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Everything you need to know about the art of hitbodedut, aka the practise of talking to God.

I had a request to write a bit more about hitbodedut, or the practice of talking to God in your own words every single day.

Rebbe Nachman writes in Likutey Moharan 2:25 that:

Hitbodedut is the most exalted and paramount spiritual practice of all. It involves setting a time for oneself of at least an hour to meditate in seclusion in some room or in the field, expressing oneself before one’s Maker with well-tailored arguments in an expedient, but graceful and appeasing way, begging God to truly bring us closer to His service.”

Rabbenu continues a little further down:

“Even when one’s words are blocked, and one is unable to open one’s mouth and speak before God, this itself is very great, i.e. preparing ourselves to stand before God, and desiring to speak, even when we can’t….

“We should beg God for mercy and compassion, so that He opens our hearts to be able to express ourselves before Him.”

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So far, so good.

The person who emailed me told me they keep falling asleep when they try to do hitbodedut, so they wanted some advice / chizzuk on how to handle this, so in their merit, I decided to write this post.

So many things have been written about hitbodedut by so many people, many of whom are far ‘higher’, spiritually, than I am. (Like, by about a billion spiritual miles…) At the same time, I’ve been doing regular hitbodedut now for something like 12 years, and I do an hour every day, minimum, as Rabbenu recommends us to do.

And I have a lot of firsthand experience of how I’ve seen hitbodedut, the practice of talking to God in our words, has truly changed my life, not always in such simple ways. So let’s begin with a brief history of how I got started, and why.

I started doing hitbodedut back in 2006, during our first year in Israel, when we’d moved to Modiin from London, and our life was lurching from one crisis to another, and I really didn’t know how to cope with it all anymore. As I look back on it now, I see we’ve had the same sort of tests for 12 of the last 13 years, and it’s only in 5777 /8 that we started to make the real, deep teshuva required to finally get things to improve a little.

So, here’s a little of what was going on back in 2006, in Modiin:

  • We were fighting with family members:
  • My PR business was going down the tubes and starting to accumulate a bunch of big debt
  • My husband got made redundant by his London law firm who had agreed to him working remotely from Israel before we made Aliyah – but then changed their minds without telling him, and started looking for his replacement.
  • My kids were climbing the walls, as I was always ‘absent’ emotionally, either working like a dog or worrying about work.
  • Our house got burgled.
  • Our social situation started to get precarious, because all the other olim we were friendly with didn’t really want to hear about all the difficulties we were going through.
  • The depression I’d been dealing with for decades bubbled up again, and I could spend days crying, immobilized on a sofa, or in bed.
  • Our shalom bayit was going down the toilet because of all the pressure.

What’s the answer a Western-educated person would give about how to handle all this?

Clearly “Go to a shrink!!” That’s what everyone was telling me.

So I went – to about 3 different shrinks because most of them were just so bad, sometimes for 3 times a week – and honestly, it was making it all worse.

They’d want me to keep track of my dreams, and then we’d have to talk about it, or they’d ask me leading questions about my parents, and I’d have to veer away from that conversation at a million miles an hour. To put it another way, they’d be picking at very deep emotional scabs for 50 minutes, then just when I was feeling my most raw, they’d pack up for the day and send me home to deal with the fallout.

By myself.

After three months of this, I could see it really wasn’t working, but I didn’t know what else to do. So then, I heard a CD from Rav Arush where he basically said that talking to God was the single address, the single practice, that would solve the problem – whatever the problem.

And that nothing else would really do the job.

I came back to my latest shrink, I told her that I had to try and figure things out directly with God, and she was nice enough to give me her blessing, even though as a devoutly secular women, she was sure this was just another manifestation of mental illness.

I was still feeling really depressed at this stage, so all I could manage was 10 minutes. For 10 minutes a day, for three days, I just kept asking God to lift the depression off me, and let me start functioning again without all the terrible heaviness and crying.

You know what?

God answered that prayer.

I won’t say I never got depressed again, as it’s a process that requires a lot of self-awareness, teshuva and prayer, but that was the last time I had a depression that lasted more than a few days – and I was convinced that hitbodedut really worked, because for decades already, nothing else had managed to tame the depressions.

So from that point on, I asked God to help me talk to Him every single day, come what may.

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Again, I started small.

10 minutes every day, while I was washing the dishes.

Then, I went up to 15 minutes, then 20, then half an hour, then 40 minutes, then 45.

And that’s where I got stuck for about 2 years. Try as I might, I simply couldn’t break the 45 minute barrier and make it through to the magical one hour. I literally would get a sensation as though I was jumping out of my skin and couldn’t sit still for a second more.

But I didn’t give up.

God helped me to carry on at that 45 minute level, and then one day, for the first time ever, I managed to reach the hour, and I knew that some big spiritual test had been passed.

In the meantime, life had only continued to get more and more complicated and difficult externally, so talking to God really became my lifeline. Talking to God led to some fundamentally huge changes at that point, like:

  • Moving out of Modiin
  • Quitting my business, to try and be more of a full-time mother (which is enough to give any F/T career woman a serious attack of the heebee jeebees.)
  • Getting more ‘frum’, covering my hair, encouraging my husband to learn in yeshiva in the morning
  • Getting to work on my huge anger issues, and other bad middot, which had been mostly under the radar up until then.
  • Going cold-turkey on the internet, and going back to a ‘normal’, non-internet phone (this still predated the time of i-Phones).

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When I was 35, I had a health scare that shook me up enough, I was motivated to do my first ever six hours, by the Kotel.

Honestly?

It was complete mental torture. One of the most difficult things I’ve done, in a lot of ways, because the urge to just stop, to break, to run away from talking to God, was at times completely overwhelming.

But I was scared about my health, and that’s what kept me going. At the end of it, I was so pleased to have got that ‘six hour’ thing under my belt – and I felt even happier a couple of weeks’ later when I got the ‘all clear’ from the doctor, and the scary symptoms literally disappeared by themselves, overnight.

So from that point on, I started regularly doing a six hours, as much as once a month, and I’d often do it while I was digging through the wasteland that was my garden in the Gush. That felt so appropriate, somehow, as I’d be digging up the root of an ancient weed that was embedded a metre down, and spread and knotted in a million directions, while also asking God to help me uproot internal ‘weeds’ like anger and jealousy, that seemed to be equally entrenched.

Gush Etzion is when all the demons I’d been trying to avoid and run away from for years finally started gushing out of the system, and if I hadn’t been talking to God every single day for an hour or more, I literally would have gone crazy.

As it was, I only went half-crazy, but a lot more stuff started to move and change as a result, like:

  • I went to Uman, to Rebbe Nachman’s grave, for the first time.
  • We moved house and location in order to send our kids to what we hoped would be a much better school, religiously.
  • My husband started learning at the Chut Shel Chesed Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
  • My husband decided to open up his own law practice.

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So now, I’m in a new community, and the first two years were pretty good, by any standard.

We had friends, we had other English-speaking people around who were ‘Breslov friendly’, my husband’s parnassa was doing well, I was busy ghostwriting books for Dr Zev Ballen, blogging for Breslev.co.il and writing my first book, called The Happy Workshop.

