With each day that passes, I realise even more that we’re living in a mad world.

In case you’re wondering why there aren’t a lot of posts going up the site at the moment, there are two reasons for that.

  • I’m in the middle of writing another book, and it’s taking a lot of time.
  • I’m currently having a minor disagreement with my better half, as I really want to write a whole lot more about what’s really going on with the yucky people who are sadly running our part of the world, and my husband is scared that if I do that, I’ll get myself in trouble.

So in the meantime, we’re having something of a stand-off and I’m not sure what exactly I should be writing, if I can’t write what God is putting in my soul to write.

But I can tell you this: it’s a mad world.

And it’s getting madder by the day.

On Shabbat, I went for a walk around Talpiot early in the morning, as the new book is taking a lot of mental concentration and I needed to ‘decompress’ my brain a little, with a longer hitbodedut session than usual.

As I rounded the bend that took me deep into Talpiyot’s industrial zone, which was all but deserted save for a couple of taxis, one police cruiser and a couple of local Arabs on foot, I spotted a strange figure motioning at me to come closer to the bus stop, where he / she was standing.

From a distance, I didn’t know who or what I was dealing with, but I could see the person didn’t look ‘normal’, and I also knew that there was no-one else around to help, if help was required. I took a deep breath, and went over.

It turned out to be a middle-aged woman with a buzz-cut and glasses, wearing boy’s clothes and a pair of oversized black man’s shoes. Even before she opened her mouth, I knew she was totally crazy.

====

“There’s a pedophile here!” She told me, motioning up the road. “He’s attacking his grandchildren, he’s attacking children!”

Well, that certainly got my attention. I debated how I should react to this news.

“Do you want me to flag down the police car?” I asked her.

“No!!!!!” she responded emphatically. “They all want to date me. All the policemen want to date me.” Just then, the police car cruised by and beeped at us, as the crazy woman told me “Don’t look at them, don’t look at them! But you see? They all like me. They were smiling at me, right?”

I tried telling her that I hadn’t been looking at them, as per her instructions, but she wasn’t going to take no for an answer. Crazy people don’t like being told cold, hard facts that interfere with their narrative.

“You from America?” she asked me, suddenly switching into English. It’s part of my ongoing experience of being humbled on a daily basis that even the brain-damaged people I meet in Israel typically speak better English to me than I can speak Hebrew to them. “I’m from England,” I told her warily.

“Yeah!” she nodded. “Eastenders! Teletubbies! I know! I’m your angel, do you know that? God sent me to you to protect you from that pedophile. I want you to stay with me here until my madrich comes to get me.”

It was Shabbos. It was clear (to me) that no madrich was coming to get her.

“Do you have a phone?” she asked me. “No, it’s Shabbat.” “I know, I know, you don’t have to tell me!” she responded angrily. “I’m also making teshuva. Do you have a head-covering for me?” I didn’t.

====

So now I said to myself, God, what do you want from me?

What do you want me to do with this stark-raving crazy lady in the middle of Talpiyot who wants me to wait with her until the Moshiach comes?

The Police cruiser came around again, and this time I went against her instructions and looked in their direction and tried to subtly flag them down. The two policewomen in the car looked at me, then drove off.

“You see? They love me! Right they were smiling at me?! They all want to be my boyfriend. But most of them are married! And I’m not a slut,” gabbled on the crazy lady. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that there were no policemen in sight, and the police women clearly felt they had better things to do than take a crazy lady back to her institution.

“Listen,” she said to me suddenly, as though she’d been reading my thoughts. “I’m not crazy. I just have CP. You know what is CP?” I nodded. “I need you to walk me back to my madrich. I’m your angel. You need me.”

I raised my eyes to the Heavens again.

Lord, what do you want from me?

Go with the crazy woman. You can’t leave her here.

“Where is your madrich?”

“Tzomet Pat”

That was miles away! I sighed heavily. Ok, God. Ok. If that’s what You want, that’s what I’ll try to give You.

====

We started walking, and I realized with sinking stomach that the crazy lady had a really bad limp.

This was going to take ages. She looked at me, saw my bemused expression, and started insulting me.

“You’re a sick person, you know that? You’re mentally ill! You should be in a hospital!”

I raised an eyebrow, than agreed with her. That threw her. So she tried to insult me again.

“What do you have, schizophrenia? Depression? You know, you’re a sick person. You’re not nice. You don’t trust anyone. Come on, trust me!” she told me emphatically. “I’m not going to do anything to you!”

Thanks to my teenagers, my tolerance for being insulted is pretty high.

But even so, she was approaching the cresting point. I realized it would be better for everyone if she continued her monologue in Hebrew. That way I could pretend to be listening without having to get too involved.

====

So she took my hand – for my own safety, of course, so the pedophile wouldn’t get me – and we walked along at 2 cms an hour, over the bike track and up onto the other side of Makor Chaim.

The whole way, she was telling me about her 11 year old son, who wasn’t adopted. And her ex-husband who was a Russian Jew, but they still had to get married in a civil wedding in Cyprus. Now they were divorced. She told me she had cancer. She told me she’d had two serious operations. She told me that Avi had just killed himself, because she’d refused to marry him.

“His Facebook account is blocked now, right?” I nodded mechanically. “That means he’s dead! It’s very sad.” She started crying. “You didn’t kill him,” I told her emphatically (who knows if ‘Avi’ even existed, but when you’re in Mad World, there are certain rules you have to follow.)

