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I know it’s bad to look at Facebook.

I know, believe me I know. That’s why I have a fake account that lets me just dip in and out when I need to go and look up things for research purposes.

So yesterday, I was doing some research that took me to a Facebook page, and then I noticed a picture of a young woman with striking red hair and a sad face under all her makeup – Shiran – and something compelled me to look at it.

Man, I got so sad, so fast.

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As I scrolled through all her selfies from the last five years, I saw how a beautiful, religious, ‘edgy’ girl went totally off the rails.

It started in small ways. The skirt was still black, but way too tight. Then it got shorter. Then the tops started revealing more and more cleavage.

Then, some big ‘break’ happened, and the hair got dyed a vampy red.

Then the makeup went up a level, with kohl-ed eyes and dark red lipstick to match.

And the clothes continued to disappear.

And then the first tattoo showed up – something ‘subtle’, just a signature on one wrist.

And now, five years later, she’s totally covered in tattoos up and down all her limbs, and a few other places, too.

I know this, because the last ‘selfies’ posted up were artistically-shot pictures of Shiran running through some grass with her tattoo-ed butt cheeks hanging out of her cut off shorts. P*rnography, pretty much, but so artfullll….

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What can I tell you?

My heart broke.

The last few months, I’ve been getting to know quite a few of these ‘souls of tohu’, these big souls that can’t really fit into the world as it’s currently configured, and so they want to destroy, and tear it down to its foundations.

At their root, these kids, these teens, these young people are really only good.

They want that ideal version of planet earth so badly, it literally pains them to have our current flawed version. So they lash out, and they try to do anything they can to minimize the pain of simply being alive in our current, difficult reality.

And the first person they lash out at is themselves.

What are tattoos, after all, except bruises of the soul, publically displayed for all to see?

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Honestly?

I’m still heartbroken about all this. There are so many kids like this, who are growing up in homes – frum or not – and falling straight to the bottom of the world. And everything is being documented with selfies on Facebook and Instagram.

I can’t help but wonder, if there was no Facebook page to post all this amateur p*rn up on, and no Smartphone to take pictures of the ‘latest’ self-mutilating tattoo, and no fake Facebook friends to egg-on all this self-destructive behavior with little red hearts and ‘thumbs up’ emojis, would it still be happening?

Would Shiran have transformed so violently, from an off-the-derech girl to a tattoo-d vamp-call-girl-wannabe?

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I find that question so painful.

This world is so hard.

So please, go and give you teens a big hug right now.

Tell them how good they are. Tell them how much you love them – even if they’ve already slipped, even if they’ve fallen. There is always a way back, there is always a stairway up and out of the muck – I learnt that from Rabbenu, and from Rav Berland.

But the first step is our love for our kids.

Turn that love on, whack it up to full volume and let it shine a path for your kid to return to their true selves, return to their souls, and return to God.

He wants everyone back.

Even Shiran.

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As I was writing this, one of my kids told me she wanted to show me an ‘amazing’ video.

It’s called neshamot shel tohu – souls of chaos – and it depicts a little of what I’m writing about in this post. These lost young people, running through the streets of Jerusalem, smoking, drinking, hanging out in Mahane Yehuda. Acting out, because the world is just so painful to them. They are mamash the biggest neshamas.

The chorus says:

Neshamot shel tohu

Machapsot ca’av

Bishvil l’argish mashu

English:

Souls of chaos, looking for ‘pain’, just so they can feel something.

What can I say?

I started crying again.

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UPDATE:

Here’s an English translation of the lyrics:

Souls of ‘chaos’

Looking for ‘pain’

Just in order to feel something

Only so they can feel something

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I got used to this now

Prisoner of the cycle

Scared to come close

‘Diseased’ and frightened

Knots and more knots in the heart

I want [to come closer] but don’t know how

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A scared boy

Angry at the world

He runs away to each place

And doesn’t understand where he’s even going

To love from close up, it’s still not possible

There is a ‘ruach sayera’ (storm wind)

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Shards of light from those days

Broken vessels are wandering around

Thirsty, angry

Broken-hearted because of other people

The smallness of ‘skin’

The separation between light and light

The heart is so very sensitive

It’s hard to endure the world

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So if you are wandering around

With a hungry heart

Know something:

The buried treasure is within your own deepness

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For about five minutes yesterday, as I was driving back to Jerusalem on Route 6, I had this amazing feeling of being so connected to God, and seeing how He’s guiding every tiny detail in the world.

The traffic was flowing, the scenery was beautiful, and I had a profound sense of peace and excitement.

Moshiach is almost here, I can feel it….

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I got home, and instantly my mood changed.

Someone had sent me a link to another crappy Israeli TV ‘expose’ about Rabbi Berland, blah blah blah, and somehow, my oldest daughter had opened it up when she was using my computer, and then spent two hours watching more poisonous crap about the Rav.

Excuse my mild swearing.

I’ve just so had enough of all this.

So, I told her:

I can’t keep trying to clean this stuff up for you, spiritually. You want to watch poisonous crap about the Rav, from lying, immoral, anti-God journalists, what can I do? Bezrat Hashem, God will help you to figure out the truth by yourself, because I am no longer prepared to sit her to try and shore up your shaky emunat tzaddikim.

That’s not an easy thing for me to say, because I know that it’s not going to go easy for anyone who finds themselves on the wrong side of the Rabbi Berland equation, and I love my daughter tremendously.

But each person has to fight their own fight.

And I also decided that I am totally coming off Youtube, and once I’ve finished typing this, I’m going to see if there is a way I can totally block it and / or erase access. (If anyone has any tips for me, please leave them in the comments section.)

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The more the current craziness plays out in the world, the more I’m seeing that there is really only one way that we can short-cut things like pandemics, plagues, economic depressions, terminal illnesses and wars, and that’s by working on our own middot.

All this Coronavirus stuff is just a case in point.

Regardless of whether it really is a potential world-killing pandemic, or just a totally over-hyped strain of flu that the media is using to whip-up mass hysteria for some unknown reason, what it actually all boils down to is just a big test of emuna.

Sure, you may be wearing a shawl, and thinking like you are the holiest thing to hit the world since Moshe Rabbenu, but if you’re scared to ride a bus in Jerusalem because of Corona, that is a clear indication that your real level of emuna is actually way, way less than you think.

Wherever there is fear of something that is not Hashem, that’s called ‘fallen fear’.

The whole idea, the whole goal, is to work through all the millions of ‘fallen fears’ that we all have, and to raise them back up to their root in emuna. That means understanding that God runs the world, God is doing everything for our ultimate good, and that everything is just a message from Hashem.

God doesn’t need Corona virus to kill anyone – if He decides we’re going to croak, that’s it, end of story, even if we’re wearing a bacteria-killing mask 24 hours a day and have an IV drip infusing our blood with industrial quantities of Vitamin C.

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God is running the world.

Let me repeat that again, as I know it’s so easy to forget it:

God is running the world.

Once I understand that, I stop obsessing over using the hand sanitizer, and I stop panicking when someone coughs next to me at work, and I stop checking out ‘the latest’ germ-blocking face masks.

And instead, I take some time out, and I go and explore why do I feel so scared? What am I doing, what sins am I engaged in, that are making my soul feel so anxious and frightened?

And top of that list is:

The sins between adam l’chaveiro.

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Recently, I’ve had a lot of kids who dropped out of the Torah world in my orbit, especially from the city of Bet Shemesh.

That place seems to have cornered the market in terms of dysfunctional ‘religious’ families where the parents are so super-duper, mega-crazy ‘frum’ on the outside – but actually treating other people, and particularly their kids, really badly.

What I’ve been learning is that the yetzer has been totally running rings around so many of these people. It’s convinced them harshly criticizing their children for not being ‘perfect’ is the best way to get them to make teshuva  – when of course, the polar opposite is true.

Imagine living in a home where you have a parent that is constantly telling you what you’re doing wrong, and constantly picking up chumrot that they try to shove down your throat, and constantly going on about how ‘bad’ and how ‘evil’ and how ‘defective’ you are, poor kid, and how they’re sure you’re not going to ‘make it’ when Moshiach shows up.

If I lived in a home like that, I would also get a punk hair cut, smoke 2 packs a day and feel really, really angry at God and religion.

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It’s no coincidence that Rabbi Berland has made it very clear that the gematria of ‘Corona’ is 363 – the same gematria as bein adam l’chaveiro.

And the first place to start with fixing that part of the equation is in our homes.

If you are criticising your kid all the time for not being Moshe Rabbenu, or not getting ‘straight As’, or not being perfect all the time – stop!

If you are condescending to your spouse, and you think like you have it all figured out and they are the spiritual retard in the relationship – stop!

If you think you are above doing a cheshbon hanefesh on how you hurt other people’s feelings, and how you use religious observance to try to control other people – again, especially your children – then stop!

Take a breath, take a careful look in the mirror that God is holding up to you, and to me, and to everyone else in the world right now, and see what’s looking back at you.

Is it nice, or nasty? Is it scary, or reassuring? Is the world full of kindness and compassion and understanding, or vicious complaint, din and anger?

Whatever you see peering back at you, that’s just a reflection of your inner dimension.

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Let me share a story with you, to illustrate this point.

I’ve been checking out a few of my ‘anonymous’ commentators IP addresses, especially the ones who like to write comments slagging off Rav Berland.

I discovered that one big critic of the Rav has a slew of court cases against them for illegally manipulating stocks on the New York stock exchange – they are mamash small time mafia. This guy has been extremely fast to loudly yell ‘financial fraud!!!!’ at the Rav and Shuvu Banim.

Now we know why.

Then, there was the commentator who liked to call himself ‘Peewee’, who is also ‘anti Rav’. Guess what? I found out he’s on a police watch list for pedophiles in the States after he was caught propositioning an undercover police woman who he thought was a 13 year old girl on the internet.

The Rav is just a big super-reflecting mirror, shining a light on our own bad middot.

That’s why I am not going to argue with anyone anymore, about what the Rav did or didn’t do, or did or didn’t say.

If you see bad in the Rav – if you see bad in your kids, in your spouse, in everyone else around you – that’s because that bad is really in YOU.

So knuckle down, acknowledge the real problem and get to work on it.

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This morning, I finally had the energy to walk down to the Kotel, as part of my hour long hitbodedut thing that I do every single day, with God’s help.

I walked down the road that skirts the Gei Hinnom valley, on the side of the Old City, a road called ‘Ma’aleh Shalom’ – the path of peace.

I went with quite a lot of heartache, thinking about some of the things I’ve written above, how I’m seeing so many parents literally destroy their children with their own two hands, all in the name of God and His Torah.

