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Sigh.

Sometimes, I get so frustrated by all this fake, politically correct ‘equality’ stuff that is really just another excuse for people with bad middot to start taking out their own issues and frustrations on everyone else.

Recently, I had to send another email around to Sassonmag.com writers, to remind them to please avoid any photos of ladies next to their pieces. This has been the policy of Sasson since its inception, just sometimes people forget, as people are wont to do, especially when swimming in the moral swamp of the internet.

There are a few reasons why I wanted to avoid pictures of ladies on Sasson. One of them is that I want it be an inclusive site for as many frum Jews as possible, and if there are photos of ladies on the site, that’s going to unnecessarily exclude a whole bunch of people.

It’s like having a ‘Badatz’ certification on your restaurant. If it’s ‘Badatz’, most people will eat there. If it doesn’t have a hechsher, most people who are interested in consuming kosher food simply won’t eat there. The same sort of idea applies to sites that are trying to cater to the orthodox community.

So, inclusivity is one reason why I don’t want pictures of ladies on Sasson.

But there’s another, much more important reason why I don’t want pictures there, or also here, on rivkalevy.com, which you can sum up like this:

Personally, I don’t want my photo everywhere.

Personally, I don’t want to be put under pressure to ‘wig up’ or slap on the make-up in order to be taken seriously as a writer. Personally, I don’t want my writing, my ideas, to be judged on how I look.

I want people to relate to my writing, not to my photograph, and in this image-gorged world, that is becoming an increasing rarity.

There’s something else, too.

Personally, I don’t want my husband looking at sites where all those gorgeous lipsticked women are showing their best side to the camera, while they give over their insights and Torah. Call me crazy! Call me idiotic! But I strongly prefer that my husband ‘relates’ to other women as little as possible.

There’s something else, too.

Personally, I don’t want my two teenage daughters to get sucked into that fake, false world of ‘appearance’, where the message they are getting 24/7 is that appearance is EVERYTHING.

If you’re fat, if you’re ugly, if you’re teeth stick out, if you have bad acne, or frizzy hair of a terrible dress sense – no-one is going to take you seriously, honey.

That’s the message the world of images gives women, especially young women.

And I’m so grateful that the world of Torah, the authentic, frum Jewish world, is giving out the opposite message:

That it’s the inside that counts.

That it’s the neshama that counts. That it’s not the packaging a person’s soul comes in that’s really important, but how that soul is acting, and what that soul is saying.

Sadly, there appear to be a whole bunch of apparently ‘frum’ women out there fighting to put all the focus on the outside, and on external appearances. These superficial ‘fighters for women’s freedom’ are trying to force women’s pictures into every single space under the guise of ‘equality’.

Now, I believe in the principle of free choice. You want to slap big, faux-glamorous pictures of yourself with your too-wide fake smile all over the place, please go right ahead. It’s a free country after all, and free choice is the whole reason God created us.

But I get extremely upset when these individuals try to force everyone else into following their dictates, with the same sort of ‘shaming’ and pressure tactics psychos of all stripes have been using online for two decades, now.

These people go on about how ‘unfair’ it is to women, to not have their images in frum publications. They go on about how ‘fanatical’ it is, and how ‘extreme’ it is, and how ‘backwards’ it is. They regret how ‘closed minded’ publications and institutions are that follow this policy, which smacks to them of – eek! – some sort of ‘ultra orthodox’ or chassidic mind control.

I’ve been pondering on all this OTT hysteria for a while, but after writing my post on BTs, I think I’ve got a bit more insight into what’s going on. From what I can see, all of the women (and PC men) clamoring for more women in frum publications are baal teshuvas.

They are people who left the secular world behind, and now seem to be kind of chafing at the restrictions that come as part and parcel of being an orthodox Jew. Instead of accepting that the fault, the issue, the problem is really with them, these people are trying to get past their discomfort by attempting to change the orthodox world to ‘fit’ with their own, still half-secular worldview.

In some ways, I understand it, at least a bit.

For a while there, I also bought into all those internet ‘experts’ telling me and everyone else who wants to listen that people relate more to an image, they trust you more when they see an image, they will buy more of your product, book more of your services if they can see you…

So says all the internet experts.

But God is totally out of the picture with this approach, and it’s just not going to lead to any real, or lasting blessings.

I learned this the hard way.

Two years ago when I published the Secret Diary, I managed to get an interview about the book into the Jewish Press. We were all set to go – when I got the bombshell request that I had to give them a couple of pictures of me, to go with the piece.

Can’t we just stick with the cover of the book?

I pleaded with them. After all, that cover had been so complicated to sort out, precisely because I was trying to avoid untznius images of women. But no, we couldn’t. And I’m sorry to tell you, my emuna wobbled and I gave in and sent them a couple of pictures.

You know what? I don’t think I sold as much as a single copy of the book, thanks to that interview. Nothing. Nada. Nega nega tory. And in the meantime, I don’t know what having those pictures ‘out there’ cost my neshama spiritually, but it definitely wasn’t worth it.

Thanks to all those ‘fighters for women’s freedom’ out there, who are increasingly making it impossible for frum women to participate in anything unless they are willing to be photographed publically, I wasn’t given a choice to not have any images next to my piece in the paper.

Way to go, sisters! Thanks so much for emancipating me like that!

Thanks to you and all your self-righteous outrage and politically-correct ‘piety’, I got stuck having to buy into the warped values and upside-down ‘equality’ of the world of images – that same world that bought us Harvey Weinstein, #Me Too, and an ongoing dumbing down of standards, morals, dress and behavior in the public arena.

Personally, I don’t want to look at pictures of women.

Personally, I don’t want my husband to look at pictures of women.

Personally, I don’t want my kids to be caught up in that world that degrades and downgrades women to just another ‘pretty face’ or piece of cleavage, or curly wig.

I want there to be a safe space, an alternative to the world of images.

Not everyone has to think the same way. Not everyone has to want pictures of women on their sites – even if they are women themselves, as I am.

And there are some very good reasons for that, including that God has put a whole bunch of rules in place for religious Jews that often seem to hold us back, or cause us some sort of material disadvantage, but which really only lead to tremendous blessings for us.

Those blessings are often hidden, and aren’t immediately obvious. That’s part of the test. But they are definitely there.

