Posts

If you want to take hitbodedut up a level, consider talking to God for six hours straight.

Let’s carry on the discussion that we started in the previous post on regularly talking to God, aka doing hitbodedut, but today we’re going to explore the idea of the talking to God for six hours straight hitbodedut session in more detail.

As I mentioned in the last post, the first time I was motivated to do a six hour talking to God session was when I had a health scare when I was 35, that scared the flipping pants off me.

To put it simply, God very often uses fear to get us to turn to Him, and start really talking.

And fear is certainly what started me off down the path of doing regular, long hitbodeduts. Fear of falling ill, fear of something with the children, God forbid, fear of losing my home, fear of losing my marbles…. You get the idea.

I would arrive in those early six hour sessions with a whole lot of fear, and I would basically spend six hours trying to turn my ‘fallen fear’ into true yireh shemayim, or fear of Hashem, so that I could start to breathe a bit easier and take down the intensely uncomfortable sensation of deep panic and anxiety that were accompanying the fear.

But that wasn’t the only motivation for those early six hours. Another big, huge motivation could be summed up like this:

Forcing God to give me what I want.

And this is what I’m going to focus on today, because I have learned over the last few years that prayer actually doesn’t work like that, it’s not meant to work like that, and if you go in to long hitbodeduts as a way to try ‘force’ Hashem’s hand, it’s just going to boomerang on you.

I know, I know: there’s a marketing issue going on here.

Because we’re superficial, Westernised, control-freak Anglos, we really buy into the message that we can ‘control’ the Creator of the world via six hour hitbodedut sessions. That’s a powerful motivator, that’s a very good way of getting us to dip our toe in the hitbodedut water to start to try it.

Maybe, we need to have hitbodedut packaged like that initially, because who knows if we’d ever feel like trying it, otherwise? But this approach is not describing the whole, complicated reality of the relationship with Hashem, and the best way to show you its beauty, but also its limitations, is to tell you what happened to me, on a few different occasions.

====

WHEN THE ‘FORCING’ DIDN’T WORK, EXAMPLE 1: HAVING MORE CHILDREN

One of the biggest motivators for doing hitbodedut for me, initially, was to try to ‘force’ God to give me more children. Baruch Hashem, I have two wonderful daughters, 18 and 15 now, but I wanted more. And God didn’t want to give more to me, so I spent years, and years, and years trying to ‘force’ God to give me more kids via hitbodedut.

After about 5 years of doing this, the penny started to drop that while the hitbodedut wasn’t really working in this area, regularly talking to God every single day had been cleaning up my bad middot, and leading to a lot of insights and teshuva in many other ways.

And it was also making me a much better, happier and more empathetic and emotionally ‘there’ mother.

But still, when I was having my bad days, the first weapon my yetzer would use to attack my efforts at hitbodedut was my apparent ‘failure’ to force God to give me more kids. At that stage, I was still buying into the message that the only reason God wasn’t giving me more kids is because I hadn’t done enough hours of hitbodedut, so I just kept racking up more and more hours, more and more six hour talking to God sessions.

This continued until around 4 years ago, when I had 4 early miscarriages in the space of a year and a half.

To say this was a huge test of faith is a massive understatement.

All this was occurring when we were having difficulties in a bunch of other areas as well, and the miscarriages on top of everything else we were going through really, nearly, broke me.

It took me a good two years of picking through the rubble of that experience to draw some positive conclusions, but this is what I realized, after a lot more introspection and prayer:

  • Because I didn’t ‘let go’ and accept God’s plans for me to have not more kids, and because I kept trying to ‘force’ Him to give me more kids, I ended up with the worst of both worlds:

I conceived four more kids, and then I lost them all. (Thank God, it was all very early miscarriages, there was a lot of kindness even in the harsh judgement.)

  • I am really not cut out to have a big family.

It would have been better for me to accept that much earlier on, and to be counting my existing blessings, then to keep using my ‘lack of kids’ as a moaning stick against Hashem.

  • God knows exactly what He’s doing.

I love writing, I love writing blogs and books and doing all this stuff gives me a very deep and happy sense of meaning. Much as I love my kids, changing diapers and hanging out in the park has just always been difficult for me. I was not prepared to do things by half-measures, so God made sure I could spend a bunch of years focusing only on my two kids, and doing my best to give them what they needed. But at this stage, He’s given me the time and freedom to go back to my writing full-throttle – and I can do that with no guilt, and without worrying that I’m acting selfishly, because I only have two kids.

  • I couldn’t have experienced the difficulties of the last 5 years as ‘easily’ if I had a bigger family.

The rented dump fit a family of 4 perfectly. Trying to stuff a family of 5 or 6 in that space would have been extremely dangerous for everyone’s mental health (in my family – remember, we’re all different.) Also, I had bad health issues that took me out for 2 years solid – there’s no way I could have had the energy to properly care for very young children in those circumstances. And I didn’t have any support network, no local family, no neighbors to fall back on, so I count it as a huge blessing, at this stage, that I didn’t have to go through the upheavals and massive uncertainty of the last few years with more small kids to care for.

God knew what I’d have to go through in order to do more of the ‘soul rectifying’ required; He knew that I had a bunch of important things to write about, and that I’d find all this very hard to do with heavier family responsibilities.

And that’s at least part of why He didn’t answer all those prayers to have more kids.

Now, on to:

====

 WHEN THE ‘FORCING’ DIDN’T WORK, EXAMPLE 2: BUYING AN APARTMENT IN JERUSALEM

Like many other people, I was very anxious about moving to Jerusalem a few years’ back, not least because I had no idea how we were going to find something decent to live in.

I was coming from a huge, new-built 5 bed semi-detached in a yishuv, and the apartments in Jerusalem were either just plain awful and completely unsuitable (and affordable) or nice and very suitable (and completely unaffordable).

I’d heard the infamous story about the yeshiva student who’d done a bunch of talking to God for six hours straight sessions and somehow got a ‘free’ apartment in Jerusalem, so I decided that in this area, I could definitely ‘force’ God to give me a nice place in the holy city.

Man, I can’t tell you how many six hour sessions I did devoted to forcing God to give me a nice place in Jerusalem, but it was scores and scores.

Here’s what happened:

We’d agreed a price on a flat in Musrara, and were moving forward with the legal process to buy it. Suddenly, the seller changed his mind about the price, literally doubled it – and we had to pull out.

At that point, all the other properties in Jerusalem also literally doubled overnight, and what had been barely affordable became impossibly expensive. I watched that Jerusalem real estate train chug out of the station – without me on board – and I couldn’t help feeling a wave of bitterness and resentment.

Why hadn’t all my six hour sessions talking to God for a house worked?

Not only that, the exact opposite happened: The first place we moved to had a neo-Nazi landlord from Tel Aviv, so we ended up moving out again after four months – to the rented dump that we spent the next three years in.

My kids came home and whispered to me that first month: Ima, my friends told me that this is place where poor people live.

What made it even more galling is that we were paying more to rent the rented dump than we’d been paying out on the mortgage of the 5 bedroom villa.

God, what happened to all my prayers for my own home!?!?!

Fast-forward to last year, and guess what?

