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The last few days, I’ve been in a funny mood.

I’m working on a book that’s explaining how the ‘animal’ brain that’s in charge of the body’s FIGHT-FLIGHT-FREEZE-FLATTER stress response has managed to hijack most people’s personalities, and it’s not coming easy.

So yesterday, I took my notepad and pens, and went to sit in the kever of Shimon HaTzaddik. I had the whole of the women’s section to myself, and I managed to write a lot about the FLATTER / EARTH dimension.

What’s so wrong with flattering other people? What’s so wrong with ‘making nice’ to people, even if they aren’t so nice and maybe are doing things that are really, really wrong?

That’s what I was trying to explain.

I wrote 10 pages, and came home. But, I was still feeling restless, so next I went off to Kever Rachel, up the road from me, where I sat down and tried to write about FREEZE / WATER. That’s where you isolate yourself, get discouraged and depressed, and totally give up on humanity (and yourself…) because there’s just no point.

I came home, made supper – but was still feeling restless. So in the evening, my husband and I went off to the Kotel, where I sat before the Wall for an hour writing about FLIGHT / AIR, which is where you can’t sit still, you can’t focus, you’re full of worry and anxiety and nervous energy which keeps you constantly ‘doing’ and stops you from really thinking about anything too deeply.

At the end of all that, I realized: the world is in such a big mess.

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Two weeks ago, I happened to trip over a ‘fake dayan’ in the course of researching something else.

Without going into details, he’d clearly forged his dayanut claims, and was a small-town crook pretending to be a ‘dayan’ who’d been invested by the Eida HaChareidit. He lives in chutz l’aretz, in a place where there are very few knowledgeable Jews who are able to catch him out, and he’s an excellent con man.

I’m still mulling over what to do with this information, particularly as he seems to have ‘retired’ from his claims of being a dayan to go and do other things.

Really, far more disturbing to me than the fake dayan himself, who clearly didn’t get enough love from his mum when he was growing up, are all the apparently real rabbis he was associating with. These ‘real’ rabbis must have known he was a total fake, but they apparently kept their mouths shut because it suited the enterprises they were associated with to be able to claim they had a fake dayan on board.

Why? Because having a dayan is a great USP.

These days, there a million people claiming to have smicha, or rabbinic ordination, but being a dayan is still a notable achievement. It still stands out. It still impresses people. And it’s much, much harder to fake, because it takes a minimum of seven years to achieve and actually requires some real knowledge of halacha that is rigorously tested by other very knowledgeable Jews.

That’s part of how I know this fake dayan is so clearly and utterly fake.

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So how did this guy manage to fool so many other ‘real’ rabbis, especially here in Israel?

Simple.

He didn’t. They knew he was totally fake, but they kept their mouths shut because they wanted to encourage more clueless non-Jews to hand money over to their organisations.

As I was researching this, I was wondering how could so many of our ‘real’ rabbis have such bad middot, and no-one else appears to be noticing it? How can they be such vain, money-obsessed phoneys, and yet people are still lining up on Facebook (and elsewhere) to laud them and praise them?

After doing a lot of praying on it, it came to me that LIKE ATTRACTS LIKE.

For as long as we ourselves are totally obsessed with dollar bills, it’s not going to strike us as ‘strange’ that a ‘rabbi’ spends literally half his shiur just talking about money. For as long as we ourselves are full of hatred and harsh judgments and anger, it’s not going to put us off to hear someone dissing a whole generation of young Jews, or upset us when ‘secular people’ get written off as being totally evil and beyond repair.

In fact, quite the opposite. We’ll actually be thrilled to hear all this stuff, and we’ll heartily approve of this hashkafa, because it’s just confirming our own bad middot and our own warped outlook on life.

LIKE ATTRACTS LIKE.

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Right now, there is an earthquake brewing under Manhattan and under the Knesset.

Without going into details, I think that a scandal is about to break that is going to turn the Jewish name into mud all over the world.

It’s up to God how much attention it will get, and how much damage it will actually do, but it could mark a turning point, because as long as the Jews and the Jewish State can claim the moral high ground, the good people of the world will be on their side and supporting them against the anti-Semites.

But what happens when a bunch of very prominent Jews are publically exposed as doing a lot of very ‘wrong’ things? Things that are so sickening and so morally perverted that any right thinking person will be totally disgusted?

