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Rebbe Nachman on real Jewish leaders.

Reposting this article on the difference between luminaries of fire and luminaries of light, from 2016.

In Part 2 of Likutey Moharan, Lesson 67, he writes:

“There are luminaries of light and luminaries of fire, and they are antagonistic [i.e. opposing each other.] When the luminaries of light are empowered, the luminaries of fire are subdued, and inversely, when the luminaries of light are subdued and diminished, the luminaries of fire are empowered.”

A little later on in that same lesson, Rebbe Nachman explains that:

“When someone who totally lacks God’s name becomes renowned – when his name becomes renowned and exalted – God’s name becomes diminished and disappears. Then, pseudo-miracle workers and magicians become exalted, and things happen in the world against which only the names of demonic powers are able to protect….

“Fires are caused in the world on account of the names of these ignominiously renowned people becoming great and enhanced, for this causes God’s name to disappear, the luminaries of light to be subdued, and the luminaries of fire to become empowered.”

What is Rabbenu telling us here?

Firstly, he’s telling us that some of the rabbis, leaders and spiritual mentors in the world are the good guys – the ‘luminaries of light’, and that some of them are the bad guys, or the ‘luminaries of fire’.

This is a fact, however upsetting, and the sooner we come to terms with it, the easier it will be to spot the ‘luminaries of fire’ before they burn us up with their bad advice, false judgment and heretical ideas that are really the antithesis of emuna and serving Hashem.

Rabbenu is also telling us that when the ‘famous’ people in the world are essentially God-less heretics, that’s when these ‘luminaries of fire’ will come to the fore, and that’s when all the pseudo-miracle workers etc will start pouring out of the cracks to confuse us even more.

It’s hard to think of a more secular bunch of ‘elites’ than we have in the world today, whether in Israel or elsewhere.

Who talks about God these days, or includes Him in any policy decisions? Certainly not the politicians, pundits, academics and journalists in Israel, and certainly not the politicians, pundits, academics and journalists anywhere else, either.

So that’s the situation we’re currently in.

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But Rebbe Nachman is also telling us HOW we can spot who is a faker, and who isn’t:

A luminary of light does just that: they light you up. They exude spiritual light. They shine in the darkness – really literally as well as figuratively.

Unaltered image taken of Rabbi Eliezer Berland

I remember a few years’ back one of the first times I went to see Rav Arush giving a shiur, his face was mamash shining, and I spent most of the night trying to figure out where the spotlight was…. There was no spotlight.

The same with Rav Berland. So many people describe meeting him in the same way: they were instantly struck by the light of holiness coming off him. It was enough to affect powerful spiritual changes in them without him even saying a word.

Luminaries of fire don’t have that light.

What they have instead is thunderous rhetoric, quick one-liners, heapings of blame, self-righteousness, arrogance, and often very quick tempers for anyone who dares to challenge them, take up too much of their time, or otherwise upset them in some way.

Luminaries of fire are scary people, once you peel off all the ‘fake nice’ that they go to great pains to cover it up with.  They roast you for not being good enough. They blast you for not being tznius enough, or having enough emuna (or simply, for being a flawed human being.)

They dole out judgment and advice with narrowed eyes and an obvious dislike (all carefully concealed). Also, whatever ‘spiritual uplift’ they do possess, it doesn’t illuminate so much as completely burn you out.

Your rapt attention, your obvious devotion and respect – it’s all just fuel for the insatiable fire of their own ego and self-interest.

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Before I knew all this, I used to occasionally have phone calls with a ‘luminary of fire’ that would leave me feeling very weird afterwards, like I’d just been mugged somehow, but couldn’t for the life of me work out how, or who’d done it.

It was the luminary of fire, taking all of my respect for them to build a bigger bonfire for themselves. There was some light, too, but it was so hot and uncomfortable speaking to them I subconsciously decided to keep my distance.

It’s only when I overcame that reticence, to have the first ‘real’ conversation with them in all the time I’d been following them, that it became shockingly obvious that I was dealing with a faker, a luminary of fire, not a luminary of light.