We found another flat in that same building where we’d been gazumped four years earlier. And this time, the seller stuck to the price agreed, and went through with the sale.

And as you know, that was an unmitigated disaster, as the whole building was still half-owned by an Arab from the 1930s and the bank refused to give us a mortgage on it – but only after we signed.

Do you know what I’d been praying for, for years?

That I should be able to buy a house of my own in Jerusalem, without a mortgage.

And yet again, God answered the prayer – because I forced Him to, with all my millions of six hours – but I ended up with the worst of both worlds: I bought a house that I couldn’t afford, that I was unable to get a mortgage on.

Again, it’s taken a few months to start to pick through the rubble of what happened to find the message, the lesson, but here’s some of what I’ve come up with so far:

  • We were trying to buy an apartment in the wrong part of Jerusalem.

This was part of our ongoing ‘false piety’ issues, which saw us trying to ‘fit in’ to a community that we really didn’t belong with, even though there was a lot of overlap along Breslov lines. This deserves its own post, but to give just one example: we’ve been invited out for Shabbat more in the last 2 months, and had guests more in the last 2 months, than in the whole 4 years previous.

  • Owning my own house was rooted in some huge bad middot and arrogance issues.

Like it or not, most of us view our house as a status symbol. The bigger, the fancier, the newer – the more we pat ourselves on our internal backs. But when you rent, and you rent a dump, and that rent is more than your mortgage was – you quickly learn to stop feeling so puffed-up with pride, and obsessed with where you are ranking in the house stakes.

  • I was extremely unhappy about the prospect of taking on so much, massive, mortgage debt, but I couldn’t see any other option.

This is also connected to the ‘false piety’ issue, but we were convinced that Musrara was the only place in the whole of Jerusalem where we could live. And the prices in Musrara are through the roof, hence getting a massive mortgage seemed to be the only way to buy an apartment in Jerusalem. But now, I’m learning different. The properties in our area are easily half a million cheaper, and if / when we can ever afford to buy again, we will hopefully be able to find something way cheaper, for the same sort of space we need.

God had been giving us clues that we perhaps weren’t in the best place to stay permanently for a while, but we kept blocking them out, and stubbornly insisting that we know better. We clearly didn’t, so at this stage, I’m increasingly grateful for our house purchasing debacle. The one thing worse than being fundamentally miserable about your location in a rental is being fundamentally miserable in a place where you’ve actually bought.

On to the last example, for today:

====

WHEN THE ‘FORCING’ DIDN’T WORK, EXAMPLE 3: EXPECTING TO MAINTAIN A GOOD STANDARD OF LIVING WHILE DOING NO ACTUAL WORK

And so we come on to arguably the most difficult test we had in this area of six hours, which is when my husband was encouraged by his ‘spiritual guide’ to quit his job and let God provide.

The person who told my husband this was very into his six hours, and his davening by kivrei tzaddikim, and was extremely charismatic. He also didn’t tell my husband that his wife was working a full-time job to try to keep the family afloat financially, or that he’d bought his own apartment in the area when prices were dirt cheap.

So there we were, being told that working for a living showed some sort of ‘lack of emuna’, and that coincided with a period of time when my husband was extremely unhappy in his work, and was feeling suffocated by his profession and office circumstances.

So my husband quit, and started ‘working for God’ instead, doing six hour hitbodeduts every day, as his ‘spiritual guide’ had told him to.

And I was also doing a lot of six hour sessions too, because it really didn’t take long for our financial situation to get extremely difficult.

Every day, my husband would learn some Torah in the morning, then go into the spare room and try to do his six hours. Every day, we’d be sitting there waiting for the lottery ticket win to show up, the unexpected legacy from an unknown great aunt, the massive pink diamond I was going to unearth digging in the garden….

And in the meantime, it didn’t show up.

And in the meantime, we were running out of money for food, and money to pay the rent, and my husband was in a pretty fragile state for a number of reasons, not least, that his yetzer had him convinced 100% that going back to work for a living would show a terrible lack of emuna.

So his six hours continued, my six hours continued – and friends of mine started sticking baguettes in through the kitchen window, quietly, so I could give my kids supper, while others had to buy us toilet roll, or give me a couple hundred shekels so I could actually go to the supermarket.

After two months of this, I realized we’d hit the end of the road, and we had to sell our house just to get through.

Because my husband had been so thoroughly brainwashed by the yetzer that working for a living was bad, and that all he had to do was keep praying, he couldn’t face the idea of going back to work. He felt it would be a terrible spiritual failure.

So we sold, and we had some brief financial respite, but I was still on at my husband to go back to work and end the experiment, which is when we decided to open our disastrous ‘Meaning of Life’ kiruv attraction in the Old City which blew through a whole bunch of our house money.

Of course, the ‘spiritual guide’ gave his blessing to this project too – because he had a huge vested interest in ‘proving’ the correctness of his ‘no work for the man’ derech – and when that went bust, we had one of the biggest crises of faith we ever had to face.

I am eternally grateful to Rav Shalom Arush, who gave my husband the spiritual ‘permission’ he needed to go back to work without feeling like he was the worst spiritual loser ever. And in the meantime, we were both left with massive questions about what had happened to all those six hour prayer sessions we’d done, for my husband’s parnassa.

Here’s some of what I managed to glean from that whole, sorry mess:

  • There is no ‘one size fits all approach’, when it comes to serving Hashem as a believing Jew.

God clearly wanted my husband to return to work, and to learn Torah part-time, and working as a professional is a crucial part of his spiritual tikkun.

  • It’s very easy for the yetzer to co-opt even the holiest practices, and to take them to an unhealthy extreme.

Doing six hours for parnassa is great, and something that most people can probably manage, at least once in a while. Quitting work totally to ‘work for God’ is a practice that maybe a handful of people in every generation can pull off – and most of them would have to be happy living at, or below, the breadline.

  • We had to go through that whole mess to figure out how much of an ‘ego exercise’ the six hour prayer thing had turned into.

====

The more we prayed, the more arrogant we got, and the more we felt like God somehow ‘owed us’ open miracles.

God owes us nothing. Recently, I also learned from Rav Berland that the whole point of hitbodedut is to acquire more humility, not more arrogance. If God had answered our prayers to be supported in a miraculous way, we would have turned into awful spiritual egotists – and who knows what spiritual damage we would we have wreaked on the world.

My husband reminded me that there’s a story in the Gemara of a man who was travelling in the desert, and who felt so hot and tired, he asked God to send him a donkey.

God complied –and the donkey promptly died, forcing the man to stagger through the desert having to also schlep the donkey’s carcass home.

Sometimes, there are tests and difficulties we just simply have to do through, and trying to ‘force’ God to cut them short, or to make them go away, will only backfire.

====

THE RIGHT AND WRONG WAY TO DO SIX HOURS

So now, let’s move to a discussion of the right way, and the wrong way to do six hours. Despite what I’ve written above, I still really enjoy doing six hours, and I’ve still seen a bunch of open miracles from long sessions talking to God.

But today, the focus of my prayer sessions is not on telling God what I want from Him, but asking God what He wants from me.

