Posts

Over the last decade, and particularly over the last five years or so, I’ve had so many occasions when after a lot of investment, time, effort, prayers etc, it seems I got left empty-handed.

Nothing to show for all that output. All those tefillot. All that time spent working on my middot, or trying to move forward in life.

When you get that ‘empty handed’ feeling, it can so take you down so quickly, and make it seem as though there’s really no point trying and more, or continuing any longer, or picking yourself back up.

But that’s a huge lie spread around by the yetzer.

Here’s what’s really happening, courtesy of a Rebbe Nachman parable:

Once, a man was granted the opportunity to go to the King’s treasury for hour. He was told that whatever he managed to grab hold of and carry out of the treasury would be his – riches for life!

So he showed up to the treasury at the appointed time, and started frantically running around trying to grab the most valuable and easy-to-carry stuff. He staggered back to the exit with his booty – and the guard on the gate slapped it all out of his hands.

Shocked, the man turned around and started frantically trying to amass more diamonds and gold objects. Again, he came over to the exit – and again, the guard on the gate slapped everything out of his hands.

Again, the man had to start all over again. And again. And again. And each time, the guard on the gate would slap it all away, leaving him with nothing.

At one point, the man got so dejected he slumped down on the floor and simply couldn’t find the energy or will to drag himself up again. What’s the point? The guard on the gate would slap it all out of his hands leaving him with nothing to show for himself.

Yet, in that very low place a small voice whispered to him: “Stand up! Try again! Keep going! This is all going to turn around for the best, you’ll see!”

So the man stood back up, collected more items – and had them slapped out of his hands again.

And again.

And again.

Until finally the hour was up.

As that moment approached, the guard on the gate finally let the exhausted man leave with whatever he was carrying.

Which is when he got his second massive shock of the day: all of the treasure that had been slapped out of his hands was waiting for him outside the treasury.

The guard on the gate came over and explained:

“What can one person carry, all by himself? Not so much. So the King gave me orders to keep slapping your treasure out of your arms, so you’d be free to collect even more…”

And that’s how it is with us, too.

God keeps slapping all our ‘treasure’ away, because He wants us to go and collect more mitzvahs, more brownie points, more kindnesses, more humility, more emuna.

The real diamonds.

And when the hour is up, that’s when we’ll see just how much we’ve really amassed, despite all the times we walked around feeling lost and empty.

So don’t give up.

We’re nearly there.

Yesterday morning (Shabbat morning) I woke up feeling pretty icky about the world, and my life generally.

I had that feeling like ‘nothing ever changes’, ‘nothing is EVER GOING TO change…’, doesn’t matter what I do, say, try, pray on – it’s never going to change.

I’ve had that feeling, on and off, for years and years, and last year I spent around six months doing some major teshuva and inner work to try and get rid of it. And BH, for the last few months I’ve generally been feeling much happier and more optimistic.

But yesterday I woke up with it again, and my stomach sank. Not this again. Not this horrible, soul-destroying, heavy feeling that no matter what I do, say, try, or pray on, I’m just going to be dealing with the same old rubbish FOREVER, until I die.

In short, I was having a massive yetzer attack.

So I decided to try to fight back by doing a long talking to God session. I don’t have the koach to do six hours at the moment, so I aimed for four hours, pulled on my winter boots, and set out for the Kotel.

I took the longer way round, up the side of the Guy ben Hinnom valley where they just built a new walkway for pedestrians to reduce your chances of getting squashed by a bus, and it was cool, half-wet and pretty quiet.

As I walked and talked, the same idea kept coming up: “I’m stuck. I’m completely stuck. There’s nothing I can do to change things or improve things, I’m completely stuck.”

A lot of this has to do with the house buying situation I’m in still. Even though Jerusalem’s housing market seems to finally be cooling down, the prices being asked in our neighborhood are still ridiculously too much for anyone who’s not a millionaire to reasonably pay.

