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Why ‘aliyah bullying’ is just a massive red herring.

For most of us who live in places where Chabad has a presence, we’ve got used to their ubiquitous little tables set up with tefillin, and the inspiring way they encourage so many Jews who otherwise wouldn’t give the mitzvah of laying tefillin a second thought, as they run around their busy lives.

Come rain or shine, those Chabad shlichim don’t miss an opportunity to call Jews over to them on the street, and ask them if they’d like to lay tefillin.

Let me ask you something:

Is that ‘tefillin bullying’?

I mean, there are 613 mitzvahs, and not everyone is going to have the privilege of doing all of them in one lifetime. Surely, when the Chabad shlichim are coaxing people to spend a few precious moment connecting to God, and putting God’s mitzvah of laying tefillin ahead of what they themselves wanted to be doing at that precise moment, that is a good thing, isn’t it?

Let’s explore another example.

Say, we have a guy who doesn’t eat kosher. Say, that guy has a ‘religious’ sister who is trying to encourage him to swear off the pork, and to only eat kosher meat. Let’s eavesdrop on that conversation, a little:

Sister: You know, my dear brother, every time you eat another rasher of bacon, it’s disconnecting you from God and doing terrible damage to your soul. You are such a refined Jewish neshama! Eating pork products is so beneath you, sweet brother. And also, God doesn’t like it very much.

Brother: I find your comment to be kosher bullying. You telling me that God doesn’t like it when I eat pork doesn’t help me to feel good about myself as a Jew, and it doesn’t help anyone.

Do we agree with him?

What about the Jewish boy who is seriously dating that nice, non-Jewish girlfriend? His mother realizes that things are getting serious, and arranges to have a last-ditch talk with him:

Mother: I know I didn’t raise you right, I know I didn’t take the Torah seriously, I know I put what was easy and comfortable for myself ahead of what God really wanted me to do, and how He really wanted me to live, as a Jew – but please, I’m begging you, don’t marry that girl! It’ll devastate me, and end 3,000 years of Jewish continuity, because your kids won’t be Jewish!

Son: Mother, I feel intimidated by these kind of comments. I’m fed up with all your nonsense about your grandchildren not being Jewish. I’m standing up for my rights to live exactly how I want. There are many, varied reasons why I just couldn’t find a Jewish girl to date, and at this stage, I don’t believe I need to.

[Mother bursts into heart-wrenching sobs].

Son (increasingly defensive…): I’m just defending my right to live my life and not be attacked because I can’t just break up with the woman I love and marry someone Jewish instead. Well done to you, mother, that you married a Jew, but spare a thought for those who have tried and failed to find a Jewish spouse. I had to date outside the faith just to get a girlfriend, and I have other Jewish friends who won’t even consider marrying a Jew now, because it was so hard for them on the Jewish dating scene.

Is this “don’t marry out” bullying?

And if the answer is ‘yes’, is that a bad thing?

If something is a mitzvah, if something is a Torah commandment, then surely we should be encouraging other Jews to do it, with all our strength? Part of the reason I’m so in awe of my local Chabad shlichim here in Jerusalem is that they are actively encouraging Jews to do mitzvahs every single day.

Come listen to the Purim Megillah!

Come join us for the Pesach Seder!

Come participate in Kaparot, come listen to a lecture on the Tanya, come give some tzedaka to build our new shul!

Do I have the wrong end of the stick here?

Instead of thinking how awesomely inspiring it is that they are constantly encouraging me to move out of my comfort zone, and to move past my laziness and apathy and yeoush and disinterest, I should be accusing them of mitzvah bullying, instead?

That doesn’t sound right to me.

Everyone has their reasons why certain mitzvahs are hard for them. For example, the mitzvah of covering my hair as a married woman is really, really hard for me. It was so hard for me, I didn’t do it for the first eight years I was married.

But that doesn’t meant that I started justifying what I was doing to myself, and explaining how my ‘mission’ in life didn’t include covering my hair, or how my big, important job working for the British government meant I had a free pass on covering my hair.

I didn’t cover my hair because I wasn’t sufficiently motivated to cover my hair, and my personal circumstances, outlook, work (and crazy, crazy big hair!) all made it very difficult to do.

But I still acknowledged I was in the wrong, and that God really did want me to cover my hair.

And, I was still very impressed by my friends and acquaintances who were covering their hair full-time, because I knew how much inner strength and determination that required.

So what changed?

Things changed when we finally got to Israel, and my parnassa hit the skids, and I started to realise that me not covering my hair – as well as a whole bunch of other ‘little’ things, like not benching after bread, and wearing jeans, and going to the movies – actually had some serious spiritual consequences, and was causing me a lot of issues in my actual day-to-day life.

I started covering my hair with such a bad grace – but my shalom bayit picked up instantly, and my parnassa also rebounded (not immediately. God likes to maintain something of an illusion with these things, to preserve our free choice.)

So now, I happily choose to cover my (still crazy….) hair, not because I like the mitzvah, not because it’s easy – it’s still so very, very hard, and I’ll post about all that another time – but because:

I realized this is what God wants.

And that doing what God wants makes my life so much easier and nicer.

There are certain spiritual rules God put in place for how He wants Jews to live, and how Jews can best maximize their spiritual potential. Sadly, plenty of Jews today don’t even know about these spiritual rules, and the mitzvoth that they are clothed in.

The fewer of these ‘rules’ a Jew operates by, the more difficult, stressful and challenging their lives inevitably will be.

So let’s ask this again, is it right to ‘lecture’ other Jews about doing mitzvoth?

That’s an interesting question, isn’t it? When people put out memes with “love your fellow Jew as yourself”, is that considered ‘lecturing’? How about if they share a shiur on avoiding sinat chinam and lashon hara?

Is that considered ‘lecturing’?