There are two principal reasons why we go through suffering, hardships and ‘lacks’:

  • To encourage us to make teshuva, and to work on the bad middot and negative character traits that are blocking all the shefa that God is trying to send down to us.
  • We have to go through something as rectification, or spiritual tikkun, for something that we did wrong, or that we didn’t do right, in a previous life.

From my experience, six hours can work wonders to clear the ‘blockages’ in our parnassa, health, shalom bayit, or parenting that are coming about because of our own lack of emuna, or bad middot.

If a person with parnassa problems sits down and says: God, I have no idea what I need to fix to get more of an income, but I know for a fact that the problem is coming from You, and is for my ultimate good, and that there’s something I need to change or fix, here – there is no question God will start to show them what’s really causing the problem.

(Hint: it’s usually connected to a hidden anger problem, and how they treat their wife.)

There’s no question that they’ll start to gain a whole bunch of insights into their difficulty earning a living, and that they’ll get the inspiration and the motivation required to improve matters as much as they can.

If it then turns out that the parnassa problem is an unavoidable spiritual tikkun, doing the six hours will also help the person to stand up in the test, and come through it in one piece.

This is a great, wonderful, amazing, awesome way to do six hours for parnassa.

BUT, if a person sits down, and says: God, I need enough money to buy a new i-Phone, a new car, a new apartment in Jerusalem ­– who the heck says that God wants that for you?! Or that this would be good for you?! Or that you’d be able to handle the awful feelings of arrogance and pride that would assail you, if God started doing open miracles like this for you?

Are you seeing the difference, here?

Again, let’s take another common example. Say someone is having issues with their kid. Say, the kid just isn’t tidying their room, isn’t praying the way the parent would like them to be, is being a smart mouth, etc.

If the parent sits down and says: God, please show me what’s ailing my child, and what we can do to try to help them fix the problem at its root! Please help my kid to feel happier, please help them to get a grip on their yetzer. Please show me what we need to change in the home – what I need to work on myself, as their parent – to get things to turn around – this is a great way to do six hours.

But, if the parent sits down as says: God, my kid is acting like such a jerk. Please fix it that they should start tidying their room, respecting me properly, and going to shul on time so my husband doesn’t get upset – this isn’t the point of six hours.

Why not?

Because instead of recognizing that the kid’s behavior is an invitation for the parent to dig deeper and work on their own bad middot and lack of emuna, the parent is just trying to get God to get the problem to go away, without being willing to change anything or make teshuva about anything. They are making the whole issue the kid’s problem – and this is the opposite of real emuna.

Real emuna tells us God is behind everything, God is doing everything for our ultimate good, and that there is a message for what we need to change, fix, recognize and improve in every little thing that happens to us.

To put this in different words:

When you ask God to help you clear up a spiritual problem, when you recognize that God is sending the problem because He wants YOU to change something, He wants some teshuva out of YOU – then six hours can and does work a treat.

But, when you just ask God to make your material problems go away, or to just give you what you want, and you’re not willing to even consider WHY the situation may be happening in the first place, or whether what you want is really the same as what God wants, or to examine your own deeds – then the six hours might still work. But it really might not.

====

REAL LIFE EXAMPLES OF WHERE SIX HOURS WORKED FOR ME

I’ve had a bunch of miracles occur as a result of doing six hours, but each one required some sort of teshuva or change.

  • Getting my kids into the ‘right’ school was mamash an open miracle – because the school had a waiting list, and neither of my kids could read well (or at all…) and we weren’t at all connected in the sorts of useful ways that get you into schools. I did a bunch of six hours, but I also had to make my peace with the idea that the answer really could be ‘no’, and that if that was the case, God knew better than I did what was best for my kids.
  • Making peace with my crazy house seller was mamash an open miracle – and it took loads and loads of six hours, and loads of working on myself to overcome my own anger and bitterness, and to try to build some emuna, and to try and trust God more and accept His will, whatever the outcome ultimately was going to be.
  • My husband rebuilding his business from scratch in less than 6 months was mamash an open miracle – not least because all his clients are in the UK, and he had no intention of commuting, or hiding his payot. God fixed things that as soon as my husband made the decision to go back to work, new clients started to come to him, with hardly any effort on his part. It really showed us that once my husband was in alignment with what God wanted for him, all of his six hours on making parnassa were put to really good use, and nothing was wasted.
  • Staying married is mamash an open miracle – I think this is true for most people in their 40s today, let alone people like us who have been through so much extreme craziness the last few years. Not only are we still married, we both actually still enjoy each other’s company, and like spending time together and talking to each other. I know all my six hours for my shalom bayit have had a hugely positive effect on my marriage.
  • Having a good relationship with my teens is mamash an open miracle – And I’ve also seen a lot of their issues move and dissolve after doing a six hours on their behalf. Even for issues that are currently ‘stuck’, like the acne issue, all the six hours I’m doing on that subject are being used to help my kid in a myriad other ways. Apart from the acne, there’s a bunch of other things that have improved significantly or disappeared as issues, over the last few months, and I’m sure the six hours I do for her has a lot to do with it.

I just want to stress something again here:

I often don’t see anything change, directly, from the six hours, but I nearly always feel happier and better after doing it. And while I don’t get a lot of obvious, open miracles, I do get a lot of unusual ‘coincidences’ that I know are 100% from Hashem.

Also, my life circumstances means that talking to God a lot is fairly easy for me to do and doesn’t require a lot of self-sacrifice. I’m think if someone had to make a huge effort to do a six hours, they would probably see far more ‘miraculous’ results, far more obviously, than has generally been my experience.

The reward is always commensurate with the effort, so please do try a six hours at least once yourself if you want to try to take your relationship with Hashem to the next level, even if it’s hard.

====

SOME TECHNICAL POINTERS

As always, there’s so much to say, but let’s end with some technical pointers for how to do a ‘good’ six hours.

  • YOU DON’T HAVE TO TALK ABOUT ONE SUBJECT THE WHOLE TIME.

What I do, is that I will say at the outset that ‘this 6 hours is in the merit of my daughter’s acne clearing up’, or ‘it’s in the merit of Rav Berland having a refuah shleima’ or whatever it is, then I will talk about whatever God puts into my head. If it’s a particular subject where I have some work to do – anything to do with myself or my family directly falls under this heading – then I will try to specifically talk around the topic, to see what clues God will give me about what’s really going on. Making teshuva and getting the message is a big part of taking the time to do a six hours.

  • YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO IT IN ONE PLACE.

I often do some sort of combo where I’ll start off the six hours in bed, then go for a ‘hitbodedut’ walk, then do some ‘housewife hitbodedut’, then crack open a Likutey Moharan for inspiration, or head up the road to Kever Rochel or the Kotel. Kivrei Tzaddikim can be very good places to do hitbodedut, but unless the kever is somewhere like Uman, Meron, or the Baba Sali in Netivot, it can be hard to sit there for a whole six hours straight. So if you can’t spend the whole six hours somewhere, that’s fine – just go for an hour or two then head back home to complete the rest.

  • YOU CAN PRAY FOR MATERIAL THINGS, BUT THE MAIN FOCUS SHOULD BE ON THE SPIRITUAL SIDE.