She turned on my angrily. Don’t be aggressive with me, ok? I’m a black belt karate! I’ll hit you so hard you won’t get up again!”

She looked at me with angry eyes, and I looked back at her 5ft nothing, limping frame and sighed a very deep sigh again. You can’t disagree with crazy people about anything. They are always right. So I apologized and nodded, and we carried on.

At 2cm an hour.

In the boiling sun.

And I didn’t have any water.

And I was starting to need the toilet.

====

I cleared my throat.

“Do you know where we’re going?”

“Come on! Trust me! What’s the matter with you!!” she started yelling at me again.

I ignored her.

Do you know where we are going? I can’t spend all day going to Tzomet Pat with you.

Right at the beginning of the journey, we’d had a disagreement about the direction to take and fool that I am, I thought she’d really known where she was going. I wasn’t going to make that mistake twice.

“I’m going to ask someone” I told her – which again got her a little mad and panicked, but I wasn’t going to take no for an answer this time.

“It’s FORBIDDEN for you to speak to a man, what sort of religious woman are you?!” she shouted at me, then ran off to flag down the jogging bald-headed man that was heading straight for us.

“Where’s Tzomet Pat?” I asked him. He pointed me in a direction, and the crazy lady started up that he was lying, and that it was the other way. My patience broke.

“Listen,” I said in English. “She’s a little bit crazy, and I’m trying to help her get to her madrich. Please tell me where Tzomet Pat is.”

That was it. I’d done the unthinkable. I’d dared to state that the crazy person was crazy.

I’d broken the cardinal rule of the ‘Mad World’. This was unforgivable.

====

The crazy person turned on me and started abusing me roundly on the street.

“I knew you were a sick person! Get away from me, before I put you in hospital! I don’t want you to come anywhere with me! Go away!”

Now my guilt reflex kicked in. Should I leave the crazy woman here, in the middle of the road? Am I now responsible for getting her home?

I decided to try to follow her stealthily for a minute, hiding out behind some cars, to check she’d be OK. She spotted me immediately, and started abusing me again.

“You’re disgusting! You’re sick! Stop stalking me! Go and get help!”

Just like that, the tables had been neatly turned, and now I looked like the crazy person.

Talk about a mad world.

I turned and walked back in the other direction, towards my home.

The little bit of nachas I’d schlepped from putting myself out to do a mitzvah, however strange and unwillingly, had totally disappeared. Instead, I just felt pretty bad about myself.

God, what was I meant to have done differently? How was I meant to have reacted? Am I really responsible for trying to help these people, who are totally insane?

I don’t have an answer.

I came home in a thoughtful mood, and not for the first time, I thanked God for keeping me out of the loonie bin. Who knows how crazy people really get that way. Certainly, there’s usually been a lot of suffering, a lot of pain, a lot abuse on the way down into the madness.

There but for the grace of God go I.

But in the meantime, it’s a mad world out there, and getting crazier all the time.

And I have no idea, really, how it’s all going to get fixed.

====

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Mad World photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

Is it just me, or are most people getting dumb and dumber by the day?

I’m currently writing another book (!) on stress, and its damaging effects on the brain, so I can tell you categorically that most people today seem to have some form of stress-induced brain damage, that’s causing them to act even more dumb and dumber over time.

People just can’t assimilate new information, they can’t change their minds. They have fixed opinions and they’re unable to see anyone else’s point of view. Depending on what their dominant stress response is, they react to any discomfort socially by going on the attack (FIGHT), running away (FLIGHT), totally ignoring ‘the issue’ (FREEZE), or keeping things so superficially ‘fake nice’ (FLATTER) there’s simply no room for deep thought, or a deep exchange of ideas.

All this happens when people have stress-induced brain damage – and all this is happening in spades all around us, right now. And the more ‘damaged’ the person is, emotionally, the harder they find it to engage with different ideas, new ways of doing things.

Sometimes, I wonder what would happen if the Prophet Daniel had given over some of his wisdom to our generation.

====

MENE MENE, TEKEL UPHARSIN

“It can’t be a real prophecy, I don’t understand it,” sniffed Dumb.

“Never mind that!!” Barked Dumber. “Only xtians talk in riddles like this! That message can’t be from God, because He always expresses Himself very clearly. I don’t think this Daniel guy is even a Jew!!”

And so it continued.

When the Prophet Zechariah would stand up to give over his message for the Jewish people, Dumb and Dumber stood there in the front row, clutching their copies of the Ramchal and heckling him.

Zechariah Chapter 3:

“Hear now, O Yehoshua the High Priest, you and your companions that sit before you; for they are men that are a sign; for, behold, I will bring forth My servant the Shoot.

For behold, the stone that I have laid before Yehoshua; there are seven facets upon one stone; behold, I will engrave the graving thereof, said the Lord of Hosts: And I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.”

‘Rubbish!!!’ Yelled out Dumb.

‘Ridiculous mumbo-jumbo!!!’ Echoed Dumber. ‘If you were a REAL prophet, you’d make this stuff easy to understand, like the Rambam did, and not just lead the masses on with all this xtian-sounding clap trap!’

====

But the person they derided the most was Ezekiel (1:25-7):

“And there was a voice from the firmament that was over their heads, when they stood, and had let down their wings.

And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it.

And I saw as the color of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from the appearance of his loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about.”

