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Picture the scene:

After five years of exhaustive research, you finally decide that you’re going to start eating vegetarian. You’re not a militant animal rights’ activist, you just think that it’s much healthier and better for your body to cut out things that moo, bleat, baah and squawk.

Let’s say you’re sitting there, in the school canteen, when someone enters the room who really believes that vegetarians are unnecessarily limiting themselves, and what they consume. I mean, how else are they really going to get all the B12 vits they need, if not from something that moos, bleats, baahs or squawks?

That’s a fair point perhaps.

But, does it then justify the ‘militant’ meat-eater marching up to the vegetarian, and berating them for their unnecessary and unhealthy restrictions on what they eat?

Would it justify the militant meat eater trying to slip a furtive slice of bacon in their vegemite-spread bap? Or telling them that they were being served vegetarian sausages, when really the sausages were totally meat?

What do you think?

Who do you think is being more intolerant and narrow-minded, in this example?

Now, let’s picture another scene. Let’s say a kid has a peanut allergy. You know, peanuts – those little brown things that so many people can still happily consume, and that would otherwise be a fairly nutritious and delicious part of a healthy diet.

But not for the kid with the peanut allergy. If that kid gets a whiff of a peanut, that could shove them head-long into a life-threatening anaphylactic shock. Let’s say another kid simply loves peanuts to bits. In fact, all they want to eat is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and no-one can get them to eat anything else.

So now, which kid’s ‘intolerance’ is meant to take preference, here?

The kid with the allergy, who can’t tolerate being exposed to peanuts, or the kid who can’t tolerate eating anything except peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?

If the canteen decides to get rid of all the peanuts and ban them from the school, does that make them ‘intolerant’? Or, if the school decides that it’s not fair on the other students to have to miss out on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, is their decision to tolerate peanuts on the premises correct?

Let’s make it sharper: let’s say that the peanut allergy parents are mamash pushing for peanut-free premises as they are hugely worried about what could happen to their kid if, God forbid, he should eat one, or even just inhale the scent of a peanut.

Let’s say, the peanut butter and jelly parents are mamash pushing back against this decision – because otherwise, what is their kid going to eat?! – and they write an angry letter decrying the school’s intolerance of peanut eaters.

They are right to say the school isn’t tolerating peanut eaters, aren’t they?

That makes the school intolerant, doesn’t it?

And that intolerance must be bad, mustn’t it? Because isn’t all intolerance awful?

What if the school says they won’t tolerate bad language. Or smoking. Or drug abuse. Or bullying.

That’s shockingly intolerant, isn’t it?! That’s limiting the pupils freedom of expression, isn’t it? And that must be bad and narrow-minded and un-egalitarian.

Mustn’t it?

Let’s take another example.

Let’s say, a man wants to come to work wearing just his underpants. Let’s say, he works in a very mixed, regular office where there is a fair sprinkling of old and young, male and female coworkers.

And this man wants to sit at his desk wearing just his underpants.

Should that be tolerated, by the management?

Let’s say, he has a serious case of trauma from when he was forced to wear a bright orange bell-bottomed paisley print trouser-suit (with a belt) when he was a kid in the 70s. And now, he just doesn’t like wearing clothes very much. Now, he just feels way more comfortable only wearing his underpants in public.

What would the preachers of tolerance proclaim about this case?

What would be the right thing to do? To let this man wear his skimpy undies in the office because he has serious trauma from orange flares, or to put the well-being of the rest of his office-workers first, who really don’t want to see ‘Mr Jones’ sitting there wearing just his grey pair of flannels?

Now, let’s start to switch these examples up, to make them a little bit more religious. Instead of a vegetarian, let’s have someone who eats strictly kosher badatz, or someone who doesn’t eat gebrochts on Pesach. Is it right to tolerate their strange ideas of food? Would it be right to try to force them to eat not-kosher food if they came to visit you in your home? Would it be right for them to try ‘force’ their kosher food on you, when you come to visit them?

Let’s say, instead of a peanut-free school canteen, we’re talking about a hospital in Israel. Is it ‘intolerant’ to stop hospital patients from eating chametz on Pesach if they want to, or is it ‘intolerant’ to the patients who do keep Pesach, to render the hospital totally chametzdik?

Whose distress is going to be greater? Whose life is going to be more seriously affected?

Now, let’s switch the man in his grey undies for a woman in a sheer, see-thru blouse and miniskirt. She likes to dress like that, she’s liberated, it makes her feel happy to come to the office in skirts so short, she may as well just be sitting there in her underwear.

So what, she’s making other people feel uncomfortable? So what, she’s going against the accepted dress code for the public space that is an office? Surely, its intolerant to expect her to wear more clothes?

What if you have a woman who insists on shaking hands with men, and a man who really doesn’t want to shake hands with the woman. Is he being ‘intolerant’? What if it’s the other way around? What if you have a man who just loves giving big, over-friendly hugs to his female colleagues. What if you’re a woman, and you just don’t want that guy touching you (or even, breathing the same air.)

