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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.

 

Everything you need to know about Pidyon Nefesh – Part 1

The whole idea of giving a pidyon nefesh to a real Tzaddik has to be one of the most misunderstood, confusing and murky concepts in Jewish thought.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to deal with this subject via email, or a phone call, so I think the time has come to try to sort it all out in a methodical fashion, and bring as many of the sources and explanations as I can into one post.

(Now that I’ve actually written this, I’m going to split it up into two posts, one after the other.)

But before we can get to the basic idea behind a pidyon nefesh (which is not just a Breslov idea, btw, and not even just a Chassidic idea. Many Sephardi kabbalists also hold by the idea of doing pidyon nefesh) – we first have to talk a bit about the idea of the True Tzaddik.

Which is probably the second most misunderstood, confusing and murky concepts in Jewish thought, so this is going to be one heck of a long post!

After some consideration, I thought the easiest way to dive into the topic is to just bring some of what Rebbe Nachman explains about the Tzaddik, and true tzaddikim, in his book, Sefer HaMiddot.

QUOTES FROM SEFER HAMIDDOT (Taken from the chapter called Tzaddik):

#12 Putting in effort to draw close to tzaddikim is beneficial for serving God.

#20 Don’t be disturbed by the fact that the tzaddikim accept financial support from others in order to run their households with wealth and honor – would it be better for them not to take from others, and not to lead? For the more delight and expansion the Tzaddik has, the more his soul expands, and then there is a resting place in which the Divine Presence may dwell. Therefore, one should not come to the house [of a Tzaddik] empty-handed.

#40 In the merit of serving a great man, one is saved from death.

#46 Giving money to benefit a tzaddik is like serving in the Holy Temple.

#82 Sometimes, a tzaddik elevates someone and then humiliates them, and this is for the person’s benefit.

#107 Sometimes, through giving one bit of satisfaction to the Tzaddik, and through the little action one does for him, one merits the World to Come.

#122 The blessing of a Tzaddik is a pidyon.

#127 One who puts the Tzaddik to the test, it’s as if he put God to the test.

#130 Through faith in Tzaddikim judgments are sweetened.

#136 There is no Tzaddik who does not endure attackers and investigators.

#150 God gives parnassa to a tzaddik through the community, in order that he will have some connection with them, and so that when God remembers the Tzaddik, he remembers them as well.

#151 The coming of Moshiach depends on drawing close to the Tzaddik.

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

#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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Ad kan, from Sefer HaMiddot. As always, it’s highly recommended to look up the quotes yourself, as I just picked out a few, and there’s much more that could be said.

What I wanted to try to bring out with these quotes are two key points:

  • Giving money / help / gifts / support to tzaddikim is always very beneficial to a person, and goes a long way to cancelling out our sins and helping us to overcome our yetzer haras and negative character traits. And this is without us even getting into the specific discussion about a pidyon nefesh, which we’ll come to shortly.
  • All of the things described above only apply to True Tzaddikim – and not ordinary rabbis and rabbanits, nice as they might be. Even more so, these benefits don’t apply to giving money to ‘pretend’ holy people.

From my own experience, I know it’s very, very hard to really know who is ‘real’ and who isn’t today, let alone who is a ‘true tzaddik’ and who isn’t.

There is only one way to really know this with certainty, and that is:

To pray on it, and to ask God to show you who is a real tzaddik.

Yes, we’re talking about doing regular hitbodedut again, because without it, you’ll trip up. Even with it, you’ll probably still trip up, especially at the beginning. Why? Because we are drawn to the rabbis and rabbanits that most mirror and reflect our own views and beliefs back at us.

If we are angry, judgmental, arrogant hypocrites who think we’re perfect and all the problems in the world are simply everyone else’s fault – that’s the sort of people we’ll be drawn to, those are the types of Torah classes and ideas and ‘proofs’ we’ll want to hear. It takes a lot of time to start clearing all those bad middot out of the way, but when that starts to happen, we’ll find ourselves open to hearing about judging others favorably, and about taking responsibility for our own issues, and about working more on our own bad middot.