‘Is the man on drugs?’ Dumb wanted to know.

‘I think it’s worse than that’, muttered Dumber. ‘Only a XTIAN would try to give the likeness of an appearance to God!!! He’s obviously a false prophet, a false messiah! No wonder he keeps going on and on about the Temple being rebuilt and how it’s all going to look in the future!!! The Rambam would NEVER say something like that!!!’

Who could argue with such erudite YouTube scholars as these?

I tell you what else is very troubling, continued Dumb. This Ezekiel figure is playing with fire. He’s egging on the masses that we’re going to have a rebuilt Temple, and that the Moshiach is going to come. But he’s totally crazy! Look, he’s spent a whole year lying on his side on the pavement, baking his bread over cow dung!! Who does something like that?! Certainly no real Rabbi I’ve ever heard of!

He’s just a delusional charlatan, agreed Dumber. I mean, all those prophecies about the Temple, and did any of them ever happen? He’s just beguiling people with riddles, and filling their heads with nonsense about ‘bones’ coming back to life. You just don’t find reputable Jewish leaders doing things like that. I think he’s a hare krishna.

====

Just then, Dumbest showed up, and all three of them repaired to the nearest pub, to continue their high-level discussion of esoteric Torah principles over a pint of Guinness and a packet of cheese and onion crisps.

Dumbest, what do you think about all these gobbledy-gook ‘pronouncements’ from Ezekiel? Is he a true leader of the Jews, or a false one?

Dumbest put his pint down for a moment (I mean, this was really important, after all!) and after thinking for exactly 5.37 seconds, made his pronouncement:

One thing I know for sure, is that the Mashiach will not speak in riddles which people can interpret any number of ways. Mashiach is coming to make things clearer to us, and erase our doubts, not cause confusion.

Dumb pumped his fist into the air.

Yesss! I knew that guy was a faker!

Someone as clever as Dumbest was never going to make a mistake about something this important….

But Dumber had to ask:

Hey, Dumbest, don’t mind, but can I ask you for your source for that statement?

Sure, Dumbest responded. He looked all around him conspiratorially, then motioned the other two YouTube Sages closer:

My i-Phone has nevua!

Dumb and Dumber were impressed. How could they not be? This is how Jews were really meant to discuss Torah!

====

We’re all Dumb and Dumber today, whether or not we admit it. The ikker is just to have a tad of humility, and to be honest that we have no idea what to really think about anything. That’s really the only smart thing to do at the moment.

That’s also the point I was trying to make HERE:

The way out of this morass, all this ‘feeling confused’ stuff, is just to be honest, and to admit that really, we have no idea what’s going on, or what to think about it all.

It comes back to that whole ‘being real’ idea I discussed over HERE, where it seemed to me that the people who are pretending to be what they’re not seem to be the ones most in danger of turning against the Rav, God forbid, or pinging away in disgust.

HOW COULD THE RAV SAY SOMETHING LIKE THAT?!?!” THEY MUTTER TO THEMSELVES.

Really, they have no idea what the Rav did or didn’t say, what he did or didn’t intend, what did or didn’t actually happen.

But it takes a lot of humility, it takes a lot of self-awareness about your own limitations to really admit that, doesn’t it?

What’s going on right now is a massive birur process, or clarification procedure.

All of us are being tested, but especially on our arrogance, our emuna, and our emunat tzaddikim, or belief in our true Tzaddikim.

And so, the test of Dumb and Dumber continues.

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The last couple of weeks, I feel like I’ve been swept up by some sort of spiritual whirlwind that has just been spinning me around, around, around.

My feet haven’t touched the ground, and every day has been filled with long hours, and not enough time, and massive confusions and inner doubt about what it is I’m meant to be doing with myself.

(And no breakfast…)

I look around, and I see that mirrored back to me all over the world, whether it’s Brexit in the UK, war in Israel, Mueller in the US.

Even the weather is indecisive and unsettled, with summer following winter following summer again in the space of 4 days.

Crazy days, crazy times.

We are all feeling the pressure right now, we can all pick up that vibe that ‘something big’ is coming down to the planet.

And I haven’t even started cleaning for Pesach yet.

First, I have to get April 8th out of the way, I think, which is when we’ll really see what’s about to come next, and if we managed to ‘sweeten’ it enough.

If you can’t make it to Hevron, at least join in over the internet. There are big things going on spiritually, a big fight is happening in Heaven, over whether the next stage of this whole geula process comes easy or hard.

The enemy is literally massing at the border, spiritually and physically.

And our prayers are the only thing that can get us – and hopefully, the whole of the world – through the next few weeks in one piece.

(The prayer gathering in Hevron on the night of April 8th, with Rav Berland, is the thing that is really going to tip the balance between ‘sweet’ or ‘harsh’ over the coming months. Even if you can’t make it in person, you can still participate via life hook-up. I know the tests of emuna are overwhelming at the moment, and the test of believing in our true tzaddikim is harder than ever. But please join in with the gathering for yourself. It’s the best self-defense you can get, at this critical point in time.)

https://ravberland.com/rav-ofer-erez-the-gathering-on-april-8th-is-the-biggest-weapon-we-have/

I have to tell you, when Ori Ansbacher was brutally murdered in the Jerusalem Forest two weeks ago, I found it so upsetting, I kind of blocked it out.

Me and my girls went into shock for a few days, then we all tried to pretend that it was life as usual, because when you live in Jerusalem, and you are a teenage girl yourself, or the mother of one, really what else can you do?

