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Like Alice Through the Looking Glass, somehow a malfunction occurred in my Pesach outing plans, and I ended up tripping through the glass into the Land of Money*.

We wound up at this swanky, newly-built apartment complex overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, where we were told we could park on Level Minus 2. I nearly crashed into a concrete wall, because there was only Minus 1. Later on, we discovered that Minus 2 was carefully hidden behind a retractable Iron Curtain, policed with cameras that didn’t recognize our car as ‘belonging’.

I knew the feeling.

One of the residents of the Land of Money came down to greet us, as we were ushered into the expensive but sterile lobby, then over to the elevators with no buttons.

“Why are there no buttons?” I wanted to know.

“Some Arab got in here a few months ago from the parking, and started visiting all the floors and they caught him on camera,” came the explanation. “The residents all went mad, so the management changed the elevator and now it will only open on your own floor.”

“How does it know what floor your apartment is on?”

He flashed me the round blue plastic toggle on his keychain, as he pressed it to the screen reader outside the elevator.

Man, this is really a prison, I thought to myself.

We got up to the swanky five-room cell, hidden behind its ominous security door, and walked into an atmosphere so thick, you could cut it with a knife.

Not even the stunning view, or the massively-colorful artwork could take your mind off the oppressive, gloomy feeling of suppressed anger and resentment, that was swirling all over the place like a toxic cloud.

The sofa was oversized and pure white. It was covered in a cheap white blanket, and one of the inhabitants of the Land of Money sat uncomfortably perched on the edge of it. God forbid, that a speck should land on that purity and sully it! God forbid, that someone’s careless heels should leave a scuff-mark on the couch, or that it’s perfection should be creased or diminished in any way!

“Sit down, sit down!” they told me heartily. But I was too scared of the couch to want to comply. So, I stood awkwardly for a few minutes, admiring the view, then proffered the two boxes of fresh strawberries I’d brought as an offering to appease the gods of the Land of Money.

This started a panic.

I know they aren’t so fussed about kashrut, so they’re not worrying about bug infestation. So what? What is going on here, what?!

It took me a couple of minutes of deciphering worried glances and barked commands to sit down at the table to figure out the problem: Strawberries contain red juice – lots of it – and red juice stains. And the expensive designer chairs around the carefully upholstered glass dining table were first in the line of fire.

They had their hand-sewn, cheap grey covers to protect them – which presumably would be whipped off whenever all humans had left the premises, restoring them to their pristine appearance – but even so. Were those covers enough to defend against two boxes of strawberries in the hands of young children?

It took ten minutes of strict policing and worried hovering with wipees until the residents of the Land of Money could breathe out again.

In the meantime, I started to find the atmosphere totally choking and suffocating.

No-one asked me how I was doing – why would they? In the scale that the Land of Money uses to measure worth, I’m less than a cockroach. I have no big investments to boast about, no easy cash to flaunt, no designer clothes to swish around in.

Whatever money I have, I spend.

I’d just spent a small fortune having different residents from the Land of Money for Seder, where no expense was spared to try to make it a good evening for the (not religious) people attending.

They didn’t offer to help cover any of the expenses, natch, because they were ‘Stars’ in the Land of Money, and as I’ve mentioned, my net worth ranks me alongside the ‘animals’ that are expected to sacrifice themselves for the idols in that place.

“Let’s get out of here, and go to the icecream place down the road,” one of the kids suggested, and I jumped at the idea far too enthusiastically.

Freedom! Let’s get out of this poisonous cloud of choking gashmius ASAP!!!

Somehow, the button-less lift with its million electronic eyes knew to let us out at the lobby, and we bounded out of the elevator just as an expensively-dressed group of secular Americans were waiting to crowd back in.

They caught one whiff of my husband’s payot (side-curls) and their eyes immediately grew large in their faces, and almost fell out. You could hear what they were thinking:

What is something like this doing in our building?!?!

Strange to say, I had the same thought.

What are we doing here, in this awful, sterile, dead place where the money has killed every spiritual impulse, every natural kind tendency of the human heart, stone dead?

As soon as we got outside, we breathed easier again, the kids lightened up, and the conversation that had frozen into stilted rivulets of polite small talk up in the apartment started to gush forth with much more genuine warmth and interest.

“You have to get out of there, it’s killing you.”

That’s what I told the prisoner who I’d come to visit in the Land of Money.

“Yeah, it’s a gilded cage. But I’m stuck in it,” he told me back.

And we both knew that at least for now, he’s right.

I came home so thankful to God for so many things.

Thanks, God, that my armchair is 15 years old, but people can eat strawberries on it without anyone risking a heart attack. Thanks, God, that you made my business fail when it did, so I would put so much more of my effort into building relationships than building my bank balance. Thanks, God, that I’m not so obsessed with money that I’m totally close-fisted about sharing what I have. Thanks that I don’t spend all my time ‘complaining’ about how other people aren’t giving me value for money.

And most of all, God, thanks for getting me out of the poisonous, toxic atmosphere of the Land of Money, where people can’t talk to each other, and the only thing that matter is how it all looks.

The apartment looked stunning (underneath all the cheap covers….) but felt totally dead and deadening.

And not for the first time, I learnt that freedom is priceless, and that too much money truly is the worse curse in the world.

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  • The Land of Money appears in Rebbe Nachman’s Tale called ‘The Master of Prayer’. It’s a place where all the residents believe that making money is the only true purpose of life, and where the people with the most money are literally worshipped as ‘gods’ and ‘stars’.

Of all the things that weary my soul so much these days, top of the list is the modern tendency to look for reasons to be offended.

It’s part of that poisonous web of political correctness that’s being woven around all human interactions, where people can’t make jokes anymore, they can’t just be ‘them’ any more, they can’t ask honest questions, they can’t say what they really think, what they really feel.

Why not?

Because that might offend someone.

I’m not cheerleading for nasty language, or insults or put-downs, by the way, not at all. Onaas devarim, or negative speech, is a very big deal halachically, and we Jews have so many rules governing the proper way to try to communicate with other people.

But the halachot governing speech are a million miles away from the political correctness that’s poisoning modern communication, and making more and more of our daily interactions a burden and drag.

The first one is dealing with personal attacks and put downs on people themselves, which is clearly a function of bad middot, and is something that needs to be addressed.

But the second is an attack on ideas.

Political correctness is trying to shut down the discussion of ideas, the free exchange of knowledge, the challenging of assumptions, the ability to enable people to think for themselves, even if that’s sometimes awkward and imperfect.

We can’t discuss whether ‘feminist’ and ‘orthodox’ goes together, because that might offend someone. We can’t say that there shouldn’t be so much emphasis put on externals because that might offend someone. We can’t suggest Israel is the best place for Jews to live, or that Palestinians who fire rockets at civilians in Israel, or shoot small Jewish children, or stab Jews to death just because they are Jews are terrorists, because that might offend someone.

And so, the list of possible offenses grows longer and longer, and the topics that it’s safe to talk about grows smaller and smaller, and the ability to communicate in a real, sincere way totally dries up, because it’s just safer that way.

And it’s not just a ‘society’ problem or a ‘community’ problem, it’s also – very much – a family problem, a parent and child problem, a husband and wife problem.

We can’t ask non-observant seder guests to bring something to say at the Seder because that might offend them… Our kids can’t tell us that we’re bothering them, or annoying them, or upsetting them, for fear of offending us… We can’t tell our spouse that we suspect they are drinking too much at the Kiddush club on Shabbos, or working too hard, or not behaving correctly in case we offend them.

And they probably also feel they can’t tell us, that we’re too bossy, to selfish, too self-pitying, too demanding.

The list of potential egg shells goes on and on, and so it’s easier to just stay plastic, stay in the comfort zone, and to keep pulling that fake smile tighter and wider.