What then?

It’s an interesting question.

How many Harveys and Jefferys and Bernies can non-Jewish society take, before it starts to dawn on them that Houston, we have a problem?

God is about to shine a massive spotlight down onto Jewish communities all over the world. We are heading into that next part of the birur, or clarification, process when more and more people will be singled out and asked:

Why didn’t you protest what was going on? How were you happy to keep on justifying such awful behavior, such monstrous people? How could you continue to hang out with these people, without noticing that something was terribly wrong? And to even praise them to others?

And the answer will be:

LIKE ATTRACTS LIKE.

We didn’t notice the problem by them, because we had it ourselves, in some way.

But soon, God’s going to start exposing all these ‘hidden’ issues in the Jewish community in the most distressing way.

And then, there will be no more pretending.

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I know, I come back to this subject a lot, don’t I?

The reason for that is simple: My husband and I have been seriously burned by a number of so-called ‘rabbis’ who were very keen to suck as much respect, effort, adoration and money out of us as possible, but much less keen to actually stand by us when the bad advice they gave us blew up in our face.

I went through such a deep crisis of faith as a result of my associations with these ‘rockstar’ type rabbis (and let me add in here that rockstar rabbanits are also becoming an increasingly big problem), that I’m now on a mission to do whatever I can to help my fellow Jew spot these people a mile off, and give them a wide berth.

The main problem is that especially for people who grew up in the West, the very title ‘rabbi’ carries an aura of holiness, wisdom and knowledge with it. It’s like the word ‘doctor’ in the secular world. People only have to add that in front of their name and they get instant ‘rockstar’ status. Well he’s a doctor! He’s a rabbi! She’s a rabbanit! They must know what they’re talking about!!!!

But sadly, that’s just not true.

My husband, God bless him, is about to sit his exam that will officially make him a ‘rabbi’ if he passes it. For the past couple of years, he’s been learning all about what makes a chicken liver kosher, what to do if the hotdog lands in a pint of milk, what happens if you have a non-Jewish worker who accidentally has a fatal heart-attack in your soda factory, and falls into a big vat of coke for more than 24 hours. Does that make the coke traif, or not?

The reason my husband is becoming a rabbi is very simple: I forced him to do it. I was so sick of all the fake ‘rabbis’ out there blinding everyone to their very warped, anti-God opinions and ideas with their ‘rabbinic’ credentials that I told my husband there has to be at least one rabbi out there who isn’t just doing it as a career move.

My husband was not keen at first.

He also hates all the honor-driven ‘I’m a RABBI you know’ stuff. But I told him straight: You’ve been learning Torah lishma, for its own sake for 11 years now. You do an hour of hitbodedut (talking to God) every day. You ask God to help you guard your eyes, to treat your wife and family nicely, and to have emuna. You have so much humility – and every time you think you know something, I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong!!

You simply can’t say that about most of the other people out there who are ‘rabbis’ – well-known or otherwise – especially in the English-speaking world. So, after a lot of soul-searching (and nagging from me…) he took the plunge.

Here’s the strange thing we’ve both discovered: To officially become a rabbi, all you do is learn the Torah laws relating to keeping kosher. There are other areas you can learn too, but the basic ‘rabbi’ curriculum is all that stuff about hotdogs-in-milk and pickled non-Jews traifing up your coke.

There is no ‘family counselling’ stuff. No ‘secrets of the Torah that means you always know what you’re talking about’ stuff.

No magic formula that takes the rabbinic student and turns them into a fount of knowledge and wisdom.

Here’s the even stranger thing we’ve both discovered: The laws of kashrut are so darned complicated, in so many ways, with so many conflicting opinions abounding, that even to get to the right answer about the hotdog-in-the-milk, a rabbi still has to ask God to give him a lot of siyatta deshmaya.

If a rabbi has to be constantly asking God for the right inspiration just to answer the kashrut questions properly, can we even begin to fathom the spiritual level they have to be on be doling out life advice about how to raise your children and relate to your spouses? Or where to buy a new home? Or what medical treatment to take, or to avoid?

And here, dear reader, is where we get to the crux of the problem, because when a person is full of themselves and their ‘rabbinic’ credentials, they are generally completely empty of God.