But the fear and anxiety about what had happened still started to seep out, in all sorts of subtle ways.

All of a sudden, I couldn’t sleep easily again if my girls were out by themselves, and I started phoning them up and texting them every five minutes to check on them, which they both really hate.

And who can blame them?! They are 18 and 15 ½! But I’d gotten so nervous again, after what had happened with Ori.

After a couple of weeks of this, I realized I was driving my kids bonkers again, and I have to try and get a grip on the fear again.

God is running the world. God is deciding everything. OK, there is a certain amount of common sense that’s required when raising teens in our world, but ultimately, so many ‘bad’ things can happen in such normal circumstances in the middle of the day.

If God decides, you can be waiting for a bus near Beit El…or strolling on the boardwalk by the sea in Yaffo…or walking in the forest late afternoon near Ein Yael… and disaster can strike. God forbid a million times over.

As a parent, it’s so tempting to just try and bundle our children up in cotton wool, and to build big walls around them, and to try to monitor their every move and to keep them ‘safe’ in their rooms at home.

But we can’t.

Not if we want to raise emotionally-healthy people who aren’t going to spend their whole lives permanently looking over their shoulders, waiting for the hammer to fall.

God is running the world, not us.

It’s not always easy to accept that.

Yesterday, they held a huge concert just up the road from me at the First Station in Jerusalem, to remember Ori Ansbacher. There were a load of famous singers there, Ori’s mother spoke to the crowd, and there were also a lot of videos and ‘remembrances’ of Ori herself.

Half the teens of Eretz Yisrael tried to attend, so the roads around the First Station were closed to traffic, and swamped with thousands of people, many of whom couldn’t even squeeze in, so they watched the show on the big screens set up outside.

This morning, my kid told me all about it, and concluded:

She was a really good, kind person.

In so many ways, it would be easier if she wasn’t, wouldn’t it?

It would feel a bit more comfortable, if the murder victim had been some sort of low-life, so we could assuage our own fears by telling ourselves what happened was somehow ‘deserved’.

Instead, yet again, we buried the cream of the crop. The best of the best. The kindest of the kind.

God knows what He’s doing, God’s running the world, it’s all ultimately for the best.

But the heart still breaks.

And I’m still having trouble sleeping.

I wrote this last Thursday, February 7th.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the dream, I was thinking:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

==

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

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

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

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

Before I threw all my secular CDs away, Queen was one of my favorite bands by a long chalk.

The beats, the melodies, the guitar riffs, the clever lyrics. I loved Queen to bits. One of my all time favourite songs was ‘Under Pressure’.

Dum dum dum diddy dum dum. Dum dum dum diddy dum dum (oo-wa-oop).

Just now, my husband told me that since Chanuka, he’s been feeling like he’s been under non-stop pressure, without any let-up. Thank God, we can pay our bills and nothing particularly ‘major’ is happening to explain this big build-up of tension and stress, but there’s no doubt about it: we’re under pressure.

And we aren’t the only ones.

As ‘the matzav’ in Israel continues to wind its way towards whatever Heavenly goal it’s being designed to achieve, I’ve noticed more and more short tempered outburst going on around me. People are honking more; they’re walking faster (or staying home…); they have less patience for people, they’re more out of it.

In short, they’re under pressure.

All of us are feeling the stress at every level of our being. That much is clear. What’s less obvious (at least to me) is what all this pressure is meant to be achieving. Because for sure, God is doing it for a good reason.

Is He trying to provoke a collective national melt-down, that will lead to a mass teshuva movement?

Is He trying to show us all that we simply can’t get by without Him any more, and He’s going to keep upping the ante until any semblance of arrogance and independence is crushed out of us?

Is He secretly working for Big Pharma, and has bought a bunch of shares in Prozac et al?

I don’t know – which is actually quite strange for me, as I like to think I at least have a small inkling of what God might be planning with all this stuff.

But I don’t. Despite all my hours of praying, and all my efforts to talk to God, and all my attempts to read the runes and decode the hints He’s sending me, and everyone else, I feel that I’m currently sailing in unchartered waters.

To put it another way, I haven’t had a clue what’s been going on in my life, or around me, since Succot, and that doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon. I know the pressure is building – we can all feel it, and you’d have to be crazy to not recognize that ‘something’ is bubbling under the surface.

What the something is, or how it’s going to manifest in the world, is anyone’s guess. I hope its Moshiach. I hope its redemption. I hope it’s chanukat habayit (both personally and nationally). But right now, all I really know is that I’m under pressure, and some days, it really feels like I just can’t take it anymore.

Yesterday, I woke up feeling completely ‘lost’ in the world.

There’s so much going on in my life, and in the world generally at the moment, that I’ve been feeling a huge amount of stress recently.

Big changes are underfoot, and we’re all feeling that tugging away at our sense of stability and ‘groundedness’.

Even though I have so much to do right now, I decided to take a day off and go and wander around Tel Aviv. When I first got to Israel, 12 years’ ago, I used to go to Tel Aviv a lot, as Modiin didn’t even have a mall when we first moved there, and coming from the ‘buzz’ of London I used to feel a little suffocated there.

But I haven’t been to Tel Aviv for a day out for years now, not since I moved to Jerusalem.  But yesterday, I knew I was so ‘lost’ that I wouldn’t get anything productive done via my computer, and big cities are excellent places to hide yourself when you’re already feeling ‘lost’.

