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In Likutey Moharan 1: 74, Rebbe Nachman gives a whole discourse about Hoshana Rabba and Simchat Torah, most of which is extremely obscure and hard to understand.

But these are the parts I picked out as speaking to me, at least, going into our next few days of chag:

“Hoshana Rabbah corresponds to unintelligent speech, for it corresponds to the willow branch leaf, which resembles the lips…So, Hoshana Rabbah which represents judgment, the aspect of the Fear of Isaac, is drawn from immature consciousness (mochin dekatnut, literally ‘small mindedness’, which is why its speech is still without intelligence (da’at).

“However, Simchat Torah corresponds to intelligent speech, which is the life-force of the soul, as stated in the Zohar, “Fortunate are those who know the paths of the Torah and toil in it in an upright way. They plant Above a tree of life of all healing.

“This corresponds to Jacob, the aspect of wisdom, of mature consciousness, which is the healing of the soul, as in, “A charitable sun with healing in its wings.” For the sun corresponds to Jacob, who corresponds to wisdom, to intelligent speech, which is an aspect of the Torah, of Simchat Torah, which corresponds to the tree of healing.”

Feel free to come up with your own ideas of what Rabbenu is trying to put across here, as Rebbe Nachman himself firmly encouraged his followers to develop novel ideas and interpretations from his teachings, as long as they stayed firmly within the bounds of Torah law.

But here’s what I think Rabbenu is teaching us about this time of Hoshana Rabba / Simchat Torah:

In a nutshell – that we need to work on our communication with the people we love, to ensure that we’re speaking openly and honestly and from a place that will ultimately result in a ‘healing of the soul’.

When the soul is happy, the emotions are balanced, and the body and physical health is also usually the best it can be.

And vice-versa.

So many of us today find it so hard to speak honestly and gently, especially to our spouses and children.

Especially to the people we most love in the world. So many of us are scared to be ‘the real us’, or to feel our real feelings, and certainly to express them in an open way.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons we take the willow branches on Hoshana Rabba and smack them into the floor a few times, because we’re trying to dislodge all the superficial, plastic ‘small minded’ speech that keeps us so far away from really connecting to our loved ones.

Today is the day for breaking down the spiritual and mental barriers that are preventing us from speaking openly about the things that really matter, and from telling out spouses and kids (and others…) how much we really love and care for them.

And then tomorrow, once we’ve freed our soul and our facility of speech from the klipot that are encasing them, we can really celebrate the giving of the Torah with full-on, deeply-felt, sincere joy and simcha.

In this generation of i-Phones and emails, so many of us are hiding behind Facebook posts and Instagram because it’s easier to feel superficially ‘connected’ like that, than to really risk a genuine soul-connection.

But today’s the day that can all change!

So take your willow branches, and smash them into the floor.

And then go tell your significant others how much you really love them, and how much they really mean to you.

How do we trust rabbis again?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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 the topic of ‘how to trust again’, but that’s enough for now.

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The takeaway message is this:

How can we start to trust again? Only by asking God to show us who the real Tzaddikim are all the time, and by not 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.

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A few years’ ago, me and my husband got burned by three ‘big’ rabbis in a row.

Each one was a ‘name’, each one was connected to Breslov, each one left an indelible imprint on our lives – and eventually, we discovered that each one was a ‘false rabbi’. One of them started up a sadna that was based on the opposite of Torah and Breslov principles  – particularly the principle of Azamra, or seeing the good especially in yourself – which my husband attended a few short months after his dad unexpectedly died.

My husband was in a particularly vulnerable place at that stage, and his dad’s passing had left him with a lot of unresolved issues. This sadna was billed as ‘the answer’ to all of life’s questions, and this big, Breslov rabbi was behind so it seemed like a great idea.

When my husband got this big Breslov rabbi as his personal mentor, we thought ‘wow, what an honor!’ Six weeks’ in, my husband really, really wanted to switch mentors, and I wouldn’t let him. I thought it was just his ego, and that this ‘big Breslov rabbi’ was heaven-sent to help us both grow and progress.