Let’s end with this: Luminaries of light can hold their candle up even in your darkest hour, and give you a path out of despair.

Luminaries of fire can’t.

The only thing they can do is ‘explode’ in some way – at you, for being such a useless, worthless, imperfect sinner. Fire is anger. Fire is intolerance. Fire is harsh words, and criticism and machloket.

May the luminaries of light be empowered again very soon, may God’s name be exalted and spoken about once again, and may we all have illumination instead of destruction in our lives.

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Why ‘confirmation bias’ is such a big spiritual problem

A long time ago, when infographics were still all the rage, I came across this infographic which clearly showed the 20 main ‘cognitive biases’, including confirmation bias. This infographic basically dissects the playbook the yetzer hara uses to convince us that we’re always right about everything, and that everyone else is always wrong. (Click the link to see a bigger version, this is just for illustration purposes.)

An infographic showing 20 cognitive biases including confirmation biasNow, I wouldn’t care so much, except that I’ve been noticing a strange phenomena around Volume II of One in a Generation, which is that most people don’t want to read it, and don’t want to talk about all the proof it contains about just how corrupt the media actually is.

For as long as the media was coming up with one false, salacious, slanderous story after another about Rabbi Berland (aka ‘Eliezer ben Etia’), my email was glowing red-hot with people wanting to have the discussion with me. Now that the other side of the story is out there, clearly, showing exactly how we all got manipulated, bamboozled and downright deceived by the MSM – no-one wants to know.

Yawn.

Now that we can conclusively show that all the lies about the Rav abusing women, God forbid, came down to the same two people who were trying to extort money out of Rabbi Berland, it’s no longer interesting.

What is still interesting, tho, is that the Rav is taking money to do pidyon nefesh for people. Ooooo, this is still so interesting, because the same ‘anti chareidi’ media who have been behind so many of the lies right from the start ran a whole big ‘splash’ campaign about it.

People paid money, and it didn’t work!!! He took money from people on their death beds!!!!

Etc etc etc.

I haven’t looked into the details of all these stories (yet…. I might do at some point) – but I personally know of two occasions when the pidyon nefesh didn’t work, and the person died. In both instances, the Rav offered to repay the whole sum.

When all is said and done, the Rav is not God, and God will still do as He sees fit.

On the other hand, I know of literally thousands of cases where the Rav’s pidyon nefesh worked open miracles, saved lives and totally turned around a lost situation. (Some of which actually happened to yours truly)

So now, who are you going to believe, the anti-chareidi, anti-God, atheist MSM with massive agendas, or people who have seen open miracles in their own lives?

Or rather, the question is who do you WANT to believe?

Because that’s really a far trickier problem. Here’s why so many people are still having a hard time believing that Rav Berland is a true tzaddik and a very holy man, as opposed to the ucky individual they read about online, and gossiped about with their friends, and attacked on Facebook:

