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I first put this up over three years’ ago, but I think it’s time it got another airing.

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The phone rang in Yaacov’s tent, and he rushed to pick it up before it woke the sleeping baby Reuven, who’d just dozed off.”Hello?”

“Bruvs! Is that you? It’s your big brother Esav!”

Yaacov’s stomach flipped over. What did Esav want? And why was he calling him now, in the middle of the night?

Didn’t he know normal people were usually asleep at 2am? Yaacov cleared his throat, and replied in a guarded but friendly way:

“Hi, Esav. How are you doing? Is everything OK with mum and dad?”

“Yeah, they’re fine. Can’t complain, can’t complain. But Bruvs, what’s this ridiculous nonsense I’ve heard, that you’re working for your wives?!?”

Yaacov could feel the condescension dripping off the phone. He wiped the sweat off his forehead: this was going to be a tricky conversation, he could tell.

“What’s the problem? I didn’t have any money for a dowry, so I had to come up with the goods somehow, to pay for the weddings.” Yaacov swallowed back the additional information that the reason he didn’t have any money is because Esav’s son Eliphaz had stolen everything he had, at knifepoint. Somehow, details like that never went over so well with his big brother.

“Bruvs, that’s just not the way! You’re putting the whole family to shame. I know in chutz l’aretz people think it’s OK for men to go out to work, but that’s not the true, holy way.”

Yaacov rolled his eyes. Here it comes, he thought.

“If Dad knew that you were working, he’d have a heartattack. You’ve got it all round the wrong way, bruvs. You’re wives should be working for you. Between them, they’d bring in a pretty decent wage, and you wouldn’t have to lower yourself to look after someone else’s sheep. I mean, where’s your self-respect? Where’s your pride? You used to be the best learner in town, and now look at you: a shepherd. When’s the last time you even opened a Gemara, bruvs?”

Yaacov swallowed heavily. Esav always had a real way with words. He could take the most ridiculous ideas, and make them sound incredibly convincing. If you weren’t careful, you could end up believing all his evil nonsense, and then you’d be in real trouble.

“Esav, supporting the family is the man’s responsibility. Our mother never went out to work for a day in her life. Dad took care of all the finances, and that’s what I’m doing, too.”

“Pah! That was then,” Esav spat back. “Things have changed! It was different in the old days. It’s a stain on the family’s honour that you, the son of the holy Yitzhak, should be wasting your time with something as trivial as earning a living. I mean, what do you think your wives are for, you numbskull?”

As always when he was talking to Esav, Yaacov realized he just couldn’t win. His brother always had an answer for everything, and if Yaacov dared to point out that Esav’s family wasn’t exactly the paradigm of perfection, he’d just spark off World War I.

But everyone knew that behind closed doors, Esav’s domestic situation was a mess:

Esav’s kids regularly got into trouble at school, and were always beating people up, stealing stuff and generally destroying the peace of any place they went. His wives were sullen, disgruntled women who hated their husband, but were too scared to leave, or to try to change anything.

There was just no talking to Esav: he always thought he was right, and doing all the wrong things for the loftiest of ‘right’ reasons. From experience, Yaacov knew the best thing was to hold his tongue, and let his brother speak his piece – then hang up, as quickly as possible, without making a scene.

So it was. When Esav had finally finished haranguing his brother for his ‘un-Jewish’ practices, it was 3am, already.
Yaacov hung up, then gazed at his sleeping wife – this time Leah – and her baby son, Reuven. Sure, working was no fun. He missed the times he’d spent learning Torah in the tents of Shem and Ever tremendously. But he knew that he was doing what God wanted.

He’d seen how harassed Esav’s wives looked; they were always running around from work to yoga to Facebook, trying to do a million things at once, and killing themselves to ‘keep up appearances’ at all costs.

Yaacov was working himself to the bone on his father-in-law’s farm, but he knew he didn’t really have any choice. Right now, that’s what God wanted from him. Maybe when the kids grew up, he’d be able to return to his holy books again.

As he reached over to blow out the candle flickering next to his bed, Yaacov reflected on the dictum that ‘you can’t build a mitzvah on the back of an aveira’ – it never worked.

Esav had always excelled at doing precisely that, but Yaacov knew his path was different. His way of trying to serve God, and of trying to build the world, didn’t always look so externally impressive, or religiously showy, but long-term, he knew it was going to bear the sweetest of fruit.

