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This is the best explanation of Azamra I’ve ever heard.

It’s not the first time I’ve posted this up here, but this video by Rabbi Ofer Erez – with full English subtitles – is the single best explanation of how to do Azamra, or seeing the good in bad people without getting corrupted yourself – that I’ve ever come across.

I’m working SO hard at the moment, trying to get my ‘Stressbusters for Mums’ course completed. It’s like doing my finals in Uni, except worse, because no-one cared in Uni if I didn’t wash up for two weeks, but that’s not the case at this stage of my life!

So, posting will probably be slow here for the next week or so.

Unless God decides different.

So in the meantime, enjoy!

This video is probably one of the main reasons Youtube was even created.

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PS: Rav Ofer has a new book out, with his explanation of Rebbe Nachman’s story of the 7 Beggars. I don’t know where you can buy it online, but if I find out, I’ll update this post.

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I’ve been reading up on the history of Shabtai Tzvi and Jacob Frank who were false messiahs from 350 and 250 years ago, respectively.

In the process, I uncovered a great many new facts that I didn’t know before, and also some questions that continue to beg answers, even in our times. So without any further ado, let’s dive into the world of these false messiahs, who continued to shape the Jewish community in so many ways, long after their deaths.

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The story begins in Izmir, Turkey, when the Turkish Jew Shabtai Tzvi (1626-1676) (who I’ll call SHATZ for short) announces he’s the long-awaited messiah of the Jewish people. Initially, many Jews – including a great many learned rabbis – believe his claims.

But SHATZ has been dabbling in the Kabbalah and the occult, and he quickly develops a theology of going against the Torah of Moses, and deliberately doing the opposite of any given commandment. His reasoning is that now that the Moshiach has come, ‘evil’ has returned to its root in good, and there is no such thing as ‘bad’ anymore.

To prove this, he and his followers start creating new ‘Jewish festivals’, based on their own experiences and the ‘miraculous events’ occurring within their community, and abolish traditional fasts, particularly Tisha B’Av.

The Sabbateans also publically reject the Talmud, i.e. the Oral Law, and heap scorn on the heads of the rabbis who wrote it, claiming they distorted original Judaism.

It’s important to note that this is the same claim the xtians make against Judaism. They also reject what they term ‘rabbinic Judaism’, but rabbinic Judaism is the Oral Law, and it’s an integral part of Judaism that was also given to Moshe Rabbenu alongside the Written Torah at Sinai.

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In the best ‘National Enquirer’ tradition, SHATZ star really takes off after the rabbis expel him from Salonika for ‘marrying’ a Torah.

That’s when he moves to Jerusalem and acquires his own prophet by the name of Nathan of Gaza. Nathan of Gaza proclaims that SHATZ is the Moshiach in 1665, and by October of that year, the news already hit the European Jewish communities

The Chmielnicki Uprising (1648-1657) had killed a third of Europe’s Jews at this point, they were desperate for salvation. Also, the xtians believed that the End of Days was going to begin in 1665 – and that’s why the English decided to let the Jews return to the UK in 1655, because they figured it wouldn’t be long before they’d return to Israel, in any case.

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 This Nathan is an extremely convincing spokesman, and quickly hits on the idea of smearing anyone who denies the ‘moshiach-ness’ of SHATZ as being from the ‘Erev Rav’.

In the meantime, stories start to abound within the Jewish community (but are often quickly suppressed) that the SHATZ and his very large group of followers are engaging in shockingly illicit activities, including wife swapping, incest, deliberately eating pork and public orgies (to name but a few).

Very few rabbis seem to be prepared to publically call the SHATZ out on all the immorality and licentiousness surrounding him, although Rabbi Jacob Sasportas (1610-1698) and the Chacham Tzvi take the lead in opposing him. Rabbi Sasportas becomes the sworn enemy of the Sabbateans, and states that they are Erev Rav. But few people take this seriously, until SHATZ converts to Islam on September 15, 1666 on pain of death.

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At that stage, his followers split into three main groups:

Group 1: Well-meaning Jews who were duped into believing that SHATZ is the Moshiach between 1665 and his conversion in September in 1666. Large numbers of this group make teshuva after Shabtai becomes an apostate, and return to the Jewish fold.

