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These last two posts were actually prompted by an email from a reader, who asked bluntly: how do we trust again?

How do we find a new rabbi, and new spiritual guide, to believe in, when we’ve been so badly burned by all the fakers out there?

I thought quite a bit about how to respond, and that response has turned into these last two posts.

So, continuing where we left off, the first thing to accept about the fake rabbis / rabbanits / mentors / friends etc that we’ve all been burned by and let down by is that on some level, it had to happen that way.

Remember the three rules of emuna:

1) God’s doing everything

2) It’s all somehow for my good

3) There is a message contained in everything that happens about what I myself need to work on, change, fix, apologise for, accept or improve.

For as long as I was blaming the people who’d tripped me up instead of seeing God behind everything, I got stuck in a very hard, bitter, angry place. As soon as I accepted that whatever happened had to happen, and that if hadn’t been that way, I would have lost my home, my friends, my financial stability, my health some other way, I could start to let go of the grudges and vengeance.

Which then led me on to the second part of the equation: seeing the good in what happened.

Again, this was really, really hard work. Trying to see the good in having no home of my own, no money, no social support, two very distraught kids, and big challenges on the emuna, health and shalom bayit fronts was not an easy thing.

It took an awful lot of talking to God about everything, and an awful lot of inner work, before I could recognize how much of what happened had to occur in order to fix some huge, outstanding bad middot that had been floating underneath my radar.

To give a couple of examples, I had no idea what a house-owning snob I really was, until I stopped owning a house and had to rent something as cheap as I could find. I was so embarrassed by my home I wouldn’t even let my visiting family from abroad see it the first year I was here. I had to swallow so much of my pride, and recognize just how ungrateful I’d been about so many things, before I could accept and even sometimes enjoy living in my rented dump.

Another thing I hadn’t realized is what a religious phoney I’d turned into, before I got to Jerusalem.

Externally, I was looking and acting more and more ‘pious’. Internally, I had so much work still to do. When everything fell apart so badly, God really gave me the chance to try to serve Him lishma, for its own sake.

And not because I had a great community, a good job, a nice house, money, friends, amazing shalom bayit. Everything hit the wall all at once, and God was waiting to see if I’d still stick around. Thank God for Rebbe Nachman, because he’s the one that brought us through it all intact. Without Uman and hitbodedut, I have no idea if I’d have been able to stand up in the test.

As time has gone on, I’ve made more and more teshuva as a result of the awful circumstances I found myself in, and at this stage, I’m really starting to reap the fruit of working on all those bad middot in a whole bunch of ways.

So really, all those ‘fake rabbis’ did me a favor.

Which brings me to my next point: Most of us wouldn’t last 5 minutes if we were next to the true Tzaddikim. These people see right through you, they exude holiness and kedusha, and they are on such a high level they often seem downright strange to people like us who are so sunk in our own confused, materialistic little bubbles.

Could you really hack being told to ‘guard your eyes’ all the time? Or to chuck out your i-Phone? Or to put what’s good for your kids ahead of what’s good for you?

Really?

Recently I heard about a wedding which was overseen by another ‘fake’ rabbi who arrived three hours late and who appeared to be drunk / high. Apparently half the crowd was high as a kite, too, but in that ‘spiritual’ sort of way that characterizes certain segments of the religious world in Israel.

The groom’s mother explained that: ‘If my son wasn’t with this guy, he’d still be doing what he’s doing, but in a completely unholy way.’ I.e. in his own way, this fake rabbi is actually doing something useful, and keeping people closer to Hashem than they would otherwise be.

We don’t live in a perfect world.

As I said in the last post, we get attracted to these people in the first place because on some level, they are telling us what we want to hear and reflecting our prejudices back at us. The more we work on ourselves, the ‘higher’ the ‘holier’ the rabbi, the rebbe, the spiritual guide we’ll be attracted to.

Which brings me to my last point, for now: how do we trust again? How do we trust rabbis and religious authorities again when we’ve been so badly burned in the past?

Here’s what works for me:

1) Do hitbodedut every single day, preferably for an hour.

If you don’t do this, you’ll have no idea who you really are and where you’re really holding, especially in regards to your own bad middot and issues. Fakers can only fool us if we’re continually fooling ourselves about who we really are and how we’re really behaving.

2) Picture every single ‘rabbi’ or other person you want to trust or get closer to in your hitbodedut.

The real ones will loom so large in hitbodedut, or look so big, bright and shiny, you’ll immediately get a clue as to what’s going on with them, spiritually. And the opposite is also true: false rabbis, rebbetzins and ‘friends’ will give you the creeps on some level, when you picture them in your hitbodedut.

And whatever cue your unconscious mind is giving you – about anyone! – listen to it.

3) Don’t give your free choice away to anyone.

If you’re being advised to do something that you simply can’t or really don’t want to do – don’t do it.

Don’t do anything that you yourself can’t live with, or take the responsibility for, because ultimately, it’s your life, and the buck stops with you.

While we like to kid ourselves in theory that we can blame other people for our bad decisions, we are still the ones who have to live with the consequences, and if you can’t stomach the possible negative consequences of an action, you shouldn’t do it.

There’s so much more to say about this stuff, but that’s enough for now.