I touched the stones, kissed them, then headed back home. In the plaza, an old frum lady came over to me and called out may Hashem grant you everything you asked for!

I shrugged at her, pulled a tight smile and told her Sorry, I don’t have any money.

She hobbled closer, and told me in English:

You aren’t listening to me. Listen: May Hashem grant you everything you asked for!

She was right. I hadn’t been listening. She was trying to give me a bracha that my prayers should be answered, and I was batting her away like a pesky mosquito.

You’re right. I’m sorry. Amen!

Then she told me:

The most important prayer to say right now, is that we all get out of galut. That Am Yisrael should all get out of galut.

I looked at her twinkly blue eyes, squeezed her arm, and got the message.

What is galut, really, except the prison that we’re all in, that’s keeping us away from God and the people we love, and redemption? And what is that prison, really, except our own bad middot?

Our own fallen fears, and anger, and arrogance, and jealousy?

We all have a lot of work to do.

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UPDATE:

Daisy Stern has pulled a lot of info together to show why the Kan 11 ‘expose’ my daughter say was a total farce, and just more of the same ‘anti-Rav’ propaganda the media has been steadily churning out for year.

You can see that on her site, HERE.

Also, I saw another abusive comment this morning, this time from someone pretending to be ‘Sam Eisen’ about the Rav. Again, I ran the IP address – and guess what? It’s the same ‘Peewee’ pedo guy I mentioned before.

I won’t detail the comment, but suffice to say it was talking about dying in jail for being a pervert. Yet again, we see the mirror principle in full color.

So, yalla, come on all you ‘anti’ Rav people… send me more of your comments, even with your fake names, and then we’ll find out what’s really going on in your private lives and exactly why it is you are so ‘anti’ a person who exudes goodness and holiness so strongly, you can feel it a million miles away.

No wonder all these people are staying anonymous.

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Let’s leave the last word to Rabbi Nachman, who writes in Sefer HaMiddot:

“S*xual violators are for the most part opposers of the Tzaddikim.”

Now that I’m looking up the IP addresses on the comments, I’m seeing Rabbenu’s dictum manifest in real time. And I’m really excited to go and do some more digging on all those big mouths who have been so publically ‘anti’ the Rav – so yalla guys, don’t be shy!

Let me have all your disgusting comments, and then let’s find out who YOU really are.

It’s a taste of the World to Come, when the truth will shine out and no-one will be able to hide behind a fake name or a fake email anymore.

Doesn’t that sound like fun?

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“Whoever finds fault, finds his own fault” – Tractate Kiddushin 70a

With a couple of days to go before the Yom HaDin, Rosh Hashana 5780, I thought that we’d take a look at a passage in the Gemara, Kiddushin 70a, which is where the ‘mirror principle’ is first stated by Chazal.

In case you don’t know what the ‘mirror principle’ is, it’s a statement by the Baal Shem Tov that the whole world is a just a mirror, and that whatever ‘bad’ we see peeking out at us in others is somehow just a reflection of our own ‘bad’.

But that’s not just a tenet of chassidut, it’s actually brought down in the Gemara. And if we look at the context of that statement, we can learn some truly remarkable things. Let’s begin this post over in Chapter Four of Tractate Kiddushin, where the Sages are discussing the genealogical laws, and describing the different categories of Jews who ascended to Israel, from Babylonia, before the Second Temple was built.

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The Gemara tells us:

Ten genealogical classes went up from Bablyonia to Eretz Yisrael: Kohanim, Leviim, Yisraelim, chalalim (disqualified Kohanim), converts, freed Caananite slaves, mamzerim, nesinim, shetukim and asufim.

While all of these classes were considered to be 100% Jewish, there were restrictions on who was allowed to marry each other. The Gemara sets out the basic rules:

Kohanim, Leviim and Yisraelim – can marry each other.

Leviim, Yisraelim, chalalim, converts and freed slaves – can marry each other.

Converts, freed slaves, mamzerim, nesinim, shetukim and asufim – can marry each other.

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Before we continue, let’s just explain some of the more unfamiliar terms:

Mamzer – Refers to someone who is 100% Jewish, halachically, but who was born as a result of a union that is forbidden by the Torah. This doesn’t apply to someone who was born out of wedlock, but whose biological parents could still have stood under an orthodox chuppah. It also doesn’t apply to the Jewish child of a ‘mixed marriage’ where the father is not Jewish. But it DOES apply to adulterous extra-marital relationships, and also to children born of incest, amongst other things.

Nesin – This refers to a group of Canaanites called the Gibeonites, who tricked Joshua into converting them to become Jews, so that he wouldn’t kill them when he was conquering Eretz Yisrael. Even though their conversion was considered valid, Joshua forbid the other Jews from marrying them as long as the temple stood. Then later, King David saw how cruel and barbaric they were, and permanently forbid them from marrying into the mainstream Jewish community.

Shetuk – According to the Gemara:

“These are shetukim, anyone who knows the identify of his mother, but does not know the identity of his father.”

Asuf – According to the Gemara:

“Anyone who is gathered in from the street and does not know the identity of either his father or his mother.”

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The Gemara then gets into a very interesting discussion about how Ezra the Scribe basically forced all these ‘genealogically unfit’ categories of Jews to ascend with him to come and rebuild Eretz Yisrael.

He was worried that if he left them behind in Babylonia, the rabbis there wouldn’t know how to keep them properly contained.

(It’s an interesting aside, but the Babylonian Talmud asserts that because Ezra took all the ‘unfit’ Jews with him to Israel, he left Babylonian Jewry “like fine, sifted flour.” So they state that Babylonia at that time was the most genealogically ‘fit’ Jewish community, followed by Eretz Yisrael, then followed by the rest of the diaspora (!) I’m willing to bet the Talmud Yerushalmi has a different view, but I don’t have a copy to compare….)

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The Gemara then gets into a whole big discussion about what a big, genealogical mess the whole thing is already (1800 years ago…).

There were so many Kohanim who’d married goyim and ‘forbidden’ women without anyone knowing; and there were so many slaves who didn’t follow the proper procedure for being freed (which would render them as halachically Jewish converts) before marrying a Jew; and there were mamzerim walking around all over the place, due to adulterous affairs.

The Gemara then states this:

A Tanna taught…Elijah [the Prophet] writes, and the Holy One, Blessed is He, signs: Woe to him who disqualifies his children and who taints his family, and who marries a woman who is not fit for him. Elijah ties him, and the Holy One, Blessed is He, whips him. And whoever declares others to be genealogically unfit is himself genealogically unfit. And he (i.e someone who is genealogically unfit] never speaks in praise of others.

Let’s just pause for a moment, and digest this, as it’s a statement with huge implications.

In the Artscroll footnotes, they note that Rashi comments that:

[A]nyone who regularly demeans the genealogical status of other families reveals himself to be genealogically blemished.

In other words, we are back to the mirror principle, big time. The Gemara continues:

And Shmuel said: The Baraisa means: He declares them unfit with his own blemish.

I.e., whatever he’s accusing others of being, he’s actually just describing himself.

The Gemara then tells the following story, to underline this point:

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There was a certain man from Nehardea who went into a butcher shop in Pumbedita[1]. He said to them: “Give me meat.” They said to him: “Wait until the attendant of Rav Yehudah bar Yechezkel[2], who is standing here, takes his meat, and then we will give you yours.”

He said: “Who is Yehuda bar Sheviskel that he should precede me and take before me!” They went and told Rav Yehuda what this man had said. [Rav Yehuda] placed a ban upon him. They told Rav Yehuda: “He habitually calls people slaves.” [Rav Yehuda] issued a proclamation that he [i.e. the Nehardean] was a slave himself.”

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What happens next is that the aggressive, brazen, disrespectful Nehardean than sues Rav Yehuda in the rabbinical court of Rav Nachman, the leader of the Nehardean community.

The story continues:

“Rav Nachman began the questioning: He said to [Rav Yehuda]: ‘Why did master place a ban upon that man?’

Rav Yehuda responded: ‘Because he harassed an agent of the Rabbis.’

Rav Nachman: ‘Then master should have given him lashes…Why did you excommunicate[3] him?’

Rav Yehuda: ‘As a penalty. I dealt with him even more stringently than that.’

Rav Nachman: ‘Why did master proclaim that he was a slave?’

Rav Yehuda: ‘Because he frequently calls people ‘slaves’. And a Tanna has taught in a Baraisa: Anyone who declares others… unfit, is himself unfit. And he never speaks in praise of others. And Shmuel said….’It is with his own blemish that he declares other unfit.’

(Try this: swap out the word ‘slave’ for ‘Erev Rav’…)

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Now, the Nehardean gets all bolshy, and starts shouting down Rav Yehuda, who is one of the Gedolei HaDor of Babylonian Jewry:

“Me you call a slave, when in fact I am descended from the royal family of Hasmoneans!”

Rav Yehuda says to him:

“Thus said Shmuel: ‘Whoever says, ‘I am descended from the family of the Hasmoneans is in truth a slave!”

Rav Nachman gets into a small discussion about whether Rav Yehuda is just making up quotes to try to bolster his case, and Rav Yehuda says no, Rav Masnah also heard this teaching. Rav Masnah hadn’t appeared in Nehardea in 13 years, but whaddya know? As they’re having this conversation, Rav Masnah happens to show up, and he confirms Rav Yehuda’s statement.

The Gemara continues:

“[Rav Nachman] subsequently proclaimed that the plaintiff was indeed a slave. That day, many ketubot were ripped up in Nehardea” – because Jewish men now suspected they were married to ‘slave’ women who they’d mistakenly believed to be Jewish.

Now, Rav Yehuda leaves town, and the people of Nehardea follow him, because they want to stone him to death, for all the trouble he’s making. Rav Yehuda gets them to quiet down by telling them that if they doesn’t leave him alone, he’s going to reveal right there the big secret that Shmuel taught him about the Jewish community in Nehardea, namely:

“There are two families in Nehardea: One is called the family of Yonah [i.e. the kosher dove] and one is called the family of Orvasi [i.e. the non-kosher and cruel oreiv, or raven. Perhaps another hint to the ‘Erev Rav’ problem.]… The family named after an impure bird is impure, and the family named after a pure bird is pure.”

The townspeople dropped their stones and ran away, before Rav Yehuda could disclose which family was which.

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Now, the Gemara goes through a whole bunch of proclamations the Sages of Babylonia made about all these ‘impure’ and ‘disqualified’ people in the Jewish community.

This problem is even in Eretz Yisrael, and when Rabbi Pinchas’ students start investigating the families in the Land of Israel, they realise they have to stop. Rashi explains why:

“Their research led them to discover the disqualification of certain powerful families who would kill them [if their impurities were revealed.”