Couldn’t every single one of us turn around and say something like:

Nice for you, that you’re managing to avoid slandering people all the time and hating other Jews who are different, but some of us just couldn’t get there, hard as we tried. Some of didn’t have the strength to avoid participating in all the juicy gossip on Facebook. Some of us just couldn’t continue seeing the good in other people, some of us just had way too many bad middot to overcome to have the energy to start working on our own sinat chinam, even though we know deep down that’s preventing the geula and causing us so much suffering in our own lives.

But God is surely going to save me, despite all my bad middot and unrepentant aveirot! I don’t doubt that for a moment!

Couldn’t we all make that same argument about every mitzvah we find hard, and that we don’t really want to do?

And then what? Where does reward and punishment fit into this picture?

If a Jew can do anything they want, pick and choose their mitzvahs, then state that for sure, God is going to reward them exactly the same regardless of the mitzvahs they’re actually striving to do, or are saying they are ‘exempt’ from doing, that totally negates the concept of reward and punishment.

This is Judaism 101. This comes from Jewishvirtuallibrary.org:

The doctrine of reward and punishment is central to Judaism throughout the ages; that man receives his just reward for his good deeds and just retribution for his transgressions is the very basis of the conception of both human and divine justice.

Rambam states in the 11th of the 13 Principles of Faith that:

“God gives reward to he who does the commandments of the Torah and punishes those that transgress its admonishments and warnings. And the great reward is the life of the world to come; and the punishment is the cutting off of the soul [in the world to come]. And we already said regarding this topic what these are. And the verse that attests to this principle is (Exodus 32) “And now if You would but forgive their sins – and if not erase me from this book that You have written.” And God answered him, “He who sinned against Me I will erase from My book.” This is a proof that God knows the sinner and the fulfiller in order to mete out reward to one, and punishment to the other.”

Can you see the problem, here?

Moving to Israel is a mitzvah. (I know there are apparently ‘frum’ people who are so confused they are even doubting that, so please take a look at the daas Torah in this post, Deconstructing Aliyah, which sets out a whole bunch of real, actual Torah sources on the subject, if you’d like a change from all the ‘daas me‘ flying around the internet.)

So, if we’re going to start accusing other people of ‘aliyah bullying’ then we have to be consistent, and also start accusing other people of ‘kosher bullying’ and ‘tefillin bullying’ and ‘not marrying out’ bullying too, because as you can hopefully see for yourself, the same arguments are effectively playing out in each of these arenas.

It’s always hard to keep mitzvahs, in some ways. God expects us to keep striving out of comfort zone, to keep trying to give Him what He wants, and to not give up on the mitzvoth even when we can’t quite reach them.

I have so many mitzvoth I’m still struggling with, not least my own problems with lashon hara and anger.

I could turn around and give God a bunch of excuses why I still flip out and go ballistic – and they’d all be true! But that doesn’t change the picture that God says that getting angry is a very bad thing, and that He wants me to carry on working on it, until 120.

Sure, I can justify my bad behavior all I want.

But that doesn’t change the fact that God wants me to do better, and He wants me to get Him involved in really solving the issue.

So unless we’re also going to start accusing God of being a “good middot bully”, or a “keeping the Torah bully”,  it seems to me this whole ‘aliyah bullying’ idea is really just a massive red herring.

Why ‘confirmation bias’ is such a big spiritual problem

A long time ago, when infographics were still all the rage, I came across this infographic which clearly showed the 20 main ‘cognitive biases’, including confirmation bias. This infographic basically dissects the playbook the yetzer hara uses to convince us that we’re always right about everything, and that everyone else is always wrong. (Click the link to see a bigger version, this is just for illustration purposes.)

An infographic showing 20 cognitive biases including confirmation biasNow, I wouldn’t care so much, except that I’ve been noticing a strange phenomena around Volume II of One in a Generation, which is that most people don’t want to read it, and don’t want to talk about all the proof it contains about just how corrupt the media actually is.

For as long as the media was coming up with one false, salacious, slanderous story after another about Rabbi Berland (aka ‘Eliezer ben Etia’), my email was glowing red-hot with people wanting to have the discussion with me. Now that the other side of the story is out there, clearly, showing exactly how we all got manipulated, bamboozled and downright deceived by the MSM – no-one wants to know.

Yawn.

Now that we can conclusively show that all the lies about the Rav abusing women, God forbid, came down to the same two people who were trying to extort money out of Rabbi Berland, it’s no longer interesting.

What is still interesting, tho, is that the Rav is taking money to do pidyon nefesh for people. Ooooo, this is still so interesting, because the same ‘anti chareidi’ media who have been behind so many of the lies right from the start ran a whole big ‘splash’ campaign about it.

People paid money, and it didn’t work!!! He took money from people on their death beds!!!!

Etc etc etc.

I haven’t looked into the details of all these stories (yet…. I might do at some point) – but I personally know of two occasions when the pidyon nefesh didn’t work, and the person died. In both instances, the Rav offered to repay the whole sum.

When all is said and done, the Rav is not God, and God will still do as He sees fit.

On the other hand, I know of literally thousands of cases where the Rav’s pidyon nefesh worked open miracles, saved lives and totally turned around a lost situation. (Some of which actually happened to yours truly)

So now, who are you going to believe, the anti-chareidi, anti-God, atheist MSM with massive agendas, or people who have seen open miracles in their own lives?

Or rather, the question is who do you WANT to believe?