If you play by the rules of the politically-correct crowd.

And thank God, I can’t do that.

I make mistakes, I’m not always as tactful as I could be (supposing that tact can actually be learnt and developed), I sometimes phrase things a little OTT – but I prefer that a million times over to being too scared to speak to others, too scared to write anything real for fear I might offend someone.

Modern discourse has become so plastic and superficial because we’re all just waiting for that first mentally-disturbed ‘snowflake’ to start throwing a public hissy fit because they were offended by something we said – or didn’t say – or something we did – or didn’t do.

And that fear of not measuring up to politically correct perfection is keeping us all tongue-tied, repressed and miserable.

Or at least, almost all of us.

Thank God, there are still a few people out there who are bucking the trend, and saying what needs to be said. Rabbi Bassous in Golders Green is one of them. Rav Berland in Jerusalem is another.

But it’s certainly getting harder and harder for the average person to speak freely in the world, and to discuss and debate the ideas and assumptions that really need airing out. And so, my soul is getting more and more wearied by all the interactions that have to be so carefully policed in case I offend someone, chas v’halila¸by saying something they disagree with or don’t like.

But I’m not giving up.

At least, not yet.

Every diss is a diamond. So I’m willing to keep getting insulted if it means I can try to keep moving things forward, and to keep doing my bit to stop everyone turning into not-so-fantastic-plastic.

But sometimes, staying real is really hard work.

Everything you need to know about Pidyon Nefesh – Part 2

(See Part 1 HERE)

THE 24 HEAVENLY COURTS

In Lesson I:215 of Likutey Moharan, Rebbe Nachman tells us:

Know: There are 24 types of pidyon nefesh, corresponding to 24 courts of justice. For each and every court, there is a unique corresponding pidyon nefesh to ameliorate its judgments. Therefore, a ransom is not always effective, since not everyone knows all 24 pidyon nefesh, and even if one does, he cannot perform them, and when one does not perform the specific ransom required by a specific court, it is not effective.

Now, let’s go back to Chayay Moharan (translated as Tzaddik, #181), where Rav Natan tells us:

“[T]he Rebbe said it is impossible to make a pidyon nefesh unless one knows all 24 kinds of pidyon nefesh, and how to sweeten the judgments of the 24 courts. He compared this to someone being sued in the courts of Kiev and trying to defend himself in the courts of Kaminetz.

“How can you make a pidyon nefesh for someone if you don’t know what court they are judging him in? At that time, too, the Rebbe said that there is a pidyon nefesh so exalted, that it has the power to sweeten the judgements of all 24 courts…

“He said only one in a generation knows of those 24 pidyon nefesh.”

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So know, we’ve learned that there are 24 courts in heaven that are cranking out the judgements against us, and that in order to ‘sweeten’ the judgment against us by paying over money for a pidyon nefesh, we need to know which court is actually trying our case.

Each of our true tzaddikim have influence in one, or some, or many, of those 24 courts of justice. But there is only one tzaddik in every generation who has access to all 24 courts. And so a pidyon nefesh given to that tzaddik will clearly be the most effective.

There’s a passage from One in a Generation Volume 1 that explains this very nicely:

“Rav Berland had begun corresponding with Rav Yitzchak Kaduri in his younger years, and sent him many letters containing a number of questions he had about Kabbalah. After their correspondence had continued for some time, Rav Kaduri started occasionally telling some of the people who came to him for help that Rav Berland was the one tzaddik in the generation who controls all 24 of the Heavenly courts, and that only he could help them.

This sentiment was echoed in more recent times by Rav Yoram Abergel, zt” l, as the following account shows: “A year and a half ago, around six months before his untimely death,  I went to ask Rav Yoram, zt” l, a number of questions, and one of them concerned all the commotion surrounding the tzaddik and gaon, Rav Eliezer Berland,” explains Dan Ben-Dovid, one of Rav Abergel’s close followers.

“I didn’t really know very much at all about Rav Berland, shlita, or his Shuvu Banim community. But there was so much commotion going on around him, the matter came to my attention. So, I asked Rav Yoram Abergel, ‘Honored Rabbi, there are a lot of things being said about Rav Berland, with people saying all sorts of different things about him.’

“Rav Yoram gave me a very big smile and quietly whispered in my ear, ‘Rav Berland, shlita, rules over the 24 Heavenly courts.’”

RECAP:

Let’s recap where we’ve got to so far:

  • We all do, say and think ‘bad’ things all the time, that we don’t properly acknowledge or make teshuva about.
  • All these sins lead to harsh judgments being made against us in the 24 heavenly courts.
  • Those harsh spiritual judgments manifest as illnesses, money problems, shalom bayit issues, mental health problems, feelings of sadness and depression, relationship problems etc.
  • The suffering itself helps to atone for these sins, and to ‘pay down’ our spiritual debt.
  • But, there is another way we can ‘sweeten the judgments’ and that’s by paying a true tzaddik a sum of money to perform a pidyon nefesh for us.
  • While many of our true tzaddikim are familiar with a few of the heavenly courts where these judgments are made, only one tzaddik in a generation knows all 24 courts, and can affect the outcome in all of them.
  • A pidyon given to this one tzaddik will thus be the most effective. But pidyons given to other true tzaddikim can also work wonders, if they have influence in that specific heavenly court where the harsh judgement was actually made.
  • You have to ask God to help you find out who this ‘one tzaddik of a generation’ is, because not everyone will merit getting access to the ‘spiritual shortcuts’ this tzaddik can give them.

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THE RIGHT ATTITUDE TO HAVE, WHEN GIVING A PIDYON NEFESH

So, now we get to that part of the post that I’ve left until last, because it contains some of the knottier issues that so many people have with paying over a pidyon nefesh.

The main place to start is the knee-jerk reaction I get from so many people with very shaky belief in true tzaddikim, that you can basically sum up as: it’s just a big scam.

Why would someone believe that?

There are a few possible answers to that question. Maybe, they don’t read Likutey Moharan, and the other Breslov works. Maybe, they do read them, but don’t believe that Rebbe Nachman of Breslov was really a tremendous tzaddik who had a much better grasp of how the world really works, than they do.

Maybe, they do believe what’s written in Likutey Moharan etc, but they have real doubts about how to find the ‘one tzaddik’, or a true tzaddik, in our generation.

Maybe, they’ve paid money to pseudo-tzaddikim in the past, and didn’t see any benefit or improvement.

And the last option is that maybe they’ve paid money over to a bona fide real tzaddik, but their specific problem still hasn’t been solved.

Let’s go through all of these possibilities, and try to address them, to see what’s really going on ‘underneath’.

  • PEOPLE DON’T KNOW ABOUT THE CONCEPT OF DOING A PIDYON NEFESH, OR HOW IT’S MEANT TO WORK

This is the easiest to solve. Take a look at Likutey Moharan 1:215, and the other sources mentioned above. You can also take a look at THIS explanation of the concept of doing a pidyon nefesh, for more background.

  • PEOPLE DON’T BELIEVE THAT REBBE NACHMAN WAS A HUGE TZADDIK WHO KNOWS WHAT HE’S TALKING ABOUT

Mockery, agnosticism and arrogance are huge problems today, even in the externally orthodox world. In Sefer HaMiddot, section on Tzaddik, #134 it’s written:

Mockery prevents one from going to the tzaddikim.

It’s also written (#130):

Judgments are sweetened through faith in tzaddikim.

It’s no coincidence that the people who mock and talk against the true tzaddikim experience tremendous suffering. God should have mercy on them.

  • PEOPLE DON’T KNOW HOW TO FIND A ‘TRUE TZADDIK’, OR WHO TO TRUST TODAY

This is another easy issue to resolve: Ask God to show you who is the real deal. There is no other way of finding it out.