Which brings us on to a VERY important point, about how Chazal decided to deal with this situation, and how they said it would ultimately get fixed (we’re now in Kiddushin 71a):

(R’ Yitzhak said):

“Once a genealogically tainted family is mixed with Israel, it is mixed. One should not isolate such a family and clarify which of its members are pure and which are impure. Rather, one should leave it, and in the Messianic era all of its members will be deemed pure.”

The Gemara continues, and makes a distinction between ‘genealogically impure’ families who forced their way into the Jewish community (i.e. like Herod the Great, for example), and tainted families where it all kind of just happened:

(Abaye explains):

“Families… whose impurities are publically known and who became mixed with Israel only through force, will be dealt with by Elijah the Prophet. But a tainted family that became mixed with Israel because people were unaware of its status, Elijah will allow to remain mixed.”

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Let’s finish with one more story from the Gemara, in Kiddushin 71b, then we’ll sum up what we just learnt together.

Rav Ulla comes to visit Rav Yehuda in Pumbedita, and he sees that his son, Rav Yitzhak, is still unmarried, so he asks Rav Yehuda:

“What’s going on? Why haven’t you married your son off?”

Rav Yehuda replies: “Who knows where I can find a genealogically fit wife for him?!”

Rav Ulla says to him: “Do we know where we come from?”

And then starts listing a whole bunch of verses stating how idolaters ravished Jewish women in the town of Judea in Biblical times; and talking about Jews who ‘defile their couches’, which R’ Abahu explains as referring to wife-swapping.

“Since our predecessors engaged in this type of adulterous activity, no-one can assume that he is genealogically fit!” says R’ Ulla. So then, Rav Yehuda asks him, “So what do we do?” Ulla answered him: “Go after silence, i.e. seek a family whose members are quiet and peaceable…[In Eretz Yisrael] they use the following method to investigate someone’s lineage:

“When two people would quarrel with each other, they would see which one is the first to quiet down, and then they would say, ‘that person is genealogically purer than the other.”

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LET’S SUM THIS UP:

It’s a great, eye-opening piece of Gemara, isn’t it? Can you imagine what might start to happen if more of our rabbis and commentators would actually learn some Gemara?

So, here’s the main takeaway points from Kiddushin 70a-72b:

  • Whenever we find fault in other Jews, we are really just identifying our own faults.
  • That particularly applies to finding fault with other people’s ‘genealogy’, like for example, going around calling other people ‘Erev Rav’, etc.
  • Even 1800 years ago, there were so many forbidden and / or adulterous unions going on in the Jewish community, that even the head of the Torah Academy in Pumbedita was having trouble finding a ‘genealogically fit’ wife for his son.
  • Adulterous affairs and immoral behavior have been going on for so long, not even the most illustrious Jew today can be 100% sure that some ancestor of theirs didn’t put a massive spanner in their genealogical works. So it behooves us all to act with a little humility, and to stop pointing fingers at other Jews.
  • When Moshiach shows up, he will declare everyone pure.
  • The exception to this is those people who pushed their way into the Jewish community ‘by force’, i.e. they never intended to convert sincerely, or to serve Hashem, they just wanted the status, money or other perks of technically being part of the Jewish community. Elijah the Prophet will push these people away.
  • The way you can tell how ‘genealogically pure’ someone is, is by checking their middot and temperament. If they are angry, argumentative, brazen, obsessed with their own honor, always have to be right, and can never back down, make peace and apologise – then they probably aren’t so ‘fit’, Jewishly-speaking. The more calm, conciliatory, peaceable and kind a person is, the more genealogically ‘fit’ they probably are.

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On that note, let me end by apologizing to any of my readers or email correspondents who I may well have upset or irked this year.

I’m a flawed human being, and I don’t always act and react appropriately, so please forgive me!

And I unconditionally forgive all the psychos, weirdos, and holier-than-thou pseudo-prophets who continue to make my life interesting, too.

May we ALL be blessed with a peaceful, productive, happy, healthy and sweet 5780.

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FOOTNOTES:

[1] Pumbedita was the main centre of Torah learning in Babylonia, but Nehardea also had a significant, and learned Jewish population.

[2] This is the ‘Rav Yehuda’ of the Babylonian Talmud, who was head of the Torah academy in Pumbedita.

[3] By designating this man a ‘slave’, Rav Yehuda effectively removed his communal status as a Jew.

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Photo by Daniela Holzer on Unsplash

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Let’s take another look at BESHT’s Mirror Principle.

Until I really dug down, and started to figure out how the negative bunch of character traits that we’ll identify as ‘narcissism’, for ease of reference, works, I used to spend a lot of my time trying to warn others away from narcissists and crazies.

I have to tell you: this approach really didn’t work so well, and it actually only helped to alienate me from so many people. It was only when I started to learn about the Baal Shem Tov’s mirror principle, which I’ve written so much about, but most recently HERE, that I started to understand why this always used to backfire so badly.

To put it in colloquial terms,

birds of a feather flock together.

For as long as I continue to have a particular bad midda or negative character trait that I am justifying and excusing in myself, I simply won’t be able to spot it in other people.

As long as I keep making excuses for myself about why it’s okayyyy to speak lashon hara, or to keep exploding in anger at people, or to control others with guilt trips and deceit, and to avoid owning up to my own bad behavior (to name just a few of the more notable traits embodied by narcissism) – the less I’ll be able to identify those traits as ‘bad’ in other people.

And so, I will think that anyone who tells me that this stuff is ‘bad’ is actually just a derango themselves.

It’s only when I really started to put my hand up to my own anger, jealousy, arrogance, and ‘always-have-to-be-rightness’ (again, to name but a few….) that my tolerance for these traits in others started to diminish rapidly.

It’s like an ex-smoker. When you really start doing the work of acknowledging that anger is bad, for example, you can detect even the faintest whiff of it wafting around. Acknowledging that my anger was bad, under any circumstances, lead to some massive breakthroughs in my relationships and also my teshuva process.

Because we’re not angry at the weather, the boss, the ex, the rude clerk in the bank. Really, we’re just angry at God.

And until and unless we accept that, we’re going to be far away from having real emuna, far away from having a real relationship with our Creator, and very far away from ever acknowledging our own issues and problems, because everything will always be someone else’s fault.

The only person to work on is ourselves

The mirror principle has helped me to work on my own (hidden….) bad middot, so very much. Once I really internalized that any trait or behavior that I see in someone else that upsets me personally, is really just my own problem in disguise – that’s when my teshuva process really started to accelerate, and to get somewhere.

I stopped making excuses, I stopped pointing fingers at everyone else, and I started to see the true wisdom in Rabbi Israel Salanter’s comment, when he said:

“When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. But I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my country. When I found I couldn’t change my country, I began to focus on my town. However, I discovered that I couldn’t change the town, and so as I grew older, I tried to change my family.

Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, but I’ve come to recognize that if long ago I had started with myself, then I could have made an impact on my family. And, my family and I could have made an impact on our town. And that, in turn, could have changed the country and we could all indeed have changed the world.”

Mussar – as defined as the practice of working to perfect your own character flaws, instead of just pointing them out in other people – isn’t very popular today.

That’s a shame, because Rav Berland explains that:

“The best advice to overcome the yetzer hara is to cultivate some lowliness.”

And the best way to cultivate some lowliness is to acknowledge just how imperfect we ourselves are – and that’s why God keeps shoving all these ‘awful people’ in our faces. Because when the problem is really mine, there is no getting away from it.

Personally, I used to get SO ANGRY!!!! At all those DISGUSTING LUNATICS!!!! Who have SUCH BAD MIDDOT!!!! And WHO ARE FOOLING EVERYONE ELSE AND MISLEADING THEM!!!!

I used to rant on and on about them, and diss them at every opportunity, and lie awake at night thinking of ways to expose them and their awful hypocrisy. But this attitude is the opposite of having emuna, it’s the opposite of acting like a believing Jew, and it was just a function of my own bad middot, that my yetzer had carefully dressed up as self-righteous ‘good’ judgment.

The Rambam’s first principle of faith teaches us:

Ein Od Milvado!

God is behind everything and everyone. He’s setting up every single circumstance I find myself in, just to show me what I myself need to work on.

It was only when I really started trying to internalize my emuna that Ein Od Milvado, and to look past the person themselves to decode the messages God was using them to send me, that I realized that the real work to be done was just internal.

And the more I understood that the bad middot I was identifying in others was really just a reflection, and the more I started to work on them, the less God had to put those angry, judgmental, hypocritical, arrogant people in my face, because:

Like attracts like.

When I stopped ‘liking’ my own angry, self-righteous outbursts, and when I stopped giving myself a ‘get out of jail free’ card for speaking evilly of others, and when I stopped pretending that I was perfectly pious saint who never does anything wrong – I stopped gravitating to the people who were reflecting this behavior back at me. And even the ‘difficult’ people I can’t totally avoid have mellowed, and become so much nicer to deal with.

And man, o man, has life been so much happier, calmer and sweeter as a result.

But, there’s another layer to the ‘world is a mirror’ idea, and that’s something that I learned from the ravberland.com website, HERE. The Baal Shem Tov also taught that:

The Tzaddik is just a mirror.

Again, this isn’t ‘daas me’, this is properly sourced and referenced Daas Torah, and one of the foundational teachings of chassidut that’s grounded in the Gemara. Tractate Sanhedrin 110 explains that so many of the people in the desert suspected Moshe Rabbenu of committing adultery with their wives.

At that point, Moshe Rabbenu was an 80 year old man who’d even separated from his own wife, Tzipporah, because of his tremendous level of kedusha and personal holiness. Moshe Rabbenu was doing open miracles left, right and centre. Moshe Rabbenu had led them out of the desert, and redeemed them from Egypt.

And yet, so many Jews could still look at a Tzaddik of the caliber of Moshe Rabbenu, and suspect him of adultery.

How could this be?

A little later, the incident with the daughters of Midian showed exactly what was going on. That’s when 24,000 members of the tribe of Shimon, including their ‘big tzaddik’ of a leader, Zimri, died in a heavenly plague because they flagrantly committed adultery with the Midianite women, and bowed to their idols.

I’m sure those 24,000 were all over Facebook and the internet beforehand, swapping salacious stories about what they just ‘knew’ about Moshe Rabbenu.

The Tzaddik was just a mirror.

And the same principle is still playing out today, with this generation’s Tzaddik.

Those people who have pretensions to lead the nation, and to be the big enchilada and the main spokesperson for Am Yisrael¸ they look at the Tzaddik and they see a false messiah peeking back at them.

