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Around 6-7 years ago, I went through a bunch of experiences that made me extremely wary of other people.

Long story short, Hashem arranged for pretty much every relationship I had at that time, from the most serious to the most casual, to explode in my face in an extremely traumatic way.

Clearly, I had a lot of work to do on my own bad middot (character traits).

Clearly, other people also had a lot of work to do on theirs, too.

Things got so bad, that I kind of took the equivalent of a social vow of chastity: no more friends! No more Shabbat guests! No more making an effort with anyone outside my immediate family!!

It was just too hard to have a relationship that didn’t seem way too complicated, exhausting and toxic, back then.

Thankfully, the last 2-3 years, God has slowly been moving me out of that space.

A lot of the improvement came when I stopped trying to be a ‘fake frummer’, and playing a part that didn’t suit me, and pretending to be something and someone I’m not.

I realized that for as long as I was secretly yearning for my life in London, that was translating into very harsh judgement calls against people who hadn’t (yet…) made aliya.

And, for as long as I was missing reading secular books and watching secular movies, I was so ‘anti’ all those people who felt they could combine the ‘ultra-orthodox’ or ‘chareidi’ label with massive i-Phones, Youtube and subscriptions to the National Enquirer.

Today, I read some secular stuff, non-fiction, and I’m trying to find a way of serving God with my yetzer hara, as well as my yetzer tov.

But the real breakthrough came as a result of my children, my teens.

My two precious girls who combine their father’s sweet personality with my ability to argue.

These girls have taught me so much.

They taught me that lashon hara even counts (or maybe, especially counts) in the home, and that’s there is no heter, or permission, for slagging people off behind closed doors.

They taught me that often, the very best girls, spiritually, are doing the weirdest things with their hair, clothes and nose-rings.

They taught me to stop holding the whole world, including them, including myself, to ridiculously high, unrealistic standards, that no-one can ever really get to, or maintain, at least, not before 120.

And the last, but perhaps most precious thing they taught me, is to not take things so personally, and to keep looking for reasons to play down issues and forgive other people.

Dear readers, that so was not my way, my derech, before these precious girls took me in hand.

In the past, I excelled at finding a million reasons why people are unfixable psychos, or ‘erev rav’, or toxic relations, or religious hypocrites, and once I’d found that out about them, I couldn’t speak to them or like them anymore.

And then my girls came along, and held a big mirror up, and I started to realise that sometimes (often…) I was also acting like an unfixable psycho, an erev rav, a toxic relative, a religious hypocrite.

And so many times, they forgive me for not treating them so nicely, or making their life difficult, and we worked together to try to turn things around.

And that taught me the importance of not taking things so personally, when people say things I don’t like, or act in ways that hurt me.

Sure, I don’t have to stand there while someone slaps my face because they’re having a bad, or tries to make me feel bad just to make themselves feel good, but now when that happens, I don’t automatically put that person on the ‘unfixable psycho’ list.

I take sensible measures to protect myself, and stay at a safe distance, but then, I try to understand where they’re coming from, and to see how ever-so-easily, if I didn’t have Rabbenu, and hitbodedut, and big tzaddikim like Rav Berland in my life – I could act in exactly the same way.

And more, sometimes I do act in exactly the same way.

Because I’m not perfect, and neither are they.

And then, I don’t hate that person in my heart anymore (which is not to say I automatically like or love them. If they have pronounced emotional issues that they are in denial about, I still do my best to steer clear of them.)

But even then, I don’t hate them, and I can even still find reasons and occasions to enjoy their company.

And so, the door to the social dungeon I’ve been in for well over 5 years is slowly starting to creak open again. And what’s oiling the hinges is Azamra, Rebbe Nachman’s lesson of seeing the good and focusing on the good.

First in ourselves, and then in others.

And above all, in our kids and spouses.

Challenging as they can be, my teens have been the biggest blessing in my life, and they have taught me – almost single-handedly – how to like people again.