Because that’s really a far trickier problem. Here’s why so many people are still having a hard time believing that Rav Berland is a true tzaddik and a very holy man, as opposed to the ucky individual they read about online, and gossiped about with their friends, and attacked on Facebook:

  1. People are over-reliant on the first piece of information they hear – in this case, all the slanderous stories and lies put out by the Rav’s persecutors.
  2. People place too much credence on the limited information they have available – before they know all the facts of the matter.
  3. People like to jump on bandwagons – even when they’re heading in totally the wrong direction.
  4. People have blind spots about their own subconscious motivations and biases – so it suits them when a big Rabbi who spent his whole life telling people to ditch i-Phones and act in a holier way can be totally written off and ignored.
  5. Once people ‘choose’ a side, or a thing, they have a vested interest in protecting it at all costs – even if they’re wrong.
  6. “So many people are saying it, it must be true!!!” – of course they are, because they all read the same ucky, poisonous, anti-religion online news sites that you do.
  7. People only want to hear things that confirm their existing opinion – they are much more interested in being right than being truthful.
  8. People are very slow to change their minds about things – it can take a lot of repetition before they finally grasp what you’re trying to explain.
  9. People prefer to just gather more information, than to actually act on it – if they wait long enough, they are sure that ‘new information’ will emerge that will prove their original view point correct, and absolve them from any need to make teshuva or admit they were wrong.
  10. People are burying their head in the sand about just how bad and corrupted the MSM actually is – it’s a very uncomfortable thought to consider that the media might be spoon-feeding massive lies to the public. Much easier to ignore the whole problem and hope it will just go away by itself.
  11. “But he went to prison! There’s nothing more to discuss!!!” – this is called outcome bias.
  12. People are convinced that they know everything, and are always totally right – i.e. they suffer from tremendous arrogance.
  13. People WANT to believe that the news is factual, so that makes them believe that the news IS factual – the alternative scenario is far too scary.
  14. People believe the newest stuff is always more relevant than the older stuff – hey, all that abusing women stuff is old news!!! We already moved on to how the Rav is extorting money out of terminally-ill people now! Talk to the hand!
  15. People don’t like to re-examine the past – they prefer to deal with what’s in front of their eyes today, i.e. more lies and slanders that haven’t yet been refuted or disproved.
  16. People pander to their own world views – many people are much more ‘comfortable’ with the idea of abusive rabbis than they are with the idea that the press is a lying, manipulative, anti-God, propaganda machine.
  17. People believe what they want to believe. (This needs no additional explanation).
  18. People rely on stereotypes instead of facts – of course, all Breslov rabbis with large followings and mystical tendencies must be ‘crazy’ or ‘bad’.
  19. People believe the media is always right – because the media very rarely, if ever, tells them about the thousands upon thousands of factual errors and false stories it’s putting out there, every single day.
  20. People prefer their comfortable lies to the uncomfortable truth – even though that’s keeping them far away from God, stuck and miserable.

Truth vs lies

Sadly, I’ve come to the conclusion that the number of people who are happy to stay stuck in the web of lies and deceit that is modern life is far greater than those who are looking for the truth. And I can understand where they are coming from, kind of.

Who wants to be a social pariah by calling out all their Fakebook friends who spent two solid years posting up self-righteous rants dripping with lashon hara bout Rabbi Berland? Who wants to really take a look under the bonnet and realize just how many flaws and issues they themselves actually have? Or how many people they are hurting with their own ucky behavior?

Who really wants to ‘fess up to being duped by unethical journalists, or to following rabbis and others who aren’t the real deal, or to having a vested interest in trying to make an elderly Breslov tzaddik look ‘bad’ to make themselves feel better about their own obsessions with internet, licentiousness, gossip, ego-stroking, making money and materialism?

You can see why it’s so challenging, honestly.

But here’s the problem:

All that stuff that’s keeping us away from acknowledging the truth about Rabbi Berland is the same stuff that’s going to keep us away from the world to come, too.

Geula is mamash on the threshold, and we can’t cross over into it for as long as we’re still dragging all that arrogance, hatred and bad middot behind us. God isn’t asking us to be perfect, He knows that’s impossible. He’s just asking us to be truthful, and to put our hands up and to admit that we make mistakes, and we have vested interests, and we do a lot of things wrong and hurt a lot of people, every single day.

A bit of truth and humility is all that’s required to get us into the world to come.

But judging by what’s going on with Rav Berland and One in a Generation Volume II, even a bit of truth and humility is way beyond what most people can apparently manage.

I’m just cutting and pasting this from ravberland.com. BH, as many of us as possible will come, and also tell our friends and family to join in, however they can. We have come down to the wire, and from tomorrow, things are going to be very different in Israel – hopefully only in a good way!

If you’re in Israel, please make the effort to come. I heard from my source that whoever comes, things will go much sweeter for them personally, from here on in.

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Make or Break – Everything depends on tonight!

Six years ago, the landscape in Eretz Yisrael – particularly for religious Jews – was pretty bleak. Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid had just come to power, and they wasted no time in imposing a raft of laws designed to break the Torah world, and uproot a Torah-observant lifestyle.

Civil marriages, banning circumcision, forced drafting of chareidi young man into the army – and everyone knew this was only the beginning of an onslaught against orthodox Judaism.

Ultimately, the war against Torah Jewry was stopped by a war of a different kind, when the Gaza border erupted in rocket attacks, where thousands of rockets rained down on the country on many separate occasions, but most notably, as the precursor to Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, and Operation Protective Edge in the Summer of 2014.

And then, there was the Iranian nuclear threats against Israel, which had the Israeli government totally panicked that Israel was in the cross-hairs of an Iranian nuke, God forbid, with no way of preventing it.

At precisely that time, Rav Eliezer Berland went into exile, and took it upon himself to be slandered and humiliated, in fulfillment of Rebbe Nachman’s teaching in Likutey Moharan, I:260 that:

“The name is the soul….This concept involves the surrender of the soul…to sanctify God’s name….

The same applies to the loss of one’s [good] name, specifically, for a person with a famous name….

But another person does this intentionally and consciously, surrendering his soul for the sanctification of God’s name. He surrenders his fame – his “name”, corresponding to the soul – and on account of this, although he is renowned, he is not famous at all.

On the contrary: everyone talks about him, conjuring stories about him that he would never have dreamed of doing. He experiences this as if he was literally being killed. He does this intentionally, because it is a literal self-sacrifice of soul, for the name is the soul, as said, and he experiences it as death.