Within 3 days of me and my husband starting to do this a few years back, we got some very definite answers that completely transformed our life.

  • PEOPLE HAVE BEEN BURNED BY ‘PSEUDO-TZADDIKIM’ IN THE PAST, AND ARE NOW VERY WARY

I have so much sympathy for you, as I also went through something similar. The answer, again, is to start exploring the issue in hitbodedut, and to ask God to show you which bad middot tripped you up into wanting to believe these pseudo-tzaddikim were the real deal.

Speaking for myself, I got tripped up by my own arrogance, anger and harshly judgmental tendencies. It was only once I’d suffered through a whole bunch of horrible things that I bought on myself with these bad middot that I was willing to start acknowledging my own issues. At that stage, I started to see through the ‘pseudo tzaddikim’ I’d been enamored with, and also came away from reading stuff from the autistics etc, and life started to be so much nicer and better.

The whole world really is a mirror. The more we work on our own bad middot, the more we’ll naturally be attracted to good, honest and true tzaddikim.

  • PEOPLE HAVE PAID A PIDYON NEFESH TO A REAL TZADDIK AND THEY DIDN’T SEE ANY MOVEMENT

Of all the issues, this is clearly the hardest one to really address. What’s going on with that?

A little while back on the ravberland.com website, I read THIS story, about a man who had to go back to Rav Berland 12 different times, to pay 12 different pidyon nefesh, before his son came out of the coma he’d been in for 10 years.

After I read that story, I did a lot of pondering about it, to try to really understand what was going on there.

Why didn’t the Rav just tell the man to pay one, massive, pidyon nefesh upfront, and gamarnu? Or, why didn’t the Rav explain to the man that he’d need to pay 12 different pidyons before it would work, instead of telling him each time his son would now wake up?

I was very puzzled about this, so I did some hitbodedut on it and here’s what I got back:

The Rav is not a caspomat. Even though doing a pidyon nefesh is a powerful spiritual shortcut, it doesn’t mean that we ourselves don’t have to also make our own teshuva, and also keep working on our own emuna, and particularly, our own emunat tzaddikim.

It’s still a joint effort.

The miracle that man was asking for, to resuscitate a boy who’d been in a coma for 10 years, was absolutely enormous, by any measure. Clearly, the money alone couldn’t pull it off. The father also needed to ‘deserve’ the miracle he eventually got by:

  1. Going through the tremendous suffering of having his hopes dashed on 11 different occasions, before his son finally regained consciousness, and
  2. Working on his emunat tzaddikim, in a very real way, to not go sour half-way through the process and start bad-mouthing the Rav to anyone who would listen for not ‘delivering’ on what he’d promised.

And those three things together is what lead to the harsh decree ultimately being torn up, and the boy waking up.

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What can we learn from this?

I know so many people who have seen swift, immediate and massive turnarounds from doing a pidyon nefesh with Rav Berland. They have no questions. I also know people who have seen immediate but small improvements, that are slowly gathering steam. Most of those people also don’t have questions about what’s going on, and can see it’s a process.

Then there are those who apparently see no change, no turnaround.

Like the man in the story.

We had something a little similar when our house purchase went so spectacularly wrong, last year. My husband paid a pidyon – and nothing seemed to move. Then he went back and the Rav told him to pay another pidyon – and nothing seemed to move.

Then, he went back again, and the Rav told him to pay another pidyon, and that’s finally when we got the breakthrough that helped us to get out of the whole mess and put it behind us.

For a few weeks there, we also had no idea what was going on, But we knew one thing: no money you give to a true tzaddik is ever wasted.

God decreed we had to go through that horrible house purchase, clearly it was something we had to experience. But paying the pidyon meant we could get out of the yucky situation as soon as we’d done the tikkun, and that we wouldn’t be permanently traumatized and embittered by it.

After it happened, we learned a great deal about ourselves, and what we still needed to make teshuva about, and at this stage, I can see that I deserved what happened 100%, and I’m grateful for it.

That experience brought out a whole bunch of ‘bad middot’ that had been hiding out in my blind spot, and that I had no idea were even there.

Our true tzaddikim are operating on a level far, far above us. We have no idea what’s really going on, what really needs fixing. Sometimes, the amounts of money required to ‘fix’ the problem are so astronomical, most people would baulk at the sums.

Maybe that’s why, sometimes, the Rav splits it up into many different payments.

Maybe that’s why, sometimes, we also have to continue to suffer for a bit, or have to work on our emunat tzaddikim, or have to make an effort to not start slandering and spreading lashon hara.

Because that suffering also atones, and brings down the ‘debt’, that teshuva also atones for us, until the pidyon can actually take care of the rest.

Who knows?

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WHEN YOU SHOULDN’T GIVE A PIDYON NEFESH

So, let’s end this post with a brief discussion about when you shouldn’t pay a pidyon.

Don’t do a pidyon nefesh if:

  • You aren’t doing it 100% with a full heart – i.e. you aren’t 100% happy to give over the money, regardless of the outcome, or you begrudge the payment.
  • You won’t be able to stop yourself from slandering and speaking badly if it doesn’t work out how you wanted it to.
  • You don’t really believe in the concept of doing a pidyon nefesh, and secretly think it’s ‘just a scam’.
  • You don’t have a lot of patience, and expect everything to be rectified ASAP (the one place this doesn’t apply is with life-threatening emergencies where time is of the essence. But even then, it may take a day or two, a week or two.)

If that might happen, it’s better for you – way better for you – to keep your money to yourself.

Giving a pidyon to a real tzaddik is a tremendous zchut, a tremendous merit – just as giving any money / gifts / help to them is.

If you’re relating to the whole thing like it’s some transaction at Walmart, that comes with a money-back guarantee – you probably shouldn’t be doing it. Remember what Rabbenu taught us in Sefer HaMiddot:

#153 Someone who draws close to the Tzaddik, but who doesn’t do it innocently, will eventually become an opposer.

Our true tzaddikim are not salesmen, they don’t ‘owe’ us anything. On a number of occasions, I’ve seen with my own eyes how Rav Berland has either refused to respond to requests to a do a pidyon, or how he’s given the petitioner a blessing, or a prayer to be recited, or a practice to be followed, instead of paying over money.

We pay over the money for a pidyon nefesh to help ourselves, not to help the tzaddikim we’re giving the money to. But we’re not always helped in the ways we expect. Vis:

#172 Through the gifts that one brings to tzaddikim, a person can subdue their enemies, and neutralize the evil spirit that hovers over themselves.

#182 One who benefits the Tzaddik from his belongings, it is as if he benefited all the Jewish people, and he is saved from death.

#196 Connection to the Tzaddik is a great healing.

#209 Through the livelihood people provide for the Tzaddik, all their sins are forgiven, just as the Cohen’s eating of the sacrifices atoned for those who offered them.

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May God help us to develop the emuna, and the emunat tzaddikim we really require to get through the last of these birthpangs of Moshiach in one piece.

Click HERE for more posts on Pidyon Nefesh.

 

Everything you need to know about Pidyon Nefesh – Part 1

The whole idea of giving a pidyon nefesh to a real Tzaddik has to be one of the most misunderstood, confusing and murky concepts in Jewish thought.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to deal with this subject via email, or a phone call, so I think the time has come to try to sort it all out in a methodical fashion, and bring as many of the sources and explanations as I can into one post.

(Now that I’ve actually written this, I’m going to split it up into two posts, one after the other.)

But before we can get to the basic idea behind a pidyon nefesh (which is not just a Breslov idea, btw, and not even just a Chassidic idea. Many Sephardi kabbalists also hold by the idea of doing pidyon nefesh) – we first have to talk a bit about the idea of the True Tzaddik.

Which is probably the second most misunderstood, confusing and murky concepts in Jewish thought, so this is going to be one heck of a long post!