Abusive, angry people who want to ‘force’ others to do what they say, and think the way they think come near him, and they start to believe, incredibly, that the Tzaddik is an abusive, angry, controlling person

Self-righteous people who like to pretend they are perfect get a glimpse of the Tzaddik, and they come away convinced that he’s a hypocrite who is hiding a whole bunch of horrible sins underneath his flawless exterior – just the way they are, themselves.

People who are obsessed with making money, or miserly tightwads who are allergic to the idea of paying out 10% of their income to charity come close and all they see is dollar $ign$ – it drives them bonkers that people pay money to the Tzaddik for pidyonot!!!! They can’t stand it!!! How has that guy figured out how to dupe people into paying him large amounts of cash for free???!?!?!?!

Innately immoral people who support taavah-dik lifestyles look at the Tzaddik and see someone who’ll stop at nothing to gratify his own lusts and desires.

And the list goes on and on.

(It’s a side point, but it seems obvious that the Tzaddik’s most outspoken critics tend to be the most troubled people, for the reasons outlined above. They’re getting ‘triggered’ all over the place by all the ‘uck’ that’s reflecting back at them.)

There is nothing that can be done, to dissuade them out of these opinions and ideas because they aren’t based on facts, and they aren’t based on having the right information. It all just boils down to this:

Like attracts like.

What is pinging people away from the Tzaddik is their own innate evil, their own bad middot and their own negative character traits.

All the stuff that I’m doing with trying to get One in a Generation Volume II out there isn’t going to help these people one jot. Until and unless they start owning up to their own bad middot, and working on their own emuna that Ein Od Milvado, they can’t get anywhere near the Tzaddik of the generation.

That’s also why so many people come close initially, attracted by the light, but then subsequently ping away, when the Tzaddik’s enormous light starts to illuminate all the character flaws and personal issues they’d rather not deal with.

At that stage, God gives people a choice:

Are you going to admit that YOU are the one with the problems, or are you going to keep trying to blame things on other people, and carry on pretending that you’re just a poor victim? What’s it going to be?

Sadly, I’ve seen so many people stumble in this test. I think that without a regular commitment to hitbodedut, where you spend a chunk of time every single day asking God to show you what you really need to be working on, and looking at, and trying to see things from the other person’s point of view, more, it’s very hard to pass.

It’s so much easier to just keeping blaming the ex, the rebellious teenager, the rude bank clerk, the two-faced friend, the horrible boss.

Anyone except ourselves.

An infographic showing how to make teshuva using the BESHT's Mirror PrincipleSo, this is probably the main test that we all have to pass before geula really starts to kick off in a big way: the test of being honest with ourselves, about where we’re really holding with our own bad middot and lack of emuna.

Anyone who is doing that will make it through, regardless of where they live or which ‘group’ they belong to.

And anyone who isn’t doing that simply can’t ‘fit’ into the world of truth that is going to blossom when Moshiach shows up. Because the Tzaddik is just a mirror, and the people who aren’t working on themselves simply won’t be able to see his light, and to follow him out of the darkness.

 

In the old days, I used to make plans to do a long hitbodedut every single day of a 3-day Purim heading into Shabbat – and sometimes, they even used to come off.

But not, it seems, these days.

I’ve actually been struggling with a lack of motivation since Rosh Hashana, when I deleted Emunaroma to avoid getting pulled into any more ‘machloket’ with pretend-perfect crazy people.

And for three months, I did nothing much, because I didn’t want to have any more machloket in my life, and whatever I write, it always seems to end up there, somehow or other.

So then, back in December, I felt God wanted me back online, and with a heavy heart, I agreed.

Because I really don’t want any more machloket in my life!!! I just want an ‘easy’ life now, thanks very much, Hashem.

For months, I’ve been avoiding getting into anything too controversial again, as much as possible (although in our PC world, full of snowflakes just waiting to get offended so they can take out all their inner turmoil on you, that’s really much easier said than done.)

But I’ve been trying.

Now, you’d think that making a resolute effort to pursue the ‘easy’ life would be making me far more relaxed, chilled out, and overall happy-feeling. Believe me, I also thought that would happen.

But, man, was I wrong.

Instead of being more chilled out, laid back, exercising more, using all my energy to whip up healthy cakes, and go to the gym, and to spotlessly clean the house and iron my husband’s shirts (poor man…), I’ve actually been struggling to wake up most mornings, because what’s the point? My kids are big enough to get off to school without me, no-one needs a sandwich made, or a pair of sneakers found, so what’s the point?

 Sure, I’ve still been doing stuff – lots of stuff, even – but nothing really has been exciting me too much, or grabbing me. Why? Because while it’s kinda meaningful, it’s also kinda bland. And bland is not enough to have me jumping out of bed in the morning.

But ‘interesting’ stuff is always inherently risky, in any number of different ways. It can draw people against you, it can draw you into disputes and patterns of thinking that are very unhealthy and destructive. It can lead to a lot of stress and complication….

So, I’ve been caught on the horns of a furious dilemma.

But today, Purim day, I realized something profound: I’m here to serve God, for the good, and also for the bad. I’m not here to have an easy life. And pursuing that ‘easy’ life is actually making my life anything but easy.

Externally, it’s relatively peaceful and tranquil, Baruch Hashem. Internally, I’m fighting a raging tempest that wakes me up 4 times a night, and gives me no rest. I’m falling apart physically. I can’t ignore God’s prompts anymore.

This is so similar to what happened to me before we moved to Israel. The risks associated with moving were so huge – in London, we both had good jobs, a nice house, a community, family, the language etc etc. It was far too scary to even contemplate aliya.

But then, God sent me a bunch of inexplicable panic attacks, and a series of bad nightmares about getting stuck in London during a terrorist attack (this was months before the 7/7 terror attack actually occurred, which killed 52 people in London) – and after the third time, I told my husband we have to do it, we have to move to Israel.

Because God was giving me no peace, and my ‘easy life’ was becoming a living nightmare.

And it’s happening again.

That’s what I realized, this Purim.

There is no running away from God.

Revisiting the Mirror Principle (aka that problem you’re shouting about in everyone else is really just your own.)

Over on spiritualselfhelp.org last week, I wrote a piece about the Baal Shem Tov’s ‘Mirror Principle’ – together with this nifty infographic which set out the main points. A lot of people don’t like the Mirror Principle, because our yetzers have us programmed to go around pointing fingers at everyone else’s ‘bad’, while completely ignoring our own.

An infographic showing how to make teshuva using the BESHT's Mirror Principle

This is a big part of why I just can’t read rants any more, however more ‘holy’ they appear to be, because the person criticizing others for sure has some shade of the problem they are critiquing.

Not 100%, maybe, not exactly the same, but for sure some percentage of the same problem they are dissing in the other person, some shade of it in their own lives.

There’s a lot of confusion about how the mirror principle actually works, because a lot of people believe that if it’s not exactly the same problem, if it’s not exactly the same degree of the problem – then they are completely off the hook, and they can just continue to point fingers at other people so self-righteously, while completely ignoring their own flaws.

But the mirror principal also doesn’t mean that we just ‘whitewash’ the obvious bad we see around us, either, obviously not.

It just requires us to be honest – with ourselves and others – that if we feel the need to ‘have a go’ about something publically, or to vocally criticize another person, that we should also acknowledge that we also have that problem, too. So then we need to go away afterwards and figure out what percentage, what shade of that issue we ourselves are exhibiting.

Because it’s never 100% the other person who has the problem, and that we’re totally fixed and rectified.

At the very least, we have 1% of something to go away and work on, before that ‘rankling’ feeling will go away, and we’ll finally get some inner peace.

Of course, I have to practice what I preach. I can’t just write about all this stuff then ignore my own ‘mirrors’ that God is being so careful to show me.

So last week, I had a chat with a good friend of mine who was giving over a piece of ‘Torah’ which just sounded plain wrong, and really rubbed me up the wrong way. Without getting into the details of the Torah (which I went to check up afterwards, and which really does appear to be ‘wrong’) – I reacted so badly to what she told me, that I felt I had to apologise for my reaction while I was actually having it.

Now, in the past, I would just have launched straight into an attack on the credibility of the person who gave this Torah over. But after I’d been thinking about the mirror principle all week, I was a bit more spiritually prepared to look past the other person’s obvious ‘wrong’, and to ponder what God was trying to actually show me, instead.

What I came up with was the idea that I’m sick to the back teeth of all these ‘know it alls’ that really don’t know all that much at all, especially when it comes to the deeper ideas of the Torah, who are probably misleading a whole bunch of people. Now I was up to the next, far harder stage: seeing where that applies to me.

Because as the mirror principle clearly states, when you’re having a strong reaction to something, it’s never a case of it being 100% all the other guy’s fault.

So I did some hitbodedut on that idea this morning, and I came to the conclusion that more often than I’d like, I still find myself sliding in to ‘know it all’ rant-y posts. I don’t want to be writing that stuff anymore, and it’s a big reason why I actually pulled the plug on Emunaroma a few months’ back, because honestly? Who cares what I think?

At least, who cares what I think about very deep concepts that really, you need to be the gadol hador to really have a strong claim to actually know what you’re talking about?

So then I started to wonder, where does this strong urge to start opinionating, and to start acting like a know-it-all really come from? What’s underneath it, emotionally? The answer that came back was this:

Rivka, it happens when you’re feeling like a loser.

Aha! That was actually a useful piece of information. So then I had to ask,

God, how do I get rid of this? I’m sick of being pulled into pointless arguments that only lead to more sinat chinam, I’m sick of writing from an arrogant place. So, how do I stop feeling like a loser? What can I replace ‘feeling like a loser’ with?

The answer came back:

Try replacing it with some happy humility, instead.

So, that’s what I asked God to give me, happy humility.

Over Shabbat, I cracked open a book that I bought in the UK a few months back, that was basically talking about how bad the ‘Zionist enterprise’ is, and why orthodox Jews don’t need to live in Israel until the Moshiach actually comes.

It’s a big book – 1500 pages long – but around 1/3 of the way through, I came to realise how the author was pointing out all the ‘big bad’ in the other camp – and he’s right in most of what he was saying – but was completely missing the ‘big bad’ in his own.

I.e., the mirror principle was completely lacking over there, which is why the author felt justified in putting together 1500 pages of pretty much unadulterated sinat chinam. This is what’s holding up Moshiach – this is what’s been holding up Moshiach for the last 2,000 years, already.

Right now, God seems to be sending an atmosphere of harsh hakpada, or strict judgment down to the world.

It’s almost as though He’s shining a very strong spotlight of everyone else’s bad, and making it so easy to point fingers at what everyone else is doing wrong, and how annoying they are, and what bad middot everyone else has.