But in this way, he saves the Jewish people from what would have happened to them in order to facilitate this unification, as said, and by thus sacrificing his soul, which is his name, he spares them.”

Over the last six years, there have been many atzerets, or prayer gatherings.

They’ve all been held at crucial points in the unfolding process of trying to sweeten the massive judgments that are due to come down to the world before the next stage of the redemption process can begin.

Some were held at the Kotel, some were held at Hevron, at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, and all of them helped to avert disaster, and to move us on to the next stage.

But tonight’s prayer gathering is probably the last of its type, and the most important one of all.

Over the last few months, Rav Berland has been hinting that we have come as far as we can go with the current situation, and we are now at a vital crossroads.

If 50,000 people show up this evening, to come and pray with the Tzaddik and add their ‘soul power’ to that of the Tzaddikim, then we can still sweeten what’s to come considerably, and have the best shot of having geula “the sweet way’.

If not…We dread to think what is around the corner.

Rav Berland told us months ago that our enemies have tens of thousands of rockets pointed at Israel, primed and ready to go, and that no “Iron Dome” can help stave off disaster. He told us recently that the decrees had been postponed for six years, since 2013, but now we are at the turning point, once again.

He said just a couple of days ago that there is an awful decree that has been made in Heaven, that the anti-Torah politicians are going to re-start their war against the Torah world in 10 days time.

And every time there is a war against Torah in Israel, that very quickly leads to a war of a different type, on our borders.

THIS IS MAKE OR BREAK.

There will be a live hook-up here, on the ravberland.com site, for those who are physically unable to come because they live outside of Israel. For everyone else, we urge you to please attend the prayer gathering this evening, which will begin at 10pm at the Mearat HaMachpela in Hevron.

There will be subsidized buses leaving from across the country, and this appears to be our last chance to come together in unity and prayer, to bring the next stage of redemption the sweet way.

Please, come yourself, and encourage others to come too, or at least, to join in online and add their prayers to the tefillot of those who are participating in person.

Because it’s clear that from this point on, things are going to change radically – and only our prayers together with the tzaddikim of the generation is going to enable those changes to happen the sweeten way.

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TO REGISTER FOR A SUBSIDIZED BUS,

PLEASE CALL: 077-229-2222

Then, please press:

#2 – To register for a bus into Hevron and back.

Then, press the number according to the telephone prefix for your area, as follows:

PHONE NUMBER BEGINS WITH:

02 – dial 2

03 – dial 3

04 – dial 4

08 – dial 8

09 – dial 9

You will then hear a list of different cities that the buses are departing from in those areas, and you can press the number of your city, to hear where and when the buses are leaving.

THE PRAYERS WILL START AT 10PM TONIGHT.

There is also an option to drive in to Kiryat Arba yourself in your own car, and then to take one of the shuttle buses that will be leaving from the gate between Kiryat Arba and Hevron.

FOR THE LIVE HOOK-UP:

Please check back here a little later on, and we will have the video of the live hook-up streaming on the site, where you can join in.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO HELP DEFRAY SOME OF THE EXPENSES OF THE ATZERET, PLEASE ALSO CALL THIS NUMBER AND PRESS #1, TO HEAR OPTIONS FOR HOW YOU CAN CONTRIBUTE.

Alternatively, you can also contribute via the DONATE tab at the top of the page [on the ravberland.com site]. Each autobus will cost 1500 to hire for the night.

UPDATE:

Everything you need to know about Pidyon Nefesh – Part 1

The whole idea of giving a pidyon nefesh to a real Tzaddik has to be one of the most misunderstood, confusing and murky concepts in Jewish thought.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to deal with this subject via email, or a phone call, so I think the time has come to try to sort it all out in a methodical fashion, and bring as many of the sources and explanations as I can into one post.

(Now that I’ve actually written this, I’m going to split it up into two posts, one after the other.)

But before we can get to the basic idea behind a pidyon nefesh (which is not just a Breslov idea, btw, and not even just a Chassidic idea. Many Sephardi kabbalists also hold by the idea of doing pidyon nefesh) – we first have to talk a bit about the idea of the True Tzaddik.

Which is probably the second most misunderstood, confusing and murky concepts in Jewish thought, so this is going to be one heck of a long post!

After some consideration, I thought the easiest way to dive into the topic is to just bring some of what Rebbe Nachman explains about the Tzaddik, and true tzaddikim, in his book, Sefer HaMiddot.

QUOTES FROM SEFER HAMIDDOT (Taken from the chapter called Tzaddik):

#12 Putting in effort to draw close to tzaddikim is beneficial for serving God.

#20 Don’t be disturbed by the fact that the tzaddikim accept financial support from others in order to run their households with wealth and honor – would it be better for them not to take from others, and not to lead? For the more delight and expansion the Tzaddik has, the more his soul expands, and then there is a resting place in which the Divine Presence may dwell. Therefore, one should not come to the house [of a Tzaddik] empty-handed.

#40 In the merit of serving a great man, one is saved from death.

#46 Giving money to benefit a tzaddik is like serving in the Holy Temple.

#82 Sometimes, a tzaddik elevates someone and then humiliates them, and this is for the person’s benefit.

#107 Sometimes, through giving one bit of satisfaction to the Tzaddik, and through the little action one does for him, one merits the World to Come.

#122 The blessing of a Tzaddik is a pidyon.

#127 One who puts the Tzaddik to the test, it’s as if he put God to the test.

#130 Through faith in Tzaddikim judgments are sweetened.

#136 There is no Tzaddik who does not endure attackers and investigators.

#150 God gives parnassa to a tzaddik through the community, in order that he will have some connection with them, and so that when God remembers the Tzaddik, he remembers them as well.

#151 The coming of Moshiach depends on drawing close to the Tzaddik.

#153 Someone who draws close to the Tzaddik, but who doesn’t do it innocently, will eventually become an opposer.