For example, my husband and I don’t have smart phones. Even though my children do, neither of them has internet access, and whatever they do have on there is also being filtered by Etrog. They basically use their phones for Whatsapp, pictures and music – that’s it.

Tell me, how many people have 18 year olds with smartphones who are completely disinterested in the world wide web, or 15 year olds with smartphones who don’t give a hoot about Instagram?

I know my mesirut nefesh to avoid smart phones is having some massive, positive repercussions on my family, even though it means I can’t film myself giving over ‘wisdom’ every five minutes, or thinly-disguised plugs for my books, to post up on Youtube and Instagram and Facebook.

Another thing: Baruch Hashem, my husband works as a lawyer, and I’m continually amazed at how God is sending him clients. My husband does no marketing, works afternoons only, as he learns in the morning, and doesn’t have Whatsapp. And yet, God is continually sending him more clients and good parnassa, BH.

Over the last few years, I honestly did have a few occasions when I felt that I was missing out on being able to publicise my work, my books, my ideas, to a wider audience because I couldn’t just video classes on Google hangouts and upload them to Youtube.

But you know what?

More and more, I’m starting to see what a blessing it is to be out of all that social media murk.

I’m seeing the toll it’s taking on people spiritually, I’m seeing how much of their soul, their values, their yiddishkeit, their connection to Hashem, they are really selling out, for precious little real return, appearances notwithstanding.

So, I’m standing firm on the ‘no pictures of women’ thing.

Call me backwards, call me discriminatory, call me narrow minded, whatever you want (I know you’re going to anyway.)

But understand something:

A Jew never misses out by trying to do the right thing by Hashem, and by following the path of self-sacrifice to keep God’s laws.

Just sometimes, it can take a while for that to become obvious.

When I first met my husband, he wasn’t observant.

He was raised ‘traditional’, and the synagogue his family didn’t go to was always orthodox. He came back home for Rosh Hashana, and ate matzah on Pesach, and fasted for Yom Kippur – but he didn’t really know why he was doing any of that stuff.

My husband had been sent to Jewish day schools all his life, before he got to university. All his friends were Jewish throughout high school, and that predominantly continued into university, too.

But my husband, and his Jewish friends, really had no idea why living as a Jew, or marrying a Jew, or having Jewish kids was important. All the parents definitely wanted their children to marry a Jew – but really, that was as far as it went. And that desire was based on something deeply felt, rather than deeply thought or understood, so it was impossible for them to really explain to their children why be a Jew.

And in the meantime, being a Jew just seemed to consist of a long list of mitzvoth and commandments that were designed to make life inconvenient and uncomfortable.

Being a Jew meant you couldn’t just eat what you wanted, and where you wanted to. It meant you had all the hassle of not working past sundown on a Friday.

It meant a whole day where you couldn’t just watch TV, turn lights on and off and go shopping. It meant an obligation to go to shul three times a day, where you’d have to mumble words you didn’t really understand or relate to.

It meant you couldn’t date who you wanted, or marry who you wanted.

In short, one big list of burdensome requirements that didn’t seem to be doing anything useful or concrete in the world.

I happened to meet my future husband in a pub in London, three days before I was due to fly back out to Canada to finish my last year of university.

In contrast to him, I’d never been to a Jewish school, and I’d spent most of my life being bullied and ostracized for being different.

My parents sent me to the local Church of England primary school, in part because the education was meant to be better there. That place seemed stuffed full of bosom-y matrons who seemed to be obsessed with witches’ covens and forcing Yoshki down your throat.

I was bullied from day one, as was the Indian girl in my class who also didn’t fit in with the working class white goyim who made up the rest of the class. But it’s only when I was around 9 years old that people started telling me that I’d “killed their Khrist”.

The bullying continued, one way and another, throughout high school – all three of them, because we moved to Canada when I was 14, and I kept moving around. It was only when my parents returned to observant Judaism, when I was 16, that I actually started to meet any Jews at shul.

And a lot of them were pretty nice, and pretty friendly.

My own experiences had taught me some very valuable lessons about the real differences between Jews and non-Jews.

And so even though initially I chafed at not being able to eat in McDonalds anymore, and not being able to do things on Friday nights, I still bought into kosher and Shabbat, because I could see it was part of the package. That’s not to say I had a clear answer as to why be a Jew at that stage, other than to say if God made you a Jew, then that is what you were meant to be.

So, I went through university as a ‘modern orthodox’ Jew who really believed in God but still wore jeans and watched movies and ate a lot of vegetarian out, and then one fateful day, I met my husband-to-be in that pub.

We hit it off immediately, and by the second date I knew we were going to end up getting married (which clearly made him think I was a grade ‘A’ psycho, but that’s a tale for another time.)

After a year of me being in Canada and him being in London, I moved back to the UK with an eye to getting engaged and married.

And that’s when me and my husband-to-be started to have some massive arguments about what it meant to live life as a Jew.

He’d gone through a nominally orthodox Jewish schooling system, and had come out of that thinking that Judaism was just a set of archaic laws that bore no relation to modern life. The only reason Jews didn’t eat pork is because of trichinosis! The Torah had all been made up by a bunch of controlling rabbis, and God had nothing to do with it! The temples had never existed, it was all a bunch of fairy stories! (God forbid).

All of his friends and relatives also held the same views, so I found myself fighting a battle on so many fronts. And to be honest, I didn’t really have the right ammunition at that stage, or enough knowledge, or any real emuna, so the argument basically came down to the importance of having Jewish children, and raising them in a healthier atmosphere where they would feel as though they belonged, instead of being bullied all the time.

One time during an argument, I asked him: “Do you really want our kids to be doing drugs in some club on a Friday night, instead of eating a meal with us?!” After we got married, my husband told me that had been the clincher, at that stage, for why we should keep kosher, and why we should keep Shabbat, and why we should try to be consistent in our observance.

But I can see now that really, it’s not such a strong argument.

Especially not today, when there are so many kids raised in observant homes who are also going off the path.

All of us know of kids raised in apparently very frum homes who have left the path completely, including the recent, extreme, example of the four girls from Chassidic homes in the US who very publically converted to xtianity.

So the question of why be a Jew is even more pertinent today, and part of the reason why providing a truly satisfying answer is often so difficult is because so many of us are still trying to argue from a place of being a body, instead of being a soul.