Remember that God is not a caspomat. If you haven’t got a good spiritual reason for the material thing you’re asking for, chances are high that it’s not really something you should be praying about, or at least, not something you should be doing a whole six hours on.

  • FOCUS ON THE PROCESS, NOT THE OUTCOME.

If your hitbodedut is about getting closer to God, and trying to live your emuna, and trying to work on your bad middot, or figuring out the message, it’ll work beautifully every single time. But if it’s only about achieving a particular ‘thing’ or aim, or solving a particular problem, there’s no guarantee that God will give you what you want.

  • ASK GOD WHAT HE WANTS FROM YOU, DON’T JUST TELL HIM WHAT YOU WANT FROM HIM.

There’s a reason you haven’t got your own home, or you can’t lose weight, or your i-Phone keeps breaking, or you can’t meet the rent bill, or He’s not giving you more kids. Doing six hours is a great opportunity to explore what those reasons might actually be, and figure out what God is expecting from you, before your situation can change for the better.

  • NO PRAYER IS EVER WASTED, BUT IF YOU TRY TO FORCE GOD’S HAND INTO GIVING YOU SOMETHING THAT ISN’T ULTIMATELY GOOD FOR YOU, IT WILL ONLY BOOMERANG.

God has good reasons for everything. If something isn’t coming – and you’ve made teshuva, and you’ve done all you can to fix up your side of things – then it’s a good idea to try to accept God’s will, and to ask for emuna and bitachon, instead of redoubling your six hour efforts to ‘force’ God into giving you what you want.

 

  • I’m very happy to write more on this subject, just let me know what other questions or issues you have, that you think I might be able to help clarify. And in the meantime, I really hope God will help us all to experience the real pleasure of speaking to Him, and connecting our souls back to Source.

====

You might also like these articles:

As you may, or may not know, my husband and I first got into Breslov by way of Rav Shalom Arush, and his amazing, life-changing book, ‘The Garden of Emuna’.

Until I hit Rav Arush and his strong emphasis on emuna, i.e. seeing Hashem behind every single little detail in our lives, I had so many questions that didn’t appear to have answers, at least not in more ‘mainstream’ Judaism.

As each of the Rav’s books came out, I gobbled them up. And I can honestly say that his ‘Education with Love’ book is probably the most important book I ever read in my life, and completely changed my relationship with my kids for the better.

My husband was also profoundly changed by Rav Arush’s teachings and books, in particular the ‘Garden of Peace’ book on how to ‘do’ marriage properly, that’s for men only. That book helped him navigate some incredibly stormy times in our marriage and in our life, with emuna.

In fact, it probably kept us together when circumstances were raging so hard against us, they nearly broke us both into pieces.

Why am I writing this now?

Because the last couple of years, I forgot how much I owe Rav Arush. I got so caught up with some of the ‘difficult’ characters associated with the yeshiva, and so upset about some of the things we experienced since we moved to Jerusalem, I kind of distanced myself internally from the Rav, and forgot how much he and his advice really helped us.

A few months’ ago, after my husband left Rav Arush’s yeshiva to go and study in the Old City, I took one of Rav Arush’s picture off the wall, unsure as to how ‘connected’ I really felt to him, at this stage in my life.

Yesterday, spontaneously, one of my kids was tidying up the place, and decided to stick the picture back up on the wall. The timing was uncanny…

Because yesterday, me and my husband kind of got peripherally caught up in someone else’s exploding shalom bayit (marital peace) issue. To cut a long story short, both parties are MEGA frum looking, but really have so little emuna when it comes to seeing God in their spouse it’s actually heart-breaking.

Sure, they’ve also been through a lot of difficulties in recent years – who hasn’t?

But me and my husband were both really shocked to see how little responsibility either party is taking to fix the problem, how much they’re just blaming each other for everything that’s going wrong, and most disturbingly of all, how little God is really in the picture.

After my husband read Rav Shalom’s ‘Garden of Peace’ book, he realized that whenever I was giving him a hard time about something, I was just the stick that God was using to get him to really work on the things he’d otherwise prefer to ignore.

That understanding saved our marriage on countless occasions, strengthened our relationship, and helped my husband to become a mensch, in every sense of the word.

By the same token, every time I was caught up in feelings of utter despair and overwhelm about how things were going in life, or with my relationship with my husband, or with my kids, I’d take it into my personal prayer sessions, and I’d ask God for help.

A few years’ ago, when my husband went through a very dark time after his father unexpectedly died, talking to God is what helped me deal with what was going on. I prayed for my husband so much that he should come through his very difficult nisayon (test) in one piece, and that he and we shouldn’t be completely broken by what was going on.

Rav Arush explained in one of his books that you get the husband you pray for: whenever you see a problem, a difficulty, a ‘lack’ in your home, your marriage, your man, you need to go and pray on it, and ask God to help him resolve it.

That’s the advice we’ve both been living by for years’ now – and mamash, it’s the main reason we still like each other so much and are generally pretty happy, BH, despite all the difficulties we’ve gone through the last few years.

It could be so different.

At this stage in life, I’m seeing so many marriages go to the wall because the husband refuses to accept that they have any problems they need to work on, and because the wives get so despairing and exhausted from dealing with the spiritual and mental immaturity of their husbands, they kind of get to a stage where they just want ‘out’ of the whole process.

Ladies, don’t give up on them!

Just pray for them, and send them to Uman as much as you can, but especially for Rosh Hashana! Rabbenu’s got your back!

And for the husbands who are reading this – please, please, please, do the whole world a favour and go and buy a copy of ‘The Garden of Peace’. If you already have that book, go and actually read it. If you already read it, go and actually internalize that as long as your wife is a God-fearing woman, the ‘hard time’ she’s giving you is actually just Hashem talking.

We all need to work on our middot, we all have stuff to fix. For as long as we are still in the world, that’s a sign that we still have stuff to work on.

Without Rav Arush’s guidance and help, I dread to think how things could have turned out in my marriage, given all the tremendous ‘tikkunim’ God’s been expecting of us the last few years.

Rav Arush, thank you! You’re amazing!

I’m sorry it took me a couple of years to remember that.

In his recent parsha sheet, Rav Shalom Arush talked a great deal about the 8th day of Chanuka, called ‘zot Chanuka’, and the amazing miraculous power contained in this day.

Now, if you already lit your lights for the 8th day before reading this, don’t panic. The spiritual power of ‘zot Chanuka’ lasts the whole 24 hours of the day – and here’s what Rav Arush has to say about it:

“It’s a day where every single one of us can work every salvation (miracle) for ourselves. We can annul from off of ourselves every bad decree, every difficulty that we’re struggling with in our lives, and every test we’re having in both gashmius (the material realm) and ruchnius (the spiritual realm).”

How do we do all this?!

Very simply, by asking God to help us with whatever we need in our own words, aka hitbodedut.