So anyway, all this ‘stuck-ness’ just kind of bubbled up again, and I started to feel so much despair that after all this time, I still don’t have an answer in sight, or a solutions to my problem, or a way to progress.

I sat at the Kotel trying to talk to God about it all, but kept getting distracted by non-Jewish ‘pilgrims’ with their massive i-phones and cameras, who figured that wrapping a see-thru scarf around their short shorts was modest enough for Judaism’s holiest site on a Shabbos morning.

I couldn’t help staring and then started pondering why so many fat women wear such short skirts, etc, which kind of put paid to any deeper exploration for why I was feeling so ‘off’. So I came home again, still feeling stuck and dissatisfied.

I ate lunch with the family, read some Likutey Moharan, had a Shabbos shluff (which I normally never do, and which is normally always a sign that I’m feeling pretty miserable and overwhelmed by life.)

My one consolation is that I know I’m not alone. From what I can see, so many of us feel that we’re stuck in a problem, or a situation, that we no longer have the strength to deal with, but which doesn’t seem to be going away or ending, anytime soon.

That’s part of the test of this time, this generation.

To carry on, even though it frequently seems so pointless or meaningless, even though the ‘big change’ we’re waiting for doesn’t seem to be showing up, even though life feels like such a drag so much of the time.

And to do it happily.

That’s the part that’s really challenging, isn’t it? To accept God’s will, and God’s dominion, and to accept that as much as we may want ‘X’, ‘X’ may not be God’s plan for us and our lives, or at least, not right now.

It’s really, really hard work.

There’s so much yeoush in the world at the moment, so much despair. Talk to anyone for any length of time, and it comes peeping out around the corners of whatever else they happen to be talking about.

But things surely have to turn around soon!

We just have to keep believing that, and praying for it to happen.

And also, accepting that if it doesn’t happen, or at least, not now, or not the way we really want, that somehow that’s also good for us, and just the way it needs to be.

Often when I’m feeling a little down, I return to the Breslov books and just open them randomly, to see which bit of the book is going to ‘speak’ to me today, and give me some insights and chizzuk.

Usually, I do this with ‘Tzaddik’, but today I randomly opened up the biography of Rav Natan of Breslov, Through Fire and Water, and landed on this:

“For much of that year Reb Noson didn’t see any great fruits from his efforts….On his visits to Uman, he would display seforim in the main shul…While selling his wares, Reb Noson would talk about Rebbe Nachman’s teachings and serving God – without ever looking to see if anyone was listening. Many in the shul mocked him behind his back.”

I had no idea that Reb Noson was also trying (and failing…) to make a living from selling books about emuna…

Naturally, I wasn’t about to leave the ‘message’ there, so I carried on reading, and got to this a little further down the page:

“Reb Noson writes: Every soul that came a little closer helped me see that my words were making an impression. Every little improvement I saw gave me added encouragement, and I remembered how the Rebbe had said that we would have the merit to light up the entire world.”

That’s more like it! I would normally just stop there, but for some reason I turned the page and kept reading, and here’s what came up next:

“Until now, the thought of buying his own home had never entered Reb Noson’s mind…his income was barely enough to cover his expenses. For the first time Reb Noson now began to think about buying his own home. Despite his shortage of funds, he strengthened himself with faith and trust in God….two days before Sukkos, Reb Noson moved into his new house.”

THIS is why I love those books so much – what are the chances of opening up an 800 page volume to the two pages talking about:

  • Feeling demoralized, and that all your efforts – to sell books and spread the word – are failing miserably
  • Seeing that every word communicated, even without knowing who’s really listening to them, IS actually making a difference after all
  • A guy with zero assets and not a lot of income being able to buy his own house within a couple of months

Someone once warned me off from reading too much into these things, but I am a staunch believer in God using every means to give us hints and messages, and the cleaner the ‘pipe’ the message is coming through, the more ‘on point’ it usually is.

