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Around three years ago, a new face appeared amongst Jerusalem’s ‘bag men’.

Those people who sleep rough in the Holy City. This new face stood out, because it belonged to a fairly young man who began his journey into madness and destitution wearing Nike trainers and looking like a male model. It happens not infrequently that some visitors to the Holy City, especially younger men, spend a night or two sleeping rough on one of the benches dotted around.

Usually, they’ve run out of money before the plane home, although sometimes, it can also happen to people who live here more permanently. The crime rate is so low, even in a big city like Jerusalem, and the weather for 7-8 months a year is so warm, that sleeping outside on a bench is not a terrible option.

So, the first few weeks I saw this young man asleep on a bench, I figured he was a student, a backpacker, a tourist, who’d run out of cash and was just waiting for his plane home.

He had a large knitted kippa on his head, and a straggly beard together with his long blonde hair, so I had him pegged as a new baal teshuva from America, or some place similar.

Maybe, he’s found God and his parents back home are upset and have cut off the funding…

That’s what I thought, the first few weeks I saw him sleeping rough.

Then, he went off the radar for a while, and I forgot all about him.

A year later, I saw him again – and this time, he was wearing an outfit made entirely of black bin bags, that he’d turned into some sort of suit. He even had bin bags wrapped, and wrapped again, around his feet, like a cheap copy of the shoes worn by mine zappers.

The beard was longer, and there was a wild look in his eyes that signaled that the madness had completely taken over, and dragged him down to that place of searching trash cans for the recyclable bottles that were going to buy him a meal.

I felt so sorry for him.

But what could I do? Honestly, he looked a bit scary at that point, and I wasn’t so close to him, to go over to try and speak to him or give him some money. And he wasn’t asking for money – if anything, he was giving off a mad, proud vibe that he was some sort of independent hunter-gatherer, spearing one old coke bottle after another, for supper.

No-one should get in the way!!!

That’s the vibe I got, as he stalked over to one trash can after another, a look of intense concentration on his face.

The next time I saw him, I was in the car and he was speed walking along the pavement by the trempiada leading out Jerusalem. Again, he had that fixed, mad determined look on his face, in a rush to get somewhere fast. His clothes had deteriorated even more – he was wearing some sort of loin cloth made of supermarket plastic, and another plastic bag on his head that he’d fashioned into some sort of head-covering.

The bags on his feet were gone, and with his long blonde hair and beard, he looked for all the world like the poster boy for an ecological apocalypse.

My heart went out to him. I couldn’t stop the car, I couldn’t pull over, but I decided there and then, next time I see him, I am going to buy him some clothes.

The next time I saw him was yesterday, almost a year later.

He was walking along the road by the French Hospice that leads onto Tzahal Plaza¸then on again to the Old City. Thank God, he was wearing real clothes, and even a pair of real sneakers, that were ripped at the sides but still functional.

The bag on his head had been replaced by a big knitted kippa, but the fixed, determined madness still shone out of his face, and he still walked fast.

This mad, homeless man was always in a perpetual rush to get somewhere else.

It took me a few second to figure out who he was as he passed by, but then I realized it was the man I’d promised to buy clothes for. I fumbled in my purse for some money, saw that I had 20 shekels I could give, as an opening gambit, and ran after him.

As I got close to him, I made the mistake of calling out hey! I’ve got some money I want to give you!

For a moment, I forgot he was mad. I forgot he’d been living rough for three years. I forgot that people only go mad like that in the first place when they’ve been through unspeakable things in their childhood.

First he cowered away from me, like I was going to attack him. Then he half-pushed / half-slapped me away, and sped walked off.

It didn’t hurt.

Mad as he was, he was still pretty gentle. He could have punched much, much harder, but he didn’t. He just didn’t have the words to tell me to leave him alone, and it was very clear that he wanted me to leave him alone.

He didn’t want money, he didn’t want my concern, he didn’t want any offers to buy a new pair of pants. He was off, searching for truth, searching for God, running away from who-knows-what, and he didn’t want anyone getting in the way.