WHAT DOES A BODY LIKE?

What does a body like? A body likes comfort. It likes to eat good food, it likes to have its desires met, its lusts gratified. It likes to feel like it’s a ‘somebody’, like it’s a success, and to display its external achievements and superiority over other people via all sorts of status symbols like clothing, a big house, a nice car, and fancy holidays.

If we’re arguing about why be a Jew from the place of just being a body, we are going to lose the debate every single time.

And from what I can see, this is most of the reason why so many people are leaving their yiddishkeit behind, and why even people who are raised in orthodox environments just view the Torah’s commandments as something burdensome that’s causing them to miss out on all the ‘fun’ and ‘good stuff’ the world has to offer.

Recently, someone told me about one of his good friends, who’d been sent to an orthodox Jewish school until he was 18, married a Jewish girl after university, and who considered himself to be ‘orthodox’. Three years ago, this guy decided that he was missing out on all the delicious-looking traif meat being served in all the fancy restaurants he was going to as part of his highly-paid profession.

He was sick of ordering the fish option, and started to eat expensive traif. The body won the argument hands-down.

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE SOUL-DIMENSION

But of course, there’s a whole other dimension to why be a Jew, and that is the spiritual, or soul dimension. And here is where the debate really needs to be taking place. After three years of eating fancy traif, the man in the previous story became severely depressed – despite his externally ‘perfect’ lifestyle – and he’s now on anti-depressants.

If you’d ask him, he’d say there is absolutely no connection between his current emotional difficulties and his decision to stop keeping kosher. Even though he went through an orthodox Jewish school for 12 years, and comes from an orthodox Jewish family, he was never taught the bigger picture of why be a Jew.

Apparently, no-one ever explained to him that if he wanted to really feel good about himself, if he wanted to feel as though his life was truly meaningful, if he wanted to feel happy, and satisfied, and filled-up – that he’d have to do the job God gave him to do in this world.

And what is that job?

In a nutshell, to fix the wider world by rectifying our own bad middot, our own negative character traits.

How does this work, in practice?

Rav Ofer Erez has done a fantastic job of explaining this very deep idea in THIS PIECE, but the basic idea is that there are 288 holy sparks that got lost in our lowly world when it was first created.

The whole point of life is to ‘find’ these sparks of holiness, that have been hidden in our reality, and to re-attach them back to God. When all these sparks have been returned to their rightful place, the world will be totally rectified, and we’ll have the complete geula, or redemption.

How do we do this?

We do it by living a Jewish life, and following the Torah’s commandments, and believing in God, and connecting every single thing we experience back to Him.

Why do we say brachot? Because we are connecting our food, our ability to use the bathroom, even the fact we wake up in the morning, etc, straight back to the Creator of the world. At that deeper soul level, every action we take is either fixing the world, spiritually, or pushing the holy sparks further down into the muck and obscurity.

And finding and rectifying these sparks of holiness is what gives us our true feelings of satisfaction and joy in life. That’s what makes us feel truly happy and alive.

And who doesn’t want to feel happy and alive, in 2018?

This is the real argument for why be a Jew.

But there’s another thing we should discuss too, and that’s how all this self-sacrifice to keep God’s commandments actually helps us to develop the tools we need to refine our characters – which is where the deeper work of being a Jew is really at.

Let’s go back to how people really work, physiologically and spiritually.

Physiologically, our brain is split into three main sections, as described in this infographic:

  • The primitive, or ‘snake’ brain
  • The emotional and experiential, or ‘animal’ brain
  • The higher, spiritual, or ‘human’ brain
You can learn a whole bunch more about snake brain tendencies over on spiritualselfhelp.org

The snake brain develops first, and it’s almost exclusively devoted to self-preservation, or ‘me first’.

The snake brain also regulates the body’s stress response, which manifests as our tendency to fight-flight-freeze-fawn our way through life (which is the main root of most of our bad middot).

And it’s also the seat of the body’s desire for comfort, food, and other physical lusts and pleasures (the other main root of our bad middot).

Spiritually speaking, the snake brain equates to the nefesh part of the soul, the spiritual force that’s animating the body and keeping it alive – but that’s about it.

Physiologically, when the stress response has kicked in, or the urge to eat, or to sleep, or to procreate has taken over, a person’s mind is being totally controlled by this primitive, selfish ‘snake brain’. The blood literally rushes away from the frontal lobes, the place where the functions of the ‘human’ brain reside, to feed the snake brain’s stress response. And when that desire, that fear, that anger, that lust kicks in, it’s almost impossible to stop it.

The whole process of becoming a refined human being, and a rectified Jew, depends upon breaking the snake brain’s hold over our body and mind.

So, how do we do that?

We do it by practicing mesirut nefesh, which is usually translated as ‘self-sacrifice’. More accurately, it’s talking about sacrificing the nefesh – that part of our body, that part of our brain that is so caught up in ‘me first’, lusts and bad middot.

Each time that a person exercises their free choice to:

  • NOT give into a desire to eat something, because it’s not kosher; and to
  • NOT gratify their wish to turn on a light, or check their phone, or drive out to the beach just because it’s Shabbat; and to
  • NOT procreate outside the sanctify of marriage;
  • They are breaking the hold of the snake brain, and training themselves to overcome the snake brain’s primitive, knee-jerk reactions.

At the same time, every time a person makes the effort to:

  • Pray
  • Talk to God
  • Pay some charity
  • Learn some Torah
  • Practice having empathy, which means seeing things from another person’s point of view, even if you happen to disagree 100%
  • They are strengthening the altruistic, empathetic, spiritual ‘human’ part of the brain.

Just like the muscles in the body, the more these spiritual muscles are flexed, the stronger they will become, and the more ability a person will have to practice true SELF-CONTROL.

HOW IS ALL THIS CONNECTED TO FIXING THE WORLD AND LIVING A HAPPY LIFE?

So now, let’s try to tie all this together, so we can see just how awesome God actually is, and how we actually get so many concrete benefits from following the Torah’s commandment in this world, on top of whatever spiritual rewards we’ll actually get in the world to come.