Is living in Israel the only thing that really counts for God?

Recently, I’ve been increasingly niggled by this question. On the one hand, it’s clear that life in Israel is operating within a whole different spiritual dimension, and that a person’s emuna and Jewish identity can blossom here in a way that it really can’t do, in most normal circumstances, anywhere else.

At the same time, Israel is still home to some of the craziest, nastiest, ickiest Jews I’ve ever met. It’s a place of contrasts, a place of extremes, because the good and the holy is so palpable and tangible here, the bad and the profane has to also be at sky-high levels to maintain free choice.

So, the question remains: is being in Israel a guarantee that ‘you’ll make it’, whatever that actually means, when the chaos currently enveloping the world finally hits tipping point?

And then there’s a second, no less pressing, question: is being out of Israel a guarantee that ‘you won’t make it’, God forbid?

I know that so many of us who made aliya over the last decade or so were prompted by the thought that our chances of ‘making it’, whatever that means, would be much higher in Eretz Yisrael.

But then came the intifada…and Lebanon II…and rockets from Gaza…and more rockets from Gaza…and then the threat of the Iranian nuke, which kind of started to rock the certainty of who was going to make it, where…

Now, the pendulum appears to have swung back again, with Islamic terrorism across Europe, black fascists and white fascists slugging it out in the US, and wildfires, earthquakes, floods, Harveys and Irmas stirring everything up all over the place.

So who’s going to ‘make it’? (Whatever that means…)

And does it only depend on where a person lives?

You’ll probably be reading this when I’m in the UK for three days, trying to finally get my soul unstuck from the streets of London. (Note to robbers: The rest of my family is staying at home, so don’t even think about it.)

When I step off the plane at Luton airport, does that instantly turn me into a person who ‘couldn’t make it’, God forbid, because now I’m in the wrong place? Or would God have mercy on me, and still find a way to spirit me back to Israel if Moshiach revealed himself while I’m gone?

It’s not a simple point.

Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook got trapped outside of Eretz Yisrael when World War I unexpectedly started, and he spent four years in galut, primarily in London, until he was able to return.

If someone like Rav Kook didn’t have the merit to be brought back to the land miraculously, what are my chances?

Let’s look at it from the other direction. Let’s say someone from outside – someone who likes to parade their gaava around in city centres – flies into Jerusalem just as Moshiach is revealed. Does that person now get to ‘make it’ (whatever that means) by sheer dint of being in the right place at the right time?

And if the answer is ‘no’ to the first scenario, or at least a ‘maybe’, and if the answer is ‘no’ to the second scenario, then clearly, something else is going here that would enable a person to ‘make it’ when Moshiach comes.

For all of us who sacrificed so much to come to Israel, this isn’t always a comfortable conclusion.

What, I could have stayed in chutz l’aretz in my soul-destroying job and my comfortable ‘modern orthodox’ box without having to go through all the tests, challenges and excruciating soul corrections I’ve had over the years, and still have ‘made it’?!?!?

That doesn’t sound fair!

But is it true?

After pondering this, I think the answer is probably ‘yes and no’.

Yes, if I’d grown the way I’d grown in Israel, spiritually, or changed the way I changed, or tried to learn the humility and emuna that I’ve tried to learn here, then I think probably, I would still make it. (Whatever that means).

But if I didn’t change an iota? Or at least, not very much? Or even, got even more arrogant, nasty and materialistic?

Then I probably wouldn’t.

Flipping the question over to the Israeli side, we can draw the same conclusions. It’s very, very hard to live in Israel, with all its ongoing security challenges, social issues, terrorism, corrupt politicians and financial hardships without growing your emuna and humility, in some way.

But it’s still possible.

So, if a person is living in Israel, and is including God in their life, and is responding to the cues they get every single day here, smack in the face, to return to God and work on their bad middot ASAP – their chances of making it are probably pretty good.

And if not?

Then they aren’t. And not only that, at some point God will probably arrange for them to be unceremoniously dumped out of the country. Of course, they won’t see things that way. It’ll be phrased as ‘an opportunity’ abroad, a great job, a chance to make more money, a person they fell in love with and want to marry, yadda yadda yadda.

But the point to be made here is that at any point in the process, a person can return to God from anywhere in the world.

I know people who made a lot of sincere teshuva dafka when they were forced out of Israel. For whatever reason, it was something they just couldn’t do for as long as they lived here.

I also know people who fell off the frum wagon big time, when they moved here.