  1. People are over-reliant on the first piece of information they hear – in this case, all the slanderous stories and lies put out by the Rav’s persecutors.
  2. People place too much credence on the limited information they have available – before they know all the facts of the matter.
  3. People like to jump on bandwagons – even when they’re heading in totally the wrong direction.
  4. People have blind spots about their own subconscious motivations and biases – so it suits them when a big Rabbi who spent his whole life telling people to ditch i-Phones and act in a holier way can be totally written off and ignored.
  5. Once people ‘choose’ a side, or a thing, they have a vested interest in protecting it at all costs – even if they’re wrong.
  6. “So many people are saying it, it must be true!!!” – of course they are, because they all read the same ucky, poisonous, anti-religion online news sites that you do.
  7. People only want to hear things that confirm their existing opinion – they are much more interested in being right than being truthful.
  8. People are very slow to change their minds about things – it can take a lot of repetition before they finally grasp what you’re trying to explain.
  9. People prefer to just gather more information, than to actually act on it – if they wait long enough, they are sure that ‘new information’ will emerge that will prove their original view point correct, and absolve them from any need to make teshuva or admit they were wrong.
  10. People are burying their head in the sand about just how bad and corrupted the MSM actually is – it’s a very uncomfortable thought to consider that the media might be spoon-feeding massive lies to the public. Much easier to ignore the whole problem and hope it will just go away by itself.
  11. “But he went to prison! There’s nothing more to discuss!!!” – this is called outcome bias.
  12. People are convinced that they know everything, and are always totally right – i.e. they suffer from tremendous arrogance.
  13. People WANT to believe that the news is factual, so that makes them believe that the news IS factual – the alternative scenario is far too scary.
  14. People believe the newest stuff is always more relevant than the older stuff – hey, all that abusing women stuff is old news!!! We already moved on to how the Rav is extorting money out of terminally-ill people now! Talk to the hand!
  15. People don’t like to re-examine the past – they prefer to deal with what’s in front of their eyes today, i.e. more lies and slanders that haven’t yet been refuted or disproved.
  16. People pander to their own world views – many people are much more ‘comfortable’ with the idea of abusive rabbis than they are with the idea that the press is a lying, manipulative, anti-God, propaganda machine.
  17. People believe what they want to believe. (This needs no additional explanation).
  18. People rely on stereotypes instead of facts – of course, all Breslov rabbis with large followings and mystical tendencies must be ‘crazy’ or ‘bad’.
  19. People believe the media is always right – because the media very rarely, if ever, tells them about the thousands upon thousands of factual errors and false stories it’s putting out there, every single day.
  20. People prefer their comfortable lies to the uncomfortable truth – even though that’s keeping them far away from God, stuck and miserable.

Truth vs lies

Sadly, I’ve come to the conclusion that the number of people who are happy to stay stuck in the web of lies and deceit that is modern life is far greater than those who are looking for the truth. And I can understand where they are coming from, kind of.

Who wants to be a social pariah by calling out all their Fakebook friends who spent two solid years posting up self-righteous rants dripping with lashon hara bout Rabbi Berland? Who wants to really take a look under the bonnet and realize just how many flaws and issues they themselves actually have? Or how many people they are hurting with their own ucky behavior?

Who really wants to ‘fess up to being duped by unethical journalists, or to following rabbis and others who aren’t the real deal, or to having a vested interest in trying to make an elderly Breslov tzaddik look ‘bad’ to make themselves feel better about their own obsessions with internet, licentiousness, gossip, ego-stroking, making money and materialism?

You can see why it’s so challenging, honestly.

But here’s the problem:

All that stuff that’s keeping us away from acknowledging the truth about Rabbi Berland is the same stuff that’s going to keep us away from the world to come, too.

Geula is mamash on the threshold, and we can’t cross over into it for as long as we’re still dragging all that arrogance, hatred and bad middot behind us. God isn’t asking us to be perfect, He knows that’s impossible. He’s just asking us to be truthful, and to put our hands up and to admit that we make mistakes, and we have vested interests, and we do a lot of things wrong and hurt a lot of people, every single day.

A bit of truth and humility is all that’s required to get us into the world to come.

But judging by what’s going on with Rav Berland and One in a Generation Volume II, even a bit of truth and humility is way beyond what most people can apparently manage.

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

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

I knew the feeling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This started a panic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatever money I have, I spend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strange to say, I had the same thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the back of a few emails about the post on Marriage Guidance – Israel style, I just wanted to elaborate a little more on how to get a good husband:

Pray on him every single day.

Every single day, ask God to help your husband overcome his bad temper, his poor self-esteem, his confusion, his doubts, his bad behavior and warped ideas.

Because we all have these issues, even the very best of us, and a woman’s job is to help to fix her husband’s soul by praying on him (and herself and her family) as much as she can.

That is the secret ingredient, the special sauce, that can turn even the worst relationship between a husband and wife around.

Any marriage counsellor who is not telling a couple to get God involved in the process, can’t really help you long-term and is probably doing way more harm than good.