Man, was I wrong. That guy completely messed my husband up, severely messed up my shalom bayit (for years!) by telling my husband that he ‘lacked manliness’ and left us in a place where my husband was profoundly disliking himself and everyone else, too.

That set the stage for false rabbi #2 to step in.

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As a result of false rabbi #1, we started to think that so many of our relationships were unhealthy and toxic. We asked rabbi #2 what to do about all these poisonous, unhealthy, distressing relationships – and he told us to cut off contact and ‘challenge’ everyone on their flaws.

(Again, the polar opposite of the ‘Azamra’ approach).

Within a few short months, we were almost completely friendless and so very, very lonely. Still, I had no idea that all these rabbis weren’t the real deal, didn’t have ruach hakodesh and were actually no more clued up about my life and what I should be doing in it than I was myself.

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Around this same time, false rabbi #3 started giving a whole bunch of classes about how people with emuna shouldn’t work for a living (without telling his class that his wife was slaving away at a full-time job in order to support his family….)

At that point, my husband was so miserable, and so desperate for things to feel better, he decided he needed to show God how much emuna he had by quitting the job that he’d also come to hate. He told this ‘rabbi’ his plan – and instead of talking him out of it, the guy egged him on!

So he quit.

And six months later, we had to sell our house to pay the bills, which segued into a whole, incredibly difficult few years that Baruch Hashem we finally started to come out of a couple of years’ back.

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At the time all this was happening, we had no clue that all three of these ‘rabbis’ weren’t so good for us.

All these false rabbis knew more Torah than us, they all had impeccable credentials, they all looked the part and talked the talk.

But following their advice left our life in tatters, and came pretty close to permanently sinking my faith in humanity.

Within two short weeks of asking Hashem to show us who the real Tzaddikim in the world really were, all these ‘false rabbis’ got unmasked – at least in our eyes – one after another. Which was a good thing, because we finally had clarity, but also a ‘bad’ thing, inasmuch as my desire to ‘out’ them and to tell everyone else about them was so overwhelming, I almost set up a website devoted to doing just that.

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What stopped me was a visit to Rabbi Arush.

Without us saying the names or any identifying details of the rabbis who had burned us so badly, we could see that Rav Arush knew exactly what we were talking about. He told my husband he wasn’t crazy for thinking what he was thinking – three times – and then told my husband – again three times – to just have patience.

Things would sort themselves out, eventually.

Again, this was clearly advice from a true tzaddik, but at the time it took so much effort to calm down and follow it. I was so full of vengeance! I was so angry! I was so disgusted! Today, I thank God a hundred times a day for Rav Arush and his advice, and that Hashem helped us to actually follow it.

Because after doing a good couple of years’ hitbodedut on the whole subject of ‘false rabbis’ I’ve realized that while it would be SOOO easy to blame all my problems and my difficulties on them, in reality, God was behind everything that happened to us, and we certainly deserved everything we went through.

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It’s human nature to want the short-cut, to want the easy life.

The idea that I can find a ‘rabbi’ who will tell me what to do, and how to think, and how to act and decide all the difficult details of my life – and it’ll then all turn out perfect all the time – is overwhelmingly appealing to most people, especially in our generation, when we’re so beset by inner turmoil and huge doubts, anxieties and fears.

But Hashem only created us in order for us to get to know Him, and to exercise our free choice. So when we try to give our free choice away to another person – even if that person is genuinely a tzaddik and amazing in all respects – that’s only going to lead to trouble, one way or another.

Whatever ‘reed’ we rely on, that is not Hashem, is destined to splinter in our hands.

When it came to our three false rabbis, each one was reflecting our own prejudices and problems, in some way. That’s why we liked them so much. One of them was basically telling us that our lives were entirely in our hands, and that all it took to fix everything was ‘clarity and willpower’. God was effectively out the picture.

Another one was basically telling us that the way to deal with whatever and whoever we didn’t like was simply to cut them out of the picture and pretend they didn’t exist – even though God had sent them into our lives for an express purpose. We had a lot of teshuva we needed to make and that’s why we had all these difficult people mirroring our own difficulties back at us in such a disturbing way.