When people are constantly in the grip of their snake brain, this is what can happen:

  • The snake brain wants instant gratification, and that leads to addictive behavior. On the milder end of the scale, it’ll translate into a craving for coffee, or cake, but addiction to cigarettes, alcoholism, intimacy and drug use (including prescription drugs) are also rooted in the snake brain.
  • The snake brain is devoted to the idea of ‘me first’, or self-preservation. This is the root of all the anti-social behavior, the selfish tendencies, and the phenomenon of justifying violent, hurtful and unethical actions.
  • The snake brain cuts a person off from their ‘higher self’, so they literally start acting and reacting like an cunning animal, instead of a caring human being. That means that life is approached 100% from the superficial, external ‘body’ aspect, which tends to be extremely abrasive, angry, grasping, fearful, fake, selfish and generally ‘ucky’.

Again, there’s a very wide spectrum of behavior going on here, and most people will never be able to totally overcome the snake brain 24/7. But the more the snake brain is being brought under control, the less mental and emotional illness a person will experience, the less they’ll be in the grip of their ‘knee jerk’ reactions, and the nicer and more refined they’ll be.

To put this in Torah parlance, getting control of the snake brain is the ‘flee from evil’ part of the equation, while strengthening the human brain is the ‘do good’ is the second part of the process.

When we avoid transgressing the Torah’s negative commandments, we are effectively breaking the snake brain’s grip on us.

When we actively do the Torah’s positive commandments, we are strengthening the human brain’s ability to govern our thought processes, and to act and think more altruistically and spiritually.

And the place where this process of clarification takes place is the emotional brain, or what Rav Ofer Erez calls the world of feelings. (Take a look at his article, for more background on this idea.)

HOW KEEPING THE TORAH HELPS US OVERCOME ‘SNAKE BRAIN’

Many Jews are ‘cherry picking’ which bits of the Torah’s more ‘external’ commandments they like and want to do, and which bits they don’t. A person who only eats kosher meat but who still eats non-kosher vegetarian is still practicing some degree of self-control, and mesirut nefesh, but it’s at a much lower level than a person who is strict about their kashrut.

A person who stays home Friday night but who still turns the lights on and off, or watches TV, is still practicing some degree of mesirut nefesh, but again, it’s at a much lower level than someone who is keeping the finer points of Shabbat. Ditto, when a couple strictly keep the laws of family purity, which means intimacy is off-limits for specific times of the month.

When we only do what’s comfortable for us, we simply don’t make the same progress in breaking the snake brain’s control over us, and limiting its influence.

This means we will lack the self-control required to not eat the cheeseburger, or to not date the nice, attractive non-Jew, or to turn down a lucrative job that will have us working on Shabbat.

At the same time, there is usually almost no emphasis on things like actually believing in God, talking to Him, learning a lot of Torah, giving 10% of our income to charity, and other basic ideas that you can sum up in the phrase ‘having emuna’.

Essentially, ‘having emuna’ means that you connect every single little thing in your life back to God, and you see the world in more abstract, altruistic and spiritual terms, which again strengthens the ‘human’ brain and weakens the control of the snake brain.

In the past, Jews with this sort of belief system still stayed Jewish, they still married Jewish, either because they really had no choice; OR because they were scared of losing their families and friends by marrying out.

FEAR is one of the primary things that motivates the snake brain, so the doctrine of ‘self-preservation’ was actually served by marrying Jewish. Today, this fear no longer applies to the more traditional, but less-observant, Jewish communities, which is a big part of the reason so many people are now marrying out.

So, what’s happening in the Torah observant communities?

If a person is used to keeping Shabbat, and used to keeping kosher, and used to putting on their tzitzit every day, their physiological comfort zone is actually built on continuing to do those things. Strange as it may sound, it’s easier for the person to keep strictly kosher, because the thought of eating traif is actually nauseating and profoundly disturbing.

But that doesn’t mean that the snake brain has disappeared. It just means that its area of operations has shifted. The lust won’t be for cheeseburgers, but it will be for more socially ‘acceptable’ things like alcohol and cigarettes.

And where the battle will really take place will be in the area of a person’s bad middot and negative character traits. Anger comes from the snake brain. Fear and anxiety comes from the snake brain. Despair and despondency and laziness all come from the snake brain.

‘Me first’ is still operating in the frum community, just it manifests in a different way.

A person can keep Shabbat and kosher, and think they’ve 100% fixed their ‘snake brain’ tendencies. But if they still have times when they are angry, controlling, arrogant, selfish, cruel, alcoholic, overeating – etc etc etc – that means there is still some work to do, and still a lot of mesirut nefesh required.

So, how do we fix the problem, tachlis?

First and foremost, it comes back to having emuna, and connecting every single thing back to God. But this is also where Rebbe Nachman’s advice of doing an hour a day of hitbodedut, or talking to God in our own words really comes into its own.

When you spend 60 minutes a day talking to God, and really trying to work out what the message is God is sending you in all the things you’re experiencing, and where you need to improve, you are effectively letting your ‘human brain’ run the show for that time. And when you do this, that enables the ‘human brain’ to start over-riding all the excuses, justifications, self-righteousness, hypocrisy and arrogance that the snake brain manufactures to try to cover its tracks.

In real time, the snake brain will tell you that you are yelling at your kid because it’s good chinuch to do that, and they need to be dealt with strictly. Meanwhile, in hitbodedut, your human brain will start whispering at you that you probably over-reacted, and that you need to make some effort to fix the relationship with your kid and to figure out where your anger is actually coming from.

Throughout that 60 minutes, you will sift through the two sides – the ‘human brain’ opinion, and the ‘snake brain’ opinion – to get more clarity about what really happened, and what you really should be doing about it now.

This ‘sifting’ process will occur in the realm of our emotions and feelings, the place where the ‘outside’ interfaces with our internal dimension.

(I’m stuck oversimplifying to make the point. Hitbodedut doesn’t always work in such an obvious or linear way, especially not at the beginning. But if you stick at it and continue to talk to God regularly, you’ll get more and more clarity about what’s really going on, and why you really feel the way you do and react the way you do. Again, this is a long process! It takes 120 years for a reason.)

The crucial element of all this is having a real relationship with God, and a real connection with God.