After some consideration, I thought the easiest way to dive into the topic is to just bring some of what Rebbe Nachman explains about the Tzaddik, and true tzaddikim, in his book, Sefer HaMiddot.

QUOTES FROM SEFER HAMIDDOT (Taken from the chapter called Tzaddik):

#12 Putting in effort to draw close to tzaddikim is beneficial for serving God.

#20 Don’t be disturbed by the fact that the tzaddikim accept financial support from others in order to run their households with wealth and honor – would it be better for them not to take from others, and not to lead? For the more delight and expansion the Tzaddik has, the more his soul expands, and then there is a resting place in which the Divine Presence may dwell. Therefore, one should not come to the house [of a Tzaddik] empty-handed.

#40 In the merit of serving a great man, one is saved from death.

#46 Giving money to benefit a tzaddik is like serving in the Holy Temple.

#82 Sometimes, a tzaddik elevates someone and then humiliates them, and this is for the person’s benefit.

#107 Sometimes, through giving one bit of satisfaction to the Tzaddik, and through the little action one does for him, one merits the World to Come.

#122 The blessing of a Tzaddik is a pidyon.

#127 One who puts the Tzaddik to the test, it’s as if he put God to the test.

#130 Through faith in Tzaddikim judgments are sweetened.

#136 There is no Tzaddik who does not endure attackers and investigators.

#150 God gives parnassa to a tzaddik through the community, in order that he will have some connection with them, and so that when God remembers the Tzaddik, he remembers them as well.

#151 The coming of Moshiach depends on drawing close to the Tzaddik.

#153 Someone who draws close to the Tzaddik, but who doesn’t do it innocently, will eventually become an opposer.

#172 Through the gifts that one brings to tzaddikim, a person can subdue their enemies, and neutralize the evil spirit that hovers over themselves.

#182 One who benefits the Tzaddik from his belongings, it is as if he benefited all the Jewish people, and he is saved from death.

#196 Connection to the Tzaddik is a great healing.

#209 Through the livelihood people provide for the Tzaddik, all their sins are forgiven, just as the Cohen’s eating of the sacrifices atoned for those who offered them.

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Ad kan, from Sefer HaMiddot. As always, it’s highly recommended to look up the quotes yourself, as I just picked out a few, and there’s much more that could be said.

What I wanted to try to bring out with these quotes are two key points:

  • Giving money / help / gifts / support to tzaddikim is always very beneficial to a person, and goes a long way to cancelling out our sins and helping us to overcome our yetzer haras and negative character traits. And this is without us even getting into the specific discussion about a pidyon nefesh, which we’ll come to shortly.
  • All of the things described above only apply to True Tzaddikim – and not ordinary rabbis and rabbanits, nice as they might be. Even more so, these benefits don’t apply to giving money to ‘pretend’ holy people.

From my own experience, I know it’s very, very hard to really know who is ‘real’ and who isn’t today, let alone who is a ‘true tzaddik’ and who isn’t.

There is only one way to really know this with certainty, and that is:

To pray on it, and to ask God to show you who is a real tzaddik.

Yes, we’re talking about doing regular hitbodedut again, because without it, you’ll trip up. Even with it, you’ll probably still trip up, especially at the beginning. Why? Because we are drawn to the rabbis and rabbanits that most mirror and reflect our own views and beliefs back at us.

If we are angry, judgmental, arrogant hypocrites who think we’re perfect and all the problems in the world are simply everyone else’s fault – that’s the sort of people we’ll be drawn to, those are the types of Torah classes and ideas and ‘proofs’ we’ll want to hear. It takes a lot of time to start clearing all those bad middot out of the way, but when that starts to happen, we’ll find ourselves open to hearing about judging others favorably, and about taking responsibility for our own issues, and about working more on our own bad middot.

And that’s when God will start to draw us closer to the really holy people, the true tzaddikim in our midst.

So, the first part of the equation is that giving money and gifts to true tzaddikim is always beneficial to a person, at least in the spiritual realm, but that it’s not so easy to know who a true tzaddik is, and there are a lot of ‘pseudo-tzaddikim’ out there.

Now, let’s talk more about the concept of the Pidyon Nefesh itself.

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REBBE NACHMAN EXPLANS WHY WE SHOULD DO A PIDYON NEFESH:

In the Kitzur Likutey Moharan (translated into English as ‘Advice’, by the Breslov Research Institute), it says the following about Pidyon Nefesh:

  • When a person is sick, a pidyon nefesh (monetary redemption) is the pre-requisite of any cure. Only after the redemption has been made does the Torah give the doctor permission to cure (See Likutey Moharan, II:3)

  • When a person fills the mouths of the Sages with wine, it is accounted for him like a redemption (LM 1:41)

  • Getting up for Tikkun Chatzot (the midnight prayer for rectification) has the same power as a redemption.

  • It is a good practice to always give money for a pidyon nefesh. This is the way to sweeten the power of harsh judgments at all times, and to be saved from them. Even when nobody in the house is sick and you have no particular problems, it is still good to present money for a pidyon nefesh, in order to prevent any problems or sickness, God forbid (Chayey Moharan Section on Serving Hashem, 92).

This isn’t just anyone telling us this, it’s Rebbe Nachman, one of the biggest rabbis in Jewish history.

And he’s spelling it out clearly, that if you want the best chance of avoiding harsh sicknesses and other big difficulties, you should regularly pay a pidyon nefesh, even if you’re not currently experiencing any problems!

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HOW DOES A PIDYON NEFESH WORK?

To understand this, we first have to state something obvious, but which is often so hidden from so many of us, in our ‘pretend perfect’ world:

Nobody is perfect, and every single one of us is constantly transgressing Torah commandments and hurting other people every minute of every day.

The best way to minimize the judgements against us is by going over the past 24 hours in hitbodedut, to try to figure out if that angry outburst, that slanderous email, that nasty behavior, that spiteful comment, was really as justified and ‘holy’ as it seemed at the time.

This is a crucial part of the teshuva process, and if we’re doing regular teshuva, that’s the main way how we can keep these harsh heavenly decrees that are building up against us every single day in check.

But, even if we are regularly doing that (and especially if we’re not…) we all have our blind spots, we all have our flaws and issues, particularly in the area of man and his fellow man. And if those sins aren’t properly atoned for, they can cause harsh judgments to be sent down to us by the Heavenly Court.

Those harsh spiritual judgments manifest in all sorts of ways, including financial problems, health problems, shalom bayit problems, mental health issues where we just feel sad and depressed all the time, problems with the kids etc etc etc.

Now, the suffering itself atones for our sins.

This is a well-known concept, that when we’re going through harsh experiences, that is ‘paying down our debt’, spiritually. That suffering cleans off the spiritual stains we have on our souls, as a result of all the stuff we’re doing wrong (constantly….) that we aren’t acknowledging, or making teshuva about.

ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, THE SPIRITUAL DEBT WE’VE RUN UP HAS TO BE PAID OFF.

There are three main ways we can do this:

  • Clean it off with daily hitbodedut / cheshbon hanefesh / teshuva (but remember, we all have blind spots, which means that we’re for sure not catching everything we’re doing wrong and need to fix.)
  • Experience the suffering we brought down on ourselves as a result of our own behavior and flaws.
  • Pay a pidyon nefesh, a sum of money for a redemption, to a true tzaddik, which is a different sort of ‘suffering’, because parting with our cash is very hard for most of us to do.

The Tanach makes regular reference to money as damim, ‘bloods’.  Why is it called this?

Because we literally sweat and spill our own blood in order to earn that money, to get it together. It’s very dear to us, we’ve sacrificed so much time, effort, energy, whatever to attain it.

And there’s another factor to toss in here, which is that some of our suffering – especially in this generation, the last before Moshiach finally comes – is because of sins that we committed in past lives.