There was no rain when I left Jerusalem; it was freezing cold, but the sky above was blue. I checked out a couple of ‘kosher vegan’ places to try in Tel Aviv, printed out some google maps, and headed out the door.

My plan was to pick up some healthy food from the Natural Choice bakery in Jerusalem on the way out to the bus station for the journey out. I got to the Natural Choice, and all they had on the shelves was the sugar-free cookies that are too hard-core even for me.

So, I got an ‘unhealthy’ croissant for breakfast instead, and figured I’d make up my veggies at lunchtime. On the bus on the way out, I just sat there doing some talking to God, trying to get a hold of myself and what it is I’m actually trying to do with my life.  10 minutes out of Tel Aviv, it started raining – and because we’ve had a bad drought here so far, I was thrilled!

Usually, the rain in Israel comes in massive bursts of no more than half an hour, so even though I hadn’t brought an umbrella, I didn’t think the rain would be such a downer on my day.

Man, was I wrong.

At Arlozorov, it was still pouring. I stood under an awning for 10 minutes, but then figured I’d start walking and find somewhere to buy an umbrella. I walked. And walked. And walked. So many shops were shut, because a lot of Tel Aviv had apparently stayed up up late ‘celebrating’ New Year’s Eve, 2018.

I duck into a couple of bus stops on the way, to try and shake off the excess water and dry out a little, but the rain kept on coming. Finally, I found an am:pm market selling umbrellas and my mood lifted: NOW I was going to start enjoying my day out!

I walked up Dizengoff, trying to soak in the big-city atmosphere without drowing….

With the grey skies, rain and gashmius, it so reminded me of London. I used to like that atmosphere, even miss it and pine for it, but as the rain continued on unabated, and the wind started blowing it horizontally into my face, I started to realize just how little fun I was actually having.

Half-drowned and freezing, I got to the Dizengoff centre to see if there was anywhere warm I could sit down, have a cup of tea and dry out a little. There was no-where. Everything is open on Shabbat, so nothing at all is kosher.

I wandered around a bit, past all the xmas trees in the shop windows, the outrageously disgusting tattoo parlors (one of which had a display in the window which probably counts as one of the most disturbing things, spiritually, I’ve ever seen) and also the ‘Wicca’ shop, that appeared to specialize in selling everything to do with the occult and the forces of evil.

The one bright spot was the nice art shop where I picked up a few tubes of watercolour paint – but I was otherwise so grossed-out by the Dizengoff centre, I decided torrential rain being blown into my face was actually preferable.

I got outside, and the mabbul was continuing unabated. My boots were close to giving up the ghost from trying to wade through the 5 inches of water flooding the pavements in a cascade, so I thought this was a good time to visit the ‘kosher’ café I’d researched.

I get there, and guess what? It’s open on Shabbat! I.e. completely not kosher. My heart sank. I asked one of the locals if there was anywhere kosher anywhere nearby, so I could just get a tea and warm up a bit. She looked at me with pity in her eyes.

“No, I don’t think there is,” she said apologetically.

So I asked directions back to the bus station (because my google map had long since disintegrated in my sodden bag) and headed that way instead.

On the way, two things happened:

1) I found a kosher falafel place with whole wheat pita, and I blessed the store owner from the bottom of my heart for actually being a place where a Jew could eat in Tel Aviv.

2) I stumbled across the ‘Gan HaIr’ mall, on the way back to Arlozorov.

Which is when I started to figure out a little about why I’d come to Tel Aviv, and why my day maybe wasn’t the complete ‘wash-out’ it seemed to be. 12 years ago, I also came to the Gan HaIr mall, and dragged my husband and kids there, in my mad chase after designer label clothing.

I forgot how obsessed I used to be about buying designer clothes. I forgot how much I used to obsess over buying ‘the right’ sweater. Yesterday when I walked around that mall for a bit, I remembered how I used to be 12 years ago, and I was so grateful to God that I’m not that person any more.

I came out in a much happier mood, and tried to cross the street that had now turned into a raging river. Some Tel Aviv Temani grandma in jeans called out to me from under her enormous umbrella:

“Baruch Hashem, it hasn’t stopped raining! Usually, it stops for a while, but today it hasn’t stopped raining! Gashmei bracha!

Gashmei bracha.

Soaking through my boots and making my feet freeze solid. Soaking through my skirt making it hard to walk and freezing my legs. Soaking through my bag, and my coat, and my head-covering, giving me that ‘spent-too-much-time-in-the-washing-machine-before-being-hung-up-to-dry’ smell.

The cherry on the cake is when I got curb-splashed with gashmei bracha 100 metres away from the bus back to Jerusalem. Whatever bit of me had stayed dry the last four hours got completely soaked at that point.

I was so tired, wet and cold when I got back to Jerusalem.

But I think I finally got the message.

Too much unrelenting gashmius, with no let up and no break, is not ‘fun’ and is not ‘amazing’ and is definitely not how I want to be spending my life. Gashmius has a place, just as life can’t exist without rainfall. Sometimes, you need to get a bit wet.

But Tel Aviv in the rain reminded me of what I’d left behind in London:

Designer labels, ucky street culture and a life spent half-drowned and frozen to death by gashmei bracha.

Bring on the sun.

How do we trust rabbis again?

These last two posts were actually prompted by an email from a reader, who asked bluntly: how do we trust again?