Yesterday, I was listening to Rav Eliyahu Meirav’s interview with the Israeli media, and I felt very sad. For those who don’t already know, Rav Meirav’s stepson, Yosef Cohen, Hyd, was one of the two Nahal Chareidi soldiers gunned down at Givat Assaf, close to Bet El, last Thursday.

Rav Meirav was raised on the totally secular Shomer Hair Kibbutz of Bet Alfa, and was a fighter pilot in the IDF airforce. He made teshuva after the Yom Kippur war – along with so many others of that generation, who’d seen with their own eyes just how limited the army really was.

Rav Meirav met Rav Berland – and became one of his closest students.

If you read the secular press descriptions of Rav Meirav, you’ll notice that they kept stressing that he was part of the Breslov ‘sect’. That’s their way of using subtle language to keep dissing religious people anyway they can, and to sow division and hatred.

After Rav Meirav’s son was killed al Kiddush Hashem, all those ucky news sites with their agendas to sow hatred and strife between the Jewish people started running false stories about how Yosef had been ‘thrown out of his home’ for joining the army, and how his parents had ‘sat shiva’ for him even before he died.

Because hey, why miss any opportunity to put the boot in to the chareidi community, and especially the Breslov Chassidic ‘sect’?!

This led to the absolutely sickening spectacle of Rav Meirav and his wife having to give interviews to the press – before they’d even buried their son – refuting the lies that had been spread about their family.

I listened to Rav Meirav speak – about Yosef’s last words, about his own background and teshuva, and most of all about the need for us to stop all the awful hatred, and to come together as one people, respecting each other’s differences – and it really made me pause for thought.

The haters out there are on all sides of the equation.

They work for Ha’aretz, they live in Tel Aviv, they hate any hint of yiddishkeit, and they use the media to paint awful pictures of frum Jews as ‘blood-sucking, medieval parasites’ at any opportunity. But that’s not the only place you’ll find them.

You’ll also find plenty of apparently ‘frum’ haters out there too.

‘Frum’ haters pour scorn on the Jews who don’t live in Israel and wait for big comets to smash into America and kill everyone. They hate people who want to convert to yiddishkeit, they hate people who don’t conform, they hate people who aren’t ‘frum’, or who aren’t ‘frum’ enough, or who are too ‘frum’, or not the right sort of ‘frum’.

‘Frum’ haters also hate people who don’t vaccinate….and they hate people who do vaccinate. They hate people who voted for Trump, they hate people who don’t think exactly like them, and see the world exactly the way they do.

Every bit of the Jewish world is riddled with this disease of hating other Jews – including our bit.

And there is no segment of society that is doing better at loving our fellow Jews than any other.

We all have the problem and we all need to work on it.

One of the things that drew me to Breslov, and drew me to Rabbenu, is that in Rabbenu’s tent, everyone is welcome. When you go to Uman, you stop seeing people as ‘frum’ and ‘not frum’, or as part of your group or not part of your group.

You just see them as individuals, as Jews.

And some of those Jews are really nice, and really deep and really holy – however they may look externally. And some of those Jews are really not so easy to get on with, and have a number of obvious bad middot and issues – however they may look externally.

The yetzer works overtime to convince us that ‘our bit’ of the Jewish world is fine, the best, the shining example for the rest of Jewish society, while all the other bits are the ones with the problem.

But it’s not true! Not at all!

The problem comes down to this:

There are Jewish people who look for reasons to hate other Jews, and there are Jewish people who look for reasons to try to love them.

And both groups are scattered and embedded across all the different segments of Jewish society.

Sadly, our world being the morally-degenerate mess it currently is, it seems the people who hate the most are also the ones with the biggest mouths, and the biggest audiences, and the biggest following on Youtube.

The haters pop-up all over the place, to have a go at others, and to put the boot in, and to harp on about how great they are, and how great their group is – always at the expense of others.

I’ve had to learn the hard way, that this is not at all what God wants from us.

