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It’s not so hard to judge someone’s soul to the side of ‘good’.

A little while before Rosh Hashana, Rachel from New York challenged me over in the comments section to ‘walk the walk’, and judge Avigdor Lieberman favorably.

In case you happen to live on planet Mars, Avigdor Lieberman is the Russian-born head of the Yisrael Beytenu party, who is trying to force all chareidim to leave their shtenders, and to serve in the IDF.

Lieberman is so adamant about this, he brought down the last government – and is continuing to sow chaos in Israel politically, by refusing to sit with Bibi Netanyahu in any new government, and also by refusing to sit with the ‘religious’ parties that make up the Knesset’s natural right-wing ‘bloc’.

Because of Lieberman, we’ve already had 2 elections in five months – and no government. And you read it here first, we will be going to third elections, very soon.

So, how to judge Avigdor Lieberman to the side of ‘good’?

It’s a tough challenge, but after doing a fair bit of praying on it, here’s where I’m up to.

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The starting point with Rebbe Nachman’s lesson of Azamra is that while we have to clearly state when ACTIONS are bad and evil and anti-Torah and anti-God, that’s very different from saying the ESSENCE of a person is evil. Rav Ofer Erez explains this magnificently, in this video with full English subtitles:

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A Jew’s essence, their soul, is only good.

But what happens? All these klipot, all these external forces of evil come along to confuse and trip us up, and then before long you have people who are committing the worst sins in the world, but who are still telling themselves that they are doing ‘the right thing’, and that this is just how it has to be.

Let’s take a look at Lieberman, to see how that’s playing out.

Lieberman lacks emuna, and he doesn’t believe that God is running the world and controlling everything and everyone.

If he had more emuna, he would know that the best defense for the land of Israel is for all of the Jews who live here to wholeheartedly return to God, and to start doing what God wants, i.e. living a Torah-observant lifestyle.

But poor guy, he doesn’t know that.

He never went to cheder, he never went to yeshiva, he grew up in the Soviet Union where religion and God were anathema, and then he moved to Israel and started moving in political circles where religion and God are still anathema.

A guy like Lieberman, he wakes up every morning, and what does he see?

He sees Hamas with rockets in Gaza. And Hezbollah with rockets in Lebanon. And Syria trying to build a nuclear reactor on the Northern border. And Iran trying to complete their nuclear reactors, so they can nuke Israel, God forbid, over in the Gulf – and he’s totally petrified by the idea that some mad mullah can flip a switch, and boom!!! No more Israel.

Because Lieberman doesn’t have God in the picture, what does he think can help to solve this awful problem, this terrible danger to the Jewish state?

In his mind, Israel can only be defended against all these threats by a strong army.

In Lieberman’s mind, if the country fills up with pacifist frummers who only want to learn Torah and don’t want to serve in the army – then Israel will be finished.

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Before we continue, I challenge you, dear reader, to take a long, hard look in the mirror and to ask yourself if you also believe that the IDF is what is really protecting Israel.

Because if the answer is ‘yes’, that means you and Lieberman are essentially on the same page.

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Now, people with emuna know that God is protecting Israel, and that this country gets open miracles morning, noon and night.

People with emuna know that people like Rabbi Berland, and the late Baba Elazar, z’tl, and all the other big rabbis, tzaddikim and kabbalists, are working around the clock to keep ‘sweetening’ the spiritual judgments that manifest as terrorists, rockets and nukes, God forbid.

People with emuna are aware that it’s the Jewish people’s own sins that is causing us our terrible security problems with our neighbors, and that if we would return to God and His Torah, the whole Iranian nuke issue will fizzle like a sparkler in a shower.

Lieberman doesn’t have emuna.

So, according to his incorrect paradigm of what’s going on here, unless he can find a way to ‘force’ all the peacenik yeshiva bochurs into the army, sooner or later, he believes the army will collapse and the State of Israel will be destroyed or overrun by our enemies, God forbid.

Because of that belief, he has now apparently declared an all-out war against religion, or what he calls a ‘halachic state’, where Torah law would be pre-eminent.

Is this ‘good’ or ‘right’? No, it’s totally evil.

Why is he doing it?

Because he has very little emuna, doesn’t believe in God, and believes that superior force, and targeted killings, and all the other super-evil stuff that’s being done in the name of ‘security’ here and elsewhere, is the only way to protect the Jewish state.