Dear reader, things are starting to turn around…

That doesn’t mean all the trials and tribulations are going to finish in one go and we’ll just sit back and wait for the Moshiach street party.

If you’ve spent a lifetime running away from God, and running away from an honest accounting of who you really are, and what you’re really doing in the world (both good and bad) – your trials are only going to get worse, until you make some proper teshuva.

(On that note, the last few days I’ve heard more stories of harsh things happening to ‘difficult’ people than at any other point in my life. The ‘bad’ is starting to be paid out, and it’s frankly pretty scary.)

But for those quiet, thoughtful people who are reading this blog, and trying so hard to give God what He wants in the face of some enormous challenges, things are only going to get better from here on in.

Hang on, people!

I know from the emails I’ve got recently that so many of us have been dragged through our own versions of ‘fire and water’ in our service of Hashem recently. That’s why Rav Natan was writing for YOU, too: it’s going to turn around, and very soon we’re all going to be celebrating one big, huge chanukat habayit at a prime piece of real estate that’s just a little up the road from me…

So there I was, coming towards the end of completing the manuscript for my new book, which Bezrat Hashem, will give people tons of powerful tools for figuring out what’s going on with them, spiritually, emotionally and physically.

I just passed the 120,000 word mark, and it really is full of good, even revolutionary, stuff.

After months of gloom and pessimism, I was beginning to feel positive and confident again – and my yetzer hates that. So it sent me a week of disturbing bad dreams to soften me up a bit, and then it hit me with one of the most horrible days I’ve had for a long time.

Externally, nothing was really going. Internally, I started to feel filled up with despair and futility.

“No-one’s going to read your book…you’re just wasting your time…why even bother finishing it?…just go and do the washing up, already, and forget about your aspirations to build the world…”

And so on and so forth.

This carried on for a few hours, until I literally started to feel there was no point to life generally, and my life, specifically.

Has that ever happened to you? Do you get what I’m talking about?

Lucky for me, I was in the middle of listening to a class by Rav Ofer Erez in the car, and I was too despairing to even be bothered to turn it off. So I sat there, while Rav Erez started talking about ‘Klipat Amalek’, and how it’s big thing was to get a person so despairing that they give up on themselves, and stop believing that G-d is interested in them, or wants to help them, or that they can change.

Despite myself, I started listening.

Then, Rav Erez explained how he’d been talking with a big shrink in Israel, who’d been telling him that when a person gives up on themselves – when they get despairing, or yeoush, then they can’t be helped.

Their despair is what’s blocking their recovery, and the big turnaround in their life and fortunes.

I started to feel better.

I came home, started work on the book again, and I saw I was up to the part where I brought the idea from Rav Arush about how you can tell if the voice in your head is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, which is absolutely brilliant in its simplicity.

In a nutshell, good things, good thoughts, come from the side of ‘good’; and bad ideas and bad thoughts come from the side of ‘bad’.

All those bad ideas about how I was wasting my time, how my book was rubbish, how it was just going to sink without a trace etc etc – that was just my evil inclination!

Again, I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but when you’re in the middle of these tests, the biggest problem is that the voice of bad really sounds so convincing and ‘honest’.

Once I had clarity again, that the voice in my head wasn’t ‘realistic’, it was just plain evil and ‘Klipat Amalek’, I started to fight back. The next day, I finished two big, long chapters, and I set myself the goal of getting the whole draft completely done by February 1, G-d willing.

Rebbe Nachman taught us ‘there is no despair in the world’. He didn’t mean that we don’t feel despair, because we often do, especially in this difficult generation. What he meant, is that even if we’ve despaired of ourselves, and our abilities to improve or change, we should never despair of G-d’s love, and help.

G-d continues to believe in us, even when we’ve given up. He sends us CDs with just the right words we need to hear; holy rabbis to guide our path; great, simple, powerful advice to help us see that He didn’t give up on us.

His hand is always open, to lift us out of the mud and despair we’ve fallen into. So look for His hand in your own life, and grab it!