Posts

Rebbe Nachman explains the difference between Moshiach ben Yosef and Moshiach ben David

Over Shabbat, I was reading one of Rebbe Nachman’s stories, which I realized is describing the difference between Moshiach ben Yosef and Moshiach ben David. I’m bringing an abridged version of it below, together with the commentary that goes together with it from Rav Natan, and from Likutey Moharan I:20 [in bold, square brackets]. My own comments will be underlined.

====

New Stories: #209 in Tzaddik, by the Breslov Research Institute

 

The beginning of the Summer, 5564 (1804). The Rebbe said: I will tell you what I saw. And you tell your children.

There was someone lying on the ground and around him people were sitting in a circle.

This is Moshiach ben Yosef.

Around this circle was another circle. And around that circle was another circle, and so on – many circles. Then around them were sitting more people in no particular order. The circles contain Moshiach ben Yosef’s followers.

The one who was sitting in the middle – he was leaning on his side – was moving his lips and all those around him were moving their lips after him.

[This refers to teaching / learning Torah – this soul is the source of all the Torah explanations.]

After this, I looked and he was not sitting there – the one in the middle, that is. And all those sitting around stopped moving their lips. I asked, “What is this?” They answered me that he had become cold and had expired and he had stopped speaking.

After this, they started to run, and I ran after them. I saw two palaces – very fine, beautiful buildings. Sitting there were two commanders. They all ran to these two commanders and started arguing with them.

[This refers to the concept of machloket and controversy – the opposition which is aroused against the Tzaddikim when the power to draw forth Torah explanations is withdrawn.]

“Why did you deceive us?” They wanted to kill them.

The followers of the original Moshiach ben Yosef are very unhappy that they didn’t actually get Moshiach / geula, in the end. Rebbe Nachman now explains the spiritual reasons for this, by way of a parable.

The commanders fled outside. I saw them, and their nature was very good in my eyes. I ran after them and I saw in the distance a beautiful tent. From there they cried out to the commanders: “Turn back and seek out all the merits you have and take them in your hands and go to the light which is hanging there. There you will accomplish everything you want.”

They turned back and took their merits – i.e. all their mitzvahs – there were bundles of merits there – and they ran to the light. I ran after them and saw a gleaming light suspended in the air. The commanders came and threw their merits to the light.

[They mentioned their merits and good deeds, and tried to get the geula that way.]

From the light, sparks fell into their mouths. Then the NoR, lamp, turned into a NahaR, river, and everybody drank from the river, and creatures were formed inside them. When they started to speak the creatures came out of them and I saw them running and returning. They were neither men nor any kind of animal – just creatures.

[These creatures are angels, who get their strength from Edom, who has been appointed over all the punishments of the wicked.]

After this they decided to go back to their place.

This is referring to Eretz Yisrael / Beit HaMikdash / the state of spiritual purity that existed at the time of the Garden of Eden, and which will exist again in the world-to-come.

But they said: “How can we go back to our place?” Somebody said: “We should sent to the one who stands there holding a sword which reaches from heaven to earth.”

[This is a reference to the angel of Edom, Esav’s angel, aka the Samech Mem himself.]

Edom, i.e. the West / Christianity is what’s stopping the Jews from returning to Israel en masse and rebuilding the Bet HaMikdash, and also has the ‘power’ the Jewish people requires to punish and subdue the wicked.

They said: “Who should we send?” They thought they should send for the creatures, and the creatures went there. I ran after them and I saw him. He was terrifying. His stature reached from the heaven to the earth. In his hand was a sword reaching from heaven to earth. It had many blades.

One of them was sharp – this was for killing. One of them was for poverty, one of them for weakness. There were also many other blades for other punishments.

They started pleading: “All this long time we have been suffering at your hands. Now help us and bring us to our place.” He said: “I cannot help you.” They pleaded: “Give us the blade for death and we’ll kill them.” But he didn’t want to. They asked for a different blade, but he did not want to give them a single blade.

[He didn’t want to help them to subdue the wicked people, because of the mistake they made by trying to ‘force’ the geula via good deeds etc, instead of breaking their hearts, begging and entreating Hashem to bring it.]

They went back.

Either back to ‘normal’ life, forgetting all about Moshiach / geula, or back to their bad habits before they made teshuva as a result of learning the Moshiach ben Yosef’s Torah teachings.

In the meantime, there was an order to kill the commanders, and they cut off their heads.

[The ‘head’ can refer to daat, internalized spiritual knowledge, as well as the more obvious connotation as the ‘head’ of a particular movement or group.]

Meanwhile, the sequence of event returned to what it had been before – namely that someone was lying in the ground surrounded by circles of people, and so on.

This is now referring to Moshiach ben David, and his followers.

They ran to the commanders – everything happened as described before – except that now I saw that the commanders did not throw their merits to the light. They simply took their merits and went to the light and broke their hearts i.e. did some hitbodedut, which Rebbe Nachman frequently characterizes as spending an hour being broken-hearted before Hashem, while you do a cheshbon hanefesh and acknowledge your faults, flaws and errors.

And they began to beg and make entreaties before the light-  another reference to praying – and sparks fell from the light into their mouths. They entreated more and the light turned into a river, and the creatures were formed etc.

