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It’s always the way of Adar, isn’t it?

To keep us all running around, busy, busy.

If we’re lucky, all we’re busy with is organizing costumes and mishloach manot and Purim seuda invitations, and running around to see our kids in Purim Shpiel plays.

Last week, I was busy, busy all week, but thank God, it was all for good stuff.

One day, I was driving up to the new city of Harish to see how the apartment we are buying is coming along.

After the disastrous house purchase in Jerusalem fell through, costing us a few hundred thousands of shekels, my husband and I realized that buying a property in Jerusalem is currently off the cards.

Around that time, Rav Berland gave a shiur about buying a property in Harish on the cheap, and gomarnu.

So, naïve believing-in-the-words-of-true-tzaddikim idiot I am, I went to check out Harish – and I can’t tell you what a blessing that place is turning into.

It’s a totally new city just off Highway 6, and it’s growing so fast, most people still haven’t heard about it, so they don’t know that it’s turning in to the next ‘boom’ place in Israel.

But soon, they will.

So in the meantime, I had to drive up to take a look at the construction on the new flat, and I was so impressed with just about everything, Baruch Hashem. But, it was a whole day of driving.

Then the next day, I had to spend a morning choosing tiles for a close family member abroad who decided he wants to buy in the same building, so that was more busy, busy.

All for good things.

I sat in that tile shop, pondering on how good God really is to me. If my house purchase in Jerusalem hadn’t fallen through, I never would have found out about Harish, or bought there, and then neither would this relative.

And I’m so thrilled this relative is getting a place in Israel, it’s a massive silver lining around all the fall-out that happened with the flat in Jerusalem.

Then, the next day I was off to Bikaa Yarden area, where my kid was starring in the lead role of her school’s production of ‘Mikimi’, about a TV presenter who gets frum the Breslov way. Of course, I had to take 4 teenage girls with me, so even though I told everyone we were leaving three hours before curtain rising, by the time we’d actually collected everyone, I barely had an hour to get there.

Busy, busy.

Then the next day, I was at the theatre again, as I promised to go and support an old friend who was appearing in a production. I was so tired, my eyes were crossing, but a promise is a promise.

Busy, busy.

All for good things, thank God.

Motzae Shabbat, we got a call from my husband’s family back in the UK: his uncle is on his last legs, and it’s a matter of days.

My husband flew out today for an unplanned lightning visit before Purim kicks off.

My husband’s family don’t really ‘do’ Purim, they don’t really realise it’s Adar, yet they are ‘busy, busy’ same as we are right now. Just for much harder, difficult things, like pinging in and out of the hospital every few hours to see where things are holding.

Adar is the month of busy, busy, that’s just how it is.

But God is showing me, better to be busy, busy with mitzvahs, mishloach manot, prayers, kindnesses and ‘good’ things, than otherwise.

Because one way or another, we are all being run off our feet.

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.

As the ‘craziness’ of this year’s Purim ebbed and flowed again, I started to think about what aspect of Purim is actually the hardest, at least for me.

Actually, I didn’t think about it all, as I immediately knew what aspect of Purim nearly ALWAYS causes me the most stress and anxiety: mishloach manot.

Back in London, I could spend literally hours in traffic jams trying to deliver my ‘nosh packages’ to friends who were often also out in their cars, trying to deliver their ‘nosh packages’ back. It never occurred to me that this was:

  1. a) A huge waste of time

AND

  1. b) Almost certainly didn’t really count as a true mishloach manot, which is meant to be a gift of two different bits of real food that would be ready to chow down on immediately. But I wasn’t going to start cooking up a storm for my 84 best friends at that stage of my life.

Then, we got to Israel, where Purim is taken more seriously, in some ways, not least because the country as a whole ‘closes’ for Purim, in a similar way to what happens on Shabbat.

Which is when I hit the next state of mishloach manot madness:

People were literally cooking mini-gourmet meals for a hundred friends and neighbors, and getting every member of their family involved in the mammoth delivery project that entailed.

That first year, I also had plans to turn out 50 home-baked mini quiches and a personal side-salad, until God sent me a timely bout of dysentery that meant I couldn’t get out of bed or eat for the whole week before Purim, and I barely managed the mitzvah at all that year.

It was so embarrassing: wave upon wave of baskets were showing up at our door, and we had zip, nothing, nada to give in return. Which is when I learnt the law of reciprocity: if thou shalt not return mishloach manot, thou won’t get any the following Purim.

