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

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

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

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

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

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

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

==

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

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

And so on, and so forth.

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

Where there is no flour, there is no Torah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By talking to God on regular basis.

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

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

Everything is a free gift from Hashem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Torah
  • Eretz Yisrael
  • The world to come

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

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

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

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

But all that stuff is not the main point.

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

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

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

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

Same with doing hitbodedut for an hour.

Why do an hour?

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

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

(You can answer that quietly).

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

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

Let’s go back to the Shabbos example.

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

This BT also wants to keep Shabbat.

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

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

Nope.

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

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

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

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

Same with hitbodedut.

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

Don’t give up!

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s carry on the discussion that we started in the previous post on regularly talking to God, aka doing hitbodedut, but today we’re going to explore the idea of the six hour hitbodedut session in more detail.

As I mentioned in the last post, the first time I was motivated to do a six hour session was when I had a health scare when I was 35, that scared the flipping pants off me.

To put it simply, God very often uses fear to get us to turn to Him, and start really talking.

And fear is certainly what started me off down the path of doing regular, long hitbodeduts. Fear of falling ill, fear of something with the children, God forbid, fear of losing my home, fear of losing my marbles…. You get the idea.

I would arrive in those early six hour sessions with a whole lot of fear, and I would basically spend six hours trying to turn my ‘fallen fear’ into true yireh shemayim, or fear of Hashem, so that I could start to breathe a bit easier and take down the intensely uncomfortable sensation of deep panic and anxiety that were accompanying the fear.

But that wasn’t the only motivation for those early six hours. Another big, huge motivation could be summed up like this:

Forcing God to give me what I want.

And this is what I’m going to focus on today, because I have learned over the last few years that prayer actually doesn’t work like that, it’s not meant to work like that, and if you go in to long hitbodeduts as a way to try ‘force’ Hashem’s hand, it’s just going to boomerang on you.

I know, I know: there’s a marketing issue going on here.

Because we’re superficial, Westernised, control-freak Anglos, we really buy into the message that we can ‘control’ the Creator of the world via six hour hitbodedut sessions. That’s a powerful motivator, that’s a very good way of getting us to dip our toe in the hitbodedut water to start to try it.

Maybe, we need to have hitbodedut packaged like that initially, because who knows if we’d ever feel like trying it, otherwise? But this approach is not describing the whole, complicated reality of the relationship with Hashem, and the best way to show you its beauty, but also its limitations, is to tell you what happened to me, on a few different occasions.

WHEN THE ‘FORCING’ DIDN’T WORK, EXAMPLE 1: HAVING MORE CHILDREN

One of the biggest motivators for doing hitbodedut for me, initially, was to try to ‘force’ God to give me more children. Baruch Hashem, I have two wonderful daughters, 18 and 15 now, but I wanted more. And God didn’t want to give more to me, so I spent years, and years, and years trying to ‘force’ God to give me more kids via hitbodedut.

After about 5 years of doing this, the penny started to drop that while the hitbodedut wasn’t really working in this area, regularly talking to God every single day had been cleaning up my bad middot, and leading to a lot of insights and teshuva in many other ways.

And it was also making me a much better, happier and more empathetic and emotionally ‘there’ mother.

But still, when I was having my bad days, the first weapon my yetzer would use to attack my efforts at hitbodedut was my apparent ‘failure’ to force God to give me more kids. At that stage, I was still buying into the message that the only reason God wasn’t giving me more kids is because I hadn’t done enough hours of hitbodedut, so I just kept racking up more and more hours, more and more six hour sessions.

This continued until around 4 years ago, when I had 4 early miscarriages in the space of a year and a half.

To say this was a huge test of faith is a massive understatement.

All this was occurring when we were having difficulties in a bunch of other areas as well, and the miscarriages on top of everything else we were going through really, nearly, broke me.

It took me a good two years of picking through the rubble of that experience to draw some positive conclusions, but this is what I realized, after a lot more introspection and prayer:

  • Because I didn’t ‘let go’ and accept God’s plans for me to have not more kids, and because I kept trying to ‘force’ Him to give me more kids, I ended up with the worst of both worlds:

I conceived four more kids, and then I lost them all. (Thank God, it was all very early miscarriages, there was a lot of kindness even in the harsh judgement.)

  • I am really not cut out to have a big family.

It would have been better for me to accept that much earlier on, and to be counting my existing blessings, then to keep using my ‘lack of kids’ as a moaning stick against Hashem.

  • God knows exactly what He’s doing.

I love writing, I love writing blogs and books and doing all this stuff gives me a very deep and happy sense of meaning. Much as I love my kids, changing diapers and hanging out in the park has just always been difficult for me. I was not prepared to do things by half-measures, so God made sure I could spend a bunch of years focusing only on my two kids, and doing my best to give them what they needed. But at this stage, He’s given me the time and freedom to go back to my writing full-throttle – and I can do that with no guilt, and without worrying that I’m acting selfishly, because I only have two kids.

  • I couldn’t have experienced the difficulties of the last 5 years as ‘easily’ if I had a bigger family.

The rented dump fit a family of 4 perfectly. Trying to stuff a family of 5 or 6 in that space would have been extremely dangerous for everyone’s mental health (in my family – remember, we’re all different.) Also, I had bad health issues that took me out for 2 years solid – there’s no way I could have had the energy to properly care for very young children in those circumstances. And I didn’t have any support network, no local family, no neighbors to fall back on, so I count it as a huge blessing, at this stage, that I didn’t have to go through the upheavals and massive uncertainty of the last few years with more small kids to care for.

God knew what I’d have to go through in order to do more of the ‘soul rectifying’ required; He knew that I had a bunch of important things to write about, and that I’d find all this very hard to do with heavier family responsibilities.

And that’s at least part of why He didn’t answer all those prayers to have more kids.

Now, on to:

 WHEN THE ‘FORCING’ DIDN’T WORK, EXAMPLE 2: BUYING AN APARTMENT IN JERUSALEM

Like many other people, I was very anxious about moving to Jerusalem a few years’ back, not least because I had no idea how we were going to find something decent to live in.

I was coming from a huge, new-built 5 bed semi-detached in a yishuv, and the apartments in Jerusalem were either just plain awful and completely unsuitable (and affordable) or nice and very suitable (and completely unaffordable).

I’d heard the infamous story about the yeshiva student who’d done a bunch of six hours and somehow got a ‘free’ apartment in Jerusalem, so I decided that in this area, I could definitely ‘force’ God to give me a nice place in the holy city.

Man, I can’t tell you how many six hour sessions I did devoted to forcing God to give me a nice place in Jerusalem, but it was scores and scores.

Here’s what happened:

We’d agreed a price on a flat in Musrara, and were moving forward with the legal process to buy it. Suddenly, the seller changed his mind about the price, literally doubled it – and we had to pull out.

At that point, all the other properties in Jerusalem also literally doubled overnight, and what had been barely affordable became impossibly expensive. I watched that Jerusalem real estate train chug out of the station – without me on board – and I couldn’t help feeling a wave of bitterness and resentment.

Why hadn’t all my prayers for a house worked?

Not only that, the exact opposite happened: The first place we moved to had a neo-Nazi landlord from Tel Aviv, so we ended up moving out again after four months – to the rented dump that we spent the next three years in.

My kids came home and whispered to me that first month: Ima, my friends told me that this is place where poor people live.

What made it even more galling is that we were paying more to rent the rented dump than we’d been paying out on the mortgage of the 5 bedroom villa.

God, what happened to all my prayers for my own home!?!?!

Fast-forward to last year, and guess what?

We found another flat in that same building where we’d been gazumped four years earlier. And this time, the seller stuck to the price agreed, and went through with the sale.

And as you know, that was an unmitigated disaster, as the whole building was still half-owned by an Arab from the 1930s and the bank refused to give us a mortgage on it – but only after we signed.

Do you know what I’d been praying for, for years?

That I should be able to buy a house of my own in Jerusalem, without a mortgage.

And yet again, God answered the prayer – because I forced Him to, with all my millions of six hours – but I ended up with the worst of both worlds: I bought a house that I couldn’t afford, that I was unable to get a mortgage on.

Again, it’s taken a few months to start to pick through the rubble of what happened to find the message, the lesson, but here’s some of what I’ve come up with so far:

  • We were trying to buy an apartment in the wrong part of Jerusalem.

This was part of our ongoing ‘false piety’ issues, which saw us trying to ‘fit in’ to a community that we really didn’t belong with, even though there was a lot of overlap along Breslov lines. This deserves its own post, but to give just one example: we’ve been invited out for Shabbat more in the last 2 months, and had guests more in the last 2 months, than in the whole 4 years previous.

  • Owning my own house was rooted in some huge bad middot and arrogance issues.

Like it or not, most of us view our house as a status symbol. The bigger, the fancier, the newer – the more we pat ourselves on our internal backs. But when you rent, and you rent a dump, and that rent is more than your mortgage was – you quickly learn to stop feeling so puffed-up with pride, and obsessed with where you are ranking in the house stakes.

  • I was extremely unhappy about the prospect of taking on so much, massive, mortgage debt, but I couldn’t see any other option.

This is also connected to the ‘false piety’ issue, but we were convinced that Musrara was the only place in the whole of Jerusalem where we could live. And the prices in Musrara are through the roof, hence getting a massive mortgage seemed to be the only way to buy an apartment in Jerusalem. But now, I’m learning different. The properties in our area are easily half a million cheaper, and if / when we can ever afford to buy again, we will hopefully be able to find something way cheaper, for the same sort of space we need.

God had been giving us clues that we perhaps weren’t in the best place to stay permanently for a while, but we kept blocking them out, and stubbornly insisting that we know better. We clearly didn’t, so at this stage, I’m increasingly grateful for our house purchasing debacle. The one thing worse than being fundamentally miserable about your location in a rental is being fundamentally miserable in a place where you’ve actually bought.

On to the last example, for today:

WHEN THE ‘FORCING’ DIDN’T WORK, EXAMPLE 3: EXPECTING TO MAINTAIN A GOOD STANDARD OF LIVING WHILE DOING NO ACTUAL WORK

And so we come on to arguably the most difficult test we had in this area of six hours, which is when my husband was encouraged by his ‘spiritual guide’ to quit his job and let God provide.