If a person is just praying three times like a robot, just because it’s expected, then it’s not really strengthening their ‘human brain’ very much at all. (Although no word of prayer is ever said in vain, the Chassidic masters taught that our prayers can get ‘stuck’ down in this world, unable to rise up to the higher worlds where they can really start to work and to act, to change our reality. What enables the words of our prayers to rise up is developing a real connection to God.)

If a person is learning a lot of Torah, but still failing to see how their issues making a living (to quote one common example) are directly connected to how they are (mis)treating their wife, or their children, then they are still not living life with true emuna, where every tiny thing is connected back to God, and viewed through the prism of ongoing self-development, teshuva and avodat hamiddot.

Avodat hamiddot means working to lessen our negative character traits like anger, fear, despondency, jealousy, arrogance, selfishness and flattery (i.e. snake brain tendencies), while strengthening positive character traits like altruism, empathy, kindness, generosity and forgiveness (i.e. human brain tendencies.)

If a real connection to God is absent, then the snake brain will still mostly be in control, regardless of which community a person belongs to, and regardless of how externally ‘observant’ their environment actually is.

When emuna is absent, and bad middot and rote, robotic learning and praying is the norm, then many people will still be groping for a satisfactory answer to why be a Jew? But, in contrast to the less frum communities, the cost of marrying out, or dropping out of the frum world is often still high enough to keep them in and to keep them quiet about their religious doubts.

But the fundamental problem remains.

TO SUM UP:

This is a super-long post, I know, but I felt the urge to get all this down in writing today, as hopefully it can be useful to others. The ‘problem’ of people not knowing why be a Jew is not confined to non-religious communities, or communities outside of Israel.

It’s more obvious in those places, because the obvious price to be paid for marrying out and assimilating in less observant communities is much less scary. No-one sits shiva for their children these days, and the non-Jewish spouse will still be accepted by most if not all of their friends and families.

Meanwhile in Israel, the opportunity to marry out is much less, as the whole country is full of Jews.

But as we move towards Moshiach and the world of truth, God seems to be removing more and more of the superficial props and barriers that have traditionally stopped Jews from assimilating even though they often lacked a real answer to why be a Jew?

There are girls from even orthodox homes in Israel who are marrying Arab men. My daughter was working with one of these ladies a few months’ ago, and found out that she came from an emotionally-dysfunctional frum home where she was extremely unhappy.

So, we need to have a clear answer to the question of why be a Jew that goes beyond ‘because I said so’, or ‘because it will make me happy’, or ‘because the children will be Jewish.’

And here’s my best attempt at setting it down:

My child, be a Jew because God created you to fix the world in partnership with Him, and to do something that no other person can do. Each of a Jew’s 613 commandments enables them to fix their own negative character traits, and to strengthen the hand of altruism, generosity, spirituality and emuna in the world.

Be a Jew because you’ll live a far happier life, and you’ll feel much more satisfied and filled-up. You’ll have more inner peace, your personal relationships will work much better, and your life will be full of love, true meaning and vitality.

Be a Jew, because otherwise you’ll get stuck living a superficial life running after more and more of the things that can never really satisfy you, and that will only end up poisoning your soul and leaving you ultimately bitter and depressed.

Be a Jew so that God’s light can shine out of you, and light up all those dark corners of the world where so much misery, despair and evil are lurking.

Be a Jew because it’s impossible for a Jew and a non-Jew to really relate to each other as anything other than ‘bodies’ – and your soul will wither away when it gets stuck in that plastic, materialistic, superficial world.

Be a Jew so you can engage in real discussions about real things with real people – including your spouse and children. Be a Jew so that you can have the courage you need to leave the comfort zone and to discover who God really created you to be, and what your mission in life really is.

Be a Jew because I guarantee you, you will never feel truly happy being anything else, however hard you try. Bring God into every area of your life, and connect everything that happens to you back to Hashem, so that you understand that absolutely everything you do in the world is deeply meaningful.

That’s what I tell my kids.

That’s what I try to live myself.

But this whole long piece notwithstanding, I now realize that it boils down to something very simple:

I need to ask God to help my kids be Jews, and to help me and my husband to be Jews.

And if I do that on a regular basis, hopefully it’ll all turn out OK.

Sassonmag.com is kicking off what we hope will be a grown-up discussion about the best way of educating our children in the orthodox Jewish world, going forward, because really?

It’s a huge mess.

There’s a number of articles with different viewpoints and ideas going up over the next few weeks, but I just wanted to bring your attention to this piece by Varda Branfman, which is one of the most eye-opening articles on education I’ve ever read.

It explains so much, about why modern education is so broken, why so many kids loathe school, and how the system is causing problems for everyone – both the ‘winners’ and the ‘losers.’

We’re very happy to get more input, and more ideas – in a grown-up, mutually-respectful way, natch. So, take a look here:

This is another oldy, but goody. From January 2016 – but still ever so relevant today.

Someone just kindly sent me a document that was signed by pretty much every Gadol Hador you care to mention from the last few years, decrying the emergence of ‘haredi’ news sites, and warning the frum public to stay away from them.

What’s wrong with ‘haredi’ news sites, you might ask?

Don’t we need to know what’s going on with all the Rebbes, and all the issues in our local schools and communities, and all the latest appointments being made in our institutions?

Here’s where we hit a huge, halachic reality check that most of us, maybe nearly all of us, would prefer to completely ignore and pretend it doesn’t exist: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ‘GOOD’ NEWS.

What do I mean by that? I mean that even the most ‘haredi’ news site is regularly reporting things that fall completely foul of even the most basic laws of lashon hara, or evil speech.

Remember, any negative information about a Jew, even if it’s true, still counts as lashon hara.

Sure, there are times when negative information about Jews has to be publicized toelet, for a good reason, such as in cases of abuse, or to avoid potential harm or danger. But the rules governing these instances are very specific and very exacting, and they’re being completely ignored by even the most ‘haredi’ news sites.

Worse, every news site, every blog, every facebook group has its own slant, bias and agenda, even if it’s just implicit. So the ‘news’ you’re getting from that site – or from any other place – is subjectively colored by the beliefs and the desires of the people putting that information together.

Even when people are Torah-observant and well-meaning, they still have any number of subconscious biases, grudges, and prejudices that will color how and what they write, often without being consciously aware of the problems at all.

If you ask that Ashkenazi Litvak guy why he loves running negative pieces about Sephardi poskim, he probably has no idea that on some level he’s trying to prove ‘his’ approach and worldview right, at someone else’s expense.