Rav Arush suggests we all do the following on zot Chanuka:

  • Set aside a chunk of time to actually do some serious, uninterrupted hitbodedut.
  • Go to a field, or some other place (even in your own house…) where you’ll be undisturbed and left alone.
  • Aim to do three hours of uninterrupted personal prayer (this is Rav Arush’s own words and instructions).
  • Don’t forget to start with thanks and gratitude, as gratitude is the main point of Chanuka, and whatever ‘thanks’ you say on zot Chanuka will accompany you the whole year.
  • After that, tell God about every difficulty you’re having in your life, and every test you’re going through.
  • Devote half an hour of prayer to each big issue, like:
    1. Shalom Bayit (relationship with your spouse)
    2. Raising your kids properly
    3. Finances
    4. Career / work
    5. Health problems (emotional and physical)
    6. Spiritual issues like bad middot, and other things you need to make teshuva for and fix
    7. Avodat Hashem – the general work of doing God’s will and getting closer to Him
  • Rav Arush ends by reminding us all to take some time to pray for the good of Am Yisrael, and particularly, he recommends that we pray for the general Shalom Bayit of Am Yisrael, as he says that’s under particular attack at the moment, and many, many people are heading for divorces as a result.

Once again, our Sages teach that on Zot Chanuka, a simple Jew like you and me can achieve the sorts of miracles and salvations for ourselves that usually only a big Tzaddik could work during the days of awe!

It’s a golden opportunity to ask God to help us with all of our needs, lacks and requirements, spiritually and physically.

So now you’ve read this, go get ‘em, tiger!

And when you get your amazing miracles, please drop me a line and tell me about them, so I can help publicise the ongoing miracles of Chanuka (both yours and mine…) hopefully for a good long time to come.

Rebbe Nachman told us more than 200 years’ ago that the tests of faith (emuna) in the time preceding the coming of Moshiach would be so great, that: “…many will fall away and be evil.”

But he continued: “Still, I am revealing this for the sake of the few faithful who will remain strong in their belief (emuna).  They will certainly have great conflicts.  But when they see that this has already been predicted, it will give them additional strength and encouragement.” (Sichot HaRan 35)

On another occasion, Rebbe Nachman commented that at the end of days, the whole world would be flooded by such a huge amount of heretical ideas and theories, even rabbis would have ‘heresy dripping out of their pockets.’

Sadly, there are so many things going on today that prove that Rebbe Nachman was not at all exaggerating, so I thought it would be good to do a quick ‘emuna’ refresher today.

The Rambam’s first principle of faith states:

“I believe with complete faith that the Creator, blessed be His name, He creates and manages all of creation, and that He alone did, does and will do everything that is done.”

So to take just one example, this means that all those supernatural fires that occurred across Israel last week were 100% the work of God. That doesn’t mean He didn’t use the odd Arab terrorist here and there, but even the Israel Home Command Front estimated that 95% of the fires were spontaneous combustion, and not arson.

The Artscroll siddur makes the following comments about the Rambam’s 13 Principles of Faith.

First, it tells us very clearly: “There is no partnership in Creation.” It’s complete heresy to suggest that something could occur in the world that God ‘has nothing to do with’, as that suggests there is another force operating in the universe other than Hashem.

(As an aside, this is one of the many big problems with Xtianity, and other religions that like to claim that the forces of evil are somehow outside of God’s control. That’s complete heresy – God is doing EVERYTHING in the world, even the seemingly bad things.)

Secondly, the Artscroll siddur tells us:

“God communicates with man. In order for man to carry out his Divinely-ordained mission, he must know what it is. Prophecy is the means by which God communicates His wishes to man.”

Rebbe Nachman warned us that just before Moshiach showed up, there would be a bunch of heretical pseudo-tzaddiks who would be tripping us up and weakening our faith in God and his true Tzaddikim.

Anytime we believe that anything other than God is causing things to happen, that’s a heretical thought, and here’s why that’s such a problem:

In Tractate Roshana 17a the Gemara tells us that:

“The apikorsim (heretics)…descend to Gehinnom and are punished there for all eternity.”

Heresy is a very serious business, as it can literally cost a person all of their World to Come and consign them to a permanent billet in Hell. Not a fun prospect!

What’s helped me navigate all the confusion and heresy sloshing around is Rav Arush’s three rules of emuna. You can find a more detailed discussion of these three rules in his book, The Garden of Emuna.

RAV ARUSH’S THREE RULES OF EMUNA:

RULE 1: EIN OD MILVADO – God did, does and will do every single thing that’s happening in the world, even the seemingly ‘bad’ stuff, and including even the most smallest details of our lives.

RULE 2: EVERYTHING THAT GOD DOES IS GOOD Even when it’s painful and upsetting. Everything that occurs to us, even the most painful things, are ultimately only for our good, and will help us to achieve our spiritual rectification, or Tikkun.

RULE 3: THERE’S A MESSAGE IN EVERYTHING – Everything that happens to us or that impacts us in some way contains a message from God about what we might need to work on, fix, change, accept or rectify. The easiest way to figure these messages out is to talk to God for an hour every day.

The Rambam wrote his 13 Principles of Faith to help us avoid the sort of heretical people and ideas that could do permanent damage to our souls. In our mixed up world, there really are a bunch of ‘orthodox’ rabbis out there who literally have heresy dripping out of their pockets.

Caveat Emptor.

Last week, a day before I was meant to go on holiday with my family, I started to feel REALLY bad.

Nothing particularly sparked it off – there was no horrible news, Baruch Hashem, no stock market crash that wiped out all my savings (which is one advantage of not having any savings), no visit from the tax man, or unpaid bills for a million shekels.

But all of a sudden last Sunday, I started to feel really, really bad. Like there was no point continuing, like everything was doomed to failure, like I was NEVER going to get out of the hole I felt I was in.

Together with this horrible mood, I got a stomach ache that was so bad that I was literally finding it hard to breathe, and that’s when I really started to panic. I get a lot of somatic pain, where my emotions express themselves in my body, so I’ve learned when things are ‘emotional’ i.e. 99% of the time, and when they aren’t.

This pain was 100% emotional / spiritual, and was literally choking me to death.

I did all my usual coping things – like pressing acupressure points, and doing some cardiovascular exercise, and trying to take deeper breaths, and main-lining some lavender essential oil, and talking to God about what was going on and trying to figure out what was underneath all this stuff – but nothing worked.

Suddenly, I got the crazy notion in my head that I had to go and see Rav Arush ASAP. Now, even though I’ve lived in Jerusalem for two years, and my husband learns in Rav Arush’s yeshiva, I have never gone to visit the Rav all this time. But Sunday I felt so bad, even my famous British reserve dissolved. I had to find the Rav, pronto!

As soon as my husband got back from learning, I had him walk back with me to the yeshiva, to see if the Rav was in his office. He wasn’t there. So then, we tried the Rav’s house. As we got up to the outside door (which was fitted a few years’ ago, to stop people pestering the Rav night and day) there was a man standing outside it, who suddenly got buzzed in.

God bless him, my husband leaped into the open doorway, and then a couple of seconds’ later, he motioned to me to come in – the Rav was standing in the doorway and was happy to talk to me.

Dear reader, these things really don’t happen so often. Catching the Rav is much harder than you might think, but I kind of knew God was going to help me speak to him, because I was feeling the most desperate and down I’d been feeling for a very long time.

The Rav summed up my problem in about two seconds: I was spending far too much of my time beating myself up, and focusing on my bad, instead of looking at the good, and it was literally choking me to death.