I’ve also had ‘hating’ tendencies that I’ve had to really work on, and to try to uproot, over the last few years. That process of teshuva taught me that the haters ‘hate’ because they actually don’t like themselves very much at all. And that they’re secretly jealous of other people, and it’s the envy that causes them to diss the other Jew, the other group, so loudly, so poisonously, so arrogantly.

Whatever the hater is criticizing so much in others, that ‘thing’ is somehow embedded in their own souls.

So, I listened to Rav Meirav talk, and I wondered ‘how can I do more, to get from hate to love’? How can I do more, to make my house a ‘no-tolerance for sinat chinam’ zone?

I’m going to pray on it, and I’ll let you know what I come up with.

Because one thing is for sure:

Nothing is slowing up Moshiach more, or causing us more problems and heartache in our own lives, than hating other Jews.

I wasn’t going to go to the ‘big gathering’ scheduled for last Thursday night in Beer Sheva with Rabbi Berland (Eliezer ben Etia).

I live two minutes away from the Rav’s kehilla here in Jerusalem, I go most nights to sit in the women’s section, outside in the big white tent they’ve erected to keep the rain off the congregants. Should it ever show up.

So I wasn’t really in the mood to drive two hours to Beer Sheva for more of the same….

But then, I had an email exchange with someone who was going, and who was making the effort, and then I heard the recording where the Rav was promising some big salvations for anyone who attended, and what can I tell you? I’m a sucker for the Rav’s brachot.

More than two years’ ago now, I paid a pidyon Nefesh to the Rav to deal with some chronic, disturbing health issues that had plagued me for years. Even after I just found out how much I’d have to pay, I started to feel so much better.

When I bought one of the Rav’s mezuzahs for my front door a few months’ back, I could literally feel the angels rushing around my home when my husband fixed it to the doorpost.

When my husband switched yeshiva to Shuvu Banim on the Rav’s say-so last year, he got so, so, so much happier.

On Shabbat, I pulled out my diary spanning 2016-2017 (the first half of the year) and I was amazed to see how many things have changed, improved and got better since I got closer to Rav Berland.

Some of these things are tangible – like my finances – and others are ephemeral, but so much more impressive.

Like my peace of mind. Like my shalom bayit. Like my general level of happiness in life, which had pretty much tanked for a good three years, until I hit the Rav.

So anyway, I’m a sucker for a bracha from the Rav, and when one of my daughter’s announced she had organized a bake-off in our (small…) home for 10 of her best teenage friends that same night, I took it as a sign that if we wouldn’t go for the carrot, we should probably go to avoid the stick.

My husband agreed, and we set off.

There was just one problem: We had no idea where we were going. It said on the website the heichal hatarbut in Beer Sheva central, but then someone else told me it was at the Narnia halls. So I printed off both sets of Google Maps, and we headed off into the night.

The heichal hatarbut was completely deserted when we got there. My husband mumbled: “There’s not enough payot here for this to be the place” and truly, there wasn’t so much as a pay in sight. So we got a bit lost, and then after a bit of aimless driving we found ourselves outside the Narnia halls of Beer Sheva.

There were a couple of cars full of payot-ed people waiting outside, and when my husband waved his payot at them, they came over and gave us directions to the new venue for the Rav Berland meet. We’ve been with the Rav long enough now to know there’s nearly always a surreal twist waiting in the wings somewhere.

That’s part of what I love about Rav Berland, it’s never dull.

So we got a bit lost again, then found ourselves in the hard-core industrial estate of Southern Beer Sheva, in what looked to be the courtyard of a tile warehouse. They’d set up two big white tents – one for men, and one for women, and us being anglos, we were among the first 20 people there.

I wondered to myself why they’d downscaled so radically, from the heichal hatarbut to the tile factory in the industrial area, but I’d only find that out later. Rav Succot was there strumming his guitar, and there was also a small band with a guy on electric guitar that rocked the place.