How do we find a new rabbi, and new spiritual guide, to believe in, when we’ve been so badly burned by all the fakers out there?

I thought quite a bit about how to respond, and that response has turned into these last two posts.

So, continuing where we left off, the first thing to accept about the fake rabbis / rabbanits / mentors / friends etc that we’ve all been burned by and let down by is that on some level, it had to happen that way.

Remember the three rules of emuna:

1) God’s doing everything

2) It’s all somehow for my good

3) There is a message contained in everything that happens about what I myself need to work on, change, fix, apologise for, accept or improve.

For as long as I was blaming the people who’d tripped me up instead of seeing God behind everything, I got stuck in a very hard, bitter, angry place. As soon as I accepted that whatever happened had to happen, and that if hadn’t been that way, I would have lost my home, my friends, my financial stability, my health some other way, I could start to let go of the grudges and vengeance.

Which then led me on to the second part of the equation: seeing the good in what happened.

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Again, this was really, really hard work. Trying to see the good in having no home of my own, no money, no social support, two very distraught kids, and big challenges on the emuna, health and shalom bayit fronts was not an easy thing.

It took an awful lot of talking to God about everything, and an awful lot of inner work, before I could recognize how much of what happened had to occur in order to fix some huge, outstanding bad middot that had been floating underneath my radar.

To give a couple of examples, I had no idea what a house-owning snob I really was, until I stopped owning a house and had to rent something as cheap as I could find. I was so embarrassed by my home I wouldn’t even let my visiting family from abroad see it the first year I was here. I had to swallow so much of my pride, and recognize just how ungrateful I’d been about so many things, before I could accept and even sometimes enjoy living in my rented dump.

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Another thing I hadn’t realized is what a religious phoney I’d turned into, before I got to Jerusalem.

Externally, I was looking and acting more and more ‘pious’. Internally, I had so much work still to do. When everything fell apart so badly, God really gave me the chance to try to serve Him lishma, for its own sake.

And not because I had a great community, a good job, a nice house, money, friends, amazing shalom bayit. Everything hit the wall all at once, and God was waiting to see if I’d still stick around. Thank God for Rebbe Nachman, because he’s the one that brought us through it all intact. Without Uman and hitbodedut, I have no idea if I’d have been able to stand up in the test.

As time has gone on, I’ve made more and more teshuva as a result of the awful circumstances I found myself in, and at this stage, I’m really starting to reap the fruit of working on all those bad middot in a whole bunch of ways.

So really, all those ‘fake rabbis’ did me a favor.

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Which brings me to my next point: Most of us wouldn’t last 5 minutes if we were next to the true Tzaddikim. These people see right through you, they exude holiness and kedusha, and they are on such a high level they often seem downright strange to people like us who are so sunk in our own confused, materialistic little bubbles.

Could you really hack being told to ‘guard your eyes’ all the time? Or to chuck out your i-Phone? Or to put what’s good for your kids ahead of what’s good for you?

Really?

Recently I heard about a wedding which was overseen by another ‘fake’ rabbi who arrived three hours late and who appeared to be drunk / high. Apparently half the crowd was high as a kite, too, but in that ‘spiritual’ sort of way that characterizes certain segments of the religious world in Israel.

The groom’s mother explained that: ‘If my son wasn’t with this guy, he’d still be doing what he’s doing, but in a completely unholy way.’ I.e. in his own way, this fake rabbi is actually doing something useful, and keeping people closer to Hashem than they would otherwise be.

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We don’t live in a perfect world.

As I said in the last post, we get attracted to these people in the first place because on some level, they are telling us what we want to hear and reflecting our prejudices back at us. The more we work on ourselves, the ‘higher’ the ‘holier’ the rabbi, the rebbe, the spiritual guide we’ll be attracted to.

Which brings me to my last point, for now: how do we trust again? How do we trust rabbis and religious authorities again when we’ve been so badly burned in the past?

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Here’s what works for me:

1) Do hitbodedut every single day, preferably for an hour.

If you don’t do this, you’ll have no idea who you really are and where you’re really holding, especially in regards to your own bad middot and issues. Fakers can only fool us if we’re continually fooling ourselves about who we really are and how we’re really behaving.

2) Picture every single ‘rabbi’ or other person you want to trust or get closer to in your hitbodedut.

The real ones will loom so large in hitbodedut, or look so big, bright and shiny, you’ll immediately get a clue as to what’s going on with them, spiritually. And the opposite is also true: false rabbis, rebbetzins and ‘friends’ will give you the creeps on some level, when you picture them in your hitbodedut.

And whatever cue your unconscious mind is giving you – about anyone! – listen to it.

3) Don’t give your free choice away to anyone.

If you’re being advised to do something that you simply can’t or really don’t want to do – don’t do it.

Don’t do anything that you yourself can’t live with, or take the responsibility for, because ultimately, it’s your life, and the buck stops with you.

While we like to kid ourselves in theory that we can blame other people for our bad decisions, we are still the ones who have to live with the consequences, and if you can’t stomach the possible negative consequences of an action, you shouldn’t do it.

There’s so much more to say about the topic of ‘how to trust again’, but that’s enough for now.

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The takeaway message is this:

How can we start to trust again? Only by asking God to show us who the real Tzaddikim are all the time, and by not fooling ourselves about who we really are and what we really need to work on, middot-wise. If we do these two things, it’s very unlikely that we’ll get caught up with fakers in the future, even if they do have the biggest beards and fan clubs in the world.