Even though I had my act more together the following Purim (slightly…. As we were moving house and community the day after the festival….) I sent out 30 mishloach manot, and got around five back (mostly fumbled together behind the door, as the host asked me to wait with a slightly stressed smile on their face.)

The following year, I really, really tried harder with mishloach manot.

I planned it two months in advance, and I cooked, made and bought whatever was necessary to make it proper. Dear reader, that community was built on a steep hill, and as I took the turn leading up the mountain a little too sharply, all my carefully arranged hummus, side salads and home made rolls upended and smashed into my car door.

Disaster!!!

I salvaged whatever I could, and had another bout of mishloach manot-induced depression to deal with. Next year, I vowed to buy everything ready-made and ready wrapped, anchored down with 200 metres of cellophane and ribbon.

But of course I didn’t, because by then I’d moved community again and I was in my ‘extreme healthy eating’ phase of life, which made the whole subject of Purim and mishloach manot SO stressful from start to finish. What to make that wasn’t toxic that people would actually eat?!?! AND that would look nice?!?!?

Again, I spent hours baking healthy cookies, and then artfully arranging them on a plate with nuts and dried fruit. No cellophane now for me!!! I wasn’t about to add to the landfill just so my mishloach manot would look nice or stay on the plate!!!!

So of course, they didn’t.

The delivery got so stressful as I had to drive at three miles an hour to prevent all my artful arrangements from moving around…and then people looked at the home-baked cookies suspiciously, and I could read their thoughts: “Is this a good enough hechsher, if it’s homemade?!?? Are dates still on the ‘OK’ list?!?!?” (There was a lot of ‘pious’ kashrut concerns going on over there….)

The following year, I had an epiphany:

No more driving the mishloach manot around! I’m giving to whoever I can walk to within 15 minutes of my home and that’s it.

Which was mostly good, except I still had a few awkward moments when people unexpectedly gave us me a mishloach manot, and I had nothing to give them because I refused to just repackage other people’s nosh behind the door…

By the following year, I had other ‘concerns’ about mishloach manot, because I’d learned the mitzvah was actually better done by giving to people you didn’t like (and who didn’t like you…), or who weren’t part of your usual Chevra.

The problem was not how to find these people, but how to whittle them down to under 50….

Then we moved to Jerusalem, and by that point, I almost gave up on mishloach manot. I was so lonely here the first year, I had no idea how to fulfill the mitzvah, really. I didn’t know anyone. That year, my kids saved the day. On Purim morning, one daughter noticed I’d done absolutely zip all about mishloach manot, and decided to make pancakes for all of our neighbors in our building. One cooked, and the other one packaged and delivered – and I was so grateful to them, because it really made me feel a little more alive and part of things.

Last year, I decided on the simple, easy route: A good bottle of wine, and some super-badatz baklava, for five people within walking distance. Two of my packages went to people I didn’t really like, two went to externally ‘secular’ people, and one went to my nearest neighbor.

One of those negative relationships actually really turned around as a result, and I was thrilled.

Which brings us up to this year. This year, again, that familiar ‘despairing’ feeling took hold before Purim, and made it very hard for me to get to grips with mishloach manot again. I didn’t want to just hand out junk and nosh, but I had no energy to plan or make anything else. I was hit with a very strong wave of ‘can’t be bothered’, which only disappeared the morning of Purim (we celebrate Shushan Purim in Jerusalem, so the shops were still open on everyone else’s Purim.)

That’s when I decided the following: I’m going to make a healthy, easy Israeli breakfast for the three people I like, who live close to me. And that’s what I did.

This year, my husband and I barely got any mishloach manot from anyone, as he gave to his rabbis, and the law of reciprocity doesn’t hold over there.

In the past, that would have made me feel pretty sorry and down, and unloved. This year, I was grateful that I didn’t have a mound of waffley and MSG-drenched bizzli to somehow get rid of.

Friendships aren’t built on mishloach manot, or at least, they shouldn’t be.

I didn’t spend stressful hours cooking mishloach manot treats. I didn’t spend hundreds of shekels buying bottles of wines and fancy-wrapped baskets. I didn’t get super-stressed on Purim morning as I had 347 mishloach manot to deliver before the Purim seuda, and no time to really get that done.