And in the meantime, I was still talking to God about a lot of things, because the kids were still experiencing a lot of difficulties, and I’d learned from Rav Arush’s ‘Education with Love’ book that their problems were really just mine and my husband’s.

Like, one kid had awful, debilitating stomachaches that nothing could cure or get to go away.

I decided to do a six hours devoted to her health issues, and by the end of that, I got some massive insight that her emotional stomachache was really just my emotional stomachache, that had been transposed.

The next three days after that hitbodedut, I was laid up in bed with an awful, killer stomachache – but the kid got better from that point on, and never had that type of stomachache again.

So for two years, I felt we were making slow but steady progress on our bad middot, and that we were slowly, slowly starting to fix a lot of the flaws and mistakes and problems with our parenting.

But then, clearly, we reached the next stage of the ‘teshuva’ process, when God whipped the rug right out from under our feet and sent our life into major free-fall.

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It started when my husband’s father died very unexpectedly, the day after Succot.

From that point on, all the monsters that had been lumped under the family rug for decades started to crawl out, and long story short, we got to a place where we were once again:

  • Fighting with family members
  • Socially isolated
  • Financially in trouble, and forced to sell the house
  • Having awful shalom bayit issues
  • Experiencing serious illnesses because of all the stress
  • Having massive difficulties with our kids

And clearly, I’m leaving a bunch of stuff out here.

Once again, hitbodedut and Uman is what got us through in one piece.

As each day’s new troubles and difficulties hit, I’d run to God for comfort, for clarity, for reassurance, for emuna. Some days I was so distraught, so lost, all I could do was sit there mouthing Ein Od Milvado over and over again.

Other times, I’d sometimes fall asleep while I was talking to God, but I didn’t mind when that happened, as it wasn’t all the time, and it’s often a sign that the ‘light’ that’s coming down is just too big to get hold of consciously, so God knocks you out to operate.

(Having said that, if you fall asleep every single time you do hitbodedut that’s not so helpful, and you may want to change how you do it, like going to a public place, or doing it while you take a walk, or sweep the house.)

There were a lot of six hours going on at that stage, too, because we’d run out of money and had been advised to just go and ‘work for God’, i.e. do long hitbodeduts every day, and in the merit of that, God would do miracles for us.

I will cover this topic in a future post, because it’s part of how I came to a crucial understanding about what talking to God regularly is all about, and I don’t want to lump it all to this post as it’s pretty crucial.

But suffice to say, that you can’t view hitbodedut, or doing 6 hours, through the prism of trying to force God to give you what you want.

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It’s much, much more about figuring out what God really wants from you.

Talking to God regularly has given me so much clarity about things, so much insight into my own nature and yetzer, and by extension other people’s, too. It’s not always been easy to ‘hold’ that knowledge. There were times when I honestly think I went a bit crazy from it, in the way that’s commonly referred to in Israel as ‘too much light’.

For example, when new BTs kind of lose the plot and go overboard in a million different ways, that’s because it’s ‘too much spiritual light’ to really handle. Their souls want more connection to God, but their minds and their middot can’t really process things so fast, which is often when you end up with a machmir external yiddishkeit that’s paired with immature character traits and a narrow, very judgmental mind-set.

But at that point, talking to God helped me figure out a whole bunch of things (eventually…) like:

  • How our bad character traits literally make us physically ill
  • How personality disorders and Erev Rav traits were totally describing the same phenomenon
  • How we can’t stand up in the tests we need to go through, in order to really fix our neshamas, without a very strong connection to the true tzaddikim
  • How most people are simply lying to themselves about the true, negative, impact their bad character traits are having on others, especially their spouse and children.
  • How so much of the difficulties we go through in our life are really ‘inherited’ from our forebears, or from previous lifetimes. So for sure, we still ‘deserve’ them 100%, but it’s not always true that our actions in this lifetime is what’s causing us the problem.
  • And, most importantly of all, how following Rebbe Nachman’s advice of talking to God regularly for an hour a day (and regularly going to Uman) is THE ONLY WAY to fix the problem, at its root.

I know that last point is quite a statement, but after everything I’ve witnessed going on around me the last few years, and also within me, I stand by it 100%.

Unless a person is regularly talking to God for an hour a day, they simply won’t have the spiritual ‘muscle’ required to be able to distinguish the yetzer hara from the yetzer tov on a regular basis, and especially when it comes to really figuring out what they need to work on and change.

I’m not talking about before we lose our temper, or say or do something we badly regret. Even the biggest tzaddik can fall prey to a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction brought about by their bad middot, and it’s the work of 120 to be able to uproot these impulses entirely.

I’m talking about after we’ve said or done something bad, or negative, and we’re still just justifying ourselves and coming up with tons of excuses to paint ourselves, and our behavior, or misjudgment, or mistake as whiter than white.

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Truth requires hitbodedut, it’s as simple as that.

And without truth, people don’t realise or accept just how much teshuva they really still need to make, especially when it comes to how they treat their spouse and kids.

At the same time, hitbodedut also overcomes the inbuilt tendency to be too hard on ourselves, and to beat ourselves up over every little thing. That’s also a big part of not being able to distinguish the yetzer hara from the yetzer tov, because when God is bringing something that needs fixing to your attention in hitbodedut, He always does it gently.

But the yetzer just starts screaming in your face that you’re baddddd!!! And you did something wrongggg!!! And you’re worthlessssss!! And now, you’re going to get in so much trouble!!!

And who is going to make teshuva when that’s what they feel they have to go through every time they want to even take a peek at what they might need to fix? Answer: no-one.

But when you’re regularly doing hitbodedut, you’ll start to get some insight into why you’re acting the way you are, and you’ll start to be able to develop some real compassion for yourself, even while taking a much firmer stand on the negative actions and behaviors that really do need looking at and fixing.

(I talk a lot more about all this ‘snake brain’ vs ‘human brain’ stuff in THIS post.)

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SO, HOW BEST TO DO IT?

Here’s some tips to get you started:

  • Start small.

It can even be just a minute a day, if you’re pushed. It’s not so much about how long, but how consistent when you first start trying to talk to God, so pick a time frame that you know you will have the willpower to stick to, long term.

  • Do it every single day.

Even if you don’t feel like it. Even if you feel rotten. Even if you’re in a bad mood. Even if you’re in the best mood. Think of it like a meeting with the boss, a date with the man of your dreams, a lunch with a brilliant book agent (if you’re also a struggling writer J ) It’s not something you’re going to miss, come hell or high water. And I warn you now, that when your yetzer realizes that you’re trying to talk to God, it will throw everything at you, to try to prevent it.

  • Turn off your phone.

I think one of the reasons I’m so not ‘into’ the whole smartphone thing is because I know I can live without it for a whole hour every day. Do you know how liberating it is to not have to keep checking Whatsapp? (I’m guessing, as I don’t have it….) Phones are the #1 enemy of people trying to make some time to talk to God, so switch it off.

  • Do hitbodedut somewhere you feel comfortable.

At the beginning, a lot of people tend to feel ridiculous talking ‘to the wall’. What, I’m just going to sit here talking ‘to the wall’?!