Group 2: Crypto-Sabbateans – who maintain a pious Jewish exterior, but who engage in all sorts of licentious behavior behind closed doors, and continue to believe that SHATZ actually is the Moshiach.

Group 3: Hard-core Sabbateans, many of whom also sham convert to Islam, but whose real religion continues to be Sabbateanism. The infamous ‘Donmeh[1]’ of Turkey belong to this last group. Many of these Jews schism off and out of the Jewish community, at this point.

But not all of them, especially in Podalia and Eastern Europe.

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SHATZ dies in 1676 – but that doesn’t faze his followers, or derail the ‘SHATZ is Moshiach’ propaganda machine.

In order to keep the show on the road, his leading followers come up with the idea that Shabtai Tzvi’s soul will conveniently ‘reincarnate’ in one of his followers 49 days after his death.

That person becomes the new leader, and the messianic fervor that’s powering the Sabbatean’s activities continue to churn, and bring in new adherents, power and funds. The Sabbatians teach that the the original Shabtai Tzvi will come back from the dead, as part of techias hameitim, and take over where he left off.

The Sabbatean community continues to emphasize kabbalah over normative halacha, but have a status within the Jewish community similar to the Karaites – i.e. both the xtians and the Jews of that time still consider them to be Jewish, at least technically, but a sect, not normative Judaism.

Xtians eye these developments with great interest. The Karaite community in Amsterdam at this time is being financially supported by the Protestants there, who want to undermine ‘Rabbinic Judaism’ by presenting the Karaites as being more authentic, and more akin to the original Jews.

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So, for the next 100 years or so, the Sabbatean community continues.

It is more ‘openly’ Sabbatean in Turkey, and more ‘secretly’ Sabbatean elsewhere, particularly in the 4 lands of Poland, and especially in the Polish province of Podolia, which covers an area consisting of modern-day Ukraine and Moravia.

Podolia borders Turkey, and there is a lot of exchange between the Jews of these areas.

So far, I probably haven’t told you too much you didn’t know before. But hang on, because here where the story ramps up a level.

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At exactly the same time that the Baal Shem Tov and chassidut appears on the scene in the Ukraine (Podolia), Jacob Frank also shows up. It’s a well-known spiritual principle that every good thing has its ‘bad’ mirror image. God arranges things like this, in order to maintain free choice, and that’s often why things can seem so confusing to us mere mortals.

We see that rabbi with a shtreimel, this rabbi with a beard…. They both appear to be identical, from the outside, yet one is a destructive luminary of fire, and the other is a holy luminary of light. And unless we’re continually asking God to show us the truth, we can very easily find ourselves being tugged after those charismatic – but false – luminaries of fire.

So, at this period of time, from the 1730s on, there are a number of Jewish ‘wonder workers’ stalking all over Europe, some of whom – like the Baal Shem Tov – are holy of holies, and others of whom – like Jacob Frank, and Samuel Falk of London – are actually fakers who are using dark kabbalah for their own ends.

(It’s a side point, but Samuel Falk was one of the leaders of the movement to get more Jews into devil-worshipping Freemasonry, in the name of Jewish ‘emancipation’. He was known as a miracle worker in London, where he acquired the name ‘the Baal-Shem of London’. I was a little shocked to learn that the picture that is usually said to be of the Baal Shem Tov is actually a picture of this guy, instead!)

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So, Frank is a Polish Jew, probably already from a family of secret Sabbatians, who moves to Turkey and is initiated into Sabbateanism on his wedding night.

All this coincides with the death of Berakhiah, the current leader of the Sabbateans who claims to be a reincarnation of the SHATZ. So Frank spots his opportunity, and claims that he’s the next link in the Sabbatian’s chain of command.

He’s a powerfully charismatic individual with a strong lust for power and celebrity, so many of the existing Sabbatean community in Turkey accept him as their leader. Frank decides to head back to Poland, where many thousands of the crypto-Sabbateans live. These people appear externally to be orthodox Jews, but are secretly doing all sorts of deviant and evil things that are totally against the Torah.