Are you being intolerant?

What if, you can’t stand anyone shaking your hand, or kissing your cheek, because you have a strong aversion to chemical fragrances and perfumes, and even the smallest whiff of hand soap, or aftershave or deodorant makes you throw up? Now is it OK, for you to intolerantly refuse to shake hands, or kiss cheeks, with another person?

For once, I’m not going to try to wrap this post up in some neat conclusions. The point I’m trying to make here is that we’re all different, we all have different likes and dislikes, different needs, different beliefs, different priorities. It’s like the proverbial two old people in shul, one of whom wants the window open because he’s boiling, and the other who wants it shut, because he’s freezing.

Who’s right, in that example? Who’s wrong? Which one is being intolerant in the wrong way, and which one is being intolerant in the right way?

If you’re also feeling hot, you’ll go off on the guy who’s trying to close the window. If you’re also feeling cold, you’ll explode at the guy who’s trying to open it. Your view of what’s happening will be colored by your own experience, and your own preferences.

Unless God set down a clear commandment saying Thou shalt not open the window on a day where it’s below zero, all you have to go on is your own common-sense and empathy for where the other person might be coming from. If these things come to the fore, then you’ll sit down with Mr Hot and Mr Cold and try to find a way where both people’s preferences can be accommodated as much as possible, without making one of them ‘the baddie’.

Sadly, in the politically-correct mess we currently find ourselves in, God long since stopped being an arbiter of right-or-wrong for most people; common-sense is at an all-time low, and empathy – where you really make an effort to at least understand the other person’s point of view, and to at least concede that you might not be 100% correct about everything, all the time – is similarly missing from most people’s equations.

And man, are we feeling the lack.

There’s a Talmudic dictum which states:

He who is kind to the cruel ends up being cruel to the kind.

I’d like to reframe it somewhat, as follows:

He who is tolerant of the intolerant ends up being intolerant of the tolerant.

And if you look around, you’ll see that playing out all around us.

 

[1] I have no idea why anyone would actually want to eat this, but so many people from America like it, there must be more to it than meets the eye.

I know, I come back to this subject a lot, don’t I?

The reason for that is simple: My husband and I have been seriously burned by a number of so-called ‘rabbis’ who were very keen to suck as much respect, effort, adoration and money out of us as possible, but much less keen to actually stand by us when the bad advice they gave us blew up in our face.

I went through such a deep crisis of faith as a result of my associations with these ‘rockstar’ type rabbis (and let me add in here that rockstar rabbanits are also becoming an increasingly big problem), that I’m now on a mission to do whatever I can to help my fellow Jew spot these people a mile off, and give them a wide berth.

The main problem is that especially for people who grew up in the West, the very title ‘rabbi’ carries an aura of holiness, wisdom and knowledge with it. It’s like the word ‘doctor’ in the secular world. People only have to add that in front of their name and they get instant ‘rockstar’ status. Well he’s a doctor! He’s a rabbi! She’s a rabbanit! They must know what they’re talking about!!!!

But sadly, that’s just not true.

My husband, God bless him, is about to sit his exam that will officially make him a ‘rabbi’ if he passes it. For the past couple of years, he’s been learning all about what makes a chicken liver kosher, what to do if the hotdog lands in a pint of milk, what happens if you have a non-Jewish worker who accidentally has a fatal heart-attack in your soda factory, and falls into a big vat of coke for more than 24 hours. Does that make the coke traif, or not?

The reason my husband is becoming a rabbi is very simple: I forced him to do it. I was so sick of all the fake ‘rabbis’ out there blinding everyone to their very warped, anti-God opinions and ideas with their ‘rabbinic’ credentials that I told my husband there has to be at least one rabbi out there who isn’t just doing it as a career move.

My husband was not keen at first.

He also hates all the honor-driven ‘I’m a RABBI you know’ stuff. But I told him straight: You’ve been learning Torah lishma, for its own sake for 11 years now. You do an hour of hitbodedut (talking to God) every day. You ask God to help you guard your eyes, to treat your wife and family nicely, and to have emuna. You have so much humility – and every time you think you know something, I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong!!

You simply can’t say that about most of the other people out there who are ‘rabbis’ – well-known or otherwise – especially in the English-speaking world. So, after a lot of soul-searching (and nagging from me…) he took the plunge.

Here’s the strange thing we’ve both discovered: To officially become a rabbi, all you do is learn the Torah laws relating to keeping kosher. There are other areas you can learn too, but the basic ‘rabbi’ curriculum is all that stuff about hotdogs-in-milk and pickled non-Jews traifing up your coke.

There is no ‘family counselling’ stuff. No ‘secrets of the Torah that means you always know what you’re talking about’ stuff.

No magic formula that takes the rabbinic student and turns them into a fount of knowledge and wisdom.

Here’s the even stranger thing we’ve both discovered: The laws of kashrut are so darned complicated, in so many ways, with so many conflicting opinions abounding, that even to get to the right answer about the hotdog-in-the-milk, a rabbi still has to ask God to give him a lot of siyatta deshmaya.