The person who told my husband this was very into his six hours, and his davening by kivrei tzaddikim, and was extremely charismatic. He also didn’t tell my husband that his wife was working a full-time job to try to keep the family afloat financially, or that he’d bought his own apartment in the area when prices were dirt cheap.

So there we were, being told that working for a living showed some sort of ‘lack of emuna’, and that coincided with a period of time when my husband was extremely unhappy in his work, and was feeling suffocated by his profession and office circumstances.

So my husband quit, and started ‘working for God’ instead, doing six hour hitbodeduts every day, as his ‘spiritual guide’ had told him to.

And I was also doing a lot of six hour sessions too, because it really didn’t take long for our financial situation to get extremely difficult.

Every day, my husband would learn some Torah in the morning, then go into the spare room and try to do his six hours. Every day, we’d be sitting there waiting for the lottery ticket win to show up, the unexpected legacy from an unknown great aunt, the massive pink diamond I was going to unearth digging in the garden….

And in the meantime, it didn’t show up.

And in the meantime, we were running out of money for food, and money to pay the rent, and my husband was in a pretty fragile state for a number of reasons, not least, that his yetzer had him convinced 100% that going back to work for a living would show a terrible lack of emuna.

So his six hours continued, my six hours continued – and friends of mine started sticking baguettes in through the kitchen window, quietly, so I could give my kids supper, while others had to buy us toilet roll, or give me a couple hundred shekels so I could actually go to the supermarket.

After two months of this, I realized we’d hit the end of the road, and we had to sell our house just to get through.

Because my husband had been so thoroughly brainwashed by the yetzer that working for a living was bad, and that all he had to do was keep praying, he couldn’t face the idea of going back to work. He felt it would be a terrible spiritual failure.

So we sold, and we had some brief financial respite, but I was still on at my husband to go back to work and end the experiment, which is when we decided to open our disastrous ‘Meaning of Life’ kiruv attraction in the Old City which blew through a whole bunch of our house money.

Of course, the ‘spiritual guide’ gave his blessing to this project too – because he had a huge vested interest in ‘proving’ the correctness of his ‘no work for the man’ derech – and when that went bust, we had one of the biggest crises of faith we ever had to face.

I am eternally grateful to Rav Shalom Arush, who gave my husband the spiritual ‘permission’ he needed to go back to work without feeling like he was the worst spiritual loser ever. And in the meantime, we were both left with massive questions about what had happened to all those six hour prayer sessions we’d done, for my husband’s parnassa.

Here’s some of what I managed to glean from that whole, sorry mess:

  • There is no ‘one size fits all approach’, when it comes to serving Hashem as a believing Jew.

God clearly wanted my husband to return to work, and to learn Torah part-time, and working as a professional is a crucial part of his spiritual tikkun.

  • It’s very easy for the yetzer to co-opt even the holiest practices, and to take them to an unhealthy extreme.

Doing six hours for parnassa is great, and something that most people can probably manage, at least once in a while. Quitting work totally to ‘work for God’ is a practice that maybe a handful of people in every generation can pull off – and most of them would have to be happy living at, or below, the breadline.

  • We had to go through that whole mess to figure out how much of an ‘ego exercise’ the six hour prayer thing had turned into.

The more we prayed, the more arrogant we got, and the more we felt like God somehow ‘owed us’ open miracles. God owes us nothing. Recently, I also learned from Rav Berland that the whole point of hitbodedut is to acquire more humility, not more arrogance. If God had answered our prayers to be supported in a miraculous way, we would have turned into awful spiritual egotists – and who knows what spiritual damage we would we have wreaked on the world.

My husband reminded me that there’s a story in the Gemara of a man who was travelling in the desert, and who felt so hot and tired, he asked God to send him a donkey.

God complied –and the donkey promptly died, forcing the man to stagger through the desert having to also schlep the donkey’s carcass home.

Sometimes, there are tests and difficulties we just simply have to do through, and trying to ‘force’ God to cut them short, or to make them go away, will only backfire.

THE RIGHT AND WRONG WAY TO DO SIX HOURS

So now, let’s move to a discussion of the right way, and the wrong way to do six hours. Despite what I’ve written above, I still really enjoy doing six hours, and I’ve still seen a bunch of open miracles from long sessions talking to God.

But today, the focus of my prayer sessions is not on telling God what I want from Him, but asking God what He wants from me.

There are two principal reasons why we go through suffering, hardships and ‘lacks’:

  • To encourage us to make teshuva, and to work on the bad middot and negative character traits that are blocking all the shefa that God is trying to send down to us.
  • We have to go through something as rectification, or spiritual tikkun, for something that we did wrong, or that we didn’t do right, in a previous life.

From my experience, six hours can work wonders to clear the ‘blockages’ in our parnassa, health, shalom bayit, or parenting that are coming about because of our own lack of emuna, or bad middot.

If a person with parnassa problems sits down and says: God, I have no idea what I need to fix to get more of an income, but I know for a fact that the problem is coming from You, and is for my ultimate good, and that there’s something I need to change or fix, here – there is no question God will start to show them what’s really causing the problem.

(Hint: it’s usually connected to a hidden anger problem, and how they treat their wife.)

There’s no question that they’ll start to gain a whole bunch of insights into their difficulty earning a living, and that they’ll get the inspiration and the motivation required to improve matters as much as they can.

If it then turns out that the parnassa problem is an unavoidable spiritual tikkun, doing the six hours will also help the person to stand up in the test, and come through it in one piece.

This is a great, wonderful, amazing, awesome way to do six hours for parnassa.

BUT, if a person sits down, and says: God, I need enough money to buy a new i-Phone, a new car, a new apartment in Jerusalem ­– who the heck says that God wants that for you?! Or that this would be good for you?! Or that you’d be able to handle the awful feelings of arrogance and pride that would assail you, if God started doing open miracles like this for you?

Are you seeing the difference, here?

Again, let’s take another common example. Say someone is having issues with their kid. Say, the kid just isn’t tidying their room, isn’t praying the way the parent would like them to be, is being a smart mouth, etc.

If the parent sits down and says: God, please show me what’s ailing my child, and what we can do to try to help them fix the problem at its root! Please help my kid to feel happier, please help them to get a grip on their yetzer. Please show me what we need to change in the home – what I need to work on myself, as their parent – to get things to turn around – this is a great way to do six hours.

But, if the parent sits down as says: God, my kid is acting like such a jerk. Please fix it that they should start tidying their room, respecting me properly, and going to shul on time so my husband doesn’t get upset – this isn’t the point of six hours.

Why not?

Because instead of recognizing that the kid’s behavior is an invitation for the parent to dig deeper and work on their own bad middot and lack of emuna, the parent is just trying to get God to get the problem to go away, without being willing to change anything or make teshuva about anything. They are making the whole issue the kid’s problem – and this is the opposite of real emuna.

Real emuna tells us God is behind everything, God is doing everything for our ultimate good, and that there is a message for what we need to change, fix, recognize and improve in every little thing that happens to us.

To put this in different words:

When you ask God to help you clear up a spiritual problem, when you recognize that God is sending the problem because He wants YOU to change something, He wants some teshuva out of YOU – then six hours can and does work a treat.

But, when you just ask God to make your material problems go away, or to just give you what you want, and you’re not willing to even consider WHY the situation may be happening in the first place, or whether what you want is really the same as what God wants, or to examine your own deeds – then the six hours might still work. But it really might not.

REAL LIFE EXAMPLES OF WHERE SIX HOURS WORKED FOR ME

I’ve had a bunch of miracles occur as a result of doing six hours, but each one required some sort of teshuva or change.

  • Getting my kids into the ‘right’ school was mamash an open miracle – because the school had a waiting list, and neither of my kids could read well (or at all…) and we weren’t at all connected in the sorts of useful ways that get you into schools. I did a bunch of six hours, but I also had to make my peace with the idea that the answer really could be ‘no’, and that if that was the case, God knew better than I did what was best for my kids.
  • Making peace with my crazy house seller was mamash an open miracle – and it took loads and loads of six hours, and loads of working on myself to overcome my own anger and bitterness, and to try to build some emuna, and to try and trust God more and accept His will, whatever the outcome ultimately was going to be.
  • My husband rebuilding his business from scratch in less than 6 months was mamash an open miracle – not least because all his clients are in the UK, and he had no intention of commuting, or hiding his payot. God fixed things that as soon as my husband made the decision to go back to work, new clients started to come to him, with hardly any effort on his part. It really showed us that once my husband was in alignment with what God wanted for him, all of his six hours on making parnassa were put to really good use, and nothing was wasted.
  • Staying married is mamash an open miracle – I think this is true for most people in their 40s today, let alone people like us who have been through so much extreme craziness the last few years. Not only are we still married, we both actually still enjoy each other’s company, and like spending time together and talking to each other. I know all my six hours for my shalom bayit have had a hugely positive effect on my marriage.
  • Having a good relationship with my teens is mamash an open miracle – And I’ve also seen a lot of their issues move and dissolve after doing a six hours on their behalf. Even for issues that are currently ‘stuck’, like the acne issue, all the six hours I’m doing on that subject are being used to help my kid in a myriad other ways. Apart from the acne, there’s a bunch of other things that have improved significantly or disappeared as issues, over the last few months, and I’m sure the six hours I do for her has a lot to do with it.

I just want to stress something again here:

I often don’t see anything change, directly, from the six hours, but I nearly always feel happier and better after doing it. And while I don’t get a lot of obvious, open miracles, I do get a lot of unusual ‘coincidences’ that I know are 100% from Hashem.

Also, my life circumstances means that talking to God a lot is fairly easy for me to do and doesn’t require a lot of self-sacrifice. I’m think if someone had to make a huge effort to do a six hours, they would probably see far more ‘miraculous’ results, far more obviously, than has generally been my experience.

The reward is always commensurate with the effort, so please do try a six hours at least once yourself if you want to try to take your relationship with Hashem to the next level, even if it’s hard.