And any wife who is not willing to pray on her husband, is going to have plenty of challenges and heartache to deal with. (Like, more than you’d get if you were actually praying, because getting marriages to last the distance is hard work, even when you are talking to God a lot.)

We’re not talking about doing six hours a day here, or even six minutes. All it takes is a tiny bit of effort, a smidge of empathy about where all these issues the husband has is actually coming from, and a touch of emuna that God really can do anything, if we get Him involved.

Try this:

  • Buy a bumper bag of tealights, 50, or 100.
  • Light one every single day in the merit of your husband, and say a few words to God about what you’d like Him to work on, e.g. “Please help him stop being so angry, God. Please help him to like himself more. Please help him to stop worrying so much about money, and killing himself at work. Please help him to be nicer to me and the kids. Please help him to realise – all by himself – that when a man looks like he’s 8 months pregnant, no-one finds that attractive, and he needs to join a gym…” – Whatever comes to you.
  • At the end of the 50 days, take your journal and note down any improvements – because I guarantee you’ll see some.
  • Go buy another bumper bag of tealights.
  • Repeat steps 1-4 until you have the man of your dreams.

This may take some time, it’s not a ‘quick fix’, it’s true.

But if at the end of five years solid of doing this you don’t have a wonderful marriage, I’ll eat my hat.

We women, we wives, have so much power to transform, improve and rectify all the problems in our marriage. But that power is only to be found in our prayers, and if we’re not regularly talking to God, we simply can’t get to it.

And we can’t outsource the job of fixing the husband to anyone else, however much we really might want to.

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

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

Why not?

Because that might offend someone.

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

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

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

But the second is an attack on ideas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And thank God, I can’t do that.

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

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

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

Or at least, almost all of us.

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

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

But I’m not giving up.

At least, not yet.

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

But sometimes, staying real is really hard work.

In the old days, I used to make plans to do a long hitbodedut every single day of a 3-day Purim heading into Shabbat – and sometimes, they even used to come off.

But not, it seems, these days.

I’ve actually been struggling with a lack of motivation since Rosh Hashana, when I deleted Emunaroma to avoid getting pulled into any more ‘machloket’ with pretend-perfect crazy people.

And for three months, I did nothing much, because I didn’t want to have any more machloket in my life, and whatever I write, it always seems to end up there, somehow or other.

So then, back in December, I felt God wanted me back online, and with a heavy heart, I agreed.

Because I really don’t want any more machloket in my life!!! I just want an ‘easy’ life now, thanks very much, Hashem.

For months, I’ve been avoiding getting into anything too controversial again, as much as possible (although in our PC world, full of snowflakes just waiting to get offended so they can take out all their inner turmoil on you, that’s really much easier said than done.)

But I’ve been trying.

Now, you’d think that making a resolute effort to pursue the ‘easy’ life would be making me far more relaxed, chilled out, and overall happy-feeling. Believe me, I also thought that would happen.

But, man, was I wrong.

Instead of being more chilled out, laid back, exercising more, using all my energy to whip up healthy cakes, and go to the gym, and to spotlessly clean the house and iron my husband’s shirts (poor man…), I’ve actually been struggling to wake up most mornings, because what’s the point? My kids are big enough to get off to school without me, no-one needs a sandwich made, or a pair of sneakers found, so what’s the point?

 Sure, I’ve still been doing stuff – lots of stuff, even – but nothing really has been exciting me too much, or grabbing me. Why? Because while it’s kinda meaningful, it’s also kinda bland. And bland is not enough to have me jumping out of bed in the morning.

But ‘interesting’ stuff is always inherently risky, in any number of different ways. It can draw people against you, it can draw you into disputes and patterns of thinking that are very unhealthy and destructive. It can lead to a lot of stress and complication….

So, I’ve been caught on the horns of a furious dilemma.

But today, Purim day, I realized something profound: I’m here to serve God, for the good, and also for the bad. I’m not here to have an easy life. And pursuing that ‘easy’ life is actually making my life anything but easy.