They told me, “These ones will live” – i.e. Moshiach ben David and his followers will actually make it through to geula and the world to come – because the first ones deserved to be killed for throwing their merits to the light and not making entreaties like these latter ones. I didn’t know what this meant.

They said to me: “Go into that room and they will tell you the explanation of this.” I went and there sat an old man. I asked him about the matter. He took his beard in his hand and said to me: “My beard is the explanation of what happened.” I still don’t know,” I said. “Go to that room,” he replied, “and there you will find the explanation.”

I went there and saw a room infinitely long and broad, entirely filled with writings. Wherever I opened I saw the explanation of the story.

[This vision is connected to Lesson 20 in Likutey Moharan Part 1.]

====

HERE IS SOME OF WHAT REBBE NACHMAN WRITES IN LESSON 1:20:

“When one prays before giving over a [Torah] lecture, one must pray with supplication, begging God for gratis instead of asking for one’s due….

“But Moses [i.e. the redeemer / Moshiach ben Yosef] did not do this. He rather cited his own goodness and righteousness…as one who grabs something forcefully and without consent, for he sought in the power of his good deeds….

“…whoever tries to ‘force the moment’ (literally, ‘pressures time’) – the ‘time’ pressures him, causing one to die before one’s time. [This is why Moshiach ben Yosef died ‘prematurely’, before the job of bringing the geula was completed.] For this reason, one should never pressure oneself for anything, but beg with supplication. If God grants it, good, and if not, not.”

====

Next, Rabbenu turns to the subject of attaining the Land of Israel.

“[T]he land of Israel is one of the three things that can only be attained through suffering (Brachot 5a) and the main suffering is the obstacles of the wicked, who slander the land. These wicked must first be subdued with a sword and death, and only then can one enter the Land of Israel.

“However, the power to punish the wicked can only be acquired from the power of Edom, for that is his power, as in: “You will live by your sword” (Genesis 27:40), and he draws sustenance from the astrological sign of Mars. [Which is related to bloodshed and war, and the Jewish month of Nisan – the month of redemption.]”

====

Rebbe Nachman now explains that the Angels which can defeat and kill the wicked are formed from the original Torah insights of the Tzaddik / Moshiach ben Yosef / Moshiach ben David.

But, when the Tzaddik’s followers don’t put an emphasis on personal holiness – i.e. guarding the brit, guarding the eyes, modest behavior and dress – these Angels then lack the power to actually destroy the wicked people who are slandering the Land of Israel.

Depending on how ‘weak’ these angels become, in descending order:

They can’t kill them; then they can’t punish and intimidate them; then they can’t rouse the nations of the world against them; then they can’t even silence them from speaking evil in our presence “so that their words do not enter the ears of the masses. And sometimes even this power they lack – all according to the degree of holiness that is lacking.”

====

Rabbenu then goes on to explain that the lack of personal holiness amongst the Jews is the main thing empowering the wicked people who are slandering the land, and preventing the Jews from returning to the Land of Israel.

Moshiach ben David succeeds where Moshiach ben Yosef failed, because he prays before he gives over his Torah lessons, and he focuses on increasing personal holiness amongst his followers, not just doing more good deeds and mitzvahs.

====

Rebbe Nachman then explains the nine rectifications of the beard, and how they lead to the Land of Israel, as follows:

  • Take the staff – this refers to the Tzaddik’s Torah lectures that he gives over to his followers. This Torah has to be drawn with prayer, not with ‘force’, in order for the rest of the process to work.
  • Gather the people together’ – to subdue the evil elements the community contains.
  • Speak to the rock with supplications’ and prayers – this refers to the need to have yirat shemayim, or Fear of Hashem.
  • ‘In their presence’, to bond with them – the Tzaddik’s soul has to become ‘bound up’ with his followers / the Jewish people.
  • To draw fiery words – actually an allusion to drawing down Divine mercy on the Jewish people.
  • To draw Torah – the Tzaddikim are judged to a hairsbreadth, and if they are blemished in some way, they can no longer draw the Torah required to bring geula.
  • To create angels.
  • To receive power from Edom to subdue the enemies / wicked who are slandering the Land of Israel.
  • To enter the Land of Israel.

If any of these steps are missing, we can’t ‘enter the Land of Israel’ / truly get to the geula shleima.

====

Ad Kan.

There is so much more to say about all this, and it seems to me that so much of what we’ve been discussing here on the blog is alluded to in this lesson in quite an awesome way.

(If you want more insights into the very deep concepts being brought in this story, take a look at Day 3 of Rebbe Nachman’s tale of the Seven Beggars. The ‘heart of the world’ also seems to be refering to Moshiach ben Yosef and his followers.)

Moshiach ben Yosef failed to bring geula, because the emphasis was on stressing how many mitzvoth and good deeds were going on, as opposed to praying heartbroken prayers that God should bring the geula, as a free gift. Trying to force the issue just led to the Moshiach ben Yosef dying prematurely, leaving his movement without a ‘head’, i.e. a real direction, or daat, internalized spiritual knowledge of what to do next.

Hopefully, Moshiach ben David will have more success.

These things are so awesomely deep, there are so many spiritual rectifications going on. It’s totally beyond us to understand what’s really happening by ourselves, and only our true Torah sources and real rabbis can guide us in the right direction.

