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The last few years, I’ve really dreaded Rosh Hashana.

Now, before you start jumping up and down and blaming that on the fact that my husband goes to Uman, let’s be clear that the last few years I’ve had massive issues on pretty much every religious holiday, not just Rosh Hashana – and the bloke’s been home for the other ones.

A big part of it is that I still have no-where to daven where I feel I’m really part of something, which is usually really only an issue on Rosh Hashana. Yom Kippur I fast (badly…) so I generally always just spend most of the day in bed, and daven at home.

But Rosh Hashana is different.

Rosh Hashana, we’re meant to listen to 30 shofar blasts (minimum), and preferably 100, together with our community. And that’s a huge bone of contention for me, because I still don’t belong anywhere.

The first year I was in Jerusalem, I dragged my two kids off to try and find a synagogue to pray in, in the Old City. I went to what I thought was an ‘Anglo hotspot’ – except all the Anglos had gone back to the US for the high-holy days, and the three women left behind all had bullet-proof tights and stern expressions. The Yom HaDin made flesh.

Also, the air-conditioning had packed up, so one of my kids started to feel hot and flustered, and then pulled out her ‘I’m about to have an asthma attack’ get out of jail free card, which gave us all the excuse we needed to leave in a hurry and try to find somewhere less suffocating.

So then I tried the Kotel, but I couldn’t find anyone to daven with, and I couldn’t hear anyone actually blowing the shofar, so I said the Amidah service by myself, standing at the holiest site in the world and surrounded by hundreds and thousands of Jews, but feeling so cut off and disconnected from everything and everyone.

The next Rosh Hashana, I tried a different tack.

I told my kids that they could pick the shul, and I’d tag along. At that point, they were both in school in the Old City of Jerusalem, so they went where most of their friends went, to a gorgeous newly-built synagogue tucked just behind the Wailing Wall in the Muslim Section.

As I tripped down the stairs of the Arab Shuk on the first day of Rosh Hashana, taking the short-cut that only fool-hardy tourists or Arab-inured residents use, I suddenly stopped in my tracks as a squad of Israeli riot police blocked the path in front of me.

Clearly, some sort of fight was going on, and as the Arabs all nipped upstairs to get their CNN-quality video cameras shouldered to record yet another ‘injustice’, I looked around and realized that I was the only civilian Jew there, standing in a sea of smouldering Arab hostility.

After five minutes, I was allowed to pass on, but the violence continued over the next two days. While the shul was gorgeous, the davening nice enough and the people friendly, I had to stand up in the middle of the service on the second day to shut the windows to try to drown out the guttural Arabic chant of ‘Kill the Jews!’ coming from outside.

What a way to start the year.

There’s an idea in Judaism that once something happens three times in a row, that’s a very strong portent that it’s somehow got ‘stuck’ or ‘fixed’ in your life. God forbid, that I should have such drecky, awful, lonely, horrible Rosh Hashanas until I croaked!

So last year, the third year, I got so terrified about how bad, miserable and lonely I was probably going to feel on Rosh Hashana – the beginning of the new year!!! When you’re setting the pattern for the whole rest of the year!!! When your whole life is hanging in the balance, being decided!!! – that I tried to run away from my life and go to a hotel in Tiberius with my children.

The upside of doing that was:

1) I didn’t have to cook (another bone of contention…).

2) We could spend the chag with other people who also clearly didn’t feel like they belonged anywhere else.

3) I could join the hotel minyan for davening, which suited me just fine and also was very easy for my two kids, when they were ready to put in an appearance for shofar blowing.

The downside of doing that was:

1) It was REALLY expensive.

2) I set the tone of being kind of ‘absent’ from my real life for the whole rest of the year.

I only realized that last one a few weeks’ back when I was pondering on 5777 and I realized that I was kind of AWOL in my own existence the last few months. Life’s been passing me by like a blur, and I haven’t been able to grab hold of any of it.

Why?

Because I ran away from my real life on Rosh Hashana, and I’ve been doing that all year.

And I thought I’d got away with it, mostly, except today we’re three weeks away from Rosh Hashana, and that familiar sensation of feeling incredibly miserable, and alone and out of place has descended upon me again.

God, not another year going into Rosh Hashana like this!

I really thought I’d vanquished most of these poor me, sad feelings, but hey, at least today they’ve come flooding back again as I try to figure out what’s going to be with Rosh Hashana.

I have a ray of hope. Rav Berland is here for Rosh Hashana, barely two minutes’ walk away, and I have a feeling there’ll be an Uman-esque vibe around Musrara, where I live, for the Chag – but what that actually means in practice, I have no idea.

Only, that things will be different this year, somehow.

Because they have to be.

Did you ever wonder how Moshe Rabbenu would go down in a Monsey Beit HaMidrash?

“Shlomie! Shlomie! You gotta hear this! Some guy in a frock just showed up in the beis medrash, and told everyone he’s the Moshiach!!!”

Shlomie heaved his stomach back inside the belt line of his black pants, stood up and went over to talk to his chevrusa Yankie, who was anxiously pacing backwards and forwards by the kollel’s coffee vending machine.

“Whaddya talking about, Shlomie? Calm down, speak slower. Who just showed up in the beis medrash?”

Yankie took a breath, stopped pacing, and turned to Shlomie.

“Some guy called Moshe something… He said G-d sent him to redeem the Jews, and he wants to take us out of Monsey to the promised land!”

Shlomie’s eyes narrowed. Another nut-job talking about G-d! The last 210 years, there’d been a lot of these imposters who’d showed up trying to con the Jews of Monsey that one day they’d have to leave and go to the ‘holy land’.

Wherever that place was meant to be…

“Where is this guy?” Shlomie demanded. “I wanna talk to him.”

With Yankie following behind, Shlomie headed off to the beis medrash, swung the doors open, and saw a tall, bearded figure standing in the corner with his eyes shut, rapturously reciting the bracha over a cup of water out loud.