When that’s the case, we can’t even get to it via a daily teshuva process, however much we try. So then we’re really left with just the last 2 options on the list.

And sometimes, even a pidyon nefesh can’t get us out of the harsh decree, because that is our tikkun for a previous life, and it can’t be avoided.

In the next post, let’s take a look at how the pidyon nefesh process actually works, in Shemayim.

Can ‘orthodox Jew’ ever go together with ‘feminist’?

That’s what I find myself wondering more and more at the moment. Yesterday, a news story came to my attention that a bunch of Reform feminists, plus one apparently ‘modern orthodox’ feminist have decided to sue Ikea.

What was the furniture store’s terrible crime? In 2016, Ikea Israel made the mistake of trying to reach out to the chareidi community by printing a catalogue specially for them, that didn’t include any pictures of women in it.

Instead of applauding Ikea’s attempted sensitivity for the orthodox world, instead of adopting the maxim of live and let live, instead of letting the orthodox world decide for itself what sorts of pictures it wants to see in the publications that it brings into its home, a group called the “Israel Religious Action Center”, decided to sue Ikea Israel, instead.

WHO RUNS THE ‘ISRAEL RELIGIOUS ACTION CENTER?’

A quick look at the IRAC website tells you that IRAC’s Executive Director is Anat Hoffman, who you may well recognise as the ‘founder and director’ of the infamous Women of the Wall. IRAC describes itself as “the legal and advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel.”

IRAC has certainly been busy the last few years. Here’s some highlights from its website, where we’re told that:

IRAC plays a lead role in battling attempts by religious extremists to limit the participation and visibility of women in the public sphere in Israel, reversing the phenomena of gender segregation and exclusion and achieving remarkable success.

(Again, please remember that these people are the notorious Women of the Wall.)

Here’s some of what they’ve been up to, before the got around to suing Ikea:

1) In June 2017, they sued El Al to stop women or men asking to switch seats, if they didn’t want to sit next to someone of the opposite gender.

2) In 2015, the sued Bet Shemesh to force orthodox neighborhoods to remove signs asking women to dress modestly in their neighborhoods.

3) In 2014, they chummed up with Kolech, which describes itself as a ‘Religious Women’s Forum’ to sue the chareidi radio station Kol BeRama.

4) Now, they’re in the process of trying to sue the IDF to stop having ‘men only’ bases: “We are currently collecting testimonies of women soldiers who were harmed by women-free areas in the army.”

5) They’re also trying to prevent higher educational facilities where men and women can study without rubbing shoulders with the opposite gender.

Ah, peace n’love.

IRAC is being at least partially funded by the New Israel Fund. We’ll hear more about them in a moment.

Anyway, back to Ikea.

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According to Haaretz, the suit filed by the complainants said:

“The total exclusion of women and girls from the catalog sends a serious and difficult message that women have no value and there is something wrong with their presence, even in the family-home space depicted in the catalog.

“This discrimination and exclusion has severely insulted, angered and traumatized those who received the catalog.”

Puhleeeze!

Does anyone in the world really think this is true? Do they really expect us to believe that some woman, somewhere in Beitar Illit, developed PTSD from getting an Ikea catalogue that only has pictures of men in it? And if it’s true, (look! There’s a flying pig!) – why is the lawsuit being brought by a Reform pressure group run by the Women of the Wall? And what the heck is that one, token ‘modern orthodox’ woman doing there?

Questions, questions.

But more and more, I’m noticing that the women who self-describe as ‘orthodox feminists’ seem to have decidedly un-orthodox leanings.

There seems to be an awful lot of overlap between how these ‘orthodox feminists’ see the world, and how anti-God, anti-Torah, anti-rabbinic Judaism people and organisations see the world.

And the alarm bells are starting to ring pretty loudly, about where these ‘ortho-fem’ people are really coming from, who is actually funding them, and where they are trying to push us all too.

I’m not saying that all of them are anti-Torah, or anti-God, or anti-rabbis, or anti-chareidi, chas v’shalom. I’m sure there are many strong orthodox women out there who really do believe that the Torah is the living word of God, and thus inviolable.

But at the same time, I keep hearing the same sort of ugly prejudice that you get from people who are avowedly ‘anti’ orthodox Judaism from these ‘ortho-fems’, including hate-filled rants against men, rabbis and chareidi Jews.

And for all that this ‘feminism’ is dressed up in pious language and lofty aspirations, hate-filled rants are always rooted in a whole bunch of bad middot, and emotional and mental dysfunction.

Let me tell you a story that happened to me thirteen years ago, so you can see why the alarm bells are starting to ring so loud about what’s really going on with so many of these ‘orthodox feminists’.

When I lived in Modiin 13 years ago, I wore jeans and didn’t cover my hair, but I still kept Shabbat and paid 10% to tzedaka and believed very strongly in God. At that time, I participated in a women’s shiur where each woman was given the chance to teach Torah according to her own views and derech.

All the women in that shiur self-described as ‘modern orthodox’, whatever that actually meant. Some covered their hair, some (like me) didn’t. Some only wore skirts, some (like me) didn’t. The shiur was unofficially led by a woman who described herself as an ‘orthodox feminist’, and who had a whole bunch of degrees in the pointless subject of ‘gender studies’.

I liked some of those shiurim a lot. Others made me cringe, like when one woman started going on about the ‘militant nature of the Torah’, and how she ‘couldn’t believe we have a book that actually tells us to go out and kill people’.

But even when I totally disagreed with what was being said, I never tried to shut the other person down.

As time went on, the ‘ortho-fem’ woman started giving over more and more subversive shiurim that I was finding increasingly disturbing and ‘anti’ God, and ‘anti’ orthodox Judaism, and it goes without saying, ‘anti’ men and definitely ‘anti’ rabbis.

And this was back when I was still wearing my jeans and not covering my hair, so no-one can accuse me of just parroting chareidi values. (As if…)

One day, it was my turn to give a shiur, so I decided to do something on emuna, as I was just then learning about the whole idea of making God a central part of my Jewish life. I started the class off by playing a one minute snippet of a CD by Rav Brody, something along the lines of:

You know why you’ve got all these problems? It’s because you think that YOU are the boss (instead of recognizing that God is running the world).

Perhaps predictably, the ortho-feminist went ballistic, and prevented me giving over the rest of my shiur, which deteriorated very swiftly into a shouting match.

That experience went a very long way to me deciding I had to get the heck out of Modiin.

Tolerance, tolerance, that’s what they preach. Intolerant, intolerant, that’s how they act.

So we moved away, and I didn’t hear anything more of this ‘ortho-feminist’ until three years later when I discovered she’d re-invented herself as a type of ‘ortho-fem’ marriage counsellor, ‘empowering women’ – or to describe it more accurately, an ortho-fem advocate for divorce, who went round wrecking a bunch of people’s relationships and religious observance.

At that stage, I think she was still officially ‘orthodox’, and so she founded websites devoted to ‘ortho-fem’ principles, and stood on soapboxes shouting loudly about discrimination against women in chareidi society, and even wrote books colorfully depicting the ‘war’ that was apparently happening against women in Israel.

Again, still wearing her ‘orthodox’ badge, so that people in the orthodox world would take her seriously.

Because if someone from say, Meretz, was spouting all that stuff, we’d all know it was politicized baloney.

So yesterday, after I read that article about the ‘modern orthodox’ woman who is suing Ikea, I got the urge to look up the ‘ortho-feminist’ to see what’s become of her, because it sounded like her kind of stunt.

Lo and behold, I learned that she’s now studying to become a reform ‘rabbi’ (yes, I’m using offensive WHATEVER quote marks) and a few months ago, she also joined the staff of the New Israel Fund.