If a rabbi has to be constantly asking God for the right inspiration just to answer the kashrut questions properly, can we even begin to fathom the spiritual level they have to be on be doling out life advice about how to raise your children and relate to your spouses? Or where to buy a new home? Or what medical treatment to take, or to avoid?

And here, dear reader, is where we get to the crux of the problem, because when a person is full of themselves and their ‘rabbinic’ credentials, they are generally completely empty of God.

Hashem says: “Me and the arrogant person, we can’t dwell together!”

When a person is arrogant – when they are holding themselves out as a fount of wisdom and advice, and when they’re off touting for people to come and ask them serious life questions, or forcing their opinions on other people as the only way, and God’s own truth – the sad fact is that they, and the advice they are so freely proffering, is completely disconnected from the Creator.

Again, I’ve unfortunately learnt this the hard way.

If the red flags had gone up the first time me and my husband were told things like:

“Well, if you’d bothered to ask me, I would have told you the exact opposite…”

Or when things were phrased as barked commands, or when I saw one person after another get burned by really bad advice, and then get blamed and instantly dropped by the ‘rabbi’ responsible for getting them into the mess in the first place – things would look so different now.

But that’s where my emuna, or belief in God, kicks in. Because God only used these horrible rockstar rabbis as sticks to teach me and my husband some invaluable things. Man o man, were they hard lessons to learn.

Things like the importance of valuing our own judgement, and respecting ourselves, and loving ourselves, each other and our kids unconditionally.

God doesn’t act, think or behave like a warped ‘rockstar rabbi’, playing on other people’s insecurities and fears to keep them feeling small, worthless and dumb.

God loves us. All of us. Unconditionally. He for sure wants us to keep mitzvot, but He also wants us to be nice to other people and to love ourselves, and to give people a break as much as possible.

I will come back to this subject again, because most of the people out there today who are encouraging you to trust them, to believe in them, and to follow them blindly, are not what they appear to be. Thank God, there ARE some real rabbis out there still, and three I can personally vouch for are Rav Berland, Rav Ofer Erez and Rav Shalom Arush.

But in the English-speaking world, rockstar rabbis of all stripes unfortunately prevail, and you need to be very, very careful.

Let’s end with this one piece of advice, that you can take or leave as you see fit:

The more you work on your own middot, and your own connection to God, the easier it will get to spot all the religious phoneys out there. Once you no longer tolerate anger, contempt, evil speech, harsh judgment, spiritual superficiality and competition in your own life, spotting the fakers will get SO easy.

Of course, working on all these things takes a huge amount of effort, patience and spiritual investment. That’s why the rockstar rabbis (and rabbanits) much prefer to keep trying to fix other people, than to try and fix themselves.

Last week, I paid a visit to the city of M. (where I used to live, more than 10 years’ ago) to visit a family member who was staying with someone there. Unbeknownst to me, I mistakenly got the wrong building (many streets in M. have exactly the same buildings, repeated many times on the same street), and I walked up the steps of number 18, instead of number 14.

The hall lights were out, so I couldn’t really see properly as I’d just come in from the broad daylight outside, and was still wearing my sunglasses. I went over to apartment number 1, pressed on the bell, and was in the middle of switching over to my regular glasses when the door opened.

I couldn’t see properly, as I didn’t have my glasses on, but the very blurry woman who opened the door didn’t look like my family member, or anyone he was related to, but I thought maybe she was a friend who’d dropped by, and was opening the door on their behalf. In my still pretty bad Hebrew, I asked her:

“Is this the Plonis?”

Which is when this very secular, very angry woman let me have with both barrels of abuse.

How dare I buzz her door! (It was 6.30pm, not the middle of the night…) How dare I, when she had young children!

Dear reader, I lived in M. for long enough to know that there is an unfortunate breed of Jew there that absolutely HATES religious people. This doesn’t describe everyone there, by any means, but there is a small and very vocal secular minority that takes every opportunity to celebrate their Jew-hatred in any way possible – and apparently, I’d just knocked on the door of one of their cheerleaders.

I got in a nanosecond that this woman’s problem wasn’t that I’d knocked on the wrong door – mistakes like that do happen after all, even to rabidly secular people – the problem was that I was wearing a headscarf, which made me undeniably religious, and hence, Public Enemy Number 1.

The hatred coming off this woman was visceral – I literally felt like she’d punched me in the stomach.

In the meantime, I’d got so upset by her horrendous verbal abuse that I half wanted to punch her in the face…But instead, I simply turned on my heel, and fled outside.

What a psycho! What an anti-semitic nut-job!

I stood outside on the curb trying to calm down from my verbal GBH experience, and trying to work out what had happened to my relative. A quick call showed me that I’d simply gone to the wrong number – and that they were at number 14, flat 1.