And that’s when God will start to draw us closer to the really holy people, the true tzaddikim in our midst.

So, the first part of the equation is that giving money and gifts to true tzaddikim is always beneficial to a person, at least in the spiritual realm, but that it’s not so easy to know who a true tzaddik is, and there are a lot of ‘pseudo-tzaddikim’ out there.

Now, let’s talk more about the concept of the Pidyon Nefesh itself.

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REBBE NACHMAN EXPLANS WHY WE SHOULD DO A PIDYON NEFESH:

In the Kitzur Likutey Moharan (translated into English as ‘Advice’, by the Breslov Research Institute), it says the following about Pidyon Nefesh:

  • When a person is sick, a pidyon nefesh (monetary redemption) is the pre-requisite of any cure. Only after the redemption has been made does the Torah give the doctor permission to cure (See Likutey Moharan, II:3)

  • When a person fills the mouths of the Sages with wine, it is accounted for him like a redemption (LM 1:41)

  • Getting up for Tikkun Chatzot (the midnight prayer for rectification) has the same power as a redemption.

  • It is a good practice to always give money for a pidyon nefesh. This is the way to sweeten the power of harsh judgments at all times, and to be saved from them. Even when nobody in the house is sick and you have no particular problems, it is still good to present money for a pidyon nefesh, in order to prevent any problems or sickness, God forbid (Chayey Moharan Section on Serving Hashem, 92).

This isn’t just anyone telling us this, it’s Rebbe Nachman, one of the biggest rabbis in Jewish history.

And he’s spelling it out clearly, that if you want the best chance of avoiding harsh sicknesses and other big difficulties, you should regularly pay a pidyon nefesh, even if you’re not currently experiencing any problems!

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HOW DOES A PIDYON NEFESH WORK?

To understand this, we first have to state something obvious, but which is often so hidden from so many of us, in our ‘pretend perfect’ world:

Nobody is perfect, and every single one of us is constantly transgressing Torah commandments and hurting other people every minute of every day.

The best way to minimize the judgements against us is by going over the past 24 hours in hitbodedut, to try to figure out if that angry outburst, that slanderous email, that nasty behavior, that spiteful comment, was really as justified and ‘holy’ as it seemed at the time.

This is a crucial part of the teshuva process, and if we’re doing regular teshuva, that’s the main way how we can keep these harsh heavenly decrees that are building up against us every single day in check.

But, even if we are regularly doing that (and especially if we’re not…) we all have our blind spots, we all have our flaws and issues, particularly in the area of man and his fellow man. And if those sins aren’t properly atoned for, they can cause harsh judgments to be sent down to us by the Heavenly Court.

Those harsh spiritual judgments manifest in all sorts of ways, including financial problems, health problems, shalom bayit problems, mental health issues where we just feel sad and depressed all the time, problems with the kids etc etc etc.

Now, the suffering itself atones for our sins.

This is a well-known concept, that when we’re going through harsh experiences, that is ‘paying down our debt’, spiritually. That suffering cleans off the spiritual stains we have on our souls, as a result of all the stuff we’re doing wrong (constantly….) that we aren’t acknowledging, or making teshuva about.

ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, THE SPIRITUAL DEBT WE’VE RUN UP HAS TO BE PAID OFF.

There are three main ways we can do this:

  • Clean it off with daily hitbodedut / cheshbon hanefesh / teshuva (but remember, we all have blind spots, which means that we’re for sure not catching everything we’re doing wrong and need to fix.)
  • Experience the suffering we brought down on ourselves as a result of our own behavior and flaws.
  • Pay a pidyon nefesh, a sum of money for a redemption, to a true tzaddik, which is a different sort of ‘suffering’, because parting with our cash is very hard for most of us to do.

The Tanach makes regular reference to money as damim, ‘bloods’.  Why is it called this?

Because we literally sweat and spill our own blood in order to earn that money, to get it together. It’s very dear to us, we’ve sacrificed so much time, effort, energy, whatever to attain it.