Or, if you ask the Chassidic writer why so many of his stories are focusing on the teens going off the derech in the non-chassidic communities, he’s not going to know that he’s still fighting a subconscious battle in print with his very difficult yekke parent.

There are hidden agendas going on all over the place with the media and the people who are putting the information together, both obvious and less so. The problems of lashon hara, and people slanting information occur even with very well-meaning and genuinely God-fearing people.

But when the people putting the news out are not well-meaning, not God-fearing (however ‘frum’ they look on the outside) and very emotionally-disturbed – well then Houston, we have a problem.

Because knowledge is power. Readership is power. Huge numbers of visitors reading your site is power. And power, as well all know only too well, is completely corrupting (and also hugely attractive to emotionally-disturbed people who crave attention and influence.)

I’ve been a journalist now for more than 20 years. I started off on a financial mag straight out of university, before going on to work at a Jewish weekly in London, then freelancing for the nationals in the UK, and then going into PR and speechwriting for the British government.

A big reason why I left journalism is because I once went to a class on lashon hara in Gateshead, where the Rabbi spelled out the more basic laws so well, that I immediately understood that most of the stories I was writing for my Jewish paper – even in a well-intentioned, God-fearing way – were lashon hara.

I asked that Rabbi what a Jewish journalist should do, to avoid transgressing the laws of lashon hara, and he answered very succinctly: “Quit!”

Because I’m (trying to be…) a God-fearing Jew, I took his advice seriously, and a few months’ later, I went into PR and speechwriting instead of journalism (which had its own issues, but that’s a story for another time.)

To put this another way: God-fearing people don’t write the news.

Even on ‘haredi’ sites, they don’t abide by the laws of lashon hara, and they’ll write whatever will get the most people flocking to their sites, even if it’s outrageously deceptive, morally corrupt and completely destructive.

If they were truly God-fearing, they’d quit.

Our generation has so very many tests to contend with, I know. Sometimes, the gap between what many of us know is correct, and what we see happening in our own lives and communities is so enormous, it can plunge us into the deepest pit of despair and apathy. In our modern world, how can we not follow the news? But Hashem’s laws haven’t changed, and the rules of lashon hara still apply today – probably even more so than previously.

After I realized just how morally corrupt and corrupting all the Jewish news sites really were, even the ‘haredi’ ones, after the whole debacle with Rav Berland a few weeks’ back, I went cold turkey on reading them.

Man, it was pretty hard going the first few weeks, as following the news is addictive (which is another sign that it’s spiritually ‘bad’, because no-one gets ‘addicted’ to saying Tehillim, or eating lettuce.) I decided I needed a proxy to help me wean off the toxic Jewish news, so I picked….BBC news!

BBC news is so biased, so PC in all the worst ways, and so blatantly manipulative and untruthful, I can’t bear to spend more than 5 seconds looking at it. My yetzer gets its ‘news’ fix, but I don’t believe a word of it, because I know what a filthy place it’s coming from.

I’m not claiming this is a perfect solution, but it’s a ‘real’ solution, and at some point soon, BH, I’ll stop checking that news site, too.

The last thing to say is that while I’ve been writing about news sites, this all clearly applies to things like blogs, newsletters and Facebook groups, too.  I’ll cover Facebook in a separate post, but every time we read or write something online, the potential for contravening the laws of lashon hara are huge.

The Chofetz Chaim famously wrote that lashon hara is the sin that destroyed the last temple and caused the exile. When a person speaks negatively about another Jew, or reads something negative about another Jew, that causes hatred to blossom in their heart towards that other person.

There’s enough hatred in the world towards Jews already, without us adding more fuel to the flames.

A couple of weeks back, we got a letter through from the IDF telling my 16 ½ year old daughter that she had to report to the IDF recruiting office in Jerusalem, to discuss joining the army in another year and a half.

Lest you think these letters are only sent to secular / dati-leumi girls, you should know that we met up with a large handful of Beis Yaacov girls in the Jerusalem Beit Din’s offices, where we had to go to start the process of getting my daughter formerly exempted on religious grounds.

But while the Beis Yaacov schools then deals with the process of actually submitting the documents proving a girl is ‘religious’ to the army, we had to actually go down there ourselves to hand in the papers.

As I got to the gate of the recruiting office with my daughter, a youngish chareidi guy suddenly popped up out of nowhere and asked us if we were going to try to get my kid out of the army. The word try kind of bothered me a little, as I thought these things were routine, very simple, a done deal.

Apparently not.

The chareidi guy explained it would be much easier if I left my daughter outside, a little way off, while I handed in her documents from the Beit Din and asked for a receipt. “It’s better that way for you,” he told me, and as he was clearly on a mission to help religious girls avoid being drafted, I believed him.

Thank God, the soldier on the gate had braces and a kippa, so he wasn’t exactly intimidating. There was a big mix-up for five minutes when he thought that I was the one trying to get out of the army, but the female soldier who was on duty with him, Etti, took one look at my wrinkles and burst out with a ma pitom!!! that cleared that small misunderstanding up immediately.

Eventually, I managed to hand in the form from the Beit Din, and I got back a square piece of paper telling me that the IDF had formally received the paperwork, and would come back with a decision in two weeks.

In the car coming home, I was discussing the army with my kid, who is extremely idealistic and ‘zionistic’ in the classical sense of loving Israel, loving Jews, and being prepared to sacrifice a lot to help her people.

But not in the army.

This is the kid who went to protest Amona, and whose friends are in in Yad L’Achim, and who has big plans to make a lot of money – just so she can give it away to charity.

But after Elor Azaria, and after Shaul Goldin, H’yd, and after Amona, and after all the ridiculous political correctness about having women serving in combat positions – the IDF is looking less and less like the place that idealistic, Zionistic young Jews should be even if they were men.

The people running the country and controlling the army don’t fear Hashem. They don’t consult daat Torah before making their decisions about sending Jews into battle. They don’t have siyatta di shmaya (Heavenly help) – and very often they issue orders that go directly contrary to the Torah.

For idealistic mothers of idealistic young Jewish men, serving in the IDF presents a fearsome moral dilemma in 2017.