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Again, cutting these ‘messengers’ out of the picture the way we did was effectively cutting God out the picture.

Another one was playing to our false sense of piety, and reflecting back at us our (false…) inner conviction that a) we were on a high enough spiritual level to be sustained economically with no effort other than prayer and b) God somehow ‘owed’ us an easy, good life for doing all this extra, super-duper pious stuff. Again, we liked this guy initially because he was telling us what we wanted to hear.

And so it is with all these false rabbis.

They tell us what we want to hear, they play to our prejudices, they promise us shortcuts in our spiritual work, if only we follow them and throw our ability to choose for ourselves away.

And then when it all goes wrong, they go AWOL and / or tell us it was all our fault, anyway.

And on some level, they’re actually right, because we are all responsible for our own actions and our own decisions.

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You went ahead and married the guy? Stop blaming the matchmaking for forcing you into it.

You went ahead and quit your job? Stop blaming your friend for talking you into it.

You went ahead and made a really terrible business investment? Stop blaming the person who made the introduction.

This is the lesson I had to learn – the hard way – for myself. We chose to start blaming other people for our problems. We chose to listen to people who told us to cut ourselves from everyone else. We chose to try to live on prayer alone.

Ultimately, the buck stops with us.

There is no-one else to blame, and no-one else to point the finger at.

Understanding that is key to moving past the hurt and betrayal caused by all these false rabbis, so that we can get to the next stage of the process called: how to trust again.

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A little while back, when I was talking to God about how One in a Generation, the biography of Rav Eliezer Berland, seemed to have gotten permanently stuck, I got the following insight:

That book can only come out with a lot of shaflut (lowliness) and humility.

Aha! So now I understood the problem: I was still far too full of myself and patting myself on the back for writing the book, and that was the main spiritual issue holding it up. But how to resolve that problem? (Because let’s be clear, working on these bad middot takes years and years and years…)

God gave me another insight:

“Rivka, I am going to send you people to diss you day and night, until the book sees the light of day!”

Great, thanks Hashem!

And you know what? He’s kept His word.

The last month, barely a day has gone past without someone having a go at me either in person, on the phone, via text or online.

One of my kids has been particularly good at dishing out the shaflut in person- her recent PTA meeting was one of the most humbling experiences of the type I’ve had, BH – but she’s by no means the only person drenching me in these ‘dissing diamonds’.

One time, I got chewed out so badly – and so unexpectedly – that I sat on the couch shaking for a full hour after the conversation (which if you follow spiritualselfhelp.org, you’ll know is the body’s natural response to ‘shaking out’ the trauma, so you don’t get PTSD or C-PTSD).

Yes, it was that bad.

There’s also been a flurry of people queuing up to diss my writing, too, and my general lack of editorial professionalism. And then there’s been a few sent along to diss my overall grasp of reality and good judgment.

And that’s on top of all my ongoing, bog standard shaflut that comes from earning zero pence whilst working like a dog; being a really bad housewife; and still being unable to express myself properly in the local makolet (corner shop).

Man, it’s been a veritable dissing extravaganza the last few weeks, with the diamonds literally pouring in through the roof!

And you know what?

It’s working.

Yesterday, on zot Chanuka, I sent the manuscript for Volume 1 of One in a Generation to the designer, and I already know that for this part of the process to get completed in a timely way with minimal issues, I am going to have to continue to be dissed royally for at least the next month.

And that’s even before the book comes out, which let’s be clear, is going to lead to yet another huge ‘diss Rivka’ event on Facebook etc, as the usual suspects gear themselves up for more self-righteous, confused-thinking evil speech.

Yay! I can’t wait.

The upside of all this dissing is that I am definitely seeing a huge number of brachas occurring in a number of areas of my life, just as Rav Berland said would happen.

The downside is that I’m really starting to go off interacting with people, and the thought of retiring to some remote island with no internet connection – or people – is getting more and more appealing.

How to square this circle?

Enter, Rav Ofer Erez, who wrote this great article on his website, last week:

“We have to remember that Yosef was just 18 years old when he was sent to prison. Usually, when something much smaller happens to us – if just two people don’t treat us so nicely we immediately start believing that everyone’s a liar, everyone’s a fraud and there’s no such thing as a good person – i.e. we immediately lose our faith in humanity, and become bitter, angry and harshly judgmental of others….