Empowered by Frank, many of these Jews – which includes a large number of rabbis – start to come out of the closet, and to openly challenge ‘Rabbinic Judaism’ by doing things like publically eating on the Fast of Esther.

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In 1656, the infamous ‘Lanckronie’ affair occurs.

This is when Frank and his followers first come to the attention of the wider Jewish and xtian authorities, for behaving in some very disturbing ways. The matter is investigated, and it’s discovered that the rabbis of Lanckronie, Busk and Krzywcze are all Sabbatians – and starting to act in increasingly brazen ways.

Frank and his followers – which at this point, number anywhere between 1,000 – 15,000 – portray themselves as a separate and ‘more authentic’ stream of Judaism. They start requesting an area of land from the catholic Polish authorities where they can live semi-autonomously.

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Moving back to Poland is a big deal for Frank.

At that time, the Jews can’t really own land, they can only rent it. After Shabtai Tzvi fails to deliver on returning the Jews to their own homeland in Israel, Frank and his followers decide to give up on Israel, and transfer “Sabbatian messianic hopes connected to the Land of Israel to Poland”[2] instead.

Frank starts giving sermons where he tells his followers:

“Poland was ‘the ground for the ascension’ – the place where the Shechinah would rise out of the earth.”[3]

The Frankists are keen to break the link between ‘redemption’ and getting land for the Jews, and also believe in the final unification of world faiths before ‘the End’.

So, there are two things going on now. First, Frank and his followers want to own their own land, and they are happy to suck up to the xtians and to play their game in order to acquire some status and wealth. But second, there really is a philosophical underpinning for everything they’re doing, based (loosely) on Shabtai Tzvi’s distorted teachings.

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At this stage, Rabbi Jacob Emden, son of the Chacham Tzvi, heads the growing opposition to the Sabbateans.

In May 1756, following the Lanckronie scandal, the Sabbatians are formally put in cherem, and the study of kabbalah is outlawed for anyone under 40 years of age.

The Rabbis also release a statement that:

“On the basis of the codifiers, we pronounce that it is a positive commandment to kill them [i.e. the Frankists].”

Off the back of this announcement, the Jews subsequently kill 18 Frankists in Podolia and wound another 30.

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Frank flees back to Turkey – where he secretly converts to Islam and become ‘Ahmed Frank’. But he has a lot of competition in Turkey, where the Donmeh hold sway, so Frank decides to head back to Poland in June 1757.

At that time, he approaches the Polish Church to request they organize a disputation between the Frankists and the formal Jewish community, claiming that ‘Sabbatianism’ is closer to original Judaism because they don’t hold by the Talmud (i.e. the Oral Law).

This is music to the bishops’ ears, especially as Frank and his followers are willing to claim that the Talmud encourages Jews to sacrifice xtians and to use their blood in matzahs, in order to spite the formal Jewish community that’s attacking them.

So, the infamous blood libels were actually begun by apostate Jews who were looking for a way to break rabbinic control over the Jewish community. It’s totally shocking, isn’t it?

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The confrontation happens on June 20, 1757 in Kaminetz, and amongst the 9 points being argued by Frank we find these:

#6 We believe that God may take upon Himself mortal human flesh… [this was phrased carefully as Frank believed that this applied to Shabtai Tzvi and then himself – but he made it sound at this stage as though he was talking about yoshki]

#7 In accord with Daniel’s prophecy, we believe the city of Jerusalem will not be rebuilt until the end of time.

#8 We believe that the Jews have waited in vain for the messiah to come and to bring them happiness and grant them power over other nations.

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Unsurprisingly, the catholic Bishop of Kaminetz, Dembowski, states the Frankists have won and decrees that the Talmud should be burnt.

It’s a pyrrhic victory for the Frankists, though, because Bishop Dembowski unexpectedly dies very soon after this. Xtian sources explain that a plague breaks out in Kaminetz, and the Bishop’s ghost is seen walking around by residents.

The xtians decide to dig the Bishop’s body up and behead it – their way of ‘killing’ his ghost – but it doesn’t work. The plague intensifies, and now the Bishop is seen walking around carrying his head under his arm. So now, the xtians dig his body up again, and burn it in the same place where the Talmud was burnt – and the plague and the ghost subsequently disappear.