(Lieberman’s Wikipedia entry makes very interesting reading. In many ways, you could argue he’s consistently acted as one of Israel’s more principled politicians, including severing ties with the corrupt Mossad, back in 2011. I also found this, which certainly muddies the waters on his views of ‘organized religion’ in Israel, too:

While his party is sometimes described by the news media[55] as doctrinally secular and aiming to reduce the role of the rabbinical system in government, it actually supports the continuation of the role of Orthodox rabbinical courts, but wants more nationally minded religious people, rather than the ultra-orthodox, in charge.[56] It does not advocate introducing civil marriage within Israeli law, but rather to find a solution to some of those who cannot marry under such laws.[55] It does not advocate a separation of religion and state in Israeli society.[56]

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So now, we circle back to the message of the ‘whoever finds fault‘ post, because Lieberman isn’t the only one who think that ‘chareidim’ are bad, and wrecking the economy, and need to be forced to serve in the army.

There are a whole bunch of ostensibly ‘religious’ Jews both here and abroad who also totally lack emuna, and believe the same thing, too.

Just they are less vitriolic (and probably, also less honest….) about expressing it. They think it’s fine for a few yeshiva bochurs to carry on learning, but they clearly would prefer most Moshes to put down their gemara and pick up their uzis, and to become truly productive citizens of Israel.

Honestly? It’s much, much harder for me to judge them favorably, because you’d think that surely they should know better than some Russian guy who never went to cheder and who grew up under atheist, communist rule….

But I digress.

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So, let’s sum up where we’ve got to:

Lieberman’s ACTIONS of going after the Torah world, and trying to ‘secularise’ Israel are clearly wrong, bad and evil.

Lieberman’s MOTIVATIONS are confused and mixed-up, but at least conceivably could stem from a genuine concern that if Torah observant Jews don’t serve in the IDF and ‘contribute economically’ to Israel, the Jewish State will either be destroyed, conquered or collapsed.

So that’s how we can judge the ESSENCE of Lieberman to the side of merit, even though his actions are clearly evil and atrocious.

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Ahead of Yom Kippur, it’s a really good idea to practice this Azamra thing as much as possible, because however we judge others, that is how God will judge us.

 

We’re all doing things wrong ALL THE TIME.

We hurt people, we step on them, we selfishly put ourselves first, we look down our noses at other Jews, and act holier-than-thou. We act like pigs, so very much of the time.

BUT OUR ESSENCE IS GOOD.

And the more we make an effort to see that in others, the more we’ll uncover that true goodness in ourselves, too, and rescue our souls (and everyone else’s….) from the klipot.

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After I finished House of Windows, a collection of essays written about and around the Jerusalem neighborhood of Musrara, where I used to live, I started to muse:

Is it really possible for us to have peace?

I’m not talking about peace with the Arabs, because it’s so clear that once we have peace between the Jews, and the Jews come back to God, the war with the Arabs will disappear all by itself.

Without firing a shot.

Just as the Breslov teachings about what will happen when Moshiach actually shows up describes.

It seems to me the far harder job is to make peace between the Jews, because sometimes, we seem fractured into so many opinionated shards – each one hating the other – that I feel it’s going to take an open miracle to turn things around.

About two thirds of the way through House of Windows, the author starts having guilt pangs about the original, Arab, owners of her house, and starts the process of trying to track them down. After months spent hacking through all the bureaucracy, she discovers the name – and then something seems to have fundamentally changed in her outlook.

She admits in the book that she had no intention of ‘giving the house’ back to whoever the original owners actually were – the knowledge is not going to change anything on the ground. But what it did seem to do is to sour the secular, American-Jewish author’s feelings towards Israel and her fellow Jews.

After detouring into a minor rant about ‘messianists with guns’ from the Bronx and New Jersey taking over the country, plus some extracts of letters from the colonial Brits who clearly couldn’t stand the Jews, and especially the Jews that fought back, like Menachem Begin, the book kind of petered out.

I loved the author’s writing style, if not all of her sentiments, so I went to look up what she wrote next, and discovered it was a biography of a Palestinian poet named Taha Muhammad Ali, who wrote some very good poems that are politically not my taste at all, heavily-laced with references to God.

Now, she’s writing the biography of Ben Hecht – who wrote the classic book ‘Perfidy’ in between turning out Hollywood scripts for blockbusters like Scarface and Notorious, but the reference in the book blurb to Hecht supporting the ‘Jewish terrorist underground’ clearly got my back up again.