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A few years’ ago, me and my husband got burned by three ‘big’ rabbis in a row.

Each one was a ‘name’, each one was connected to Breslov, each one left an indelible imprint on our lives – and eventually, we discovered that each one was a ‘false rabbi’. One of them started up a sadna that was based on the opposite of Torah and Breslov principles  – particularly the principle of Azamra, or seeing the good especially in yourself – which my husband attended a few short months after his dad unexpectedly died.

My husband was in a particularly vulnerable place at that stage, and his dad’s passing had left him with a lot of unresolved issues. This sadna was billed as ‘the answer’ to all of life’s questions, and this big, Breslov rabbi was behind so it seemed like a great idea.

When my husband got this big Breslov rabbi as his personal mentor, we thought ‘wow, what an honor!’ Six weeks’ in, my husband really, really wanted to switch mentors, and I wouldn’t let him. I thought it was just his ego, and that this ‘big Breslov rabbi’ was heaven-sent to help us both grow and progress.

Man, was I wrong. That guy completely messed my husband up, severely messed up my shalom bayit (for years!) by telling my husband that he ‘lacked manliness’ and left us in a place where my husband was profoundly disliking himself and everyone else, too.

That set the stage for false rabbi #2 to step in.

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As a result of false rabbi #1, we started to think that so many of our relationships were unhealthy and toxic. We asked rabbi #2 what to do about all these poisonous, unhealthy, distressing relationships – and he told us to cut off contact and ‘challenge’ everyone on their flaws.

(Again, the polar opposite of the ‘Azamra’ approach).

Within a few short months, we were almost completely friendless and so very, very lonely. Still, I had no idea that all these rabbis weren’t the real deal, didn’t have ruach hakodesh and were actually no more clued up about my life and what I should be doing in it than I was myself.

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Around this same time, false rabbi #3 started giving a whole bunch of classes about how people with emuna shouldn’t work for a living (without telling his class that his wife was slaving away at a full-time job in order to support his family….)

At that point, my husband was so miserable, and so desperate for things to feel better, he decided he needed to show God how much emuna he had by quitting the job that he’d also come to hate. He told this ‘rabbi’ his plan – and instead of talking him out of it, the guy egged him on!

So he quit.

And six months later, we had to sell our house to pay the bills, which segued into a whole, incredibly difficult few years that Baruch Hashem we finally started to come out of a couple of years’ back.

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At the time all this was happening, we had no clue that all three of these ‘rabbis’ weren’t so good for us.

All these false rabbis knew more Torah than us, they all had impeccable credentials, they all looked the part and talked the talk.

But following their advice left our life in tatters, and came pretty close to permanently sinking my faith in humanity.

Within two short weeks of asking Hashem to show us who the real Tzaddikim in the world really were, all these ‘false rabbis’ got unmasked – at least in our eyes – one after another. Which was a good thing, because we finally had clarity, but also a ‘bad’ thing, inasmuch as my desire to ‘out’ them and to tell everyone else about them was so overwhelming, I almost set up a website devoted to doing just that.

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What stopped me was a visit to Rabbi Arush.

Without us saying the names or any identifying details of the rabbis who had burned us so badly, we could see that Rav Arush knew exactly what we were talking about. He told my husband he wasn’t crazy for thinking what he was thinking – three times – and then told my husband – again three times – to just have patience.

Things would sort themselves out, eventually.

Again, this was clearly advice from a true tzaddik, but at the time it took so much effort to calm down and follow it. I was so full of vengeance! I was so angry! I was so disgusted! Today, I thank God a hundred times a day for Rav Arush and his advice, and that Hashem helped us to actually follow it.

Because after doing a good couple of years’ hitbodedut on the whole subject of ‘false rabbis’ I’ve realized that while it would be SOOO easy to blame all my problems and my difficulties on them, in reality, God was behind everything that happened to us, and we certainly deserved everything we went through.

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It’s human nature to want the short-cut, to want the easy life.

The idea that I can find a ‘rabbi’ who will tell me what to do, and how to think, and how to act and decide all the difficult details of my life – and it’ll then all turn out perfect all the time – is overwhelmingly appealing to most people, especially in our generation, when we’re so beset by inner turmoil and huge doubts, anxieties and fears.

But Hashem only created us in order for us to get to know Him, and to exercise our free choice. So when we try to give our free choice away to another person – even if that person is genuinely a tzaddik and amazing in all respects – that’s only going to lead to trouble, one way or another.

Whatever ‘reed’ we rely on, that is not Hashem, is destined to splinter in our hands.

When it came to our three false rabbis, each one was reflecting our own prejudices and problems, in some way. That’s why we liked them so much. One of them was basically telling us that our lives were entirely in our hands, and that all it took to fix everything was ‘clarity and willpower’. God was effectively out the picture.

Another one was basically telling us that the way to deal with whatever and whoever we didn’t like was simply to cut them out of the picture and pretend they didn’t exist – even though God had sent them into our lives for an express purpose. We had a lot of teshuva we needed to make and that’s why we had all these difficult people mirroring our own difficulties back at us in such a disturbing way.

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Again, cutting these ‘messengers’ out of the picture the way we did was effectively cutting God out the picture.