SOME TECHNICAL POINTERS

As always, there’s so much to say, but let’s end with some technical pointers for how to do a ‘good’ six hours.

  • YOU DON’T HAVE TO TALK ABOUT ONE SUBJECT THE WHOLE TIME.

What I do, is that I will say at the outset that ‘this 6 hours is in the merit of my daughter’s acne clearing up’, or ‘it’s in the merit of Rav Berland having a refuah shleima’ or whatever it is, then I will talk about whatever God puts into my head. If it’s a particular subject where I have some work to do – anything to do with myself or my family directly falls under this heading – then I will try to specifically talk around the topic, to see what clues God will give me about what’s really going on. Making teshuva and getting the message is a big part of taking the time to do a six hours.

  • YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO IT IN ONE PLACE.

I often do some sort of combo where I’ll start off the six hours in bed, then go for a ‘hitbodedut’ walk, then do some ‘housewife hitbodedut’, then crack open a Likutey Moharan for inspiration, or head up the road to Kever Rochel or the Kotel. Kivrei Tzaddikim can be very good places to do hitbodedut, but unless the kever is somewhere like Uman, Meron, or the Baba Sali in Netivot, it can be hard to sit there for a whole six hours straight. So if you can’t spend the whole six hours somewhere, that’s fine – just go for an hour or two then head back home to complete the rest.

  • YOU CAN PRAY FOR MATERIAL THINGS, BUT THE MAIN FOCUS SHOULD BE ON THE SPIRITUAL SIDE.

Remember that God is not a caspomat. If you haven’t got a good spiritual reason for the material thing you’re asking for, chances are high that it’s not really something you should be praying about, or at least, not something you should be doing a whole six hours on.

  • FOCUS ON THE PROCESS, NOT THE OUTCOME.

If your hitbodedut is about getting closer to God, and trying to live your emuna, and trying to work on your bad middot, or figuring out the message, it’ll work beautifully every single time. But if it’s only about achieving a particular ‘thing’ or aim, or solving a particular problem, there’s no guarantee that God will give you what you want.

  • ASK GOD WHAT HE WANTS FROM YOU, DON’T JUST TELL HIM WHAT YOU WANT FROM HIM.

There’s a reason you haven’t got your own home, or you can’t lose weight, or your i-Phone keeps breaking, or you can’t meet the rent bill, or He’s not giving you more kids. Doing six hours is a great opportunity to explore what those reasons might actually be, and figure out what God is expecting from you, before your situation can change for the better.

  • NO PRAYER IS EVER WASTED, BUT IF YOU TRY TO FORCE GOD’S HAND INTO GIVING YOU SOMETHING THAT ISN’T ULTIMATELY GOOD FOR YOU, IT WILL ONLY BOOMERANG.

God has good reasons for everything. If something isn’t coming – and you’ve made teshuva, and you’ve done all you can to fix up your side of things – then it’s a good idea to try to accept God’s will, and to ask for emuna and bitachon, instead of redoubling your six hour efforts to ‘force’ God into giving you what you want.

 

  • I’m very happy to write more on this subject, just let me know what other questions or issues you have, that you think I might be able to help clarify. And in the meantime, I really hope God will help us all to experience the real pleasure of speaking to Him, and connecting our souls back to Source.

I had a request to write a bit more about hitbodedut, or the practice of talking to God in your own words every single day.

Rebbe Nachman writes in Likutey Moharan 2:25 that:

Hitbodedut is the most exalted and paramount spiritual practice of all. It involves setting a time for oneself of at least an hour to meditate in seclusion in some room or in the field, expressing oneself before one’s Maker with well-tailored arguments in an expedient, but graceful and appeasing way, begging God to truly bring us closer to His service.”

Rabbenu continues a little further down:

“Even when one’s words are blocked, and one is unable to open one’s mouth and speak before God, this itself is very great, i.e. preparing ourselves to stand before God, and desiring to speak, even when we can’t….

“We should beg God for mercy and compassion, so that He opens our hearts to be able to express ourselves before Him.”

==

So far, so good.

The person who emailed me told me they keep falling asleep when they try to do hitbodedut, so they wanted some advice / chizzuk on how to handle this, so in their merit, I decided to write this post.

So many things have been written about hitbodedut by so many people, many of whom are far ‘higher’, spiritually, than I am. (Like, by about a billion spiritual miles…) At the same time, I’ve been doing regular hitbodedut now for something like 12 years, and I do an hour every day, minimum, as Rabbenu recommends us to do.

And I have a lot of firsthand experience of how I’ve seen hitbodedut, the practice of talking to God in our words, has truly changed my life, not always in such simple ways. So let’s begin with a brief history of how I got started, and why.

I started doing hitbodedut back in 2006, during our first year in Israel, when we’d moved to Modiin from London, and our life was lurching from one crisis to another, and I really didn’t know how to cope with it all anymore. As I look back on it now, I see we’ve had the same sort of tests for 12 of the last 13 years, and it’s only in 5777 /8 that we started to make the real, deep teshuva required to finally get things to improve a little.

So, here’s a little of what was going on back in 2006, in Modiin:

  • We were fighting with family members:
  • My PR business was going down the tubes and starting to accumulate a bunch of big debt
  • My husband got made redundant by his London law firm who had agreed to him working remotely from Israel before we made Aliyah – but then changed their minds without telling him, and started looking for his replacement.
  • My kids were climbing the walls, as I was always ‘absent’ emotionally, either working like a dog or worrying about work.
  • Our house got burgled.
  • Our social situation started to get precarious, because all the other olim we were friendly with didn’t really want to hear about all the difficulties we were going through.
  • The depression I’d been dealing with for decades bubbled up again, and I could spend days crying, immobilized on a sofa, or in bed.
  • Our shalom bayit was going down the toilet because of all the pressure.

What’s the answer a Western-educated person would give about how to handle all this?

Clearly “Go to a shrink!!” That’s what everyone was telling me.

So I went – to about 3 different shrinks because most of them were just so bad, sometimes for 3 times a week – and honestly, it was making it all worse.

They’d want me to keep track of my dreams, and then we’d have to talk about it, or they’d ask me leading questions about my parents, and I’d have to veer away from that conversation at a million miles an hour. To put it another way, they’d be picking at very deep emotional scabs for 50 minutes, then just when I was feeling my most raw, they’d pack up for the day and send me home to deal with the fallout.

By myself.

After three months of this, I could see it really wasn’t working, but I didn’t know what else to do. So then, I heard a CD from Rav Arush where he basically said that talking to God was the single address, the single practice, that would solve the problem – whatever the problem.

And that nothing else would really do the job.

I came back to my latest shrink, I told her that I had to try and figure things out directly with God, and she was nice enough to give me her blessing, even though as a devoutly secular women, she was sure this was just another manifestation of mental illness.

I was still feeling really depressed at this stage, so all I could manage was 10 minutes. For 10 minutes a day, for three days, I just kept asking God to lift the depression off me, and let me start functioning again without all the terrible heaviness and crying.

You know what?

God answered that prayer.

I won’t say I never got depressed again, as it’s a process that requires a lot of self-awareness, teshuva and prayer, but that was the last time I had a depression that lasted more than a few days – and I was convinced that hitbodedut really worked, because for decades already, nothing else had managed to tame the depressions.

So from that point on, I asked God to help me talk to Him every single day, come what may.

Again, I started small.

10 minutes every day, while I was washing the dishes.

Then, I went up to 15 minutes, then 20, then half an hour, then 40 minutes, then 45.

And that’s where I got stuck for about 2 years. Try as I might, I simply couldn’t break the 45 minute barrier and make it through to the magical one hour. I literally would get a sensation as though I was jumping out of my skin and couldn’t sit still for a second more.

But I didn’t give up.

God helped me to carry on at that 45 minute level, and then one day, for the first time ever, I managed to reach the hour, and I knew that some big spiritual test had been passed.

In the meantime, life had only continued to get more and more complicated and difficult externally, so talking to God really became my lifeline. Talking to God led to some fundamentally huge changes at that point, like:

  • Moving out of Modiin
  • Quitting my business, to try and be more of a full-time mother (which is enough to give any F/T career woman a serious attack of the heebee jeebees.)
  • Getting more ‘frum’, covering my hair, encouraging my husband to learn in yeshiva in the morning
  • Getting to work on my huge anger issues, and other bad middot, which had been mostly under the radar up until then.
  • Going cold-turkey on the internet, and going back to a ‘normal’, non-internet phone (this still predated the time of i-Phones).

When I was 35, I had a health scare that shook me up enough, I was motivated to do my first ever six hours, by the Kotel.

Honestly?

It was complete mental torture. One of the most difficult things I’ve done, in a lot of ways, because the urge to just stop, to break, to run away from talking to God, was at times completely overwhelming.

But I was scared about my health, and that’s what kept me going. At the end of it, I was so pleased to have got that ‘six hour’ thing under my belt – and I felt even happier a couple of weeks’ later when I got the ‘all clear’ from the doctor, and the scary symptoms literally disappeared by themselves, overnight.

So from that point on, I started regularly doing a six hours, as much as once a month, and I’d often do it while I was digging through the wasteland that was my garden in the Gush. That felt so appropriate, somehow, as I’d be digging up the root of an ancient weed that was embedded a metre down, and spread and knotted in a million directions, while also asking God to help me uproot internal ‘weeds’ like anger and jealousy, that seemed to be equally entrenched.

Gush Etzion is when all the demons I’d been trying to avoid and run away from for years finally started gushing out of the system, and if I hadn’t been talking to God every single day for an hour or more, I literally would have gone crazy.

As it was, I only went half-crazy, but a lot more stuff started to move and change as a result, like:

  • I went to Uman, to Rebbe Nachman’s grave, for the first time.
  • We moved house and location in order to send our kids to what we hoped would be a much better school, religiously.
  • My husband started learning at the Chut Shel Chesed Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
  • My husband decided to open up his own law practice.

So now, I’m in a new community, and the first two years were pretty good, by any standard. We had friends, we had other English-speaking people around who were ‘Breslov friendly’, my husband’s parnassa was doing well, I was busy ghostwriting books for Dr Zev Ballen, blogging for Breslev.co.il and writing my first book, called The Happy Workshop.