The takeaway message is this:

We need to ask God to show us who the real Tzaddikim are all the time, and we need to stop fooling ourselves about who we really are and what we really need to work on, middot-wise. If we do these two things, it’s very unlikely that we’ll get caught up with fakers in the future, even if they do have the biggest beards and fan clubs in the world.

A few years’ ago, me and my husband got burned by three ‘big’ rabbis in a row.

Each one was a ‘name’, each one was connected to Breslov, and each one left an indelible imprint on our lives. One of them started up a sadna that was based on the opposite of Torah and Breslov principles  – particularly the principle of Azamra, or seeing the good especially in yourself – which my husband attended a few short months after his dad unexpectedly died.

My husband was in a particularly vulnerable place at that stage, and his dad’s passing had left him with a lot of unresolved issues. This sadna was billed as ‘the answer’ to all of life’s questions, and this big, Breslov rabbi was behind so it seemed like a great idea.

When my husband got this big Breslov rabbi as his personal mentor, we thought ‘wow, what an honor!’ Six weeks’ in, my husband really, really wanted to switch mentors, and I wouldn’t let him. I thought it was just his ego, and that this ‘big Breslov rabbi’ was heaven-sent to help us both grow and progress.

Man, was I wrong. That guy completely messed my husband up, severely messed up my shalom bayit (for years!) by telling my husband that he ‘lacked manliness’ and left us in a place where my husband was profoundly disliking himself and everyone else, too.

That set the stage for false rabbi #2 to step in.

As a result of false rabbi #1, we started to think that so many of our relationships were unhealthy and toxic. We asked rabbi #2 what to do about all these poisonous, unhealthy, distressing relationships – and he told us to cut off contact and ‘challenge’ everyone on their flaws.

(Again, the polar opposite of the ‘Azamra’ approach).

Within a few short months, we were almost completely friendless and so very, very lonely. Still, I had no idea that all these rabbis weren’t the real deal, didn’t have ruach hakodesh and were actually no more clued up about my life and what I should be doing in it than I was myself.

Around this same time, false rabbi #3 started giving a whole bunch of classes about how people with emuna shouldn’t work for a living (without telling his class that his wife was slaving away at a full-time job in order to support his family….)

At that point, my husband was so miserable, and so desperate for things to feel better, he decided he needed to show God how much emuna he had by quitting the job that he’d also come to hate. He told this ‘rabbi’ his plan – and instead of talking him out of it, the guy egged him on!

So he quit.

And six months later, we had to sell our house to pay the bills, which segued into a whole, incredibly difficult few years that Baruch Hashem we finally started to come out of a couple of years’ back.

At the time all this was happening, we had no clue that all three of these ‘rabbis’ weren’t so good for us.

They all knew more Torah than us, they all had impeccable credentials, they all looked the part and talked the talk.

But following their advice left our life in tatters, and came pretty close to permanently sinking my faith in humanity.

Within two short weeks of asking Hashem to show us who the real Tzaddikim in the world really were, all these ‘false rabbis’ got unmasked – at least in our eyes – one after another. Which was a good thing, because we finally had clarity, but also a ‘bad’ thing, inasmuch as my desire to ‘out’ them and to tell everyone else about them was so overwhelming, I almost set up a website devoted to doing just that.

What stopped me was a visit to Rav Arush.

Without us saying the names or any identifying details of the rabbis who had burned us so badly, we could see that Rav Arush knew exactly what we were talking about. He told my husband he wasn’t crazy for thinking what he was thinking – three times – and then told my husband – again three times – to just have patience.

Things would sort themselves out, eventually.

Again, this was clearly advice from a true tzaddik, but at the time it took so much effort to calm down and follow it. I was so full of vengeance! I was so angry! I was so disgusted! Today, I thank God a hundred times a day for Rav Arush and his advice, and that Hashem helped us to actually follow it.

Because after doing a good couple of years’ hitbodedut on the whole subject of ‘false rabbis’ I’ve realized that while it would be SOOO easy to blame all my problems and my difficulties on them, in reality, God was behind everything that happened to us, and we certainly deserved everything we went through.

It’s human nature to want the short-cut, to want the easy life.

The idea that I can find a ‘rabbi’ who will tell me what to do, and how to think, and how to act and decide all the difficult details of my life – and it’ll then all turn out perfect all the time – is overwhelmingly appealing to most people, especially in our generation, when we’re so beset by inner turmoil and huge doubts, anxieties and fears.

But Hashem only created us in order for us to get to know Him, and to exercise our free choice. So when we try to give our free choice away to another person – even if that person is genuinely a tzaddik and amazing in all respects – that’s only going to lead to trouble, one way or another.

Whatever ‘reed’ we rely on, that is not Hashem, is destined to splinter in our hands.

When it came to our three false rabbis, each one was reflecting our own prejudices and problems, in some way. That’s why we liked them so much. One of them was basically telling us that our lives were entirely in our hands, and that all it took to fix everything was ‘clarity and willpower’. God was effectively out the picture.

Another one was basically telling us that the way to deal with whatever and whoever we didn’t like was simply to cut them out of the picture and pretend they didn’t exist – even though God had sent them into our lives for an express purpose. We had a lot of teshuva we needed to make and that’s why we had all these difficult people mirroring our own difficulties back at us in such a disturbing way.

Again, cutting these ‘messengers’ out of the picture the way we did was effectively cutting God out the picture.

