A couple of days’ back, one of my kids came to me with a strange complaint: she was having troubles remembering stuff.

She couldn’t remember what our last house looked like, what she’d just learned for an exam etc etc.

First things first: I freaked out, and started imagining all the worst possible scenarios, God forbid. Then, God calmed me down a bit and I realized that my kid is completely sleep-deprived, and operating in zombie mode. We had a chat about doing less social activities, and trying to get at least 6-7 hours sleep a night, regularly, and I felt a bit happier and calmer.

But still not 100%.

So the next day, I had a long chat with God about it all, because He likes to use my kids to bring my attention to things I’ve been sweeping under the carpet for years, and I had the feeling that another ‘message’ had just been delivered, that needed decoding and responding to. Sure enough, I lifted up the corner of the mental rug, and all this icky stuff started tumbling out.

To cut a long story short, the last two years’ has been about me and my husband trying to find the ‘real us’ in the middle of all the pseudo-frum, keeping up appearances stuff that can happen in the baal teshuva world (and many other places, too).

For many years, we were taking our cues from people who were far more superficial, and far less ‘plugged in’ to authentic yiddishkeit than was apparent. God is not always so subtle: last year, my main influencer and my husband’s main influencer were both revealed as religious phonies within a week of each other – and the impact stuck us harder than anything else we experienced in that terrible two years.

Thank God for Rav Arush. He’s what kept me and my husband afloat, as we struggled to find ourselves in the wreckage of who we thought we really were, and what we’d been told, and all the confusion about what God really wanted from us, given that we’d been following advice for years that had come from a very warped source – and our lives were in tatters, as a direct result.

To be blunt, I got hit by such a spiritual tsunami that I kind of shut down for a year.

I dealt with whatever I had to, to keep functioning and keep my faith going at even a basic level (and even that was hard enough, let me tell you) – but a lot of the bigger questions? I couldn’t face them then, and I swept them under the carpet.

As did my husband.

We forgot. At least, we tried to. We tried to blank all the feelings of anger, denial about what had happened, betrayal, hatred, vengeance etc, and carry on being sweet, good Jews.

But God showed me with my daughter’s ‘memory blanks’ that it was time to lift the lid, and begin to deal with the rest of the fall-out. So yesterday, I began that process, and it’s already been very helpful.

Already, I’m starting to get clearer and clearer that the people who encourage others to rush out and ‘dress the part’ regardless of what’s going on internally are coming from a warped, superficial place.

People who lack compassion for the human struggle and effort that is involved in keeping even the most basic mitzvahs in today’s world, are coming from a warped, superficial place.

People who love acting like ‘Rabbi Rockstars’, where the emphasis is all about their personalities, and their amazing spiritual level, and their amazing Torah shiurim on Youtube and Twitter posts – are coming from a warped, superficial place.

If ‘Rabbi Rockstar’ can’t tell you how he sometimes struggles to get out of bed in the morning; if he casually gossips about other Torah figures; if he likes to suggest, directly or otherwise, this his prayers caused barren women to give birth, or cured cancer, or held off World War III for another 20 years, or any other of that self-serving clap-trap that is unfortunately so commonplace, and so believed by the gullible masses – get the heck away.

There are few rabbis who are more spiritually plugged in, or clued up than Rav Arush. Rav Arush’s books are full of his own personal struggles to have emuna, and be a simple Jew. Even a few weeks’ back, he was still sharing how he’d woken up one day and felt really down and depressed. And then he realized God wanted him to serve him as a depressed person that day, and he said ‘thanks’ for it.

Rav Arush is real. Rav Berland is real. Rav Ofer Erez is real.

They understand your pain, they share your problems, and they give you practical advice how to pull through.

By contrast, one of our phoney influencers told us the reason we were having such a hard time last year was because my husband hadn’t shaved his head, the authentic Breslev way, to go with his peyot. The man told us this with such contempt in his voice, and such disdain for us in his eyes, that it broke the spell I’d been under for years.