Hashem says: “Me and the arrogant person, we can’t dwell together!”

When a person is arrogant – when they are holding themselves out as a fount of wisdom and advice, and when they’re off touting for people to come and ask them serious life questions, or forcing their opinions on other people as the only way, and God’s own truth – the sad fact is that they, and the advice they are so freely proffering, is completely disconnected from the Creator.

Again, I’ve unfortunately learnt this the hard way.

If the red flags had gone up the first time me and my husband were told things like:

“Well, if you’d bothered to ask me, I would have told you the exact opposite…”

Or when things were phrased as barked commands, or when I saw one person after another get burned by really bad advice, and then get blamed and instantly dropped by the ‘rabbi’ responsible for getting them into the mess in the first place – things would look so different now.

But that’s where my emuna, or belief in God, kicks in. Because God only used these horrible rockstar rabbis as sticks to teach me and my husband some invaluable things. Man o man, were they hard lessons to learn.

Things like the importance of valuing our own judgement, and respecting ourselves, and loving ourselves, each other and our kids unconditionally.

God doesn’t act, think or behave like a warped ‘rockstar rabbi’, playing on other people’s insecurities and fears to keep them feeling small, worthless and dumb.

God loves us. All of us. Unconditionally. He for sure wants us to keep mitzvot, but He also wants us to be nice to other people and to love ourselves, and to give people a break as much as possible.

I will come back to this subject again, because most of the people out there today who are encouraging you to trust them, to believe in them, and to follow them blindly, are not what they appear to be. Thank God, there ARE some real rabbis out there still, and three I can personally vouch for are Rav Berland, Rav Ofer Erez and Rav Shalom Arush.

But in the English-speaking world, rockstar rabbis of all stripes unfortunately prevail, and you need to be very, very careful.

Let’s end with this one piece of advice, that you can take or leave as you see fit:

The more you work on your own middot, and your own connection to God, the easier it will get to spot all the religious phoneys out there. Once you no longer tolerate anger, contempt, evil speech, harsh judgment, spiritual superficiality and competition in your own life, spotting the fakers will get SO easy.

Of course, working on all these things takes a huge amount of effort, patience and spiritual investment. That’s why the rockstar rabbis (and rabbanits) much prefer to keep trying to fix other people, than to try and fix themselves.

A little while ago, I was talking to a friend of mine who told me about the latest ‘parenting craze’ to be sweeping the frum world, at least in Israel.

In a nutshell, this new system or shitta is telling parents, particularly mothers, that they have to find out what their problem is, in order to raise their kids properly.

Apparently, the thinking is like this: if you can help the parents to uncover the ‘fatal flaw’ or big emotional problem, or personal issue that defines them and their approach to everything in life, including how they parent their kids, then you’ll help them to change their behavior, and peace will reign in Gotham City.

I know, it theoretically sounds great doesn’t it? There’s just one problem: it’s a load of baloney, and in practice it’s going to end up doing far more harm than good to everyone involved.

How do I know all this?

Simple: in our quest to be better Jews, and better people and better parents, me and my husband have been through a whole bunch of shitot and systems based on ideas that sounded good in theory, but were actually useless (at best) or very damaging in practice.

Christians believe that people are ‘fatally flawed’ as a result of the ‘original sin’ where Adam and Eve brought death into the world. By contrast, Jews (especially Breslev-friendly Jews) believe that people are fundamentally good, and that the real them, their soul, is only good and holy, just it got caught up in a bunch of klipot (evil husks) and yetzer haras (evil inclinations) that it needs to fight off and fight through.

That’s the work of this world, and it really can take 120 years to achieve it.

But what’s happening in even the most frum circles is that people are taking a bunch of half-baked ideas rooted in the heresy of modern psychology and psychiatry, or in the idol-worshiping notions of Christianity or the Eastern religions, and then concocting all sorts of ‘workshops’ and ‘parenting courses’ that aren’t based on truth, and only serve to drag participants’ vulnerabilities, difficulties and yetzers out for public scrutiny, without giving them a real solution for how to actually resolve them.

I know so many people, my husband included, who have been caught up and hurt in all the frum public confessionals happening all over the place.