Shlomie whispered to Yankie,

“Uhoh, this already doesn’t look good! What’s with this guy’s accent? Is he Sephardi?! And who spends five minutes blessing a cup of water?! This is definitely bitul Torah!”

Yankie muttered back, “Shlomie, we didn’t get the Torah yet…” But Shlomie didn’t hear him, as he’d already marched up to ‘Moshe the moshiach’ determined to kick this imposter out of the beis medrash.

“Sooo, Moishe… where’d you learn?” challenged Shlomie.

Moshe Rabbenu studied Shlomie with wise, kind eyes and told him gently:

“I’ve spent the last 60 years communing with Hashem in the desert.”

Shlomie eyes rolled so far back in his head they almost popped out his neck. Geez, the nerve of this guy!!! Still, Shlomie prided himself on being open-minded, so he decided to ask a couple more questions before officially excommunicating him.

“So, who’s your Rav?” he asked.

Moshe lowered his head slighty and said:

“Hashem. Hashem’s teaching me Torah. Although I did meet Rabbi Akiva a little while back…”

Shlomie snorted again. What? That guy whose parents were goyim who converted?!?

He tried one last time,

“Where did you grow up? Did you study at the Mir?”

“I grew up in Pharoah’s palace,” Moshe Rabbenu replied gently. “I had to flee Monsey-raim at the age of 20 after I killed an Egyptian by uttering one of Hashem’s ineffable names. I never got a chance to learn at the Mir….”

“Kishoofim!!!!” roared out Shlomie.

“Out, out, get outta here with all your dangerous Moshiach talk! You’re nothing but a crack-pot, a false messiah, a person who’s trying to pull the Jews away from learning Torah with all your talk about serving Hashem!”

Yankie muttered again “But Shlomie, we didn’t get the Torah yet…” but again, Shlomie didn’t hear him.

With quiet dignity, Moshe Rabbenu picked up his staff, and headed out of the beis medrash.

Yankie was anxiously biting his fingernails.

“The nerve of that guy!” sputtered Shlomie. “I can’t believe people are falling for this! We’re only meant to be learning about Moshiach, not believing it!”

“But Shlomie, a lot of the really big rabbis – like Aharon HaKohen – say he’s the real deal…”

Shlomie harrumphed. “All these ‘rebbe’ types stick together, you know that.”

“But Shlomie,” Yankie tried again,

“This morning he turned the whole Nile to blood, and he’s told Pharoah there’s more natural disasters to come, if he doesn’t send the Jews out of Monsey-raim…”

“Kishoofim!!” Shlomie yelled again.

“Unbelievable bitul Torah! Instead of learning another three blatt Gemara this guy’s off doing black magic and talking to goyim! Don’t fall for it, Yankie, don’t let him fool you. Seriously, where was the guy’s hat??”

Yankie tried one last time:

“But Shlomie, we have a tradition from Yaakov Avinu that at some point, the Jews have to leave Monsey-raim, and that a redeemer will show up and take them out of galus…”

Shlomie sighed a big sigh, and put his enormous arm around his frail, naïve learning partner.

“Yankie, you’re a great guy, do you know that? Here, take a look over the other side of the beis medrash. Who’d ya see?”

Yankie turned his head, and spotted Korach, the Rosh Kollel, shtiggering away to the bachorim about how why the beis medrash doesn’t need a mezuzah on the door. Korach cut a fine figure in his Armani black suit, smart tie and brushed fedora, tilted at just the right angle to set off his jutting chin.

“Now, if someone told me that’s Moshiach, I’d believe it,” explained Shlomie.

“That guy’s related to one of the most important families in Monsey-raim; he’s got 14 kids – all shomer Toyrah ve-mitzvos – and he encourages his students to think for themselves. That guy is all about Toyrah and mitzvos. And his wife bakes a great kugel!

“But Shlomie, we didn’t get the Torah yet,” Yankie wanted to say. But he didn’t because he knew there’d be no point.

Shlomie heaved his stomach back behind his shtender, and went back to learning his latest blatt on his My-Gemara i-Phone app.

“The nerve of that guy, ‘Moshe Rabbenu’!” he muttered to himself, thankful that he’d managed to save the guys in the beis medrash from another false messiah. Hrrmph!

As if the Moshiach would be someone who’d never stepped foot in the Mir…

I had some correspondence after the last post, which prompted me to clarify something that I’ve been thinking about writing about for a while.

Judaism doesn’t believe in ‘good’ or ‘bad’ people.

It believes in ‘good’ or ‘bad’ deeds, thoughts and actions. If a person’s actions are overwhelming of the ‘good’ variety, Judaism then tells us that person is a Tzaddik, or holy person, and we are further told that if we see a Tzaddik doing something bad, we should judge them favorably, and believe that they already made teshuva for it.

By contrast, xtianity teaches that the world is split into ‘good’ people – who believe in yoshki – and ‘bad’ people, who don’t. Once someone is assured they are a ‘good person’, they are then at liberty to do the most atrocious, awful, terrible things to other human beings, secure in their self-assessment that they are a ‘good’ person.

That thinking is behind most of the suffering occurring in the world, because even the most hardened, evil people in the world believe on some level that even their worst excesses and cruelties are somehow justified, and therefore ‘good’.

This thinking is also underneath a whole bunch of xtianity-inspired mental illnesses like Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), where the narcissist can’t accept that they are anything other than perfect, and believe that they always act in perfect, ‘good’ way regardless of how many bodies they leave behind them.

When a person believes they are ‘good’, fullstop, they usually aren’t so concerned with identifying, acknowledging and dealing with their negative character traits.

But here’s the thing: no-one is perfect, and for as long as we’re down here on planet earth, it’s because we still have work to do to improve and perfect our characters.

Even Moshe Rabbenu, arguably the most ‘perfect’ servant of God who ever lived and an indisputable Tzaddik of tremendous proportions still had some anger issues to work out, even when he was 120 already. When he hit the rock instead of speaking to it because Am Yisrael had gotten him so riled up, he was 120!