Another one was playing to our false sense of piety, and reflecting back at us our (false…) inner conviction that a) we were on a high enough spiritual level to be sustained economically with no effort other than prayer and b) God somehow ‘owed’ us an easy, good life for doing all this extra, super-duper pious stuff. Again, we liked this guy initially because he was telling us what we wanted to hear.

And so it is with all these false rabbis.

They tell us what we want to hear, they play to our prejudices, they promise us shortcuts in our spiritual work, if only we follow them and throw our ability to choose for ourselves away.

And then when it all goes wrong, they go AWOL and / or tell us it was all our fault, anyway.

And on some level, they’re actually right, because we are all responsible for our own actions and our own decisions.

You went ahead and married the guy? Stop blaming the matchmaking for forcing you into it.

You went ahead and quit your job? Stop blaming your friend for talking you into it.

You went ahead and made a really terrible business investment? Stop blaming the person who made the introduction.

This is the lesson I had to learn – the hard way – for myself. We chose to start blaming other people for our problems. We chose to listen to people who told us to cut ourselves from everyone else. We chose to try to live on prayer alone.

Ultimately, the buck stops with us.

There is no-one else to blame, and no-one else to point the finger at.

Understanding that is key to moving past the hurt and betrayal, and to getting to the next stage of the process called: how to trust again.

We’re all just kind of sitting here holding our collective breath, aren’t we?

What will be with Syria, Lebanon and Iran?

What will be with Trump?

What will be with all these horrible misconduct scandals that believe me, are only the tip of the iceberg and are only going to snowball with day that passes?

The dam that’s been holding all the ‘bad’ together for decades – maybe for centuries, even – is finally starting to burst, and while the wicked people in the world are scrambling to try and stick as many fingers in as many dykes as they can, things are really starting to crumble all over the place, far more than is obvious from the headlines.

So many of us are having our moment of truth at the moment.

For this one, it’s a serious illness, God forbid, for that one, the death of a relative, for this one a divorce, for that one a child going off the derech, for this one money problems, for that one mental health issues, for this one, it’s being publicly revealed as someone with incredibly bad judgment, for that one, it’s being publicly revealed as someone with incredibly bad middot.

Whatever we’ve been building for ourselves, spiritually, over the last few years is really starting to be dragged out into the daylight, for everyone to see.

Whatever stuff we’ve been trying to hide away is now being publicly exposed, and the strangest thing about the whole process is that the biggest smoking guns are being fired by the nasty people themselves.

So many people have become so brazen about their funny ideas, their bad middot and their nasty behavior that increasingly, they’re doing and saying things that are so out there, so bizarre, so obviously problematic that it kind of boggles the mind, a little.

Here’s just one example:

Someone who is clearly dripping malice and hatred from every pore, starts telling you a whole bunch of disgusting, hateful things about everyone else, and then tries to claim that they bear no will, have no grudges against anyone, and are simply acting for the good of humanity.

And they really believe what they’re saying, 100%! And they get very upset when they finally realize that they haven’t impressed you with what a wonderful human being they really are – and then they start abusing you, too!

Here’s another example: A very judgmental, superior, rude and small-minded person pops up in your social media network with the announcement that they will be giving a sensitivity training seminar soon, to tackle the huge problem of judgmental, superior, rude and small-minded people.

Like, really?

The mind boggles.

Yet this kind of bizarre ‘self-outing’ is happening all over the place at the moment, as God continues to turn the heat up on humanity, and we all get to see what’s really inside of us, the good, the bad and the ugly.

Here’s why all this is really good:

Finally facing the truth is what’s going to get us to the geula, to redemption.

Every man and woman who puts their hand up, admits they aren’t perfect, who learns some humility, who says sorry, who starts to include God a whole lot more in everything – those people are doing everything they need to be doing to bring the geula, even if they remain deeply flawed. (Join the club…)

Over on the new ofererez.com website, there’s a really good article called ‘Snapping out of Denial’ that says the following:

“Rabbi Tzadok Ha-Cohen from Lublin teaches that God doesn’t judge us for having bad middot (traits), lusts and desires. These are all a part of who we are and how we were created. They are precisely the reason that we came down to this world, so we can fix them.

“But, he says that a person brings harsh judgment down upon himself  when he doesn’t introspect and recognize his own bad midot and lusts.”

We get judged for pretending to be perfect, not for acknowledging our imperfections.

And right now, we’re all getting the chance to acknowledge our imperfections every minute of the day, as God is increasingly throwing them in our face and publicizing them.

There’s nowhere to run – except to God.

There’s nowhere to hide.

Who you are – who I am, who we all really are – is going to continue to become more and more obvious. If the outside you is already recognizing your inside dimension truthfully, this process is minimally painful and actually very constructive.

But if not?

There will be many more exploding reputations occurring from this point on. But also a few nice surprises, as the ‘hidden tzaddikim’ walking around in our midst start to become more and more revealed.

And then….geula.

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.

If there is one thing, one theme, that keeps coming up again and again in all the stories I’m hearing, and the people I’m talking to, and all the difficulties so many of us are having right now, it’s this:

We have to stop lying to ourselves about what’s really going on in our lives.

That is the theme, the message, underlying everything I see going on right now, both at the micro and the macro level.