But I was so unnerved by my encounter with the rabid hatred of this secular woman, I was still quite shaky, even when I was driving home two hours’ later. And then I really got to thinking:

Why is it, in our politically-correct, ‘equality’ obsessed world that so many secular Jews are willing to honour and respect murderous Arab terrorists; and, they’re willing to honour and respect missionizing Xtians (and even, to sell them Jewish holy sites like the tomb of King David); and they’re willing to respect Italian Catholics, and Greek Orthodox, and Arab Druse, and of course, Scientologists, Moonies, Reform and the Women-of-the-Wall – but they still permit themselves to openly hate and abuse orthodox Jews?

The last 2 weeks, there’s been a cabal of older secular woman sitting on the bench outside my home, loudly saying the most disgusting things about their more religious neighbours. These women have a problem with the amount of rubbish being dropped in the neighborhood – and honestly, there is a lot of rubbish.

Many families send their small kids to dispose of the trash, and they simply can’t throw the bags into the high, communal dumpsters, so they tend to just leave them places, and it is unsightly. By my o my, the amount of unvarnished hatred and plain old anti-semitism this rubbish is unleashing from these older secular matrons has been extremely shocking to me.

They sit there describing their fellow Jews in terms that would make any died-in-the-wool member of the Third Reich proud. Two things seem to upset them the most: that frum families have so many children (because frum children are like, vermin, or something) and that frum families are frum.

The ringleader of this cabal went beserk two weeks’ ago, and started smashing glasses all around her flat – while cursing everyone in the loudest, most coarse terms – in order to prevent small, frum children from playing anywhere near where she lives and dropping trash!!!. This same women complains incessantly at everyone, regularly abuses people in the worst ways, rules her own family with terror tactics, rage fits and hyper-critical abuse – and thinks she’s somehow superior to all the frum families living around her, because she does sponga three times a day and puts her trash in the bin.

If you’ve been reading even a little bit of the stuff I’ve been posting up here, and on my spiritual self-help website, you’ll know that she’s a classic example of someone who is literally mentally-ill, and has some very serious and disturbing emotional issues.

Which I guess is bringing me to the crux of this post, which is that I think that instead of just making more excuses for these anti-semitic, hate-filled, mentally-ill, Jewish psychos that we unfortunately all know, we have to start calling a spade a spade, and to start calling them out on their horrible racism.

Whenever anyone hates another Jew just because they look different to them, that’s a sign that something has gone seriously wrong with the empathy, compassion and a bunch of other things you need to just be a healthy functioning human being.

Regardless of whether someone is externally religious, or externally secular, whenever someone is relating to their fellow Jew like a piece of garbage, and emotionally or physically abusing them, that’s a sign they are seriously mentally ill. Full stop.

And when more of the ‘sane’ people on both sides of the religious / secular divide starts to truly get that, then all the false divisions perpetuated by the psychos will dissolve, and we’ll go back to being One People, with One Heart.

Ken yiyeh ratzon.

The place where I live in Jerusalem is a very unique mix of extremes.

There are extreme chareidim here – mostly Breslevers with long payot and big families. Then, there are extremely secular people here – with long hair and big tattoo collections. Then, there’s a third group made up of Mizrachi types that have lived here 50 years’ and are generally just plain bonkers.

We don’t fit into any of these groups, so we kind of watch the communal politics going on from the sidelines.

The latest battle lines were drawn over the garbage that keeps getting dropped by small kids.

Kids drop wrappers on the floor, that’s just what they do. But because some of the families here also send very, very small kids to take out the household garbage, and because they are too small to throw it into the communal dumpster, sometimes there is a lot of rubbish flying around.

The tension has been simmering under the surface for months, but the last few weeks it seems to have burst into the open. One of the more secular neighbours who’s lived here 50 years (as she keeps telling everyone loudly on the street…) suddenly went beserk and started smashing glasses all around her apartment to ‘stop kids from playing there and dropping rubbish.’

Sure, she tidied it up again half an hour later, but the message had been sent that hostilities were ratcheting up a notch.

It’s a strange thing that there are people who get very upset about environmental pollution and rubbish being dropped, but who apparently couldn’t care less about spiritual pollution.

So it is that for the last few days, there’s been an unholy gathering of self-appointed, demented ‘garbage watchmen’ getting together on the bench just next to my bedroom window.

The conversation is pretty standard: One complains about the ‘disgusting’ datiim in the neighborhood, and how much mess they make and how little responsibility they take. Then another starts yelling:

‘They have eight children!!!!! Eight children in one room!!!’

And then they start discussing their latest strategies to get all these ‘disgusting charedi people’ to clean up their act.

The first few times it happened, I yelled ‘Sinat Chinam!!’ as loudly as I could out my bedroom window, but I’m a softly-spoken Brit so no-one heard. When I tried to yell again, my husband came and gently escorted me to a different room.

“It’s not going to help,” he told me. “You can’t fight fire with fire.”

Hmmm.

Over the last two days, the chareidi women in the neighborhood have started to fight back.

I caught them having a pow-wow in my stairwell, discussing all the crazy secular people who keep coming up to them while they’re sitting on a bench, who start yelling at them for having so many children and making so much mess.