If someone like Moshe Rabbenu wasn’t embarrassed to admit his faults publicly, then surely we don’t need to be so coy about accepting that we still have stuff to work on.

Another big difference between Judaism and other religions, especially xtianity, is this notion that ‘good’ people go to Heaven, and ‘bad’ people go to Hell – and it’s a permanent, everlasting, unfixable thing, which is probably also why so many people are petrified of accepting they may not be perfect paragons of virtue.

Judaism teaches something completely different. Judaism says: every good deed that you do, you’re going to get some heavenly reward for it. And every bad deed that you do, that you didn’t make teshuva for, you’re going to have to atone for it somehow, either by spending some time in Gehinnom (for up to 12 months), or by being reincarnated again (if your sins were against your fellow man – Gehinnom only atones for sins between man and God.)

Again, there ARE some exceptions to this rule, most notably for atheists, who could end up spending all of eternity in Gehinnom if they persist in denying God for their whole life and don’t make teshuva before they die.

But if you’re a bog-standard person with issues who’s done a lot of bad things that you haven’t made teshuva for (like most of humanity…) BUT you believe in God, then your stay in Gehinnom is capped at 12 months – and then you get a measurement of eternal paradise as your reward for each and every good deed that you did.

To sum this up: xtianity says that only ‘good’ people go to heaven, and that a person is only ‘good’ if they believe in yoshki, regardless of how they act or treat other people in real time.

Hence, there is no motivation for a self-proclaimed ‘good’ person to examine their deeds or work on their negative character traits, because they automatically assume everything they do is justified and ‘good’ (which also happens to be the basis of a lot of mental illnesses, including NPD).

Judaism says: there are only good deeds. A person’s status as an aggregate ‘good person’ will only be determined after their death, by the Heavenly tribunal. Nearly everyone is going to go to both Heaven and Gehinnom (with some notable exceptions for Tzaddikim and atheists).

That’s why it’s such a mitzvah for a person to acknowledge their bad deeds and negative character traits in Judaism, so they can actually try to fix them, and why it’s such anathema in other religions.

We Jews have been in galut so long that we’ve imbibed a lot of the foreign dogmas and philosophies that are inimical to authentic Yiddishkeit.

Judaism teaches that our souls, that Godly part of us, is only pure and good. But the soul is surrounded by klipot, the husks of the dark side, that causes us to do things and think things we’re really not proud of. For as long as we’re in our bodies, we’re going to have to deal with the klipot that are causing our bad behavior, and to atone and make amends for the bad things we do.

When we deny that very human reality, we literally go bonkers. Remember, pretending to be perfect is the mentally-ill behavior of a narcissist. It’s the furthest thing in the world from Yiddishkeit.

Recently, I’ve been having some correspondence with a reader about how easy it is to get swept up (and away…) with all the end of days stuff, to the point that you literally stop functioning in this world.

That happened to me for around long eight years, and while I do know that everything that happens is all from Hashem and all for the best, a part of me is still grinding an axe that my ‘pseudo-tzaddik’ spiritual guides didn’t step in and prevent me and my husband from getting too carried away.

Last year, one of my friends watched the video of Natan, the secular Israeli teen who died a clinical death, and who started sharing a whole bunch of stuff that he’d seen in Heaven, like foreign armies invading Israel in 2 days and Tel Aviv and Haifa getting nuked, God forbid.

My friend called me all het up, and asked me if she should quit her job and just spend her time making teshuva and preparing herself spiritually because, ya know, MOSHIACH IS COMING!!!!

And Moshiach is certainly coming, but the problem for me is that I quit my job, and my ‘regular’ life, and pretty much all I did was work on myself for eight years, which was all really good on the one hand, but on the other it’s still causing me some serious difficulties in my day-to-day finances and circumstances as Moshiach didn’t come in time to prevent me and my husband running out of cash.

This is what I told my friend last year:

“BH, work on yourself spiritually, do an hour of hitbodedut a day, make as much teshuva as you can – but don’t do anything you wouldn’t do if Moshiach wasn’t definitely coming tomorrow.”

Because the yetzer is very clever, and there are few tests of emuna bigger than turning your whole life around in anticipation of redemption, only for redemption not to show up on time and all your money to run out.

I always thought that me and my husband were pretty unique in how swept up we’d got in our fervent yearning for Moshiach. Part of why he struggled to go back to work so much was the idea that he was ‘selling out’ on the spiritual ideal of not being online, of guarding his eyes properly, of avoiding speaking to female clients. And on some level, he did sell out, but what could we do? Moshiach hadn’t shown up and we still had bills to pay and groceries to buy.

So, when a reader got in touch to tell me that she’d also recently got very swept up in all the stuff on the internet (and in other places) about the end of days and Moshiach, it made me very thoughtful. There are clearly many of us out there at the moment struggling with the balance between ‘this world’ and ‘the world to come’.

With her permission, here’s a little of what she shared:

“I am normally a very calm and rational person but I felt completely paralyzed with all of this [end of days / Moshiach stuff]. I knew I had uncovered the ultimate truth and everyone else was in total denial of the hectic state of the world and thought everything was normal.

“The Talking Bone of Ov” sounded like I was when I first heard about Nibiru and other end of days stuff. I was totally overboard freaked out and glued to the news… I caught myself before I went downhill totally but there was a low point for me when my behavior was scaring my husband a bit.

“Now, I have gotten out of the Armageddon outlook and decided to favor the rabbeim that talk about Hashem’s love for us instead…

“I feel so weird sometimes as if I am floating around, not grounded at all. I had myself 100% convinced that Moshiach would be here already and therefore assumed we wouldn’t have even celebrated Rosh Hashana this year…

“Now, I am just working on strengthening my connection with Hashem and really not going crazy about other things I’m reading on all of the geula sites other than Torah. It doesn’t serve a purpose for me anymore and I have to say it turned into something negative before when I was so deep into it as I forgot how to relate to the world and everyone around me. I walked around expecting doomsday every moment and couldn’t deal with fellow frum Jews walking around as if everything was normal. My friends were planning simchas and I couldn’t fathom them actually working out to be normal simchas. I was sort of pitying them in their oblivion. The yetzer hara at its best.