All the personal prayer, all the effort to improve, all the huge self-sacrifice we’d made to give God what he wanted, at enormous cost to us in just about every way – and this phoney was suggesting that my husband not shaving his head was all God cared about, when it came down to it.

It was so ludicrous! But at that point it showed me so clearly that external appearances were really all that counted for our religious phoney, and that he’d been advising us from that pretend, intolerant, judgemental, superior and superficially-pious place for years, without us realizing what was going on.

For weeks, even months, afterwards, I was so angry about it all, I couldn’t trust myself to write or talk about what had happened. But now, I think it’s time to remember it again, and to share my hopefully useful insights about it with you, dear reader, so we can get to a place of communal clarity about what God does and doesn’t want from us.

TBC in the next post, God willing.

For years, like many other people, I’ve been beating myself up over the fact that I’m not perfect. It seems like the obvious thing to do, especially when you hit the ‘sincere baal teshuva’ trail, and there are people lining up all over the place, just waiting to tell you about all the things you’re doing wrong.

One way you can spot who is a real rabbi, and who has genuinely humility, is that when those people tell you things – even very hard things – it actually helps you, and it goes in without causing you any spiritual damage.

For example, Rav Arush’s Hebrew shiurim can sometimes hit some very sensitive nerves, but I’ve been attending his Shabbat shiurim at the yeshiva for a few weeks’ now, and you come away feeling cared for, seen and understood. When someone is genuinely holy, and genuinely on a very high spiritual level themselves, they have a humility that’s impossible to fake, that makes you, the listener / reader / follower feel good about what they’re telling you, even if you are (inevitably) doing things wrong.

Rav Shalom Arush and Rav Ofer Erez excel at this. They excel at telling you about their own spiritual struggles, and failures, and challenges, and how they themselves got out of very trying and tiring situations where their emuna got tested to the Nth degree. Their books are both full of this advice and wisdom, that in both instances was earned the hard way, from the ground up.

But then….(we’re about to controversial here) – it’s not just about what you say, it’s also about the way that you say it. So it is, that I can have people tell me to ‘just say thank you’ for all the hard stuff I’ve been through recently, and I literally want to punch them in the face.

When Rav Arush says it, as he so frequently does, it goes straight into my soul and I GET on a fundamental level that he is giving me a spiritual shortcut out of my troubles, that he knows works because he’s tried it himself.

But then, the same words gets parroted at me by someone who’s read the books, or heard some shiurim, but otherwise is still chock-full of bad middot, arrogance and a few other things too, including ingratitude – and it makes my blood boil. I literally can’t stand what I’m being told, and I start to develop very negative feelings about both the speaker and the message.

Part of the reason I’m writing this post is because after pondering at length whether I was turning into a heretic because I just couldn’t hear the ‘just say thank you’ stuff from certain people any more, G-d helped me to see: 1) how dangerous and misleading all these ‘Rav Arush wannabes’ are, with all their smug, pat ‘advice’ that’s devoid of sincerity, caring and compassion and 2) how amazing Rav Arush and his advice actually is.

Now I live in Jerusalem, I have had the privilege of seeing Rav Arush in action on a number of occasions, and he is the real deal. I can’t tell you the number of people who call him, or simply show up on his doorstep out the blue, or corner him when he’s getting in or out of his car – and he tries to accommodate everyone. He’s never too busy saving the world to offer a kind word to his fellow Jew, even though he really is very busy off saving the world.

Rebbe Nachman wrote that at the End of Days, there would be a lot of religious fakers, trying to ride the coat-tails of real kedusha to get themselves some unearned kudos and respect from other people.

That’s not a chiddush, I know. But the chiddush for me, at least this week, was that they can still be scoring points for the ‘other side’ when they’re quoting Rav Arush at you. It literally makes the mind boggle.

So if you’re being given ‘advice’ that’s making you feel bad, worthless or like you’ll never reach the lofty level of the person who’s running their mouth off at you, press pause on the beating yourself up attack and remember one thing: real tzadikim make you feel positive about yourself, even when you’re doing negative things – and fakers make you feel negative about yourself even when 99% of the time you’re doing positive things. Buyer beware.