I have no idea what happens next, but what I can tell you is that I have days when my life feels like a bad episode of the Muppet Show. You remember those two cranky old men in the boxseat? That’s what’s going on by my bedroom window.

Eight children!!!! Who can put eight children in one room?!?!?”

When it started up again this morning, I seriously debated going down with my video camera to film them. ‘You have a very important message for Am Yisrael!’ I wanted to tell them.

‘Let’s record it, upload it to YouTube, and then you don’t have to keep repeating it (loudly….) every single morning.’

Sigh.

Is it just me, or are people getting more and more crazy and intolerant?

I mean, WHO smashes glasses around their house on purpose just to keep small kids away? Who cares more about dirty sweet wrappers than filthy speech? Sometimes I look around, and I think ‘How is Moshiach meant to come when things are still like this?

My husband tells me it’s always been this bad, and that God is going to redeem us because He loves us, and not because we deserve it. Maybe he’s right.

But I can tell you is that if the Muppet Show doesn’t give it a rest soon, I might just have a Miss Piggy moment myself, and start karate chopping the more annoying characters.

Hiiiiiiiiya!

God always has a sense of humour:

In the middle of me pulling together a huge mountain of evidence that ‘science’ is increasingly coming to the view that parental emotional neglect is at the heart of pretty much every mental and emotional difficulty you care to mention, from the biggest to the smallest, I suddenly realized that I’m spending far too much time typing, and not enough time interacting with my own family.

Thankfully, my daily dose of hitbodedut, or personal prayer usually helps me to catch these problems while they are still relatively small, and to hopefully nip them in the bud. So it was, that as I was mulling over the whole concept of the ‘good enough mother’, and related ideas about being a ‘good enough Jew’, that it struck me that I spent most of yesterday ignoring all my family so I could get another few thousands words of my next book typed up.

One kid had just spent two whole days doing a bunch of amazing volunteer mitzvah activities with Bnei Akiva – and I was too tired to ask her anything about it. Another was clearly bored, but I gave her some cash to buy a ‘NeoCube’ and then went back to my computer, relieved to have got out of having to do anything more ‘hands on’ and interactive.

And my husband?

What, that guy that takes out the rubbish and sings zemirot on Shabbat? Well, he got back from Uman a couple of days’ ago, and I’ve still only heard a fraction of his stories and experiences.

Not unusually in my life, things had got out of balance again.

When my kids were small, and I had a career (that actually paid me really good money…) I realized I had to choose between putting my family first, or working, because I couldn’t do both. When I quit work, it was the best decision I ever made – and also the hardest. Writing is in my blood. Interacting and communicating is my life-force. But I just knew that if I didn’t take a few years’ off from pursuing ‘my interests’ my kids were going to end up emotional and spiritual wrecks.

The last few years, I’ve had to fix so many things spiritually in myself, and I came to a point last year where I thought I’d learnt enough lessons about what was really important to risk pursuing ‘my interests’ again. And generally speaking, I think that’s probably true.

But I’m learning that every day is still a balance, and every day I have to take the time to ask the question again:

Am I being a ‘good enough’ mother?

A ‘good enough’ wife?

A ‘good enough’ friend?

A ‘good enough’ Jew?

And recently, the answer has been coming back a bit too often: “no, you’re not! You’re getting too preoccupied with minutiae again, you’re losing track of the importance of people, of the beauty of a walk or conversation with someone you care for that isn’t ‘goal-orientated’.”

I bet you’d like to know how I’m defining ‘good enough’…

Well, it’s like this: Good enough is definitely NOT full-time perfect, 100% altruistic and angelic. If it was, no-one could achieve it, which would kind of defeat the whole point.

‘Good enough’ is a state where generally, I put my kids and husband and God and my own soul first enough of the time to let them know I care about them, I love them, and that they are the most important things in the world to me.

That doesn’t mean that I immediately stop what I’m doing every time my kid or husband wants something, for example, but that I stop enough times for them to know that if I didn’t stop on this occasion, either what I’m doing is really important, or what they want is really not.

Being ‘good enough’ means that when I know I’m dropping the ball, I don’t just sweep that understanding under the carpet or make excuses; I try to fix the problem.

So today, once I realized that it wasn’t ‘good enough’ that I hadn’t taken the time to ask my kid about her volunteering experiences, I decided to walk her to the bus-stop this morning, so she could tell me a little.

I was so pleased I did. I felt like the balance was starting to swing back again towards ‘good enough’, before I’d done enormous emotional damage to my child and made her feel unloved and invisible.

Being a parent, being a mother, is a huge responsibility, especially in this generation of emotional disconnect. If not for hitbodedut, I shudder to think how bad things could get before I’d take my head out of the computer and realize that my family, my children, my marriage were melting down.

And I don’t have wifi at home…I don’t have an i-Phone…I barely spend any time at all doing ‘extra-curricular’ activities with girlfriends, and having hour long catch up sessions on the phone.

And I’m still struggling to be ‘good enough’.