Why is He doing this?

Maybe, because He really want us to see what we ourselves need to fix. Because we all know, it’s so very easy to spot everyone else’s issues, and to call them out, but when we do that, we completely miss the point:

That we can only fix ourselves, that we can only rectify ourselves.

The last thing I just wanted to include here is the idea that the Tzaddik is just a mirror. The Tzaddik is completely rectified, so 100% what we see reflecting back at us is just our own inner dimension.

That’s why so many of the people who are ‘anti’ the Tzaddikim are clearly lunatics with a lot of mental issues. Whatever your issue is, the Tzaddik is going to shove it in your face so clearly, you can’t ignore it anymore, and if you can’t accept that you are the one with the problem, then you are going to just project it on to the Tzaddik instead.

For example, for as long as I can remember, I’ve had a really bad yetzer to get into fights and arguments with other people, which I always used to justify as standing up for the truth, yadda yadda yadda.

So, I got to Rav Berland, and the Rav arranged things that I’d get into the middle of the most machloket and self-righteous arguments I’ve ever had to deal with in my life. And after a couple of years of it, I was totally and utterly sick of fighting with people.

The Rav broke my yetzer for picking fights!

But, if I hadn’t been aware that the fighting and arguing was my own problem, then God forbid I could have fallen into the trap of complaining about the Rav, for setting things up in such a way that I was finding myself arguing all the time over ‘the facts’.

We are all down here because we have work to do.

Over the next few weeks and months, for sure a lot of yucky behavior is going to be coming to the fore, because things can only be fixed when they are recognized and acknowledged.

And the key to coming through this stage OK and with our relationships and sanity intact is the mirror principle. Sure, other people have problems and issues, that’s a given. But if God is showing those issues and problems to us, and it’s upsetting us, then that means we also have the same problem to deal with.

And we have to knuckle down, and get on with the work of rectifying it.

==

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Another Look at the Mirror Principle

 

AKA, Serving God on the Down

“[T]he terms ‘running’ and ‘returning’ are used in Ezekiel (1:14) and describe the chayot. They refer to two different facets of phases of divine service. They apply to everyone, no matter how low his level.

“There are times when everyone feels inspired in his devotions. This happens especially when a person is praying. He suddenly feels a burst of enthusiasm and says the words with tremendous fervor. This is the phase of ‘running’.

“But then, the inspiration and the fervor pass, and all that is left is a trace. This is the phase of “returning”.

“For most people, the main effort and work come in trying to achieve the ‘running’ – the moment when the heart ‘runs’, so to speak, in fervent devotion.  ‘Returning’ is something easy for them, because that is their nature….

“Both ‘running’ and ‘returning’ are necessary parts of serving God.”

#252 from Tzaddik, by the Breslov Research Institute. Also see Likutey Moharan I 6:4

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m a period of ‘returning’ at the moment.

Elsewhere, I call this ‘serving God on the down’ – you know, when you can’t really be bothered to listen to more Torah classes, or to take on more observances, and also when you’re finding it hard to get your act together to do even the basic stuff you know you should be doing.

Like making supper. Or hanging the washing. Or even, just stringing more than a couple of monosyllables together to talk to your husband and kids.

When this stage hits, it can often feel like we’re falling far away from Hashem, God forbid, but that’s where Rabbenu comes in to tell us don’t make that mistake!

Don’t start telling yourself that you’re ‘bad’, or ‘worthless’, or that God doesn’t love you, or that He doesn’t see all your efforts.

It’s just we can’t always be serving God on the ‘up’. We also have to serve Him on the down.

And it’s much easier to do that than you might think.

All it really means is that you turn around, and you search for God in the low place that you currently find yourself in, and connect it all back to Him.

God, I still want to serve You even though I got a little too caught up recently in dumb music videos on Youtube.

God, I still want to serve You even though I don’t feel like saying a Tikkun Haklali today, or going to hear a shiur.

God, I still want to serve You even though I seem to have completely run out of energy and ideas again.

That’s all we have to do to serve God on the down.

These are heavy days, hard times. The last couple of days, I’ve really been feeling like the ‘spiritual molasses’ has returned again, after a few days’ break, and it’s hard to do anything again.

But I can still serve God from this dark, unproductive place.

How?

Just by wanting to, even if the effort itself, the act itself, the improvement itself, is beyond me right now.

All I have is my wanting to do better, but I’m sending all that back up to Hashem, and this is all I need to do stay connected.

I’m heading down again right now, God, but wherever I land, You’re coming with me. BH, I’ll be back on the up, and ‘running’ and spiritually inspired again soon.

But right now, I’m serving You on the down.

And when we tell God that, we make Him very happy.

Sigh.

Sometimes, I get so frustrated by all this fake, politically correct ‘equality’ stuff that is really just another excuse for people with bad middot to start taking out their own issues and frustrations on everyone else.

Recently, I had to send another email around to Sassonmag.com writers, to remind them to please avoid any photos of ladies next to their pieces. This has been the policy of Sasson since its inception, just sometimes people forget, as people are wont to do, especially when swimming in the moral swamp of the internet.

There are a few reasons why I wanted to avoid pictures of ladies on Sasson. One of them is that I want it be an inclusive site for as many frum Jews as possible, and if there are photos of ladies on the site, that’s going to unnecessarily exclude a whole bunch of people.

It’s like having a ‘Badatz’ certification on your restaurant. If it’s ‘Badatz’, most people will eat there. If it doesn’t have a hechsher, most people who are interested in consuming kosher food simply won’t eat there. The same sort of idea applies to sites that are trying to cater to the orthodox community.

So, inclusivity is one reason why I don’t want pictures of ladies on Sasson.

But there’s another, much more important reason why I don’t want pictures there, or also here, on rivkalevy.com, which you can sum up like this:

Personally, I don’t want my photo everywhere.

Personally, I don’t want to be put under pressure to ‘wig up’ or slap on the make-up in order to be taken seriously as a writer. Personally, I don’t want my writing, my ideas, to be judged on how I look.

I want people to relate to my writing, not to my photograph, and in this image-gorged world, that is becoming an increasing rarity.

There’s something else, too.

Personally, I don’t want my husband looking at sites where all those gorgeous lipsticked women are showing their best side to the camera, while they give over their insights and Torah. Call me crazy! Call me idiotic! But I strongly prefer that my husband ‘relates’ to other women as little as possible.

There’s something else, too.

Personally, I don’t want my two teenage daughters to get sucked into that fake, false world of ‘appearance’, where the message they are getting 24/7 is that appearance is EVERYTHING.

If you’re fat, if you’re ugly, if you’re teeth stick out, if you have bad acne, or frizzy hair of a terrible dress sense – no-one is going to take you seriously, honey.

That’s the message the world of images gives women, especially young women.

And I’m so grateful that the world of Torah, the authentic, frum Jewish world, is giving out the opposite message:

That it’s the inside that counts.

That it’s the neshama that counts. That it’s not the packaging a person’s soul comes in that’s really important, but how that soul is acting, and what that soul is saying.

Sadly, there appear to be a whole bunch of apparently ‘frum’ women out there fighting to put all the focus on the outside, and on external appearances. These superficial ‘fighters for women’s freedom’ are trying to force women’s pictures into every single space under the guise of ‘equality’.

Now, I believe in the principle of free choice. You want to slap big, faux-glamorous pictures of yourself with your too-wide fake smile all over the place, please go right ahead. It’s a free country after all, and free choice is the whole reason God created us.

But I get extremely upset when these individuals try to force everyone else into following their dictates, with the same sort of ‘shaming’ and pressure tactics psychos of all stripes have been using online for two decades, now.

These people go on about how ‘unfair’ it is to women, to not have their images in frum publications. They go on about how ‘fanatical’ it is, and how ‘extreme’ it is, and how ‘backwards’ it is. They regret how ‘closed minded’ publications and institutions are that follow this policy, which smacks to them of – eek! – some sort of ‘ultra orthodox’ or chassidic mind control.

I’ve been pondering on all this OTT hysteria for a while, but after writing my post on BTs, I think I’ve got a bit more insight into what’s going on. From what I can see, all of the women (and PC men) clamoring for more women in frum publications are baal teshuvas.

They are people who left the secular world behind, and now seem to be kind of chafing at the restrictions that come as part and parcel of being an orthodox Jew. Instead of accepting that the fault, the issue, the problem is really with them, these people are trying to get past their discomfort by attempting to change the orthodox world to ‘fit’ with their own, still half-secular worldview.

In some ways, I understand it, at least a bit.

For a while there, I also bought into all those internet ‘experts’ telling me and everyone else who wants to listen that people relate more to an image, they trust you more when they see an image, they will buy more of your product, book more of your services if they can see you…

So says all the internet experts.

But God is totally out of the picture with this approach, and it’s just not going to lead to any real, or lasting blessings.

I learned this the hard way.

Two years ago when I published the Secret Diary, I managed to get an interview about the book into the Jewish Press. We were all set to go – when I got the bombshell request that I had to give them a couple of pictures of me, to go with the piece.

Can’t we just stick with the cover of the book?

I pleaded with them. After all, that cover had been so complicated to sort out, precisely because I was trying to avoid untznius images of women. But no, we couldn’t. And I’m sorry to tell you, my emuna wobbled and I gave in and sent them a couple of pictures.

You know what? I don’t think I sold as much as a single copy of the book, thanks to that interview. Nothing. Nada. Nega nega tory. And in the meantime, I don’t know what having those pictures ‘out there’ cost my neshama spiritually, but it definitely wasn’t worth it.

Thanks to all those ‘fighters for women’s freedom’ out there, who are increasingly making it impossible for frum women to participate in anything unless they are willing to be photographed publically, I wasn’t given a choice to not have any images next to my piece in the paper.

Way to go, sisters! Thanks so much for emancipating me like that!

Thanks to you and all your self-righteous outrage and politically-correct ‘piety’, I got stuck having to buy into the warped values and upside-down ‘equality’ of the world of images – that same world that bought us Harvey Weinstein, #Me Too, and an ongoing dumbing down of standards, morals, dress and behavior in the public arena.

Personally, I don’t want to look at pictures of women.

Personally, I don’t want my husband to look at pictures of women.

Personally, I don’t want my kids to be caught up in that world that degrades and downgrades women to just another ‘pretty face’ or piece of cleavage, or curly wig.

I want there to be a safe space, an alternative to the world of images.

Not everyone has to think the same way. Not everyone has to want pictures of women on their sites – even if they are women themselves, as I am.