Externally, it’s relatively peaceful and tranquil, Baruch Hashem. Internally, I’m fighting a raging tempest that wakes me up 4 times a night, and gives me no rest. I’m falling apart physically. I can’t ignore God’s prompts anymore.

This is so similar to what happened to me before we moved to Israel. The risks associated with moving were so huge – in London, we both had good jobs, a nice house, a community, family, the language etc etc. It was far too scary to even contemplate aliya.

But then, God sent me a bunch of inexplicable panic attacks, and a series of bad nightmares about getting stuck in London during a terrorist attack (this was months before the 7/7 terror attack actually occurred, which killed 52 people in London) – and after the third time, I told my husband we have to do it, we have to move to Israel.

Because God was giving me no peace, and my ‘easy life’ was becoming a living nightmare.

And it’s happening again.

That’s what I realized, this Purim.

There is no running away from God.

The last time I slept through the night in one shot, for an unbroken stretch of at least 7 hours, was more than 5 weeks ago.

Since then, God has been waking me up every single night, usually at 4am in the morning.

All of a sudden, boom! – I’m awake. For no obvious reason. All kids are either in bed asleep, or out for the night in ulpana. The husband isn’t snoring loudly. There’s no shutters banging around, no wind blowing up a storm, no sirens, or shouting, or singing.

Nothing.
Just me, and my being awake.

The first week, I thought this must be subliminal stress, so I started doing all the things I usually do with lentils, and Rescue Remedy and taking long walks and wearing socks to bed, so my feet don’t get cold.

None of that worked. 4am rolled around, and I was still suddenly far too awake.

So then, I thought I need to pray some more about this. I did a few long sessions, usually on Shabbat, and while I got some interesting insights into some other things on my mind, I didn’t get a dickie bird about what is causing the insomnia.

After a month of really not sleeping properly, I started to get those tension headaches you get when you’re overtired. But what can I do? I never figured out the art of napping in the day, and once I’m awake, I’m awake.
Last week, I realized I have to just start accepting that right now, this is God’s will for me.

To be pointlessly awake at 4am, knowing that I will doze off just as my alarm rings at 6am, and then find it really hard to get out of bed, even though I’m not really asleep.

And then, to struggle through the rest of the day like a zombie, feeling like my brain really isn’t functioning properly.

This is God’s plan for me, this is God’s will right now.

I happened to be looking for past Purim articles on the blog, and when I searched, it threw up a whole bunch of posts talking about the madness, and the rush, and the pressure that so many of us seem to feel when Adar rolls around.
And this year, it seems to be happening again. The pressure is building.

I’m waiting for things to flip-over, and get sweetened.

As always seems to be the case, I’m doing it backwards. The nearer we get to Rosh Chodesh Nissan, and Pesach, the more ‘awake’ God wants us.
But personally, I’m waiting to be able to go back to sleep.

Everything you need to know about Pidyon Nefesh – Part 2

(See Part 1 HERE)

THE 24 HEAVENLY COURTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RECAP:

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

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

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THE RIGHT ATTITUDE TO HAVE, WHEN GIVING A PIDYON NEFESH

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

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

Why would someone believe that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mockery prevents one from going to the tzaddikim.

It’s also written (#130):

Judgments are sweetened through faith in tzaddikim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s still a joint effort.

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

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

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

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What can we learn from this?

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

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

Like the man in the story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who knows?

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WHEN YOU SHOULDN’T GIVE A PIDYON NEFESH

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

Don’t do a pidyon nefesh if:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#196 Connection to the Tzaddik is a great healing.

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

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

Click HERE for more posts on Pidyon Nefesh.

 

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

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

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

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

WHO RUNS THE ‘ISRAEL RELIGIOUS ACTION CENTER?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah, peace n’love.

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

Anyway, back to Ikea.

——

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

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

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

Puhleeeze!

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

Questions, questions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now look at her.