But however these things are being dressed up and sold to others, they’re all based on the same basic principles: encourage people to admit their biggest hurts, deepest secrets and darkest shames in front of a bunch of strangers; then, have the group’s ‘guru’ explain to them – publicly – what their problem is, how it’s affecting them, and why it’s so bad. Then – leave them to deal with it. Alone.

If they start to struggle, or feel even more alone, depressed or ‘bad’, explain to them that either:

  • They didn’t get what they’re meant to be doing, or they didn’t complete the program and process properly and it’s their problem they’re so broken and can’t be fixed;

And / or:

  • Promise to give them the answer to their problem in the next workshop (or six…); or the next private coaching session (or 10…); or the next super-expensive private retreat.

I have seen people keep coming back to these ‘gurus’ and the hugely profitable organisations they’ve built on the back of other people’s suffering for literally years. For as long as they are in touch with the ‘guru’ and the system they’ve built, they’re hopeful that the answer, whatever it is, is just one more group meeting away.

But it doesn’t work like that!

Quite the opposite: as time goes on, the participants split into 2 camps: increasingly despairing, angry, empty and cynical, or completely detached from the reality of who they really are, and what’s really happening in their lives and in their relationships.

Neither of these modes is emotionally healthy, or compatible with yiddishkeit.

So what’s the answer? Where are all these frum gurus going wrong, and why are they doing so much damage?

In a nutshell, you can sum it up like this: what helps people to be better parents, and to treat their kids nicer, and to be happier people, and to be able to deal with their issues and flaws appropriately, is when they concentrate on seeing the good in themselves, and developing more self-compassion.

Remember, God arranged the world as a mirror, to show us who we really are, and what we really need to work on. If we secretly believe ourselves to be selfish monsters, or hateful failures, or fatally-flawed and unfixable in some way, that’s the ‘self’ we’ll see reflected back to us from the people in our lives, and especially our children.

The more ‘down’ we get on ourselves, the more we dislike ourselves – all for the best motives in the world – the more we’ll be irritated by, dislike and probably mistreat our kids, who are just our mirrors. By contrast, the more we learn to see the good in ourselves, and to judge ourselves with compassion and understanding, the more that inner goodness will shine out of our kids, too.

(If you’re thinking this sounds a lot like Rebbe Nachman’s Azamra, you’re dead right.)

There’s a lot more to say about this, and I think I will be coming back to this idea again and again on my blog. But for now let me leave you with this:

The single biggest thing you can do to improve your parenting, and help your kids, and to build the world, and to become the fulfilled, happy Jew God created you to be, is to learn how to love yourself, and to concentrate on finding all the good He placed in your soul.

That’s it.

And if your course, workshop, or frum guru is not telling you that, or if it’s telling you to focus on your problems, flaws and issues, then run away as fast as your legs can carry you.

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.

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.

So there I was, polishing up the latest infographic that I’m doing for the ‘Deeper Needs’ series over on the spiritualselfhelp website, when it suddenly struck me that God was showing ME what I needed to work on at the moment.

The past two weeks, I’ve been happily posting away about how there are 8 deeper needs, and how the first one is emuna, and that if that first one is out or weak, all these other problems and issues start to show up in your life.

A couple of days’ ago, I was pulling all the info together into the snazzy infographic you’ll find to the left, when it suddenly struck me that I currently have most of the problems I’m describing. Feeling spaced-out? You betcha. Feeling a whole bunch of negative emotions bubbling-up and overwhelming you? Absolutely! Experiencing a bunch of weird physical symptoms related to extreme tiredness, fatigue and other strange things? Yup!

Wow.

The penny suddenly dropped, and I realized that my emuna is pretty low at the moment.

I’d like to blame it all on the ‘matzav’, and it’s certainly the straw that’s broken the camel’s back, but it’s not the whole picture.

I had a series of shocks over the last 2 years that really took the legs out from under me, spiritually, and I never really bounced back. All the ‘matzav’ has done is show me the huge emuna deficit that had been steadily accruing since I lost my house, status, and naïve belief in things always turning out ‘for the good’.

Part of me does believe that still, but it’s not a very big part of me (42%, to be precise. If you want to know how I got to that figure, keep your eyes peeled for the ‘Deeper Needs Visualisation Exercise’ that I’m going to share this week over on spiritualselfhelp.org.)

42% is not nothing, but it’s not really going to cut the mustard, especially if things really are heading towards more craziness and then geula.

