Posts

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, each one left an indelible imprint on our lives – and eventually, we discovered that each one was a ‘false rabbi’. 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.

All these false rabbis 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 Rabbi 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 caused by all these false rabbis, so that we can get to the next stage of the process called: how to trust again.

====

You might also like these articles:

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.