All this stuff is the thin edge of the wedge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE:

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

These are my thoughts:

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

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

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

Here’s some examples:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caveat emptor.

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You might also like these articles:

The First Feminist in Israel

Healthy role models for Jewish women

Yesterday, I went back to Hevron, to go and so some hitbodedut at the Mearat HaMachpela, the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

So often, when I’m struggling with big decisions, big confusions, big inner turmoil, I’ve gone back to sit at a holy place – like Hevron, like Kever Rochel, like the Baba Sali, like Uman – and the clouds start to part, and a light starts to shine on a way out of the madness.

Like everyone else, I have a lot going on.

So, I was in Hevron yesterday, pondering on a lot of different things, when I happened to pick up a little booklet of Rav Shalom Arush’s ‘pearls of emuna’, that someone had left next to the grille overlooking the tomb of Avraham.

I picked it up, opened it up randomly, and got to a passage that (from memory) said something like this:

Rebbe Nachman writes in Likutey Moharan that the whole point of life is to keep giving the honor, the kavod, back to Hashem. And human beings are very bad at this, and they just want to keep trying to wrestle the honor that’s due to God back to themselves, in all types of different ways.

He brought direct quotes from Likutey Moharan, but I can’t remember the reference. But that was the gist.

And as always, it dealt so precisely with so many of the things I’m wrestling with, right now.

Like, why I am so terribly bothered and disturbed by all the rampant ‘self-promotion’ that’s going on all over the place, where even the yearning for geula seems to have been harnessed to a Paypal account.

And like, why I’m so terribly bothered by all these ‘rockstar rabbis’ and ‘rockstar rabbanits’ who speak so very eloquently, and who plaster themselves all over Youtube, and who seem to pop up like a rash on colorful glossy posters on lampposts and walls all over the Holy City of Jerusalem (and elsewhere…)

And like, why it upsets me so much that so very many of our ‘leaders’ – religious and otherwise – are clearly just ‘leading’ because of what’s in it for them, and their egos, and their bank accounts, and their social media following.

God is out the picture, fundamentally, even in the orthodox Jewish world.

So few people today are doing their Torah classes lishma, in order to give the honor due to God.

That’s strong language, I know, so let me try to explain what I’m talking about with some real-life examples.

A few years’ back, one of my neighbors strong-armed me into attending a ‘self-development / emuna’ workshop, by a well-known ‘rockstar rabbanit’ type in her home, because the rabbanit wanted a guarantee that at least 10 people would commit, “to make it worth her while”.

I baulked when my neighbor told me the cost was 50 shekels a class, and that I’d have to pay 400 shekels up front, to cover the whole 8 weeks.

Why so expensive?! I wanted to know.

Then I went to check out the slick website, the slick promo video, and I saw I’m dealing with a serious business person here, who is packaging their ‘Torah’ in a very commercially-sensible way. And I could see how making it financially ‘worth her while’ was actually the goal, the focus, of everything she was doing.

And then I baulked even more, because we’re warned away from people who turn their Torah learning into a ‘hammer’ with which to build up their own personality cults, and bank accounts.

But my neighbor wouldn’t relent, so I agreed to come and try one class (for 50 shekels…) and then to decide if I wanted to continue. I sat there, listening to some very warped ideas about how we can ‘force’ God to do what we want, and to give us what we want, and I came away extremely disturbed.

Because that’s total baloney. The real definition of emuna is accepting God’s will happily, while trying to work on the bad middot that are ‘blocking’ all the good stuff that God wants to send down to us.

But I guess that’s not such a commercially-viable message, and that no-one would want to pay 50 shekels a class just to be told their own bad middot are causing them all the problems.

Another time, a different ‘rockstar rabbnit’ rolled into town, and again it was an-singing, all-dancing event that was so expensive to attend, it actually provoked a storm of outrage in the village.

Why so expensive?! Everyone wanted to know.

But then, when you saw the fancy venue that was hired, and the expensive light and sound crew, and you counted the number of dancers, and comedians, and singers and performers who were the ‘warm up’ for that rockstar rabbanit, it all made perfect sense.