And there’s another factor to toss in here, which is that some of our suffering – especially in this generation, the last before Moshiach finally comes – is because of sins that we committed in past lives.

When that’s the case, we can’t even get to it via a daily teshuva process, however much we try. So then we’re really left with just the last 2 options on the list.

And sometimes, even a pidyon nefesh can’t get us out of the harsh decree, because that is our tikkun for a previous life, and it can’t be avoided.

In the next post, let’s take a look at how the pidyon nefesh process actually works, in Shemayim.

I opened my inbox today, read a few emails, then shut it down again before responding to anyone.

Why?

Because I didn’t know what to say.

BH, I have the enormous privilege of being in touch with some of the most amazing, big souls in the whole wide world. And over recent months, so many of them have been sent such big tests, such never-ending tribulations, such feelings of confusion and doubt – that I’ve reached that point of not really knowing what to say, or how to share their pain with them.

I do have one piece advice left, but I know it’s often still so hard to hear, and so hard to act on, that I save it for when there is literally nothing more I can say or suggest. And this is it:

Get in touch with Rav Berland.

Connect with this tremendous tzaddik somehow, because when I was going through years and years of terrible, awful suffering, and when I felt like I didn’t really want to carry on, or be around anymore just to be so miserable all the time, Rav Berland was the single thing that turned that tanker around.

I’m in touch with people who are doing hitbodedut for hours a day; people who have more emuna in their little finger than I do in my whole body; people who are trying their best to be super-machmir in any way they can, religiously, to try to get all their problems to abate and turn around.

And I read what they’re going through, and I feel so sad about it all, because this is also what happened to me. I also got stuck trying to be more and more frum, and more and more strict, and more and more down on myself, and more and more harshly self-critical about all my faults and failures, because I thought that’s what God wants, and that is how I’ll get things to turnaround.

But I was so, so wrong!

God didn’t want that at all.

What God really did want, was for me to admit I couldn’t do it by myself, and that I couldn’t do it alone, and to once and for all accept that I needed to be connected to a true Tzaddik, in order to function as a human being.

And Baruch Hashem, around that same time, God clued me in who that person actually was, in our generation: Rav Eliezer Berland.

Again, from the moment I picked up the phone to the Rav’s attendant (because the Rav himself was in South Africa, at that point) – my life started to improve.

I started to feel happier and healthier than I had for years. My husband also started to feel so much happier again, when he moved over to the Shuvu Banim yeshiva to learn in the mornings. Finally, some of the mountains started to flatten out. Some of the internal maelstrom started to abate. Some of the issues and problems started to resolve and disappear.

It’s been a long, slow process, but Baruch Hashem, my family is a million times happier and calmer since we got connected to Rav Berland.

So, for all the people who are at the end of their endurance and who just can’t take it anymore, that is really the only piece of advice I can give. It’s the only thing that worked for me, that got me out of my thousand prisons, that got me past all the places I was so stuck and drowning in misery.

I needed all that suffering, because it softened me up so much, and made me so much more humble and ready to accept that I needed the Rav’s help.

If I hadn’t been through the ringer for so many years, my arrogance would probably have repelled me away from the Rav, God forbid, because the Tzaddik is just a mirror. I’ve seen time and time again that when people are criticizing the Rav, or telling me yucky stuff, they are really 100% just projecting their own inner ‘bad’ onto the mirror.

The Rav is operating at such a high level, us regular folk simply can’t grasp him, we simply can’t get hold of what’s really going on. So, if we’re full of arrogance and bad middot, all our doubts and confusions will rush into the vacuum, and we’ll find ourselves being repulsed faster than you can say ‘the tzaddik is just a mirror’.

(To give just one example: some woman I knew sent me an email accusing the Rav of being a rapist, God forbid a million times. After pondering on how the mirror principle was working in that case, I realized that this person goes around forcing her ideas down other people’s throats, and forcing her opinions on others. Whereas a rapist is bodily forcing himself on others, she was assaulting people with her unwanted opinions, but it’s actually rooted in the same bad middot, i.e. an inability to see other people as anything more than a tool for their own personal gratification.)