I know this isn’t easy reading. But I want you to know, dear wife, dear mother, that you, me and all of us CAN achieve that level of ‘good enough’ where our kids will turn out emotionally and spiritually-healthy, and know that they’re loved.

There’s a few things that will help us along the way:

  • Brutal honesty that often, we’re not ‘good enough’ and that the internet, the TV, the Facebook, and all the other external ‘fluff’, materialism and superficiality is still taking up far too much space in our lives
  • Huge amounts of self-compassion – that we want things to be different, that we want to be ‘good enough’, that we really do love our kids tremendously, and at least WANT to be ‘good enough’ for them
  • Massive amounts of humility – that without God in the picture, and regular doses of personal prayer, we’re not going to come anywhere near to really being ‘good enough’
  • Optimism and hope – that even when we’ve messed it up, and wrecked the relationship, and acted consistently selfishly, that it often only takes one sincere gesture, one genuine apology, one attempt to validate and accept the other person’s hurt feelings, to tip the whole thing back over into the measure of ‘good enough’ again.

For a few years’ now, I’ve had precious little patience for people who claim to be doing ‘the best they could’

– as they continue to mistreat their nearest and dearest; cheat on their taxes; lie to everyone, about everything, and generally act like horrible human beings.

I mean, really. How can they possibly claim to be doing ‘the best they could’? Do they think I’m retarded, or something?

But after this trip to Uman, something fundamental has changed in my outlook, and strange to say, I’m actually starting to see how these people really are doing ‘the best they could’, after all.

When people are raised, for whatever reason, in environments that are very harsh, critical, cold and unloving, it literally rewires the way the energy flows in their body; the way they think; they way they see things; and the way they act.

They don’t act the way they do because they want to be horrible, hateful, deceitful, selfish people.

They are acting the way they do because they got stuck in ‘survival’ mode, spiritually and energetically, and they can’t see any way out.

Until a few days’ ago, I also couldn’t see any way out for them. Logically, if people aren’t even willing to take the first basic steps in becoming self-aware, and can’t even conceive of being willing to change, or to work on themselves, or to ask G-d to help them out of the rut they’re in, then how can anything ever change?

It takes a lot of work, effort and time to change. It takes an awful lot of prayer. It takes an awful lot of teshuva. And a lot of people today, especially the ‘interesting characters’ in our midst simply don’t have the inclination or energy to invest in the process.

So it seemed to me, they were stuffed.

But after this last trip to Uman, I’m really starting to believe it’s possible after all. How? They just need someone, anyone, to pray for them, even a little bit, and then G-d will do the rest.

Rebbe Nachman made a promise that if someone came to his tomb and said the Tikkun HaKlali, and gave a penny to charity, that he would do everything in his power to help them, and pull them out of hell.

There’s an idea in Judaism that if someone can’t perform a certain mitzvah themselves, that you can be their shaliach. It hit me this time round that I could say the Tikkun HaKlali and give charity on behalf of a whole bunch of people, and then they’re automatically going to start getting the help they need to get out of ‘hell’.

Hell doesn’t just mean that very hot place you go to when you die. People can and do experience ‘hell’ while they’re still very much alive.

Just ask anyone who’s addicted to drugs, alcohol or internet porn; ask the workaholics who hate that they spend 18 hours at the office, but can’t see any alternative; or the people who are trapped being superficial caricatures of themselves, unable to ever have a real conversation with anyone, including G-d.

It’s hell, mamash.

And Rebbe Nachman promised to get these people out, if they’d just follow his instructions.

Now, you might say that you can’t do Tikkun HaKlalis on behalf of others without their permission, but there’s a story about two Breslev elders that puts that idea to rest.

When Uman was behind the iron curtain, very few people managed to get there. One of the Breslev elders of the last generation had been privileged to be there a few times, and another Breslev elder who’d never managed to get there asked him to ‘sell’ him one of his recitations of the Tikkun Haklali.

He was willing to give in return all the heavenly reward for his mitzvoth and Torah learning – and remember, we are talking here about a giant of a man, spiritually.

That story showed me that you can do ‘surrogate’ Tikkun Haklalis, and this trip to Uman, I got another bit of the puzzle: Rebbe Nachman really wants us to do it! He wants us to pray for other people that are never, ever going to make the trip themselves (at least, the way things stand at the moment).

He wants everyone to get out of hell, both in this life and the next.

Even those people who despite doing ‘the best they could’ are still leaving a trail of destruction, evil and suffering in their wake.

Our job is just to pray on their behalf, just to be G-d’s shaliach, and then He and His Tzaddikim will do the rest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least, sometimes.

You could sum up all the different things we’ve been learning this week about what’s causing the breakdown in tznius, and in our marital relationships, like this:

Many people today are walking around disconnected from the ‘real them’, (ie their souls and their true feelings), and on a deep level, they don’t like themselves very much.

In a nutshell, that’s the problem.

If the people who keep coming out with the horrible diatribes against the tarty women really understood that women dress and act immodestly because they fundamentally don’t value themselves, they’d understand that having a go at these women is only going to make the problem worse.