Why ‘aliyah bullying’ is just a massive red herring.

For most of us who live in places where Chabad has a presence, we’ve got used to their ubiquitous little tables set up with tefillin, and the inspiring way they encourage so many Jews who otherwise wouldn’t give the mitzvah of laying tefillin a second thought, as they run around their busy lives.

Come rain or shine, those Chabad shlichim don’t miss an opportunity to call Jews over to them on the street, and ask them if they’d like to lay tefillin.

Let me ask you something:

Is that ‘tefillin bullying’?

I mean, there are 613 mitzvahs, and not everyone is going to have the privilege of doing all of them in one lifetime. Surely, when the Chabad shlichim are coaxing people to spend a few precious moment connecting to God, and putting God’s mitzvah of laying tefillin ahead of what they themselves wanted to be doing at that precise moment, that is a good thing, isn’t it?

Let’s explore another example.

Say, we have a guy who doesn’t eat kosher. Say, that guy has a ‘religious’ sister who is trying to encourage him to swear off the pork, and to only eat kosher meat. Let’s eavesdrop on that conversation, a little:

Sister: You know, my dear brother, every time you eat another rasher of bacon, it’s disconnecting you from God and doing terrible damage to your soul. You are such a refined Jewish neshama! Eating pork products is so beneath you, sweet brother. And also, God doesn’t like it very much.

Brother: I find your comment to be kosher bullying. You telling me that God doesn’t like it when I eat pork doesn’t help me to feel good about myself as a Jew, and it doesn’t help anyone.

Do we agree with him?

What about the Jewish boy who is seriously dating that nice, non-Jewish girlfriend? His mother realizes that things are getting serious, and arranges to have a last-ditch talk with him:

Mother: I know I didn’t raise you right, I know I didn’t take the Torah seriously, I know I put what was easy and comfortable for myself ahead of what God really wanted me to do, and how He really wanted me to live, as a Jew – but please, I’m begging you, don’t marry that girl! It’ll devastate me, and end 3,000 years of Jewish continuity, because your kids won’t be Jewish!

Son: Mother, I feel intimidated by these kind of comments. I’m fed up with all your nonsense about your grandchildren not being Jewish. I’m standing up for my rights to live exactly how I want. There are many, varied reasons why I just couldn’t find a Jewish girl to date, and at this stage, I don’t believe I need to.

[Mother bursts into heart-wrenching sobs].

Son (increasingly defensive…): I’m just defending my right to live my life and not be attacked because I can’t just break up with the woman I love and marry someone Jewish instead. Well done to you, mother, that you married a Jew, but spare a thought for those who have tried and failed to find a Jewish spouse. I had to date outside the faith just to get a girlfriend, and I have other Jewish friends who won’t even consider marrying a Jew now, because it was so hard for them on the Jewish dating scene.

Is this “don’t marry out” bullying?

And if the answer is ‘yes’, is that a bad thing?

If something is a mitzvah, if something is a Torah commandment, then surely we should be encouraging other Jews to do it, with all our strength? Part of the reason I’m so in awe of my local Chabad shlichim here in Jerusalem is that they are actively encouraging Jews to do mitzvahs every single day.

Come listen to the Purim Megillah!

Come join us for the Pesach Seder!

Come participate in Kaparot, come listen to a lecture on the Tanya, come give some tzedaka to build our new shul!

Do I have the wrong end of the stick here?

Instead of thinking how awesomely inspiring it is that they are constantly encouraging me to move out of my comfort zone, and to move past my laziness and apathy and yeoush and disinterest, I should be accusing them of mitzvah bullying, instead?

That doesn’t sound right to me.

Everyone has their reasons why certain mitzvahs are hard for them. For example, the mitzvah of covering my hair as a married woman is really, really hard for me. It was so hard for me, I didn’t do it for the first eight years I was married.

But that doesn’t meant that I started justifying what I was doing to myself, and explaining how my ‘mission’ in life didn’t include covering my hair, or how my big, important job working for the British government meant I had a free pass on covering my hair.

I didn’t cover my hair because I wasn’t sufficiently motivated to cover my hair, and my personal circumstances, outlook, work (and crazy, crazy big hair!) all made it very difficult to do.

But I still acknowledged I was in the wrong, and that God really did want me to cover my hair.

And, I was still very impressed by my friends and acquaintances who were covering their hair full-time, because I knew how much inner strength and determination that required.

So what changed?

Things changed when we finally got to Israel, and my parnassa hit the skids, and I started to realise that me not covering my hair – as well as a whole bunch of other ‘little’ things, like not benching after bread, and wearing jeans, and going to the movies – actually had some serious spiritual consequences, and was causing me a lot of issues in my actual day-to-day life.

I started covering my hair with such a bad grace – but my shalom bayit picked up instantly, and my parnassa also rebounded (not immediately. God likes to maintain something of an illusion with these things, to preserve our free choice.)

So now, I happily choose to cover my (still crazy….) hair, not because I like the mitzvah, not because it’s easy – it’s still so very, very hard, and I’ll post about all that another time – but because:

I realized this is what God wants.

And that doing what God wants makes my life so much easier and nicer.