So, that’s my one piece of advice.

Take your troubles, and flee to the Rav.

Of course, keep praying, keep making teshuva, keep talking to God, keep going to Uman, of course, of course.

But also, get connected to the true tzaddik of our own generation.

So many of us seem to be hitting that wall at the moment where we realize that we just can’t do it by ourselves.

And really, we don’t have to.

  • The easiest way to contact the Rav direct is through the RavBerland.com website, HERE. If you have the evil Whatsapp, then put it to good use and join the English Shuvu Banim Whatsapp group HERE.

Two days before Pesach, my daughter slammed her finger in our front door.

She’s a very stoic sort usually, so when she started squealing and saying ‘ow’ loudly I paid attention. Her finger started spurting some blood, she started freaking out, and I knew there was a trip to Terem on the cards, even though I HATE going near any Western medical doctors for any reason.

Before we left, I doused her finger with some helichrysum essential oil, because I know that takes down swelling and promotes bone healing, and I also spent another five minutes poking her uninjured hand with my Su Jok probe, to start stimulating the healing process in her injured finger ‘electrically’.

The last and most important thing I did was ask my husband to immediately make a sizeable donation to Rav Berland as a pidyon Nefesh payment for my daughter. (You can read more about how a pidyon Nefesh works, and why it’s so important, HERE.)

Let’s be clear that my daughter is used to my weird ways with her health issues, but still got a little impatient that I insisted on stabbing her with my Su Jok stick before we got to the ER.

“I’m doing this to give you the best possible chance of healing without the doctors going off on one,” I told her.

But she wasn’t impressed.

We got to Terem, and as I wrote a little while back, after an X-ray, a tetanus shot, and a big speech about why my daughter needed a whole bunch of antibiotics and an urgent visit to an orthopaedic surgeon two days later, we got discharged with the prognosis that she’d sustained an open (or compound) fracture.

I got home, googled ‘compound fracture’ and grimaced. It sounded pretty bad. It’s when the bone breaks, and then breaks through the skin in an open wound, which can be very susceptible to infections, and much harder to heal than a regular fracture. All the American sites warned me sternly that I’d need surgery to deal with a compound fracture (gulp).

The British NHS website was much more down to earth, and explained that surgery was sometimes necessary in complicated breaks, but very often not. (Phew).

I tried making the appointment with the orthopaedic surgeon, but in the meantime no-one was answering the phone, even after I hung on the line for ages. Pesach was approaching, so I decided to take a wait-and-see approach and try to make another appointment after Seder night had passed.

In the meantime, I prayed on my daughter’s health and finger –

That it would heal, that she wouldn’t get an infection, God forbid, that the antibiotics shouldn’t stuff up her health in other ways, God forbid; I used helichrysum essential oil instead of the antibiotic ointment, and I continued to stab her other hand with my Su Jok probe, to stimulate her body’s own healing response.

A few days later, her finger looked really, really good (relatively….). Hmm. She told me it wasn’t even hurting now. Hmm. I took a deep breath and called up the orthopaedic surgeon to make the appointment.

As I mentioned previously, I generally hate Western medical doctors, and the ones in Israel are often particularly arrogant, fear-mongering and generally horrible to deal with.

So with some trepidation I showed up to the appointment, prepared to defend using germ-killing essential oils instead of antibacterial creams, and prepared to argue that my daughter didn’t need urgent surgery on her finger…

The doctor we saw was a really cool, older guy who was not at all from the ‘fear-mongering-surgery-at-all-costs’ school. He took one look at my daughter’s finger, poked it a bit, asked her if it hurt, pulled up her x-ray, then told us something amazing: There was no fracture.

Not even a regular one, let alone a compound one.

She didn’t need any more bandages, treatment or even special precautions with her finger. And she probably also wouldn’t even lose her fingernail. I was astounded!