And there are some very good reasons for that, including that God has put a whole bunch of rules in place for religious Jews that often seem to hold us back, or cause us some sort of material disadvantage, but which really only lead to tremendous blessings for us.

Those blessings are often hidden, and aren’t immediately obvious. That’s part of the test. But they are definitely there.

For example, my husband and I don’t have smart phones. Even though my children do, neither of them has internet access, and whatever they do have on there is also being filtered by Etrog. They basically use their phones for Whatsapp, pictures and music – that’s it.

Tell me, how many people have 18 year olds with smartphones who are completely disinterested in the world wide web, or 15 year olds with smartphones who don’t give a hoot about Instagram?

I know my mesirut nefesh to avoid smart phones is having some massive, positive repercussions on my family, even though it means I can’t film myself giving over ‘wisdom’ every five minutes, or thinly-disguised plugs for my books, to post up on Youtube and Instagram and Facebook.

Another thing: Baruch Hashem, my husband works as a lawyer, and I’m continually amazed at how God is sending him clients. My husband does no marketing, works afternoons only, as he learns in the morning, and doesn’t have Whatsapp. And yet, God is continually sending him more clients and good parnassa, BH.

Over the last few years, I honestly did have a few occasions when I felt that I was missing out on being able to publicise my work, my books, my ideas, to a wider audience because I couldn’t just video classes on Google hangouts and upload them to Youtube.

But you know what?

More and more, I’m starting to see what a blessing it is to be out of all that social media murk.

I’m seeing the toll it’s taking on people spiritually, I’m seeing how much of their soul, their values, their yiddishkeit, their connection to Hashem, they are really selling out, for precious little real return, appearances notwithstanding.

So, I’m standing firm on the ‘no pictures of women’ thing.

Call me backwards, call me discriminatory, call me narrow minded, whatever you want (I know you’re going to anyway.)

But understand something:

A Jew never misses out by trying to do the right thing by Hashem, and by following the path of self-sacrifice to keep God’s laws.

Just sometimes, it can take a while for that to become obvious.

Defining the role of the Baal Teshuva.

Recently, I had an email exchange with someone that inspired this post, that I’m calling the Baal Teshuva Manifesto. Baal Teshuvas, or BTs, have a crucial part to play in the unfolding redemption process, but where a lot of us seem to be getting stuck is that we think we have to be ‘carbon copies’ of the frum-from-birth crowd to be serving Hashem properly.

And this isn’t true!

God went to great lengths to stick us in whatever spiritual holes we found ourselves in before we realized we have a soul, and a much deeper spiritual purpose in life. What follows is going to explore this notion in much greater depth, but the basic idea is this:

The F-F-Bs have their own path, their own derech, and their own very important spiritual job to do in the world, which I’d sum up simplistically as:

Teaching Jews how to serve God with the yetzer tov, or good inclination.

By contrast, Baal Teshuvas also have their own path, derecho and spiritual job to do in the world, which I’ll sum up simplistically as:

Teaching Jews how to serve God with their yetzer hara, or evil inclination.

Most people in the FFB world didn’t grow up watching endless Disney, or having George Michael songs hardwired into their prepubescent heads, or spending pointless weeks on package holidays in places like Marbella or Cancun.

They don’t have those memories, they don’t have those challenges, they don’t have those issues and triggers.

When they go back to ‘home’, home is Torah, home is Shabbat, home is yiddishkeit, and unless they grew up in emotionally abusive, neglectful or otherwise disturbed homes, they will have very strong, happy childhood memories of these things. And those happy memories will reinforce the desire to do these things again, in their adult life.

By contrast, ‘home’ for many or even most of us Baal Teshuvas is linked to things that are the antithesis of yiddishkeit. Like movies, inappropriate dress, inappropriate behavior, Michael Jackson, God-less secular culture, and many modes of thinking and being that simply doesn’t go together with being a religious Jew.

And that’s usually the case even if the people in these homes were warm, wonderful, genuinely caring and giving. (Which these days, is clearly a big if).  So part of the BT’s brain is literally hardwired to feel ‘at home’ in tumah, and in all the secular culture that so many of us kicked off and left behind, because we could see that it’s empty and destructive.

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So now, let’s walk through the typical process of making teshuva to see what happens next:

  • There’s a spiritual awakening of some kind, and the Baal Teshuva realizes they have a soul, and that God is requiring more of them than spending their life chasing after money or gratifying their ego and lusts.
  • The Baal Teshuva starts to learn about keeping mitzvahs, and starts to learn more Torah.
  • If they have a very strong desire to feel accepted, and to feel as though they ‘belong’ in their new community (which most of us have) they will try to dress the part as soon as possible, and will try to conform to as many of their new communities rules and regulations as quickly and as consistently as possible.

We’ve all been told that idea that the outside influences the inside, and it’s true to a great degree – but it’s also simplistic. Because sooner or later, there comes a time, there comes a place, where the ‘outside’s’ ability to really change the inside stops.

There’s a core of a person that is hardwired in childhood, and that will ‘pull’ the adult person, and catapult them towards certain things that are viewed as sources of tumah, or spiritual pollution, in the frum world.

Some examples from my own experience include:

  • Secular reading material
  • Being online
  • Secular music and ‘culture’
  • Holidays
  • Nice clothing
  • Working out / playing sports
  • Nicely appointed homes

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Now, it’s clear to us all that if a person can get through life happily and healthily without any of the above, that’s clearly 100% the best way to be for a frum Jew. But the problem is this:

Most of us Baal Teshuvas have some part of our brain that God has hardwired to feel ‘at home’ in the tumah.

And when we completely turn our backs on that tumah, that usually also means that we’re turning our backs on some integral part of ourselves. That part that has fond memories of watching Thriller. That part that really enjoyed reading A Little Princess. That part that actually wants to retrain to become a lawyer, or a doctor, or to go into business, instead of just sitting there learning Torah 24/7. That part that is dying, literally, to play a game of tennis, or shoot some hoops.

Not only that, because we’re fighting so hard to keep that ‘bad’ part of us in its box, that usually means that we can’t tolerate any whiff of anything or anyone that is going to entice us back to that tumahdik stuff, or put us in the place of having to admit that at least a bit of us is still drawn towards it.

So we stop talking to our old friends, and we stop attending family events, and we make all sorts of excuses why we no longer need to be in touch with people – our fellow Jews.

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I’ve been through this process myself, and at this stage, this is what I think about it:

When you’re dealing with people who don’t respect your choice to live a religious life, and who are constantly trying to pull you back to the tumah¸ you have to put some big barriers up, and step away and go and work out who you really are and what you really want, without any sabotage from family members.

BUT – family members will only try to sabotage your process of self-discovery if the relationship is already dysfunctional. If the relationship is healthy, and if the lines of communication between child and parent, or husband and wife, or brother and sister, are working properly, you will still be able to navigate the changes together.

Disagreements will be ironed out, clashes will get resolved, problems will be solved with a lot of dialogue, mutual respect, and will to compromise to get the best possible outcomes for everyone involved.

Again, I think it’s fair to say that most Baal Teshuvas have experienced the ‘sabotage’ model over the ‘support’ model, and at least some of the reasons for this are obvious:

When God and Torah is out of the picture, self-development and working on our bad middot are also often out of the picture.

We are drawn to yiddishkeit in the first place, because we recognize something is lacking, something isn’t working so well, in our lives. We can see that having a relationship with God, and following His mitzvoth, is the path out of the emotional wilderness, and that’s why so many of us make a lot of self-sacrifice to try to change our lives around to give God what He wants.

And that motivation can keep us going for years.

This is the stage of the Baal Teshuva process where we’re learning to serve Hashem with our yetzer tov¸or our inclination for good, and it’s an absolutely crucial part of the process that can’t be skipped.

But that’s not where the process stops, and this is where many of the BTs I know, including me and my husband, kind of came unstuck. The FFB world could tell us all about making kugels, and singing zmirot, and having 400 people for Seder night, and selling our cars to pay for our kids’ tuition in yeshiva.

But it couldn’t teach us how to take that ‘hidden’ part of us, that part of us that’s hardwired to be at home in the world of tumah, and to make that part holy, too.

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It’s obvious why not: FFBs don’t have that challenge, they don’t have that issue, they don’t have those problems. (Again, this is an over-simplification to make the point. There are massive middot issues in the FFB world too, I know. But for different reasons that are beyond the scope of this post.)

FFBs are serving God in a different way, and they have a different job to do in the world.

I have to choose my words very carefully here, because God forbid this should be misconstrued as saying the forbidden is permissible. That’s not at all what I’m saying here. The forbidden is still forbidden, but God has given Baal Teshuvas a job to do in the world, and we can only do it properly if we’re really being ‘us’, and not pretending to be ‘perfect frummers’.

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Let’s see if I can explain what I’m really trying to say here, by framing things through my own experiences.

By profession, I’m a journalist and writer, a communicator, and I do it very well. When I was in London, I was a professional in the street, and a Jew in the home. I.e. my job was my job, and then I did my best to do things like keep Shabbat and kosher, and to pay tzedeka, too. My kids were sent to orthodox Jewish schools, we ate in a Succah on Succot etc etc.

But my Judaism didn’t really come past the door of my home, it didn’t really accompany me into my job working for Government ministers, or writing for papers.

Then I hit Israel, and over a year or two I came to understand I had a lot of work to do to make my Judaism consistent, and to be living a genuinely Jewish life.

I stopped working, I started covering my hair, I started dressing much more modestly, I only bought Badatz chickens, I threw away all my secular books and albums, and stopped watching movies… This is the ‘external’ part of the Baal Teshuva process, where we can get so machmir about the externals. You can sum this up in the phrase: the mitzvoth between man and God.

Then, thanks to Breslov and Rebbe Nachman’s teachings, especially his advice to talk to God for an hour a day, I started the real, internal part of the Baal Teshuva process, which is basically avodat hamiddot, or working on rectifying my negative character traits. You can sum this up as the mitzvoth between man and man.

This is still very much an ongoing process, and it will be until 120. It’s not fast work, it’s often extremely painful and difficult – but it’s also a crucial part of the teshuva process. And thank God, by trying to see everything that happens as some sort of message or prod from Hashem, and by talking to Him a lot about what’s going on, a lot of things have moved and improved.

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One of the biggest blessings of trying to do this work on the mitzvoth between man and man, this avodat hamiddot, is that it transformed my relationship with my children.

Once I internalized that my children are just my mirrors, and that God is trying to show me something by way of my kids and their issues that I myself need to work on, a whole bunch of new paths and insights into the teshuva process started to open up.

Especially five years ago, when my oldest started listening to secular music, used her own money to buy a smartphone, and started wearing short sleeve T-shirts. Initially, I tried to use brute force to squash all this tumah down. We had such big shouting matches, such big disagreements, and this carried on for about a year and a half.