But there are worse things.

I walk around my neighborhood doing hitbodedut, and I can tell you for sure that many people now have me pegged as one of the higher functioning mentally-disabled adults that go to the day centre just up the road from me.

If you’re worrying about your cred, or if you live in a small town where looking like a mad person isn’t actually an advantage for keeping the real crazies away, or if you’re worried you might bump into your boss or school principal, then it’s probably better to start off in your own home.

If you have a garden to sit in (and it’s not blizzarding or pouring) that’s often a good option, but be 100% guided by where you’ll feel comfortable actually talking. Out loud. Which brings me to the next point.

  • Yes, your lips have to move.

Not all the time, as talking to God is just as much about listening as it is talking, but if your lips aren’t moving and you’re just thinking it in your head, it’s not going to change the world in the same way.

God spoke the world into creation, and speech is still vested with a tremendous power to change reality. So if you really want to impact your reality, you have to speak. Not just think or write. Yes, thinking and writing can also be part of the hitbodedut process, just as they could be part of a relationship or conversation with a flesh-or-blood person. But the real communication occurs via talking.

I think of it like this: talking is my half of the conversation. The thoughts that come into my head in response to what I’m saying, or the things that I sometimes write down in my journal when I’m doing hitbodedut is how God is responding to me.

  • Build up slowly to an hour.

But don’t get demoralized if it takes ages to get there, or if you get stuck. Just keep going, talking every single day, and you’ll see how things start to get easier all by themselves. Talking to God is a privilege, so just hang in there, show your willing, and sooner or later, Hashem will help you to achieve it.

  • Don’t overdo it.

I know one man who decided doing a six hours wasn’t enough – he was going to do a 12 hours!!! He did the 12 hours – and that was the first and last time he ever did hitbodedut.

That’s an extreme example, most people’s yetzers are far more subtle. They’ll just keep persuading you if one hour is good, two hours is better – and if you have the time and inclination to do that, great!

The problem comes when you don’t have the time or inclination, but your yetzer has you convinced that doing less than 3 hours a day just isn’t worth it. Once you reach the hour a day, that is all you really need. There is no obligation to do more. If you really like talking to God, and you really want to talk longer, that’s great, go right ahead.

But if the idea of having to do more than a hour makes you feel a little resentful or burdened, or if you feel bad that you’re only  doing an hour….that’s a yetzer, and you should call it out.

(There’s another very common yetzer trick too, where it tries to persuade people that if they can’t do an hour straight off the bat every single day, they shouldn’t do anything at all. Again, this is baloney. Start small, keep it regular and build it up over time, and if you do that, you’ll end up acquiring hitbodedut as an enduring practice, not just a flash in the pan.)

  • Don’t try to control the process.

Yes, I know that there are shitot or methods for starting with thanking, then going into self-accounting and ending up, briefly, with requests. If that works for you, great, keep doing it. There’s also a shita that says go through the last 24 hours, and try to think about every thought, word or deed to see if it was OK. Again, if that works for you, great, keep doing it.

I’ve never done my hitbodedut either of those ways. The one thing I do is to start off by making a declaration that I am binding myself to the tzaddikim, and binding myself to the mitzvah of loving my fellow Jew as myself, as found in the back of Rav Arush’s book In Forest Fields.

Then, I’ll say some thank yous about whatever comes to mind – some days that lasts less than half a minute, others, it can go for much longer. And then, whatever God puts into my head is what I talk to Him about.

Sometimes, I’ll have the intention to discuss subject A, and subject B is what I end up doing the whole hour on. I’ve learnt that whatever God wants me to look at, that’s what is going to come into my hitbodedut.

I get some of my best article ideas walking around on a Shabbat morning, for example. I used to feel a bit bad about this, until I realized that for whatever reason, this is how God is making things play out.

So, if apparently random, weird, unrelated or ‘secular’ things start coming into your hitbodedut – let them, and don’t try to force the issue. God knows what He’s doing.

  • But do feel free to look for some inspiration.

When I have some thorny issue, or dilemma, or big question, I sometimes go and look for some ‘clues’ in holy works about what is really going on, here.

For example, this morning I was talking to God about a certain issue that one of my kids has, and I decided to go to my ‘Tehillim cards’, and to just take one randomly, as a starting point. I got one that said “Let go, then you will know I am Hashem” that had a picture of a man on a horse jumping over the Grand Canyon.

It sparked off a whole flood of thoughts and emotions – not least, that the last time I tried to ‘let go’ I just ended up crumpling at the bottom of the cliff, because it didn’t seem like God had caught me at all.

That opened up a whole line of enquiry that shone a spotlight on some unhelpful attitudes that have been hiding out and tripping me up for quite a while, which today I finally started to get a grip on.

I did quite a long hitbodedut on it today (4 hours), and by the end, I came to realise a lot of things about my failed house purchase, for example, and why it really was a hidden blessing. Very hidden! So hidden, it’s taken me 6 months to even start figuring it out, but thanks to hitbodedut, the answers are starting to come as to why that had to happen.

So if you’re stuck, feel free to look for some external inspiration to kick-start the conversation, and then see where God will take you.

  • Don’t do hitbodedut like a self-righteous jerk.

How I wish someone had told me this when my kids were younger, but if your kids need you – and it’s important – then your hitbodedut really has to wait, or get split up and disturbed. It took me years to realise that not talking to my kids because I was talking to God was actually not the smartest thing to do, for a lot of reasons.

When the penny finally dropped, I started doing my hitbodedut much earlier in the day, before they woke up, so I wouldn’t have to choose between talking to them or talking to God.

These days, I will also interrupt hitbodedut for my husband too, if necessary, and very rarely for others who have a serious need to speak to me right then.  I used to have pronounced OTD tendencies that made me feel like I’d have to start the whole hour over again if I got interrupted, or that it wouldn’t ‘count’ if someone else interrupted it. I’ve since realized that I was just being crazy J. Nowadays, if I get unexpectedly interrupted, I’ll just add an extra 5-10 minutes on to the end, and I know God understands and it still counts as a full hour.

  • If your hitbodedut isn’t working for you, change it up

If you keep falling asleep, that’s probably because you need to do something active while talking to God, like taking a walk or hanging the laundry, or going for a drive. If you can’t concentrate, maybe you need to just go somewhere quiet and sit. If you can’t find time to do it in the evening before you get too tired, do it first thing when you wake up. If you can’t even think before lunchtime, do it later.

Do it with a coffee in your hand, or a fruitjuice, or even a piece of cake – whatever it is that’s going to get you looking forward and willing to talk to God.

If your hitbodedut isn’t working for you, then try to figure out why. Many mums feel guilty taking the time for themselves, for example, which is when ‘housewife hitbodedut’ can really come into its own. You’re doing the chores you need to do, while also taking care of your inner dimension.

If you just can’t find an hour any way you slice it, split it up into two half an hours a day, or three 20 minutes. The point is to just keep coming back and trying again and changing things, until you find the way that works for you.

8 years ago, I used to get up at 5.30 every morning, and walk around my village for an hour talking to God, before my kids woke up. Then we moved to Jerusalem, and walking around early felt less ‘safe’, and my kids started staying out so late that I just couldn’t wake up at 5.30 anymore either, so it switched to 6.15 in bed.