God’s seal is truth, and whenever we stay stuck in a ‘fantasy’ version of our lives and continue to live in ‘pretend world’, we become disconnected from truth, and from God, and from our own souls, and that has enormous implications for us, our family, and the wider environment.

God is saying to all of us:

“Stop looking away from the yucky stuff you know is really there! Stop pretending you don’t have a problem with food, with fear, with lust, with money, with jealousy, with anger. Stop pretending its ‘OK’ that you feel so unloved by so many of the really important people in your life! Stop making excuses for all your bad middot, and all the horrible things that you’ve been doing to people (for years…).

“Stop running away into fantasy land! Stop reading the news every five seconds, or checking your Facebook account, or logging on to emails again, to take your mind off that gnawing feeling of discomfort churning away in your stomach.

“Whatever it is, you have to turn around and face it down! Stop running away now!”

It’s so hard, isn’t it?

Because usually, we only pushed down and repressed those feelings and thoughts so much in the first place because they were too hard and painful for us to really deal with, and process.

But Moshiach is at the door, and God can’t take us all into that world of truth until we pry ourselves out of the world of lies – or to put it more accurately, until we pry the world of lies OUT from inside of ourselves.

This is really hard work, and it can only be successfully accomplished with lashings and lashings of self-love and compassion. And courage.

Because it takes a lot of courage to lift the veil, remove the filter, and to really look at how I’m acting and thinking, and why, and what good or damage that’s causing in the world.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by what I’m writing here – congratulations!

That means you’re a lot more connected to the world of truth than most people, already. It’s a short hop, skip and jump from that uncomfortable feeling to real progress and internal change.

But only with love! Only with understanding that our yetzer hara – and everyone else’s yetzer hara, too – is bigger than we are. If God didn’t help us to overcome it, we’d have absolutely no chance.

So there’s really only two things we can (and should…) justifiably criticize ourselves over at this point:

1) Are we asking God to help us get a grip on our yetzer (preferably every single day)?

AND

2) Are we honestly trying to look at just how much of our behavior, belief-system and thought processes are actually yetzer driven, in the first place?

If we can’t answer ‘yes’ or ‘I’m trying’ to the first question, then for sure we can’t honestly answer ‘yes’ to the second one.

Because when God isn’t in the picture, facing ourselves down like this is just far too difficult, scary, upsetting and overwhelming.

But we’re now up to a stage in the process where there’s really no choice!

The world of truth is waiting, and the people who are continuing to lug around their own internal universe of lies simply can’t fit in to it.

But God really, really wants you there! And me there! And us there! That’s why He’s sending everyone all this incredibly difficult stuff to break us (or rather, to break our yetzers…) into pieces, because the real aim is to break us out of the world of lies.

God loves us exactly how we are. God (and definitely our teenagers…) knows our flaws even more profoundly than we ourselves do.

When we continue to lie to ourselves about who we really are, and what’s really going on, and what we really feel and why, there’s really only one person that we’re actually managing to fool, long term:

Ourselves.

And that’s what’s really holding up Moshiach, and the world of truth.

Sometimes the gap between who I really am and who I want to be, spiritually, is just so huge.

When a Jew is born in galut ­– whether we call that place ‘London’ or ‘New York’ or ‘Paris’ or ‘Melbourne, or whether it’s named ‘xtianity’, ‘atheism’ or ‘crushing materialism’, so much of that galut, that exile, gets hard-wired into the soul.

This isn’t our fault! When you grow up listening to Top of the Pops and the weekly top 40 tunes on the radio for 30 years, you can’t just turn that stuff off and excise it out of your brain and your memory in one go.

Guns N’ Roses, or Queen, or George Michael, or even (chas v’halila…) Madonna aren’t just songs, they’re the soundtrack of your life. ‘Careless Whisper’ encapsulates at least three years of early teenage-dom all by itself, replete with so many memories and so many associated experiences and thoughts that ultimately make us us.

But then, we grow up a bit, and we start trying to get out of galut, and we learn that music that isn’t coming from a ‘kosher’ source is actually really bad for a Jewish neshama – and then, the fight really begins.

Because that goyish, spiritually unhealthy-music is actually hardwired in, on some level, and chucking it out really involves taking a huge big part of your psyche, your memories, your self, mamash, and shoving it in some lidded box.

Around 10 years’ ago, I got rid of all my non-Jewish CDs – hundreds of them! – because I was really, sincerely trying to do what God wants, and to be a good Jew. I believe 100% that unkosher music is not good for my soul.

Most of that music, I really don’t miss. But there’s probably five or six albums, and at least 20 songs, that were the soundtrack to my life growing up, and hard as I try, I simply haven’t been able to turn it off in my head.

Take Sweet Child O Mine, by Guns N Roses. In my younger days, I was completely and utterly addicted to raw electric guitar. Try as I might, I’ve found it so hard to find really good electric guitar riffs in the kosher music scene (if anyone knows of any, P-L-E-A-S-E do me a favor and tell me what in the comments.)

On top of that, Sweet Child O Mine accompanied me on so many holidays, on so many milestones of my pre-Israel life that more than nearly any other song, it’s like my theme tune.

This last week, after weeks and weeks of feeling so irritable and out of place, and ‘not belonging’ the penny finally dropped in hitbodedut that I’ve become a musical schizo.