Another one was playing to our false sense of piety, and reflecting back at us our (false…) inner conviction that a) we were on a high enough spiritual level to be sustained economically with no effort other than prayer and b) God somehow ‘owed’ us an easy, good life for doing all this extra, super-duper pious stuff. Again, we liked this guy initially because he was telling us what we wanted to hear.

And so it is with all these false rabbis.

They tell us what we want to hear, they play to our prejudices, they promise us shortcuts in our spiritual work, if only we follow them and throw our ability to choose for ourselves away.

And then when it all goes wrong, they go AWOL and / or tell us it was all our fault, anyway.

And on some level, they’re actually right, because we are all responsible for our own actions and our own decisions.

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You went ahead and married the guy? Stop blaming the matchmaking for forcing you into it.

You went ahead and quit your job? Stop blaming your friend for talking you into it.

You went ahead and made a really terrible business investment? Stop blaming the person who made the introduction.

This is the lesson I had to learn – the hard way – for myself. We chose to start blaming other people for our problems. We chose to listen to people who told us to cut ourselves from everyone else. We chose to try to live on prayer alone.

Ultimately, the buck stops with us.

There is no-one else to blame, and no-one else to point the finger at.

Understanding that is key to moving past the hurt and betrayal caused by all these false rabbis, so that we can get to the next stage of the process called: how to trust again.

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So, if you remember from a few months’ back, I was having enormously troubling ‘evil eye’ issues where some weird thing was growing on my eyelid and my eye was very painful and generally just not in a good place.

I tried this, I tried that, I bathed it in gallons of colloidal silver, I worked the associated meridians, I stuck seeds wherever I could, I even ‘one brained’ it, to see if some deeper emotional or spiritual issue was at play that I couldn’t get to by myself.

Nothing worked, and the eye continued to get worse and worse.

So then, I went through a whole ‘eye teshuva’ checklist that included taking my internet use way down, chucking out any books that were remotely on the ‘dodgy’ list and generally trying to be more careful about what and how I was looking at things.

That worked a little, but the eye still wasn’t doing so well.

So then, I sent in a question to Rav Berland about my eye, and I got back the weird answer that I should be careful about guarding my eyes….

Errrr, I’m a woman….

But the Rav, in his wisdom, knew exactly what he was talking about. Two weeks later, I saw THIS video on Azamra from Rav Ofer Erez where he explained how ‘guarding your eyes’ also means judging your fellow Jew favourably, and I realised I had my work cut out for me.

Man, doing Azamra is SO HARD!!!

At least for me.

But up until Rosh Hashana, I put everything I had into uprooting my jealousy, hatred, anger and ‘harsh judgments’ of other people – and the eye got better! The yucky thing disappeared, and it stopped hurting me and being all gunky.

Sadly, since Rosh Hashana I seem to have fallen off the ‘Azamra’ bandwagon somewhat. I did really well while I was in the UK sitting shiva for my husband’s mother who unexpectedly passed away straight after Rosh Hashana. But a bit of me feels maybe I used up all my ‘Azamra’ juice for the year in that four day visit.

Because now, so many people are bugging the heck out of me!

I was walking around Geula yesterday, and I got flaming mad at about four different people in the space of half an hour. Some nine year old blatantly pushed in front of me while I was queuing up to buy (yet another….) school text book, and I felt so aggrieved.

“I was here first!” I told her – and she shrugged her shoulders and carried on asking the saleslady to bring her more books.

Then in the supermarket, some ‘distinguished’ looking man in the all-black get up let out a huge belch just as I walked past – and I was SO grossed out! Yes, I know he’d just swigged down half the bottle of coke (that he hadn’t yet paid for, which is sometimes the Israeli way) – but still! Is that Derech Eretz?! On some level, that still counts as acting like a pig, no?

Then on the walk back to my house, I had to keep weaving all over the pavement to avoid being mowed down by some very scary matrons pushing their strollers with a very determined look in their faces. And a bunch of teenagers kept ‘veering’, unseeing, into my path. And there were a few fat men who I had to walk ‘around’ (i.e. by going into the road) because the pavements of Meah Shearim are very narrow, and the rules of engagement are very pronounced (I have no problem with that, btw, or at least, not on a regular day.)

But yesterday, everything and everyone seemed to be bugging me maximally, and as my eye has been hurting me and going a bit funny again over the last couple of days, I realised with a jolt that I have officially fallen off the ‘Azamra’ bandwagon, and I need to try to climb back on ASAP.

But I’m so tired at the moment…

I feel I ran out of energy for all these big, energetic, pious ‘upswings’, even though I know God still wants it from me, and that my own life is so much better and nicer when I see the good in people, instead of grumbling about all their faults and flaws all the time.

But the problem is, I have run out of energy to fix my bad middot!

And I still have a lot of bad middot to fix….

So I’m in somewhat of a bind.

As I was pondering this in my talking to God session, the idea popped into my head that while I can’t seem to do Azamra for a lot of other people at the moment, I can still do Azamra for myself, and to try to understand why I’m acting and reacting the way I am at the moment.

I’m exhausted! I just came through some extremely trying circumstances and God is still waking me up every single night with some combo of the mosquito in the room / teenager out the house / early-rising husband making loud ‘adjusting his belt’ noises while I’m trying to sleep.

The last time I slept really well, all through the night, was in 5777…

So I have some mitigating factors, I know. But still, I miss that nicer, calmer and more patient version of me that seems to have gone AWOL at the moment.

I hope that she’s going to step back into the picture again soon.