Starting last year, after we moved to Baka, I’ve gone back to trying to do it walking around when I wake up, most days. But some days I also do it in the car, if I have a long drive somewhere, or I’ll do it painting, or (rarely….) tidying my house, or even at Kever Rochel of the Kotel.

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There is really no one way of doing hitbodedut.

If you enjoy talking to God, if you are starting to get some insights into your life, relationships and behavior, then keep doing it the way you are! And if not, then consider what tweaks are required to help you get more out of it.

But don’t give up!

Because regular hitbodedut is the only way anyone can really make the leap from fake, pretend-perfect person to real, I-know-I’m-crazy, happy Jew.

And to give Seal the last word: we’re never gonna survive, unless, we get a little crazy.

  • If you have questions or comments about the practical aspects of doing hitbodedut, ask away, or email me, and I’ll do my best to respond.

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The last couple of months, it’s been striking me that more and more of us are being challenged to finally cross that ‘very narrow bridge’ that each of us has in our own lives, which is somehow separating us from God.

For one person, their ‘bridge’ might be the realization that they’ve been an absolutely awful, deranged, abusive spouse. For another person, the ‘bridge’ might be the sudden understanding that they’ve been wasting years – decades! – running after their business, or their job, or their big house in the pursuit of the chimera called ‘financial security’ which was meant to take away all their anxiety and finally make them feel good.

Yet another person has to cross the bridge that shows them that they’ve effectively turned into the parent they despised as a child, while someone else will have to cross a ‘bridge’ of extreme loneliness, or extreme despair, or extreme anger to find God and emuna and true solace on the other side.

But here’s one thing I’ve learned about crossing the very narrow bridge: no-one else can do it for you.

A spouse, a parent, a friend, even a rabbi or a Rebbe, they can stand on the side and shout encouragement, they can even tie ropes to you and try to drag you over, but when it all comes down to it, there is only one person who can actually cross that bridge: you.

This has a lot of profound implications, at least for me, when it comes to trying to figure out how to help people cross their narrow bridges. As time goes on, I’m seeing more and more that really the only help I can give them is encouragement to turn to Hashem with all of their problems.

Sure, I can spend hours having lengthy conversations about how cruel and unfair and mad the world is, or how ‘horrible’ everyone else is, or how ‘x’ is really the solution to the problem (‘x’ being anything other than complete emuna in Hashem) – but ultimately, I’ve discovered that all those words don’t actually help so much.

The same goes for trying to throw money or tangible help at someone else’s ‘big issue’. Anything I can do easily, that’s not going to drag me into madness and upset in my own life, I’m willing to do 100%. But in the past I used to think that I could somehow ‘fix’ other people’s issues, if I only threw enough understanding, cash or effort at the problem.

Now I know better.

Now, I know that each of us is being challenged to the cracking point by Hashem, and that no-one else can take our problems away until and unless we make teshuva and wholeheartedly return to God.

That’s the whole point of why all the craziness is going on, and having other people step in to try to soften the blow or deflect the difficulty is actually not helping the suffering person very much at all, at this stage of the game, external appearances notwithstanding.

Tachlis, each of us has a very narrow, scary bridge to cross, to get to Hashem and Moshiach and the geula.

On one side, is all our arrogance, belief in our own abilities, ‘security blankets’ and imaginary ideas about how the world really works, and how much we’re in control.

On the other, is Hashem and emuna and the geula.

And no-one else can cross that bridge for us.

When I first started doing some serious hitbodedut, or personal prayer, I got a lot of miracles.

My kids were miraculously accepted to a popular school that had ‘no room’ for new students. We sold a house in Israel from start to finish in 6 weeks – plus it sprung a huge, enormous leak in the middle of the sale that caused terrible water damage everywhere, but everything still went through. We found a just-about-affordable house to buy in a new location that was standing empty in the middle of April, when we had to move, etc etc etc.

So five years’ back when my husband had been influenced by what I’ll call a ‘pseudo-Breslov’ spiritual guide who loved to tell his students that with enough prayer, you could force God to give you anything you wanted, and wanted to quit his job to ‘let God provide’ I went along with it.

You should know that I did a lot of soul-searching about this decision first, and the answer that I got back in my hitbodedut was always ‘let him quit’. Not because it was going to be easy or a walk in the park – anything but – but because it was going to rectify a lot of things, spiritually.

In the meantime, my husband quit and was happy as a lark for around a month.

Then the economic reality started to sink in, and he started to do one six hour prayer session after another, asking God to send him the money we needed to survive, without him working.

Just to complicate matters, we were also trying to move to Jerusalem at the time, as our rabbi (not the pseudo-Breslover) had made some very strong statements that all of his students should live in Jerusalem, and we were trying to comply. I was also doing lots of six hour sessions – I forget how many – devoted to asking Hashem to help us to find and buy our own suitable place in Jerusalem.

This is where the story seems to have gone a little ‘wrong’, at least from my very limited perspective.

My husband’s prayers for parnassa apparently weren’t answered: things got so bad financially that we ran out of money for food, and a couple of good friends kept us afloat for two months so we could even afford ‘luxuries’ like toilet paper, while our house sale went through and we could breathe a little again.

In the meantime, the ‘pseudo-Breslover’ had done such a good job of convincing my husband that work was evil and bad that the only way he could contemplate going back to work without upsetting Hashem was by trying to open up an ‘outreach’ place in the Old City, which burned through a huge amount of our house money, and ended in total, abject failure.

Even then, my husband struggled so much to overcome all the programming from the ‘pseudo-Breslover’ to be able to go back to work again. It took a couple of chats with Rav Arush (and probably a secret bracha…) and many long months of complete mental torture before he could pull himself together and go back to being a lawyer again.

In the meantime, we’d run out of money for a deposit.

And that wasn’t the only challenge on the house front, the one that I’d been praying for so much, for so many months and now years. At the time we moved to Jerusalem, we found what we thought was an ideal, big, spacious flat that also had a separate rental unit. This was just after we sold our house, so we could still just about afford it.

We got down to trying to go to contract – and the seller promptly told us they were doubling the price to more than 4 million shekels, WAY out of our budget.

Everything where we wanted to buy literally doubled over-night, giving us no options to even consider. We struggled to even find a rental, and ended up with an overpriced, small place with a neo-Nazi landlord from Tel Aviv who used to launch surprise raids on ‘his apartment’ where he’d stalk around the place yelling at me for ruining it’s aesthetic appeal by hanging my washing up.

Then, he jacked up the rent unilaterally after four months, giving us a week to agree or find someone else – so we found somewhere else.

The very modest apartment in the most downtrodden building in the area, where I’ve now been for two years.

Over the holidays, I was struggling mightily with many things this year, but a huge issue has been the question of where did all my prayers go? Where did all my husband’s prayers go? As well as doing loads of six hours, we also give a minimum 10% charity, and it says you can test God on charity, that if you give generously He’ll pay you back.

In two more days, I have to sign the lease on this place for another year. I can’t move anywhere more affordable without seriously disrupting my kids again, who now have friends in the area, and also my husband, who is close to the Yeshiva.