These women already feel bad about themselves. Telling them they’re going to Gehinnom for wearing a short skirt is not news to them – they’re ALREADY LIVING in their own personal Gehinnom.

So instead, we need to reach out to them, and encourage them to see their true holiness, and innate beauty and goodness. We need to start building people up – even if they’re wearing stretchy lycra and Barbie-style wigs – instead of tearing them down.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that we condone their bad behaviour. But there is a huge difference between criticising behaviour and criticising the individuals themselves.

Remember, that a lack of empathy is underneath most of the problem. A lack of empathy means that we can’t see the other person, and we don’t validate or acknowledge their experiences and feelings.

If we’re really empathising with the tarty women, it’ll be very easy for us to understand that the stretchy lycra is a cry for help, and for love and attention, and we’ll react with far more understanding, kindness and respect, as a result.

Tarty women are not ‘the enemy’. They are human beings who are struggling very much to value and like themselves, and that’s reflected in their unfortunate choice of clothing and attention-seeking behaviour.

On the other side of the equation, we also need to be praying for our men, and seeing the best in them, and encouraging them to get out of the prison of physical lust, instead of pandering to it at any price.

Really, most husbands and wives are on the same team, and they both want a lasting, loving satisfying relationship with their spouses. Just today, there’s so much confusion around that it seems like ‘the bedroom’ is the only place to achieve that deep connection. But the spiritual truth is exactly the opposite: encouraging physical lust drives many husbands and wives apart, as it makes the body the primary vehicle for ‘connection’ instead of the soul.

The more we women work on our own spiritual dimension, the more we make God a reality in our lives, and the more we pray for our husbands and sons to access and connect to their true selves, the healthier and happier our relationships – and their relationships – are going to be.

We also need to encourage them to read books that clearly explain from an authentic Jewish perspective how God is really running the world, and how their true happiness depends on them fulfilling the spiritual role that God created them for, ie, to be a giver to their wives and families, in every sense of the word

(Some suggestions for starters: The Garden of Peace, and then ‘Britti Shalom’ by Rav Shalom Arush. Click HERE to go through to the Breslev bookstore.)

This is big spiritual work, and it doesn’t come easy. Two things make this happen:

1) Prayer

And

2) Empathy

Prayer means that we get God involved in solving the problem, and we don’t fall into despair, and give up on our husbands and marriages, because we know God can turn everything around in the blink of an eye.

Empathy means that instead of blaming others, and having a go at them, and calling them ‘stupid’ and ‘dumb’, and accusing them of acting like ‘shameless animals’, we try to connect to the hurt that’s underneath the inappropriate dress and behaviour that’s occurring on both sides of the gender divide.

It means that we try to build people up, instead of tearing them down. And most of all, it means that we do our very best to give our children, our spouses, and OURSELVES as much genuine love, understanding and empathy as we can.

And if we start trying to do that, we’re already more than half-way to really resolving the problem.

So in the last post, we set out that when women dress and act provocatively, it’s usually because they’re looking for attention on the street, to make up for a lack of positive attention in their home environment.

We also touched on that fact that this often occurs because today, there is a huge lack of empathy even in the frum world, which means that many couples are finding it hard to make deep emotional bonds and attachments to each other, leading to superficial, unsatisfying relationships where the emphasis is increasingly on externals, and physicality, as opposed to the deeper, spiritual inner dimension.

In the interests of even-handedness, in this post I want to talk a little about the struggles specifically facing the men.

Spiritually, women have always been more spiritually tuned-in than men. This is one of the key reasons why we’re exempt from the mitzvah of laying tefillin, for example, as men need something concrete and physical to bind them to God, while that sense of spiritual connection often comes much easier to most women.

The Gemara also teaches us that 10 measures of speech descended to the world, and that women took nine of them. Rav Arush, in Women’s Wisdom, explains that God gave us the power of speech so that we would use it to pray for our husbands and families.

Rav Arush also explains that women have been doubly-blessed: first, we have the spiritual insight and emotional intelligence to see what’s going wrong in our families, and to see what’s lacking, spiritually-speaking. Then, we have ten times the power of men to pray about the problem, and get it fixed.

If we’re spiritually-tuned in and regularly praying for our families, this system works great. But if we’re not? It’s a huge struggle – and the people who fall the first, and the hardest, are the men in our lives.

Remember, they don’t have the same level of innate spirituality and connection to their souls that women do. In today’s world, overflowing with smut, and pandering to the ‘red-blooded male’s’ basest instincts on all fronts, our men need all the spiritual help they can get to re-attach to holiness and God, and to remember that they’re here to work on their souls, and not just to get their physical kicks in life.

The Zohar teaches that men are meant to be givers, and women receivers. In today’s upside-down world, men are being encouraged to take whatever they can get, in whatever way they can get it – even in the frum world.

There are a precious few voices in the wilderness trying to highlight the problem of how spiritually upside-down everything is today on the relationship front, most notably Rav Shalom Arush, but they are facing an uphill battle.