I sighed a deep sigh, stuffed my money back in my purse, and walked off in the other direction.

I can’t help him. He’s so far gone, no-one can help him. Only God can help him.

And let’s be clear, God is helping him, because he’s totally out of this world, and yet he must still be finding food, and a place to sleep and even a place to shower every day, because he looked clean and didn’t smell bad at all.

And then I thought of all the other people out there struggling with such enormous problems, and the poor, mad person came to personify our poor, battered nation.

We’re all in such a rush, rush, rush today, and we have no idea why. No-one can talk to us, no-one can offer us help. Even when our Tzaddikim rush after us with bounty and blessings in their hands, we attack them and push them away.

Leave us alone! We know what we’re doing! We know where we’re going! We don’t need help from anyone!

The same madness that is propelling this man from trash can to endless trash can is weaving its pernicious spells around us, too. We’re so busy dumpster-diving, trying to come up with a new deal, a new client, a new business, a new project, a new holiday, we have no time to stop and to really think.

What is all this for? Where is all this going? What is the point, really?

Not for the first time, God showed me that I can’t solve other people’s problems.

All I can do is pray.

It’s another one of those days today, where I’m waking up with zero motivation to do anything.

Yes, I’ll still hang the washing, make some supper, type a few things, go for a walk – probably. I’m trying to stick to ‘routine’, even though so much of everything feels so utterly pointless at the moment.

But deep down, the ‘fire’ that used to power so much of my day, so many of my activities, seems to have burned out.

I’m not depressed. I don’t feel miserable. I just feel ‘flat’ – but not in a sad way.

It’s a very strange state of affairs, and I’m writing about it because I’m wondering if it’s just me?

I see my kids, my husband, we’re all kind of staggering forward like zombies, doing things because we have to, and not even minding doing most of what we’re doing. But it still seems so pointless at the moment.

Even stuff I really do like, and I really do feel is meaningful – like giving charity, like trying to help other people, like having deep and meaningful discussions – I don’t feel any ‘zing’ from doing these things right now.

I was discussing it with my husband, and what came to mind is when the Men of the Great Assembly decided to rid the world of the yetzer hara for lust. It came roaring out of the Holy of Holies – and for three days, the world ground to a stop.

The chickens stopped laying their eggs. People stopped acting and reacting – it’s like that lust was fueling the natural functioning of life on planet earth, and when the Men of the Great Assembly pulled the plug on it, they pulled the plug on ‘life as we know it’.

And things couldn’t continue like that, so after three days they reluctantly restored the yetzer hara for lust to the world, and things continued on their merry way.

We know that when Moshiach comes, the yetzer hara is finally going to disappear, at least in the form we currently know it. So I was sitting there, pondering if maybe, just maybe, Moshiach really is in the world now, and that’s why so many of us are struggling to find any motivation for anything.

Maybe, just maybe, the yetzer hara is on the way out, it’s on its last legs, and none of us can lay eggs or hatch plans for the future right now.

I know, what about all those angry, ‘motivated’ people still walking around in their droves?

I’ve been pondering that, too, and we know that just before it’s snuffed out for good, the yetzer hara will mount its biggest defense, and fight it’s harshest war.

Seems to me, the people who are still ‘motivated’, in that angry, evil, attacking way that unfortunately characterizes so much of what passes as human interaction these days, are kind of looking at their last chance to shape up, and move on into the time of Moshiach.

There’s no more pretending, no more shoving things under the carpet.

Every day brings a fresh story of where people’s obvious mental illness is peeking out more and more clearly. It’s getting harder and harder for us all to pretend it’s business as usual, because it clearly isn’t. There are so many people who are standing at their crossroads where they can either finally admit they aren’t perfect, and return back to God – or fall even deeper into their madness and their negative behavior.

And both sets of behavior are happening, all over the place.

That’s part of what makes the world so hard to live in at the moment.