I realized that God was giving me a clear nudge to work on my emuna, pronto.

But how?

Ahh, the question of questions.

In my hitbodedut sessions, I got the following insights:

  • My job is to ask God to give me emuna as often as possible
  • But that’s still not really enough (believe me, I’ve been doing that for months already…)
  • So I need some outside help, ie, I need to give a pidyon nefesh to a tzaddik, to clear up the judgments that are still hanging over my head, and preventing me from having emuna.

There was only one problem with all this clarity: my emunat tzadikim is even less at the moment, standing at a whopping 12% (no, that’s not a typo). It’s a long story how it got to be so low, but I could see that midda kneged midda, giving a pidyon nefesh would go a long way to boosting my emunat tzadikim (because you can’t give it unless you believe it’s really going to do something good for you.)

But I was still wavering a little, especially as my finances are still tight.

So then, God gave me the brainwave to randomly open my copy of the Likutey Moharan (with English translation) and this is what I read:

“One who disgraces the honor of a Torah Scholar has no healing for his illness, for the main power of healing that comes from the Torah is impossible to receive other than through the Sages of the generation….Therefore the main thing is to have faith in the sages, and to be particular to relate to them with great respect and reverence.” – LM Lesson 57.

OKAY then, pidyon nefesh it is. I sent the email off yesterday, and I’m waiting to hear back. But one thing I can tell you for sure: if the ‘matzav’ continues or worsens, God-forbid, I’m going to need a heck of a lot more than 42% emuna and 12% emunat tzadikim to get through it in one piece.

That’s what my eldest asked me this week. Of course, I hadn’t because I don’t listen to the news or read papers, but I’m a very small minority in my daughter’s class, so of course all of her friends had heard about the rabbi in Tsfat, and were vigorously discussing it.

My daughter told me that a lot of her classmates were really, really upset about it, and that it had put a severe dint in their belief in our holy rabbis. I don’t blame them. Every time I meet another fraudulent rabbi or self-serving ‘spiritual mentor’, my heart also sinks a couple more notches.

But it doesn’t stay there for long.

You know why? Because so many of our holy people explained that in the generation before Moshiach, a huge number of our leaders and rabbis would be fakers.

There are many definitions of what these fakers do and how they act, but their main identifying traits are that they are in the game only for their own honour, power and kudos, and that they excel at being the most arch hypocrites you’ll probably ever meet in your life.

They’ll make it seem like they hold themselves to super-high, super-strict standards of everything themselves, and that they’re incredibly holy and beyond reproach, but to put it bluntly, they lie about everything and often treat their fellow man like rubbish.

Now, in the Levy household we’ve unfortunately had far too much experience with ‘holy fakers’. As each ‘holy faker’ exploded in our face, my husband and I had to pick up the pieces of our emunat tzadikim, rebuilt our faith and emunah, and work really hard to see God behind it all.

At the same time, we had to educate ourselves, and our children, about what was really going on in the world, to ensure as best we can that neither we, nor they, would be hurt by any more ‘holy fakers’ in the future.

That means I’ve sat my kids down, and quoted them bits from Rebbe Nachman, and from Rabbi Chaim Vital, and the Gemara in Sanhedrin and a few other places too, where it talks about how a huge number of our leaders and rabbis would be fakers, before Moshiach comes.

Forewarned is forearmed, so my children are not fazed in the same way now, to hear that yet another ‘holy faker’ got unmasked. But their peers are not so fortunate. Their peers are still being told by the adults in their lives to ‘stop talking lashon hara’, and to ‘stop questioning our holy rabbis’ – which was the correct response 50 years’ ago, but is definitely NOT the correct response now.

Why not?

Simply put, because this is the generation before Moshiach, and a huge number of our leaders and rabbis are fakers.

I want my kids to grow up believing in God, serving Him happily, and having a strong connection with the true tzaddikim who do still exist, and are still out there, albeit currently a quiet minority.

We need to teach our children (and also, ourselves!) to listen to the inner voice that’s telling us something isn’t ‘quite right’ with many of the people in authority positions in our lives. If more of us would advocate for judging people on the basis of their personalities, instead of being blinded by their reputation and title, things would be very different, and these unholy fakers would find it much harder to take us all for a ride.

Sigh.