“For 12 whole years, Yosef worked on this point, that he shouldn’t become angry, bitter and harshly judgmental against other people, inasmuch as everything came from Hashem, and was ultimately for his good.

“…How can a person merit to avoid any trace of harsh judgment and anger? This is called the secret of dancing.

“We need to know that if people are making us angry, or hurting us, then just doing hitbodedut (personal prayer) isn’t going to be enough. We also need to dance during our hitbodedut, and to do at least 8 minutes of dancing.”

Aha!

Just what I needed to know, because while I am still trying to understand the deeper reasons behind why so many people are chewing me out, and while I am still trying to forgive them and to not hold a grudge against them, it’s sooooo hard to do this in practice!

Especially the times when I know I don’t deserve it, and the person is actually just projecting their own issues on to me. (I wish I could tell you that’s always the case, but clearly I often do deserve being dissed, because I’m not always nice, or thoughtful, or considerate of other people.)

So today, I was careful to dance for a full 8 minutes, as recommended by Rav Ofer, and it really did help.

If I’m going to get ‘dissing diamonds’ raining down on my head, let me at least have buns of steel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And again.

And again.

Until finally the hour was up.

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

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

The guard on the gate came over and explained:

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

And that’s how it is with us, too.

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

The real diamonds.

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

So don’t give up.

We’re nearly there.

I’m now on my second official ‘teen’, which doesn’t make me the world’s expert on teens, but is giving me a lot of useful insights that I thought other people could also benefit from.

The single biggest problem I notice with teens – starting at 13/14 – is that when they acquire ‘maturity’, i.e. they get to the age where they are required to keep mitzvahs in their own right – their yetzer hara pulls a huge trick on them, and this is it:

It convinces them that they don’t have a yetzer hara.

So every time they are overwhelmed with life, depressed, annoying, selfish, thoughtless, confused, irritating, aggressive, emotional etc etc etc – their yetzer is telling them over and over again that THIS IS THE REAL YOU!!!!

This annoying, somewhat icky person IS THE REAL YOU!!!

And if the parents don’t understand what is really going on with their teens, they can unwittingly play right into the yetzer’s hand by reinforcing the message that this lazy, selfish, irritating slob is THE REAL THEM!!!

But really?

Our teens are SO good.

They are so considerate, thoughtful, caring, sensitive and deep. Just modern life overwhelms them so quickly, and then their yetzer piles in with all its poisonous ‘THIS IS THE REAL YOU!!!’ stuff, and unless the parents are there to tell them otherwise, they completely believe it.

From my own experience, the single biggest kindness you can do for your teenager is to keep re-inforcing – to them – that the real them is ONLY good.

Yes, that person who keeps leaving plates full of mouldy food in their bed (!); that person who keeps losing their Rav Kav every single week, causing a family-wide panic at 6am when they have to get the bus to school; that person who out of no-where starts ranting at you that they got all your ugly / fat / hairy genes and it’s ruining their life; that person who routinely forgets that you get up much earlier than they do, most days, and therefore need to get to bed before 2am; that person who keeps stealing your deodorant – and even your toothbrush – without telling you –

THAT PERSON IS ONLY GOOD!!!!

The more you keep reminding yourself, and your teen, of this, the better it will be for everyone.

I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but now that I’m on to my second teenager, I can see that this really is the best piece of advice a parent could have, for dealing with their teens. Because we have to understand that every time we criticise them – instead of just focusing on unacceptable behaviour, and  making it clear that this bad behaviour is simply coming from their yetzers, and NOT THE REAL THEM – we are simply reinforcing all their huge feelings that they aren’t good enough, kind enough, nice enough, clever enough etc etc etc.

And if that is programmed in too much in the teenage years, it can literally take a lifetime to overcome (with an awful amount of siyatta d’shmiya).

I get a lot of miserable teens passing through my house.

So many of my kids’ peers have really awful relationships with their parents, because the parents keep piling on guilt trips, power plays, punishments and ultimatums to try and maintain the upper hand in the relationship.