Next, I went to check out the reviews she got for her book on Musrara – and like mine, for the Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife, they are incredibly mixed. Her one star reviewers are clearly very upset with her for favoring Arabs over Jews, and for treating the religious Jews she meets as aggressive, ogling aliens from another planet.

Meanwhile, my one star reviewers are calling me racist – for stating that Arab terrorists who like to stab people are a drawback to living in the holy city – or dissing me for talking too much about God.

So after all that, I started to ponder: is it possible for us Jews to see past all our differences, and to still respect and relate to the person, despite their different (and sometimes, disturbing) views?

I’d had such high hopes when I was half-way through that book of tracking the author down, and seeing if she’d like to swap notes on life in Musrara as viewed through the lens of an English-speaking journalist. But by the end of the book, I pondered if she’d relate to me as an alien from out of space too, just because I have a hat on my head and an abiding belief in God and His Torah.

And what about me?

How would I relate to her?

At this stage in my life, I am trying very hard to see the good in others, and to look for the ties that bind, as opposed to the disagreements that cut apart, and the shorthand labels that dismiss other Jews as ‘lunatic lefties’ (or ‘messianics with guns’). At least in theory. But in practice, it’s so much  harder.

Part of me bristled when I was reading her negative account of the yeshiva students who were trying to cut down a mature tree illegally in the shared garden. But the truth is, that I also experienced things like that – chillul Hashem like that – day in and day out in Musrara. And in Meah Shearim. And in Beit Yisrael and Geula and a bunch of other places, too.

Chareidim are only human, after all. And Baal teshuva Chareidim often rush to adopt the external look of being totally ‘religious’ before their internal middot have caught up.

At the same time, the author’s attitudes towards her fellow Jews reminded me of the secular Anglo who lived upstairs from me in the slum, and who spent most of his day loudly criticizing his ‘disgusting’ religious neighbors, and their disgusting children to anyone who would listen.

Sure, he didn’t drop his trash on the floor, but he managed to bespatter the neighborhood with a potent filth of a different kind.

And me? I was in the middle of it all.

I also couldn’t stand the dirt, and the seemingly wanton neglect. But I understood it. I understood that I was dealing with people who were overwhelmed with life, and who just didn’t have the energy to pick up the trash. And on some level, I also understood the secular bigot upstairs too, because it honestly would look so much nicer if it was clean and orderly.

But who wants to hear someone criticising his neighbors in such ugly terms, day in day out?

Not me.

So I circle back to the question: could me and this author get on, somehow?

We lived in the same neighborhood, we experienced such similar things, we’re both Anglo Jewish writers who were completely out of our element, we’re similar ages, we both wrote a book about life in Musrara.

Is that enough for us to relate to each other as human beings, and not stereotypes?

I’m tempted to find out.

Yesterday, I was listening to Rav Eliyahu Meirav’s interview with the Israeli media, and I felt very sad. For those who don’t already know, Rav Meirav’s stepson, Yosef Cohen, Hyd, was one of the two Nahal Chareidi soldiers gunned down at Givat Assaf, close to Bet El, last Thursday.

Rav Meirav was raised on the totally secular Shomer Hair Kibbutz of Bet Alfa, and was a fighter pilot in the IDF airforce. He made teshuva after the Yom Kippur war – along with so many others of that generation, who’d seen with their own eyes just how limited the army really was.

Rav Meirav met Rav Berland – and became one of his closest students.

If you read the secular press descriptions of Rav Meirav, you’ll notice that they kept stressing that he was part of the Breslov ‘sect’. That’s their way of using subtle language to keep dissing religious people anyway they can, and to sow division and hatred.

After Rav Meirav’s son was killed al Kiddush Hashem, all those ucky news sites with their agendas to sow hatred and strife between the Jewish people started running false stories about how Yosef had been ‘thrown out of his home’ for joining the army, and how his parents had ‘sat shiva’ for him even before he died.

Because hey, why miss any opportunity to put the boot in to the chareidi community, and especially the Breslov Chassidic ‘sect’?!

This led to the absolutely sickening spectacle of Rav Meirav and his wife having to give interviews to the press – before they’d even buried their son – refuting the lies that had been spread about their family.