The only thing I love more than a bracha from a Tzaddik is hearing a great electric guitar riff live, so I was thrilled. There was one toilet between 400 people, so I got in there early, while it was still usable, and waited for the Rav to arrive.

And waited. And waited.

In the meantime, one of the ladies next to me told me some protesters had showed up outside on the street. I went to look, and saw around 7 shouting women (one with a bull-horn), 2 ‘artistic’ looking men and a bunch of signs decrying the terrible thing being done to the visitors of Beer Sheva.

There were five cops there, looking bored and a bit bemused, and it wasn’t really clear to me if they were there to protect the 10 protesters from the ‘terrible, violent and threatening cultish followers of Rav Berland’ – as the secular press undoubtedly described all us ladies with our knitted hats and scarves on our heads, and strollers, and the ‘cultish, brutish’ people like my sweet, gentle husband, who must be ‘bad’ because he has payot and doesn’t use Facebook – or vice-versa.

Try as they might to make their point, they were no match for the guy on the electric guitar, and he started whacking out some Uman anthems so loudly it was like being a frum Guns n’ Roses concert.

I loved it!

It was about a 60th of Uman, when all these different types of Jews get together and just dance, and chill and hang, and no-one cares who’s wearing a kippa or not, or how long your skrit is, or even if you’re wearing a skirt.

Ah, Uman.

So, that continued for around three hours, until the Rav finally made it into the courtyard, and started singing niggunim with the crowd. At that point, me and my husband left to come home. I usually go to sleep at 10, and it was easily pushing midnight.

I reckon around 400 people showed up, all told, and again, I wondered why they’d moved it from the heichal hatarbut, and then moved it again from Narnia.

Today, I found out.

That little band of protesters had been whipping up a huge storm on Facebook, which seems to be the lashon hara and anti-tzaddik social media tool of choice for crazy psychos with axes to grind against religious Jews.

Apparently, the fact that the Rav was drawing bigger and bigger crowds had got up their nose, and they did what the liberal peace n’ love crowd excel at the most, i.e. borrowing tactics from the Third Reich to close down and eliminate anything that they don’t agree with. They waged a hate campaign against the Mann auditorium in Beer Sheva and threatened all sorts of reprisals until the manager caved in and cancelled the event.

When the Rav’s followers moved the venue to the Narnia halls last minute, the protesters repeated their campaign of hate and intimidation, and again, the manager folded.

So then, the Rav’s followers came up with the plan of hiring two enormous marquees, and setting them up in some tile factory courtyard in the industrial area. I didn’t know all this at the time, but it’s truly amazing that any event occurred given all that, and that anyone showed up for it, let alone 400 people.

Strangely, it’s reassuring to me that the opposition against the Rav is starting up again. If I’ve learned one thing the last few months, it’s that being dissed actually brings a lot of blessings in its wake, sweetens a lot of judgments, and helps you to get the really important things done.

But at the same time, I can see that this book is not going to come out unremarked, and that it may well get a little hairy.

I mean, the people who are against Rabbi Berland, aka Eliezer ben Etia, are completely psycho….

It’s probably going to be an interesting few weeks.

UPDATE:

See this article:

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.

We’re all just kind of sitting here holding our collective breath, aren’t we?

What will be with Syria, Lebanon and Iran?

What will be with Trump?

What will be with all these horrible misconduct scandals that believe me, are only the tip of the iceberg and are only going to snowball with day that passes?

The dam that’s been holding all the ‘bad’ together for decades – maybe for centuries, even – is finally starting to burst, and while the wicked people in the world are scrambling to try and stick as many fingers in as many dykes as they can, things are really starting to crumble all over the place, far more than is obvious from the headlines.

So many of us are having our moment of truth at the moment.

For this one, it’s a serious illness, God forbid, for that one, the death of a relative, for this one a divorce, for that one a child going off the derech, for this one money problems, for that one mental health issues, for this one, it’s being publicly revealed as someone with incredibly bad judgment, for that one, it’s being publicly revealed as someone with incredibly bad middot.