He told me to read ‘The Garden of Wisdom’ every day, and that would solve the problem.

As soon as we left the Rav’s house, I felt so much better. For starters, I could breathe again and my stomachache had reverted back to its low-grade ‘normal’ status.

I got home and opened up the Garden of Wisdom, which is Rav Arush’s commentary on Rebbe Nachman’s tale of the smart one and the simple one. It said: ‘The Gift of Life’, and then went on to explain how when a person doesn’t have simple emuna, they literally live a hellish existence.

Man, I could relate.

As I wrote a few posts’ back, there are some extreme mood-swings coming down the pipe at the moment, and anyone who isn’t prepared for it could literally go bonkers (if they aren’t already…) I thought I was pretty insulated against the worst of it, because I do hitbodedut every day, and mind-maps, and look for God’s messages, and appreciate I have a lot of things I need to work on.

But I was wrong.

And without Rav Arush’s help, I don’t know what would have kept me from hitting the bottom last week, as I was sliding down there pretty fast.

Without our true Tzaddikim, where would we be? What we do? How would we stop ourselves from engaging in a poisonous paranoid fit, or a bout of toxic self-hatred, or destructive jealousy and rage?

There’s probably a lot more to say, but the world really is going mad. Even non-Jews in the UK, that most staid and conservative of places, are starting to notice that things are just not so normal at the moment.

It’s the birth pangs of Moshiach, and he really must be coming soon after all, because last week, they really, nearly, took me out.

Today (June 3) is the day of Yesod she be Yesod in the counting of the Omer, or ‘foundation focusing on foundation’, or ‘sense of purpose focusing on sense of purpose’.

Yesterday, I got a phone call asking me if I’d heard any more about Rav Berland’s imminent arrival back in Israel. I hadn’t, but I sent my husband off to yeshiva to find out from his source if there was any more news.

Then, I did the usual trip around some of the geula blogs to see if anyone had anything about the Rav’s return. There was a post over on Shirat Devorah (see HERE) with a clip from Rav Dovid Kook, the kabbalist in Tiveria, explaining how Rav Berland’s return to Israel is going to usher in the redemption.

I so hope that’s the case.

This counting the Omer has been such an intense time, that maybe, just maybe, geula really is around the corner.

I hope that by the time you read this, today, Rav Berland WILL be back home, and that things WILL be proceeding geula-wise, the sweet way. Because today is ‘foundation of foundation’, and the biggest tzadikim are said to be the ‘foundation of the world’, so it would be very fitting if today was the day Rav Berland returned.

(BTW – if you haven’t yet paid your 98 nis monthly protection pidyon from terrorists, please go HERE to do that ASAP. Even if geula comes the sweet way, there’s still going to be quite a rough ride involved, at least in parts, until we really finish the process.)

As for me, I’m spiritually exhausted at the moment.

Every day since Rosh Chodesh Nissan has brought its own trials and tribulations, and ‘middot  growth opportunities’.  It seems to me that God is dealing out a whole bunch of last chances to people, to take their blinkers off and finally see what’s going down in their lives.

It’s like there’s all this spiritual light coming down into the world ahead of Moshiach, but wherever it hits a ‘blockage’, it’s causing a lot of pain and drama and anxiety. Clear the blockage (which is usually related to working on a bad character trait, or a weak connection to Hashem) – and the light can pass through your life easily again, giving everything a rosy, warm glow.

Don’t clear the blockage (which is what I’m still seeing SO many people do) – and you literally start to crack-up and go insane.

Thus it is that the problems are spiraling up out of control, the negative character traits are coming to the fore like never before, and the health issues are plummeting to greater depths.

Why?

Hashem gave us a clue as to why this is all happening in last week’s parsha, where we learned of the many curses that would befall Am Yisrael if they related to God ‘casually’. That’s an interesting word, isn’t it?

What does it mean to relate to God casually? Maybe, it means that we don’t even take God into account, and pretend like everything that happens is completely random and down to chance. Maybe, it means that even though we profess to be believing Jews, we still don’t want to admit that God is behind every tiny thing that’s going on in our lives, so we make big speeches about ‘how it’s impossible to know what God wants’, etc, or how ‘everyone has their troubles’, so we don’t need to be too fussed to try to work out WHY God is making us sick, or poor, or miserable.

Maybe, it means that we relate to God like a lifestyle choice, something to boost our energy and give us a high, like a good workout or spinach smoothie, just somehow better.

Or maybe, we talk about how God is going to do a whole bunch of things to everyone else, leaving us to blog contentedly about the destruction of the world that somehow isn’t going to affect us.

God wants us to put Him first, even when it’s inconvenient, uncomfortable and difficult. He wants us to explore every little thing that happens to us from a place of understanding that it’s part of the meaningful dialogue Hashem is trying to have with us, about what we need to acknowledge, work on, or fix, in some way.

To put it another way, we’re back to Rav Arush’s three rules of emuna, namely:

  • Hashem is doing everything in the world
  • Everything Hashem does is for the ultimate good
  • Everything is a message

Those three rules of emuna make every tiny thing that happens to us meaningful and important; the exact opposite of casual and insignificant.

God says: ‘You want to pretend like those kidney stones are just a fluke, and nothing to do with all your bad habits and character traits? Here, try this additional debilitating illness on for size!!’

And:

“You want to pretend that you’re hitting the skids financially just because of the economic downturn!? Here, I’m going to cut every source of income you have off from you, until you finally get the message that you need to start treating your wife (the pipe of all abundance in the home) better!”

And so on, and so forth. ‘A fury of casualness’ – a maelstrom of horrible illnesses, difficult experiences, poverty and ill-health, until we finally wake up and realize that none of it was ‘casual’ or ‘random’, and everything right from the start was God.

The last few weeks, I’ve had so many messages that despite all the hard work I’ve done the last few years, THERE ARE STILL THINGS THAT NEED SOME WORK, PRONTO!

Like anger. And resentment. And rage. And hatred.

(Viz: My husband discovered that the person who damaged the windscreen wiper on our brand new car was a neighbor who hates people parking in ‘his’ spot. I was so worked up when he told me I started fantasizing about spilling a box of tacks behind the neighbor’s front wheels etc. Then, I woke up and realized this! This horrible character trait is what God is telling me needs some work! Duh!)

So God has been giving me that work to do in spades, the last few weeks. IF Rav Berland makes it back today, BH, and if the geula kicks off as predicted by Rav Kook – well then, that all makes sense.

And if not?

I guess God is fast-tracking my Teshuva and character development for some other good reason, only known to Him. And I guess that’s OK, too.

Time and again in my research about what makes people feel ‘alive’ and what makes them feel the opposite, God-forbid, having a well-defined sense of purpose comes pretty close to the top of the list.

If a person really understands why they’re alive, if they really get what’s the point of being down here, then that knowledge by itself can transform their life in so many good ways. I was musing on this while I was reading Viktor Frankl’s classic work, Man’s search for meaning, where he writes about his experiences in the holocaust, and the conclusions he drew as a result.