I listened to Rav Meirav speak – about Yosef’s last words, about his own background and teshuva, and most of all about the need for us to stop all the awful hatred, and to come together as one people, respecting each other’s differences – and it really made me pause for thought.

The haters out there are on all sides of the equation.

They work for Ha’aretz, they live in Tel Aviv, they hate any hint of yiddishkeit, and they use the media to paint awful pictures of frum Jews as ‘blood-sucking, medieval parasites’ at any opportunity. But that’s not the only place you’ll find them.

You’ll also find plenty of apparently ‘frum’ haters out there too.

‘Frum’ haters pour scorn on the Jews who don’t live in Israel and wait for big comets to smash into America and kill everyone. They hate people who want to convert to yiddishkeit, they hate people who don’t conform, they hate people who aren’t ‘frum’, or who aren’t ‘frum’ enough, or who are too ‘frum’, or not the right sort of ‘frum’.

‘Frum’ haters also hate people who don’t vaccinate….and they hate people who do vaccinate. They hate people who voted for Trump, they hate people who don’t think exactly like them, and see the world exactly the way they do.

Every bit of the Jewish world is riddled with this disease of hating other Jews – including our bit.

And there is no segment of society that is doing better at loving our fellow Jews than any other.

We all have the problem and we all need to work on it.

One of the things that drew me to Breslov, and drew me to Rabbenu, is that in Rabbenu’s tent, everyone is welcome. When you go to Uman, you stop seeing people as ‘frum’ and ‘not frum’, or as part of your group or not part of your group.

You just see them as individuals, as Jews.

And some of those Jews are really nice, and really deep and really holy – however they may look externally. And some of those Jews are really not so easy to get on with, and have a number of obvious bad middot and issues – however they may look externally.

The yetzer works overtime to convince us that ‘our bit’ of the Jewish world is fine, the best, the shining example for the rest of Jewish society, while all the other bits are the ones with the problem.

But it’s not true! Not at all!

The problem comes down to this:

There are Jewish people who look for reasons to hate other Jews, and there are Jewish people who look for reasons to try to love them.

And both groups are scattered and embedded across all the different segments of Jewish society.

Sadly, our world being the morally-degenerate mess it currently is, it seems the people who hate the most are also the ones with the biggest mouths, and the biggest audiences, and the biggest following on Youtube.

The haters pop-up all over the place, to have a go at others, and to put the boot in, and to harp on about how great they are, and how great their group is – always at the expense of others.

I’ve had to learn the hard way, that this is not at all what God wants from us.

I’ve also had ‘hating’ tendencies that I’ve had to really work on, and to try to uproot, over the last few years. That process of teshuva taught me that the haters ‘hate’ because they actually don’t like themselves very much at all. And that they’re secretly jealous of other people, and it’s the envy that causes them to diss the other Jew, the other group, so loudly, so poisonously, so arrogantly.

Whatever the hater is criticizing so much in others, that ‘thing’ is somehow embedded in their own souls.

So, I listened to Rav Meirav talk, and I wondered ‘how can I do more, to get from hate to love’? How can I do more, to make my house a ‘no-tolerance for sinat chinam’ zone?

I’m going to pray on it, and I’ll let you know what I come up with.

Because one thing is for sure:

Nothing is slowing up Moshiach more, or causing us more problems and heartache in our own lives, than hating other Jews.

I’m now on my second official ‘teen’, which doesn’t make me the world’s expert on teens, but is giving me a lot of useful insights that I thought other people could also benefit from.

The single biggest problem I notice with teens – starting at 13/14 – is that when they acquire ‘maturity’, i.e. they get to the age where they are required to keep mitzvahs in their own right – their yetzer hara pulls a huge trick on them, and this is it:

It convinces them that they don’t have a yetzer hara.

So every time they are overwhelmed with life, depressed, annoying, selfish, thoughtless, confused, irritating, aggressive, emotional etc etc etc – their yetzer is telling them over and over again that THIS IS THE REAL YOU!!!!

This annoying, somewhat icky person IS THE REAL YOU!!!

And if the parents don’t understand what is really going on with their teens, they can unwittingly play right into the yetzer’s hand by reinforcing the message that this lazy, selfish, irritating slob is THE REAL THEM!!!

But really?

Our teens are SO good.

They are so considerate, thoughtful, caring, sensitive and deep. Just modern life overwhelms them so quickly, and then their yetzer piles in with all its poisonous ‘THIS IS THE REAL YOU!!!’ stuff, and unless the parents are there to tell them otherwise, they completely believe it.