Last week, one of my correspondents sent me the video of Rav Glazerson, where he brings the recent message from Rav Chaim Kanievsky that Moshiach will be here before the Israeli elections, on April 9th.

I told my kids about it on Shabbat, and surprisingly, to me, they got a bit annoyed with me for talking about it.

Gosh, Ima, every two months you bring someone else saying that, and nothing’s happening! I don’t believe it, they always just say things and it doesn’t happen.

It’s that geula fatigue I wrote about elsewhere. We’re so fed up of waiting that many of us don’t even want to hear about Moshiach coming anymore.

I get that, I really do.

At the same time, another one of my correspondents pointed out that it’s precisely when we’re not expecting him, when we’ve given up, when we’ve got zero motivation for geula, that Moshiach finally appears.

Are we close?

Maybe.

And in the meantime, finding any oomph to do anything much is proving more and more difficult.

If you’ve been reading this blog this week, you’ll know that I’ve been in a pretty bad mood where life has seemed pretty meaningless, and everything I do pointless.

I’ve just had this feeling for a few days that nothing I do counts, or matters, and that I’m adrift in the universe without really knowing what I’m actually meant to be doing here.

I thought it was just me, but then one of my kids started telling me how she’s feeling life, and school, is so heavy and meaningless at the moment… and then one of my friends called me and told me: ‘Rivka, I’m going crazy! I just feel so frustrated, and that my life is so empty and pointless, and all these bad middot are pouring out that I never even knew were there!”

The person saying this is objectively one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, a busy mother, and constantly trying to do kindnesses and to work on herself, spiritually. My daughter is also a mitzvah machine, and is constantly engaged in big and small attempts at fixing the world.

And me?

Well, I actually write a lot of useful stuff (mostly behind the scenes, for other people…) so intellectually, I know I’m not wasting my life as much as I could be. And yet, that ‘life is meaningless vibe’ also blew me off my feet this week.

Yesterday, I bundled my sourpuss self into my car, and drove up to my youngest daughter’s new high-school, or Ulpana, where they were having ‘a night for mothers and daughters’.

In the past, these nights have almost always been a peculiar form of torture, where I had to follow instructions in Hebrew I couldn’t understand, to say or do things that were mortifyingly embarrassing even if it was all in English, and where I’d just kind of space out and dissociate to get through.

(I have a huge amount of C-PTSD from attending 12 years’ of these ‘events’ in Israel.)

So, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it.

I get there (20 minutes late, to try to minimize the torture…), and my kid whisked me straight into the (packed…) classroom. Sigh. Gulp. Unveil the thumbscrews. The young, very pregnant teacher smiled sweetly, handed me a whole big sheet (in close typeset Hebrew….) and started to discuss – Rebbe Nachman’s tale of the Lost Princess!

My spirits rose, because I already knew this story really well, so maybe I could actually fake participating in the group exercises, this time around! The teacher was not at all bossy (what a relief!) not at all insisting that I read out all the personal stuff I’d discussed with my daughter in my terrible spoken Hebrew (thanks, Hashem!) and also, unusually insightful about the story.

“It’s about the process, not the goal!” She told the class. “Don’t get so hung up on the outcome, or the exam! It’s all just about the journey!”

Hmmm.

The next stage of mental torture began.

I had to mill around with the other mums, feeling completely like I don’t belong and having intermittent bouts of ‘mitpachat envy’ when another toweringly colorful creation entered the room.

My hair is at a really awkward length at the mo, so anything I try to put on my head looks awful. The best I can do is try to smother it in a tea-cosy type hat which isn’t so ‘cool’, but at least keeps most of my hair under wraps.

Luckily, this awkward stage was also cut short by my kid finding us a deserted spot on the swinging bench outside, where we could eat our soup in peace and gaze at the stars spotting the Shomron sky.

Then it was time for the main event, the hatzega, or show. I usually try to park myself as close to the aisle as possible, so I can feign going to the toilet five times, if required for mental health purposes. This time, my kid made me sit right at the end of the row, right at the top of the benchers.