So let’s break the problem facing the men down, into manageable chunks:

1) Men innately have a much greater pull to physicality, lust and superficial relationships than women.

2) Modern society is exacerbating the problem a million-fold, with its emphasis on physical beauty and obsession with self-gratification.

3) Men who grow up in homes where a) their emotions aren’t recognised, validated and nurtured (ie, there is very little empathy) and b) no-one is praying for them to overcome their innate difficulties to dig deep, and get ‘real’, spiritually and emotionally, get disconnected from the real them, namely their souls.

4) They feel this lack of connection, to God, to their own souls, and to the others in their life, especially their wives, but they lack the emotional tools to describe it, even to themselves. So they go after physical relationships and external beauty to try and fill the hole, because the physical world is their main frame of reference – even if they’re apparently very ‘religious’.

5) This creates a situation where even in marriage, the men get stuck behind this wall of emotional numbness, unable to really connect to their wives on the emotional and spiritual level. The wives feel this lack – and try to solve the problem by trying to attract more attention, and by becoming more ‘giving’, anyway they can. The husbands feel this lack, and try to solve the problem by becoming more physically demanding in their relationships with their wives, thinking that more physical contact will equate to a genuinely closer connection. But usually, the opposite happens.

Let’s be clear that this is all usually happening under the surface, and that neither husband nor wife really understands what is going on, or why. All they know is that they both feel lonely, misunderstood and somehow ‘distant’ from their spouse, without having the first clue why, or what to really do about it.

Now that we’ve clearly set out the problem, in the next post, I’ll share some ideas for how to start turning this heart-breaking state of affairs around.

Moving past the blame game

As the previous post touched on, the lack of tznius behaviour and dress on the religious Jewish street is highlighting the fact that a lot of things today are very messed up.

It’s crazy that frum matrons are wearing Barbie-style wigs and such tight clothes that it almost looks like they’re vacuum-packed. It’s also crazy that so many apparently respectable, religious men think it’s OK to make terrible, misogynist comments about women (while drawing heavily on their 5th Marlboro Light).

And the craziest thing of all, is that anybody actually thinks for a minute that blaming the women for dressing untzniusly, or blaming the men for being self-righteous, selfish jerks is actually going to achieve anything positive, and get things to move. (Although, I did that myself in the last post….)

So what will get things to move?

Well, as I touched on in the last post, we need to start asking big questions about WHY so many women are dressing so untzniusly, across all parts of the Jewish world, in the first place.

My thought is this: they want attention.

Why do these beautiful, innately holy women want attention from the street? Usually, because they’re not getting enough positive attention at home.

And this is where we start to hit a huge, ginormous can of worms, because Jewish home life is really struggling in 2015, even in the most orthodox of homes.

There is a general lack of caring, or empathy, in the world today, that underlies so many of the problems that the Jewish community is experiencing. I can’t really do any justice to this topic in a short post, so for now, I just want to start focusing on one aspect of it: the general lack of caring and empathy in the relationship between husband and wife.

‘Empathy’ means that you can relate to another person enough to put yourself in their shoes, and to see things from their point of view. When children are raised with enough empathy and caring, that in turn gives them the ability to empathise with, and care for, others, when they become adults.

When children aren’t raised with enough empathy and caring – then they can’t give it over to anyone else. Not their spouse, not their kids, not anyone. This reflects itself in self-centred, inflexible, stubborn behaviour, and when taken to an extreme, can blossom into a personality disorder.

Now, giving, caring and empathising doesn’t just mean you buy people stuff, and wash their clothes and cook for them (although sometimes, these are very welcome external expressions of caring.)

When you care and empathise about someone else, you take time to talk to them; you give their ideas and opinions ‘space’; you do your best to accept differences of opinion, especially non-crucial ones like what sort of kippa they want to wear, or what colour they want to paint their room.

But when caring and empathy is lacking, people can’t relate to each other on this deep, emotional level; and their relationship become controlling and superficial, and all about ‘keeping up appearances’.

So what does all this have to do with tznius, and the Jewish family?

Great question!

As mentioned yesterday, the Zohar explains that the women are just reflecting the men they are married to. The men have their heads in their Gemara, or in their i-Phone, or in their football game (depending on the community). Externally, they may be doing all the ‘right’ things, but emotionally? So many men today are completely unavailable.

The wife normally wants a deep, fulfilling connection with her husband. After some time passes, she starts to realise that apparently, she can’t get it (I’ve met a lot of women who gave up on ever having a ‘real’ conversation with their husband a long time ago) – so she starts to look elsewhere for attention and fulfillment.

Let’s be clear that this is not the wife’s fault, and it’s not the husband’s fault, and it’s also not the parents’ fault.

It’s a post for another time, but there are many, many reasons why empathy has gone AWOL from so many people’s lives today; some of them are spiritual; some of them are energetic; and all of them have coalesced in our generation, to create some huge problems.

The main question for us, is what do we DO about it?

And God willing, I’ll start trying to answer that in the next couple of posts.