Whatever we’ve been building for ourselves, spiritually, over the last few years is really starting to be dragged out into the daylight, for everyone to see.

Whatever stuff we’ve been trying to hide away is now being publicly exposed, and the strangest thing about the whole process is that the biggest smoking guns are being fired by the nasty people themselves.

So many people have become so brazen about their funny ideas, their bad middot and their nasty behavior that increasingly, they’re doing and saying things that are so out there, so bizarre, so obviously problematic that it kind of boggles the mind, a little.

Here’s just one example:

Someone who is clearly dripping malice and hatred from every pore, starts telling you a whole bunch of disgusting, hateful things about everyone else, and then tries to claim that they bear no will, have no grudges against anyone, and are simply acting for the good of humanity.

And they really believe what they’re saying, 100%! And they get very upset when they finally realize that they haven’t impressed you with what a wonderful human being they really are – and then they start abusing you, too!

Here’s another example: A very judgmental, superior, rude and small-minded person pops up in your social media network with the announcement that they will be giving a sensitivity training seminar soon, to tackle the huge problem of judgmental, superior, rude and small-minded people.

Like, really?

The mind boggles.

Yet this kind of bizarre ‘self-outing’ is happening all over the place at the moment, as God continues to turn the heat up on humanity, and we all get to see what’s really inside of us, the good, the bad and the ugly.

Here’s why all this is really good:

Finally facing the truth is what’s going to get us to the geula, to redemption.

Every man and woman who puts their hand up, admits they aren’t perfect, who learns some humility, who says sorry, who starts to include God a whole lot more in everything – those people are doing everything they need to be doing to bring the geula, even if they remain deeply flawed. (Join the club…)

Over on the new ofererez.com website, there’s a really good article called ‘Snapping out of Denial’ that says the following:

“Rabbi Tzadok Ha-Cohen from Lublin teaches that God doesn’t judge us for having bad middot (traits), lusts and desires. These are all a part of who we are and how we were created. They are precisely the reason that we came down to this world, so we can fix them.

“But, he says that a person brings harsh judgment down upon himself  when he doesn’t introspect and recognize his own bad midot and lusts.”

We get judged for pretending to be perfect, not for acknowledging our imperfections.

And right now, we’re all getting the chance to acknowledge our imperfections every minute of the day, as God is increasingly throwing them in our face and publicizing them.

There’s nowhere to run – except to God.

There’s nowhere to hide.

Who you are – who I am, who we all really are – is going to continue to become more and more obvious. If the outside you is already recognizing your inside dimension truthfully, this process is minimally painful and actually very constructive.

But if not?

There will be many more exploding reputations occurring from this point on. But also a few nice surprises, as the ‘hidden tzaddikim’ walking around in our midst start to become more and more revealed.

And then….geula.

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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I’m 43.

At this age, I’ve already seen so many marriages go to the wall, so many children messed up by parents who ran away from their true selves, so many people walking around in bitterness and frustration and utter loneliness, that it literally breaks my heart.

I know God is behind this plan somewhere, clearly so hidden that’s it’s almost impossible to see Him. But emuna dictates that God is behind everything, even this terrible human suffering that is unfolding on a day to day basis on every block, every street, within every sector of Jewish society.

This is not a ‘secular’ problem, or a ‘frum’ problem, or an ‘anglo’ problem, or an ‘Israeli’ problem – it’s a problem we all have today, bigger or smaller, lesser or greater, and the only remedy for it is the emuna that God is running the world, and can and will ultimately heal our shattered souls.

That there is hope.

That people CAN change  – we can change, the people we love but despair of can change, the parents can change, the spouses can change.

They can.

This is the main war we’re all fighting, the propaganda being put out by the yetzer that humanity can’t be fixed, that people will always be so petty, scared, selfish, jealous and small.

But it’s not true!

I’ve seen so many things change and transform in my own life over the last few years. I’ve seen so many people who I despaired of shifting an inch out of their spiritual and emotional ruts bud wings and fly off to a completely different perspective, a completely different way of being.

