a production in the Jewish community hall there, and I had to drive all over Ir David to get to it. The parking was behind a carefully-monitored gate, which I missed and overshot by 2 metres. As I was trying to reverse back, an Arab minibus came right up behind me, and absolutely refused to let me back up.

We got into a standoff for five minutes – because Ir David is a one-way system, and I didn’t want to have to drive all the way around it again – but the Arab driver refused to back up – and boy, my Moroccan genes kicked in.

If my kid wasn’t in the car to calm me down there would have been another stabbing in Jerusalem yesterday – I’ve had gouged his eyes out with my car keys. As it was, I drove off like a woman possessed, loudly cursing the Arabs of Ir David with both windows of my car open.

Five minutes later, when I calmed down a bit, the ‘depressed cloud’ klipa showed up.

Man, after all this work I can still lose it and turn into an enraged would-be murderer…. Luckily, I had a chocolate bar stashed in my bag for this sort of existential spiritual emergency, and after I polished it off, I felt a little better.

But the point is this: Purim is a few short days away, that time of miracles, everything turning around for the best, and profound spiritual work. And I’m so far away from tapping into it this year, and I seem to be running even further away with each hour that passes.

Usually, my hitbodedut, or personal prayer grounds me enough that I can stop running for at least an hour.

But even there recently, my mind has been flitting all over the place and I can’t catch hold of myself, really.

I don’t know what the answer is. I hope God is going to rescue me from the storm wind, and the volatile fire, and the depressive dark cloud soon. And, if I’m really lucky, He’ll do it before Sunday so I can actually get my act together and sort out my mishloach manot, costume and Purim seuda.

Until I find a ‘source’ for my ideas or insights in Torah, I always suspect they may be wrong, or ‘faulty’ in some way.

Torah is truth, and if our modern ideas of how things work somehow clash with the Torah’s ideas, we can be sure that the problem is by us.

So, a little while ago I started getting all of these insights that trauma is what’s causing mental illness, and that in particular, there are four types of ‘stress response’ that most people fall back into, that then causes them to act out in negative ways.

These ‘4Fs’ are the basis of every single one of our bad middot, and every type of mental and emotional disturbance. That’s as far as I got on the ‘secular’ side of the picture, and it tied in very nicely with all the information and insights I had about the Erev Rav, which I wrote up in the book: Unlocking the secret of the Erev Rav.

Still, much as it made sense to me 100%, I hadn’t yet found the source in Torah, so I wasn’t completely sure I was on the right path. Until last week. Last week, I read Rav Berland’s Parsha Sheet talking about Tu B’Shevat, and there were the ‘4fs’ clearly described, from Torah sources.

Here’s what the Rav said in his shiur:

“…on a spiritual level, the year is divided up into four parts, corresponding to the four evil forces (klipot) which are:

1) The storm wind – corresponding to Nisan, Iyar and Sivan

2) A big cloud – corresponding to Tamuz, Av and Elul

3) A volatile fire – corresponding to Tishrey, Cheshvan and Kislev

4) Noga [the klipa that is ‘mixed’ between good and bad, and is the hardest to clarify] – corresponding to Tevat, Shvat and Adar.

“Some people are hot tempered ‘volatile fires’ – they embarrass others and are complete fanatics. Some people personify the ‘storm wind’ – they are fast like the wind, his whole being is a whirlwind, a tornado, hurling everything in his path. Some people are dreary like the ‘big cloud’ – they are grey and gloomy like a cloud, always depressed, always sad….Hashem doesn’t want these three personality types….

“Only after overcoming Noga, the mixture of good and evil, does one merit to reach the ‘still, quiet voice’ [of Hashem – i.e. the soul’s true voice]. To overcome Noga means knowing when to be silent and when to speak.”

If you take a look at the infographic I did on the 4Fs, it’s hopefully obvious how each ‘klipa’ stacks up to each stress response.

FIGHT is the volatile fire.

FLIGHT is the storm wind.

FREEZE is the big cloud.

FAWN / FLATTER is klipa noga.

These are all just ‘klipot’ – i.e. mechanisms that the force of evil is wrapping our innate goodness in, to try to keep us away from Hashem – and they can be overcome!

To put this another way, mental illness and emotional disturbance is simply another way of describing the kabbalist term mochin dekatnut, that’s used to describe a situation of ‘small mindedness’ or ‘constricted consciousness’.

This is SO different from how mental illness / emotional disturbances are treated by secular psychiatry!

Writing in Hilchot Teshuva 5, the Rambam writes:

Every person has the ability to lead a good life and be a Tzaddik, or to lead an evil life and be a rasha…This is a fundamental concept underlying the whole Torah and its mitzvot….You have the ability to choose between all types of human action, whether good or bad…If this were not so, what place would there be for the Torah? With what justice could God punish a rasha or reward a Tzaddik if each does not have perfectly free will to choose his own path?”

This point cannot be stated too strongly, because the Western world, and modern psychiatry, is going all out to push a ‘broken brain’ model of emotional disturbance that basically says all mental illness and emotional problems are rooted in genetics / chemical imbalances, and that they are permanent states.

The corollary of this is that many people believe that as soon as they’ve got some sort of official ‘diagnosis’, that then lets them off the hook of trying to work on their bad character traits, or trying to build up their emuna, or trying to strengthen their spiritual connection to Hashem.

But that’s not at all what Judaism teaches!

Judaism makes it clear that all of us will go through bad patches and have crazy moments where we can mamash act like a psycho. We’re taught that ‘man doesn’t sin unless a spirit of insanity enters him.’ Literally, that means that every single time we do something against Hashem’s will, or against the Torah, or that we lose our temper, or lash out at another person, on some level we’re ‘insane’!

The crazier we are, the crazier we act, the MORE effort we need to be putting into overcoming the bad middot and lack of emuna that’s actually causing the problem in the first place.

This isn’t my idea, btw. Writing in the ‘Garden of Healing’, Rav Arush explains that:

“Anyone who lacks emuna has some form of insanity. Whether one has worries, depression, or fears, all these are mental illnesses, illnesses of the soul. A person who has emuna lives with the reality of the Creator and is filled with joy and contentment. Therefore, talking about emuna and studying it heals the soul.”

Writing in Likutey Moharan I:72, Rebbe Nachman tells us:

“…the evil inclination of most people, which comes from the turbidity of the blood, is great foolishness, insanity and stupidity, as our Sages said: ‘A person doesn’t sin unless a foolish spirit enters him. (Sotah 3a).’”

To put this in different words, Rebbe Nachman is saying to us: “If you’re not a perfect, flawless Tzaddik, that means you’re still doing things wrong, and you’re still a little crazy!”

NEWSFLASH: We’re all a little bit crazy in 2017, me included!

The key is to know that our ‘craziness’ is truly just a ‘klipa’

– something that’s actually external to who we really are, and that we CAN overcome if we accept what we’re actually dealing with, we continue to work on identifying and uprooting our bad middot, and we work on our emuna and keep asking God to help us.