Thank God, I don’t have sons, so I don’t have to wrestle with that particular question in the deepest recesses of my soul. But what’s clear is that the IDF is certainly no place for Jewish women, religious or not.

When you teach a woman to kill, even in self-defense, you are cutting her off from that loving, feminine, caring, mothering, compassionate part of herself. Woe to the children of such a Rambo-mom, and woe to her husband.

In this violence filled world, we need more of that feminine vibe of unconditional love, kindness, compassion and yes, fragility. Fragile people know they need God to get by in the world, not just an Uzi to protect them.

So I breathed a huge sigh of relief that, b’ezrat Hashem, my daughter got out of the army. I know there are no simple answers here, in terms of how we protect ourselves, tachlis.

But yet, the answer is the same as it’s ever been: put God in the picture, keep His commandments, respect daat Torah – and then watch our enemies melt away by themselves.

I was expecting some sort of violent confrontation to kick off in London, when a bunch of angry ethnic minorities calling themselves by the Orwellian name the: ‘Movement for justice by any means necessary’ went marching on the streets as part of their ‘Day of Rage’, scheduled for June 21, 2017.

It seems like only 300 or so people showed up to the main march through London, instead of the million they were expecting.

But that doesn’t mean that ‘nothing’ happened that day, anything but.

That same day, June 21st, a different bunch of ethnic minority ‘yoof’ started attacking members of the public on the streets of London with machetes (!), swords (!) and batons, but as the ‘members of the public’ happened to be very orthodox Jews in Stamford Hill, no-one thought that was a news story worth covering.

Apparently, these street riots in Stamford Hill continued for two days, and injured a bunch of people. But as the people being attacked were just orthodox Jews, and not ‘real’ people, the British press completely buried the muslims-violently-attacking-Jews angle of the story.

The Evening Standard, the Metro – none of these British papers breathed a word about who was going on the rampage (i.e. Muslims), or which ethnic community (i.e. orthodox Jews) was bearing the brunt of the attacks, in what some Jewish commentators called a modern-day pogrom.

I’d like to tell you it’s only Britain that’s covering up all the growing, often violent, politically-motivated anti-semitism in the country, but the recent murder of French Jew Sarah Halimi in Paris by her Muslim neighbor shows that European countries are closing ranks when it comes to acknowledging anti-semitic violence against their Jewish citizens.

Again, we can go on spouting about how awful all this is, and how unjust, and how terrible all these Europeans are, and how nasty all the muslims are etc – but it’s missing the point.

The point is, that God is running the world, and God wants the Jews to come back home to Israel.

That’s why anti-semitism is only going to continue to increase all around the world, and why what’s going on in London, and Paris, and increasingly also in America, is only going to get worse.

On the same day as I saw the story about the modern-day ‘pogrom’ in Stamford Hill, there was another snippet of info about how the British Government could force a chareidi girls school in the UK to close, because it’s not teaching toieva stuff to its students.

God forbid, that a Jewish school – any Jewish school, never mind just the chareidi ones – should be forced to teach its pupils about this terrible spiritual traif!

But this is what’s going on in the West, as the battle against God, religion and moral values continues to go up in intensity.

That’s why God wants the Jews back home, where they belong.

Sure, there are a load of problems in Israel, too, but forcing a chareidi kid to learn about Ben Gurion, or how to do algebra, kind of pales into nothing compared to what’s going on in even the frummest Jewish schools in London…

It’s not easy to move to Israel, I really do know that.

But it’s only going to get harder to stay put.

Dear reader, if you live in chutz l’aretz, please at least start praying that God should show you a workable way to make that move home, because it’s still so much easier to jump into making aliya, than to be pushed into doing it by a sword-wielding follower of Allah.

Even before I knew Amona was being bulldozed last week (because the Israeli government was trying to do it in their usual sneaky, underhanded way) I got a phone call from my almost 16 year old asking me if I could send her permission to leave her school for a day.

“Uh, why?” I wanted to know (call me old-fashioned.)

“Mum, they’re destroying Amona, and me and all my friends from Ulpana want to go and protest. The teacher only lets if you say yes.”

As my kid was hanging on the phone waiting for an answer, a picture popped into my head, unbidden, of some black-clad kassamnik from 10 years ago, using a rubber truncheon to whack the heck out a bunch of peaceful teens who were sitting on the floor passively protesting another ‘dismantling’.

For a growing percentage of Israel’s frum community, the love affair with the Israeli police (and the IDF) is firmly over.

For all the amazing Jews who serve their country, both these organisations are ultimately controlled by anti-Torah, unethical, corrupt people who still stop at nothing to achieve their ends.

Including whacking the heck out of peaceful, idealistic teens who happen to be stopping them from doing their ‘job’ of destroying Jewish homes in Eretz Israel.

The last thing I wanted was for my kid to be one of the ones getting whacked and arrested, and I don’t know what else, because like I said, a lot of these people are plain evil and if they weren’t ‘policemen’, they’d be mafia henchmen. (Some of them probably even are.)

So what to do?

The next thought that popped into my head, unbidden, is that really, I can’t stop my daughter from doing what she wants. I like to pretend that I can, but really, I can’t.

So then, I asked God for some guidance, and heard myself telling her that as long as she was going with all her classmates, I let her go to Amona.

As I hung up, not for the first time I felt a little wistful that my family doesn’t fit the more standard ‘chareidi’ mould that frowns sternly on girls marching out on the streets. Both my girls are deeply, sincerely attached to the ‘national religious’ community, and protesting Government injustice is something they both feel very strongly about.

I get very conflicted about this stuff a lot of the time, because I know that all their protesting isn’t going to make any difference, and could just get them in a whole bunch of trouble. But at the same time, I also feel so proud of them that they care enough to put themselves on the line to protest Jewish families being evicted from their homes.

If more of the ‘grown ups’ cared as much about our fellow Jews, maybe things would look different – and much better – in Israel right now.

In the end, God worked things out nicely for both of us: my daughter was too late to ‘break into’ Amona (although she told me later that two her friends had managed to barricade themselves into one of the houses, and were some of the last ‘protesters’ to be taken out by the police).

So instead, her and her classmates joined an impromptu demonstration against the dismantlement in nearby Raanana.

But I’m still left with the question: Does all this stuff make God happy?