There are certain spiritual rules God put in place for how He wants Jews to live, and how Jews can best maximize their spiritual potential. Sadly, plenty of Jews today don’t even know about these spiritual rules, and the mitzvoth that they are clothed in.

The fewer of these ‘rules’ a Jew operates by, the more difficult, stressful and challenging their lives inevitably will be.

So let’s ask this again, is it right to ‘lecture’ other Jews about doing mitzvoth?

That’s an interesting question, isn’t it? When people put out memes with “love your fellow Jew as yourself”, is that considered ‘lecturing’? How about if they share a shiur on avoiding sinat chinam and lashon hara?

Is that considered ‘lecturing’?

Couldn’t every single one of us turn around and say something like:

Nice for you, that you’re managing to avoid slandering people all the time and hating other Jews who are different, but some of us just couldn’t get there, hard as we tried. Some of didn’t have the strength to avoid participating in all the juicy gossip on Facebook. Some of us just couldn’t continue seeing the good in other people, some of us just had way too many bad middot to overcome to have the energy to start working on our own sinat chinam, even though we know deep down that’s preventing the geula and causing us so much suffering in our own lives.

But God is surely going to save me, despite all my bad middot and unrepentant aveirot! I don’t doubt that for a moment!

Couldn’t we all make that same argument about every mitzvah we find hard, and that we don’t really want to do?

And then what? Where does reward and punishment fit into this picture?

If a Jew can do anything they want, pick and choose their mitzvahs, then state that for sure, God is going to reward them exactly the same regardless of the mitzvahs they’re actually striving to do, or are saying they are ‘exempt’ from doing, that totally negates the concept of reward and punishment.

This is Judaism 101. This comes from Jewishvirtuallibrary.org:

The doctrine of reward and punishment is central to Judaism throughout the ages; that man receives his just reward for his good deeds and just retribution for his transgressions is the very basis of the conception of both human and divine justice.

Rambam states in the 11th of the 13 Principles of Faith that:

“God gives reward to he who does the commandments of the Torah and punishes those that transgress its admonishments and warnings. And the great reward is the life of the world to come; and the punishment is the cutting off of the soul [in the world to come]. And we already said regarding this topic what these are. And the verse that attests to this principle is (Exodus 32) “And now if You would but forgive their sins – and if not erase me from this book that You have written.” And God answered him, “He who sinned against Me I will erase from My book.” This is a proof that God knows the sinner and the fulfiller in order to mete out reward to one, and punishment to the other.”

Can you see the problem, here?

Moving to Israel is a mitzvah. (I know there are apparently ‘frum’ people who are so confused they are even doubting that, so please take a look at the daas Torah in this post, Deconstructing Aliyah, which sets out a whole bunch of real, actual Torah sources on the subject, if you’d like a change from all the ‘daas me‘ flying around the internet.)

So, if we’re going to start accusing other people of ‘aliyah bullying’ then we have to be consistent, and also start accusing other people of ‘kosher bullying’ and ‘tefillin bullying’ and ‘not marrying out’ bullying too, because as you can hopefully see for yourself, the same arguments are effectively playing out in each of these arenas.

It’s always hard to keep mitzvahs, in some ways. God expects us to keep striving out of comfort zone, to keep trying to give Him what He wants, and to not give up on the mitzvoth even when we can’t quite reach them.

I have so many mitzvoth I’m still struggling with, not least my own problems with lashon hara and anger.

I could turn around and give God a bunch of excuses why I still flip out and go ballistic – and they’d all be true! But that doesn’t change the picture that God says that getting angry is a very bad thing, and that He wants me to carry on working on it, until 120.

Sure, I can justify my bad behavior all I want.

But that doesn’t change the fact that God wants me to do better, and He wants me to get Him involved in really solving the issue.

So unless we’re also going to start accusing God of being a “good middot bully”, or a “keeping the Torah bully”,  it seems to me this whole ‘aliyah bullying’ idea is really just a massive red herring.

What’s stopping you from moving to Israel – take the quiz

 

I think I’ve covered most of the main challenges and concerns people have about moving to Israel. If there’s something I missed, please feel free to add it in to the comments section, and let’s start to figure this issue out a bit more, together.
For sure, there are some very real, very solid concerns and obstacles in the path to getting to the Holy Land. I know many people who really do want to come, but can’t seem to get here, for one reason or another. So let’s see what’s the biggest issues that are standing in the way, and then I will do my best to put some resources together here on the site, that might help you to find a way past them.
Also, take a look at the aliyah category, for some more pertinent information, discussion and background.

Rebbe Nachman spoke a great deal about the lofty spiritual level of the land of Israel.

After I wrote Rebbe Nachman on making aliyah to Israel, Rachel wanted to know where Rebbe Nachman specifically praised the greatness of the land. So here that passage is, in all its glory:

(It comes from #141 in Tzaddik, published by the Breslov Research Institute):

The Lesson “Nine Tikkunim” in Likutey Moharan, I, 20 speaks at length about the greatness of the Land of Israel and how the real victory in the war comes when we succeed in reaching there. When the Rebbe actually taught this lesson he started it by speaking about the Land of Israel, saying:

“Whoever wants to be a Jew – which means going from level to level – can only succeed through the Land of Israel.