The pidyon Nefesh with Rav Berland had clearly kicked in, and God had done a miracle for us. Back in Terem, I’d argued about the antibiotics, which is when they went to town on me (and my daughter…) and told us she’d probably need surgery blah blah blah… and it was an open fracture blah blah blah… and they’d checked it all on the x-ray blah blah blah….

Was the miracle that they’d made a mistake in Terem, and told us it was fractured when it wasn’t? Maybe. Or maybe, it really was fractured back then, but now it wasn’t. Either way, I was thrilled.

There’s an idea that when God does a miracle for you, you should publicise it. I decided to write this up to encourage you, dear reader, to put God and pidyon Nefesh in the picture as much as possible with your own health issues.

The more we make space in our lives for the miracles to happen, the more we’ll see them.

The last couple of weeks, I’ve gone back to that horrible ‘stuck’ feeling that I’ve been trying so hard to get away from the last few years.

You know the one, that feeling that you just can’t do anything, or achieve anything, or get anywhere, or make anything improve or ‘happen’ – no matter how hard you try and how desperate you are for it occur.

I got a really strong dose of ‘stuckness’ around Rosh Hashana / Succot time – and I nearly went crazy from it, because even though I hated where I’m living, and my lack of direction in life, and my full-time ‘loser’ status socially and otherwise, I couldn’t seem to do anything at all to change it despite trying so hard on both the spiritual and more material fronts.

Then, God gave me a break from all the existential angst for a couple of months while I was finishing the manuscript of ‘One in a Generation’, but the last few weeks’ it’s roared back again big time.

When Rav Arush wrote that we’re all currently stuck in the plague of darkness, that’s when I realised what is happening in my life at the moment. Remember, the Egyptians couldn’t move when the plague of darkness struck. Whatever pose they found themselves in, they had to stay that way for three days and nights. They couldn’t ‘see’ anything, they couldn’t ‘see’ any way out of their situation, or understand what was happening or why.

All they knew is that they were ‘stuck’ for three days solid completely unable to move even as much as a muscle.

Does this sound familiar to anyone else out there?

Last week, I got to that familiar place of not being able to take it anymore.

One thing I get a lot of in my hitbodedut sessions is insight into what’s actually happening ‘behind the scenes’. After my showdown with my crazy relatives a couple of months’ back, I came to understand that the reason we can’t just ‘cut off’ from these people is because on a very deep spiritual level, we are connected to them.

(That’s not my idea, btw, it’s a standard idea in Jewish thought that all of Am Yisrael is responsible for each other.)

These people have been sinking like a stone over the last few years, morally and spiritually, and I finally realised that on some level, despite all our efforts, they’re dragging certain members of my own family down with them.

Once I finally got that message, I realised something else: Fixing them is going to fix us. But here’s where it got a little tricky, as believe me NOTHING can fix them in olam hazeh short of a lobotomy.

Which is when I got my next brainwave: Rav Berland has helped literally thousands and thousands of people to overcome even apparently ‘terminal’ physical illnesses, and regain their health by doing a pidyon Nefesh for them.

If the Rav’s pidyon worked for ‘terminal’ physical illnesses, then it for sure also works for ‘terminal’ spiritual illnesses, too.

We contacted the Rav, found out how much it’s going to cost (because pidyon Nefesh works by clearing the spiritual judgments off a person, and the bigger the spiritual judgments that have piled up, the more it costs to do) – and just paid the money across now.

I am starting to feel SO much calmer, BH.

But that’s not all. I got a very strong message this week that me and my husband need to have just one Rav, who we trust implicitly. Given the number of ‘pseudo-tzaddikim’ we’ve had terrible experiences with over the years, this is not a simple matter at all.

As I was pondering the subject of which Rav to try to follow, etc, I got a phone call from my friend telling me all about Rav Berland’s ‘helpline’, where you can ask the Rav questions. Now, I knew about this helpline, but I never actually called it.

When this friend told me about it, I understand I was getting another big push from Shemayim to throw my hat 100% into Rav Berland’s camp.

And BH, that’s what I’m going to do!