From my own experience, the single biggest kindness you can do for your teenager is to keep re-inforcing – to them – that the real them is ONLY good.

Yes, that person who keeps leaving plates full of mouldy food in their bed (!); that person who keeps losing their Rav Kav every single week, causing a family-wide panic at 6am when they have to get the bus to school; that person who out of no-where starts ranting at you that they got all your ugly / fat / hairy genes and it’s ruining their life; that person who routinely forgets that you get up much earlier than they do, most days, and therefore need to get to bed before 2am; that person who keeps stealing your deodorant – and even your toothbrush – without telling you –

THAT PERSON IS ONLY GOOD!!!!

The more you keep reminding yourself, and your teen, of this, the better it will be for everyone.

I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but now that I’m on to my second teenager, I can see that this really is the best piece of advice a parent could have, for dealing with their teens. Because we have to understand that every time we criticise them – instead of just focusing on unacceptable behaviour, and  making it clear that this bad behaviour is simply coming from their yetzers, and NOT THE REAL THEM – we are simply reinforcing all their huge feelings that they aren’t good enough, kind enough, nice enough, clever enough etc etc etc.

And if that is programmed in too much in the teenage years, it can literally take a lifetime to overcome (with an awful amount of siyatta d’shmiya).

I get a lot of miserable teens passing through my house.

So many of my kids’ peers have really awful relationships with their parents, because the parents keep piling on guilt trips, power plays, punishments and ultimatums to try and maintain the upper hand in the relationship.

It’s so sad, because I see the gap growing between these kids and their parents, and I know where that leads: to dysfunctional families, unhappy people, never-ending tension and strife, all sorts of mental health challenges and other issues, including kids going off the derech.

So do your kid – and yourself – a huge favour, and ONLY SEE THE GOOD.

I can’t do this all the time, it’s true. There are time when I’ve completely snapped at my teens and said things I really regretted. But each time that happened, I’ve apologised profusely, and I’ve re-stated my true position, i.e. you, kid, are only good, and I’m also only good.

But man, are your yetzers on the wild side.

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.

The Four Cardinal Sins of sinat chinam.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So our work for today is this:

JUST ACKNOWLEDGE THE PROBLEM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(But sometimes, that sure does sound tempting.)

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Few things are more misunderstood than the concept of the Erev Rav.

Like most of the people reading this, the first time I heard about the Erev Rav in any ‘real’ way was from the autistics.

The more I read the autistics, the more I started suspecting other people of ‘being’ Erev Rav (ER, for short). Initially, it answered so many questions, cleaned up so many problems! I mean, the only reason that a Jew would or could act in such a horrible, disgusting way could only be because they must be Erev Rav….

Like many others, the ER quickly became a kind of obsession by me. And when I get obsessed with things, I research them as much as I can, and I try to bottom them out as much as possible. So, I threw myself into reading anything I could about the ER, including a document called ‘The Modern Erev Rav’, which brings together a lot of the sources in English.

By the time I’d finished going through that document, I had a very clear understanding of what sorts of things the Erev Rav did, and that the Vilna Gaon, amongst others, was telling me that I should cut them out of my life and avoid them as much as possible.

So over the next few years, that’s what I tried to do. (This was when I wrote that series over on www.breslev.co.il.)

As a result, I lost so many friends, stopped speaking to so many close family members, and even started suspecting my husband of being an Erev Rav.

(! – if you ever met the guy, you’ll understand just how crazy that particular statement is…)

And then, I came to the ultimately disturbing conclusion that I myself must also be an ‘unfixable’ ER, because I also spoke lashon hara (sometimes…) and made trouble between people (sometimes…) and was obsessed with making a name for myself (sometimes…)

It’s axiomatic that when you follow God’s laws, and really try to give God what He wants, you see brachas and blessings from doing that. Dear reader, all I got from cutting all the supposed ‘evil ER’ people out of my life was heaping doses of heartache, misery and suffering.

The more I tried to run away from these people, as the Vilna Gaon’s students suggested, the more I came to realize that in 2017, we are ALL Erev Rav people.