Which brings us back to the question we started with, and hopefully also give us something of an answer.

Simply living life in Israel is no guarantee of ‘making it’, but the reality of life in Israel maximizes your spiritual potential, and encourages you – every second of the day – to acquire the traits and the beliefs and the behaviors that are necessary to ‘make it’, ultimately.

The spiritual current here tends to pull a person ‘up’, while the spiritual current in chutz l’aretz tends to pull a person ‘down’.

But whether we’re going to grow from our experiences, and learn more emuna, and turn to Hashem regardless, is only and always up to us. And the people who can genuinely do that even in the very heart of galut may be the biggest neshamas of all.

So to sum up, location does make a big difference. Building a life in Israel does make a big difference. But it’s by no means the only factor deciding who’s going to ‘make it’ when Moshiach shows up.

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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.

Given that I’ve sold around 10 copies of my latest book, The Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife, I decided to try something different, and to turn it into an audiobook.

Apparently, there’s a huge and growing demand for audiobooks, and relatively very few authors supplying the market, so I thought it’s worth a go to try to stand out a little from the other 4 trillion books being self-published on Amazon.

Initially, I started looking for a voice-over artist to narrate my book via the ACL platform. I set the budget (as low as possible…) and I got back a handful of auditions from a bunch of very nice actress ladies who made my book sound absolutely awful.

One of them narrated it with an Indian subcontinent accent that made it sound like The Secret Diary was set in Bombay. A few of them were clearly SOOOOO BORRRREDDDD by all the boring stuff about God that they fell unconscious during the audition and were sleep-talking. And the others just sounded kind of bland, and not at all engaging and interesting.

Hmmm.

So, I decided to find a recording studio in Jerusalem, and see if I couldn’t do a better (and much cheaper…) job of narrating my book myself. I checked around for an English speaking studio with reasonable rates and I found NONA, based near Talpiot.

I sent the audiobook requirements to NONA, they told me they could meet them no problem and weren’t charging a fortune, so I got in my car and headed down there.

After getting completely and utterly lost, I finally get to the studio – and it’s in someone’s basement flat in the middle of Arnona.

Hmmm. Not only that, the only person in that basement flat – apart from yours truly – was the truly gifted, apparently completely secular, utterly male studio technician Amit, who lived there.

Hmmm.

Things didn’t get off to a good start.

After a quick look around, I realized that me disappearing into some strange secular bloke’s basement apartment was a huge yichud problem, so I asked him to leave the door open. We had a stand-off for a minute – and then he grudgingly agreed to leave half the door open – the top half, that was also a window and had a net, and to leave it shut but not locked.

“The recording studio is in a completely different room!” he told me. “It’s not a problem!”

I was pretty nervous that first session, not least because spending a whole hour talking about heart-felt personal issues and God, God, God with a secular male studio bloke as my only audience was pretty nerve wracking.

He was there, with his pony tail and his ‘arse’ huge diamond earring in one ear, while I was gently poking fun at ‘arsim’ with their pony tails and huge diamond earrings in one ear… There were a lot of out takes in that particular section, as I kept fluffing the words and praying he wouldn’t get offended.

I came out gingerly, and wondered if we were going to make it to session 2.

“Was that OK?’ I asked him.

“Yes!” He reassured me. “I wasn’t listening to anything.”

We were both kind of relieved.

The next trip, Amit had a friend in the studio, so we got round the yichud issue that way. The third trip, he had a dog he was ‘babysitting’ so he could leave the front door completely open. He also toned down the earring a bit, to something much more classy.

Hmmm.

So, I finished the recording sessions, and then we were up to the editing sessions – which is when I hit another major yichud problem, because now I had to be in the same room for two hours at a go, while we went through the whole thing and Amit fixed it up.

Thank God for my husband.

I came home, explained the problem to him, and he instantly came and agreed to work on Amit’s couch, while the recording was being edited.

At this point, I began to feel so sorry for Amit. He’s a really nice, sweet secular guy with really good middot who’s had to listen to 12 hours of a neurotic frum woman with a speech impediment (who knew?!) going on and on about her marriage, and her crises of faith, and her kids, and her financial problems, and of course, God, the Creator of the world.

I’ve been watching him for signs of subliminal stress, but so far he’s coping with it all remarkably well.

In the meantime, I’m going completely bonkers from the sound of my own voice, especially when we hit an out-take and I have to hear myself say ‘what’s the point of it all!’300 times until Amit’s re-mastered the recording.