Things can change for the better.

They can.

And the way we get things to change is to recognize that it’s not us who’s going to make this miracle happen, but God.

God has all the answers, all the remedies, all the solutions for all the broken marriages, broken children, broken adults, broken hearts out there, that continue to pile up higher and higher with each passing day.

God can fix things – everything!

He can!

But we need to ask Him to do it.

It’s easy to serve God when things are going great. But how can we continue serving God on the down?

Four years’ ago, when I was going through the bleakest, most difficult period of my whole life, I was sitting in Uman, by Rebbe Nachman’s tomb, and pleading for some guidance and help on how I could actually continue serving God ‘on the down’.

I opened up a Likutey Moharan, and I got to the lesson where it was talking about how sometimes, you have to throw yourself into all types of mud and filth in your service of Hashem.

(I don’t remember what number that lesson was, sorry.)

Those words made a huge impact on me, because at that time I was neck-high in trying to clarify a number of very difficult issues in my own life and relationships, and it was very murky, yucky stuff.

A little while back, I was talking to someone about how easy it is to serve God ‘on the up’ – when we’re full of spiritual inspiration, and emuna, and mitzvot, and yearning to be a better Jew. And how difficult it is, conversely, to serve God ‘on the down’, when we’re fully of cynicism, and apathy, and questions, and yearnings to go and see the latest James Bond.

Yet, Rebbe Nachman teaches that we can’t have one without the other.

The up is ‘running’, and the down is ‘returning’, when we have to consolidate, hunker down and regain our strength for our next period of ‘running’.

Often, many of us make the mistake of thinking we can only serve Hashem ‘on the up’ – and that’s when we get into massive problems. Because when we aren’t honest about where we’re really holding, and the spiritual ‘downs’ that we’re really experiencing – every single one of us! – then we get stuck with a Hobson’s choice.

Either, we can continue to pretend, to ourselves and others, that we only ever experience spirituals ‘ups’ in life, or we end up having to leave our devotions, and our striving for spiritual growth and we sink back into materialism and spirituality, because we’re finding it so hard to accept the need to also serve God ‘on the downs’.

If we take the first route, we’ll end up becoming fake caricatures of ourselves, externally very pious looking and spouting all the right ideas, but internally completely disconnected from the reality of who we really are, and what we really need to be working on.

If we take the second route, we stagnate spiritually, and we never really attain inner peace, because we know that we took the short road that’s really the very long road, and that’s not leading us to where we need to be going in life.

So what’s the answer?

Rebbe Nachman explains very clearly:

You have to serve God on the downs with just as much enthusiasm as you serve Him on the ups.

Tachlis, if you have a bad habit of talking (or writing…) lashon hara, for example, then at least use that to serve Hashem. Know that at the level you’re really holding at spiritually, you’re going to be talking badly about someone. So at least, talk badly about the people who are genuinely rashaim (evildoers).

Ditto for talking to members of the opposite sex. If you’re going to act in such an untznius way in the first place – and tachlis you are, because that’s where you’re really holding right now – then at least talk about things like emuna, and serving Hashem.

I know, it all sounds so paradoxical, doesn’t it?

But from my own personal experiences, this seems to be the only way to not got sucked into huge feelings of despair about how imperfectly I’m actually serving God.

To say ‘don’t speak lashon hara EVER!!!!’ is clearly impossible, at least for people like me who are really not holding at that level. So then, I have to turn my ‘down’ towards the service of Hashem, somehow, and find some ‘good’ way of talking badly about other people, so that I’m still serving God on the down, too.

I know, it’s completely head-wrecking isn’t it?

But, it’s also the only way to keep serving Hashem at this point in creation, because wherever you look, whatever you do, you’re going to fall somehow. This person is going to fall into Facebook, that one into feeling jealous over someone else’s nicer house, that one into a big, fat pizza pie – what can we do? Except learn how to serve God on the down.