Frankl was a secular Viennese psychotherapist who lost his parents, wife and all of his siblings bar one sister during the war. In the book, he describes how his ‘professional interest’ in how his fellow prisoners were handling the indescribable suffering of being in Auschwitz and other death camps was a big reason why he survived the war.

As soon as he could take a ‘professional interest’ and start to ponder the psychological implications of what he was witnessing and experiencing, Frankl explains that the experiences themselves became easier to manage in some way.

In one particular poignant passage, he describes how imagining he would share his new insights into human nature kept him going when he was enduring a particularly hard day of forced labour outside in the freezing Polish winter.

Another popular tactic he employed was talking to his wife in his head, and escaping into those imaginary conversations. And thus, he survived the war, and went on to develop Logotherapy, his own brand of psychotherapy where the emphasis was firmly put on encouraging his patients to find some sort of meaning to life, in order to heal their emotional problems.

While Frankl is not ‘anti-religion’, he’s clearly wasn’t an observant Jew – and that’s a real shame, because Judaism would’ve have furnished a clear-cut ‘meaning to life’ that would have prevented him from trying to re-invent the wheel.

Let me give an example I was pondering on recently:

The more I read and learn and experience, the more I realize that it’s almost impossible to raise our children without causing them some sort of severe psychological damage, with far-reaching consequences for their sense of wellbeing, emotional and physical health, and spiritual connection.

For years, I thought that if you were a healthy, well-adjusted, emotionally-balanced person, then your kids would turn out OK (just for the record, I haven’t actually ever met someone like this, but for argument’s sake, let’s pretend they exist.) But God’s been showing me recently that EVEN the most well-meaning, spiritually-connected, tuned-in, compassionate parents are STILL messing their kids up.

How can we not? Is it up to us to decide if we have to experience huge financial pressures, for example? Or severe illnesses? Or traumatic moves to different cities or different countries? Can we help it if we get depressed sometimes, or super-stressed, or overwhelmed by the difficult experiences each of us has to face? We don’t pick for our kids to have horrible teachers, or nasty bullies, or traumatic experiences with terrorists every few days.

And all this stuff leaves an indelible mark on the soul, and causes things like anxiety, fear, anger, panic, despair, and a whole bunch of other things, too.

So I was pondering: Why?

Why does God set things up that it’s impossible to raise our kids as completely whole, emotionally-healthy human beings who don’t have anxiety, panic, worry, sadness and all the rest of it?

As usual, Rav Arush gave me the answer. I was reading his new book about saying thank you and seeing miracles when he explained that our difficulties are what brings us closer to God. We suffer, we hurt, we get overwhelm, and then we actually turn around and have probably the first honest conversation of our lives with our Creator.

We realize we can’t do it by ourselves, that we need Him to help us out, pronto. And that’s the whole point of being alive.

It’s so easy to get so caught up in the secular view of the world, which sees everything as being somehow in human control and ‘solve-able’. Depressed? Take a pill! Anxious? Take a pill! Stressed? Take a pill! (You get the idea…)

But I realized that I’ve also fallen into that trap a bit, by blaming myself for all of my kids issues. Now, here’s where we hit the fine line: OF COURSE I’m to blame for my kids issues, if I take God out of the picture. I mean, I made aliya, I ran out of money, I keep moving, I’m the one who got angry, stressed, depressed, overwhelmed and who all too frequently took it out on them.

But I’ve been working on all that stuff as much as I can, and the more I clear away, the more God shows me that something had to mess them up, as that’s the whole point. It’s only in their brokenness that they’re going to get closer to God, and build their relationship with Him. So yes, God used my bad middot to do the job for a while, but now they’re receding, I see He’s still piling the pressure on my kids: terrorists are scary; ulpana is challenging and sometimes lonely; friends are frequently unpredictable and draining etc etc.

And that’s the way it’s meant to be.

To put it another way, our suffering is what gives our life meaning, and what ultimately makes it worthwhile. I know that’s a bizarre idea on many levels, but recently, it’s been coming into clearer and clearer focus.

The meaning of life, what gives our lives purpose, is to get closer to God. Full stop. That’s why God fills the world with pain and suffering, and doesn’t give us all mansions, yachts and perfect health. At some point, hopefully the equation will change, and people will want to get closer to God even amidst their bounty – I think that’s the promise of Moshiach.

But we’re not quite there yet (at least, I’m not). Which means that each day still has its measure of pain, and its share of challenges. But I’m no longer wondering why it has to be that way.

And how to spot a real one…

There are many things that I loved about Rav Trugman’s latest book, ‘Prophecy and Divine Inspiration’, but one of my favourites was his discussion about false prophets – because in this time of geula blog madness, it’s still very much a ‘live’ issue.

After the last round of terrible, blood-curdling predictions on one side, and reassuring if concerned statements from our true Tzadikim that the situation is indeed grave, but that teshuva, tefilla and tzedaka can still sweeten everything, I decided that we could probably all need some help, to work out which modern-day ‘prophets’ are actually the real deal, and worth listening to.

Enter Rav Trugman. In the chapter on clarifying prophecy and Divine inspiration, he brings down the Rambam’s pre-requisites for someone claiming prophecy to even get past the starting gate.

According to the Rambam, an individual needs to have the following qualities in order to qualify as a ‘potential true prophet’:

  1. Deep wisdom
  2. Broad-minded knowledge
  3. The ability to be in control of his or her physical urges, as well as to be unaffected by the vanities of the material world.
  4. The prophet-in-waiting has to be involved in holy pursuits at all times.

Rav Trugman also explains that the Rambam says that a prophet has to prepare themselves carefully to receive the flow of Divine information, and that they have to be in a state of absolute joy. “Prophecy does not come to one who is sad or lazy.”

That’s a lot of food for thought, isn’t it? Let’s break it down even further, and make it even more crystal-clear.

Deep wisdom

Deep wisdom doesn’t mean someone once read a book of kabbalah, had a funny dream, can translate Hebrew to English (or vice-versa) or correctly predicted who was going to win Israel’s last elections.

Broad-minded knowledge

Finding allusions to the latest autistic  pronouncements in the latest Brad Pitt film they just watched doesn’t count. (By way of comparison, the sages of the Sanhedrin had to know 70 languages, and be whizzes at maths, logic and natural science before they’d even be considered for a place.)

The ability to control their physical urges, and be unaffected by the material world

Any wannabe-prophet who is giving over their ‘nevua’ via Facebook, or who has their own twitter account, is clearly not meeting these requirements.

Has to be involved in holy pursuits at all times

There’s a lot of people trying to wave their ‘real prophet’ credentials in our faces, without a whole lot to back it up.  I’ve also been taken in by these people in the past, sadly. It was only when I got to Jerusalem and I saw really holy people like Rav Shalom Arush and Rav Ofer Erez in action, and the humility they have, and the utter simplicity and sweetness they have, and the lack of arrogance and superiority they evince, that the penny dropped that

Rabbis with their own YouTube channel, blog, Facebook accounts and personal agenda to be the next Moshiach are simply not anywhere near the same playing field, kedusha-wise.

That doesn’t mean you can’t be holy, and still doing good work online, or still be holy and coaching little league, or visiting chocolate factories, or riding horses in your spare time. But it definitely does mean that you aren’t in the really big leagues when it comes to kedusha, where the potential prophets are hanging out.