It’s all so heavy and unpleasant, isn’t it?

I wish from the bottom of my heart that all the lies being told would vanish, so that we could all have a clear picture of who’s really holy and good, and who isn’t. But that’s one of the biggest tests of this generation, that no-one is going to spell all this out to you except God.

That’s how God wants it, and as I explained to my kids, the single best (and probably only) way I know of being able to distinguish between who’s a faker and who’s for real is personal prayer.

Personal prayer enables you to have a real conversation with your ‘inner voice’, and it gives your soul the space it needs sometimes to convince you of the things you really don’t want to hear or believe.

Like, a huge number of our leaders and rabbis are fakers.

In the meantime, I’m sticking close to Rav Arush, Rav Ofer Erez and Rav Berland, because I know from personal experience that they’re the real deal.

And I’m encouraging my children to trust their gut instincts, and to not assume that a big beard and a bit title automatically equates to ‘holy’, because sadly, even without keeping up with the news, I’ve had enough fakers in my own life to know that in 2015, genuinely holy leaders and rabbis are pretty few and far between.

If there is one ‘clue’ that I could share with you for working out which of our leaders, religious and otherwise, is faking it, and which are the real deal, it’s this:

With fakers, everything they do, they do for themselves.

Again, these aren’t actually my words (apart from the ‘fakers’ bit… ), but they’re based on the words of Rabbi Chaim Vital, student of the Arizal, who wrote the following about the false leaders who would swamp the world in the generation before Moshiach.

In his introduction to the section on Shaar HaHakdamos, in his classic kabbalistic work ‘Etz Chayim’ (The Tree of Life), Rabbi Vital says the following:

“When a person studies the Oral Law lo lishmah (ie, not for it’s own sake but for vested interests of personal gain, honour, money, position, etc), and without love and fear [of God], his Torah study will not elevate him spiritually….

“He will fall from his [spiritual rung], and ultimately, he will study with an undesirable intent, for his own self-interest, eg to enhance his honour so that he be considered a scholar, or use as a medium for earning a livelihood.”

Now, how do we apply this to our modern world, and everything we see going on before us?

To put it simply, when we see a Rabbi or leader, religious or otherwise, male or otherwise, who is far more interested in their personal prestige, power and bank account than they are in genuinely serving the people who are following them, this is a massive clue that we might well be dealing with a faker.

To give some examples from my own life: I’ve been to many shiurim by Rav Shalom Arush, and Rav Ofer Erez. I’ve never been asked to pay money to attend them.

By contrast, I recently went to a shiur by another ‘big name’ in the world of Torah classes, and the 30 shekel payment for the shiur (which I hadn’t been told about beforehand) was strictly enforced – the helper was literally waving the canister in everyone’s face and wouldn’t let them leave if they hadn’t coughed-up.

I know we’re so used to this that I probably sound extreme, but IT’S NOT THE AUTHENTIC TORAH WAY to be so insistent on being paid to give over Torah. I also know, from my own experience, that Torah educators also have bills and have to eat, but we’re warned about ‘making the Torah into a hammer’ for good reason.

The couple of occasions I tried to ask people for payments for my Torah classes, it just felt all wrong, like I was trying to milk my learning to pay my mortgage.

What have you done for him, lately?

Another way you can spot fakers is how much time they have for people who are not useful to them. If you can promote their message, career, bank account or reputation, fakers will deign to give you a few minutes (all the time making it clear that their time is very valuable and bossing you around like you’re a moron). If you can’t – they drop you like a hot potato.

Now, I know that from the rabbis’ perspective, there are a lot of time-wasters out there too, so it’s very difficult to sift out what’s truly going on. But again, from my own experience, I have seen Rav Arush swamped with people every time he steps outside his front door, and he does his best to answer each one in a friendly, warm way – which if you see the circus that often surrounds him, is enormous testament to his patience and good middot (characteristics).

By contrast, I’ve also seen fakers who make no secret of having absolutely no time for people who had been faithfully following them for years, barely made any demands of them, and were seriously struggling for some spiritual support and chizzuk.

To say it’s upsetting when the penny finally drops that your spiritual guide is actually a Class A Grade faker is probably the understatement of the year.

As with everything, only personal prayer, only talking to God, can get us through all the enormous tests each one of us is facing in the closing weeks of 5775 in one piece, with our emuna and sanity intact.