#172 Through the gifts that one brings to tzaddikim, a person can subdue their enemies, and neutralize the evil spirit that hovers over themselves.

#182 One who benefits the Tzaddik from his belongings, it is as if he benefited all the Jewish people, and he is saved from death.

#196 Connection to the Tzaddik is a great healing.

#209 Through the livelihood people provide for the Tzaddik, all their sins are forgiven, just as the Cohen’s eating of the sacrifices atoned for those who offered them.

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Ad kan, from Sefer HaMiddot. As always, it’s highly recommended to look up the quotes yourself, as I just picked out a few, and there’s much more that could be said.

What I wanted to try to bring out with these quotes are two key points:

  • Giving money / help / gifts / support to tzaddikim is always very beneficial to a person, and goes a long way to cancelling out our sins and helping us to overcome our yetzer haras and negative character traits. And this is without us even getting into the specific discussion about a pidyon nefesh, which we’ll come to shortly.
  • All of the things described above only apply to True Tzaddikim – and not ordinary rabbis and rabbanits, nice as they might be. Even more so, these benefits don’t apply to giving money to ‘pretend’ holy people.

From my own experience, I know it’s very, very hard to really know who is ‘real’ and who isn’t today, let alone who is a ‘true tzaddik’ and who isn’t.

There is only one way to really know this with certainty, and that is:

To pray on it, and to ask God to show you who is a real tzaddik.

Yes, we’re talking about doing regular hitbodedut again, because without it, you’ll trip up. Even with it, you’ll probably still trip up, especially at the beginning. Why? Because we are drawn to the rabbis and rabbanits that most mirror and reflect our own views and beliefs back at us.

If we are angry, judgmental, arrogant hypocrites who think we’re perfect and all the problems in the world are simply everyone else’s fault – that’s the sort of people we’ll be drawn to, those are the types of Torah classes and ideas and ‘proofs’ we’ll want to hear. It takes a lot of time to start clearing all those bad middot out of the way, but when that starts to happen, we’ll find ourselves open to hearing about judging others favorably, and about taking responsibility for our own issues, and about working more on our own bad middot.

And that’s when God will start to draw us closer to the really holy people, the true tzaddikim in our midst.

So, the first part of the equation is that giving money and gifts to true tzaddikim is always beneficial to a person, at least in the spiritual realm, but that it’s not so easy to know who a true tzaddik is, and there are a lot of ‘pseudo-tzaddikim’ out there.

Now, let’s talk more about the concept of the Pidyon Nefesh itself.

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REBBE NACHMAN EXPLANS WHY WE SHOULD DO A PIDYON NEFESH:

In the Kitzur Likutey Moharan (translated into English as ‘Advice’, by the Breslov Research Institute), it says the following about Pidyon Nefesh:

  • When a person is sick, a pidyon nefesh (monetary redemption) is the pre-requisite of any cure. Only after the redemption has been made does the Torah give the doctor permission to cure (See Likutey Moharan, II:3)

  • When a person fills the mouths of the Sages with wine, it is accounted for him like a redemption (LM 1:41)

  • Getting up for Tikkun Chatzot (the midnight prayer for rectification) has the same power as a redemption.

  • It is a good practice to always give money for a pidyon nefesh. This is the way to sweeten the power of harsh judgments at all times, and to be saved from them. Even when nobody in the house is sick and you have no particular problems, it is still good to present money for a pidyon nefesh, in order to prevent any problems or sickness, God forbid (Chayey Moharan Section on Serving Hashem, 92).

This isn’t just anyone telling us this, it’s Rebbe Nachman, one of the biggest rabbis in Jewish history.

And he’s spelling it out clearly, that if you want the best chance of avoiding harsh sicknesses and other big difficulties, you should regularly pay a pidyon nefesh, even if you’re not currently experiencing any problems!

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HOW DOES A PIDYON NEFESH WORK?

To understand this, we first have to state something obvious, but which is often so hidden from so many of us, in our ‘pretend perfect’ world:

Nobody is perfect, and every single one of us is constantly transgressing Torah commandments and hurting other people every minute of every day.

The best way to minimize the judgements against us is by going over the past 24 hours in hitbodedut, to try to figure out if that angry outburst, that slanderous email, that nasty behavior, that spiteful comment, was really as justified and ‘holy’ as it seemed at the time.

This is a crucial part of the teshuva process, and if we’re doing regular teshuva, that’s the main way how we can keep these harsh heavenly decrees that are building up against us every single day in check.

But, even if we are regularly doing that (and especially if we’re not…) we all have our blind spots, we all have our flaws and issues, particularly in the area of man and his fellow man. And if those sins aren’t properly atoned for, they can cause harsh judgments to be sent down to us by the Heavenly Court.

Those harsh spiritual judgments manifest in all sorts of ways, including financial problems, health problems, shalom bayit problems, mental health issues where we just feel sad and depressed all the time, problems with the kids etc etc etc.

Now, the suffering itself atones for our sins.

This is a well-known concept, that when we’re going through harsh experiences, that is ‘paying down our debt’, spiritually. That suffering cleans off the spiritual stains we have on our souls, as a result of all the stuff we’re doing wrong (constantly….) that we aren’t acknowledging, or making teshuva about.

ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, THE SPIRITUAL DEBT WE’VE RUN UP HAS TO BE PAID OFF.

There are three main ways we can do this:

  • Clean it off with daily hitbodedut / cheshbon hanefesh / teshuva (but remember, we all have blind spots, which means that we’re for sure not catching everything we’re doing wrong and need to fix.)
  • Experience the suffering we brought down on ourselves as a result of our own behavior and flaws.
  • Pay a pidyon nefesh, a sum of money for a redemption, to a true tzaddik, which is a different sort of ‘suffering’, because parting with our cash is very hard for most of us to do.

The Tanach makes regular reference to money as damim, ‘bloods’.  Why is it called this?