I can’t really integrate my ‘Guns N’ Roses’ past with my frum present, because a frum Jew in Jerusalem just can’t listen to Axel Rose and keep their soul intact.

That’s what I thought until two days’ ago.

But then, I started to get more and more clues that suppressing all this real, imperfect, kinda-tumahdik stuff that’s hardwired into my soul is actually bringing me down, and making me feel pretty sad, and is taking me further and further away from Hashem, which Rav Natan teaches is always the hallmark of sheker, however convincing and ‘right’ it actually sounds.

Why?

Because I’m not serving God as me.

I’m serving God as someone I think I’m supposed to be, but really? I want to dance around my living room with Guns N’ Roses blasting the walls down.

This is not a simple thing at all. On the one hand, unkosher music is bad for a Jewish soul. On the other hand, denying that part of myself has been almost cracking me up for a few months, and making me feel that I’m not real, and that my life isn’t real, and that I’m kind of lost in the world, because I’ve been so cut off from things that make me who I am – but that really aren’t so kosher.

So what to do?

Enter Rabbenu.

Rebbe Nachman basically says: strive to serve God on the up, but ALSO SERVE HIM ON THE DOWN!!! Just because you cracked and have been listening to Sweet Child O Mine all week, don’t let that stop you from saying your Tikkun Haklalis, or doing an hour of hitbodedut a day.

You can do both.

You only get advice like this by Rabbenu, which is why Breslov Torah is really the only Torah that can help our lowly generation, that is so beset by inner demons and confusion and doubts. I can’t help that I spent so much time listening to secular music that’s it’s become a part of me.

It seems, I can’t help the urge to listen to at least a couple of those songs again, if only to reintegrate them into my real life in Israel, and to stop feeling like a phoney who is living someone else’s idea of what my life should be.

But if I’m going to whack up the volume on Sweet Child O Mine and dance, at least I’m also going to have the kavana that I’m dancing to sweeten the judgments in the world, and to lighten up and attempt to follow Rebbe Nachman’s maxim of striving to be happy, always.

I’m not going to fall away from all the tremendous good, and mitzvot I’m doing because I can’t do these things with only Avraham Fried as the background muzak.

The last thing to tell you is that after listening to a song 20 times in a row – even an amazing song – you start to get kind of sick and bored of it. Paradoxically, listening to Sweet Child O Mine is helping me to pull my soul out of it, riff by painful riff.

Without Rebbe Nachman’s advice, that as well as serving God on the up, we also can – and have to – serve Him on the down, too, I’d probably be going completely bonkers, buying a pair of leather trousers and scouring e-Bay for a Harley Davidson.

As it is, I know that this too will pass. And when I’m out the other side, I’ll be serving Hashem so much more happily and sincerely again.

Let’s be honest: I could usually call most of what I write by this title, at least over the last nine years.

Yet the past couple of weeks, things seem to be coming to an even bigger head than usual.

This latest round of massive internal angst got sparked off by doing my audiobook in a studio which is plastered with memorabilia from London. You walk in and whap! There’s a massive picture of the #38 red double-decker bus stuck in traffic in Piccadilly Circus, in the centre of London where I often used to hang out.

Even the shower curtain in the toilet is plastered full of London Tube signs and other London stuff, and the fridge is covered with magnets bearing legends from British soccer clubs.

This living in two worlds thing is not really something new, at least not for me, but the last couple of weeks the contrast between my external ‘me’ – that’s doing my tikkun haklali most days by Rav Berland, on the cusp of Meah Shearim, and living 10 minutes walk away from the Old City of Jerusalem – and my internal me, that hasn’t been able to get ‘Sweet Child O Mine’ by Guns n’ Roses out of my head all week, plus thoughts of how much I miss the family and friends stuff from the old country has been completely headwrecking.

My brain KNOWS that it was all pretend, and that even when I lived there I was on the verge of completely cracking up.

I felt 12 years ago that if we didn’t move to Israel ASAP, I was going to end up in a mental institution. (Sometimes, I think I was half right…)

But we left at the height of our ‘success’ in life. Good jobs, two beautiful children, amazing friends, nice house, family all around. And sometimes, the thought of what I left behind when I make aliyah is very hard to bear.

Even though it’s not there anymore.

So many of our friends got divorced…

So many of the people we know went through such hard times the last six years they can’t actually speak to anyone anymore, or be ‘real’, or have a real conversation…

My business croaked six months into moving to Israel, which was a hard financial blow in Israel, but in the UK, would have led to complete and utter disaster…

My husband’s old law firm hit hard times and let go of more than half their lawyers…

Two of my siblings left the country and now live in the US…

So the London I miss isn’t there anymore, even if it was as ‘great’ as I remember.

Which as we’ve already discussed, it wasn’t.

So why can’t I get it out of my head? Why have I been sitting here for two months feeling a deep sadness that I can’t seem to shake, even though my life in Israel is really pretty good on so many different fronts?

I was asking God that question today, when I took one of my random ‘Tehillim quote’ cards out their box for some inspiration, and this is what I got:

“Psalm 93:

The rivers have lifted up, O Being

The rivers have lifted up their voice

The rivers will lift up their voice.

The depression will be carried away

And will become light

As you express what has been suppressed.”