In case you didn’t know, the New Israel Fund is openly committed to dismantling orthodox Judaism in the State of Israel. They state as much on their website, on the page with the Orwellian title of Promoting Pluralism and Tolerance.’

So she’s definitely NOT orthodox any more (like she ever really was….) but she’s definitely STILL a feminist.

Nothing in this world is ‘pareve’ or neutral. It’s either leading us closer to Hashem, or it’s taking us further away. 13 years ago, the reform-rabbi wannabe who now has a day job at an organization that was formed to try to destroy orthodox Judaism in Israel was also griping and grumping about there not being any pictures of women in orthodox publications.

And now look at her.

All this stuff is the thin edge of the wedge.

God gave us a Torah, God gave us rules to follow. God knows exactly what He’s doing.

Is the chareidi world behaving properly and appropriately all the time? Absolutely not. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely.

But it’s not for Reform-minded feminists or the Meretz-loving New Israel Fund to decide how those changes should happen, or what those improvements should be. It’s up to our God-fearing Sages and our Torah-observant rabbis to make those decisions in accordance with halacha, the same way it’s been working since the Torah was handed down to Moshe over 3,000 years ago.

And so, we come back full circle, and I have to ask:

Can ‘orthodox Jew’ and ‘feminist’ ever really go together?

Because from where I’m standing, it’s increasingly looking like a resounding ‘no’.

UPDATE:

Following on from Ann Koffsky invitation to look at the frumwomenhavefaces.com website, in the comments section, I went to take a look.

These are my thoughts:

  1. The stated quotes from Rabbis don’t appear to have any actual Torah sources to back them up. I would like to see the Torah sources / commentaries that these opinions are based on.
  2. The FWHF website recommends that visitors: “Share these press guidelines from Chochmat Nashim with the Jewish media.”
  3. When I clicked over to see who is behind the Chochmat Nashim website, I found this statement:

We partner with leading organizations that share our goals and values, such as ITIMKolechThe Center for Women’s JusticeMavoi SatumYad La’isha and the International Young Israel Movement, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA), as well as members of Knesset, social activists, community rabbis and religious leaders.

And again, the alarm bells started ringing very loudly. Apart from the International Young Israel Movement, all the other organisations are linked to and / or receiving money from the Reform movement, and / or the New Israel Fund.

Here’s some examples:

ITIM – Has a bunch of ‘Jewish Federation’ sponsors plus donors who like to emphasize promoting ‘Jewish pluralism’ and ‘tikkun olam’ in Israel – key Reform phrases.

Kolech – Got more than $50k from the New Israel Fund last year

The Center for Women’s Justice – Got $26,750 from the New Israel Fund last year

Mavoi Satum – Got $49,000 from the New Israel Fund last year

Yad L’Isha – Got $34,000 from the New Israel Fund last year.

It’s suspiciously hard to find any transparent funding information for the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, but when I went over to their UK website, I discovered that one of their past Executive Directors is none other than my very own ‘ortho-fem’ from Modiin, – who is now working for the New Israel Fund and studying to be a reform ‘rabbi’.

So now, tell me why I should be taking ‘Chochmat Nashim’s’ claim to be an ‘orthodox’ website for women seriously, when they are ‘partnered’ with a whole bunch of organisations that are being directly funded by the New Israel Fund and Reform?

The more I’m looking into this topic, the more it stinks to high heaven.

The ‘ortho fem’ movement is being funded and organised by people who openly state they want to take down orthodox Judaism.

Caveat emptor.

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A little while back, I got an email from someone who gave eloquent voice to the people who I often refer to as ‘anonymous psychos’.

My correspondent – who is definitely not an anonymous psycho- explained that most of these ‘anonymous psychos’ are trapped in a whole world of their own searing, emotional pain, and they aren’t really ‘seeing’ anyone else when they’re lashing out, they’re just struggling with their own demons.

My correspondent quoted the following lines from the film ‘Psycho’ (which I’ve never seen, btw, probably because I’ve had more than enough real ones to deal with):

“We, all of us, live in our own private traps, forever unable to get out. We fight, and tear, and claw – but only at the air, only at each other, and we never really budge an inch.”

I have to say, it was an extremely useful, and even impressive email, for a whole bunch of reasons. But the one I want to share with you is that I think my correspondent managed to encapsulate in a sentence or two the whole problem with why people are really hurting other people:

It’s because inside, they are themselves hurting.

Now, this isn’t to excuse the behavior for a minute, or even a nano-second. Now that I’m a whole 45 years old (!), and a parent of teens, I can see more and more clearly how parents refusing to deal with their own inner demons, and refusing to accept that so much of their own behavior is ‘psycho’ is the main reason why so many of our children are ADHD, off the derech, clinically depressed, chronically ill and stressed and abusing substances and alcohol.

What changes the whole picture – instantly – is just for us all to hold our hands up to our own ‘psycho’ tendencies, and to stop pretending that we haven’t got any issues. It gives you some instant humility to do that, and that’s probably why so many people are allergic to trying it.

Even though we all know that walking the path of humility is really the only way we can get anywhere near to Hashem.

But over the last few years, I’ve seen so many people, so many parents, approach that point of truth, that fork in the road that’s going to transform their whole relationship with other people, their whole attitude to their own issues, and transform their relationship with Hashem, and with their yiddishkeit.

And they’ve picked the other path.

The path that seemed easier, in the short-term, because it meant they could continue to cover-up and justify their own bad behavior – as their parents did before them, and as their grandparents did before them, all  the way back to Adam HaRishon.

This has happened so many times, that I’ve come to call it the approach of ‘the hiddenness within the hiddenness’. Before we get to that point of truth, we honestly didn’t know that we were behaving like psychos, or that we were hurting so many of the people around us so fundamentally, or that we were living in a world of lies and deception.

Then, God opens our eyes to what’s really going on, and gives us a choice:

On the one hand, my dear child, you can choose to acknowledge the truth, and to try to take responsibility for your own actions, and to make a commitment to get Me, God, involved in the process of fixing the mess. Because I’ll tell you straight, you can’t fix it without My help, without checking back with me every single day to figure out what’s really going on.

OR

You can make a conscious decision to push down all this stuff you’ve just discovered about how you got so messed up yourself, and how you’re now repeating the pattern with your own children, and in your own marriage, and in with your own interactions, and by so doing, turn into a REAL psycho.

I know this sounds a little harsh, but I’ve seen it play out so many times.

It’s like what happened back in Egypt, when God kept hardening Pharoah’s heart, so at some point, his freedom to choose to stop suffering, and to stop experiencing the awful plagues, leading up to the death of so many Egyptian first-born, disappeared.

The commentators ask, How can this be?! How could God remove Pharoah’s freedom of choice like that?! What’s going on?!

There are many answers to this question, but the one that speaks to me the most is that Pharoah got to that crossroads. He reached that point of truth when all of a sudden, it was blindingly obvious that God is God, and that the whole of Egyptian society, the whole Egyptian belief system, was totally built on a foundation of deception and lies.

At that point, he was given the clear choice:

Are you going to accept that God, Hashem, is running the world, and that you are full of arrogance, cruelty and bad middot? OR, are you going to carry on trying to control everything around you, and carrying on trying to enslave other people to gratify your ego and build up your empire?

If you acknowledge the truth about what’s really going on now, it’ll go so much easier for you and the Egyptian people. And if you don’t, Pharoah – then utter destruction. The lies will be exposed publically for everyone to see, in the most painful way possible.

What did Pharoah do?

He picked wrong.

He couldn’t bring himself to tell the truth because it was too difficult to face up to it, too painful, too humiliating. So from that point on, his fate was sealed, and his ability to really ‘choose’ the path of teshuva was removed.