My husband and I have some very big questions at the moment, concerning everything from where he should be learning to where we should be living and what he should be doing for a living etc. I also am desperate for some guidance about whether to carry on trying to make a go of my books etc, or whether I should throw in the towel and start writing for real money again.

These are not simple decisions, and they’ve been weighing on us for years. Our life got so upended in every direction three years’ ago that we still don’t really have any area that’s ‘stable’ or settled in any true sense of the word.

Yesterday, we called up the hotline and gave over our six questions for the Rav’s advice. We hopefully get the answers back on Sunday.

And that’s when I realised how we get out of the plague of darkness: we attach ourselves to a true Tzaddik, who can shine his light on all those complicated, anxiety-ridden areas of our lives, and help us to move forward again.

And there is no other way.

  • You can contact Rav Berland’s helpline yourself HERE.

Is it just me, or does the world feel pretty darned tense at the moment?

On the surface, not a lot is apparently going on (at least, according to the main news sites – and what do they know anyway?!)

But everyone I’m talking to right now seems to be having their own flavor of mega-stress going on. I felt like I got hit by some sort of tsunami last week, that had me off-balance and feeling half-panicked the whole time. This week, it’s already much better again, but that’s probably not least because I did a big 6 hour session of personal prayer again over the weekend, and that always works wonders (and is probably the single biggest reason why I’m not an inpatient at some loonie bin, somewhere.)

But I can see that the pressure is mounting, so I want to tell you about a few things that I think will help:

  • There is a huge prayer rally being called for Tuesday night, the Fast of Esther, in Mearat HaMachpela, in Hevron. They are literally bussing people in from all over the country for this event, which has come down the tube from Rav Berland.

(I know some people still feel a little uneasy when I mention Rav Berland, so this is the time to tell them that the chief of police who manufactured the charges against him recently went to Rav Arush, and publicly confessed what he did, because his life has been going from bad to worse as a result of the false claims he manufactured against Rav Berland, and he wanted to know how he could fix it.

Rav Arush told him that he has to come clean and tell everyone what he was involved with. The man is scared of reprisals from his superiors, but my guess is that the reprisals from his real ‘Superior’ will get so difficult, sooner or later even the Jerusalem Post will be reporting the story.)

Rav Berland predicted the current Intifada we’re going through many months before it began.

Part of why he’s wondering around the world in exile is because he took it upon himself to sweeten the very harsh judgments hanging over Am Israel. He, and many other of the real rabbis, have done so much to minimize them – but we still have our part to play, and that’s what the prayer rally is all about.

You can join one of the buses heading to Hevron Tuesday night HERE.

  • Still with Rav Berland, he recently made an announcement that the health and safety of anyone who is willing to pay a pidyon nefesh of 98 shekels a month for their family to Shuvu Banim doesn’t have to worry about getting caught up in any terrorist attacks.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like the deal of the century to me. A few months’ back, I sent in a different pidyon to the Rav about a health issue that had been troubling me for literally years – and BH, from the day I sent the request in to him (never mind, actually pay the money) the situation has been improving all the time.

Rav Berland is a huge tzaddik, and the real deal, so if he says ‘I guarantee your safety if you pay this pidyon’, then you can believe him.

  • The last thing to share with you comes from Rav Shalom Arush, who on Shabbat mentioned that Purim is the most auspicious time to pray of the whole year. Rav Arush explained that usually, he just tells people to say ‘thank you’ and to not request things, as that can stir up some big spiritual judgments and make things even more difficult for them.

But on Purim, there are no judgments! So he told everyone to pray as much as they can, and to ask Hashem for whatever they need. Usually, midnight (chatzot) is the best time of all to do this, but whatever time you manage to squeeze some personal prayer in, Purim is the day to do it.

Things are turning around, somehow. But I still have no idea if the hurricane is ending, or just beginning.

How I discovered for myself that doing a pidyon nefesh with Rav Berland (aka Eliezer ben Etia) really works.