“Getting myself normalized has been a huge struggle as I don’t want to go the other way. I want my emuna to be stronger than ever and I want to approach life calmly, knowing Hashem, like always, is in charge of it all.

“It’s not a bad thing that I am into the geula – that in itself is wonderful – problem is that I drove head first right into it and I couldn’t properly relate to reality and people in the same way afterwards. That took me far away from the personal geula that we all need to do within ourselves.

“There is a Moshiach element in all of us, like the Divine spark that is part of us and like the bit of the original Adam inside us that unites us all as part of humanity… I am referring to an important part of life that is often forgotten about as we work for our daily bread. We have to look for and accept that this physical world is not all there is and elevate ourselves to actually look forward to a better world that is less and less physical and more and more spiritual.”

I can SO relate.

I got a lot of chizzuk from knowing I wasn’t the only ‘crazy’ in town who was so serious about Moshiach coming I actually made the spiritual work of preparing for Moshiach my main job for eight years. (Clearly, I’m not saying I finished.)

It’s difficult for me to know where I’m really holding these days, as while my Yiddishkeit is definitely more real, more compassionate and more grounded, it’s also more accepting of ‘the real world’. My husband is back at work, back online. I accepted my daughters need to find their own way and choose their own wardrobes. Two week’s ago, I even re-did my CV for the first time in 8 years, with the vague notion that perhaps I should stop writing such spiritual blogs and books, and get a ‘real’ job writing marketing material for some hi-tech start-up.

I’m still really stuck on that last one, as REALLY, I just want the books I’ve written to start selling in their millions, and for me to solve my cash flow problem that way.

Moshiach is definitely coming. Just I’m really not sure what I’m meant to be doing with myself now until he actually shows up. But it’s nice to know I’m not the only one wrestling with that question.

There is are so many outright heretical ideas flying around all over the internet about the topic of ‘faith in the Sages’ or emunat Tzaddikim, that I thought it would be useful to share some of what Rebbe Nachman writes about the subject in the Abridged Likutey Moharan (translated as ‘Advice’, in the English.)

As you’ll hopefully see from these sources, emunat Tzaddikim is not an option extra in Judaism, or something that only applies to chassidim.

It’s a fundamental tenet of Yiddishkeit, and has a direct impact on a person’s understanding, or daat, and ability to perfect their bad middot and negative character traits.

NOTE: When it’s referring to ‘Sages’ that’s another word for Tzaddikim.

  • When you have faith in the Sages, your mind will be purified and your intellect clear. You will be able to derive a personal lesson for yourself from everything you learn in the Torah and develop the right habits and practices in serving God. You will know how to act in every situation, and you will be able to guide all who come under your influence.

But those who lack faith in the Sages must suffer the torments of the flesh – the ‘superfluities’. Stinking vapors rise up to their brains and distort and confuse all their thoughts. Far from being able to learn the right way to live, all their Torah studies give them the exact opposite of truth.

They never have a clear idea about anything. They are constantly afflicted with doubts and pulled in all directions at once. When a person has no faith in the Sages, his heart becomes as filthy as a privy, all his thinking is warped, and he never knows how he should act in any situation. (Likutey Moharan 61:1)

  • It is not possible to attain perfect faith (emuna) – which is the basis of everything and the summit of holiness – except through being close to the Tzaddikim. It is the Tzaddikim who foster the authentic faith of Israel among the people of their generation.

But the only way to draw close to them is with boldness and determination. There are certain types of people who put up all kinds of obstacles and barriers so as to prevent others from drawing closer to the point of truth. The source of their power is the arrogant self-assertiveness of the forces of the Other Side. (Likutey Moharan 22:4)

  • Only through the Tzaddik of the generation is it possible to attain true awe and love of God. When a person is unable to experience true awe and love, it is because the light of the Tzaddik is hidden from him…

He could be in the same place as the Tzaddik, and even sitting right next to him and still not taste or understand or see the great light which radiates from the Tzaddik, and that could bring him to attain the true and enduring goal.

This is because of his wrongdoing. As a result, his divine intelligence has become clouded over with foolishness and bankrupt ideas. He looks at himself as a sophisticated person who needs to raise various questions and entertain doubts about the Tzaddik.

All these doubt and questions are completely senseless. His wrongdoing has left his mind clouded and dull and the light of the Tzaddik is hidden from him. This is why he does not have genuine awe and love of God. (Likutey Moharan Part 2, 17:1)

  • There are many different kinds of degenerate speech: talking unfairly and untruthfully about other people; telling people what their friends and acquaintances said about them or did to their disadvantage; telling lies; cynicism and sarcasm; flatters; embarrassing people publicly; obscene talk; unnecessary remarks and so on.

Worst of all is when people cast aspersions on the Tzaddikim, and on those who are honest and God-fearing. Talk like this gives wings to the primordial serpent [i.e. the root of all evil in the world]. It flies through the world wreaking havoc.

This ‘serpent’ is the sophistry of the philosophers and other apostles of atheism. Today this has spread throughout the world and is gaining ever-increasing prestige and power. But words of holiness form wings of the domain of the holy. (Likutey Moharan 63)

 

Dear reader, at the moment there seems to be an explosion in heretical statements and heretical ideas being put across by orthodox rabbis, no less, as well as others.

This is all part of the test of birur, or clarification, before Moshiach comes – and it’s going to be very difficult and confusing to navigate it properly!

BH, I’m working on putting together a cut-out-and-keep HERETIC-O-METER, which will list some of the more common heretical statements I’m running into on a regular basis on the internet and elsewhere, to make it easier for everyone to spot what’s going on.