As I write this, I wonder what would have happened if someone had told Pharoah:

Mate, you are suffering from a severe case of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. All your ancestors were cruel, God-less psychos and they treated you really badly, too. Yes, you had a nice palace to live in, and nice clothes, and great food, but that came along with a whole bunch of guilt trips, shaming tactics and a heartless, arrogant emphasis on keeping up appearances that completely killed your neshama.

And now, you are feeling totally overwhelmed with toxic shame, and fear, at the idea of turning your back on everything those ancestors of yours taught you was important in life. But you know what, Pharoah? That’s just a flashback to the past! You can handle it! You can still get past your inner critic to do the right thing, here!

I wonder.

But in the meantime, it seems to me that God is giving all of us the same choice at the moment, to either continue living in the world of lies, or to move on to a path of sincere teshuva and humility.

For one person, the test will come via their children, who are acting up in school, off the derech, miserable, ill and depressed. For another person, it’ll come via their marriage, where God is mamash shoving their bad middot directly in their faces, and pleading for them to really acknowledge the problems, and to stop pretending that it’s all the wife’s fault, and that they aren’t crazy people with massive anger issues.

For others, it’ll come via ill health, or problems making money. For others, it’ll come in smaller ways, smaller challenges, where they will be repeatedly met with the question of whether they are quite so ‘holy’ and ‘perfect’ and ‘do-gooding’ as they like to make out.

Really? Really, it’s always everyone else’s problem? Really?

Really, you yourself have absolutely nothing to work on, and all the yucky things you do are totally justified and actually even mitzvahs, or ‘good chinuch’? Really?

That’s the voice that’s whispering at all of us right now, and that’s the crossroads we’re all approaching: to be a psycho, or to be with God.

And I hope that we’ll all find the courage and the strength and the emuna to choose right, and to not

Because if the psycho had known that there was a very easy way to get out of the trap of his bad middot, and that this simply involved him saying “I’m guilty!” and asking God to help Him rectify his issues, then:

He wouldn’t be a psycho anymore.

And neither would we.

Picture the scene:

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

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

That’s a fair point perhaps.

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

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

What do you think?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That makes the school intolerant, doesn’t it?

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

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

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

Mustn’t it?

Let’s take another example.

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

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

Should that be tolerated, by the management?

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

What would the preachers of tolerance proclaim about this case?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you being intolerant?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And man, are we feeling the lack.

There’s a Talmudic dictum which states:

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

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

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

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

 

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

There’s a French saying, plus ca change.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I couldn’t help thinking of that when I was trying to get over the massive spiritual fall-out from reading that awful book a couple of weeks’ ago that was mamash slandering the land of Israel, and so many of the Jews who live here, and which made out that it’s a bigger ‘mitzvah’ to stay in galut than to make aliya.

It’s amazing how any discussion of the sin of the spies always seems to be missing from so many of these ‘controversial’ discussions about moving to Israel, at least, in English. Or at least, from the pulpits of so many of the English-speaking ‘rabbis’ who live outside of Israel.

All week, I was trying to weigh up how best to tackle the subject, and if I should tackle the subject at all, even, because God forbid we should have more pointless machloket and sinat chinam floating around, more pointless divisiveness, more pointless ‘opinion’.

As often happens, Rabbenu gave me a clear way to proceed on Shabbat.

I started reading Lesson 20 in Part 1 of Likutey Moharan, and this is part of what I read:

“In the merit of the Torah that is drawn, one attains the Land of Israel, as in, ‘He gave them the lands of nations’ (Psalms 105:44). But the land of Israel is one of the three things that can only be attained through suffering (Brachot 5a), and the main suffering is the obstacles of the wicked, who slander the land.

“These wicked must first be subdued and punished with a sword and death, and only then can one enter the Land of Israel. However, the power to punish the wicked can only be acquired from the power of Edom, for that is his power, as in, ‘You will live by your sword’ (Bereishit 27:40), and he draws sustenance from the astrological sign of Mars.”

SLANDERING THE LAND OF ISRAEL IS STILL A HUGE SIN

Rabbenu wasn’t writing before the destruction of the Second Temple; he was writing 200 years ago, for our generation.

Edom is identified with the church / the West – i.e. all those countries that love their missiles and bombs and massive warships, and which are constantly developing new ways to try to ‘live by their sword’.

(Just look at what’s going on right now in Venezuela, and what’s been going on for decades in so many countries around the world, where the West ‘mixed in’ to ensure that its economic interests would be given first priority by any incoming governments – often to the detriment of that nation’s own citizens.)

Elsewhere, Rabbenu tells us that we’re in exile amongst the nations still, because there are 70 negative character traits, one for each of the 70 main nations of the world. And when we Jews continue to display the negative character traits of a particular nation, then we empower that nation in the world, and give them the ability to keep us in exile.

In other words, geula really is just dependent on Jews working on our own individual bad middot, wherever we happen to live in the world.

So now, Rabbenu told us that Edom / the West ‘draws sustenance from the astrological sign of Mars’, let’s see what that actually means, in terms of what we need to specifically work on.

According to a Baraisa written by Shmuel HaKatan, the planet Mars is related to the following character traits (btw, they happen to all be bad – this is not the case for most of the other planets / celestial bodies.)

THE TRAITS ASSOCIATED WITH MARS:

  • Bloodshed
  • Wickedness
  • Strife
  • External injury
  • War
  • Hatred
  • Jealousy

Doesn’t this list give you the shudders?

Doesn’t it describe so much of what is ‘wrong’ in the Jewish world, and the world generally?

We have our work cut out for us!

This is basically the checklist for sinat chinam, or the hatred that a Jew feels for another Jew, that caused the destruction of the Second Temple in the first place, and our long, horrible exile to begin, 2000 years ago.

I know so many of us feel powerless to bring the geula any closer, or any faster, or any sweeter, but that’s so not true. If each Jew would take it upon themselves to really make a serious effort to uproot these seven traits from our lives totally, we’d have geula in the blink of an eye.

And we can do this regardless of where we happen to live.

If we are exhibiting these seven negative characteristics in our own lives – ‘warring’ with people in the comments section online, arguing with people all the time, sending yucky emails, feeling jealous over ‘that one’s’ big house, or bigger bank balance, or thinner thighs, or bigger family, or hating people for holding different opinions, or believing different things, or resorting to guns to deal with our enemies, instead of resorting to prayer and turning to God – then WE are continuing the exile of Edom.

And WE will be held to account for that, by God.

That’s why Breslov emphasizes the personal aspect of geula, or redemption. Breslov teaches:

Get out of your own bad middot, work on rectifying your own negative characteristics, and you’ll experience both personal redemption – and the geula of Am Yisrael.

This is our work. This is our responsibility.

So please, let’s stop wasting time arguing with crazy people, and let’s just got on with doing the work of identifying these ‘Edomite’ characteristics in ourselves, and finally uprooting them.

So Moshiach can come soon, the sweet way.

If you’ve been with me for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been writing about – and struggling with – internet addiction for as long as ‘www’ has been a word.

Although strictly speaking, that’s not true, because before I decided to quit my job 10 years ago, there was no real struggle: the internet had eaten me up, body, mind and soul. Once I realized just how bad my preoccupation with the net was for me and my whole family, I got the internet out of my house, and went cold turkey.

Over the next 6 years or so, I mostly had it mostly sidelined. I’d go to the local library to upload things and gorge myself on geula sites and a bit of news twice a week, but it was manageable – and I have to tell you, I got a lot of other stuff done over that time, mostly hidden in my home and internally, but still a lot.

Then for a lot of different reasons, the internet came back via a plug-in internet stick, and the internet addiction also started to creep back in under the guise of all this ‘important’ stuff that we were now doing online.

But it was kind of manageable still, until the middle of last year, when our disastrous house purchase blew up, blasting my last ounce of spiritual strength away with it.