God is nothing if not clear…

I realized I have to stop running away from that bit of myself that got stuck back in London, and that I finally have to go and track it down, face up to it, and bring it back home to Israel.

I’ve avoided the UK for years and years, since I hit ‘skid row’ professionally. The contrast between the external ‘success’ I had then and the external ‘loser’ I am now has been far too hard for me to deal with.

At the beginning of July when we went to Liverpool for family reasons, I felt utter horror well up inside of me at the thought of also going back to London. No way, Jose! What, go back and have to acknowledge what a mess I’ve made of my life, what an idiot I am, how poor I am, how retarded I was to switch spiritual riches for material ones?!

You must be kidding!

But God is showing me that I can’t continue to run away from that encounter. I have to go back for a few days again, this time to London, and I have to go walk the streets, and see my old house, and walk back past all the places I used to work in the heart of London, and to see how it really feels, not just how it looks when I take my trips down memory lane.

It’s pretty scary, because I know that the first day it’s going to look gorgeous and all my suppressed feelings about aliya, and everything we went through the last 12 years is going to well up and capsize me.

But I also know that by day two, I’ll be feeling much happier again. And that by day three, I’ll be raring to get back on the plane back home to Israel.

And that this time, I’ll be bringing all of me back for the ride.

Four years’ ago, when I was going through the bleakest, most difficult period of my whole life, I was sitting in Uman, by Rebbe Nachman’s tomb, and pleading for some guidance and help.

I opened up a Likutey Moharan, and I got to the lesson where it was talking about how sometimes, you have to throw yourself into all types of mud and filth in your service of Hashem.

(I don’t remember what number that lesson was, sorry.)

Those words made a huge impact on me, because at that time I was neck-high in trying to clarify a number of very difficult issues in my own life and relationships, and it was very murky, yucky stuff.

A little while back, I was talking to someone about how easy it is to serve God ‘on the up’ – when we’re full of spiritual inspiration, and emuna, and mitzvot, and yearning to be a better Jew. And how difficult it is, conversely, to serve God ‘on the down’, when we’re fully of cynicism, and apathy, and questions, and yearnings to go and see the latest James Bond.

Yet, Rebbe Nachman teaches that we can’t have one without the other.

The up is ‘running’, and the down is ‘returning’, when we have to consolidate, hunker down and regain our strength for our next period of ‘running’.

Often, many of us make the mistake of thinking we can only serve Hashem ‘on the up’ – and that’s when we get into massive problems. Because when we aren’t honest about where we’re really holding, and the spiritual ‘downs’ that we’re really experiencing – every single one of us! – then we get stuck with a Hobson’s choice.

Either, we can continue to pretend, to ourselves and others, that we only ever experience spirituals ‘ups’ in life, or we end up having to leave our devotions, and our striving for spiritual growth and we sink back into materialism and spirituality, because we’re finding it so hard to accept the need to also serve God ‘on the downs’.

If we take the first route, we’ll end up becoming fake caricatures of ourselves, externally very pious looking and spouting all the right ideas, but internally completely disconnected from the reality of who we really are, and what we really need to be working on.

If we take the second route, we stagnate spiritually, and we never really attain inner peace, because we know that we took the short road that’s really the very long road, and that’s not leading us to where we need to be going in life.

So what’s the answer?

Rebbe Nachman explains very clearly:

You have to serve God on the downs with just as much enthusiasm as you serve Him on the ups.

Tachlis, if you have a bad habit of talking (or writing…) lashon hara, for example, then at least use that to serve Hashem. Know that at the level you’re really holding at spiritually, you’re going to be talking badly about someone. So at least, talk badly about the people who are genuinely rashaim (evildoers).

Ditto for talking to members of the opposite sex. If you’re going to act in such an untznius way in the first place – and tachlis you are, because that’s where you’re really holding right now – then at least talk about things like emuna, and serving Hashem.

I know, it all sounds so paradoxical, doesn’t it?

But from my own personal experiences, this seems to be the only way to not got sucked into huge feelings of despair about how imperfectly I’m actually serving God.

To say ‘don’t speak lashon hara EVER!!!!’ is clearly impossible, at least for people like me who are really not holding at that level. So then, I have to turn my ‘down’ towards the service of Hashem, somehow, and find some ‘good’ way of talking badly about other people.

I know, it’s completely head-wrecking isn’t it?

But, it’s also the only way to keep serving Hashem at this point in creation, because wherever you look, whatever you do, you’re going to fall somehow. This person is going to fall into Facebook, that one into feeling jealous over someone else’s nicer house, that one into a big, fat pizza pie – what can we do?

Except, at least make sure that the pizza is glatt kosher and heartily blessed. Or, that if we’re on Facebook we’re at least trying to share some Torah or chizzuk. (I still don’t know how to ‘raise up’ feeling jealous about other people’s nicer houses. Any ideas, wise readers?)

In the meantime, we’re wallowing around down here in the dirt and the muck, and it’s not such a nice feeling. But if we’re doing it for Hashem, somehow – or least, wanting to do it for Hashem – then that changes everything.

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about why I’m having such a negative reaction to spending barely three, fairly OK, days in chutz l’aretz, and this is where I’ve got to with it all.