If you have your own favourite ‘heretical statement’ that you’d like me to include, please leave it in the comments section.

When I first moved to Jerusalem, around 2 ½ years ago, I had very big plans to start up some sort of English-speaking ‘Breslev Beit Midrash’ for women.

I had my eye on the apartment we were going to buy that would be big enough and nice enough to house it; I had a schedule of events planned out in my head; and I nourished a big hope that God would be behind my enterprise, and it would take off.

None of those plans materialized. Instead, me and my husband hit such a ‘down’ patch in our life, finances and relationships that it took every scrap of energy we had just to keep going and not crack up.

Other things also contributed to the ‘Breslev Beit Midrash’ never getting off the ground. When I hit Jerusalem, a city of just under a million people, it turned out there were other English-speaking figures in the Breslev community and elsewhere that were greatly displeased that anyone other than themselves should be trying to give a class here.

I also got bogged-down in what I’ll call ‘outreach political-correctness’, which like all other forms of political correctness tries to suggest that there is only one right way of doing things. There’s only certain books you can teach, and only certain people are on the level to do it, and only certain individuals are meant to be doing that stuff, anyway.

We got that message loud and clear from certain quarters that had nothing to do with Breslov, and were even ‘anti’ Breslov, when we started up our failed ‘Meaning of Life’ project in the Old City. But we also got that message much nearer to home, when certain English-speaking Breslovers got extremely upset that other Anglos (not just me…) were trying to put some different sorts of classes and projects together.

It was a small part of my general disillusionment process with the Breslov fakers I often write about here on Emunaroma. I had so many other issues to deal with back then that until this week, I hadn’t even thought about the fall-out from that particular bit of disappointment and broken dreams.

Long story short: This week, I went to visit an alternative health lady I know who’s very plugged-in to God, about a certain issue I’ve been having that started mamash on the night of Shavuot, when we’re meant to stay up all night learning Torah.

 She told me in no uncertain terms that my health issue was connected to me running away from doing the job I was meant to be doing in the world, and that I had to ask God to show me what that actually was.

I came home very thoughtful. All week, I’ve been trying to ask God what He really wants from me. Maybe, I should go back to work? (I’ve started looking…) Maybe, I should start trying to have guests again? (My husband invited a new family for Shabbat…) Maybe, I should start trying to teach Breslev-based Torah classes for English-speaking women again?

This last idea had me in tears again, because even if I wanted to, who would come!?! And where would I hold it? There isn’t enough room to swing a cat in my apartment, let alone host a class. And also, after seeing all the self-promotion that goes on in the English-speaking Torah world – where the biggest, nastiest and fakest egos are often billing themselves as the most knowledgeable, charismatic and ‘inspiring’ speakers – I am completely uninterested in ‘self-promoting’ in any way, shape or form. So it seemed that idea was really dead in the water, for a lot of different reasons.

As I was pondering all this, and asking God to show me what on earth He really wanted from me, I decided to go for a walk up to Mahane Yehuda, where I bumped into someone I’m friendly with.

Long story short: They asked me if I could teach a class on the Breslov perspective on the parsha of the week… We’re trying to arrange a really cool location for it, too, in Mahane Yehuda, and the first class is meant to be happening Sunday 8pm, November 27.

I’m still a little stunned by this turn of events, and also a little wary of getting too excited until it actually happens, BH, but in the meantime, it could be the Breslov Beit Midrash for Anglo women is back on the cards after all…

Breslov is for everyone – not just ‘rabbis’, not just people who’ve been to Uman, or who do hitbodedut every day.

Rebbe Nachman’s teachings can revive anyone’s soul, whatever their background. We all have Torah in our souls somewhere, we’re all a spark of Hashem. We don’t need ‘inspiring’ speakers to dazzle us with their novel Torah, and show us how clever and pious they are. We need people to show us that each of us is also holy, and a letter in the Sefer Torah.

We need people who will encourage us to pick ourselves up off the floor again, and carry on. We need people who have also passed through fire and water in their pursuit of truth, and who can help other seekers to make it through in once piece.

Rebbe Nachman can do all that and more.

I will keep you posted.

Rebbe Nachman knew all about the ‘pseudo-tzaddiks’ that were doing the rounds even in his time.

In Part 2 of Likutey Moharan, Lesson 67, he writes:

“There are luminaries of light and luminaries of fire, and they are antagonistic [i.e. opposing each other.] When the luminaries of light are empowered, the luminaries of fire are subdued, and inversely, when the luminaries of light are subdued and diminished, the luminaries of fire are empowered.”

A little later on in that same lesson, Rebbe Nachman explains that:

“When someone who totally lacks God’s name becomes renowned – when his name becomes renowned and exalted – God’s name becomes diminished and disappears. Then, pseudo-miracle workers and magicians become exalted, and things happen in the world against which only the names of demonic powers are able to protect….

“Fires are caused in the world on account of the names of these ignominiously renowned people becoming great and enhanced, for this causes God’s name to disappear, the luminaries of light to be subdued, and the luminaries of fire to become empowered.”

What is Rabbenu telling us here?

Firstly, he’s telling us that some of the rabbis, leaders and spiritual mentors in the world are the good guys – the ‘luminaries of light’, and that some of them are the bad guys, or the ‘luminaries of fire’.

This is a fact, however upsetting, and the sooner we come to terms with it, the easier it will be to spot the ‘luminaries of fire’ before they burn us up with their bad advice, false judgment and heretical ideas that are really the antithesis of emuna and serving Hashem.

Rabbenu is also telling us that when the ‘famous’ people in the world are essentially God-less heretics, that’s when these ‘luminaries of fire’ will come to the fore, and that’s when all the pseudo-miracle workers etc will start pouring out of the cracks to confuse us even more.

It’s hard to think of a more secular bunch of ‘elites’ than we have in the world today, whether in Israel or elsewhere.