Gosh, how does my family put up with me?

So, all in all, I’ve discovered two hidden tzaddiks by recording my audio-book. One of them I’m married to, and the other one is probably going to be on a plane to Uman this time next year. (I can’t think why else God arranged for a completely secular guy to be subjected to 12 whole hours of Breslov-inspired Jewish Housewife stuff…)

At least, that’s what I hope.

Amit plays a mean electric guitar, and Rabbenu has a way of attracting all the really good Jewish musicians in his direction, sooner or later.

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.

This year, it’s more important than ever to send your husband to Uman for Rosh Hashana.

I know, I could give you the whole big shpiel about how if you send your husband to Uman for Rosh Hashana, it will bring world peace, and speed the coming of Moshiach, and help to rectify the whole of Am Yisrael.

And that stuff’s all true, and all described in detail in various Breslov sources. But girlfren, really? You should send your husband to Uman for Rosh Hashana because between you and me, I know how annoying that guy can be, at least occasionally.

Yes, he’s sweet, and good-hearted and hard-working and often quite loving and generous. But he’s also half-earth, and that ‘earthy’ bit of him is far to drawn to making money, and cheering on the team, and spouting off ridiculous opinions, and spending too much time watching movies or surfing online.

I know how hard you’ve tried to get him to make more effort with the kids, and to get him to stop walking around like an egotistical stuffed-shirt, and to get him to open up and to be ‘real’ about what he’s really feeling, and what fears and worries he’s got that are really causing him to act and believe the way he does.

I know all this stuff makes pulling teeth (the old fashioned way, with a piece of string and minus anaesthetic…) look like a walk in the park, which is why I’m here to tell you straight what works to get the guy back on the right spiritual path. And it’s spelled:

U-M-A-N.

Like so many of the Uman ladies out there, I don’t send my husband for an expensive, inconvenient jaunt to anti-semitic Ukraine just for the heck of it. I encourage him to go because I know how much spiritual help he’s going to get by Rabbenu at Rosh Hashana, that’s going to carry him – and me – through all the challenges we have to face in the coming year.

I know that sending my husband to Uman for Rosh Hashana means he’s going to come back with a drop more humility, a tad more introspection, an ounce more gratitude and generosity, a page more of learning, a bissel more emuna.

The guy goes to Uman, and he comes back and realizes all by himself, without me saying a word, that he needs to spend more quality time with the kids, or that he needs to stop worrying about money so much, or that he needs to start playing soccer again. (Hey, not every revelation you get in Uman is easy to predict…)

When our blokes go to Uman, they come back better husbands, and nicer dads. They come back with a lot more of a clue about their real path in life, and how best to travel it. And most important of all, they come back with much more appreciation for their homes, families and the good cooking of their loving wives.

And this stuff is priceless, never mind all the other spiritual ‘saving the world’ stuff that goes on there at Rosh Hashanah time.

There’s still time to book his ticket and lodging, and to make it even easier for you, I’ve pulled together some numbers to call. Try:

Derech Tzaddikim: +972-2-541-0100 – www.zadikimtours.com

David Bargshtein Tours: +972-2-999-2955 – david@dbtours.co.il

Netivim Tours: +972-2-633-8444

Glatt Tour: +972-2-547-7600 – www.glattour.com

I know it’s not easy to pull the money together, I know it’s not easy to manage without him over the High Holidays for a few days, I know it’s mamash mesirut Nefesh (self-sacrifice) for the ladies who stay behind with their challenging broods.

I’ve had some years where I have absolutely dreaded the logistical part of sending my husband to Uman, because it means I’ve been stuck alone with my kids over a three day Yom Tov. Before I moved to Jerusalem, I’d at least get regular invitations as an ‘Uman Widow’ to break up the time, and I had a regular place in the local shul.

But since I’ve lived in the Holy City, Rosh Hashana each year has been quite a struggle. I don’t know where I’m davening (or sometimes, even if I’m davening…), I have no invitations, I have to deal with stroppy teenagers who think I’m retarded all by myself, without my husband acting as their foil.

But you know what? It’s still so worth it. Why do I say that?

Let me end by sharing the story of a lady I met a few years’ back, who was adamant that her husband shouldn’t go to Uman at Rosh Hashana, because Rosh Hashana was family time.