“When he wins the war he is a called a ‘man of war’ but not before. For ‘let not the one who is putting on his armor boast like the one who is taking it off (I Kings 20:11).’ Only after winning is he called a ‘man of war’.”….

After he finished the lesson, when we were talking, I asked him: “What did you mean when you said that the Land of Israel is so great that this is the main victory?”

He took me to task for this and said: “I meant Israel quite literally with its houses and apartments” – i.e. in all his emphasis on the greatness of the Land of Israel, he meant quite literally the Israel Jews go to.

He wanted every Jew who wished to be a true Jew to go to Israel.

This is what inspired and encouraged me more than anything to overcome the innumerable difficulties I myself had and break through everything to get to Israel. Thank God for helping me to break through the obstacles and get there and back safely…

With regard to the main victory being getting to Israel in spite of the difficulties, there was a time when the Rebbe was speaking about the tremendous obstacles and danger he faced in Istanbul and the rest of his journey to Israel. He then said to us that we would be able to get to Israel easily – as if to say that we would not have to face obstacles and dangers like the ones he endured.

But we should still be prepared to suffer and undergo hardship in order to get there, because Israel is one of the three things attained through suffering.

Once, the Rebbe said there are people who imagine they have a great longing to go to Israel, but only if they can travel comfortably, not with discomfort and suffering. This is not perfect desire. Someone who wants to reach Israel should go there even if he has to travel on foot.

====

As always, Rabbenu sums things up in a very clear fashion. Making aliyah is by no means an easy thing, or a ‘no-brainer’, even with the growing impetus for Jews to run away from the economic, social and anti-semitic fires burning all over the world. It requires an awful lot of mesirut nefesh, and awful lot of self-sacrifice across so many levels.

Moving here is one thing, and staying here is another. I’ve seen so many people move away, because they refused to take God’s cues to really dig deep and acknowledge their bad middot, their real relationship issues, their personal flaws, their ego problems.

You go from level to level, spiritually, in Israel, because at every turn God is challenging you to develop more emuna, more bitachon, to let go of more ego, more status, more assumptions about yourself and others. Every day, you have to deal with obviously crazy people going nutso in your direction; or rockets falling on your head; or the fact that you still don’t know what piece of meat is actually a pot roast. (On that score, if anyone can clue me in, I’d be grateful.)

But it’s still worth it.

Eretz Yisrael is only attained through suffering – but at least you get something to show for it, at the end of it all! Inside or outside of Israel, the ‘suffering’ bit seems to be a given at the moment. So, it’s not so much a question of ‘suffer or don’t suffer’, but a question of ‘suffer and acquire something of lasting, permanent benefit, spiritually – or not’:

“Whoever wants to be a Jew – which means going from level to level – can only succeed through the Land of Israel.”

Yesterday, I got a text telling me that Rabbi Berland, aka Eliezer ben Etia, was heading out to Ashdod.

Rabbi Berland was going there after the evening prayers to go to the city square there, and recite the Tikkun Haklali seven times to “stop the rockets.”

I woke up this morning curious to see whether Israel was still being pounded by another round of rockets, after 690 rockets rained down on our head over the previous 48 hours and what did I see?

A cease-fire.

This is strange for so many reasons. Why did the Palestinians stop? What did Israel do to them, to get them to stop? Yes, there were a few targeted killings, some minor bombing – pretty much business as usual, in this part of the world. But there was nothing I could see that the IDF had done to ‘persuade’ Hamas to stop rocketing.

And on the Israel side of the equation, this latest round of terror has cost us very dear. We’re so used to miracles in Israel, that when I heard that 4 people had died, and that scores had been hospitalized with light-to-moderate-to-critical injuries, it really felt to me like the usual high level of Divine protection we get has dropped off a little.

God forbid.

Of course, teshuva and tehillim can turn everything around, as Rav Berland has repeatedly told us, ever since he first called for the first prayer gathering in Hevron before Chanuka 5778, when he warned us that:

“Every part of Israel is now under threat of being deluged with rockets. After we saw 400 rockets falling on Ashkelon and the surrounding cities, including Beer Sheva, Netivot, Ofakim and Sderot, now they are preparing thousands and thousands of rockets, which will reach to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

“And we have no possibility of stopping this from happening, because the whole world is against us. They can launch 10,000 missiles, and if we fire back even just one, they will say that we are the aggressors, and they are the victims.

“They will say that we began [hostilities], and that they are simply defending themselves.

“We have no [military] might, we only have the power of tehillim (psalms). All of the State of Israel’s efforts to stop the missiles of Hezbollah and Hamas ended in failure. Every day, we are threatened with thousands of new rockets. They can reach any target precisely…

So for now, it seems that the seven Tikkun Haklalis – and the rest of our prayers – have worked, and the rockets have stopped.

But it’s still kind of heavy.

I just finished working on a long post that sets out the dark roots of white supremacy in modern America, and it makes for pretty disturbing reading. I’m just running it past the bloke before I go ahead and post it up here, because when I shared some of what I’d discovered with an American friend of mine in Jerusalem, her eyes grew as big as saucers and she looked petrified.

I don’t want to shock anyone unduly, but the situation in America is far more dangerous for Jews than anyone imagines.