Who talks about God these days, or includes Him in any policy decisions? Certainly not the politicians, pundits, academics and journalists in Israel, and certainly not the politicians, pundits, academics and journalists anywhere else, either.

So that’s the situation we’re currently in.

But Rebbe Nachman is also telling us HOW we can spot who is a faker, and who isn’t:

A luminary of light does just that: they light you up. They exude spiritual light. They shine in the darkness – really literally as well as figuratively.

I remember a few years’ back one of the first times I went to see Rav Arush giving a shiur, his face was mamash shining, and I spent most of the night trying to figure out where the spotlight was…. There was no spotlight.

The same with Rav Berland. So many people describe meeting him in the same way: they were instantly struck by the light of holiness coming off him. It was enough to affect powerful spiritual changes in them without him even saying a word.

Luminaries of fire don’t have that light.

What they have instead is thunderous rhetoric, quick one-liners, heapings of blame, self-righteousness, arrogance, and often very quick tempers for anyone who dares to challenge them, take up too much of their time, or otherwise upset them in some way.

Luminaries of fire are scary people, once you peel off all the ‘fake nice’ that they go to great pains to cover it up with.  They roast you for not being good enough. They blast you for not being tznius enough, or having enough emuna (or simply, for being a flawed human being.)

They dole out judgment and advice with narrowed eyes and an obvious dislike (all carefully concealed). Also, whatever ‘spiritual uplift’ they do possess, it doesn’t illuminate so much as completely burn you out.

Your rapt attention, your obvious devotion and respect – it’s all just fuel for the insatiable fire of their own ego and self-interest.

Before I knew all this, I used to occasionally have phone calls with a ‘luminary of fire’ that would leave me feeling very weird afterwards, like I’d just been mugged somehow, but couldn’t for the life of me work out how, or who’d done it.

It was the luminary of fire, talking all of my respect for them to build a bigger bonfire for themselves. There was some light, too, but it was so hot and uncomfortable speaking to them I subconsciously decided to keep my distance.

It’s only when I overcame that reticence, to have the first ‘real’ conversation with them in all the time I’d been following them, that it became shockingly obvious that I was dealing with a faker, a luminary of fire, not a luminary of light.

Let’s end with this: Luminaries of light can hold their candle up even in your darkest hour, and give you a path out of despair. Luminaries of fire can’t.

The only thing they can do is ‘explode’ in some way – at you, for being such a useless, worthless, imperfect sinner. Fire is anger. Fire is intolerance. Fire is harsh words, and criticism and machloket.

May the luminaries of light be empowered again very soon, may God’s name be exalted and spoken about once again, and may we all have illumination instead of destruction in our lives.

When I first started doing some serious hitbodedut, or personal prayer, I got a lot of miracles.

My kids were miraculously accepted to a popular school that had ‘no room’ for new students. We sold a house in Israel from start to finish in 6 weeks – plus it sprung a huge, enormous leak in the middle of the sale that caused terrible water damage everywhere, but everything still went through. We found a just-about-affordable house to buy in a new location that was standing empty in the middle of April, when we had to move, etc etc etc.

So five years’ back when my husband had been influenced by what I’ll call a ‘pseudo-Breslov’ spiritual guide who loved to tell his students that with enough prayer, you could force God to give you anything you wanted, and wanted to quit his job to ‘let God provide’ I went along with it.

You should know that I did a lot of soul-searching about this decision first, and the answer that I got back in my hitbodedut was always ‘let him quit’. Not because it was going to be easy or a walk in the park – anything but – but because it was going to rectify a lot of things, spiritually.

In the meantime, my husband quit and was happy as a lark for around a month.

Then the economic reality started to sink in, and he started to do one six hour prayer session after another, asking God to send him the money we needed to survive, without him working.

Just to complicate matters, we were also trying to move to Jerusalem at the time, as our rabbi (not the pseudo-Breslover) had made some very strong statements that all of his students should live in Jerusalem, and we were trying to comply. I was also doing lots of six hour sessions – I forget how many – devoted to asking Hashem to help us to find and buy our own suitable place in Jerusalem.

This is where the story seems to have gone a little ‘wrong’, at least from my very limited perspective.

My husband’s prayers for parnassa apparently weren’t answered: things got so bad financially that we ran out of money for food, and a couple of good friends kept us afloat for two months so we could even afford ‘luxuries’ like toilet paper, while our house sale went through and we could breathe a little again.

In the meantime, the ‘pseudo-Breslover’ had done such a good job of convincing my husband that work was evil and bad that the only way he could contemplate going back to work without upsetting Hashem was by trying to open up an ‘outreach’ place in the Old City, which burned through a huge amount of our house money, and ended in total, abject failure.

Even then, my husband struggled so much to overcome all the programming from the ‘pseudo-Breslover’ to be able to go back to work again. It took a couple of chats with Rav Arush (and probably a secret bracha…) and many long months of complete mental torture before he could pull himself together and go back to being a lawyer again.

In the meantime, we’d run out of money for a deposit.

And that wasn’t the only challenge on the house front, the one that I’d been praying for so much, for so many months and now years. At the time we moved to Jerusalem, we found what we thought was an ideal, big, spacious flat that also had a separate rental unit. This was just after we sold our house, so we could still just about afford it.

We got down to trying to go to contract – and the seller promptly told us they were doubling the price to more than 4 million shekels, WAY out of our budget.

Everything where we wanted to buy literally doubled over-night, giving us no options to even consider. We struggled to even find a rental, and ended up with an overpriced, small place with a neo-Nazi landlord from Tel Aviv who used to launch surprise raids on ‘his apartment’ where he’d stalk around the place yelling at me for ruining it’s aesthetic appeal by hanging my washing up.

Then, he jacked up the rent unilaterally after four months, giving us a week to agree or find someone else – so we found somewhere else.

The very modest apartment in the most downtrodden building in the area, where I’ve now been for two years.