Then, she developed a weird health problem that I knew 100% was emotional, and somehow ‘mirroring’ me. I sent her off to my One Brain woman, and I got the clear message back that I had to let my daughter choose her own path in life, and stop trying to keep her ‘frum by force’ – or risk her getting ill, God forbid.

I did a big hitbodedut on it all, because I was so confused.

God wants us to dress tzniusly! He wants us to ditch the smartphones! I know this is true 100%. At the same time, the emuna rules were telling me something more, something extra, an additional nuance: God wants all that, for sure. But He wants people to choose it for themselves. You can’t just force your kids into towing the line. If you do that, they will either rebel or turn into unthinking, unfeeling, frum robots.

I got that message.

But now, I was stuck with a massive problem, because all the things that I’d thrown out of my life – like secular music, and jeans – was coming back into it. For the last 10 years, I’d dealt with my pull to this tumah by completely closing it out, and shutting the gates. But now if I did that, my daughter was going to be shut out with it, and caught on the other side, away from me.

And that was simply not something I was prepared to do.

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But in the meantime, all my attempts to keep up with Cohens, and to look the part of the externally FFB family, were completely wrecked by these kids of mine, who resolutely insisted on being who they were.

They get that from me, and I can’t complain.

But it took me another year or so of constantly praying to try to find the right path through all the muddle to realise something amazing:

Tolerating my kids meant that I also started to tolerate myself much more, too.

That part of me that still liked secular stuff, and that still wanted to wear long jeans skirt and crazy, colorful hats, and that still wanted to interact with the secular world. But now, on completely different terms. Now, I didn’t want to write ‘secular’ stuff then go back to my home life as a believing Jew.

Now, I wanted my Jewish beliefs to infuse and inform everything I do in the secular world.

That’s when I started down this path of trying to combine secular knowledge and information with emuna and Torah, but with the emphasis firmly on the Torah being right, no matter what science or secular knowledge actually says.

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Take the age of the world.

The old version of me was very happy with the ‘Science of God’ approach which seemed to marry modern science with the Torah, in a way that said ‘see, the Torah is not against what modern science is saying at all!’ That worked for me then, as my internal focus was still really secular.

But these days, my approach is completely different. These days, my internal focus is now much more Torah, so I’m looking at science with new eyes, with the fundamental understanding that if the Torah says the world is 5779 years old, that is the reality – and then, how does that stack up with modern science?

And this approach is what’s helping me to spot all the lies and flaws and propaganda inherent in so much of how modern science dates world events.

To put this another way, I see a lot of what I’m writing as a bridge between secular and holy, between night and day, between tahor and tamei.

And this brings me back around to why God made Baal Teshuvas, and why we’re missing the point when we stay stuck in stage 1 of the teshuva process, just trying to be carbon copies of the FFBs that we see around us.

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God wants us Baal Teshuvas to be a connecting bridge in the Jewish world.

He knows that even if we’re currently living in Meah Shearim, and speaking Yiddish with our 15 children, and wearing our stripey dressing gowns, that we still have a totally secular family left behind in Chul.

And what connects that totally secular family to God, and to purity, and to Tzaddikim, and to Torah is us.

We are that bridge, we are that unifying substance. But only if we’re still in touch with the secular family. And now, do you see why God has hardwired some of that tumah into our souls, still, and why we have to actually acknowledge the reality of who we are, instead of pretending to be who we are really not, which causes us to act like ‘frum robots’?

Because that secular stuff is what greases the wheels of communication between us, and keeps the dialogue open, and helps us to see that we’re really not so different, after all.

Totally secular sister who’s married out is not going to be able to grasp in a million years a conversation about the Ramchal’s glosses, or the subtleties of not performing melacha on Shabbat. If that’s all you have to talk about, you can’t connect, you can’t discuss. The conversation will get more and more awkward until it finally dries up, and you just never speak anymore, and she doesn’t feel comfortable coming over any more, and her kids grow up knowing about the ‘crazy frum uncle’ who cut all his family out of his life.

So what does God do? He gives you a strange urge to listen to a Robbie Williams song, or to read an article about how fat he’s got – and now you have something to talk to secular sister about that she can really relate to. Is it tahor? Not at all! For an FFB, it’s completely tamei, completely inappropriate.

But for a Baal Teshuva with a bunch of secular relatives, who’s still trying to keep the lines of communication open, so that secular sister feels comfortable coming over for a meal on Shabbat, or joining in a seder on Pesach?

It’s just the ticket.

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Do we want to be like secular sister and her family?

Of course not!

Do we want our kids to be like secular sister and her family?

Of course not!

And again, this is where maximum caution is advisable, because we can’t sacrifice our own family, our own yiddishkeit, just to try to keep on good terms with secular sister.

But we also can’t tell God lies about where we’re really holding, either.

As soon as our kids get to a certain age, as soon as our families get to a certain stage, where they have a strong base, a strong faith, and they know who they are and why they are doing things, religiously, we have to reach back out to our secular family members.

We have to try to connect to the more secular Jews in the world, and shine some of the Torah’s light into their lives, in a way they can really relate to it. That might mean knowing who the latest yucky celeb is, that might mean keeping up on the news, it might mean holding down a real job, it might mean tolerating the sight of female elbows at a seder table.

So much of this is completely inappropriate for a FFB, because they have a different job to do in the world. Half their family, half their experience, half their soul, isn’t caught up in that place of tumah, in that place of secularity, they have no reason to connect to that world.

But for us Baal Teshuvas? The picture is completely different.

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So now, tachlis, how can we now what God is really expecting of us, and whether we have the balance right, and we’re really serving God in the capacity He intended for us, with both our yetzer hara and our yetzer tov, and whether we’re really being honest about where we’re actually holding?

Here’s a few questions to ask, to try to find out:

  • Do you feel energized and happy about the life you’re leading, or miserable and resentful?
  • Do you radiate happiness and contentment to other people, or do you give the impression that your life is a drag and that you’re full of anger and resentment?
  • Do you have ‘secret vices’ that you like to pretend you don’t have – TVs in the airing cupboard, a secret addiction to YouTube videos, a penchant for Mills and Boon novels that you try to keep hidden under the bed, an urge to watch a baseball game, or to go and play some tennis or take a bike ride?
  • Are you open about your issues and experiences and past (particularly with your immediate family members)?
  • Do you feel empty, phoney, or like you’re pretending to be someone you really aren’t? (If the answer is ‘yes’, what do you usually try to do to fill that space?)
  • Do you often catch yourself saying things you don’t really believe, or going along with things that you haven’t really bought into?
  • Are you harshly judgmental about other Jews’ level of observance? (This one is often a big, red flag that there’s a big pot of jealousy bubbling away somewhere inside.)
  • Do you have good relations with your less religious family members? If the answer is ‘no’, have you ever explored how your own bad middot, or your own issues, might be causing at least some of the problems?
  • What do you see your children mirroring back at you? What parts of your hidden self are your children reflecting back at you?
  • How can you use your ‘hidden’ self to put more of God’s light and love out into the world?

I have about another 50 questions I could add to this list, but let’s stop here for now.

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I want to tell you the story of someone I knew way back when, who I used to learn with when I first got to Israel.

We were both from the same part of town back in the old country, and we knew some of the same people, except while I was ‘Modern Orthodox’ and then on the way to Breslov chassidut, she’d been totally immersed in secular culture, before making a 180 degree change to become ‘chareidi’.

We intersected when I was in Modiin, and she was in a chareidi city that was very black and white, and was dressing the part of the frum matron 100%.

She was so judgmental of my early attempts to (partially…) cover my hair with a beanie. She told me that I may as well not bother, if that was how I was going to do things. This sort of angry, harsh judgment used to come out of her a lot, and she really looked down her nose at her ‘secular’ relatives – even though some of them where actually paying to support her and her husband’s Torah lifestyle.

But she had a good sense of humor, and we had Terry Wogan to connect us, so I stayed in touch with her for a couple of years. Until we had the conversation about the tattoo and the kids.

Because yes, Mrs Perfect Chareidi had a big tattoo hidden away under her navy pinafore, part of her previous life when she attended raves and was living with a non-Jewish man. One time, I’d picked her up to drive us both down to the Kotel, and I happened to be playing some Breslov trance music that I’d picked up from the Chut Shel Chesed bookstore.

Five seconds into the ride, she completely wigged-out, and started ranting at me for listening to ‘traif’ music.

I told her I’d got the CD from Chut Shel Chessed – and the artist was a Breslov chassid with massive payot who was only singing about Rabbenu, God and Torah. I had no idea why she was reacting so badly.

She demanded I turn it off – which I reluctantly did. But me being me, I had to ask why.

Why are you going crazy about this music? What’s the real problem?

That’s when she told me about the raves she used to go to, and the tattoo, and the non-Jewish man she used to live with. The music had triggered her back into that past life, and she was obviously trying very hard to keep all that stuff firmly boxed-up and hidden from view.

So then I asked her, Do your children know about your past? Have you told them?

She said she hadn’t, and that her rebbetzin had told her that she never should, because it would only confuse them. When I heard this, I was momentarily speechless.

But if you haven’t told them you didn’t used to be religious, so then how do you explain your secular parents to them? How do you explain about your sister, who married out? They’ve met your mum and dad, they can see they aren’t at all religious. How are you explaining things to your kids?

The short answer: she wasn’t. She couldn’t. And they were small enough to not really know to ask awkward questions.

We lost touch shortly after this conversation, as I was finding her self-righteous, judgmental angry rants about other people (and myself…) increasingly hard to handle. But sometimes I wonder, how did her kids turn out?

When kids grow up in a house like that, that’s so full of secrets and lies, where so many topics are ‘off limits’, that causes them all sorts of spiritual, emotional and even physical issues.

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From my own experiences, I’ve seen that when we try to deny, ignore or negate that ‘secret self’ of ours  – often for the very best reasons – we pay a big price for it within our family unit.

God made us who we are.

God made it that we’re still drawn to things that aren’t ‘good’, however hard we try.

While we’re praying to be permanently freed from the clutches of tumah, we also need to look around, and to ask ourselves why God is putting us in those low places, still, and what good we can do there.

If we look around, most of us will clearly see that there are other Jews – other family members – who are also stuck down there, in the dark. And when we bring God’s light down into those low places, we are illuminating it for them, too.

But only if we’re really being us, really connecting to God, and really being honest about what’s going on, and why.

So let’s end this Baal Teshuva Manifesto with a call to truth:

Dear Baal Teshuva, please just be your real self, warts n’all!