It’s so sad, because I see the gap growing between these kids and their parents, and I know where that leads: to dysfunctional families, unhappy people, never-ending tension and strife, all sorts of mental health challenges and other issues, including kids going off the derech.

So do your kid – and yourself – a huge favour, and ONLY SEE THE GOOD.

I can’t do this all the time, it’s true. There are time when I’ve completely snapped at my teens and said things I really regretted. But each time that happened, I’ve apologised profusely, and I’ve re-stated my true position, i.e. you, kid, are only good, and I’m also only good.

But man, are your yetzers on the wild side.

The last couple of months, it’s been striking me that more and more of us are being challenged to finally cross that ‘very narrow bridge’ that each of us has in our own lives, which is somehow separating us from God.

For one person, their ‘bridge’ might be the realization that they’ve been an absolutely awful, deranged, abusive spouse. For another person, the ‘bridge’ might be the sudden understanding that they’ve been wasting years – decades! – running after their business, or their job, or their big house in the pursuit of the chimera called ‘financial security’ which was meant to take away all their anxiety and finally make them feel good.

Yet another person has to cross the bridge that shows them that they’ve effectively turned into the parent they despised as a child, while someone else will have to cross a ‘bridge’ of extreme loneliness, or extreme despair, or extreme anger to find God and emuna and true solace on the other side.

But here’s one thing I’ve learned about crossing the very narrow bridge: no-one else can do it for you.

A spouse, a parent, a friend, even a rabbi or a Rebbe, they can stand on the side and shout encouragement, they can even tie ropes to you and try to drag you over, but when it all comes down to it, there is only one person who can actually cross that bridge: you.

This has a lot of profound implications, at least for me, when it comes to trying to figure out how to help people cross their narrow bridges. As time goes on, I’m seeing more and more that really the only help I can give them is encouragement to turn to Hashem with all of their problems.

Sure, I can spend hours having lengthy conversations about how cruel and unfair and mad the world is, or how ‘horrible’ everyone else is, or how ‘x’ is really the solution to the problem (‘x’ being anything other than complete emuna in Hashem) – but ultimately, I’ve discovered that all those words don’t actually help so much.

The same goes for trying to throw money or tangible help at someone else’s ‘big issue’. Anything I can do easily, that’s not going to drag me into madness and upset in my own life, I’m willing to do 100%. But in the past I used to think that I could somehow ‘fix’ other people’s issues, if I only threw enough understanding, cash or effort at the problem.

Now I know better.

Now, I know that each of us is being challenged to the cracking point by Hashem, and that no-one else can take our problems away until and unless we make teshuva and wholeheartedly return to God.

That’s the whole point of why all the craziness is going on, and having other people step in to try to soften the blow or deflect the difficulty is actually not helping the suffering person very much at all, at this stage of the game, external appearances notwithstanding.

Tachlis, each of us has a very narrow, scary bridge to cross, to get to Hashem and Moshiach and the geula.

On one side, is all our arrogance, belief in our own abilities, ‘security blankets’ and imaginary ideas about how the world really works, and how much we’re in control.

On the other, is Hashem and emuna and the geula.

And no-one else can cross that bridge for us.

If there is one thing, one theme, that keeps coming up again and again in all the stories I’m hearing, and the people I’m talking to, and all the difficulties so many of us are having right now, it’s this:

We have to stop lying to ourselves about what’s really going on in our lives.

That is the theme, the message, underlying everything I see going on right now, both at the micro and the macro level.

God’s seal is truth, and whenever we stay stuck in a ‘fantasy’ version of our lives and continue to live in ‘pretend world’, we become disconnected from truth, and from God, and from our own souls, and that has enormous implications for us, our family, and the wider environment.

God is saying to all of us:

“Stop looking away from the yucky stuff you know is really there! Stop pretending you don’t have a problem with food, with fear, with lust, with money, with jealousy, with anger. Stop pretending its ‘OK’ that you feel so unloved by so many of the really important people in your life! Stop making excuses for all your bad middot, and all the horrible things that you’ve been doing to people (for years…).