Over the holidays, I was struggling mightily with many things this year, but a huge issue has been the question of where did all my prayers go? Where did all my husband’s prayers go? As well as doing loads of six hours, we also give a minimum 10% charity, and it says you can test God on charity, that if you give generously He’ll pay you back.

In two more days, I have to sign the lease on this place for another year. I can’t move anywhere more affordable without seriously disrupting my kids again, who now have friends in the area, and also my husband, who is close to the Yeshiva.

Plus, I kind of like my area, except for the fact that I need a million dollars to even consider buying my own apartment here, and renting something decent will set me back a cool 10-12,000 shekels a month. Even the rent I’m paying on my dumpy place is more than my mortgage used to be.

We’ve started trying to save for a deposit, but at the rate we’re going it will take us about 60 years to get there….

And in the meantime, I feel like I just can’t carry on living where I live anymore. I can’t entertain. I have no space to myself. It’s pretty hard for me to cook in my tiny kitchen. I have just one toilet and germ issues about other people using it. (Please note: I’m an Anglo who has lived in very big houses up unto this point, so I’m clearly moaning about things that a lot of Israelis don’t even notice.)

The only solution appears to be an open miracle…but over the holidays, I realized I’ve given up on miracles. After so many years, so many prayers that apparently weren’t answered, something has broken on the ‘waiting for miracles’ front.

Rav Berland teaches that when there is nothing else to say, nothing else to pray, you just have to dance.

I schlepped all over the place yesterday on Simchat Torah, trying to find somewhere to dance. It wasn’t so successful. So in the end, I came home and tried to dance by myself for a bit, to Rebbe Nachman’s song:

‘Mitzvah gedola lehiot be simcha’.

I know big miracles are possible. I know they do occur. What I still don’t know at this stage is whether I’m going to get one again. Part of me can’t wait around for miracles any more without going absolutely crazy. (As I type this, someone has been loudly drilling next door for an hour already, and the whole place is shaking. I read all those stories about authors taking off to quiet country hideaways for a year to write their latest books and I can’t help laughing my head off.)

At the same time, part of me knows I have no choice except to wait around for miracles.

If I give up on God’s mercy at this point, it really won’t be pretty.

Drone view of a city

A little while back, another email popped into my inbox, from someone who had been so traumatized and ‘burnt’ by their experiences with a false rabbi, that they’d decided to leave Yiddishkeit.

Ever since I wrote the ‘how to spot a false rabbi’ post for Rav Arush’s site, I’ve been getting emails like that, from other people who have been so betrayed and hurt by the ‘religious’ leaders they trusted that it’s plunged them into a huge crisis of faith.

Some of them manage to swim to the other side, and to pick up the pieces of their life within a Jewish orthodox framework again. But some, don’t.

Also a little while back, someone else told me about some really bad advice they’d got from another ‘religious’ influencer, this time an orthodox woman who’s pretty famous on the rent-a-rabbanit circuit.

For reasons of privacy, I won’t share all the juicy details, but let’s just say that the advice was SO bad it was almost fantastically unbelievable that someone could give it over with a straight face.

Now, I’m a big believer in people being able to think for themselves, and to decide for themselves and being able to develop their intuition and self-knowledge to a place where they can actually really trust themselves.

The key, if not the only way, to doing this is by regularly talking to God for an hour a day, aka the practice of hitbodedut, or personal prayer.

When you take that time to reflect on past events, how you reacted, how you felt, what you said, what you thought, what’s bothering you now – PLUS  you’re actually including God in the whole process, and asking Him to show you your own biases and blind spots and issues – then sooner or later, God will start showing you the right thing to do; God will start giving you some amazing advice, and God will clear away all the doubts and confusion that we’re all so filled with today, to shine a light on the correct path to follow.

So when I got the phone call from my confused and panicked colleague – who’d been bowled over by the breath-takingly bad advice they’d been given and had no idea what to do next – the first thing I asked them is:

What do YOU think about it?

Once they’d got over the shock of being allowed their own opinion, they could very quickly see for themselves that the advice they’d been given was 100% a crock, and that the person handing out the advice from that place of apparent wisdom and superiority was actually a complete phony.

Dear reader, Rebbe Nachman warned us that in the time before Moshiach, false leaders preaching falsehood would abound.

It takes a lot of self-work, and hitbodedut to be able to figure out who these false leaders actually are, especially as so many of them are wildly popular on the rent-a-rabbi-or-rebbetzin circuit, and public success brings its own patina of respectability and credibility along with it.

But here too, Rebbe Nachman gave us a clue as to how to proceed. In his Book of Traits (Sefer HaMiddot) Rabbenu tells us the following:

If you do not become attached to known liars, you will merit discerning who hypocrites are.

My perush on this: The more we strive after truth, and particularly, the truth about what we ourselves need to work on and fix, and the truth about how flawed we actually are, the easier it’ll be to spot the fakers in our midst, and to call a spade a spade.

Perush 2: It’s hard to think of a group of people that would be more worthy of the epithet ‘known liars’ than our modern media.

Ergo, stay away from your news feed and you’ll also start to figure out who the problematic people are, in our midst.

Rebbe Nachman also tells us:

There are those who are great apostates and heretics, but they do not reveal their heresy and people are not aware of the need to guard themselves from them. However, through conducting oneself modestly, one is saved from these heretics.

My perush: Modesty isn’t just about dressing in long skirts and covering our hair. There’s an inner dimension to modesty, which is where we try to avoid honor and publicity and ‘notoriety’ – which is the polar opposite from how the heretics act, even the externally very pious ones.

They’re all out there trying to make a name for themselves, and trying to influence the masses, and trying to be the ‘A’-list speakers and top advice givers in the country.

(To my shame, I think I’ve also been a little too caught up in this mindset in regards to trying to sell my books, and I’m seriously considering scaling everything back at the moment, and just letting God do as He sees fit.)