If you’re not doing it already, I strongly recommend making a daily chat with God part of your schedule, because challenging as life is at the moment, I can’t see any signs that it’s going to calm down again any time soon.

 

A little while back, I was talking to someone who’d just been given some pretty shocking ‘advice’ from one of their spiritual advisors. The ‘advice’ was shocking for a few different reasons:

1) They hadn’t actually asked for it;

2) It involved some very big, very complicated decisions with far-reaching implications for the rest of their life; and

2) It completely contradicted everything else that this spiritual advisor had been telling them to do.

Now, what would you do, if that happened to you?

Before you answer that, let me tell you what I thought about the whole sorry saga. I thought that in every direction and in every way possible, God is pushing more and more of us to start thinking for ourselves again.

For the last few decades, ‘outsourcing’ has been the big thing: we’ve been encouraged to outsource our health to the medical profession, our child-rearing to therapists, our marriages to relationship counsellors, and our spiritual development and connection to God to various ‘holy’ intermediaries.

You can probably guess what I’m going to say now:

THIS IS NOT THE JEWISH WAY!!! (and yes, I am shouting.)

The Jewish way is for each of us to take responsibility for ourselves, and our own lives and souls, and our own relationships.

Who can know us better than ourselves? Who has got more of an interest in things turning out well for us, than we do? Who is in a better position for working out all the messages and clues that God is sending down to each one of us, every second of the day, than us?

There’s a famous story told about the Steipler Rav, who was a very big tzaddik who lived in Bnei Brak a generation ago. The Steipler could be very blunt, and sometimes seemed a little exasperated by the numbers of people coming to him for blessings and advice.

Once, he turned to his companion and said incredulously: “Do the people who are coming to me for a blessing really think that I’m going to do a better job of it, than if they would just go and pray to Hashem for their own needs?!”

Of course, let’s be clear that going to a tzaddik like the Steipler in our own times, is a very beneficial, wonderful thing. But even Rav /shalom Arush has written that a tzaddik’s blessing is limited by the work the person getting the blessing is willing to do for, and on, themselves.

So where does all this leave us, and our attempts to work out what God wants from us, and how to relate to all these authority figures in various areas of our lives?

The ‘expert’ checklist:

Here’s what I think: regardless of whether you are dealing with a doctor, or a lawyer, or a rabbi, or a therapist or any other ‘expert’, the first thing you should do is check the following:

1) Are they humble?

2) Are they compassionate?

3) Do they listen to you like you’re a valuable human being, or talk over you and ignore or rubbish your opinions?

4) Do they admit to making mistakes, or try to paint themselves as being perfect and ‘superior’?

5) Do they have God in their lives, in any real, tangible way?

5) Do they encourage you to think for yourself, or do they try to make you feel small, stupid and insignificant, and greatly in need of their vastly superior wisdom and knowledge?

 

This last point really contains all the others. I’ve seen Rav Arush in action a number of times; my husband and I have also tried to ask to ask him a number of things. Almost always (with a few small exceptions), he’s put the onus for making the decision back on us, and encouraged us to talk to God about what’s going on in our lives, and to get guidance that way.

He gives advice, but he doesn’t issue commands. He gives strong guidance, indirectly, throughout his books and classes but when it’s one-on-one, he respects your free choice and normally only hints at things.

This was also the way of Rebbe Nachman, who made it a point NEVER to tell people what to do directly, and only ever gently advised them. If a huge tzaddik like Rebbe Nachman didn’t think it was appropriate to boss people around, that speaks volumes.

So let’s sum it up like this: if your ‘expert’, whoever they are, likes offering unsolicited advice to you, revels in telling you (or even ‘ordering’ you) to do things; and tries to blame you, subtly or otherwise, for making ‘wrong’ decisions – walk away.

If they don’t encourage you to believe in yourself, and in your own decision-making abilities, and in your own value as a unique human being – walk away.

God wants you to talk to Him, and to think for yourself, in every area of your life. I know, it’s so tempting to try and outsource your decisions and responsibility to others. But it’s truly a case of ‘buyer beware’, because the people you’d really want to tell you what they think usually won’t; and the people who can’t wait to tell you what they think are usually the very last people you should be listening to.