“Stop running away into fantasy land! Stop reading the news every five seconds, or checking your Facebook account, or logging on to emails again, to take your mind off that gnawing feeling of discomfort churning away in your stomach.

“Whatever it is, you have to turn around and face it down! Stop running away now!”

It’s so hard, isn’t it?

Because usually, we only pushed down and repressed those feelings and thoughts so much in the first place because they were too hard and painful for us to really deal with, and process.

But Moshiach is at the door, and God can’t take us all into that world of truth until we pry ourselves out of the world of lies – or to put it more accurately, until we pry the world of lies OUT from inside of ourselves.

This is really hard work, and it can only be successfully accomplished with lashings and lashings of self-love and compassion. And courage.

Because it takes a lot of courage to lift the veil, remove the filter, and to really look at how I’m acting and thinking, and why, and what good or damage that’s causing in the world.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by what I’m writing here – congratulations!

That means you’re a lot more connected to the world of truth than most people, already. It’s a short hop, skip and jump from that uncomfortable feeling to real progress and internal change.

But only with love! Only with understanding that our yetzer hara – and everyone else’s yetzer hara, too – is bigger than we are. If God didn’t help us to overcome it, we’d have absolutely no chance.

So there’s really only two things we can (and should…) justifiably criticize ourselves over at this point:

1) Are we asking God to help us get a grip on our yetzer (preferably every single day)?

AND

2) Are we honestly trying to look at just how much of our behavior, belief-system and thought processes are actually yetzer driven, in the first place?

If we can’t answer ‘yes’ or ‘I’m trying’ to the first question, then for sure we can’t honestly answer ‘yes’ to the second one.

Because when God isn’t in the picture, facing ourselves down like this is just far too difficult, scary, upsetting and overwhelming.

But we’re now up to a stage in the process where there’s really no choice!

The world of truth is waiting, and the people who are continuing to lug around their own internal universe of lies simply can’t fit in to it.

But God really, really wants you there! And me there! And us there! That’s why He’s sending everyone all this incredibly difficult stuff to break us (or rather, to break our yetzers…) into pieces, because the real aim is to break us out of the world of lies.

God loves us exactly how we are. God (and definitely our teenagers…) knows our flaws even more profoundly than we ourselves do.

When we continue to lie to ourselves about who we really are, and what’s really going on, and what we really feel and why, there’s really only one person that we’re actually managing to fool, long term:

Ourselves.

And that’s what’s really holding up Moshiach, and the world of truth.

Instead of talking about ‘surrendered wives’, we should focus on the ‘surrendered husband’.

I don’t really follow trends in the secular world so much these days, but even so, it’s come across my radar that there’s a new approach to making your marriage work which is called: ‘The surrendered wife’.

I haven’t read the book (or done the course… or watched the film…) but it seems that the idea is that instead of nagging and finding fault, the ‘surrendered wife’ quietly sits there smiling demurely while her husband continues to indulge his rage fits, lack of emuna, emotional disconnect, other bad middot and drug and / or alcohol abuse.

(Of course I’m exaggerating to make a point – I hope! – because that’s what writers do.)

But that’s the basic idea of the ‘surrendered wife’. There’s just one problem with this: It’s completely and utterly backwards, according to the authentic Jewish teachings of how a marriage should really work.

Rav Shalom Arush brings down in his many books on shalom bayit (All of which have approbations from some of the biggest Gedolei Dor of the generation, including the late Rv Ovadia Yosef, z”tl) that when there are problems in the marriage, they are down to one thing, and one thing only:

THE HUSBAND’S BAD MIDDOT AND LACK OF EMUNA.

I know that doesn’t sit well with all the Western, feminist brainwashing we’ve all been bombarded with since birth, but that’s how the world works, and that’s how God created the situation.

If we don’t accept that THAT is really how marriage works, we’ll never be able to stem the disastrous tide of couples getting divorced.

To put it another way, instead of talking about the ‘surrendered wife’, we need to be talking about the ‘surrendered husband’.