Plus, I kind of like my area, except for the fact that I need a million dollars to even consider buying my own apartment here, and renting something decent will set me back a cool 10-12,000 shekels a month. Even the rent I’m paying on my dumpy place is more than my mortgage used to be.

We’ve started trying to save for a deposit, but at the rate we’re going it will take us about 60 years to get there….

And in the meantime, I feel like I just can’t carry on living where I live anymore. I can’t entertain. I have no space to myself. It’s pretty hard for me to cook in my tiny kitchen. I have just one toilet and germ issues about other people using it. (Please note: I’m an Anglo who has lived in very big houses up unto this point, so I’m clearly moaning about things that a lot of Israelis don’t even notice.)

The only solution appears to be an open miracle…but over the holidays, I realized I’ve given up on miracles. After so many years, so many prayers that apparently weren’t answered, something has broken on the ‘waiting for miracles’ front.

Rav Berland teaches that when there is nothing else to say, nothing else to pray, you just have to dance.

I schlepped all over the place yesterday on Simchat Torah, trying to find somewhere to dance. It wasn’t so successful. So in the end, I came home and tried to dance by myself for a bit, to Rebbe Nachman’s song:

‘Mitzvah gedola lehiot be simcha’.

I know big miracles are possible. I know they do occur. What I still don’t know at this stage is whether I’m going to get one again. Part of me can’t wait around for miracles any more without going absolutely crazy. (As I type this, someone has been loudly drilling next door for an hour already, and the whole place is shaking. I read all those stories about authors taking off to quiet country hideaways for a year to write their latest books and I can’t help laughing my head off.)

At the same time, part of me knows I have no choice except to wait around for miracles.

If I give up on God’s mercy at this point, it really won’t be pretty.

God is actually very simple.

He runs His world with the utmost simplicity and clarity, just we human beings like to get in the middle of things, and make them a whole lot more complicated and messy than they need to be.

For example, humanity came up with the idea that things can be ‘neutral’, i.e., neither good, nor bad, just kind of something in the middle.

Really?

That’s hogwash. There is nothing ‘neutral’ in the whole world, because if you really take things back to the most basic level, something is either ‘good’ or it’s ‘bad’, and there is nothing in between.

So now, we hit the next level of confusion and muddled-thinking: How can we know what’s truly ‘good’ and what’s truly ‘bad’, anyway? In today’s world, where moral relativism rules and the politically-correct Powers That Be keep changing the goal posts, how are we meant to be able to define ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in any meaningful way?

But God, in His infinite wisdom, even has a very simple, never-fail answer for that, too:

When something brings you closer to God, then it’s GOOD.

When something takes you further away from God, then it’s BAD.

And nowhere does this hold most true than in the realm of human health.

If walking five miles a day brings you closer to God, and is really helping you to get in touch with that spark of the Divine inside of you, aka your soul, then it’s a great thing. But if it’s doing the opposite – then it’s not.

If eating the sprouted bread is bringing you closer to God, and giving you the energy you need to fulfill your Divinely-ordained mission in the world, and to be nicer to people (including yourself) then it’s wonderful. But if your strict diet is isolating you, or stopping you from doing things that would fill you up with joy and gratitude, or causing you to adopt a judgmental, superior, or critical attitude towards your fellow human beings (or yourself) – then it’s really NOT good for you.

And so on, and so forth.

This measure of true goodness is so flexible that you can apply it to absolutely everything, from relationships, to beliefs, to habits, or even, to bars of chocolate.

Because sometimes, even eating a bar of chocolate for lunch can be a ‘good’, holy thing.

The famous Jewish mystic Rebbe Nachman of Breslev taught that if we don’t consciously make the effort to attach our breath, and our thoughts to ‘good’ and to God, then we automatically become attached to the opposite.

The opposite of God is NOT neutral, although so many of us believe that such a thing exists, especially in the spiritual world.

The opposite of God is ‘bad’.

It’s evil; it’s hatred; it’s jealousy, and arrogance, and intolerance, and greed, and selfishness, and superficiality – and all those other horrible things that are making our world a difficult place to live in.

I know, that’s not at all ‘PC’, is it? Most of us don’t like to hear that the world is full of these things, even though we see human misery and suffering all around us.

So to sum up, every time we connect ourselves to God in some way, we are connecting to good, and hopefully bringing more of that good, and love and kindness into the world.

And every time we don’t, and we pretend that we don’t need to connect to the Creator, then we automatically connect ourselves to the opposite of God.

And that explains a lot about why the world currently looks the way it does, doesn’t it?

Now that all the hooha about yoja has dimmed down a little, I think it’s time to look at another disturbing ‘pseudo-spiritual’ practice.

In the alternative health world, there are three main sacred cows, as follows:

  • Yoga
  • Healthy food
  • Meditation

The basic idea is that if you do all three of these things, your life will be perfect, your will float through all your troubles like a serene fairy, and you will only enjoy complete health and happiness.

Of the three, healthy food is by far the least troubling, although it’s true that everything can be taken to an extreme when God somehow gets forgotten about.

And we’ve already gone a long way to exposing the flawed thinking (and bona fide idol worship) behind yoga – and God willing, I hope to put together a special report on why yoga is NOT for believing Jews very soon, that you can download and share around.

So that leaves us with meditation.

Now, what could possibly be wrong with meditation, you ask? Isn’t meditation just the same sort of idea as the Breslev practice of hitbodedut, or personal prayer? The short answer is: no, no, and absolutely not.

Here’s why: the goal of meditation, even so-called ‘Jewish’ meditation, is to empty your mind of all thoughts, and concentrate on your breathing, and on experiencing your ‘nothingness’. God is completely out of the picture. (More on this shortly.)

At the holistic health event, I actually went to a couple of what was billed as ‘Jewish’ meditation classes, to get a feel for what really goes on with it all, and how it compares to hitbodedut.

In one class, that had bells, and Tibetan glass bowls, and few other props (plus very strict instructions to turn all mobile phones completely off) – I spent a whole hour being told I was a drop merged in the huge Kinneret, separate but part of something much bigger. There was also a lot of talk of being merged in the ‘velvet blackness’ that exists somewhere beyond the world. Just as I started to get really uncomfortable, Hashem finally made an appearance – we were to imagine the four letters of God’s ineffable name, etc.

At the end of that class, I went over to the teacher and asked him straight out:

How does this sort of meditation help you to fix your bad middot, or negative character traits? I mean, really cool that I got to relax a little and be a raindrop in the Kinneret, but if that’s all I spent a whole hour doing every day, then what on earth was the point?

I asked the teacher (who in fairness, did seem a whole lot more sincere than a lot of the other people there) to tell me how this type of meditation had helped him to become a nicer person, or get closer to God – because when people can only tell you those types of things if they’ve actually experienced them.

He replied by telling me that I should picture Hashem’s ineffable four letter name, and picture it washing away all my bad middot. It sounds good in theory, but in practice it’s baloney. In order for us to change our negative character traits and really improve ourselves, we have to change how we treat people in the real world. We have to apologise. We have to acknowledge our bad behavior. Sometimes, we have to make some difficult choices that are going to completely shake up our lives, make us look bad, or cause us some serious discomfort.