At the same time as this was going on, I realized that the secular world was also noticing the negative character traits associated with the Erev Rav, particularly the traits of lack of compassion and empathy for others and rigid thinking, and defining them as the basis of personality disorders, especially Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

According to modern psychiatry, most of these personality disorders, but especially NPD, can’t be fixed. The person with NPD will stay permanently broken, egotistical and nasty. Again, I spent years and years going through all the literature on personality disorders, and measuring it up against my own experiences of difficult people, and it dovetails amazingly with all the ‘Erev Rav’ stuff.

Except, I came to the same problem with that stuff, too: I started to notice that I MYSELF sometimes acted like I had NDP, (especially after I went through the worst year of my life, when I got hit with so many traumatic experiences that my capacity to feel compassion or empathy for anyone else pretty much completely disappeared.)

Which is when the turning point happened, and I realized that TRAUMA is what makes people act like narcissicists, etc, and what makes people act like ER, etc.

So then, I started researching trauma, and C-PTSD obsessively, and again it was a perfect ‘fit’ for what I was seeing around me and experiencing in myself, and it convinced me once and for all that just as personality disorders CAN be overcome, so can ER traits.

Then, I started looking for proof from authentic Jewish sources that this was the case, and I hit the jackpot with various teachings from Rav Berland and Rebbe Nachman himself, a lot of which I bring down in the book Unlocking the Secret of the Erev Rav.

So, here’s where we currently stand:

It’s not a Jewish idea to call someone ‘bad’, anymore than it’s a Jewish idea to call someone ‘Erev Rav’.

Xtians go in for that sort of global, meaningless ‘good and bad’ people rubbish.

By contrast, Jews talk about good and bad DEEDS, good and bad TRAITS, but we don’t give people labels like good and bad, because we understand that is something that only God is qualified to do, at the end of a person’s life, when all their merits and sins are weighed up together in the Heavenly court.

In that sense, the Erev Rav is a completely false paradigm.

Who can claim to be qualified to call someone an ‘Erev Rav’ and to assume that person can never make teshuva and will be permanently consigned to an eternity in Gehinnom?!

People with pronounced ‘Erev Rav’ traits aren’t just left-wing politicians or corrupt journalists, you know. If we’re honest, then we’ll admit that each and every one of us know people, are related to people, talk to people EVERY SINGLE DAY that fit at least some of the criteria set out by RASHBI and the Vilna Gaon (amongst others) for the Erev Rav.

We’re not just talking about Shimon Peres here, we’re talking about your ‘Erev Rav’ mum, and your ‘Erev Rav’ kid, and your ‘Erev Rav’ spouse. Do you really want all these people to be permanently consigned to destruction and Gehinnom?

And if the answer is ‘yes’, then there’s an enormous irony here, because only people who have a severe lack of compassion and empathy for other people (which remember, is one of the key traits of the ‘Erev Rav’ as identified by our Sages…) would willingly go around accusing others of being ‘Erev Rav’, with all that entails.

That’s why the authentic Jewish approach is to talk about EREV RAV BEHAVIOUR, and not EREV RAV PEOPLE.

It’s a crucial, massive distinction.

Because people can always stop behaving like ER, but they can’t stop being Erev Rav.

God is full of kindness and compassion for His creations. Does it really sound realistic to you that this kind, merciful Creator would create a category of person that can never, ever make teshuva, no matter what effort they make to improve, no matter how much suffering they go through? Does that sound ‘right’ to you?

God can do anything!

We saw in the Torah so many times – including in this week’s parshat Korach – that God was going to destroy the Jewish people because of their disgusting behaviour, but didn’t because the Tzaddik of the generation, Moshe Rabbenu, prayed for them.

Which brings me to my last point for today (although I will be returning to this subject again and again, until we all start to really get what I’m going on about here):

If we really want all the horrible ‘ER’ type traits and behavior that are definitely flowering all over the place in our modern world to really disappear, we need to pray for other people, and also for ourselves.

Again, asking God for help, and really believing in God’s mercy and compassion and willingness to help out, and really building a genuine, personal relationship with God is something that people with pronounced ‘Erev Rav’ tendencies find very difficult to do.

That’s one of the reason’s why hitbodedut, personal prayer, is the fastest and most effective way of neutralizing a person’s ‘Erev Rav’ tendencies, because it goes to the very heart of the problem, namely that ‘Erev Rav’ people don’t really believe in God in any real way, and certainly don’t believe that He’s compassionate, kind and good.