The last couple of years, I’ve been having an ‘interesting’ time, health-wise. If you’re occasionally visiting the spiritualselfhelp.org, you’ll know that I’m a big believer in soul, body and mind being intrinsically connected to each other.

In fact, that’s the main premise underpinning my next book that’s hopefully out soon, called ‘Talk to God and Fix Your Health’. The main idea is that physical illnesses are only the manifestation of ‘soul’ illnesses, which if they aren’t fixed at the spiritual level, next show up as ‘mental and emotional’ illnesses, and only then show up in the body.

As usual, I learn all this stuff the hard way.

I started writing that book to share my own experiences of getting stuck in a few incredibly difficult spiritual experiences, that had a massively negative impact on my emotional state, and then my physical health. To cut a very long story short, I had so many things going wrong the last couple of years’ that I got mired in a huge amount of desperation and despair, despite all my attempts to keep picking myself up in hitbodedut.

Let’s be clear that without the hitbodedut, I would not have come through losing my house, friends, business, money, faith in humanity and marbles anywhere near as easily as I did, but that doesn’t mean it was a ‘fun’ experience. There was one time last year, when me and my husband were utterly stuck financially, and we were reaching the end of the proceeds of selling our house that had been keeping us going, that I really felt as though my next move was going to be to a dumpster, God forbid.

I don’t know if you’ve ever hit that sort of low place in your own life, but let me tell you: if you stay there for any length of time, sooner or later it kills you.

You lose your will to live, to keep going, and that’s just not something that can continue for long without some serious consequences.

Things started to really turnaround last Chanuka, when I took a trip to Uman and spent most of it extremely angry at Rabbenu and God for dealing me such a difficult hand. But by the end of the trip, the anger had dissolved, the profound disappointment had surfaced, and the bad, icky stuff was finally making its exit, spiritually.

It still took a few months for things to pick up  in my actual life: Baruch Hashem, around Purim my husband started working again, and Hashem sent Him some easy ways to make parnassa that enabled him to carry on learning part-time in yeshiva, which had been our big dilemma as it seemed as though he’d only be able to go back to work if he stopped learning.

But physically, I was still wrecked.

I’d been living on my nerves for years and it took its toll. I felt drained and fatigued a lot of the time, and dizzy and ‘out of it’. I upped my energy med stuff, I started doing 3 tikkun haklalis most days, I stuck lentils all over my hand (that’s a story for another time) and it all helped. But I was still not 100%, most days.

Rosh Hashana rolled around, and the first day I felt so ill. It miraculously lifted just as nightfall fell, and I wondered what sort of year I was going to have. I hoped it was going to be different, better, and I told God I couldn’t cope with another few years’ like the last ones I’d been through. No way, Hose.

Things mostly got better, but then ‘the matzav’ kicked off, and I found my stress levels were going through the roof, especially after my kid’s teacher’s husband got stabbed to death in the Old City.

My nervous system, which was slowly recovering after all the financial stress, and moving stress, and social stress, and spiritual stress of not knowing what God really wanted from us, took a nosedive again, and I started to get pretty bad headaches, and to feel pretty lousy again.

O no! And this time, I was still drinking green smoothies, eating veggies, walking everywhere and doing my daily energy exercises and doing hitbodedut. I’d also made my peace with a bunch of people and God, so I had no idea what else I could do to start to feel better (other than move to somewhere quiet where everyone’s over the age of 60, like Switzerland…)

Enter: Rabbi Berland, aka Eliezer ben Etia

They’ve started translating a whole bunch of things about Rav Berland into English, and God arranged for me to read one story after another about people he’d helped who were facing much more serious health issues than me. People who the doctors had given up on. People who really had reached the end of the line.

These people had done a pidyon nefesh with Rav Berland, and got better again. I sat on the fence for a whole month, but then as the headaches and weakness kicked-in again, I decided I had nothing to lose except a bit of cash. We got in touch, I emailed the gabbay details of the problem – and from the minute I sent the email, I started to feel better.

Last week, I paid over the pidyon money (it was quite a lot still, but nowhere near what I  was expecting) – and I’ve broadly been headache free since then, despite having some ongoing huge stresses. (I know, I know, when are there not huge stresses?)