All of that was missing in the whole ‘raindrop’ meditation thing.

I will come on to other problems with it in the next post, but I just wanted to mention the other ‘Jewish meditation’ I went to. This one was taught by a very nice, sincere rabbi who’d spent years studying the teachings of Rav Aryeh Kaplan.

Again, we had to focus on our breathing, or on the birds, and not think about anything else. Then, we had to walk around the room super-slowly, and concentrate on how our feet were lifting up and being set back down again, super-slowly.

While this was miles better than the other version, not least because the Rabbi actually talked directly about God, and about connecting to God, and even had a ‘Shema meditation’ to share with us, I still had a problem with it:

How does focusing on my breathing, or the birds, or my walking, help me to fix my bad middot? How does it help me to get the advice I need to move forward in life, or to figure out all the knotty issues and problems in my life, or to be nicer to my husband and kids?

I asked the Rabbi, and he responded along the lines that when you realize that God is behind everything, then you can’t get angry at people any more.

Again, it’s a miles-better approach than the first guy, but practically speaking? I still don’t think it’s a very practical idea. I’ve spent years working on my bad middot, and things are really not that straight-forward, easy or simple.

By contrast, Rav Arush teaches that you have to spend a full half an hour every single day, asking God to nullify a single bad character trait, or negative habit – and even then, it can still take years before it’s fully gone, particularly if it’s one of your ‘big’ issues. There’s layers and layers and layers to this stuff, which is why our Rabbis taught that it’s easier to learn the whole Shas then to change even one character trait.

And here, I was being told that listening to birds and watching myself walk slowly was going to do the trick….

Who was right?

Was I just being judgmental, or was there some other, deeper, reason for how uneasy and uncomfortable I was feeling about the whole subject? I came home, cracked open Rebbe Nachman’s Likutey Moharan – and the answer was staring me straight in the face. I’ll share it with you in the next post, God willing.

Over the last decade, I’ve been to a ton of kevarim, or graves of holy people, all over the place.

I’ve visited the patriarchs and matriarchs in Hevron; the tomb of King David in the Old City, the Rashbi, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, up in Meron; the Ari and Rabbi Yosef Karo in Tsfat; the grave of Rachel Imenu, near Bethlehem – and all the Ukraine lot besides, including Rebbe Nachman, the Berditchever and the Baal Shem Tov.

But there’s one grave that’s stood out as a ‘must visit’ – and because it’s in the middle of a heavily populated Palestinian town with pronounced terrorist tendencies, getting to it has been pretty tricky, the last 10 years.

Yosef’s tomb is in Shechem, and you can only get to it if you go as part of a midnight convoy on armoured buses, with the whole trip coordinated with the Israeli army.

Long story short, until last Sunday, I’d never been able to organize everything to go. But a couple of days’ earlier, someone told me about a trip that was leaving on Rosh Chodesh Shvat, and even sent me an email with all the details.

I called them up Sunday morning – still only half interested, if I’m honest, as I like my sleep and Shechem is a 2 hour shlep by bus from Jerusalem – and there was a place free. So I decided to go.

I get to the bus stop in Jerusalem, and the first person I see there is a former room-mate from Uman, who starts telling me the most amazing, miraculously-hair-raising true stories of sons who recovered from terminal illnesses after doing a pidyon nefesh with Rav Berland; and people who dropped dead the day after they finished translating a particular Breslev book into English; and miraculous moving-apartments-with-no-money stories.

I took a breath of cold air, and I could smell Rabbenu all around me – it was that same heady mix of uncertainty, kedusha and surrealism that so often comes with me to Uman, when I’m going to visit Rebbe Nachman.

You start feeling like ‘anything can happen’, and it can be quite unnerving, if still exhilarating at times.

The bus showed up – and it was an old bullet-proof clunker with double windows so thick and scratched, you couldn’t see out of them at all. It was like being blind-folded and led off down an alley. I tried to fall asleep, and I mostly managed.

I woke up a few minutes before the convoy drove into Shechem (at least, that’s what I guessed, because I couldn’t see a thing through the window) and then the bus pulled over to the side of the road, and we got the order to move out. I stepped out of the bus, and into Arab Nablus at 2am.

It was a cold, clear night, and you could see Yosef’s tomb 50 metres ahead – surrounded by a whole bunch of army APVs and soldiers in all sorts of combat gear, many of whom were holding really big guns.

How cool! I thought. Then: How weird, to be visiting a kever at 2am with half a platoon of the IDF and a whole, very mixed, crowd of people from across Israel.

There were families with small kids, teens, chareidim, hill-top youth with huge payot, sem girls, Chassidic matrons from Monsey, yeshiva students from London, wives, grannies and everything in between, besides.

I tried to grab two minutes by the kever, before it turned into a tin of sardines, and then I spent the rest of my short time there standing outside the building, trying to take it all in. You could see dark Nablus towering up the slopes all around the tomb, and I thought this must look pretty impressive in the day time. (Maybe one day I’ll find out…)

I tried to do some personal prayer, but the truth is that between the trip, the tiredness and the surreal situation, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed and speechless.

So I watched, and this is what I saw: secular soldiers and chareidi men laughingly posing for pictures together; hundreds of people playing musical instruments and loudly celebrating Rosh Chodesh; ‘hill top yoof’ digging up the ground near the tomb and putting up a big blue tent (I still have no idea what all that was about, but it looked distinctly naughty; two teenage girls sat on the floor wrapped in the same blanket, reciting tehillim.

And the last thing I saw, just before I left, was a couple of teenage boys lugging a six pack of coke bottles around with them. At least, that’s how it looked from a distance, until I noticed a whole bunch of tubes were sticking out of the coke box, and were attached to one of the boys. The boy looked really ill – he had that ethereal, angelic quality that a person can get when they’re physically very frail. His friend had ‘disguised’ his respirator, or whatever it was, in a coke box, so his friend wouldn’t feel embarrassed while visiting the tomb.

That sight brought tears to my ears, and I said to God: Who is like your people, Av haRachamam?

There’s me complaining about making this grueling trip in the middle of the night, but look at all the old people, and small kids, and sick teens that have showed up here today, just to celebrate with Yosef HaTzadik. Unbelievable.

A little while later, we were back on the bus, and heading back to Jerusalem. As kever trips go, it was pretty uneventful in some ways – I had no big flashes of inspiration, no massive insights, no answers to big questions. What I did have, though, was a renewed appreciation for my fellow Jews.

Who is like your people, Am Yisrael?

Will I go back? Maybe. Not soon. It took me a day to recover and I’m still a little ‘out of it’ now. But one thing I can tell you for sure: Yosef’s tomb reminded me a lot of Rebbe Nachman’s. It was the same energy, the same intensity, the same holy madness. So something tells me that sooner or later, I will be going back.

So, in the last post I was talking about how my superficially-frum bubble got burst last year,

by a few people who looked 100% the part externally, but who were actually very far away from compassion, emuna, truth and a real understanding of what God really wants from us.