Because we literally sweat and spill our own blood in order to earn that money, to get it together. It’s very dear to us, we’ve sacrificed so much time, effort, energy, whatever to attain it.

And there’s another factor to toss in here, which is that some of our suffering – especially in this generation, the last before Moshiach finally comes – is because of sins that we committed in past lives.

When that’s the case, we can’t even get to it via a daily teshuva process, however much we try. So then we’re really left with just the last 2 options on the list.

And sometimes, even a pidyon nefesh can’t get us out of the harsh decree, because that is our tikkun for a previous life, and it can’t be avoided.

In the next post, let’s take a look at how the pidyon nefesh process actually works, in Shemayim.

Recently, I got into a ‘discussion’ over email about our policy of not having any pictures of women up on the Sassonmag.com website.

Long story short, one of the writers for the site felt so strongly about this decision, they decided they can no longer write for Sasson. Dear reader, I’d love to tell you that I took this decision calmly and in a considered way, like someone with good middot and a mature outlook, and with full emuna that if God wanted things that way, it’s for sure for the best.

That’s not exactly what happened.

What rankled me the most is that I felt that the site – and yours truly – were being accused of being ‘intolerant’, and this unspoken accusation lit me up like one of Saddam’s scuds.

(If you want to know why I write so much about how psychos behave, it’s because I am one.)

So anyway, I wasted a lot of time having a back and forwards with the person in question, that was growing more and more frustrating, at least for me. Thursday night, I printed off all the email correspondence I’d had, and came to show it to my husband for his view of things.

As a lawyer in the secular world, and as someone who regularly learns gemara, my husband has a very good grasp of underlying arguments, and he’s also extremely logical in his approach. Sometimes, that can also drive me bonkers, as I go so much on gut and intuition, but in this case it was a decided blessing.

He read the back and forth, and then he told me:

“This discussion is essentially meaningless and can never be resolved, because there are no Torah sources being referenced, and there is no daas Torah here. It’s really just ‘daas me’.”

Daas Torah roughly translates as the ‘wisdom / insight / knowledge of the Torah’. I.e., it’s the Divine knowledge that Hashem clothed by way of the Torah, and by way of halacha, and it’s the only real point of reference for being able to know what is truly right and wrong.

As soon as we come away from our Torah sources, our halacha, our proper orthodox rabbinic responsa, we are no longer dealing with Hashem’s wisdom and insight, we are dealing with ‘daas me’ – i.e. our own views and opinions.

And while there are places where daas me is definitely valid – like, for example, deciding what to make for supper, or what color to paint the kitchen – for the really important stuff, daas Torah needs to be informing our thinking, if we really want to be trying to do the right thing by God, and giving Him nachas.

I suddenly had an Eureka! moment, and realized that this is a big reason why I just can’t be bothered with so many of the sites that I used to avidly gobble down every day (sometimes, even including my own): it’s all daas me, and very little daas Torah.

And who needs it?

All these arguments and discussions and having a go, who needs it?

Bezrat Hashem, with God’s help, I will be doing my level best to steer clear of daas me in my writing now. Not that I won’t discuss things or won’t share ideas, but I’ll be darned careful to make sure that opinions are at least based on daas Torah, and not just flowering out of daas me.

And if I come away from that, you are cordially invited to (gently…) remind me of it.

A little while back, I got an email from someone who gave eloquent voice to the people who I often refer to as ‘anonymous psychos’.

My correspondent – who is definitely not an anonymous psycho- explained that most of these ‘anonymous psychos’ are trapped in a whole world of their own searing, emotional pain, and they aren’t really ‘seeing’ anyone else when they’re lashing out, they’re just struggling with their own demons.

My correspondent quoted the following lines from the film ‘Psycho’ (which I’ve never seen, btw, probably because I’ve had more than enough real ones to deal with):

“We, all of us, live in our own private traps, forever unable to get out. We fight, and tear, and claw – but only at the air, only at each other, and we never really budge an inch.”

I have to say, it was an extremely useful, and even impressive email, for a whole bunch of reasons. But the one I want to share with you is that I think my correspondent managed to encapsulate in a sentence or two the whole problem with why people are really hurting other people:

It’s because inside, they are themselves hurting.

Now, this isn’t to excuse the behavior for a minute, or even a nano-second. Now that I’m a whole 45 years old (!), and a parent of teens, I can see more and more clearly how parents refusing to deal with their own inner demons, and refusing to accept that so much of their own behavior is ‘psycho’ is the main reason why so many of our children are ADHD, off the derech, clinically depressed, chronically ill and stressed and abusing substances and alcohol.

What changes the whole picture – instantly – is just for us all to hold our hands up to our own ‘psycho’ tendencies, and to stop pretending that we haven’t got any issues. It gives you some instant humility to do that, and that’s probably why so many people are allergic to trying it.

Even though we all know that walking the path of humility is really the only way we can get anywhere near to Hashem.

But over the last few years, I’ve seen so many people, so many parents, approach that point of truth, that fork in the road that’s going to transform their whole relationship with other people, their whole attitude to their own issues, and transform their relationship with Hashem, and with their yiddishkeit.

And they’ve picked the other path.

The path that seemed easier, in the short-term, because it meant they could continue to cover-up and justify their own bad behavior – as their parents did before them, and as their grandparents did before them, all  the way back to Adam HaRishon.

This has happened so many times, that I’ve come to call it the approach of ‘the hiddenness within the hiddenness’. Before we get to that point of truth, we honestly didn’t know that we were behaving like psychos, or that we were hurting so many of the people around us so fundamentally, or that we were living in a world of lies and deception.

Then, God opens our eyes to what’s really going on, and gives us a choice:

On the one hand, my dear child, you can choose to acknowledge the truth, and to try to take responsibility for your own actions, and to make a commitment to get Me, God, involved in the process of fixing the mess. Because I’ll tell you straight, you can’t fix it without My help, without checking back with me every single day to figure out what’s really going on.