The internet addiction roared back, and I found myself obsessively checking earthquake sites, and geula blogs, and even the occasional Youtube video or documentary.

And there was nothing I could really do about it, because there was a big, gaping hole where things like ‘satisfaction’, and ‘peace of mind’ and ‘real happiness’ should have been, but just weren’t. So all that internet stuff was my escape out of a reality that I really didn’t want to be in any more, but couldn’t see a way out of.

To put it another way: I gave up.

Of course, all still with the plug-in stick, and what I’m describing as ‘internet addiction’ probably wouldn’t even register on the radar for a lot of people, but for me, I understood that I’d got to a very low place, spiritually.

Then I had that awful experience erev Rosh Hashana, when someone who had previously been quite friendly all of a sudden did an ‘Anakin Skywalker’ and went over to the dark side. She sent me an email a few hours before Rosh Hashana began that upset me so much, it nearly threw my whole Rosh Hashana over to the forces of evil.

I wonder if she has even an inkling of the huge amount of damage and pain she caused me, with her five line email?

All of a sudden, I realized that most of the people I’d been ‘hanging out with’ in cyberspace where anonymous psychos that I actually knew next to nothing about. And that threw me for another loop, because if I hadn’t been interacting with real people, then who the heck was I actually dealing with?!

This thought creeped me out in a way that’s hard to explain, but I think it comes back down to that lack of authenticity.

I felt like I’d been participating in some warped, geula-fuelled version of The Sims for the last few years.

Anyway, straight after Rosh Hashana I deleted my blog in an attempt to avoid getting pulled into any more machloket online, and I also permanently blocked every single geula blog I’d been looking at from my PC. I figured,

maybe, this was God’s way of telling me to stop blogging, and to go and do something else, something better.

So I tried, I really did, to find those other things. I bought a new painting set, I tried to do a real shiur with real people, that didn’t exactly work as fabulously as I hoped. I got to work on the book on volcanoes. I tried a few different shuls locally on Friday night, to see if one would ‘click’.

Long story short: it all flopped. It all failed. And after two months of no blogging, I realized that God wanted me to write, and to return to blogging. And I was really angry when I found that out, because

It’s so much easier to be completely ‘offline’ than to try to use the internet judiciously.

So I started blogging again, half resentfully, and now I started to realise how much of my internet use had been done as a reaction to try to make me feel better about the mess my ‘real life’ was in.

The equation went something like this:

I feel bad / lonely / lost => go online and lose yourself in Youtube.

I feel bad / lonely / lost => go online and read a geula blog written by an anonymous psycho

I feel bad / lonely / lost => go online and post up something you wrote knocking something, or someone else, to try to make yourself feel better

Things were a little better now I’d blocked the geula blogs, but again, the internet was eating me up, body, mind and soul, and after my all efforts to run away from it, I just kind of rolled over and let it happen.

What, I’m going to try to get it out of my life again? I’m going to make another failed attempt to pull away? I can’t. I’m tired. I’m finished.

But God had other plans.

——

About three months ago, my youngest daughter started going completely beserk about what was going on in the house.

She started berating me for not doing the washing up promptly, for not doing sponga every week, for not making fancy suppers every night. She started complaining that the house smelt ‘bad’, and would come home and immediately splashing economica all around. My house smelt like a public baths for three weeks.

I’ve had to do a lot of praying to figure out what was really going on, but at its root, God sent this teenage obstinacy to me as a gift. He wanted to shake me out of my complacency, and to encourage me to make some very necessary changes in my life. But for weeks, I was trying to ignore Him.

Leave me alone, God. I can’t do all that ‘trying to improve myself spiritually’ stuff anymore. I’m finished. I’m done. I’ve officially retired from making any effort, and that’s that. Nothing else to talk about.

But God wasn’t having any of it. The teenager got more and more abusive, more and more difficult to be around, more and more stressful to live with – until I finally realized:

She is right.

She is 100% right.

I need to pull my socks up, and try to make a change for the better here.

This is so easy to type, but at the stage I’d arrived at recently, it was so very hard to even begin to contemplate.

What, I’m going to try again?!

After the million failures? Why bother? Let me continue to escape into Youtube, and gamarnu.

But God – and the teenager – didn’t give up. I got really ill around four weeks ago, and I know from experience that when a serious health issue shows up, that’s because I’m ignoring the message I’m getting at the emotional / mental level. God was giving me a shot across the bows:

Don’t keep ignoring the message to change things, Rivka, because it’s only going to lead to a bad place if you carry on doing that.

And I knew what I had to do: I had to get offline again, and stop using the internet as an escape hatch from reality.

But how?

Last month, I started looking around for hubs in Jerusalem. Long story short, there are quite a few, but all of them seemed to be miles away, in the centre of town where there was no easy parking. I didn’t have the strength to make such a big effort, so I sank back into feeling miserable and stuck, and just gave up again.

But God said:

Not so fast!

Annette Gendler, a writer friend of mine, was in town and speaking at a Writepoint evening, and invited me to come. It was pouring rain, but when I realized she was speaking somewhere that was a 5 minute walk away from my house, I decided to go anyway. The event was taking place in a hub in Talpiyot, that I’d never heard about, and all of a sudden, I started to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

I was still feeling ill, so it took me a week to get back there, but when I returned, I met the manager – and realized I knew him from London. That particular hub wasn’t so suitable for me, but he told me about another place that was also a 5 minute walk away, and which is aimed at creatives.

It would cost me 1,000 shekels a month to get a hotdesk there, but if I did it, I could get the internet out of my house again.

I wavered for a fortnight. The internet had taken over so much of my life, I knew it was going to be a huge, massive change. Also, that’s a lot of money to spend, and I wasn’t sure we could really afford it.

But somehow, last week, I finally took the plunge, and signed up for a month. I told my husband to hide the stick – and on Monday, it finally hit me just how much of an emotional ‘crutch’ the internet had become. I mamash went into some sort of drying-out crisis, like a heroin addict climbing the walls.

Now it’s just me and my life. No running away. No getting away from those lonely feelings by surfing. No dodging the dissatisfaction anymore.

I had a really hard couple of days, because all the things I’d been trying to ignore for months came sharply into focus.

But now, I’m starting to feel better again. There are things I need to work on, things I need to improve, things I need to pray about. And BH, now I’ve pulled the plug on the internet escape hatch, that stuff will start to happen again. I can’t watch Youtube in the hub – it’s a serious place, where people are doing serious work – but I can do all the stuff that I need to do online, like check emails and upload blog posts.

But not all the time, and not 50 times a day.

Hopefully, I’ve made some space to start reclaiming my life again.

And now, like magic, the teen has cheered up and stopped nagging me, even though I’m still not so hot on doing the washing up. And like magic, I’ve found the energy to start work on Secret Diary #2, which is going to be written like a real story, not just a bunch of blog posts pulled together in book. And like magic, I’m starting to get a little bit of the energy required to look the internal black hole in the face, and to get on with the job of shrinking it again.

I’m still feeling pretty shaky, emotionally and physically at the moment. I’m still feeling pretty weak. But now I’ve got the internet out of my house, I’m also feeling calmer and happier. I know there’s a lot going on out there, I know the earthquakes and meteors and volcanoes are picking up, and never mind all the political cack that passes for ‘news’.

But I also know that at this stage, I have to take a step back from that stuff, and to do much less online than I have been doing. I have other things to write, other things to think about, other stuff to work on.

And for the first time in ages, I’m looking forward to getting on with things again.


Annette just sent me a lovely post she wrote about a quick tour we took of Musrara, my old hood, when she was here a few weeks’ back. You can read it HERE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The answer came back:

Try replacing it with some happy humility, instead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is He doing this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rav broke my yetzer for picking fights!

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

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

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

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

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

==

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