For years, I’d been blindly following them down a path of increasing severity and external piety, all the while thinking that God really wanted me to graduate to a padded head-band and bullet-proof stockings, and that that would be the pinnacle of kedusha and yiddishkeit.

Man, I was so miserable being religious like that!

I felt like I’d lost everything that made me ‘me’, from my favourite jeans skirt, to my permission to read, to my ability to reach out and relate to people who weren’t super-machmir-frum-angels.

Then God did my the biggest favor of my life (although it didn’t feel like that at the time): He showed me that the people who were running off their mouths the loudest about other people’s flaws; and who were putting on the biggest show of being unimpeachable, super-holy rollers; and who were full of criticism and competition and superiority about their own apparently lofty religious levels, and what everyone else was meant to be doing – were actually very flawed people, with hugely problematic character traits.

They were selfish, jealous, competitive, untruthful, insecure and arrogant.

But they dressed impeccably in black and white, had big shtreimels, and ‘ticked all the boxes’ externally, 100%. To put it another way, they were living a huge lie, and the main people they were lying to about what was really going on was themselves.

I had such a strong reaction against their religious hypocrisy last year, that it’s only because Rabbenu was hanging on to me so tightly that I managed to hang on to my faith, albeit it still got pretty badly mangled.

It’s taken me months of praying and searching and asking God for help to really emerge out of the other side of the experience, but thank God, I think that’s the stage I’m now at. But I want to tell you what I went through, and what I learnt from it all, so it can hopefully help you to avoid having to go through the same sort of heartache and confusion.

There is so much that could be said, but I’m going to concentrate on two things, to try to make my point: the latest Star Wars movie, and my husband’s green jumper.

Last week, I saw an ad for another Star Wars installment, replete with an ancient-looking Harrison Ford (is that a wig, or what?) and all the latest hi-tech hoopla. I got pretty weird after I saw the ad, and started to feel all weepy, but didn’t know why.

A few hours of personal prayer later, and it struck me that I’ve seen every one of the previous 6  Star Wars movies, and they were kind of ‘movie milestones’ that cemented other key things in place that were going on in my life. In short, Star Wars isn’t just a movie for me, it’s a kind of self-reference point, a way of me pegging myself in the world. And now, that frame of reference was gone, and I was feeling pretty lost again about who I really was.

Then, the little voice in my head told me: give yourself permission to go and see it. So I did: I imagined getting it out on DVD; sitting down at my pc to watch it; how it would look, how I would feel before, during and afterwards. And at the end of that process, I knew with complete certainty: I do not want to watch this! It’s a waste of time, and will fill my head and soul with a lot of damaging stuff.

I felt so good!

The old ‘superficially-religious’ me would never have heard that little voice out; I’d have been far too worried about ‘where is this going to lead…’ – which means that really, I’d have been really pining to see the movie on the inside, where stuff really counts. This way, I brought the whole issue out into the open, and I CHOSE not to see it. And the difference is enormous.

Next, I came and had a serious talk with my husband about the whole ‘package’ we got sold by the religious phoneys a few years’ back, who made us feel like we were so materialistic for doing things like holding down a job, wanting a nice place to live, and not devoting ourselves to the cause (ie, their cause…) 24/7.

Thanks to them, my husband felt like he was a terrible person for working.

Thanks to them, we both felt like we were letting God down, every time we wanted to take a day’s holiday, or buy something new that wasn’t directly connected to keeping Shabbos or a yom tov. Thanks to them, we ended up financially broke, spiritually broken and completely alone in the world, trying to jump through more and more impossible hoops to keep their harsh version of God appeased.

(Yes, I know it was all from God, and all for the good, but that’s a post for another time.)

So I came and asked my husband: that favorite olive green jumper of yours, that you couldn’t quite throw away, even though it wasn’t black or white. Do you think God would mind if you wore it again? Do you think you’ll be letting God down, somehow, if you decided that the ‘real you’ likes wearing olive green jumpers?

He looked at me shocked. But now he’s thinking it over, and we’ll see what happens next.

The point is not that he should, or shouldn’t wear it: the point is, that he, and me, and all of us, should be asking ourselves

what does God really want?

Because there’s a lot of people out there telling us that God wants padded head-bands, and impossible religious perfection, and miserable, super-machmir, intolerant, superficial yiddishkeit that looks so impressive, but feels so horribly wrong.

But really? God wants the heart.

And if it happens to come packaged in an olive green jumper, I  have a feeling that’s fine by Him.

God always has a sense of humour:

In the middle of me pulling together a huge mountain of evidence that ‘science’ is increasingly coming to the view that parental emotional neglect is at the heart of pretty much every mental and emotional difficulty you care to mention, from the biggest to the smallest, I suddenly realized that I’m spending far too much time typing, and not enough time interacting with my own family.

Thankfully, my daily dose of hitbodedut, or personal prayer usually helps me to catch these problems while they are still relatively small, and to hopefully nip them in the bud. So it was, that as I was mulling over the whole concept of the ‘good enough mother’, and related ideas about being a ‘good enough Jew’, that it struck me that I spent most of yesterday ignoring all my family so I could get another few thousands words of my next book typed up.

One kid had just spent two whole days doing a bunch of amazing volunteer mitzvah activities with Bnei Akiva – and I was too tired to ask her anything about it. Another was clearly bored, but I gave her some cash to buy a ‘NeoCube’ and then went back to my computer, relieved to have got out of having to do anything more ‘hands on’ and interactive.

And my husband?

What, that guy that takes out the rubbish and sings zemirot on Shabbat? Well, he got back from Uman a couple of days’ ago, and I’ve still only heard a fraction of his stories and experiences.

Not unusually in my life, things had got out of balance again.

When my kids were small, and I had a career (that actually paid me really good money…) I realized I had to choose between putting my family first, or working, because I couldn’t do both. When I quit work, it was the best decision I ever made – and also the hardest. Writing is in my blood. Interacting and communicating is my life-force. But I just knew that if I didn’t take a few years’ off from pursuing ‘my interests’ my kids were going to end up emotional and spiritual wrecks.

The last few years, I’ve had to fix so many things spiritually in myself, and I came to a point last year where I thought I’d learnt enough lessons about what was really important to risk pursuing ‘my interests’ again. And generally speaking, I think that’s probably true.

But I’m learning that every day is still a balance, and every day I have to take the time to ask the question again:

Am I being a ‘good enough’ mother?

A ‘good enough’ wife?

A ‘good enough’ friend?

A ‘good enough’ Jew?

And recently, the answer has been coming back a bit too often: “no, you’re not! You’re getting too preoccupied with minutiae again, you’re losing track of the importance of people, of the beauty of a walk or conversation with someone you care for that isn’t ‘goal-orientated’.”

I bet you’d like to know how I’m defining ‘good enough’…

Well, it’s like this: Good enough is definitely NOT full-time perfect, 100% altruistic and angelic. If it was, no-one could achieve it, which would kind of defeat the whole point.

‘Good enough’ is a state where generally, I put my kids and husband and God and my own soul first enough of the time to let them know I care about them, I love them, and that they are the most important things in the world to me.