When we’re trying to be modest like that, then the crass people who are self-promoting (only for outreach purposes, natch); and having their faces plastered all over the place (only for the sake of Heaven, natch); and charging premium prices for people to attend their classes (only for the sake of Bank Mizrachi, natch) – those people and us, well, we just won’t mix.

We won’t like them, and they won’t like us, and via this mechanism, we’ll be saved from the false leaders, heretics and purveyors of bad advice with a first-class hechsher.

It’s such an upside-down world at the moment.

The people on the top are, for the most part, really big scumbags. The people on the bottom are, for the most part, the most decent, salt-of-the-earth people you could hope to find. (There’s always exceptions, of course, just to maintain free will and make it really hard to figure out what’s actually going on.)

But you know why that is, don’t you?

Because when Moshiach comes, the whole world is going to flip. God is going to rip the masks off all the false leaders out there, and He’s going to show us what’s really going on behind closed doors in a million different ways.

If you’ve been working on figuring out the truth for yourself, it will all come as a welcome relief to finally have everything so clearly laid out on the table. But if not? Let’s just say they’ll be working overtime in the cardiac arrest unit.

One day, a shiny new van drove up to the small hamlet of Yidville, and a very fit, muscular, tanned man in tennis whites stepped out, with a large statue under his arm.

He strolled over to one of the local parks, set his shiny, black statue up in the middle of one of the grassy areas, and began to casually toss a stone or two in its direction.

One of the friendlier residents of Yidville came over to say hello, and to ask him what he was doing.

“This?” replied the man, tossing another stone at the statue. “Man, this changed my life! Before I started doing this, I had all sorts of aches and pains, and I just couldn’t breathe good. But once I started doing this – well, all my problems cleared up, I grew five inches taller and I developed 28 inch biceps overnight!”

The Yid couldn’t help but be a little impressed, but was also a little puzzled:

How could throwing stones at a statue have so many health benefits?

As the man continued to toss his stones, he explained:

“It’s all about posture, man. And self-control. And balance. See this stone? It looks to you like I’m just tossing it around, casual-like. But really, I learned how to throw stones like this up a mountain in Tibet for five years. Once you learn how to throw the stone right, you’ll see how you just start to feel so darned great!”

Convinced, the yid started learning with the successful stranger how to properly throw stones to Marculis – purely for exercise reasons – and very soon, the stranger had opened his own ‘Throw a stone to Marculis’ studio in Yidville, and was selling branded clothing and a throw-a-stone-to-Marculis line of soft furnishings.

All was well, until a little while later another shiny new van drove up to Yidville and stopped in the centre of town.

A supermodel-type lady got out, tucked a lithe white statue under her arm, and strolled over the local park.

She’d heard about the success of the ‘Throw a stone to Marculis’ studio, and she wanted a piece of the action, too. Her exercise routine was called ‘Ba’al Peor’, and it involved regular rounds of colonic irrigation and other things too complicated for mere plebs to understand.

The people of Yidville crowded round, keen to learn what this latest innovation in holistic health would do for them.

“Laydees,” she drawled, “I used to be FAT!” A gasp erupted from the crowd. “And POOR!” another gasp. “And SOCIALLY INEPT!!!” Now, people were really shocked.

“But then, laydees, I discovered this ‘Ba’al Peor’ exercise routine, and it completely changed my life! I lost 40 lbs in a day and a half, I won the lottery, and then I started to make tons of friends, when I put out my ‘Ba’al Peor Holistic Healing’ home-play DVD. And now, for just $1000 a month, I’m willing to teach you how to access these AMAZING health benefits too!”

Well, that sounded like a deal that was just too good to turn up, so the laydees of Yidville eagerly signed up for ‘Ba’al Peor Flow’ classes, and happily subscribed to the ‘Ba’al Peor Living’ magazine, when the first edition came out just in time for Rosh Hashana.

Things settled back down in Yidville – everyone was happily congratulating each other on discovering their AMAZING exercise routines, which contained so much INCREDIBLE wisdom for living the good life, and kept them so busy they didn’t have time for their more traditional pursuits like praying or learning Torah.

But this stuff was so much more FUN!

The men happily compared the bulging biceps they’d earned from spending 10 hours a day throwing stones to Marculis, while the women couldn’t wait to try out the latest purge-and-cleanse recipe they’d just seen in Ba’al Peor Living. Man, this was the life!

A little while later, another shiny van drew up to Yidville, and yet another successful, spiritually-inclined wise person got out, this time with a bright red statue and a big packet of matches. He knew he had a tough sell on his hands, but he was the best in the business for a reason, and he’d promised the boss he wouldn’t come home until he had at least 50 people signed up for his new exercise class, called:

‘Burn your children for Moloch’.

As the locals crowded around, he made his pitch:

“Guys, this stuff is the most hard-core exercise class out there. It’s only for the best-of-the-best. A lot of people out there don’t get how burning your child for Moloch can help you develop abs of steel, get you inner peace, and triple your income in just eight minutes…”

Here, his voice dropped to a whisper, and he motioned his audience to lean in a little.

“You know why they don’t get it? Because they didn’t do their research, that’s why! They didn’t check this stuff out properly! They’re still stuck in their narrow-minded ways of doing things, and they’re scared to try new things in life! You know, throwing a stone to Marculis is for beginners. If you really want to transform your life, this is the exercise class for you!”

And to close the deal, the rep from ‘Burn your children for Moloch’ passed out some cute devotionary candles that had a really interesting smell, and a bumper sticker that bore the legend: “There is nothing wrong with playing with fire!”

Dear reader, you get to pick what happens next. Do the residents of Yidville:

  1. Vote to relocate their town to an ashram in India (purely for ‘health’ reasons)
  2. Come up with their own new exercise routine called ‘Kosher-Burn-Your-Children-For-Moloch’ – and get a rabbinic psak for it
  3. Make Teshuva and bring Moshiach and the rebuilt Beit HaMikdash

Vote for your choice in the comments section!