Kid, are you crazy?! Don’t you know this stuff makes me claustrophobic?!

But as I sat down, I could feel a reassuring vibe in the air.

As I was about to discover, Rabbenu was in the building.

We got through the standard menahelet’s opening speech OK. Not too long, not too boring, not too self-righteous, preachy and subtly menacing – and then it was time for the main event, which turned out to be a half-acted / half-filmed rendition of The Lost Princess!

To cut a long story short, while three young Israeli women acted out the story onstage, the narrative was spliced together with interviews on screen with four Israelis who were living the story of the Lost Princess (as indeed, we all actually are.)

One had been abused by a step-father, and left home as a young teen to live on the streets for a couple of years. One had a bad accident at age two that left him blind and almost deaf. Another, Miriam Peretz, had two sons killed in action in the IDF. And a fourth was a famous Israeli entertainer who’d felt so soul-dead and empty in the midst of all her success, she’d lost the will to live and the ability to get up in the morning.

That was how the story began, with the Lost Princess being banished to the place of ‘no good’, a place where the outside all looked so shiny and amazing, but where the inside was painful, empty misery.

These four people on screen explained how the ‘no good’ had played out in their own lives. The homeless teen had done parties and drugs; the entertainer had done more songs, more shows, more ‘celeb’ stuff, etc.

But then, came the point when they realized that wasn’t the answer – that all the escapism and superficiality was killing them – and the quest to reclaim the Lost Princess really began. They tried to pull themselves up by their boot straps, and to move on.

The blind guy learnt how to shoot hoops and started working out, and became the Tanach champion of the year; the homeless girl decided to start dreaming of a future where she’d be married, a mother, in her own warm, loving home. Miriam Peretz decided to reclaim life and to start enjoying cake again, after the death of her first son.

But at the last minute, the quest failed.

They ate the apple and fell asleep just at the moment they could rescue the Lost Princess. She reappeared, distraught but encouraging, and told them to try again, to spend another year trying again.

So they did.

And again, at the last moment the ‘success’ was snatched away from them, and they fell very, very badly.

They gave up hope. They didn’t want to continue. They didn’t want to be alive anymore. They couldn’t take the endless struggle, the endless knock backs, the endless reminders of their issues, lacks and problems. They couldn’t escape the feeling that their life was completely meaningless, and that they were stuck in awful circumstances that they couldn’t get out of.

But the story continued.

At some point, they woke up, and quest began again.

Miriam Peretz decided to use her grief to inspire others, and to do good in the world in the memory of her two dead sons. To remember her pain, but also to remember her ongoing joy in life, too.

The homeless teen got herself off the streets, and found a caring, frum midrasha to go to. The blind guy taught himself computers, and started making a fortune in hi-tech. The entertainer finally got married, had children, got frum – and experienced inner peace for the first time in her life.

In short: they came a huge step closer to finding the lost princess.

Rebbe Nachman’s story doesn’t actually end, because life doesn’t ‘end’, until it inevitably does.

It’s the journey that matters, not the destination, which is fixed for every single one of us.

I sat there transfixed throughout this show. I had chills down my back in parts, I cried my eyes out in others, and above all, I had an abiding sense of gratitude and hope that this is where I live, this is what I’m part of, these are the messages that my children are getting in school.

Not that they have to be perfect, soul-less, frum robots. Not that they have to pretend that they never fall, or struggle, or have huge crises of faith. But that falling down, and getting up again, are part of the journey, part of the quest.

And it’s the journey that really counts.

——–

I just want to add one more thing, here, about living in Israel.

I know it’s such a controversial topic for so many reasons, but I can see that so many of the things that are so wrong about the Jewish world, orthodox and otherwise, in chutz l’aretz stem from this need to keep sweeping the real issues we all face under the rug, and to pretend all is well, and that the Jewish community doesn’t have any problems.