(Before I dive in, a story to set the scene:)

Britain has few culinary gifts to boast about, but it does excel at pastry and pies. The morning we flew out of Manchester airport (where me and my frum Jewish family got ‘patted down’ by a nice Muslim airport worker, to check we weren’t terrorists…) I took my girls to the one Kosher deli in town, and told them to pick whatever they wanted to eat for the flight.

We got some bagels, some fish, some cheese – and then the kids each picked a ‘typical’ British pastry. One of my kids has some fairly serious food allergies, especially to all nuts except almonds and sesame seeds. In Britain, her allergies were life-threatening and we had to carry an epipen.

In Israel, God somehow reduced them down to just annoying – in Israel, she just throws up now if she eats something she’s allergic to, and she’s got a ‘lick’ test which is usually very effective for spotting if something contains dodgy substances.

That kid bought what’s called a Bakewell Tart – a small pie with marzipan, jam and icing – which the nice serving lady assured us only had almonds. (The incidence of food allergies in the UK is so extreme, that most people are very careful to give accurate information about these things.)

After we’d got through the awful, OTT security procedures at Manchester Airport (which were enough to put me off from travelling again all by themselves)  – this kid pulled out her Bakewell Tart in the departures lounge, taste tested it, then ate it.

At the last bite, her face went a funny colour, and she started to make a weird gasping / hiccoughing noise. An allergic reaction!

And a far more serious one than she’s had in years and years.

Thank God, she rushed off to the bathroom and immediately threw up, but her throat was hurting her, and she was knocked out for an hour afterwards. Me and my husband said a tikkun haklali for her, I silently asked God to just let us get out of Manchester in one piece, while I walked around the airport looking for the A+E room ‘just in case’ her reaction started to escalate and we needed an epipen again…

BH, the tikkun haklali kicked in, and the crisis abated.

Later, my kid said to me: “Ima, it was so weird! I licked it first and it didn’t tingle my tongue at all! Even when I was eating it, I didn’t feel any tingling – it’s only after I took the last bite that I’d felt like I’d just eaten a big nut.”

What a great allegory for chutz l’aretz!

All a person’s life, they can’t ‘feel’ the damage being done to their souls by living such a superficial, sweet-tasting, gashmius pie of a life in chutz l’aretz. After all, the Bakewell Tart is glatt kosher! They bought it from the kosher deli on the way back from morning prayers!

Even when they’re eating it, it just tastes so yummy and delicious. And then with the last bite before you’re about to step on the plane ‘out of there’ – it nearly kills you.

It’s a fact that allergies are profoundly connected to emotions, stress levels and a person’s soul. It’s clear to me that my daughter’s soul is far more ‘wound up’ and stressed-out in chutz l’aretz than in Israel (even with all our struggling, and terrorism, and obvious spiritual angst), which is why here her allergies are an inconvenience at most, whilst there, they are literally life-threatening.

I went to the local shul one of the mornings I was there, to do my hour of hitbodedut (talking to God). I guess I must have felt like I was missing some of the kedusha that you get when a group of Jews congregate together.

The Rav of the shul gave a small talk after prayers, literally five minutes, where he was explaining how to kosher a microwave, and why you can’t kosher ovens in the same way, or cook milky and meaty foods one after the other in the same oven.

In Israel, I can’t even remember the last time I heard someone talk about those topics.

Here, the focus (at least for the rabbis I listen to….) is always on improving your middot, developing more emuna, guarding your eyes, treating your kids and spouse more nicely, really trying to give God what He wants.

Of course, God also wants a kosher oven, but that’s so ‘basic’ as to be practically taken for granted. Then I got it:

In chutz l’aretz, a Jew struggles even to keep their ovens kosher. That’s why there’s no time for the real work of ‘koshering the soul’. When you have to drive 30 mins just to get a kosher challah, when you have to pay thousands of bucks just to have your kid in a ‘kosher’ school, you already felt like you did the work God sent you down to do.

But really?

That’s only the very, very beginning of the process.

The real job is koshering the soul – uprooting our arrogance, our obsessions with making millions, our predilection for spreading gossip and lashon hara about other Jews, for bigging ourselves up at other people’s expense.

And most of the Jews in chutz l’aretz – even the very best, and most ‘kosher’ Jews – never get anywhere near that work of spiritual rectification.

I know when I made aliya 12 years’ ago, I was broadly of the view that I was a completely fixed, rectified ‘good’ Jewish person who really had nothing more to do to get to the highest level of shemayim.

After all, I had two ovens! And two sinks! And two dish washers!!!!!

After I made aliya, it didn’t take long to realize just how much of the real work of koshering my soul I still have left to do.

And that’s the real difference between chutz l’aretz and Israel: The one place, you feel like you’re ‘complete’ and that you’ve got there spiritually, and that you’re serving Hashem amazingly even by just keeping a kosher home and going to shul on Shabbat. It’s only when you’re about to check out of life that you realize that sweet, superficial, Bakewell Tart of a comfort zone actually killed your neshama.

In the other place, the whole time it can feel like you’re just eating bitter herbs – for breakfast, lunch and supper. But at the end of that process, you finally realize what a life-affirming spiritual ‘cleanse’, what an amazing, deep, spiritual ‘detox’ you’ve just been through.

If you stick with God, you come out of this second process, finally, with a kosher soul.

But there’s no question that the ‘Bakewell Tart’ version of Jewish life looks so much yummier.