For all my pondering, I still really don’t know. For sure, it’s not the Torah way to encourage girls to go out to ‘battle’, in any way, shape or form, for very good reasons.

On the other hand, I know God has to be impressed by the teens’ mesirut Nefesh (self-sacrifice) and commitment to standing up for what they believe to be right. Like I said, those qualities are sadly lacking in today’s world, perhaps especially by the adults who are meant to be leading us forward and setting the example.

One thing I can tell you for sure: sooner or later, one way or another, Israel will be ruled by Torah-true Jews. If it’s not Moshiach, it’s going to be these teens all grown up and ready to vote.

And nothing and no-one will be able to stop it.

==

After I wrote this, my daughter asked me something else:

“Mum, I’m debating going to Ofra today [where the Government is going to knock down some more Jewish homes]. Do you let me?”

I sighed another deep sigh, and I explained to my daughter that I really don’t think demonstrating is going to help much, because until and unless more of us stop believing in ‘the Government’, and ‘the Likud’ and the ‘Beit Yehudi’ – and start believing in God, instead – these things are just going to keep happening, until we finally get the message.

She agreed…but she also said she feels so bad for the families involved, and wants to help them however she can.

How could I argue against that, really? I told her to ask God to give her the right idea of what to do, and left it at that.

Who is like this people of Yours, Hashem?

One day very soon, the tremendous good that is the authentic Jewish people is going to rise to the top, and the bad will just disappear, like smoke.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Mitzvah gedola lehiot be simcha’.

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

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

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

Ever since Rosh Hashana, I’ve been having real problems staying asleep.

Falling asleep is not a problem, thank God, but the last few nights I’ve been waking up, and then finding it really hard to go back to sleep.

The first couple of times, I figured it was because I was in a hotel room in Tiberias with rattling aircon. But now I’ve been back home in Jerusalem, and if anything it’s got worse. What is going on?

I was talking to God about it, and the idea popped into my head that the world has somehow speeded up (again…) on Rosh Hashana, and my body is struggling to adapt to the pace. I lie there, and my eyes are flicking all over the place from side to side, like I’m watching a movie set in fast-forward mode.

I have no big insights to share about what it all means.

I have no idea. When the 70 nations of the world came to Jerusalem to bury a big rasha the day before Rosh Hashana, I knew it was very significant, but I still have no idea what it all means.

5777 is completely unchartered territory. Everyone – and I mean everyone – in the frum religious world had the last year pegged for Moshiach to show up. He didn’t (at least, not obviously…) so now there’s a feeling that the Jewish boat is adrift in completely unknown waters.

All the predictions have failed.

All the big ideas about what it all means haven’t got anywhere.

Redemption appears to be stalled at the starting gate, and no-one seems to know how to fix it, and to get it moving again.

There’s one criteria for Moshiach to come that has never been met until now, and that is that he’ll come when no-one is expecting him anymore. When we all held our breath so long for redemption that we can’t do it anymore, and we’re going back to our cooking, our gardening, our cleaning.

I think maybe, that could be what’s going on now.

Moshiach is long, long, long overdue. Even the people who seemed to be behind his delay were saying 5776 is the year, the year it’s going to finally happen.

It didn’t.

So now what?

I have no idea. But on some very deep level, I think my Nefesh can see something coming that I can’t get a hold of at all, which is why it’s waking me up at night to try to share all the excitement.

Every year around this time, I struggle with the same thing: huge feelings of anger and annoyance against people who have treated me really, really badly, yet never apologise for anything.

As a frum Jew, I’ve tried pretty hard to make amends, and I’ve eaten a lot of humble pie over the years, trying to make peace with people I’ve fallen out with because they’ve treated me so badly.

Last year, I had a huge test on this front as I finally got around to apologizing to someone who has made my life miserable for years’ already, solely to try to do the right thing, and to keep God happy.

Dear reader, I sent this person three fulsome apologies – and by the end, they still refused to forgive me! What makes it even harder to swallow is that this person is a really nasty, messed-up piece of work that thinks they are 100% justified in all the terrible, awful, horrible things they do and say, and that the problem is always everyone else’s.

Have they ever apologized even once for all the disgusting things they’ve said and done?

Nope.

(To give you an idea of what I’m dealing with, they once told me that I was only apologizing because ‘the Torah’ told me I had to, which meant it couldn’t be sincere, so they didn’t have to accept it.)

I knew once I sent the third apology that I’d done my bit, and that now the problem was 100% back in their court, spiritually-speaking. Halachically, you’re only meant to try to apologise, and to try and appease the person three times, and then they’re considered to be officially ‘cruel’ (i.e., mentally ill) for not accepting your apology, and you don’t have to worry about them anymore.

Which is all well and good if they’re someone you never have to deal with, or see ever again, but occasionally God fixes it that you’re stuck with these really nasty people very close to home. Which is when the next part of the test kicks in, because even though you’ve gone all out to make peace with them, and even though the problem is them and their mentally-ill behavior and attitudes, you’re still stuck having to play the role of being the bad one that’s causing all the difficulties.

King David wrote about this, when he described how he was just for peace, yet his enemies were just for war.

Man, I can relate. And then I sometimes get boiling mad at all the unfairness and unjustice of it all. Until….

Until….

Until I remember that God is behind it all. God is the one who’s sending all these warped, mentally-ill, self-righteous, pretend ‘perfect’ people into my life. Why? Because they clearly have a spiritual job to do, and they are part of the spiritual tests I have to face and overcome.

Nothing but nothing challenges your emuna so much as trying to see God behind some mentally-ill person who’s raised the art of slandering you and abusing you while playing the poor victim into an art form.

But if (WHEN!) you pass that test, nothing but nothing compares to the spiritual rewards you get for standing up in it (so I’ve been told 😉

Which is why this time of year can be so challenging. If I sit and wait for these people to apologise for anything, I’ll be here forever. If I don’t want to get stuck behind their mentally-ill bad middot that means I have to figure out how to neutralize my anger and rage without being appeased by them. That is serious spiritual work. That’s hours and hours of hitbodedut, and asking God for help.

And that’s the main Teshuva to make over these ten days of repentance, at least for me: to ask for God’s help to uproot my own anger and bad middot, to know that God is behind everything and everyone, and to trust that ultimately, it’s all just good.