Somehow, the spiritual weight has been lifted off, and terrorists, school moves, financial issues and book production problems notwithstanding, I actually feel pretty darned good, BH!

But I was still cautious about rushing into print. I’ve learnt so many times that when I share these things, I get really tested on them, and I didn’t want to go back to feeling ill again. But then at the Baba Sali, I got nudged to write a public ‘thank you’ to Rav Berland, and to not worry about the outcome.

So here it is, in all its glory.

You can read more about Rav Berland’s pidyon nefesh HERE. You can get in touch and arrange your own pidyon nefesh HERE. You can read a whole bunch of background articles explaining how pidyon nefesh actually works and why HERE. And if you’re struggling with any serious or chronic health issue, I urge you to take the leap of faith, and contact his gabbay.

UPDATE:

So there I was, polishing up the latest infographic that I’m doing for the ‘Deeper Needs’ series over on the spiritualselfhelp website, when it suddenly struck me that God was showing ME what I needed to work on at the moment.

The past two weeks, I’ve been happily posting away about how there are 8 deeper needs, and how the first one is emuna, and that if that first one is out or weak, all these other problems and issues start to show up in your life.

A couple of days’ ago, I was pulling all the info together into the snazzy infographic you’ll find to the left, when it suddenly struck me that I currently have most of the problems I’m describing. Feeling spaced-out? You betcha. Feeling a whole bunch of negative emotions bubbling-up and overwhelming you? Absolutely! Experiencing a bunch of weird physical symptoms related to extreme tiredness, fatigue and other strange things? Yup!

Wow.

The penny suddenly dropped, and I realized that my emuna is pretty low at the moment.

I’d like to blame it all on the ‘matzav’, and it’s certainly the straw that’s broken the camel’s back, but it’s not the whole picture.

I had a series of shocks over the last 2 years that really took the legs out from under me, spiritually, and I never really bounced back. All the ‘matzav’ has done is show me the huge emuna deficit that had been steadily accruing since I lost my house, status, and naïve belief in things always turning out ‘for the good’.

Part of me does believe that still, but it’s not a very big part of me (42%, to be precise. If you want to know how I got to that figure, keep your eyes peeled for the ‘Deeper Needs Visualisation Exercise’ that I’m going to share this week over on spiritualselfhelp.org.)

42% is not nothing, but it’s not really going to cut the mustard, especially if things really are heading towards more craziness and then geula.

I realized that God was giving me a clear nudge to work on my emuna, pronto.

But how?

Ahh, the question of questions.

In my hitbodedut sessions, I got the following insights:

  • My job is to ask God to give me emuna as often as possible
  • But that’s still not really enough (believe me, I’ve been doing that for months already…)
  • So I need some outside help, ie, I need to give a pidyon nefesh to a tzaddik, to clear up the judgments that are still hanging over my head, and preventing me from having emuna.

There was only one problem with all this clarity: my emunat tzadikim is even less at the moment, standing at a whopping 12% (no, that’s not a typo). It’s a long story how it got to be so low, but I could see that midda kneged midda, giving a pidyon nefesh would go a long way to boosting my emunat tzadikim (because you can’t give it unless you believe it’s really going to do something good for you.)

But I was still wavering a little, especially as my finances are still tight.

So then, God gave me the brainwave to randomly open my copy of the Likutey Moharan (with English translation) and this is what I read:

“One who disgraces the honor of a Torah Scholar has no healing for his illness, for the main power of healing that comes from the Torah is impossible to receive other than through the Sages of the generation….Therefore the main thing is to have faith in the sages, and to be particular to relate to them with great respect and reverence.” – LM Lesson 57.

OKAY then, pidyon nefesh it is. I sent the email off yesterday, and I’m waiting to hear back. But one thing I can tell you for sure: if the ‘matzav’ continues or worsens, God-forbid, I’m going to need a heck of a lot more than 42% emuna and 12% emunat tzadikim to get through it in one piece.