Fancy that.

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With their main supporter dead, the Frankists are now in a very vulnerable position.

Up until now, they haven’t wanted to convert to xtianity, but they’ve burnt their boats with Judaism, and the Jewish community no longer considers them to be Jews.

At this point, Rabbi Emden and his supporters, chiefly a man named Baruch Yavan, decide the best way to deal with the Frankists is to bribe the catholic church to pressure them to convert out of Judaism. They expend a lot of money and effort on bribing the Papal Nuncio in the region to make this happen, and it pays off.

A second dispute is held in Lvov (Lemberg) on July 17-19, 1759, where amongst the 7 points being debated, the Frankists claim:

  • All the prophecies about Moshiach have already been fulfilled.

  • Moshiach is G-d, who took human form.

  • So all sacrifices and ceremonies should be abolished now.

  • Everyone should follow Moshiach’s teachings, for ‘salvation lies only within it’.

  • The Talmud encourages the Jews to perform human sacrifices and to shed xtian blood.

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Long story short, immediately after this dispute in Lvov, Frank and between 1,000-7,000 of his followers convert to xtianity, including the Rabbis of the polish towns of Busk and Gliniany.

To give just one example of the scale of what happened, two thirds of the Jewish community of Busk convert.

To put this in context, only 4 communities in Poland at this time had more than 3,000 Jews, and Lvov – with 7,400 Jews – was the second biggest Jewish community in the country.

This is a totally massive blow to the Jewish community.

Yet, Rabbi Emden and many of his circle, including the Vilna Gaon, celebrate this mass conversion as a ‘miracle from heaven’, as now they don’t have to deal with the Frankists in-house anymore.

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By contrast, the Baal Shem Tov takes this mass conversion very hard, and dies the following year.

According to Wikipedia:

“After the mass conversion of the Frankists, the Baal Shem Tov allegedly said that as long as a diseased limb is connected with the body, there is hope that it may be saved; but, once amputated, it is gone, and there is no hope.”

Writing in Likutey Moharan, I:207, Rebbe Nachman has this to say about it:

“This was what caused the departing of the Baal Shem Tov, who had said that he would depart on account of the Shabtai Tzvi episode. Several of the leaders of the generation and outstanding scholars had become followers of Shabtai Tzvi, who had fooled them, as well known.

“They left the community and spoke evil against the entirety of the Oral Torah (i.e. the Talmud) because harsh gevurot had come upon them and they did not ameliorate them…Thus, they spoke evil words against the community, and these words befell the leader of the generation, who at that time was the Baal Shem Tov, which is what caused his departing.

“And the Baal Shem Tov is quoted as saying that the Shabtai Tzvi episode caused two holes in his heart, which causes his departing. This is because speaking against the Oral Torah and speaking against the tzaddik of the generation is one and the same thing.”

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Let’s sum up the rest of Frank’s story as briefly as we can, as it’s actually not what I want to focus on.

Frank is imprisoned by the Catholic church in 1760 when they realise he’s still claiming to be the messiah to his own followers. In 1767, Frank approaches the Russians and offers to become Greek Orthodox, together with his thousands of followers.

(By way of context, the massacre of Jewish martyrs in Uman that caused Rebbe Nachman to request to be buried there happens in 1768. Given all the voluntary conversion to xtianity that was going all around them in the Jewish community, we can see that the Jewish martyrs behavior was even more exemplary than perhaps we realized.)

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When Russia conquers Poland in 1772, they free Frank, who goes to Moravia, which is part of the Hapsburg Empire.

There, he becomes a celebrity, and hobnobs with monarchs, all on the promise of being able to deliver up thousands of Jews for conversion. For example, just two months after Frank arrives there, another 8 families convert in Prozznitz – including the rabbi!

Frank also becomes involved with Freemasonry, and his followers are instrumental in trying to set up Freemason lodges called the ‘Order of Asiatic Brethren’ that will welcome both xtians and Jews. According to Jacob Calmonson, a leading maskil at this time,

“Jewish efforts to secure emancipation ran parallel with the history of their relations with freemasons.”