God made you like this for a very important reason, because you have a job to do in the world, and a part to play in the forthcoming redemption. God wants all of His children to be redeemed, not just the frummies. And that’s where you come in, sweet BT, who will always feel caught between two worlds, and not really belonging to either.

You are a bridge, connecting the different sections of the Jewish community.

You are a unifier.

You are creating achdut every time you are just yourself, and every time you are trying to bring God down into those low places on YouTube, or into your Isrotel holiday, or into your terribly imperfect seder with secular relatives who keep muttering that none of this stuff every really happened.

Every time you manage to connect all that tumah back to God, and all those people who are lost in the world of tumah back to God, you make Him so very happy.

And you are doing the job that God created you to do.

So continue on!

And don’t feel bad that you’re not a ‘perfect frummer’.

You have a different role to play in the world, and when you start to accept that, and to really embrace it, you will feel so much happier and content.

And so will your kids.

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Continuing the discussion, I had a couple more questions on hitbodedut which I’m going to answer below as part of a Frequently Asked Questions post, that I’ll add to as and when I get more questions on the subject that are not ‘big’ enough to merit their own post.

Q: What about Reb Noson’s famous saying, “If I see a lack somewhere, I know that either people didn’t pray about it, or they didn’t pray about it enough”? I think Rav Arush quotes it somewhere in “The Garden of Emuna”. How do you understand it now, in light of your experiences?

In Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom (the English translation of Shevachay HaRan and Sichos HaRan, by the Breslov Research Institute), pg 368, it says the following:

[The Rebbe said]: “You must pray for everything. If your garment is torn and must be replaced, pray to God for a new one. Do this for everything. Make it a habit to pray for all your needs, large or small.

Your main prayers should be for fundamentals, that God should help you with your devotions, that you should be worthy of coming closer to Him.

Still, you should also pray for even trivial things. God may give you food and clothing and everything else you need, even though you do not ask for them. But then you are like an animal.

“God gives every living thing its bread without being asked. He can also give it to you this way. But if you do not draw your life through prayer, then it’s like living like an animal. A man has to draw all of his necessities from God via his prayers.”

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The first thing we have to really clarify is what sort of ‘lack’ are we talking about, here? In our superficial, money-obsessed, materialistic world, the word ‘lack’ automatically conjures up a lack of stuff.

  • I lack a big, expensive house…
  • I lack a fancy car….
  • I lack the money to go on holiday…
  • I lack the ability to eat out in expensive restaurants and to buy nice clothes…

And so on, and so forth.

Clearly there are material needs – part of what Rebbe Nachman refers to as ‘trivial things’ – that are still very important for a person. If we don’t have enough food to eat, we can’t pay the rent, we can’t buy even the basic clothes we need – that’s going to impact our ability to serve Hashem in some very big, fundamental ways.

Where there is no flour, there is no Torah.

From my own experiences with my husband not working, neither he nor I could really learn Torah properly, or really work on anything spiritual except just clinging on to our sanity and trying to keep hold of some emuna, when we ran out of money.

When you can’t buy food, when you can’t buy toilet paper, when you’re worrying about the electricity getting switched off, you have zero peace of mind and very little ability to sit down and pray (unless you’re genuinely a huge tzaddik, which honestly? Most people are not.)

That’s why you need a minimum amount of ‘flour’ before you can have some Torah, and that’s why Rebbe Nachman says you should certainly be praying for your ‘trivial’ physical needs, even though they aren’t so ‘spiritual’.

There’s so much fake piety washing around the frum world that sometimes, even basic ideas like this aren’t properly understood. You can’t expect a kid to want to live and love a life of Torah learning if they live in a home where there is no food on the table, and no shoes for them to wear.

A few, extremely righteous people, can live like that, and love Torah so much they won’t feel the material lack and the physical deprivation, but most of us are no-where near that level. So, we have to have the basic stuff we need to feel sufficiently taken care of, physically and materially.

BUT – then Rebbe Nachman comes to warn us – don’t take praying for the gashmius to an extreme.

Don’t think that praying for stuff is the point, because it really isn’t.

The ‘lack’ that Rebbe Nachman is talking about is first and foremost spiritual. We lack daat, (deep spiritual understanding). We lack emuna, the real belief in God, and God’s goodness. We lack self-awareness and empathy. We lack good middot. We lack closeness to Hashem.

It’s these spiritual lacks that are really causing us all the other lacks in our life, be it ‘lacks’ in health, money, success, shalom bayit, inner peace, whatever it is.

Rebbe Nachman teaches in Likutey Moharan that all our suffering is caused by a lack of daat – a lack of spiritual understanding. When a person has daat, they don’t suffer, regardless of what’s going on in their lives, and they don’t feel that they lack anything – even if they really are objectively lacking.

How do we get more daat, and fill in more of these spiritual ‘lacks’?

By talking to God on regular basis.

The more we do that, the more we’ll start to understand how our bad middot and lack of emuna is really at the root of all the other ‘lacks’ and suffering that we’re experiencing.

Also, when you go through an experience where you have no toilet paper, you can’t put food on the table, you can’t move forward in life, no matter how hard you try, that starts to teach you to have more humility and more gratitude.

Everything is a free gift from Hashem.

God decides the outcome of everything, not our practical effort, and not even how much time we spend doing hitbodedut.

In the West, we take so much for granted, and have such high expectations. We think God owes us a whole bunch of stuff. It’s not enough we have food, it has to be expensive organic, or fancy restaurant. It’s not enough we have a roof over our head, it has to be completely renovated and massive. It’s not enough we have our own healthy teeth in our gums, they have to be totally straight and pearly white.

The Sages teach that a person dies with not even half of his desires fulfilled.

Again, the more we work on the underlying spiritual causes for our sense of ‘lacking’, the more appreciation we’ll develop for what we do have, and the easier we’ll find it to be happy with our lot – however God has decided ‘our lot’ should be.

But with the proviso that our basic physical needs have to be being met, because otherwise, the anxiety and stress of not having enough food, or money to pay rent and bills etc, will just take us out, mentally, and close down our ability to think.

And if you can’t even think straight, it’s very hard to pray, and it’s very hard to have the peace of mind, or yishuv daat required to think things through to see what you might need to be doing differently, to get things to improve.

But once these basic needs have been met – and our basic needs are far more ‘basic’ than most of us are willing to accept, in 2018 – then should focus on acknowledging our blessings, and put the emphasis on developing our relationship with God and fixing our bad middot.

Q: How can one do an hour every day without repeating oneself, being bored to death and feeling that this is not really conducive to constant growth?

This is a good question, and it really goes to the heart of what is hitbodedut really for?

We’re taught that three things are acquired through suffering:

  • Torah
  • Eretz Yisrael
  • The world to come

This teaches us that true spiritual growth is always ‘earned’ via suffering, in some way or other.

There’s an idea that we don’t keep mitzvahs because they actually give us so some tangible benefit, although clearly, they often do. Rather, there’s a higher level of keeping mitzvahs just because God said to do them, which is called lishma, for its own sake.

Yes, a person can keep Shabbat because it gives them a break from work, and it gives them quality family time, and they enjoy the socializing, or the extra time to read and learn Torah, or the Shabbos shluff on Saturday afternoon, or the great cake their wife makes for Shabbat.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying all these ‘fringe benefits’ of keeping Shabbat, and we’re meant to find ways to honor the Shabbat, and to make it more enjoyable and something to look forward to, physically.

But all that stuff is not the main point.

The main point of keeping Shabbat is because God told us to do it.

And we have to keep Shabbat even if we’re bored to tears, lonely, forgot to cook anything beforehand, or are generally really just not enjoying it so much.

(So many baal teshuvas will tell you the first time they tried to keep Shabbat, they nearly went crazy from the boredom and ‘tedium’ of the day. Beginnings are always hard, especially when it comes to spiritual matters where the results and benefits are often so intangible.)

It’s the ‘suffering’ that we’re willing to go through to acquire these mitzvahs that really make them so precious in God’s eyes, because then it’s clear that we’re only doing them because God said so. Lishma. And not because we are feeling some huge benefit ourselves.

Same with doing hitbodedut for an hour.

Why do an hour?

Because Rebbe Nachman told us to. There is no other reason for doing an hour. Why did Rebbe Nachman tell us to do an hour? Because he could see there is some massive spiritual benefit associated with talking to God for an hour a day, that you just don’t get any other way.

Do we believe Rebbe Nachman knows what he’s talking about?

(You can answer that quietly).

But, if the answer is ‘yes’, if we really do have emunat tzaddikim, and we believe that Rebbe Nachman is a big Sage, and we are relying on his much greater spiritual insight and knowledge, then we’ll take his advice to do an hour a day very seriously.

But then, what do we do if we’re not really enjoying it, if it’s just too hard?

Let’s go back to the Shabbos example.

The BT really wants to keep Shabbat, he knows it’s the right thing to do, he knows it’s what God wants, he even knows that at some point, he’ll see huge benefits from keeping Shabbat. There are some BTs that can go ‘cold turkey’ and just start keeping Shabbat fully from day one. But there are others, many others, who can’t.

This BT also wants to keep Shabbat.

But…he’s addicted to his i-Phone. He’s addicted to watching movies. He’s addicted to going to the beach with his friends on Shabbat, or going to watch football.

What do we say to this BT? Do we say ‘give up, and don’t bother! It’s just too hard!’

Nope.

Instead we say – keep aiming for small but steady improvements.

Every week, try to do a bit more to ‘remember’ the Shabbat, and a bit less to desecrate it. Do Kiddush Friday night, stay home, try to bench after the meal. Work up slowly, slowly.

We also give him strategies to make keeping Shabbat a bit easier and less onerous. Start trying to keep Shabbat in the Winter months, when it’s cosy to stay home Friday night and the day is over by 5pm.

Try to find friends to invite over, and get invited out, so you don’t get so bored and the time will pass faster. Start learning more, so you understand why keeping Shabbat is so important. Speak to other BTs who started keeping Shabbat, to see if they can give you any useful tips or encouragement, or tell you about the benefits they started to see in their own lives.

Same with hitbodedut.

It’s not perfect? It’s not a full hour? You get bored and antsy?

Don’t give up!

Keep aiming to do the full hour. Keep asking God to show you why it’s important to do it, keep building the will to eventually do a full hour.

Sooner or later, it will come, if you don’t give up on it.

There’s one more thing to add here, and that is this:

Whatever is stopping you from doing hitbodedut, that’s what is also holding you back in your real life, too.

That’s why if you can ‘fight through’ the obstacles to doing an hour of hitbodedut, you’ll also start to see a whole bunch of things start to move in other ways, as well.