And in the meantime, I was still talking to God about a lot of things, because the kids were still experiencing a lot of difficulties, and I’d learned from Rav Arush’s ‘Education with Love’ book that their problems were really just mine and my husband’s.

Like, one kid had awful, debilitating stomachaches that nothing could cure or get to go away.

I decided to do a six hours devoted to her health issues, and by the end of that, I got some massive insight that her emotional stomachache was really just my emotional stomachache, that had been transposed.

The next three days after that hitbodedut, I was laid up in bed with an awful, killer stomachache – but the kid got better from that point on, and never had that type of stomachache again.

So for two years, I felt we were making slow but steady progress on our bad middot, and that we were slowly, slowly starting to fix a lot of the flaws and mistakes and problems with our parenting.

But then, clearly, we reached the next stage of the ‘teshuva’ process, when God whipped the rug right out from under our feet and sent our life into major free-fall.

It started when my husband’s father died very unexpectedly, the day after Succot. From that point on, all the monsters that had been lumped under the family rug for decades started to crawl out, and long story short, we got to a place where we were once again:

  • Fighting with family members
  • Socially isolated
  • Financially in trouble, and forced to sell the house
  • Having awful shalom bayit issues
  • Experiencing serious illnesses because of all the stress
  • Having massive difficulties with our kids

 

And clearly, I’m leaving a bunch of stuff out here.

Once again, hitbodedut and Uman is what got us through in one piece.

As each day’s new troubles and difficulties hit, I’d run to God for comfort, for clarity, for reassurance, for emuna. Some days I was so distraught, so lost, all I could do was sit there mouthing Ein Od Milvado over and over again.

Other times, I’d sometimes fall asleep while I was talking to God, but I didn’t mind when that happened, as it wasn’t all the time, and it’s often a sign that the ‘light’ that’s coming down is just too big to get hold of consciously, so God knocks you out to operate.

(Having said that, if you fall asleep every single time you do hitbodedut that’s not so helpful, and you may want to change how you do it, like going to a public place, or doing it while you take a walk, or sweep the house.)

There were a lot of six hours going on at that stage, too, because we’d run out of money and had been advised to just go and ‘work for God’, i.e. do long hitbodeduts every day, and in the merit of that, God would do miracles for us.

I will cover this topic in a future post, because it’s part of how I came to a crucial understanding about what talking to God regularly is all about, and I don’t want to lump it all to this post as it’s pretty crucial.

But suffice to say, that you can’t view hitbodedut, or doing 6 hours, through the prism of trying to force God to give you what you want.

It’s much, much more about figuring out what God really wants from you.

Talking to God regularly has given me so much clarity about things, so much insight into my own nature and yetzer, and by extension other people’s, too. It’s not always been easy to ‘hold’ that knowledge. There were times when I honestly think I went a bit crazy from it, in the way that’s commonly referred to in Israel as ‘too much light’.

For example, when new BTs kind of lose the plot and go overboard in a million different ways, that’s because it’s ‘too much spiritual light’ to really handle. Their souls want more connection to God, but their minds and their middot can’t really process things so fast, which is often when you end up with a machmir external yiddishkeit that’s paired with immature character traits and a narrow, very judgmental mind-set.

But at that point, talking to God helped me figure out a whole bunch of things (eventually…) like:

  • How our bad character traits literally make us physically ill
  • How personality disorders and Erev Rav traits were totally describing the same phenomenon
  • How we can’t stand up in the tests we need to go through, in order to really fix our neshamas, without a very strong connection to the true tzaddikim
  • How most people are simply lying to themselves about the true, negative, impact their bad character traits are having on others, especially their spouse and children.
  • How so much of the difficulties we go through in our life are really ‘inherited’ from our forebears, or from previous lifetimes. So for sure, we still ‘deserve’ them 100%, but it’s not always true that our actions in this lifetime is what’s causing us the problem.
  • And, most importantly of all, how following Rebbe Nachman’s advice of talking to God regularly for an hour a day (and regularly going to Uman) is THE ONLY WAY to fix the problem, at its root.

I know that last point is quite a statement, but after everything I’ve witnessed going on around me the last few years, and also within me, I stand by it 100%.

Unless a person is regularly talking to God for an hour a day, they simply won’t have the spiritual ‘muscle’ required to be able to distinguish the yetzer hara from the yetzer tov on a regular basis, and especially when it comes to really figuring out what they need to work on and change.

I’m not talking about before we lose our temper, or say or do something we badly regret. Even the biggest tzaddik can fall prey to a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction brought about by their bad middot, and it’s the work of 120 to be able to uproot these impulses entirely.

I’m talking about after we’ve said or done something bad, or negative, and we’re still just justifying ourselves and coming up with tons of excuses to paint ourselves, and our behavior, or misjudgment, or mistake as whiter than white.

Truth requires hitbodedut, it’s as simple as that.

And without truth, people don’t realise or accept just how much teshuva they really still need to make, especially when it comes to how they treat their spouse and kids.

At the same time, hitbodedut also overcomes the inbuilt tendency to be too hard on ourselves, and to beat ourselves up over every little thing. That’s also a big part of not being able to distinguish the yetzer hara from the yetzer tov, because when God is bringing something that needs fixing to your attention in hitbodedut, He always does it gently.

But the yetzer just starts screaming in your face that you’re baddddd!!! And you did something wrongggg!!! And you’re worthlessssss!! And now, you’re going to get in so much trouble!!!

And who is going to make teshuva when that’s what they feel they have to go through every time they want to even take a peek at what they might need to fix? Answer: no-one.

But when you’re regularly doing hitbodedut, you’ll start to get some insight into why you’re acting the way you are, and you’ll start to be able to develop some real compassion for yourself, even while taking a much firmer stand on the negative actions and behaviors that really do need looking at and fixing.

(I talk a lot more about all this ‘snake brain’ vs ‘human brain’ stuff in THIS post.)

SO, HOW BEST TO DO IT?

Here’s some tips to get you started:

  • Start small.

It can even be just a minute a day, if you’re pushed. It’s not so much about how long, but how consistent when you first start trying to talk to God, so pick a time frame that you know you will have the willpower to stick to, long term.

  • Do it every single day.

Even if you don’t feel like it. Even if you feel rotten. Even if you’re in a bad mood. Even if you’re in the best mood. Think of it like a meeting with the boss, a date with the man of your dreams, a lunch with a brilliant book agent (if you’re also a struggling writer J ) It’s not something you’re going to miss, come hell or high water. And I warn you now, that when your yetzer realizes that you’re trying to talk to God, it will throw everything at you, to try to prevent it.

  • Turn off your phone.

I think one of the reasons I’m so not ‘into’ the whole smartphone thing is because I know I can live without it for a whole hour every day. Do you know how liberating it is to not have to keep checking Whatsapp? (I’m guessing, as I don’t have it….) Phones are the #1 enemy of people trying to make some time to talk to God, so switch it off.

  • Do hitbodedut somewhere you feel comfortable.

At the beginning, a lot of people tend to feel ridiculous talking ‘to the wall’. What, I’m just going to sit here talking ‘to the wall’?!

But there are worse things.

I walk around my neighborhood doing hitbodedut, and I can tell you for sure that many people now have me pegged as one of the higher functioning mentally-disabled adults that go to the day centre just up the road from me.

If you’re worrying about your cred, or if you live in a small town where looking like a mad person isn’t actually an advantage for keeping the real crazies away, or if you’re worried you might bump into your boss or school principal, then it’s probably better to start off in your own home.

If you have a garden to sit in (and it’s not blizzarding or pouring) that’s often a good option, but be 100% guided by where you’ll feel comfortable actually talking. Out loud. Which brings me to the next point.

  • Yes, your lips have to move.

Not all the time, as talking to God is just as much about listening as it is talking, but if your lips aren’t moving and you’re just thinking it in your head, it’s not going to change the world in the same way.

God spoke the world into creation, and speech is still vested with a tremendous power to change reality. So if you really want to impact your reality, you have to speak. Not just think or write. Yes, thinking and writing can also be part of the hitbodedut process, just as they could be part of a relationship or conversation with a flesh-or-blood person. But the real communication occurs via talking.

I think of it like this: talking is my half of the conversation. The thoughts that come into my head in response to what I’m saying, or the things that I sometimes write down in my journal when I’m doing hitbodedut is how God is responding to me.

  • Build up slowly to an hour.

But don’t get demoralized if it takes ages to get there, or if you get stuck. Just keep going, talking every single day, and you’ll see how things start to get easier all by themselves. Talking to God is a privilege, so just hang in there, show your willing, and sooner or later, Hashem will help you to achieve it.

  • Don’t overdo it.

I know one man who decided doing a six hours wasn’t enough – he was going to do a 12 hours!!! He did the 12 hours – and that was the first and last time he ever did hitbodedut.

That’s an extreme example, most people’s yetzers are far more subtle. They’ll just keep persuading you if one hour is good, two hours is better – and if you have the time and inclination to do that, great!

The problem comes when you don’t have the time or inclination, but your yetzer has you convinced that doing less than 3 hours a day just isn’t worth it. Once you reach the hour a day, that is all you really need. There is no obligation to do more. If you really like talking to God, and you really want to talk longer, that’s great, go right ahead.

But if the idea of having to do more than a hour makes you feel a little resentful or burdened, or if you feel bad that you’re only  doing an hour….that’s a yetzer, and you should call it out.

(There’s another very common yetzer trick too, where it tries to persuade people that if they can’t do an hour straight off the bat every single day, they shouldn’t do anything at all. Again, this is baloney. Start small, keep it regular and build it up over time, and if you do that, you’ll end up acquiring hitbodedut as an enduring practice, not just a flash in the pan.)

  • Don’t try to control the process.

Yes, I know that there are shitot or methods for starting with thanking, then going into self-accounting and ending up, briefly, with requests. If that works for you, great, keep doing it. There’s also a shita that says go through the last 24 hours, and try to think about every thought, word or deed to see if it was OK. Again, if that works for you, great, keep doing it.