Which is where we hit the first objection: So many of our men are struggling so hard with such enormously bad middot at the moment, that getting them to surrender anything today – like their obsessive TV watching, or their worries about money, or their three nightly beers- is already akin to an open miracle.

Again, let’s be clear what’s going on today: we are one of the last, if not the last generation before Moshiach comes. All of the difficult souls that haven’t been rectified over the last 5778 years are back again now, in this generation, to have one last shot at being fixed.

When someone has been letting their anger problem ride for 5,000 years already, or their spiteful, vengeful and critical tendencies grow unchecked for five millennia, that adds up to an awful lot of hard spiritual work to try to do in just one lifetime.

That’s a big part of the reason that modern life, and modern marriage, is just so hard today.

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Here’s another crucial part of the puzzle, that we can’t ignore if we want to understand how marriages REALLY work: husband and wife are two parts of the same soul. Whatever good you have in yourself, is there – often latent – in him. And whatever bad you see in yourself is somehow there – often latent – in you. And also vice versa.

On some very profound level, husbands and wives are just mirroring each other.

But here’s the thing to remember: authentic Judaism teaches that the MAN is the giver, and the woman is the receiver. Whatever the MAN gives out, gives over, gives across into his marriage and home, that’s what he’s going to get back.

Rav Arush teaches in all of his shalom bayit books that when it comes to marriage, the man is like the sun and the woman is like the moon.

If the wife isn’t getting much (or any….) light from her husband, then she has NOTHING to reflect back at him except annoyance, coldness, anger and criticism.

But if she’s getting acceptance, love and light from her husband, not only will she reflect it back at him, she’ll amplify it.

This is important to grasp, because wherever the ‘problem’ manifests in the marriage, it’s ALWAYS somehow rooted in the man, and his lack of emuna and bad middot.

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So now, what’s the woman’s part in this?

(I have two teenagers with feminist sympathies at home, so we’ve gone through this debate quite a few times already.)

Simply put: to pray on her husband, and to ask God to help him fix his lack of emuna and bad middot.

Because yes, nagging, whining and complaining doesn’t work.

But neither does just lying there like a doormat whilst your husband continues to pretend that all HIS issues are really just yours (and your mother’s….).

If I could tell new brides one thing, it would be this: don’t look away and pretend you can’t see your husband’s faults and issues and struggles, because over time they are only going to get worse!

Don’t make excuses for his critical nature, selfishness, alcoholism, complete lack of emuna, anger fits or dishonest business dealings, because whatever you don’t recognize and get to work on ASAP could really end up sinking your marriage, and your family, another 15 years down the road.

If you see your husband isn’t treating you nicely, or isn’t acting the way he should be in other areas, ask God to help you! Pray on it! Start doing an hour of hitbodedut every single day to work out what you can and should be doing with and for your husband to get these problems resolved.

Send him to Uman for Rosh Hashana! Every single year!

THIS is the wife’s part of the marriage equation, to pray her socks off and courageously look at the challenges facing her husband while still showing him a great deal of love and compassion.

After 20 years of being yelled at, criticized, mocked, frightened, ‘punished’ and mistreated, it’s very hard to do anything with love and compassion. It’s very hard to find the strength required to get God involved in turning things around. So don’t leave it until then!

Start ASAP, while your love for him and his for you is still strong enough to weather the really tough patches that are inevitably going to come, even with all your praying and all his sincere efforts to improve.

And enough, already, with all this ‘surrendered wife’ rubbish: it’s the husbands who need to ‘surrender’ their bad middot and other negative character traits, and the sooner, the better.

Sigh.

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I heard three ‘we’re getting divorced’ stories in two days last week. Am Yisrael is cracking at the seams.

Enough making excuses! Enough pretending that the goyim and all their funny ideas about women’s lib and marriage are really doing anything to help anyone’s relationship stay the course!

Go back to the authentic Jewish way, to the ‘surrendered husband’ model, and if you’re a wife, start praying your socks off for your husband to learn more emuna, and to get God more involved in the picture

Because THAT IS THE ONLY WAY THAT REALLY WORKS.

Photo by Schesco Nyarwaya on Unsplash

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If you want your marriage to last the distance, put your spouse first.

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.

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