OR

You can make a conscious decision to push down all this stuff you’ve just discovered about how you got so messed up yourself, and how you’re now repeating the pattern with your own children, and in your own marriage, and in with your own interactions, and by so doing, turn into a REAL psycho.

I know this sounds a little harsh, but I’ve seen it play out so many times.

It’s like what happened back in Egypt, when God kept hardening Pharoah’s heart, so at some point, his freedom to choose to stop suffering, and to stop experiencing the awful plagues, leading up to the death of so many Egyptian first-born, disappeared.

The commentators ask, How can this be?! How could God remove Pharoah’s freedom of choice like that?! What’s going on?!

There are many answers to this question, but the one that speaks to me the most is that Pharoah got to that crossroads. He reached that point of truth when all of a sudden, it was blindingly obvious that God is God, and that the whole of Egyptian society, the whole Egyptian belief system, was totally built on a foundation of deception and lies.

At that point, he was given the clear choice:

Are you going to accept that God, Hashem, is running the world, and that you are full of arrogance, cruelty and bad middot? OR, are you going to carry on trying to control everything around you, and carrying on trying to enslave other people to gratify your ego and build up your empire?

If you acknowledge the truth about what’s really going on now, it’ll go so much easier for you and the Egyptian people. And if you don’t, Pharoah – then utter destruction. The lies will be exposed publically for everyone to see, in the most painful way possible.

What did Pharoah do?

He picked wrong.

He couldn’t bring himself to tell the truth because it was too difficult to face up to it, too painful, too humiliating. So from that point on, his fate was sealed, and his ability to really ‘choose’ the path of teshuva was removed.

As I write this, I wonder what would have happened if someone had told Pharoah:

Mate, you are suffering from a severe case of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. All your ancestors were cruel, God-less psychos and they treated you really badly, too. Yes, you had a nice palace to live in, and nice clothes, and great food, but that came along with a whole bunch of guilt trips, shaming tactics and a heartless, arrogant emphasis on keeping up appearances that completely killed your neshama.

And now, you are feeling totally overwhelmed with toxic shame, and fear, at the idea of turning your back on everything those ancestors of yours taught you was important in life. But you know what, Pharoah? That’s just a flashback to the past! You can handle it! You can still get past your inner critic to do the right thing, here!

I wonder.

But in the meantime, it seems to me that God is giving all of us the same choice at the moment, to either continue living in the world of lies, or to move on to a path of sincere teshuva and humility.

For one person, the test will come via their children, who are acting up in school, off the derech, miserable, ill and depressed. For another person, it’ll come via their marriage, where God is mamash shoving their bad middot directly in their faces, and pleading for them to really acknowledge the problems, and to stop pretending that it’s all the wife’s fault, and that they aren’t crazy people with massive anger issues.

For others, it’ll come via ill health, or problems making money. For others, it’ll come in smaller ways, smaller challenges, where they will be repeatedly met with the question of whether they are quite so ‘holy’ and ‘perfect’ and ‘do-gooding’ as they like to make out.

Really? Really, it’s always everyone else’s problem? Really?

Really, you yourself have absolutely nothing to work on, and all the yucky things you do are totally justified and actually even mitzvahs, or ‘good chinuch’? Really?

That’s the voice that’s whispering at all of us right now, and that’s the crossroads we’re all approaching: to be a psycho, or to be with God.

And I hope that we’ll all find the courage and the strength and the emuna to choose right, and to not

Because if the psycho had known that there was a very easy way to get out of the trap of his bad middot, and that this simply involved him saying “I’m guilty!” and asking God to help Him rectify his issues, then:

He wouldn’t be a psycho anymore.

And neither would we.

Over on spiritualselfhelp.org last week, I wrote a piece about the Baal Shem Tov’s ‘Mirror Principle’ – together with this nifty infographic which set out the main points.

A lot of people don’t like the Mirror Principle, because our yetzers have us programmed to go around pointing fingers at everyone else’s ‘bad’, while completely ignoring our own.

This is a big part of why I just can’t read rants any more, however more ‘holy’ they appear to be, because the person criticizing others for sure has some shade of the problem they are critiquing.

Not 100%, maybe, not exactly the same, but for sure some percentage of the same problem they are dissing in the other person, some shade of it in their own lives.

There’s a lot of confusion about how the mirror principle actually works, because a lot of people believe that if it’s not exactly the same problem, if it’s not exactly the same degree of the problem – then they are completely off the hook, and they can just continue to point fingers at other people so self-righteously, while completely ignoring their own flaws.

But the mirror principal also doesn’t mean that we just ‘whitewash’ the obvious bad we see around us, either, obviously not.

It just requires us to be honest – with ourselves and others – that if we feel the need to ‘have a go’ about something publically, or to vocally criticize another person, that we should also acknowledge that we also have that problem, too. So then we need to go away afterwards and figure out what percentage, what shade of that issue we ourselves are exhibiting.

Because it’s never 100% the other person who has the problem, and that we’re totally fixed and rectified.

At the very least, we have 1% of something to go away and work on, before that ‘rankling’ feeling will go away, and we’ll finally get some inner peace.

Of course, I have to practice what I preach. I can’t just write about all this stuff then ignore my own ‘mirrors’ that God is being so careful to show me.

So last week, I had a chat with a good friend of mine who was giving over a piece of ‘Torah’ which just sounded plain wrong, and really rubbed me up the wrong way. Without getting into the details of the Torah (which I went to check up afterwards, and which really does appear to be ‘wrong’) – I reacted so badly to what she told me, that I felt I had to apologise for my reaction while I was actually having it.

Now, in the past, I would just have launched straight into an attack on the credibility of the person who gave this Torah over. But after I’d been thinking about the mirror principle all week, I was a bit more spiritually prepared to look past the other person’s obvious ‘wrong’, and to ponder what God was trying to actually show me, instead.