I’ve never done my hitbodedut either of those ways. The one thing I do is to start off by making a declaration that I am binding myself to the tzaddikim, and binding myself to the mitzvah of loving my fellow Jew as myself, as found in the back of Rav Arush’s book In Forest Fields.

Then, I’ll say some thank yous about whatever comes to mind – some days that lasts less than half a minute, others, it can go for much longer. And then, whatever God puts into my head is what I talk to Him about.

Sometimes, I’ll have the intention to discuss subject A, and subject B is what I end up doing the whole hour on. I’ve learnt that whatever God wants me to look at, that’s what is going to come into my hitbodedut.

I get some of my best article ideas walking around on a Shabbat morning, for example. I used to feel a bit bad about this, until I realized that for whatever reason, this is how God is making things play out.

So, if apparently random, weird, unrelated or ‘secular’ things start coming into your hitbodedut – let them, and don’t try to force the issue. God knows what He’s doing.

  • But do feel free to look for some inspiration.

When I have some thorny issue, or dilemma, or big question, I sometimes go and look for some ‘clues’ in holy works about what is really going on, here.

For example, this morning I was talking to God about a certain issue that one of my kids has, and I decided to go to my ‘Tehillim cards’, and to just take one randomly, as a starting point. I got one that said “Let go, then you will know I am Hashem” that had a picture of a man on a horse jumping over the Grand Canyon.

It sparked off a whole flood of thoughts and emotions – not least, that the last time I tried to ‘let go’ I just ended up crumpling at the bottom of the cliff, because it didn’t seem like God had caught me at all.

That opened up a whole line of enquiry that shone a spotlight on some unhelpful attitudes that have been hiding out and tripping me up for quite a while, which today I finally started to get a grip on.

I did quite a long hitbodedut on it today (4 hours), and by the end, I came to realise a lot of things about my failed house purchase, for example, and why it really was a hidden blessing. Very hidden! So hidden, it’s taken me 6 months to even start figuring it out, but thanks to hitbodedut, the answers are starting to come as to why that had to happen.

So if you’re stuck, feel free to look for some external inspiration to kick-start the conversation, and then see where God will take you.

  • Don’t do hitbodedut like a self-righteous jerk.

How I wish someone had told me this when my kids were younger, but if your kids need you – and it’s important – then your hitbodedut really has to wait, or get split up and disturbed. It took me years to realise that not talking to my kids because I was talking to God was actually not the smartest thing to do, for a lot of reasons.

When the penny finally dropped, I started doing my hitbodedut much earlier in the day, before they woke up, so I wouldn’t have to choose between talking to them or talking to God.

These days, I will also interrupt hitbodedut for my husband too, if necessary, and very rarely for others who have a serious need to speak to me right then.  I used to have pronounced OTD tendencies that made me feel like I’d have to start the whole hour over again if I got interrupted, or that it wouldn’t ‘count’ if someone else interrupted it. I’ve since realized that I was just being crazy J. Nowadays, if I get unexpectedly interrupted, I’ll just add an extra 5-10 minutes on to the end, and I know God understands and it still counts as a full hour.

  • If your hitbodedut isn’t working for you, change it up

If you keep falling asleep, that’s probably because you need to do something active while talking to God, like taking a walk or hanging the laundry, or going for a drive. If you can’t concentrate, maybe you need to just go somewhere quiet and sit. If you can’t find time to do it in the evening before you get too tired, do it first thing when you wake up. If you can’t even think before lunchtime, do it later.

Do it with a coffee in your hand, or a fruitjuice, or even a piece of cake – whatever it is that’s going to get you looking forward and willing to talk to God.

If your hitbodedut isn’t working for you, then try to figure out why. Many mums feel guilty taking the time for themselves, for example, which is when ‘housewife hitbodedut’ can really come into its own. You’re doing the chores you need to do, while also taking care of your inner dimension.

If you just can’t find an hour any way you slice it, split it up into two half an hours a day, or three 20 minutes. The point is to just keep coming back and trying again and changing things, until you find the way that works for you.

8 years ago, I used to get up at 5.30 every morning, and walk around my village for an hour talking to God, before my kids woke up. Then we moved to Jerusalem, and walking around early felt less ‘safe’, and my kids started staying out so late that I just couldn’t wake up at 5.30 anymore either, so it switched to 6.15 in bed.

Starting last year, after we moved to Baka, I’ve gone back to trying to do it walking around when I wake up, most days. But some days I also do it in the car, if I have a long drive somewhere, or I’ll do it painting, or (rarely….) tidying my house, or even at Kever Rochel of the Kotel.

There is really no one way of doing hitbodedut.

If you enjoy talking to God, if you are starting to get some insights into your life, relationships and behavior, then keep doing it the way you are! And if not, then consider what tweaks are required to help you get more out of it.

But don’t give up!

Because regular hitbodedut is the only way anyone can really make the leap from fake, pretend-perfect person to real, I-know-I’m-crazy, happy Jew.

And to give Seal the last word: we’re never gonna survive, unless, we get a little crazy.

  • If you have questions or comments about the practical aspects of doing hitbodedut, ask away, or email me, and I’ll do my best to respond.

These last two posts were actually prompted by an email from a reader, who asked bluntly: how do we trust again?

How do we find a new rabbi, and new spiritual guide, to believe in, when we’ve been so badly burned by all the fakers out there?

I thought quite a bit about how to respond, and that response has turned into these last two posts.

So, continuing where we left off, the first thing to accept about the fake rabbis / rabbanits / mentors / friends etc that we’ve all been burned by and let down by is that on some level, it had to happen that way.

Remember the three rules of emuna:

1) God’s doing everything

2) It’s all somehow for my good

3) There is a message contained in everything that happens about what I myself need to work on, change, fix, apologise for, accept or improve.

For as long as I was blaming the people who’d tripped me up instead of seeing God behind everything, I got stuck in a very hard, bitter, angry place. As soon as I accepted that whatever happened had to happen, and that if hadn’t been that way, I would have lost my home, my friends, my financial stability, my health some other way, I could start to let go of the grudges and vengeance.

Which then led me on to the second part of the equation: seeing the good in what happened.

Again, this was really, really hard work. Trying to see the good in having no home of my own, no money, no social support, two very distraught kids, and big challenges on the emuna, health and shalom bayit fronts was not an easy thing.

It took an awful lot of talking to God about everything, and an awful lot of inner work, before I could recognize how much of what happened had to occur in order to fix some huge, outstanding bad middot that had been floating underneath my radar.

To give a couple of examples, I had no idea what a house-owning snob I really was, until I stopped owning a house and had to rent something as cheap as I could find. I was so embarrassed by my home I wouldn’t even let my visiting family from abroad see it the first year I was here. I had to swallow so much of my pride, and recognize just how ungrateful I’d been about so many things, before I could accept and even sometimes enjoy living in my rented dump.

Another thing I hadn’t realized is what a religious phoney I’d turned into, before I got to Jerusalem.

Externally, I was looking and acting more and more ‘pious’. Internally, I had so much work still to do. When everything fell apart so badly, God really gave me the chance to try to serve Him lishma, for its own sake.

And not because I had a great community, a good job, a nice house, money, friends, amazing shalom bayit. Everything hit the wall all at once, and God was waiting to see if I’d still stick around. Thank God for Rebbe Nachman, because he’s the one that brought us through it all intact. Without Uman and hitbodedut, I have no idea if I’d have been able to stand up in the test.

As time has gone on, I’ve made more and more teshuva as a result of the awful circumstances I found myself in, and at this stage, I’m really starting to reap the fruit of working on all those bad middot in a whole bunch of ways.

So really, all those ‘fake rabbis’ did me a favor.

Which brings me to my next point: Most of us wouldn’t last 5 minutes if we were next to the true Tzaddikim. These people see right through you, they exude holiness and kedusha, and they are on such a high level they often seem downright strange to people like us who are so sunk in our own confused, materialistic little bubbles.

Could you really hack being told to ‘guard your eyes’ all the time? Or to chuck out your i-Phone? Or to put what’s good for your kids ahead of what’s good for you?

Really?

Recently I heard about a wedding which was overseen by another ‘fake’ rabbi who arrived three hours late and who appeared to be drunk / high. Apparently half the crowd was high as a kite, too, but in that ‘spiritual’ sort of way that characterizes certain segments of the religious world in Israel.

The groom’s mother explained that: ‘If my son wasn’t with this guy, he’d still be doing what he’s doing, but in a completely unholy way.’ I.e. in his own way, this fake rabbi is actually doing something useful, and keeping people closer to Hashem than they would otherwise be.

We don’t live in a perfect world.

As I said in the last post, we get attracted to these people in the first place because on some level, they are telling us what we want to hear and reflecting our prejudices back at us. The more we work on ourselves, the ‘higher’ the ‘holier’ the rabbi, the rebbe, the spiritual guide we’ll be attracted to.

Which brings me to my last point, for now: how do we trust again? How do we trust rabbis and religious authorities again when we’ve been so badly burned in the past?

Here’s what works for me:

1) Do hitbodedut every single day, preferably for an hour.

If you don’t do this, you’ll have no idea who you really are and where you’re really holding, especially in regards to your own bad middot and issues. Fakers can only fool us if we’re continually fooling ourselves about who we really are and how we’re really behaving.

2) Picture every single ‘rabbi’ or other person you want to trust or get closer to in your hitbodedut.

The real ones will loom so large in hitbodedut, or look so big, bright and shiny, you’ll immediately get a clue as to what’s going on with them, spiritually. And the opposite is also true: false rabbis, rebbetzins and ‘friends’ will give you the creeps on some level, when you picture them in your hitbodedut.

And whatever cue your unconscious mind is giving you – about anyone! – listen to it.

3) Don’t give your free choice away to anyone.

If you’re being advised to do something that you simply can’t or really don’t want to do – don’t do it.

Don’t do anything that you yourself can’t live with, or take the responsibility for, because ultimately, it’s your life, and the buck stops with you.

While we like to kid ourselves in theory that we can blame other people for our bad decisions, we are still the ones who have to live with the consequences, and if you can’t stomach the possible negative consequences of an action, you shouldn’t do it.

There’s so much more to say about this stuff, but that’s enough for now.