But the non-Jewish Freemasons complain, and after 1785, there is a massive clampdown on the number of Jews who can join Freemason lodges within the Hapsburg Empire. That’s when the Frankists branch out into the so-called ‘Illuminati’ Lodges.

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A year later, in 1786, Frank falls out with Emperor Joseph II and leaves for Frankfurt Am Main.

He meets Prince Wolfgang Ernst II, thanks to his Freemason connections, and the Prussian Monarch gives him a castle in Offenbach to live in, together with his children and followers.

At this stage, the Frankists and the Freemasons are both starting to be spoken of as a ‘State within a State’ and as types of international spy networks.

Frank dies in Offenbach, and his followers claim that Frank – who was meant to be ‘immortal’ – has now: “shed his human form, [to] clothe himself in divinity, so he could triumph over death.”

His children, particularly Eva Frank take over the franchise as a sort of female ‘messiah’, but don’t do nearly as well with it. Eva Frank dies in 1816, and apparently that’s where the story ends.

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Really, that story is still going.

It’s not a commonly-known fact in our times, but the main false accusations being hurled at the head of the nascent Breslov community in the Ukraine by their detractors was that they had Sabbatian sympathies.

There was so much ‘heat’ generated against Breslov that a rabbinically-sanctioned attempt was even made on the life of Rabbi Nachman’s main student, Rav Natan. Just the murder got the wrong ‘Rav Natan of Breslov’, and killed the wrong person[4].

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By the early 1800s, there were an estimated 24,000 former Jews – including large numbers of Rabbis – who had converted as part of the Frankist disaster in Poland alone.

And ‘secret Sabbatians’ still abounded, particularly in places like Czechoslavakia, Bohemia and Moravia, where they tended to keep up the pretense of Jewish observance and even extreme Jewish piety externally, whilst all the time believing and acting in ways that were totally against Judaism.

Even world-famous rabbis like Jonathan Eybeshutz were actually secret Sabbatians, and Rabbi Eybeshutz’ son, Wolf, actually became a well-known, totally immoral Sabbatian ‘prophet’ who for a time vied with Frank for leadership of the Sabbatians.

So, suspicion fell on Rabbenu and his small group of students, because while Rabbi Jacob Emden and the Vilna Gaon preached a creed of excommunication and excision from the Jewish community, Rebbe Nachman took a totally different tack to trying to solve the problem of the Frankists and crypto-Sabbatians, as we’re about to discover.

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Over Shabbat, I was pondering large sections of Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom and Tzaddik, when I realized that so many of Rebbe Nachman’s mysterious journeys were to places where key events in the Frankist history had taken place. Many decades after the disputation and Talmud burning in Kaminetz, Rebbe Nachman made a trip to the town, at the behest of the Baal Shem Tov, who he said came to him in a dream.

Jews had been banished from living in Kaminetz after 1757 after the disputation with the Frankists that lead to the burning of the Talmud and the devastating plage, but very shortly after Rabbenu’s trip there, the Jews were allowed back in.

Then in 1807, after Sukkot, Rebbe Nachman suddenly left for Lvov (Lemberg) in a big hurry – and no-one knew why. Rav Natan went running after him, and caught up with Rabbenu at Krassnoy. That was when Rabbenu first taught the lesson of Azamra I:282.

There, Rabbenu taught:

 “Know: one must judge every person favorably. Even if the person is totally wicked, one must search and find in him some bit of good, regarding which he is not wicked. By finding in him this bit of good and judging him favorably, one actually elevates him to the direction of righteousness and is able to bring him to repentance.”

In Tzaddik, Rav Natan explained that when Rebbe Nachman was giving over this lesson, “He seemed fairly pleased, and he spoke about the purpose of his journey, connecting it with the idea of the sanctuary each of the Tzaddikim builds” – as set out in Lesson I:282, where the Tzaddik can even draw the good in total sinners back to Hashem.

Once I understood what was going on all over that area at this time, so soon after Jacob Frank had lead the mass conversion of many thousands of ‘orthodox’ Jews into xtianity, I started to view these words in a totally different light.

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Rabbi Emden and the Vilna Gaon had one approach to the problem, where they basically (and arguably correctly!) termed the Frankists in their midst as unfixable Erev Rav, and attempted to cut them out of the Jewish community.