I’m sure the yetzer will still figure out a way to make next year’s mishloach manot another challenge, but this year, for once, after I got past the blahs,  it actually all turned out really good.

TIPS FOR DE-STRESSING MISHLOACH MANOT:

  1. Don’t drive ANYWHERE Purim morning.
  2. If you need to deliver to people who don’t live close, arrange to meet them in shul after the Megillah reading, and swap baskets there.
  3. Keep things simple: the basic mitzvah is to deliver two items of ready-to-eat food, to two different people. That’s it!
  4. Dare to be different. You don’t HAVE to buy huge baskets of cellophane nosh just to fit in. But, you also don’t need to make gourmet quiches, if that’s just not ‘you’.
  5. Keep it practical. A tin of tuna and a jar of mayonnaise fulfills the mitzvah perfectly – without a bamba or bizzli in sight!
  6. Don’t beat yourself up over your mishloach manot: There will always be people who do this better, nicer, fancier, healthier… If you managed to do the mitzvah at all, in whichever way you did it, celebrate that fact! Even that is not so easy, these days.
  7. Don’t beat yourself up over not getting mishloach manot, or not giving it to the ‘right’ people: Much easier said than done, I know, but mishloach manot is NOT meant to be a popularity contest, or a test of your mettle as a Jewish woman.
  8. Notice any ‘negative’ feelings that bubble up on Purim, and pray on them. Purim is blessed with the energy of transformation. Every year, I have insights from my mishloach manot that encourage me to work on myself, try to do things differently, and to notice what ‘vested interests’ still come attached to some of my mitzvah observance. We’re all a work in progress, and nothing underlines WHAT that progress might need to be more than mishloach manot.

God seems to put a different ‘flavour’ or spiritual essence into the air around each of the Jewish holidays.

So it is, before Purim time, I always seem to feel like my life is spiralling out of control and that I barely have time to breathe.

Let’s be clear that I haven’t even got anywhere near to deciding what I’m doing for mishloach manot, who I’m sending them to (or not….) or what’s going to be with the Purim Seuda. Even though it’s already only a couple of days’ away, those things are just not on my radar yet.

Since Rosh Chodesh Adar, I’ve just been running, running, running.

Running to this Rosh Chodesh event, that kid’s performance, this kid’s high school, to the post office, to the Kotel. Of course, these are only the ‘external’ descriptions of what’s going on. The real running is happening internally, where I feel I haven’t been able to sit down, focus or relax properly for weeks.

Mamash, I’ve been caught up in some sort of internal ‘storm wind’ (which as we know is one of the four spiritual ‘klipot’, or forces of evil) which keeps me on edge, on my toes, and running, running, running so fast I don’t have time to breathe, or think, and certainly not to do the washing or shopping.

(Lucky for me, God also made my washing machine malfunction. Since it ‘zapped’ me with static electricity last week, it’s been taking all the lights out every time I turn it on, and I’m running too fast to be able to stop and fix it…Once my husband realises he has no underwear left, I’m hoping he’ll knuckle down and take a look at it. And then also do five loads of laundry. A girl can hope.)

Of course, all this running around is also occasionally dumping me into the midst of the ‘volatile fire’ klipa, too.

Yesterday, I had a road rage incident in the (predominantly Arab…) Jerusalem suburb called ‘Ir David’, the site of the biblical city of David.

Long story short, my kid had a production in the Jewish community hall there, and I had to drive all over Ir David to get to it. The parking was behind a carefully-monitored gate, which I missed and overshot by 2 metres. As I was trying to reverse back, an Arab minibus came right up behind me, and absolutely refused to let me back up.

We got into a standoff for five minutes – because Ir David is a one-way system, and I didn’t want to have to drive all the way around it again – but the Arab driver refused to back up – and boy, my Moroccan genes kicked in.

If my kid wasn’t in the car to calm me down there would have been another stabbing in Jerusalem yesterday – I’ve had gouged his eyes out with my car keys. As it was, I drove off like a woman possessed, loudly cursing the Arabs of Ir David with both windows of my car open.

Five minutes later, when I calmed down a bit, the ‘depressed cloud’ klipa showed up.

Man, after all this work I can still lose it and turn into an enraged would-be murderer…. Luckily, I had a chocolate bar stashed in my bag for this sort of existential spiritual emergency, and after I polished it off, I felt a little better.