The takeaway message is this:

We need to ask God to show us who the real Tzaddikim are all the time, and we need to stop fooling ourselves about who we really are and what we really need to work on, middot-wise. If we do these two things, it’s very unlikely that we’ll get caught up with fakers in the future, even if they do have the biggest beards and fan clubs in the world.

Fresh off the back of yet another awful horrible story of potential marriage break-up, God forbid, this is a plea from the heart to all married readers to

PLEASE PUT YOUR SPOUSE FIRST!!!

I’ve written about this before, but it’s not being talked about enough in the frum Jewish world, that probably the biggest reason that couples break up today is because of a very unhealthy relationship with the parents and parents in law.

And I’m including both sets of ‘parents’ and ‘parents in law’ here, because there is no such thing as only one half of the couple coming from a dysfunctional background, however it may look externally.

When people grow up in emotionally healthy, accepting, God-fearing, functional families, they simply can’t jive with a spouse who grew up in a dysfunctional family that is not all of these things (i.e. nearly everyone in 2017).

I know this flies in the face of conventional marriage guidance and Western psychological thought. But the Zohar teaches us very clearly that husband and wife are two parts of the same soul. In some way that means that both people coming into the marriage experienced the same sorts of traumas, lacks, problems and issues – albeit it’s often dressed up in such different clothing, that usually that’s not at all obvious.

Again, if one set of parents are any admixture of emotionally unhealthy / controlling / neglectful / dismissive of their children’s true feelings / grasping / selfish / rigid / intolerant of difference / snobby / angry / jealous of their children’s love, attention and loyalty going towards a spouse (I’m missing a bunch of things out here, but you get the picture…) then IT’S IMPOSSIBLE for the other set of parents to be totally emotionally healthy.

Everyone has their issues, everyone their problems.

Some are more obvious, some are more hidden, and God puts couples together dafka to bring those ‘hidden’ issues up to the surface, so they can finally be worked on and fixed.

Dear reader, I have heard so many horror stories of parents who are so caught up in what they want, and what they prefer, and what’s good for them that they are wreaking havoc upon their children’s marriages, shalom bayit, emotional health and general well-being. I know this stuff is so hard to spot (also because it’s so common that we think it’s ‘normal’ behavior) – so here’s some examples of what emotionally unhealthy parents do, so you can see what I’m on about:

Emotionally-unhealthy parents:

  • Expect their kid to put them and their needs first, ahead of what’s good for their spouse.

This takes many forms, including: inviting themselves to stay for ages; expecting the kid to attend any events / holidays they deem necessary; making decisions on behalf of their kids without checking it’s what the kid (AND THEIR SPOUSE!!) really wants or can manage (‘we’ll all come to you for Seder again this year!’) etc

  • Only corresponding with their child, while ignoring the spouse (and their wishes) completely.

Instead of encouraging the kid to make a joint decision with their spouse, emotionally unhealthy parents completely sideline the spouse, and speak only to the kid. The spouse doesn’t really ‘exist’ – but here’s the thing, neither does the kid. It’s just harder to hide that reality from a grown-up who didn’t get used to this situation from childhood (at least, from that set of parents).

  • Criticise, pick holes in and generally slag off the kid’s spouse to the kid.

Whatever problems are going in the marriage, it’s very rarely ever only one person’s fault.

Emotionally unhealthy parents excel in seeing the ‘bad’ in the spouse, while excusing their own kids’ contribution to the situation.

This is because they see their kid as an extension of themselves, so when the kid starts acting in their marriages according to the bad middot and mentally ill behaviors they learnt at home, the parents find it very hard to accept this behavior is ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’.

If they accepted that it was ‘wrong’, they’d be acknowledging that much of their own behavior is crazy and ‘wrong’ – and emotionally unhealthy people struggle to do that tremendously.

So it’s much easier to just blame the other person and ‘the other side’ for all the issues, and avoid looking at what’s really going on in our backyards, with our own dysfunctional and destructive family dynamics.

  • Drop hints, obviously and otherwise, that if the marriage ends that’s no big loss.

This one is SO upsetting to me when there are kids involved, because the people who do this are operating from the mistaken assumption that you can somehow surgically remove a parent out of the equation and it won’t have any impact on the kids.

Sometimes, when you’re dealing with chronic abuse or a level of madness that is almost impossible to fix, it could be there is no choice except to get divorced. I understand that. But divorce even in those circumstances is still the lesser of two evils, and not a ‘good’ thing.

Whatever the parents don’t fix, it just gets passed down the line to the kids. If you don’t work together with your spouse to fix their bad traits (and also your own…) those bad traits get passed on to the next generation, who then find themselves with a huge job on their hands.

When you divorce, your ability to fix your spouse – and the parts of your spouse that are PART OF YOUR CHILDREN – diminishes considerably.

You don’t get the same siyatta dishmaya, you don’t have the same motivation to do six hour sessions, to pour your heart out to God to help you, to help your spouse, to fix the problems in your family.

Getting divorced is SO much easier than dealing with disappointment, frustration and thwarted dreams day in and day out. At least, that’s how it looks, if you pretend that your spouse is not an integral part of your kids, and the other half of your own neshama…

The buck stops with us! Don’t give up on your marriages! Don’t give up on your spouses!

I know it’s so, so hard, I really do.

But getting divorced is NOT an easy option (even when there are extreme circumstances and your God fearing Rabbi is counselling you that this is truly the best option for you and your family.)

For so many people, it’s the apparent shortcut out of all the drama and hassle that turns into the longest and most painful road of your life.

Just ask the divorcee I hear screaming most nights a week that she’s going crazy, and can’t do it all by herself anymore!!! Ask the lost, miserable kids I see wandering around my neighborhood, smoking cigarettes at age 11 and getting into all sorts of trouble. Ask the dad who misses his kids so badly, and who dies a bit more inside every time he thinks of his kids growing up in some other man’s house.

Fight for your marriages, fight for your spouses! Don’t leave your kids to rectify all those massive bad middot they inherited by themselves!

Pray your hearts out!

Be aware that most of us come from highly dysfunctional families, and that if you’re seeing that by your spouse’s family, it’s 100% for sure also lurking in your own background too, just waiting for you to wake up and acknowledge it, and to fix the problem in your own family tree.

And the first way to start that process is this:

PUT YOUR SPOUSE FIRST.

May God bless us all with the emuna, strength, patience, prayer, perseverance and love we need to hold our families together in these extremely troubling times.

Sometimes the gap between who I really am and who I want to be, spiritually, is just so huge.

When a Jew is born in galut ­– whether we call that place ‘London’ or ‘New York’ or ‘Paris’ or ‘Melbourne, or whether it’s named ‘xtianity’, ‘atheism’ or ‘crushing materialism’, so much of that galut, that exile, gets hard-wired into the soul.

This isn’t our fault! When you grow up listening to Top of the Pops and the weekly top 40 tunes on the radio for 30 years, you can’t just turn that stuff off and excise it out of your brain and your memory in one go.

Guns N’ Roses, or Queen, or George Michael, or even (chas v’halila…) Madonna aren’t just songs, they’re the soundtrack of your life. ‘Careless Whisper’ encapsulates at least three years of early teenage-dom all by itself, replete with so many memories and so many associated experiences and thoughts that ultimately make us us.

But then, we grow up a bit, and we start trying to get out of galut, and we learn that music that isn’t coming from a ‘kosher’ source is actually really bad for a Jewish neshama – and then, the fight really begins.

Because that goyish, spiritually unhealthy-music is actually hardwired in, on some level, and chucking it out really involves taking a huge big part of your psyche, your memories, your self, mamash, and shoving it in some lidded box.

Around 10 years’ ago, I got rid of all my non-Jewish CDs – hundreds of them! – because I was really, sincerely trying to do what God wants, and to be a good Jew. I believe 100% that unkosher music is not good for my soul.

Most of that music, I really don’t miss. But there’s probably five or six albums, and at least 20 songs, that were the soundtrack to my life growing up, and hard as I try, I simply haven’t been able to turn it off in my head.

Take Sweet Child O Mine, by Guns N Roses. In my younger days, I was completely and utterly addicted to raw electric guitar. Try as I might, I’ve found it so hard to find really good electric guitar riffs in the kosher music scene (if anyone knows of any, P-L-E-A-S-E do me a favor and tell me what in the comments.)

On top of that, Sweet Child O Mine accompanied me on so many holidays, on so many milestones of my pre-Israel life that more than nearly any other song, it’s like my theme tune.

This last week, after weeks and weeks of feeling so irritable and out of place, and ‘not belonging’ the penny finally dropped in hitbodedut that I’ve become a musical schizo.

I can’t really integrate my ‘Guns N’ Roses’ past with my frum present, because a frum Jew in Jerusalem just can’t listen to Axel Rose and keep their soul intact.

That’s what I thought until two days’ ago.

But then, I started to get more and more clues that suppressing all this real, imperfect, kinda-tumahdik stuff that’s hardwired into my soul is actually bringing me down, and making me feel pretty sad, and is taking me further and further away from Hashem, which Rav Natan teaches is always the hallmark of sheker, however convincing and ‘right’ it actually sounds.

Why?

Because I’m not serving God as me.

I’m serving God as someone I think I’m supposed to be, but really? I want to dance around my living room with Guns N’ Roses blasting the walls down.

This is not a simple thing at all. On the one hand, unkosher music is bad for a Jewish soul. On the other hand, denying that part of myself has been almost cracking me up for a few months, and making me feel that I’m not real, and that my life isn’t real, and that I’m kind of lost in the world, because I’ve been so cut off from things that make me who I am – but that really aren’t so kosher.

So what to do?

Enter Rabbenu.

Rebbe Nachman basically says: strive to serve God on the up, but ALSO SERVE HIM ON THE DOWN!!! Just because you cracked and have been listening to Sweet Child O Mine all week, don’t let that stop you from saying your Tikkun Haklalis, or doing an hour of hitbodedut a day.

You can do both.

You only get advice like this by Rabbenu, which is why Breslov Torah is really the only Torah that can help our lowly generation, that is so beset by inner demons and confusion and doubts. I can’t help that I spent so much time listening to secular music that’s it’s become a part of me.