A few days ago, a friend of mine on the East coast called me to tell me that whole swathes of Jews are now considering moving out to Texas, from the State of New York.

Why Texas? I wanted to know.

New York is so corrupt, she replied. She told me about the recent law they passed enabling doctors to kill a newborn even as it’s being delivered – for absolutely no reason. Infanticide, pure and simple. Then, she told me about the massive fines New York State is now handing out to the families of unvaccinated children, and how they are ending the exemption from vaccines based on religious views.

Unless I vaccinate, I won’t have a school I can send my kids to next year.

And she’s not going to vaccinate.

Lastly, she told me about the plans to outlaw instruction in Hebrew in religious institutions in New York State, which will effectively make studying the Torah very difficult if they are passed into law. Life is getting very hard for many religious Jews in New York, who want a Torah-true education for their children, and who also don’t want to be forced into giving vaccinations they don’t believe in.

Ok, but why Texas? Why not Israel?

Texas, because the Jewish community is still ‘relatively normal’, and the rest of the state is ‘relatively religious’,  and conservative, so it’s easier to continue living an orthodox Jewish life there without being assailed by moral corruption of the highest degree at every turn.

And why not Israel?

Just because I’m scared. It’s scary to think about moving to Israel, even though I do really know that it’s the right thing, and that it’s what God ultimately wants.

I understand her concern. Moving to Israel is scary, for so many of us. New beginnings are always difficult, and it’s not easy re-adjusting to a different culture, and there’s also the challenge of overcoming all the slander and lashon hara that’s spoken about the land.

But after doing all this research on white supremacism in the US, and the Turner Diaries connection to the synagogue shootings, more and more I can see that there are no easy choices up ahead.

Israel has its own problems, as the last two days of rockets clearly shows. You don’t come to Israel for an easy life, or because it’s going to solve your problems, or give you a sun tan.

You come to Israel because that’s what God wants you to do, as a Jew.

But honestly, that’s really the only reason that matters.

  • I’m starting to hear more and more stories of people who have apparently been denied the chance to make aliya by the Jewish Agency. If you are an orthodox Jew and you’ve been denied the chance to move to Israel, please drop me an email and tell me your story, so we can start to figure out what’s going on here.

I wrote this post two weeks before the shooting in the Poway shul in San Diego, but didn’t get a chance to put it up.

Violent anti-semitism is shooting through the roof all over the world at the moment, and the question we have to ask is why?

Sure, we can point fingers at radical Islam, and at fanatical right-wingers, and at all the very many other sources of anti-semitism out there, but when all is said and done, God is the one causing the problem.

If we’re looking at this from the place of emuna, we have to ask why?

Why is God making it more and more uncomfortable for Jews to live in chutz l’aretz? Why is He piling the pressure on Jewish communities all over the world, from NYC to London to Paris to San Diego and back again?

Why is God doing that?

Maybe, we can find some answers in Rebbe Nachman’s Torah:

=====

As you know, I like to quote authentic Torah sources wherever possible, to support any opinions on this blog, to counteract the growing tide of daas me. Personal opinions certainly have their place, but not when we’re discussing something as important as whether living in Israel is a mitzvah for a Jew, or not.

In line with that, I thought I’d take a look at what Rebbe Nachman of Breslov has to say about Eretz Yisrael, and whaddya know, he has a lot to say on the subject. The following is excerpted from Likutey Etzot, that was translated into English as ‘Advice’ by the Breslov Research Institute:

  • With truth emuna (faith), prayer comes into its own. Prayer is bound up with the concept of bringing about miracles. To attain this level of emuna is only possible in the Land of Israel, for it is there that prayer ascends to the worlds above….
  • If we abuse Eretz Yisrael we go down into exile.
  • Every upward movement we have to make towards holiness can only be accomplished through Eretz Yisrael.
  • It is impossible to come to the Land of Israel without difficulties and suffering. The root of all the difficulties and suffering lies in the slanderous image of Israel, which is put about by the wicked.
  • Through the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael, the true guide and leader of our age will be revealed.
  • The mitzvah of the succah is a segulah for coming to Eretz Yisrael.
  • The motive for making the journey to Eretz Yisrael should be purely spiritual: to draw closer to God. A person who goes there with this as his aim will certainly benefit….On the other hand, if a person’s motive has nothing to do with devotion to God and cleansing himself of his evil, then what help will Israel be to him? The land will vomit him out…
  • Through the holiness of Eretz Yisrael, one can attain pure faith.
  • Pray to God, to ask Him to give you the desire and yearning for Eretz Yisrael. Then you will succeed in reaching there.
  • God repays man ‘measure for measure’. Nowhere is the repayment more exacting than in Eretz Yisrael.
  • The holiness of Eretz Yisrael is the epitome of holiness, encompassing all other levels of holiness. It is there that we can free ourselves completely of the materialistic viewpoint which claims that events take place naturally. We can come to know and believe that everything comes about only through the hand of God.
  • Genuine enlightenment and wisdom come only in Eretz Yisrael.

Rabbenu says a great deal more, these are only snippets, but I think you get the idea.

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.

Today I went to the zoo. By myself.