Recently, I had an email exchange with someone that got me thinking about how when Moshiach really does, actually, well and truly show up, most people are going to think he’s a cult leader.

You can understand why.

Moshiach will be a hugely charismatic, magnetic person of immense holiness and charm, that the Jewish soul will automatically gravitate towards, and want to nullify themselves to.

That’s part of the beauty and majesty of the Moshiach! The Moshiach will have a global soul that contains a spark of every Jew on the planet, and we’ll all want to get close to him, and soak in his immense spiritual light.

But until the Moshiach is completely and undeniably revealed as the Moshiach, he’s going to look like one of the most convincing cult leaders you’ve ever met.

And here lies the conundrum.

As I’ve written about a lot here, there are an awful lot of what Rebbe Nachman calls ‘Rav de klipa’, or rabbis of the dark side out there in the world. God already warned us that for every ‘light’ He created, there would be darkness, and for every ‘good’ He created, there would be bad, until Moshiach comes and the whole world is spiritually rectified and evil permanently vanquished.

Also as I’ve written about elsewhere, Moshiach’s coming is not a one-shot dramatic affair where he steps off a plane in Ben Gurion airport, or holds a coming out party and voila, instant Moshiach and geula.

Nope.

It’s going to be a long, drawn-out affair, like the sunrise, growing stronger and stronger from moment to moment until everyone has to admit that day has come. But while we’re still in the process of transition, there’s going to be a lot of murky stuff mixed into that sunrise.

Lots of ‘rabbis’ pretending to be what they really are not. Lots of psychos taking advantage of trusting members of the public, to act in the most evil, anti-Torah, unethical ways. Lots of ‘cult leaders in waiting’ trying to take advantage of our yearning for Moshiach to pull a fast one over us and pull us away from God, has va halila.

So what’s a person meant to do?

Some of us are solving this problem by plain blank refusing to acknowledge Moshiach in any real way. Sure, they’ll discuss the idea theoretically, but any suggestion that a real person could actually be Moshiach, or that this could actually happen in their lifetimes (especially if they live outside of Israel…) will elicit a dramatically negative response.

One such person who holds this view of all things Moshiach told me:

‘Look what happened with Chabad! We don’t want something like that to happen again!’

as justification for why they were so ‘anti’ the whole talking about Moshiach thing.

So then, I started to ponder: what really happened with Chabad?

Sure, there are still a few people walking around with the mistaken idea that the Lubavitcher Rebbe will come back from the dead to lead us. But I’m not sure even that is so terrible. When Moshiach is revealed, they’ll see that they’re wrong, and end of story.

(There’s a whole big discussion in the Gemara about just this idea, of whether the Moshiach can come back from the dead, and the Gemara – after a long discussion – asserts that this will not be the case. I don’t know much about the Moshiach, but I can tell you that he definitely knows more Gemara than I do, and abides by all aspects of Jewish halachic law…)

And in the meantime, what really happened with Chabad? Simply that hundreds of thousands of Jews started to yearn for Moshiach to come, in fulfillment of the Rambam’s 13th Principle of Faith, and made a whole bunch of teshuva in readiness for that moment.

I mean really, what’s so bad about that?

Sure, there are some crazy people that took things to extremes, but Chabad didn’t make these people crazy any more than Breslov makes people crazy. Crazy people (including yours truly…) are attracted to very big spiritual lights, as we know that’s where we’ll find the antidote for all the darkness we’re lugging around in our souls.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe was an enormous spiritual light, and very probably was the potential Moshiach of his generation. If your tikkun is to be a crazy person anyway, at least be a crazy person who keeps mitzvahs and talks (a little too much…) about the coming of the Moshiach.

But to come back to the point in hand, how are we really going to know who is a true candidate for Moshiach, and who is just a cult-leader-in-waiting, in this very difficult, confusing time before geula actually really kicks off?

There’s one answer:

Hitbodedut.

The regular practice of talking to Hashem in your own words for a fixed amount of time every day, preferably an hour.

When you talk to God regularly like this, you get connected to your soul, and to the real Tzaddikim of the generation, and to Hashem Himself, and it gets much, much harder for the fakers to fool you.

Try this exercise, to see what I mean:

Imagine a rabbi that you KNOW is good and the real deal, like the Baba Sali, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Chida, the Baal Shem Tov, Rebbe Nachman, Rav Ovadia Yosef, etc. See how they look, see how ‘big’ they are, compared to you yourself.

Now, imagine a rabbi from today meeting that ‘good’ rabbi from the past – really picture them meeting in your head – and see what happens.

I guarantee you’ll start to get some amazing insights about who is really ‘real’ and who isn’t, if you try this exercise a few times, and ask God to show you what’s really going on.

And in the meantime, this is the best and really only route for knowing who really could be Moshiach, and who is a cult-leader-in-disguise.

Don’t let the ‘Rav de klipa’s’ fool you!

And don’t be scared to join the ‘cult of Moshiach’ as soon as you’re 100% convinced inside that you’ve discovered who he is. After all, yearning for Moshiach is a fundamental part of being a Jew, and if you’re regularly talking to God about it all, He’ll certainly guide you to the right person, at just the right time.

And if you’re wrong – but attached to an enormously holy person in the meantime who could be Moshiach, but maybe isn’t – what’s so bad about that, anyway?