It seems, I can’t help the urge to listen to at least a couple of those songs again, if only to reintegrate them into my real life in Israel, and to stop feeling like a phoney who is living someone else’s idea of what my life should be.

But if I’m going to whack up the volume on Sweet Child O Mine and dance, at least I’m also going to have the kavana that I’m dancing to sweeten the judgments in the world, and to lighten up and attempt to follow Rebbe Nachman’s maxim of striving to be happy, always.

I’m not going to fall away from all the tremendous good, and mitzvot I’m doing because I can’t do these things with only Avraham Fried as the background muzak.

The last thing to tell you is that after listening to a song 20 times in a row – even an amazing song – you start to get kind of sick and bored of it. Paradoxically, listening to Sweet Child O Mine is helping me to pull my soul out of it, riff by painful riff.

Without Rebbe Nachman’s advice, that as well as serving God on the up, we also can – and have to – serve Him on the down, too, I’d probably be going completely bonkers, buying a pair of leather trousers and scouring e-Bay for a Harley Davidson.

As it is, I know that this too will pass. And when I’m out the other side, I’ll be serving Hashem so much more happily and sincerely again.

So, you remember that amazing shiur by Rav Ofer Erez that I was gushing about a couple of week’s back?

(You can see it in full, HERE.)

Well, I’ve been using that shiur as a practical guide to identifying, and hopefully uprooting all the feelings of sinat chinam I’ve been secretly nurturing against a whole bunch of people. As Rav Ofer teaches in this shiur, sinat chinam is what’s preventing the third temple from being rebuilt, and sinat chinam expresses itself mainly in the following four things:

  • Jealousy
  • Anger
  • Hatred
  • Hakpada (harsh judgment calls about other people)

And here’s the kicker: even if you’re just feeling this stuff secretly, in your own heart of hearts, and even if you aren’t really aware that you’re feeling this stuff yourself, it still counts as ‘sinat chinam’, and it’s still delaying the geula!

So, how can we finally get all this stuff out of our system and get to Moshiach and geula already?

Read on.

This is what I’m doing.

1) I made a ‘sinat chinam’ matrix – which is basically just writing down the four bad middot that are associated with it, like this.

2) Then in hitbodedut (my talking to God sessions), I thought about particular people I don’t like very much for one reason and another, and I slotted them in on the matrix.

For example, there’s one person who double-crossed me in business, and even though I got past the anger and what she’d done to me last year, when I was doing this exercise now, I realized that I still, properly, hate her guts, and that I’m still judging her unethical, nasty behavior extremely harshly.

BINGO! I just hit a ‘sinat chinam’ jackpot here…

The first stage is to identify and acknowledge the problem, which is what I’ve just done very nicely.

So now the next question is: how do I actually stop hating her guts and thinking she’s the biggest pig on the planet?

Read on.

THE ‘ERADICATING SINAT CHINAM’ VISUALISATION

The next stage is to close your eyes (I like to do this as part of my hitbodedut…) and go and have a very direct conversation with the person in your head.

So in this case, I conjured up the lady and I asked her straight out:

“Why did a supposedly ‘frum’ person like you act in such a disgusting, unethical way? Why didn’t you pay me what you should have? I had times when I couldn’t even put food on the table, and the money you were meant to have paid me could have made a huge difference!”

This is what she said back:

“Have you met my husband?”

I have. He’s a very angry, cynical, manipulative person who’s obsessed with ‘winning’ and making money.

Long story short, I finally understood that the lady double-crossed me so badly because on some level at least, she was scared of her husband and was trying to save her own skin at the cost of mine.

Understanding this doesn’t excuse her behavior or actions an iota, but it did open the door for me to have some compassion for her, and to stop hating her and judging her so harshly.

POOF!

That particular pocket of sinat chinam disappeared out of my life, just like that!

If you listen to Rav Ofer’s shiur, you’ll discover something amazing, that’s brought down in the Gemara and is normative Yiddishkeit, not just ‘fluffy’ Breslov:

God can’t judge a person favorably until some human being down here on the planet has done it first.

And as soon as God starts to judge someone favorably, that opens the door for them to make real teshuva.

Me seeing that my ex-business associate was acting like a pig because her shalom bayit is a trainwreck has now opened the door to her to make real teshuva, and to come back to God.

The whole thing is bringing Moshiach and geula a huge step closer – and it took me about 10 minutes of hitbodedut to do!

So, dear reader, I want to encourage you to please try this at home. Make your ‘sinat chinam’ matrix, start popping in the people you have ‘issues’ with (my suggestion is to start with just three at a time, to avoid overwhelm) – and then start taking all the sinat chinam in the world down a serious notch.

Again, this point is so important, I’m going to repeat it:

When you do this process, and judge people’s bad actions through this more compassionate lens, you are bringing Moshiach and geula, mamash!

And the first person who’s going to benefit from this exercise is you, because instead of walking around with all kinds of stress, headaches, health problems and aches and pains because of all that pent-up sinat chinam you’re lugging around that is literally poisoning you from the inside, you’ll start to feel so much lighter and happier.

It’s a win-win situation!

And may we all be zocher  to get the good times rolling very, very soon.

If you’d have asked me that question even five years’ ago, the answer would have been an aggressive, uncompromising OF COURSE THEY SHOULD!!!!

Living in Israel is a mitzvah, arguably the biggest mitzvah in the Torah, and certainly the best (and probably only…) way of really achieving our spiritual tikkun, or rectification, in the world.

Like many other people who made aliya at great expense and effort, I went through quite a long stage of feeling personally offended by Jews (especially frum Jews) who refused to move here, and who refused to make the same sorts of sacrifices I’d done, to try to give God what He wanted.

Now, I’ve mellowed out a lot about this question, and I’ve come to understand that like everything else in life, things aren’t so simple, or so black and white.

In theory, there is absolutely no question that every Jew should be yearning, or trying, to live in Israel. No question at all.

But in practice?

It’s really not so simple.

It comes down to this: the spiritual level of the nation of Israel is at such a low level, that even the ‘frummest’ Jew in chutz l’aretz will probably struggle mightily to come up to even the ‘lowest’ level of day-to-day emuna that’s required for a Jew to really stay living in Israel.

That’s why so many people can’t hack it, and leave.

It’s like when God overturned the mountain and held it above our heads to ‘force’ us to accept the Torah. Really, we wanted to do the right thing, we wanted to live that Torah-centric spiritual life, but we also knew just how hard it was going to be, and how much self-sacrifice it was going to require, and for most of us, we simply couldn’t ‘choose’ that path unless we were forced into it.

I’ve come to think that making aliya is operating along the same paradigm.

Every Jewish soul, at its core, really wants to live in Israel. But as the thousands of people who have tried and then left again can tell you, sometimes the day-to-day challenge of having to really LIVE your emuna, and not just talk about it in a nice online shiur somewhere, are so difficult, many people simply can’t hang on.

If I didn’t have Rebbe Nachman and Breslov and hitbodedut, I have no doubt that I also couldn’t have managed to ‘hang on’ and come through all the difficulties we’ve had the last 12 years.

As I’ve been saying all week, Israel is the land of emuna, it’s the land of spiritual rectification. It’s the place where you really come face-to-face with yourself, and your real issues, and all the stuff you need to really work on and fix. And to put it bluntly, so many of us are in such a mess these days, we probably couldn’t withstand such a direct ‘view’ into our souls.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone who moves here, or who lives here, is doing the work.

There’s a kind of ‘soft’ option that many olim take which is that they try to recreate the superficiality and comfort of chutz l’aretz in their own communities here.

Without naming names, there are places in Israel that feel to me SO like chutz l’aretz when I go to visit them. There’s the same focus on externals, the same excessive materialism, the same mad rush to work, and obsessions with socializing and making money.

But you know what? Even though a lot of the people in those communities are trying very hard to live in ‘Anglo bubbles’ or ‘French bubbles’ or even, ‘Russian bubbles’, ultimately it’s still not really the same. It IS still Israel, and the kedusha, and the Divine Providence is still there, beckoning people to drop the pretense and get to know their real souls.

I’ve seen people literally go crazy, trying to drown out the insistent, spiritual call to God that reverberates in all parts of Israel, even in the most secular and materialistic neighborhoods.

So yes, it often looks the same, but it’s really not feeling the same.

I used to judge people in these ‘bubbles’ very harshly, but now I’ve come to realize that we all have our breaking point, and our snapping point, and even just moving to Israel in the first place can take many people far, far beyond it.

So let them keep their American dishwashers, and their English obsession with house prices, and their crazy workaholic schedules so they don’t have to think too much.

Because at least, they’re still here, and maybe in the future, their kids will have the energy and strength to continue the spiritual work their parents have begun.

Which brings me back to the question on the table: should people move to Israel, or not?

And the answer I have now is this:

EVERYONE should WANT to move to Israel.

But realistically, a whole bunch of people wouldn’t last five minutes here. Most of the secular, assimilated Jews in chutz l’aretz already know this, on some level, which is why for the most part they aren’t flooding into the country, or even visiting it for holidays.

God hits you smack in the face as soon as you step off the plane at Ben Gurion, and if you’re estranged from God, that can be an extremely challenging experience.

So it’s the ‘frum’ Jews in chutz l’aretz we’re really talking about – the ones who are apparently trying to have a connection with the Creator, and striving to work on their souls. I say ‘apparently’ because it underlines the point I made earlier: in truth, our generation is on such a low spiritual level, that even the frummest-looking Jew, externally, can be effectively ‘switched off’ from God.

Israel opens up that connection to the Creator, and to emuna, in a very real, very powerful way. (Often via financial difficulties, enormous spiritual angst, childrearing issues etc etc). But if the bulb can’t handle the current – it explodes.

Sure, the bulb can also explode in chutz l’aretz too – and it’s doing that with increasing frequency. More and more ‘frum’ kids going off the derech, more and more fatal overdoses in the frum community, more and more abuse, more and more Jews marrying out.

Chutz l’aretz is a disaster zone, spiritually.

I know that if I’d stayed in England, my kids would have probably gone off the derech, I probably would have a nervous breakdown, and my marriage would be in tatters.