SO TO SUM UP:

  • Most people with Erev Rav tendencies CAN and WILL eventually make teshuva (as per the teachings of Rav Ofer Erez, Rav Eliezer Berland, and Rebbe Nachman).
  • We have no way of knowing who is going to ultimately going to make teshuva and who isn’t, so we have no right to call anyone a ‘permanently unfixable’ Erev Rav in the meantime.
  • The people who are most wedded to the idea of calling other people ‘Erev Rav’ are, ironically, themselves demonstrating a number of key traits of the ER, namely a severe lack of empathy and compassion for others, together with pronounced tendencies to speak badly of their fellow Jews, to stoke sinat chinam, and to create trouble, controversy and machloket between the Jewish people.

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You can buy my book, Unlocking the Secret of the Erev Rav, HERE.

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A little while ago, I was talking to a friend of mine who told me about the latest ‘parenting craze’ to be sweeping the frum world, at least in Israel.

In a nutshell, this new system or shitta is telling parents, particularly mothers, that they have to find out what their problem is, in order to raise their kids properly.

Apparently, the thinking is like this: if you can help the parents to uncover the ‘fatal flaw’ or big emotional problem, or personal issue that defines them and their approach to everything in life, including how they parent their kids, then you’ll help them to change their behavior, and peace will reign in Gotham City.

I know, it theoretically sounds great doesn’t it? There’s just one problem: it’s a load of baloney, and in practice it’s going to end up doing far more harm than good to everyone involved.

How do I know all this?

Simple: in our quest to be better Jews, and better people and better parents, me and my husband have been through a whole bunch of shitot and systems based on ideas that sounded good in theory, but were actually useless (at best) or very damaging in practice.

Christians believe that people are ‘fatally flawed’ as a result of the ‘original sin’ where Adam and Eve brought death into the world. By contrast, Jews (especially Breslev-friendly Jews) believe that people are fundamentally good, and that the real them, their soul, is only good and holy, just it got caught up in a bunch of klipot (evil husks) and yetzer haras (evil inclinations) that it needs to fight off and fight through.

That’s the work of this world, and it really can take 120 years to achieve it.

But what’s happening in even the most frum circles is that people are taking a bunch of half-baked ideas rooted in the heresy of modern psychology and psychiatry, or in the idol-worshiping notions of Christianity or the Eastern religions, and then concocting all sorts of ‘workshops’ and ‘parenting courses’ that aren’t based on truth, and only serve to drag participants’ vulnerabilities, difficulties and yetzers out for public scrutiny, without giving them a real solution for how to actually resolve them.

I know so many people, my husband included, who have been caught up and hurt in all the frum public confessionals happening all over the place.

But however these things are being dressed up and sold to others, they’re all based on the same basic principles: encourage people to admit their biggest hurts, deepest secrets and darkest shames in front of a bunch of strangers; then, have the group’s ‘guru’ explain to them – publicly – what their problem is, how it’s affecting them, and why it’s so bad. Then – leave them to deal with it. Alone.

If they start to struggle, or feel even more alone, depressed or ‘bad’, explain to them that either:

  • They didn’t get what they’re meant to be doing, or they didn’t complete the program and process properly and it’s their problem they’re so broken and can’t be fixed;

And / or:

  • Promise to give them the answer to their problem in the next workshop (or six…); or the next private coaching session (or 10…); or the next super-expensive private retreat.

I have seen people keep coming back to these ‘gurus’ and the hugely profitable organisations they’ve built on the back of other people’s suffering for literally years. For as long as they are in touch with the ‘guru’ and the system they’ve built, they’re hopeful that the answer, whatever it is, is just one more group meeting away.

But it doesn’t work like that!

Quite the opposite: as time goes on, the participants split into 2 camps: increasingly despairing, angry, empty and cynical, or completely detached from the reality of who they really are, and what’s really happening in their lives and in their relationships.

Neither of these modes is emotionally healthy, or compatible with yiddishkeit.

So what’s the answer? Where are all these frum gurus going wrong, and why are they doing so much damage?

In a nutshell, you can sum it up like this: what helps people to be better parents, and to treat their kids nicer, and to be happier people, and to be able to deal with their issues and flaws appropriately, is when they concentrate on seeing the good in themselves, and developing more self-compassion.

Remember, God arranged the world as a mirror, to show us who we really are, and what we really need to work on. If we secretly believe ourselves to be selfish monsters, or hateful failures, or fatally-flawed and unfixable in some way, that’s the ‘self’ we’ll see reflected back to us from the people in our lives, and especially our children.