It was slick entertainment being packaged as Torah, and it was totally focused on the ‘feel-good’ factor, instead of the ‘actually becoming good’ factor – which again, is a much harder sell, commercially.

Again, I came away with a very uncomfortable feeling about it all, especially when I saw the queue of women lining up to get a ‘blessing’ and advice from the rabbanit after the show. I know firsthand how much damage bad advice can do to people who have been fooled into believing they’re dealing with a bona fide tzaddik.

You throw away your own critical thinking, you override your own gut feelings – and ultimately, the person isn’t really a tzaddik, doesn’t have any more of a connection to God than you do, and is really just dressing their own opinions and biases up as ‘ruach hakodesh’, or some sort of prophetic spirit.

In a nutshell: it’s extremely dangerous.

Another time, I was strong-armed into attending yet another Torah class given by yet another ‘rockstar rabbanit’, this time in Jerusalem. Again, I was left underwhelmed by the quality of the Torah being taught, and the character of the person giving it over, and overwhelmed by the insistence of the helper who waved her ‘donation cannister’ in the face of everyone who entered the room, and demanded a 30 shekel ‘donation’ before she’d let you sit down.

Ah, Torah lishma! Torah teaching for its own sake! Torah learning for God!

Not.

Not at all, actually.

I know rabbis and rabbanits need to eat, I really do. I know they need to put food on the table.

But as soon as the financial consideration becomes the imperative, all that person’s Torah, all that person’s wisdom, all that person’s ‘advice’ and insight, it’s all being harnessed to power their own honor and bank account, and God is out of the picture.

Even Rebbe Nachman tells us (in Sefer HaMiddot, Tzaddik, #18):

There is a tzaddik whose fame is reknown, who later falls through lust for money.

I.e., even a bona fide tzaddik can fall into a very bad place when financial considerations becomes the main engine driving their activities.

Also in Sefer HaMiddot (Tzaddik #57), Rabbenu tells us:

There are those that expound on the Torah with eloquence, yet their words lack truth.

But man, do they make for some good entertainment!

The rabbis and rabbanits who are truly serving God lishma, truly teaching Torah lishma, often do so at such an enormous cost to themselves, and their own comfort zone, and their own finances and ego.

That’s one of the ways you can tell who is ‘real’ and who isn’t, in our confused, upside-down, back-to-front world.

I prefer to learn Torah from people who I know from firsthand knowledge often lack the funds to pay their own electricity bills. And who often go into enormous debt putting out Torah teachings, or building new kollels and yeshivas, as Rav Natan did on behalf of Rebbe Nachman, and Breslov chassidut. And who literally go through a ‘fire and water’ of disgrace and humiliation, because they want all the honor to go to God, and not to become some ‘big name’ on the Torah circuit.

Personally, I’m not on that level, no-where near it. While I’m clearly not writing to earn money (haha!) I still write to feel good about myself, to feel as though I’m doing something useful in the world. It’s not 100% lishma, it’s not totally for God

And that’s why it’s so humbling for me to watch and experience how it looks when Torah is truly being learned and taught – and lived – lishma.

This Torah isn’t light entertainment, this Torah doesn’t make for pretty Youtube videos, the people teaching this Torah aren’t showing up on the roster of speakers at the Dead Sea for Pesach.

This Torah is challenging the listeners – continually – to put their hand up and admit they aren’t perfect, and that they need to knuckle down and work on their own characters and relationships.

And that’s just not something anyone wants to pay good money to hear, is it?

But this Torah makes it blindingly clear that the honor belongs to God.

And no-one else.

And that’s how I know it’s real.

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UPDATE: I had a question about how paying a tzaddik a pidyon nefesh relates to what I’ve described above. BH, I will collate a bunch of sources, and answer that with some daas Torah next week some time.

It’s a complicated subject, so I can understand the confusion, and with God’s help, I will try to clarify the difference.