But the point is this: Purim is a few short days away, that time of miracles, everything turning around for the best, and profound spiritual work. And I’m so far away from tapping into it this year, and I seem to be running even further away with each hour that passes.

Usually, my hitbodedut, or personal prayer grounds me enough that I can stop running for at least an hour.

But even there recently, my mind has been flitting all over the place and I can’t catch hold of myself, really.

I don’t know what the answer is. I hope God is going to rescue me from the storm wind, and the volatile fire, and the depressive dark cloud soon. And, if I’m really lucky, He’ll do it before Sunday so I can actually get my act together and sort out my mishloach manot, costume and Purim seuda.

Drone view of a city

Well, how was your Purim?

Uplifting? Joyful? Stressful? Spiritual?

My Purim was actually quite nice, in a very non-standard way. This year, I decided to dress up as the ‘Doctor of the Soul’. I had a blue medical hat stuck on my headscarf, plus a plastic stethoscope and a big sign that I pinned to my top that said ‘Doctor of the Soul’, to make it clear.

In shul, an older American lady leaned over to me and told me: ‘I like your outfit, it’s cute’.

Aha! I thought I’d managed to identify another Breslev anglo in my area! Things were looking up!

Then she ruined it by leaning back over and stage-whispering:

‘What is that, anyway? A psychiatrist?’

On to the megilla reading.

They banned loud stamping and exaggerated musical instruments and groggers at the mention of Haman, so it went pretty fast – except for the fact that the older Moroccan woman directly in front of me decided she was going to read the megilla loudly herself – and completely out of sync – with the official version. It was like some weird simultaneous translation, or something.

I came home, I made challah (!) for the first time in months, I tried to wake up at midnight to pray, and mumbled something for about two minutes before conking out again – which was good, because at 5am I was woken up by some loud puking noises.

Hmm. We hadn’t even got to the stage of drinking the alcohol yet, or crazily stuffing in all the junk from the mishloach manot, so what was going on?! Turned out one of my children had stomach flu.

I have one bathroom and guests coming for seuda, and most of the morning she was running in there about every half an hour to throw up.

Hmmm. I decided to leave that up to God to sort out before the guests came, because in the meantime I had to hear megilla and then deliver my mishloach manot.

I got to shul 10 minutes before the megilla reading was meant to start – to discover they’d managed to lose the key to the aron hakodesh. We were waiting around 25 minutes before someone remembered which bookcase they’d shoved it behind, and they could unlock the Torah scrolls and get on with reading the megilla.

I ran home for the next stage of Purim: deliver the baskets of goodies.

This year, I decided to give 4 mishloach manot: 2 for people who lived close who I really like; and 2 for people who lived close who I really don’t like – thus, keeping all opinions satisfied.

I also decided to do ‘worthwhile’ baskets, with good wine and nice pastries, instead of the usual chocolate bar and waffley things – and one of my ‘don’t really like you’ recipients was clearly shocked when I handed it over, in a good way.

They reappeared at my door a few minutes later with a reciprocal bag of goodies, and heaped blessings on my head, including that we should merit to buy our own apartment soon. I took that as a really good sign, as that was most of my Purim ‘ask’ this year, but clearly they didn’t know that.

The puking kid went to sleep the whole time the guests were here, so that got resolved. The seuda was very relaxed and pleasant. And I was ready for Shabbat two hours early, for a huge change.

That night, I walked down to the Kotel for Friday night prayers, and a woman dressed as a huge silver bird came over to me and wished me ‘shabbat shalom’.

Hmmm.

I got to the Wall, and there was a flock of swallows spinning and turning all over the place right next to the wall, which is a pretty unusual sight – I don’t remember seeing that before. So given the bird woman, and then the unusual flock of birds, I decided to look up the ‘song’ of the swallows in Perek Shira when I got home.

Here’s what it said:

The swallow is saying, ‘So that my soul shall praise You, and shall not be silent, God my Lord, I shall give thanks to You forever.’

I liked that very much.

There’s a Breslov idea that Purim in many ways marks the beginning of the year. Just before the Purim seuda last year, my husband finally made it out of the depressed state that had engulfed him for months after our business went bust and we ran out of money, and went back to work the week after Purim.

I don’t know what amazing turnarounds and miracles await me this week, Bezrat Hashem, but I know they’re coming.

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.