I knew that even when I lived there, which is why I was so desperate to get out of there, even though life appeared so ‘perfect’, externally. But if the person I was then had known just how hard the last 12 years would have been, would I still have got on that plane?

I don’t know.

Which brings me to the last, very important, point: We need God to get us to Israel. And we need God to keep us here.

The point of Jewish life is to forge that bond, that connection with God. Living in Israel accomplishes that like nothing else can.

People don’t ‘stop’ being religious when they move to Israel. But they do get real.

And the sad fact is that so many of the people in chutz l’aretz, even the most externally pious looking ones, are fundamentally estranged from Hashem.

Of course, they can’t admit that openly – or even privately, to themselves. Which is why they talk about the terrible secular government, the crazy house prices, the expense of living here, the terrorism, the pull to a secular lifestyle.

And really, all the criticism they level at Israel is true, at least on some level.

But that’s not the real issue.

The real issue is that if you try to live in Israel without God, sooner or later it’ll break you, or it’ll break your pretense of being a superficially pious Jew.

I’ve seen that happen SO many times.

But maybe, it’s only once we realize just how broken we really are, spiritually, that we’ll start doing what’s required to fix the problem, and we’ll start rebuilding our relationship with Hashem from the ground up.

And while that process can only be completed in Israel, it can be started everywhere.

Even in chutz l’aretz.

Recently, I had an email exchange with someone that got me thinking about how when Moshiach really does, actually, well and truly show up, most people are going to think he’s a cult leader.

You can understand why.

Moshiach will be a hugely charismatic, magnetic person of immense holiness and charm, that the Jewish soul will automatically gravitate towards, and want to nullify themselves to.

That’s part of the beauty and majesty of the Moshiach! The Moshiach will have a global soul that contains a spark of every Jew on the planet, and we’ll all want to get close to him, and soak in his immense spiritual light.

But until the Moshiach is completely and undeniably revealed as the Moshiach, he’s going to look like one of the most convincing cult leaders you’ve ever met.

And here lies the conundrum.

As I’ve written about a lot here, there are an awful lot of what Rebbe Nachman calls ‘Rav de klipa’, or rabbis of the dark side out there in the world. God already warned us that for every ‘light’ He created, there would be darkness, and for every ‘good’ He created, there would be bad, until Moshiach comes and the whole world is spiritually rectified and evil permanently vanquished.

Also as I’ve written about elsewhere, Moshiach’s coming is not a one-shot dramatic affair where he steps off a plane in Ben Gurion airport, or holds a coming out party and voila, instant Moshiach and geula.

Nope.

It’s going to be a long, drawn-out affair, like the sunrise, growing stronger and stronger from moment to moment until everyone has to admit that day has come. But while we’re still in the process of transition, there’s going to be a lot of murky stuff mixed into that sunrise.

Lots of ‘rabbis’ pretending to be what they really are not. Lots of psychos taking advantage of trusting members of the public, to act in the most evil, anti-Torah, unethical ways. Lots of ‘cult leaders in waiting’ trying to take advantage of our yearning for Moshiach to pull a fast one over us and pull us away from God, has va halila.

So what’s a person meant to do?

Some of us are solving this problem by plain blank refusing to acknowledge Moshiach in any real way. Sure, they’ll discuss the idea theoretically, but any suggestion that a real person could actually be Moshiach, or that this could actually happen in their lifetimes (especially if they live outside of Israel…) will elicit a dramatically negative response.

One such person who holds this view of all things Moshiach told me:

‘Look what happened with Chabad! We don’t want something like that to happen again!’

as justification for why they were so ‘anti’ the whole talking about Moshiach thing.

So then, I started to ponder: what really happened with Chabad?

Sure, there are still a few people walking around with the mistaken idea that the Lubavitcher Rebbe will come back from the dead to lead us. But I’m not sure even that is so terrible. When Moshiach is revealed, they’ll see that they’re wrong, and end of story.

(There’s a whole big discussion in the Gemara about just this idea, of whether the Moshiach can come back from the dead, and the Gemara – after a long discussion – asserts that this will not be the case. I don’t know much about the Moshiach, but I can tell you that he definitely knows more Gemara than I do, and abides by all aspects of Jewish halachic law…)

And in the meantime, what really happened with Chabad? Simply that hundreds of thousands of Jews started to yearn for Moshiach to come, in fulfillment of the Rambam’s 13th Principle of Faith, and made a whole bunch of teshuva in readiness for that moment.

I mean really, what’s so bad about that?

Sure, there are some crazy people that took things to extremes, but Chabad didn’t make these people crazy any more than Breslov makes people crazy. Crazy people (including yours truly…) are attracted to very big spiritual lights, as we know that’s where we’ll find the antidote for all the darkness we’re lugging around in our souls.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe was an enormous spiritual light, and very probably was the potential Moshiach of his generation. If your tikkun is to be a crazy person anyway, at least be a crazy person who keeps mitzvahs and talks (a little too much…) about the coming of the Moshiach.

But to come back to the point in hand, how are we really going to know who is a true candidate for Moshiach, and who is just a cult-leader-in-waiting, in this very difficult, confusing time before geula actually really kicks off?

There’s one answer:

Hitbodedut.

The regular practice of talking to Hashem in your own words for a fixed amount of time every day, preferably an hour.

When you talk to God regularly like this, you get connected to your soul, and to the real Tzaddikim of the generation, and to Hashem Himself, and it gets much, much harder for the fakers to fool you.

Try this exercise, to see what I mean:

Imagine a rabbi that you KNOW is good and the real deal, like the Baba Sali, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Chida, the Baal Shem Tov, Rebbe Nachman, Rav Ovadia Yosef, etc. See how they look, see how ‘big’ they are, compared to you yourself.

Now, imagine a rabbi from today meeting that ‘good’ rabbi from the past – really picture them meeting in your head – and see what happens.

I guarantee you’ll start to get some amazing insights about who is really ‘real’ and who isn’t, if you try this exercise a few times, and ask God to show you what’s really going on.

And in the meantime, this is the best and really only route for knowing who really could be Moshiach, and who is a cult-leader-in-disguise.

Don’t let the ‘Rav de klipa’s’ fool you!

And don’t be scared to join the ‘cult of Moshiach’ as soon as you’re 100% convinced inside that you’ve discovered who he is. After all, yearning for Moshiach is a fundamental part of being a Jew, and if you’re regularly talking to God about it all, He’ll certainly guide you to the right person, at just the right time.

And if you’re wrong – but attached to an enormously holy person in the meantime who could be Moshiach, but maybe isn’t – what’s so bad about that, anyway?

The last few days, I’ve been feeling pretty exhausted again, spiritually.

Much as I need the internet to do what I do, I absolutely hate the impact it has on my life, in so many myriad ways. So yesterday I decided to take a day off, and to go walk on the beach somewhere.

For many years, I found ‘the beach’ a very challenging subject, because I love the beach, and I love jumping the waves, but finding tznius ways to do that has been difficult, even in Israel with the separate beaches.

First, even though the beach IS separate, that doesn’t mean there are no men. There’s still the lifeguard…and the guys repairing the fencing…and the icecream man…. When I was going through my ‘mega frum’ stage, I felt like I couldn’t really go to the beach unless I’d wear exactly the same clothes I’d wear on the street. But feeling the waves lap your feet through a thick pair of socks was not so much fun, so I kind of gave up.

Over the last few years, I’ve calmed down a bit, and I realized that as long as I was wearing my tznius bathing costume, I didn’t have to worry TOO much about the lifeguard taking an interest.

But then, I had another challenge to contend with:

The separate beaches are often so packed and crowded, that it’s really, really unpleasant to be there. Part of the problem is that people bus in en masse from the frummer enclaves of the country, which means that a thousand people show up all together and cram into a tiny space.

Another part of the problem is that the separate beach is tiny – because hey, very frum people don’t really count for much, and it’s enough they got anything, beach-wise.

The last problem I had, at least in the past, is that if I didn’t feel comfortable walking around in ‘mega frum RBS’ or Meah Shearim (and in the past, I didn’t) – then I also didn’t feel so comfortable trying to bathe in Meah Shearim-by-the-sea.

Now, I realize this issue was 100% internal, and was my own judgmental meshuggas tendencies being reflected back at me to deal with, but a few years’ back, I’d get so obsessed with tugging down the hemline of my already long tznius bathing suit that it kind of wrecked the enjoyment factor too much to make it worthwhile.

SO – yesterday was about reclaiming the beach, in a healthy, balanced way.

It was too cold to swim (for me) but I decided to walk on the beach a little, and put my real feet, without socks, into the water. It was so fun!

But not so much fun that I’d like to do it every day. Or even every week. Or even every month. But now the tug of my nefesh had been satisfied, the tug of my neshama started up. ‘Let’s go to the Baba Sali!’ it whispered at me. ‘It’s only half an hour’s drive from here, and you haven’t been there in ages.’

Since I had my accident on the way out of Netivot, I’m now always nervous about going there, but the Baba Sali is such an amazing place, it’s still worth the driving stress.

I got there, parked, sat down in my usual spot in the unusually quiet enclave, and felt so much of the stress kind of percolate away. Wow, I’ve been really stressed…

Then, I started getting some of the amazing insights that seem to come very easily by the Baba Sali. About the need to forgive a certain person, and to really make my peace with them. And about what to do about my kid’s school, that looks like it is closing down at the end of the year. And about trying a different style of head-gear, and paying my husband more attention again.

As I headed out, I felt calmer than I’ve felt in a long time.

I used to go to Kivrei Tzaddikim all the time, but since I moved to Jerusalem I’ve done that much less. Partially, it’s because I was often overwhelmed with life and I didn’t have the energy to go anywhere, much. Partially, it’s because I had a very big test of faith, and apart from going to Uman I didn’t have the same motivation to go anywhere else. And partially, it’s because I got a little disconnected from my true self, and I stopped listening so much to that ‘soul whisper’ that tells me:

Go to the beach!

And then tells me half an hour later:

Now go to the Baba Sali!

It’s taken me a while to figure out that my mental health depends on listening to both sets of instructions.