The more ‘down’ we get on ourselves, the more we dislike ourselves – all for the best motives in the world – the more we’ll be irritated by, dislike and probably mistreat our kids, who are just our mirrors. By contrast, the more we learn to see the good in ourselves, and to judge ourselves with compassion and understanding, the more that inner goodness will shine out of our kids, too.

(If you’re thinking this sounds a lot like Rebbe Nachman’s Azamra, you’re dead right.)

There’s a lot more to say about this, and I think I will be coming back to this idea again and again on my blog. But for now let me leave you with this:

The single biggest thing you can do to improve your parenting, and help your kids, and to build the world, and to become the fulfilled, happy Jew God created you to be, is to learn how to love yourself, and to concentrate on finding all the good He placed in your soul.

That’s it.

And if your course, workshop, or frum guru is not telling you that, or if it’s telling you to focus on your problems, flaws and issues, then run away as fast as your legs can carry you.

One of the things that Jews regularly ask our Creator is that God should ‘turn His anger into compassion’.

I’ve been thinking about this idea a lot recently, because my husband told me an idea he read in Likutey Moharan that explains that God often takes His cues from us. For example, if someone is working very hard on turning their own feelings of anger into compassion, God is much more likely to take that person’s prayers on the subject of turning the Divine anger into Divine compassion much more seriously.

I guess you could sum it up by saying God hates hypocrites. If we want Him to act nicely with us, and to overlook all our many millions of shortcomings and issues, He wants to see if we’re willing to act like that with other people.

Now, here’s the thing: it is SUCH hard work to regularly turn your anger into compassion (or at least, it is for me.)

Not a day goes by where I don’t read something, hear something, experience something that triggers off some massive rage fit. All this anger, and judgement and self-righteous disgust bubbles up – and dear reader, it always feels so just and proper at the time, especially when I’ve just discovered some particularly nauseating behaviour – and then I have to work like a dog to try and calm it all down again.

Depending on the circumstances, one session of hitbodedut, or personal prayer is often enough to dissolve the problem, or at least, my negative and angry reaction to it.

But sometimes, I find myself working on the same old problems, the same old difficult people, for days, weeks and even months at a time.

Just when I think I’ve finally put my angry feelings to bed about a particular person, they’ll go and do something even more annoying or disgustingly hypocritical, and then I find it all bubbles up again.

My yetzer starts whispering at me that it can’t be right to just let these people off the hook, and to keep judging them favourably, and can’t I see how horrible they are and what terrible things they’re doing and causing?

Literally, I can go round that mental track for a whole hour, noticing all the bad, disgusting stuff about a whole bunch of individuals (and believe me, it’s not even usually hidden) – and then trying to figure out how to judge it all favorably, and bring it all back to Hashem.

Let’s be clear here that BAD ACTIONS are always bad, and must be clearly recognised and responded to as such. But BAD PEOPLE is a whole different matter. Just because someone killed a granny in cold blood (BAD ACTION) doesn’t mean they themselves are completely evil and bad (BAD PERSON).

See, I told you it’s really, really hard to pull this stuff off.

But I’m still trying, not least because I know that there is no such thing as human objectivity. Every single one of us is adept at judging our fellow’s behaviour in very stark, harsh terms, while making a whole pile of good excuses for ourselves about how we just HAD to kill that Granny, because really she was the secret head of Hamas, or something.

To put it simply: I want God to tie Himself in knots to judge me favourably, and to turn His anger against me to compassion, so I have to practice what I preach.

But it’s so hard, and sometimes I get despairing and give up.

To keep me going, God has taken to sending me more, and more profound insights into human behaviour, so that I can really start to understand a little more why people do the things they do.

For example, I recently really got, for the first time ever, that certain people are so fundamentally obsessed with self-preservation, that it literally blinds them to any other consideration.

Their yetzer tells them that ‘X needs to happen at all costs, in order for you to feel good and happy and safe’, and then off they go, dead set at making ‘X’ happen regardless of who they have to squash or crush in the process.

Now, I’m not excusing the BAD ACTIONS, but I’m starting to understand that BAD PEOPLE are incredibly messed up, vulnerable and generally pathetic human beings. Once I got that, it got much easier for me to switch out of anger and into compassion mode.

At least, sometimes.