Back when my kids were small, I used to use them as an excuse for doing things like going to the zoo, but now that they’re both teens, the zoo has fallen off their list of ‘cool things to do’. This morning, they left for a few days’ of camp up North with some friends, my husband went to yeshiva and then work, and I was left with the whole day stretching out before me.

Many of the women my age (42) in my circles (Israeli, frum) would kill to have a whole day to themselves, I know. But my problem is often the exact opposite: sometimes, I’m really, really lonely.

Strange to say, since we moved to the big city of Jerusalem, I’ve been less lonely than when I used to live in my ‘cosy’ communities of only a few thousand people.

When you ‘fit’ your community, then living somewhere small and intimate can be wonderful. When you don’t ‘fit’ – and let’s be clear, that I have never, ever ‘fit’ anywhere much, hard as I tried – then it can be a recipe for complete despair and mental illness.

It’s not always so easy being one of the rare people who aren’t popping anti-depressants just to get through the day, or who doesn’t have a Facebook account arranging their social life, or who keeps looking for more meaning in life than shopping, refurbishing, eating out and keeping fit.

Here in Jerusalem, I also don’t ‘fit’, but at least I live somewhere so eclectic and strange that I have that in common with pretty much all my neighbours.

In most ways, I’ve made my peace with being alone so much of the time. I’m anyway a writer, and the aloneness is good for the creative process…and it gives me tons of time to talk to God…and it enables me churn books out at the rate of one every three months…

On the days when I’m writing, and lost in my internal world of gathering knowledge, splicing information together and turning out neat, bite-sized articles about all the different stuff I’m learning about, I don’t feel lonely.

But on the days when I don’t feel like typing so much, or I don’t have so much to say, or I really just want to spend some time interacting with real people, sometimes the loneliness is very intense. But you know the weird thing I recently realized? I think in 2016, pretty much all of us are lonely – and the most lonely people of all are the ones surrounded 24/7 by people.

A couple of months’ back, Hashem had me bump into someone I used to know from the old country. Back then, we were pretty good friends (or at least, so I thought) and we were both very, very sociable. She stayed in Britain, I moved to Israel, we fell out of touch. In the subsequent 11 years, I went from being a social butterfly to being a practical recluse, but I was sure that my old friend would still be tripping the light fantastic with 500 other outgoing couples, just like in the old days.

Turns out, I was plain wrong.

My friend hangs out with just two couples these days. Even in London, socializing has apparently gotten a whole lot harder than it used to be.

Why is this? Some people will blame email and i-Phones, and they may well have a point because it’s hard to concentrate on the person in front of your face when the person sending you smileys gets announced by a ‘ping’. Others will blame the stressful pace of life and work, and they may also have a point because an exhausted person can’t do anything much except veg on a couch and stare at the wall.

But I think something much deeper is going on. In the past, there just weren’t so many people who were highly-strung, crazy, selfish and just plain nasty. Interactions weren’t as fraught or loaded. There weren’t as many ‘narcissist’ type people trying to manipulate you and make you feel bad about yourself. Very few people had the sort of medication-induced brain damage that renders a person unable to be real, really interested in other people, or really ‘there’, which is now unfortunately all too common.

In short, a lot of us have been finding that compared to spending a few hours with bona fide crazy people, it’s actually much easier to be by ourselves these days, even though it’s often lonely.

I know that’s what’s contributed to my own circumstances, because while there are a lot of people I could call, so many of them are so complicated and so unpleasant or self-absorbed to be around, I often just prefer my own company.

So it was that today, I went to the zoo by myself. I found myself a quiet corner under a tree to sit and contemplate the world around me, and to talk to God about how lonely I was feeling.

Why do I spend so much of my life alone, God? Why have you arranged things to work out that way in my life, that my days aren’t stretched to breaking by a large family, or a full-on job, or a large circle of friends? Why do I seem to be the only person here, who came to the zoo by myself?

My heart always knows the answers to these questions, and it’s when I talk to God that they get communicated to my head, and when I finally get some peace.

I have many ‘signs’ I’m looking for, to tell me that Moshiach has finally come. One of the biggest is that I’m going to be sociable again, and not so lonely.

Last week, I read something that completely changed my take on how difficult my life seems to have been the last decade:

Don’t collect things, collect experiences.

By the ‘stuff’ measure, the last few years’ have been almost a complete bust. I have less net worth at 42 than I had at 23 – and that’s sometimes a pretty painful realization. (Hopefully at least one of my books will take off big-time in the next 20 years or so, so I can afford to retire at some point.)

Buying stuff has been very far down my ‘to do’ list for years now, partially because I just couldn’t afford much, and partially because the shine went off all the gashmius and I realized that keeping the clutter, gadgets and outfits to a minimum actually makes me feel much happier.

But that London part of me still occasionally registers its displeasure with the way things have turned out. I mean, I can’t afford my own house! I don’t have a bath! I don’t have a garden! I can’t entertain more than two (thin) people at a time in my compact flat! Etc etc etc

London Rivka tells me: ‘You know, I hate to share this, but I think we might officially be a loser…’

And until I read that line about collecting experiences instead of stuff, I didn’t really have much to argue about.

But now? Now it’s all different!

Because while my bank account has been pretty empty the last decade, my experience bank has been full to busting. I’ve been to Uman 8 times; I lived in so many different places in Israel (and elsewhere); I’ve met so many interesting people; I’ve lived 50 lifetimes in the past 10 years, and packed so much into every day.