Nobody’s falling around here!!! Nobody’s sick to death of all the materialism, competition and superficiality engulfing their lives!!! Nobody hates their job so much it’s literally making them physically ill!!! Nobody’s got issues to work on!!! Nobody feels so lost and lonely they literally don’t want be alive anymore!!!

Except of course, when they do, and that’s when they’re summarily bundled onto Prozac or some other ‘mood stabilising’ narcotic.

In Israel, life is dealt with square on. You can still be an orthodox Jew and express pain, and disappointment, and admit to having flaws and faults, and hating kugel recipes.

This basic level of ‘realness’ is so missing, so lacking, in the Anglo-Jewish world, regardless of religious observance.

The streets of chutz l’aretz are paved with gold, I know. But maybe, the real you doesn’t want that, doesn’t like it, and knows how much it’s really killing you?

I’m not saying that Israel is the only place you can find your Lost Princess, but I am saying that increasingly, Israel is the only place where frum Jews are encouraged to be real, and to be truthful about who they really are and what they really feel.

And when people can’t be real, really them, warts n’all, they’re never going to even start looking for the Lost Princess, let alone finding her.

So there I was, coming towards the end of completing the manuscript for my new book, which Bezrat Hashem, will give people tons of powerful tools for figuring out what’s going on with them, spiritually, emotionally and physically.

I just passed the 120,000 word mark, and it really is full of good, even revolutionary, stuff.

After months of gloom and pessimism, I was beginning to feel positive and confident again – and my yetzer hates that. So it sent me a week of disturbing bad dreams to soften me up a bit, and then it hit me with one of the most horrible days I’ve had for a long time.

Externally, nothing was really going. Internally, I started to feel filled up with despair and futility.

“No-one’s going to read your book…you’re just wasting your time…why even bother finishing it?…just go and do the washing up, already, and forget about your aspirations to build the world…”

And so on and so forth.

This carried on for a few hours, until I literally started to feel there was no point to life generally, and my life, specifically.

Has that ever happened to you? Do you get what I’m talking about?

Lucky for me, I was in the middle of listening to a class by Rav Ofer Erez in the car, and I was too despairing to even be bothered to turn it off. So I sat there, while Rav Erez started talking about ‘Klipat Amalek’, and how it’s big thing was to get a person so despairing that they give up on themselves, and stop believing that G-d is interested in them, or wants to help them, or that they can change.

Despite myself, I started listening.

Then, Rav Erez explained how he’d been talking with a big shrink in Israel, who’d been telling him that when a person gives up on themselves – when they get despairing, or yeoush, then they can’t be helped.

Their despair is what’s blocking their recovery, and the big turnaround in their life and fortunes.

I started to feel better.

I came home, started work on the book again, and I saw I was up to the part where I brought the idea from Rav Arush about how you can tell if the voice in your head is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, which is absolutely brilliant in its simplicity.

In a nutshell, good things, good thoughts, come from the side of ‘good’; and bad ideas and bad thoughts come from the side of ‘bad’.

All those bad ideas about how I was wasting my time, how my book was rubbish, how it was just going to sink without a trace etc etc – that was just my evil inclination!

Again, I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but when you’re in the middle of these tests, the biggest problem is that the voice of bad really sounds so convincing and ‘honest’.

Once I had clarity again, that the voice in my head wasn’t ‘realistic’, it was just plain evil and ‘Klipat Amalek’, I started to fight back. The next day, I finished two big, long chapters, and I set myself the goal of getting the whole draft completely done by February 1, G-d willing.

Rebbe Nachman taught us ‘there is no despair in the world’. He didn’t mean that we don’t feel despair, because we often do, especially in this difficult generation. What he meant, is that even if we’ve despaired of ourselves, and our abilities to improve or change, we should never despair of G-d’s love, and help.

G-d continues to believe in us, even when we’ve given up. He sends us CDs with just the right words we need to hear; holy rabbis to guide our path; great, simple, powerful advice to help us see that He didn’t give up on us.

His hand is always open, to lift us out of the mud and despair we’ve fallen into. So look for His hand in your own life, and grab it!