She was experiencing some serious difficulties with him, and his behavior, and no therapist or counsellor could touch them with a barge pole.

So, I suggested she send him to Uman for Rosh Hashana, and I got back a very stony stare, and a big explanation of how Rosh Hashana was a time when the family should be together. As the marriage continued to head South, each year I’d call her up in July and suggest that maybe, just maybe, this was a good time to send her husband off to Uman.

Each time, she emphasized how important it was for her family to stay together, and there was nothing I could say or do to change her mind.

Then last year, she got divorced.

It really was so very important for her family to stay together, and maybe if she’d sent her husband off to Rebbe Nachman, they’d have had a better chance of making that happen.

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The last few months, so many of our Tzaddikim have been experiencing serious leg problems.

You probably heard about Rav Dov Kook’s serious issues, that prevented him from walking around even being able to stand or sit up in order to pray.

BH, Rav Kook’s leg issues cleared up in a way that he himself described as ‘miraculous’. But now, it seems to be Rav Berland’s turn to be experiencing some serious difficulties with his legs, God forbid.

As I was pondering what’s going on with all the legs stuff, I remembered that I know of two people first-hand who had lower legs amputated this year, and a third who was hospitalized for weeks with leg problems, and similarly threatened with amputation.

Then, I was thinking about all the people I know who seem to have serious aches and pains in their legs – and that was prompted by the fact that I started to get my weird ‘aching leg’ thing again on Shabbat, which I’ve had on and off all year and always seems to be connected to some more teshuva I need to do, especially about my negative emotions.

Then, I got given a pamphlet by ‘Ha Esh Im HaTzaddik’ which was talking more about the whole ‘legs’ connection to geula, and said the following (translated from the original Hebrew):

“In Likutey Moharan, Rabbenu [Rebbe Nachman] explains that the dinim (harsh judgments) cling on to the legs, and the ‘legs’ of the generation are the Tzaddikim of the generation, who suffer because of the sins of the generation. We’ve recently seen many Tzaddikim suffering with their legs, and the Tzaddik (i.e. Rebbe Nachman) tells us that this is the secret of geula (redemption), the secret of the seventh beggar.”

Interesting!

So I went back to Rebbe Nachman’s tale of the Seventh Beggar, and here’s what I learned:

There are seven beggars, each with a physical ‘lack’ that is actually spiritual perfection.

  • The first beggar is blind.
  • The second beggar is deaf.
  • The third has a terrible speech defect.
  • The fourth has a crooked neck.
  • The fifth has a hunchback.
  • The sixth beggar has no hands.
  • The seventh beggar has no feet.

Each beggar represents a particular Tzaddik, and the enormous wisdom and spiritual insights they brought to the world. (Rebbe Nachman himself doesn’t explain who each beggar is meant to represent in Jewish history, so that’s open to each of us to interpret for ourselves.)

But he does identify who the beggar with no feet is: the Moshiach.

Indeed, the story of the seven beggars stops after the tale of the sixth day and the sixth beggar. Rav Natan, Rebbe Nachman’s main pupil writes:

“The end of the story would involve the Seventh Day and the beggar without feet. However, we were not worthy of hearing it….We will not be worthy of hearing it until the Moshiach comes. May this happen quickly in our days, Amen.”

In the notes in the English edition of Rebbe Nachman’s Tales, translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, it says the following:

“The time before the Moshiach is known as Ikvatha deMeshicha, which literally means ‘the heels of the Moshiach’. Therefore the power of rectification of the Moshiach comes from his feet….the main thing is joy, which is expressed by the feet in dancing.

“In the world to come, it’s taught that God will make a dance for all the righteous…this is the concept of the complete restoration of emuna. The beggar with no feet is the one who will effect the ultimate rectification of the…Shechina.

“Regarding the Shechina, it’s written: ‘Her feet go down to death’ (Proverbs 5:5). This is because the feet of Malchut go down to the realm of evil, giving it existence until the Moshiach comes and rectifies all things. Thus, the ultimate rectification is through the feet.”

Interesting!

Beyond that, I’m not prepared to speculate. But the whole inyan that’s going on with Tzaddikim (and others…) experiencing leg pains and serious issues this year could be pointing in the direction that we’re at least approaching the time when the story of the beggar with no feet will finally be told.

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

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

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

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

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

But in practice?

It’s really not so simple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the answer I have now is this:

EVERYONE should WANT to move to Israel.