Now, I go to the Kotel pretty much every Friday night – and it’s an amazing experience that money really would be no substitute for. I’ve seen my kids blossom and grow into the most amazing young people, with far more insight, maturity and wisdom than I ever had at their age. Me and my husband could write 50 books about the challenges we’ve had to weather in our 19 years of marriage, from multiple moves, to multiple bankruptcies, to health issues, family issues, infertility issues, crazy friend issues, crazy rabbi issues – you name it, we’ve had a dose of it.

And until last week, I’d filed all that stuff away in the ‘debit’ column, but no more!

Now I’m starting to see that every single experience I had gave me something priceless. I learned so much. I grew so much. I hope I improved so much and worked on a bunch of bad middot that otherwise I wouldn’t have got near in a million years, if I was still pulling things off on the ‘more stuff’ front.

As time goes on, I’m truly feeling like the stuff comes along as the cherry, once you’ve experienced whatever it is you’re meant to, and squeezed every last drop of knowledge out of it.

So if you’re currently struggling to have much to show for yourself materially-speaking (and even if you’re not…) I invite you to join me in changing the focus completely around, and looking at life as more a collection of experiences, than a collection of things.

It’s a small mental switch, but it’s put me in the best mood I’ve been in for ages.

For the last nine and a half years, I’ve been trying my hardest to be an ISRAELI. I’ve been hampered in my quest to be an ISRAELI by a couple of major drawbacks: it took me three years before I even had a chance of understanding what my kids’ teachers were telling me at the PTA (Even now, I mostly just smile and nod…)

And secondly (and this one I’ve only just realised) – I’m actually not an Israeli.

How can I be? My formative years were spent in London and Canada, and until I was 16 we weren’t doing anything very ‘Jewish’ at home. I went to a non-Jewish school, and I obsessed over all the things my non-Jewish friends obsessed over: George Michael, clothes and Back to the Future.

It’s not very spiritual, is it? It’s not very Jewish. It’s not very ISRAELI.

And for the first twenty years of my life, that’s what I had hard-wired into to my soul: British non-Jewish culture, with all its sarcastic humour, beer and obsession with pies.

I’d taken a lot of the more obvious rough edges off in London, before I made aliya. We were keeping kosher, keeping Shabbat, learning Torah, hanging out with Jews.

So in my head, I thought I’d step off the plane at Ben Gurion, pick up Hebrew in two weeks, and then have a bunch of cool sabra friends called Ilanit and Roni to hang out with.

But that’s not exactly what happened.

We landed in a very ‘anglo’ neighbourhood, and quickly outgrew it. I wanted real Israel; I didn’t move to Israel just for my kids to feel like expat Brits. So we moved to an ISRAELI settlement across the Green Line, and I tried my darndest to fit in.

Three years’ later, my kids spoke Hebrew really nicely, and their friends were all Israeli, which I thought was so cool, until they started beating my children up on the way to school.

I don’t know how a real ISRAELI would have reacted, but I reacted by getting the heck out of there, and moving to a place that was a bit more civilised (read: socially repressed) and anglo.

For the first year, it was heaven. Then all the things that I don’t like very much about anglo culture resurfaced: the competition to be seen as a ‘success’; the clique-yness; the obsession with big houses and nice holidays.

This was in my super-duper-trying-to-be-frum-like-people-in-meah-shearim period, when I felt bad about doing anything more gashmius than buying a chicken leg for shabbos.

A whole bunch of things happened over the next three years, and to cut a long story short, we ended up in Jerusalem, very close to Meah Shearim, six short (but very long…) months ago.

Moving to Jerusalem sparked off a whole big identity crisis for me. I realised that I actually didn’t want to be chareidi; I realised that I actually didn’t want to be poor; I realised that making a good kugel was just not spiritually satisfying, however hard I tried.

And the last thing I realised, just last week, in the middle of the Shlomo Katz Chanuka concert, is that I actually don’t want to be ISRAELI any more. It’s not that any of these things are intrinsically bad, G-d forbid. They’re just not me.

This week, I paid my first visit to the Jerusalem Gap for about three years, and I picked up a new coat with fake fur on the hood. It looks so ‘anglo-in-Israel’ – and I love it.

I don’t know what all this means. What I can tell you, is that as I’m reclaiming all these parts of myself that I’ve been embarrassed or ashamed of, I’m feeling so much happier and settled and healthy.

No more beating myself up for liking beans on toast; no more disdaining myself for actually really liking that nice grey jumper in Zara; no more feeling like a worm, because I’m enjoying listening to music in English for a change (by the Maccabeats…)

I know it was all well-meaning, and spiritually-striving of me to try to be a holy Meah Shearim-type balabusta, but the big drawback was that it’s not me. I nearly killed myself trying to fit into those boxes, but G-d has been showing me time and again that I have a different way of trying to build the world, and to get closer to Him, and it entails going through Gap on the way to the Kotel.

What can I do? I know G-d wants me to serve Him happily, as me. And now that I’ve got my fake fur trim coat, I feel I’ve taken a giant step towards giving Him what He really wants from me: to be me, even with all my imperfections.