You need to be prepared to get prophecy

Some half-baked idea you had while washing up that WW3 is starting tomorrow is just not going to cut the mustard. Ditto some vague dream that you had, where Obama was riding a white donkey into Jerusalem (unless you spent the 40 days prior to having that dream fasting and praying in the desert somewhere…)

You need to be happy

And this, dear reader, is where so many of today’s false internet prophets are really falling down. When Rav Arush or Rav Berland says ‘trouble’s brewing’ you can believe they aren’t just scaremongering or going on a power trip so fifty people will comment on their post.

The only time they say hard things is in order to get us to make the teshuva we need to turn things around.

One of the tangentially really cool things about sending your husband to Uman for Rosh Hashana is that he always comes back with a few interesting stories. A few years’ ago, there was the near death experience story of the 70-something secular man who got a Heavenly reprieve once they found out he’d booked his first ever trip to Uman.

Another year, there was the ‘reincarnation’ story of the Moroccan guy who somehow knew Russian and had an intense spiritual experience in Uman that showed him he’d been there before, and had a huge amount of things to fix, this time around.

Then, there was the story of one of Rav Ovadia Yosef’s close assistants, who came to Uman for his first Rosh Hashana, heard a voice telling him he was ‘nothing’ by the grave of Rebbe Nachman, and then heard the same voice a few months’ later telling him his baby son was second’s away from drowning in the local pool – just in time for the father to find him, and save him.

My husband heard all these stories first hand, from the people who’d actually experienced them. This year’s batch were a little less supernatural as these things go, but still cool. My favourite two are as follows:

Dick Cheney and Rebbe Nachman

One of the guys staying in the same flat as my husband in Uman was a regular who’s been coming to Uman from Canada for years. One year – the year the Twin Towers came down a couple of days’ before Rosh Hashana – all flights to the Ukraine (and every where else) were cancelled from the North American continent, while the world was struggling to come to terms with the enormity of what had just happened.

Undeterred, the Canadian and 25 friends of his still showed up at Toronto airport, to see if they could get to Uman after all. After being told repeatedly there was no chance, and that no flights were leaving Toronto to anywhere, period, the group started singing and dancing, waiting for their miracle to happen.

Guess what? They got one.

Then US Secretary of Defence Dick Cheney was stranded in Kiev at the time the Twin Towers attack happened. The Americans were refusing all planes permission to land – even one carrying Dick Cheney – so the plane carrying him from Kiev was diverted to Toronto airport.

Once there was an empty plane standing on the tarmac at Toronto airport ready to fly back to Kiev, the ground staff figured they may as well let the 25 people bound for Uman fly out on it after all…

Rav Arush and his books

One year, Rav Shalom Arush showed up to Ben Gurion with a whole bunch of books to take to Uman. The check-in staff flat-out refused him permission to take them on the plane, and called the manager. All the while, the Rav didn’t argue, he just carried on praying. The manager came out, and immediately recognized him.

He told him: “Rav Arush! Your books saved my life!”

You can guess the rest of the story I’m sure….the books made the flight, no questions asked.

There’s always more stories to tell about Uman. If you heard one you want to share, drop me a line or share it in the comments section. And don’t forget to check out ‘The Stolen Light’, which has a whole bunch more amazing-but-true stories from people who spent Rosh Hashana in Uman.

That’s a heavy headline, isn’t it?

It’s also a quote from the Gemara, and it crops up in a whole lot of places whenever you get into a discussion about why apparently ‘bad’ things can happen to apparently ‘good’ people.

This idea underpins the basic fundamentals of living life with emuna, as set out by Rav Arush, namely:

 

1) God is doing everything in the world.

2) Everything that happens to me is for my good, even the stuff that’s hurting me and is very painful and incomprehensible.

3) God is using the event, incident, occurrence or suffering to send me a message that I need to work on something, fix something, or change in some way.

 

Now, there are many flavours of heresy in the Jewish world, but one of the most popular, particularly in frum circles, is the idea that God sends people suffering stam, for absolutely no good reason.

The basic complaint goes like this:

“I’m a kosher person; I keep tons of mitzvoth; I pray with a netz (sunrise) minyan every day; I stopped watching Superman movies 20 years’ ago; I’ve made a number of sacrifices to keep Hashem’s torah, ergo – I don’t deserve any of this hard, horrible stuff that’s happening to me.”

It sounds pretty convincing, doesn’t it?

Until you remember one thing:

There is no suffering without prior sin.

If someone is being sent a difficult or hardship, it’s ALWAYS for a good reason.

Here’s where we hit a very necessary and often overlooked point of clarification: sometimes, the issue you need to fix in your soul is left over from a previous lifetime. It could well be that in this lifetime you are Miriam the super-pious light of the world, but in a previous lifetime, you may well have been Jack the Ripper – and that’s a spiritual debt that still needs paying down.

So you get sent a whole bunch of very difficult trials that really, Miriam the super-pious light of the world doesn’t deserve, but that are still a deep discount for Jack The Ripper.

This is where a person gets to really live their emuna, and this is often the whole test, and the whole ‘sin’ that needs fixing: are you going to see God behind everything that’s happening to you, and to acknowledge that He’s doing it all for your eternal good, and to get the message that you need to do some super-human work on your emuna?

Or are you going to complain, feel sorry for yourself, and convince yourself that you’re already perfect, and God must have made some big mistake so start picking on you so unfairly?

The rule is this:

If you’re alive, you have work to do. If you’re still alive, no matter how ‘perfect’ you think you are, there are still bad character traits to fix, mistakes to rectify, and levels of emuna to work on achieving. The process of self-improvement only ends when we die.

In his book Words of Faith, Rav Levi Yitzhak Bender puts it like this:

“Know yourself! Even if the entire world says that you are righteous, you have to know who you are…When a person truly knows himself, it is not possible that he shall not mend his ways…But when he deceives himself and imagines that he is something – why should he work to get better?”

On a personal note, a few months’ ago I went through a period of extreme difficulties and very hard tests in emuna. Initially, I couldn’t understand why God was sending me all this hard stuff. I mean, I’d sacrificed so much for my frum lifestyle, I spoke to God for an hour every single day, I was continually working on myself.

My underlying attitude was:

“You’ve got the wrong gal, Hashem! Stop sending me all these undeserved difficulties and go pick on someone else!!”

Really?

It took me many, many months of working things through, and at least one trip to Uman, but finally I realised that God really had sent me exactly what I was due – and had probably even giving me a huge discount on what I could have had coming to me.

I was so full of arrogance and pride about all my religious ‘accomplishments’, that I hadn’t realised just how flawed and occasionally nasty I still actually was (especially to my husband and kids…)

I was completely fooling myself as to my true level, and God didn’t want that state of affairs to continue any longer.

There really was ‘no suffering without prior sin’, even though it didn’t look like that to me, or others, at the time.

God is just.

He’s righteous. He only sends us what we need to do the work of fixing our souls for eternity. And if we don’t believe that, than however ‘pious’ and ‘perfect’ we may think we are, we still have an awful lot of spiritual work to do.