Except, at least make sure that the pizza is glatt kosher and heartily blessed. Or, that if we’re on Facebook we’re at least trying to share some Torah or chizzuk. (I still don’t know how to ‘raise up’ feeling jealous about other people’s nicer houses. Any ideas, wise readers?)

In the meantime, we’re wallowing around down here in the dirt and the muck, and it’s not such a nice feeling. But if we’re doing it for Hashem, somehow – or least, wanting to do it for Hashem – then maybe, that changes everything?

Maybe, that’s how we finally get to the stage of serving God from love, lishma, just for its own sake, and not just because we’re quaking in our boots from not doing the mitzvot right.

King David tells us, if he builds his home in the Heavens, there God is. And if he crashes down to the depths of gehinnom – there God still is.

We just have to open our eyes and see Him.

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One of the things that I still find so hard in Israel is queuing up.

In the UK, social etiquette is strictly enforced (or at least, it used to be a decade ago…) and lines were strictly policed and questions of primogeniture were obvious and clear. First come, first served. Last come, last served.

But it’s not like that in Israel.

In Israel, the line splits firmly into two sections: people with reasonably good middot and respect for their fellow human beings, and people who don’t. And don’t think you can tell from the way people are dressed which camp they belong to, because you can’t.

Take today’s ‘queue experience’ as I stood in the sweltering Jerusalem heat for an hour and half trying to buy text books for my kids. On the one hand, there was the ‘hidden tzaddik’ looking bloke with long tzitzit dangling down to his knees, long beard, long payot and a very quiet, peaceful demeanor.

He took out his pocket chumash, and started reviewing the parsha of the week leaned up against the wall, acting so calm you’d really think he was in the middle of the local beit midrash. He didn’t jostle, he didn’t bother anyone, he just stood there patiently – and then some other woman took pity on him, grabbed his shopping list and started hustling on his behalf.

Then there was the ‘frum’ woman in electric green who marched smartly up to the middle of the queue, and clearly just started pushing her way in, apparently oblivious to all the dirty looks I was throwing her way.

Dear reader, I don’t push in.

But I also can’t just accept the reality of the queue with the same equanimity of the hidden Tzaddik who was learning his chumash, so standing in line is an enormous test of my middot.

I know Rebbe Nachman tells us to keep shtum, and to not have a go at anyone or start a fight with anyone, so I don’t actually say anything. I just stand there secretly boiling inside, as these ‘women in green’ brazenly push their way to the front of queue and pretend that there weren’t 10 people waiting patiently ahead of them.

So then, I try to find justifications for their behavior, and I find this really is helping me to stop feeling quite so angry at them.

“Maybe,” I think to myself, “they have 28 children at home, and they haven’t made supper yet. They need to start cooking already, and they’re too stressed to waste time in the queue…”

“Maybe, their husband is waiting for them in the car somewhere going a bit crazy, and they know they’re going to have a huge fight if they don’t get back ASAP.”

“Maybe, this is their first outing from the mental asylum, and they haven’t yet worked out the social niceties involved in standing in a line the way you’re meant to…”

All these things help to calm me down a bit, until God finally has mercy and I find myself within spitting distance of the front of the line and personal redemption.

Strange to say, the sense of freedom I feel when I’m finally out of that queue is probably at least a little bit of how it’ll feel when we get the geula – the nightmare’s over, and I no longer have to stand in the beating sun, dehydrating away while another ‘woman in green’ runs me over with her stroller.

Ah, Elul. That month of God shining another bright light on all our bad middot, and encouraging us to knuckle down and fix them ahead of Rosh Hashana.

If it wasn’t the queue for textbooks, it would be Rami Levi, or the bank, or queuing up at passport control, or something. Because God has to show me that I still have a whole lot of work to do before Rosh Hashana 5778 rolls around.

I get it God, really, I do!

But God isn’t quite so sure. Half the textbooks were out of stock, which means I get a second chance at cleaning up my middot in another three days. I can’t wait.