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

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

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

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

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

Chutz l’aretz is a disaster zone, spiritually.

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

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

I don’t know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that’s not the real issue.

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

I’ve seen that happen SO many times.

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

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

Even in chutz l’aretz.

Over the last 12 years, I’ve seen the aliya process chew up a whole bunch of well-meaning people who didn’t realise what the point of being a Jew really is.

In the ‘frum Disney’ version of life that’s still so popular in chutz l’aretz, ‘Jewish life’ is about devoting your externals – your house, your money, your family, your learning and social interactions – to Hashem.

When we live in frum Disney, that means we pay our 10% charity to ensure we’ll always have money, that we buy a house in a Jewish neighbourhood near the kosher delis, that we send our kids to Jewish schools, that we have a good shul within walking distance, and maybe even that we learn a blatt of Gemara, or a couple Halachot of shmirat halashon every day.

What else is there to do, in frum Disney Land? Life is portrayed there as so simple, so black-and-white: do your best to follow Hashem’s Torah and keep His mitzvot, and you’ll only get blessings.

But then, we move to Israel and the ‘frum Disney’ version of Yiddishkeit quickly crumbles.

All of that wrenching effort we made to relocate to the Holy Land, all of the hits to our wallet, our family life, our social standing, our self-esteem, our feeling of belonging… It seems very clear that God should repay this tremendous self-sacrifice with a life of tremendous obvious bracha and ease.

But so often, something that appears to be the opposite occurs.

The money is one thing, the inability to speak the language properly, or figure things out financially and professionally is very, very difficult for a lot of new olim.

But the hardest thing is the isolation.

We move here to be part of the Jewish people, to have our kids grow up in the Jewish homeland, and to see our descendants BH flourish in the land of their forefathers, but so many of us first generation olim never actually find our own place in this huge tapestry that’s unfurling around us.

I’ve been here 12 years, and while on most levels I feel I ‘belong’ here more than I ever felt I belonged in the UK, there is still a big chunk of me that feels like a permanent stranger, a permanent outsider.

Socially, I’m still trudging though the desert, waiting for the Promised Land to appear.

I miss the Shabbat socialising I used to do (every week….)

I miss feeling like I could make things happen, and achieve things, and set goals that would materialise. I haven’t felt like that – about anything – for years, now.

Because in Israel, you don’t serve Hashem with your money, and your wardrobe full of tznius clothes, and your huge salon where you entertain 30 people every week for Shabbos.

You serve God with your kishkes, with your soul, with all the hopes and dreams you have for yourself that may, or may not accord with the Almighty’s plan for your life.

And that difference is enormous.

Most people don’t know this. They don’t understand that the experience of serving Hashem in Israel, in the Holy Land, is qualitatively different from the ‘frum Disney’ experience you get everywhere else.

They think they’ll be able to land, and to keep their self-esteem, and their arrogance, and their comfort zone, and their bank accounts 100% intact, and to carry on serving God with glatt kosher schnitzels and a blatt Gemora.

But it’s not like that. Every day, you wake up and God squeezes a bit more emuna out of you, a bit more tefilah that at some point things will calm down and work out, a few more tears about the matzav, a bit more yearning for Moshiach and geula and the Temple, when we’ll finally be reunited with all the people, the family, the friends, we left ‘back home’.

Israel is a very real place.

It’s a place of the inner dimension, the soul. I’ve seen so many people get mangled by the aliya process, because they didn’t take that into account, and they didn’t understand that what’s on the table here is spiritual rectification, not frum Disney Land.

The last time I went to the UK, I came back with a profound sense of sadness that lasted for many, many months. Today, I woke up tearful and I realised that even though I only spent 2 ½ days in frum Disney Land, it’s still taking a spiritual toll on me.

Part of me can’t understand why I’m living this life now where I get one Shabbat invitation a year (sometimes…) Why I have no community, and no real chance of that changing. Why someone who was so successful, externally, in frum Disney Land should be such an embarrassing failure here.

I know the answer.

I look at my kids who smile genuine smiles, and who feel real emotions, and who relish being alive, and I know the answer.

I look at my husband, who I still love profoundly after 20 years of marriage, who I still have big chats with, who I still like to spend time with, and I know the answer.

Here, I serve Hashem with my kishkes and my tears and my prayers, not with my nice house and my Shabbos hospitality.

But I still hope that sometime soon, the path is going to get smoother, and a bunch less lonely.

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.