That doesn’t mean that I immediately stop what I’m doing every time my kid or husband wants something, for example, but that I stop enough times for them to know that if I didn’t stop on this occasion, either what I’m doing is really important, or what they want is really not.

Being ‘good enough’ means that when I know I’m dropping the ball, I don’t just sweep that understanding under the carpet or make excuses; I try to fix the problem.

So today, once I realized that it wasn’t ‘good enough’ that I hadn’t taken the time to ask my kid about her volunteering experiences, I decided to walk her to the bus-stop this morning, so she could tell me a little.

I was so pleased I did. I felt like the balance was starting to swing back again towards ‘good enough’, before I’d done enormous emotional damage to my child and made her feel unloved and invisible.

Being a parent, being a mother, is a huge responsibility, especially in this generation of emotional disconnect. If not for hitbodedut, I shudder to think how bad things could get before I’d take my head out of the computer and realize that my family, my children, my marriage were melting down.

And I don’t have wifi at home…I don’t have an i-Phone…I barely spend any time at all doing ‘extra-curricular’ activities with girlfriends, and having hour long catch up sessions on the phone.

And I’m still struggling to be ‘good enough’.

I know this isn’t easy reading. But I want you to know, dear wife, dear mother, that you, me and all of us CAN achieve that level of ‘good enough’ where our kids will turn out emotionally and spiritually-healthy, and know that they’re loved.

There’s a few things that will help us along the way:

  • Brutal honesty that often, we’re not ‘good enough’ and that the internet, the TV, the Facebook, and all the other external ‘fluff’, materialism and superficiality is still taking up far too much space in our lives
  • Huge amounts of self-compassion – that we want things to be different, that we want to be ‘good enough’, that we really do love our kids tremendously, and at least WANT to be ‘good enough’ for them
  • Massive amounts of humility – that without God in the picture, and regular doses of personal prayer, we’re not going to come anywhere near to really being ‘good enough’
  • Optimism and hope – that even when we’ve messed it up, and wrecked the relationship, and acted consistently selfishly, that it often only takes one sincere gesture, one genuine apology, one attempt to validate and accept the other person’s hurt feelings, to tip the whole thing back over into the measure of ‘good enough’ again.

How I discovered for myself that doing a pidyon nefesh with Rav Berland (aka Eliezer ben Etia) really works.

The last couple of years, I’ve been having an ‘interesting’ time, health-wise. If you’re occasionally visiting the spiritualselfhelp.org, you’ll know that I’m a big believer in soul, body and mind being intrinsically connected to each other.

In fact, that’s the main premise underpinning my next book that’s hopefully out soon, called ‘Talk to God and Fix Your Health’. The main idea is that physical illnesses are only the manifestation of ‘soul’ illnesses, which if they aren’t fixed at the spiritual level, next show up as ‘mental and emotional’ illnesses, and only then show up in the body.

As usual, I learn all this stuff the hard way.

I started writing that book to share my own experiences of getting stuck in a few incredibly difficult spiritual experiences, that had a massively negative impact on my emotional state, and then my physical health. To cut a very long story short, I had so many things going wrong the last couple of years’ that I got mired in a huge amount of desperation and despair, despite all my attempts to keep picking myself up in hitbodedut.

Let’s be clear that without the hitbodedut, I would not have come through losing my house, friends, business, money, faith in humanity and marbles anywhere near as easily as I did, but that doesn’t mean it was a ‘fun’ experience. There was one time last year, when me and my husband were utterly stuck financially, and we were reaching the end of the proceeds of selling our house that had been keeping us going, that I really felt as though my next move was going to be to a dumpster, God forbid.

I don’t know if you’ve ever hit that sort of low place in your own life, but let me tell you: if you stay there for any length of time, sooner or later it kills you.

You lose your will to live, to keep going, and that’s just not something that can continue for long without some serious consequences.

Things started to really turnaround last Chanuka, when I took a trip to Uman and spent most of it extremely angry at Rabbenu and God for dealing me such a difficult hand. But by the end of the trip, the anger had dissolved, the profound disappointment had surfaced, and the bad, icky stuff was finally making its exit, spiritually.

It still took a few months for things to pick up  in my actual life: Baruch Hashem, around Purim my husband started working again, and Hashem sent Him some easy ways to make parnassa that enabled him to carry on learning part-time in yeshiva, which had been our big dilemma as it seemed as though he’d only be able to go back to work if he stopped learning.

But physically, I was still wrecked.

I’d been living on my nerves for years and it took its toll. I felt drained and fatigued a lot of the time, and dizzy and ‘out of it’. I upped my energy med stuff, I started doing 3 tikkun haklalis most days, I stuck lentils all over my hand (that’s a story for another time) and it all helped. But I was still not 100%, most days.

Rosh Hashana rolled around, and the first day I felt so ill. It miraculously lifted just as nightfall fell, and I wondered what sort of year I was going to have. I hoped it was going to be different, better, and I told God I couldn’t cope with another few years’ like the last ones I’d been through. No way, Hose.

Things mostly got better, but then ‘the matzav’ kicked off, and I found my stress levels were going through the roof, especially after my kid’s teacher’s husband got stabbed to death in the Old City.

My nervous system, which was slowly recovering after all the financial stress, and moving stress, and social stress, and spiritual stress of not knowing what God really wanted from us, took a nosedive again, and I started to get pretty bad headaches, and to feel pretty lousy again.

O no! And this time, I was still drinking green smoothies, eating veggies, walking everywhere and doing my daily energy exercises and doing hitbodedut. I’d also made my peace with a bunch of people and God, so I had no idea what else I could do to start to feel better (other than move to somewhere quiet where everyone’s over the age of 60, like Switzerland…)

Enter: Rabbi Berland, aka Eliezer ben Etia

They’ve started translating a whole bunch of things about Rav Berland into English, and God arranged for me to read one story after another about people he’d helped who were facing much more serious health issues than me. People who the doctors had given up on. People who really had reached the end of the line.

These people had done a pidyon nefesh with Rav Berland, and got better again. I sat on the fence for a whole month, but then as the headaches and weakness kicked-in again, I decided I had nothing to lose except a bit of cash. We got in touch, I emailed the gabbay details of the problem – and from the minute I sent the email, I started to feel better.

Last week, I paid over the pidyon money (it was quite a lot still, but nowhere near what I  was expecting) – and I’ve broadly been headache free since then, despite having some ongoing huge stresses. (I know, I know, when are there not huge stresses?)

Somehow, the spiritual weight has been lifted off, and terrorists, school moves, financial issues and book production problems notwithstanding, I actually feel pretty darned good, BH!

But I was still cautious about rushing into print. I’ve learnt so many times that when I share these things, I get really tested on them, and I didn’t want to go back to feeling ill again. But then at the Baba Sali, I got nudged to write a public ‘thank you’ to Rav Berland, and to not worry about the outcome.

So here it is, in all its glory.

You can read more about Rav Berland’s pidyon nefesh HERE. You can get in touch and arrange your own pidyon nefesh HERE. You can read a whole bunch of background articles explaining how pidyon nefesh actually works and why HERE. And if you’re struggling with any serious or chronic health issue, I urge you to take the leap of faith, and contact his gabbay.

UPDATE:

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.