This is very much in keeping with the writings attributed to Hillel Rivlin of Shklov[5], student of the Vilna Gaon and author of Kol HaTor about the Erev Rav, vis:

“[T]he Erev Rav is our greatest enemy, the one who separates the two moshiachs. The klipah of the Erev Rav works only through deception and roundabout ways. Therefore, the war against the Erev Rav is the most difficult and bitterest of all. We must strengthen ourselves for this war, anyone who does not participate in the battle against the Erev Rav becomes, defacto, a partner with the klipah of the Erev Rav, and was better off not being born in the first place.”

But there’s one massive problem with this approach:

It doesn’t work.

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I write way more about this in my book Unlocking the Secret of the Erev Rav, and I discuss this problem a lot on my blog, too, but practically speaking, it’s impossible to really determine who is unfixable Erev Rav and who isn’t – especially when you’re dealing with pious hypocrites who keep up a façade of perfect frumkeit.

And if we look back at what happened after the Frankists were forced to convert out of Judaism, we’ll see that declaring an all-out war against them didn’t work then, either.

All that happened is that Judaism permanently lost many thousands of souls, whose children could have returned to the fold of orthodox Judaism at a later date.

Not only that, the Frankists and crypto-Sabbateans became more brazen after they were forced out of Judaism, and were spurred on to join forces with the Freemasons and to get involved in things that we are still paying the price for globally, today.

Once they were pushed beyond the pale, and totally ejected from the Jewish community, the Frankists pintele yid was effectively extinguished.

But the whole world still views them as Jews, and we Jews are being tarred with the same brush.

Even more ironically, so many of the descendants of the Vilna Gaon’s students – including the author of the Kol HaTor himself! – are today’s immoral politicians and elites in Israel. This is not a simple problem, not at all.

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As I read of events 250 years ago, I couldn’t help but be struck by the parallels today.

Today, there are still so many people flinging the ‘Erev Rav’ accusation at other Jews’ heads. There are still segments of Jewish society who are acting in some very immoral ways, both within the bounds and beyond the bounds of externally ‘orthodox’ Judaism.

In so many ways, it feels as though the same test has swung around again.

And this time, we have to try a different approach to solving the problem. It’s not going to work, to just cut off from our fellow Jew and pretend they are someone else’s problem. Each Jew is responsible for the other – and when we forget that, God has a way of reminding us.

The anti-Semites out there make no distinction between Jews in Jersey City, and Jews in Monsey, and Jews in the Conservative ‘Tree of Life’ in Pittsburgh.

We can’t cut off from all the troubling and even ‘evil’ elements in our midst, much as we might like to.

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So what’s the answer?

Azamra.

Azamra is the only way of fixing the ‘unfixable’ Erev Rav in our midst.

If we see the point of good in these people – without lying to ourselves or whitewashing their ‘bad’ – then God will do what’s required to resolve the problem, and somehow return that spark of goodness to a place of holiness.

From my own experience, when I do ‘Azamra’ on the yucky people out there, that’s precisely when their bad deeds start to catch up with them, and their suffering grows so great that they are prompted to make teshuva in some way, however small.

Rabbenu’s approach works, however you care to define that word.

And cutting people out of our lives and publically degrading them doesn’t. All that does is give more ammunition to the anti-Semites out there, who are churning out stuff 24/7 about the Rothschilds, and the Mossad, and the State of Israel being behind all of the world’s woes.

God is in control, here, not us.

God wants us to do Azamra on all the Jews we know.

If more of us can follow this approach, then the terrible scar left by Jacob Frank and his followers, and Shabtai Tzvi and his acolytes, will finally heal.

And the Temple will be rebuilt peacefully, in our days.

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FOOTNOTES:

[1] Today, there’s an estimated 100,000 donmeh living in Turkey.

[2] The Mixed Multitude: Jacob Frank and the Frankist Movement (1755-1816), by Pawel Maciejko.

[3] Ibid

[4] See Through Fire and Water.

[5] Hillel Rivlin is also an ancestor of the current President of Israel, Ruby Rivlin.

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Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

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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]

==

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.

==

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.

==

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.