What I came up with was the idea that I’m sick to the back teeth of all these ‘know it alls’ that really don’t know all that much at all, especially when it comes to the deeper ideas of the Torah, who are probably misleading a whole bunch of people.

Now I was up to the next, far harder stage: seeing where that applies to me.

Because as the mirror principle clearly states, when you’re having a strong reaction to something, it’s never a case of it being 100% all the other guy’s fault.

So I did some hitbodedut on that idea this morning, and I came to the conclusion that more often than I’d like, I still find myself sliding in to ‘know it all’ rant-y posts. I don’t want to be writing that stuff anymore, and it’s a big reason why I actually pulled the plug on Emunaroma a few months’ back, because honestly? Who cares what I think?

At least, who cares what I think about very deep concepts that really, you need to be the gadol hador to really have a strong claim to actually know what you’re talking about?

So then I started to wonder, where does this strong urge to start opinionating, and to start acting like a know-it-all really come from? What’s underneath it, emotionally? The answer that came back was this:

Rivka, it happens when you’re feeling like a loser.

Aha! That was actually a useful piece of information. So then I had to ask,

God, how do I get rid of this? I’m sick of being pulled into pointless arguments that only lead to more sinat chinam, I’m sick of writing from an arrogant place. So, how do I stop feeling like a loser? What can I replace ‘feeling like a loser’ with?

The answer came back:

Try replacing it with some happy humility, instead.

So, that’s what I asked God to give me, happy humility.

Over Shabbat, I cracked open a book that I bought in the UK a few months back, that was basically talking about how bad the ‘Zionist enterprise’ is, and why orthodox Jews don’t need to live in Israel until the Moshiach actually comes.

It’s a big book – 1500 pages long – but around 1/3 of the way through, I came to realise how the author was pointing out all the ‘big bad’ in the other camp – and he’s right in most of what he was saying – but was completely missing the ‘big bad’ in his own.

I.e., the mirror principle was completely lacking over there, which is why the author felt justified in putting together 1500 pages of pretty much unadulterated sinat chinam. This is what’s holding up Moshiach – this is what’s been holding up Moshiach for the last 2,000 years, already.

Right now, God seems to be sending an atmosphere of harsh hakpada, or strict judgment down to the world.

It’s almost as though He’s shining a very strong spotlight of everyone else’s bad, and making it so easy to point fingers at what everyone else is doing wrong, and how annoying they are, and what bad middot everyone else has.

Why is He doing this?

Maybe, because He really want us to see what we ourselves need to fix. Because we all know, it’s so very easy to spot everyone else’s issues, and to call them out, but when we do that, we completely miss the point:

That we can only fix ourselves, that we can only rectify ourselves.

The last thing I just wanted to include here is the idea that the Tzaddik is just a mirror. The Tzaddik is completely rectified, so 100% what we see reflecting back at us is just our own inner dimension.

That’s why so many of the people who are ‘anti’ the Tzaddikim are clearly lunatics with a lot of mental issues. Whatever your issue is, the Tzaddik is going to shove it in your face so clearly, you can’t ignore it anymore, and if you can’t accept that you are the one with the problem, then you are going to just project it on to the Tzaddik instead.

For example, for as long as I can remember, I’ve had a really bad yetzer to get into fights and arguments with other people, which I always used to justify as standing up for the truth, yadda yadda yadda.

So, I got to Rav Berland, and the Rav arranged things that I’d get into the middle of the most machloket and self-righteous arguments I’ve ever had to deal with in my life. And after a couple of years of it, I was totally and utterly sick of fighting with people.

The Rav broke my yetzer for picking fights!

But, if I hadn’t been aware that the fighting and arguing was my own problem, then God forbid I could have fallen into the trap of complaining about the Rav, for setting things up in such a way that I was finding myself arguing all the time over ‘the facts’.

We are all down here because we have work to do.

Over the next few weeks and months, for sure a lot of yucky behavior is going to be coming to the fore, because things can only be fixed when they are recognized and acknowledged.

And the key to coming through this stage OK and with our relationships and sanity intact is the mirror principle. Sure, other people have problems and issues, that’s a given. But if God is showing those issues and problems to us, and it’s upsetting us, then that means we also have the same problem to deal with.

And we have to knuckle down, and get on with the work of rectifying it.

In Israel, the weather this winter has actually been pretty good.

It hasn’t been so cold, and we’ve had regular and plentiful rainfall for the last 2-3 months, which is fantastic.

But in other parts of the world, the ‘deep freeze’ is really starting to kick in, and be felt.

Parts of Canada and the US Mid-West have been dealing with many days of arctic temperatures, where the wind chill is making it feel like minus 67 degrees. That’s crazy! When I lived in Montreal, we had a really bad winter where there was a lot of minus 40 degree weather, with wind chill, and I literally didn’t leave the house for a month.

Every time I tried to get outside, I’d feel that my eyeballs were starting to turn into little blocks of ice, and I’d rush indoors somewhere to defrost, before they froze solid.

And the snow is also being dumped in crazy amounts all over the place at the moment, like:

https://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/snow-snow-go-away-ottawa-breaks-record-for-snowiest-january-and-we-all-suffer

https://toronto.citynews.ca/2019/01/29/toronto-record-breaking-snowfall/

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2019/jan/16/alps-on-avalanche-alert-after-record-breaking-snowfall

That’s global warming for you, of course.

Or rather, it’s ‘climate change’ caused by excess CO2 (which has an insulating and warming effect).

Is there really any sane person out there, who still believes that’s what is going on with the weather?

Don’t the facts on the ground match up far more closely with the ‘Grand Solar Minimum’ model of climate change, which has been predicting for decades that 2017 would see the start of a new period of global cooling, together with a massive uptick in seismic events? (See the video below – shmirat eynayim friendly).

If the Grand Solar Minimum model is right, then the weather is going to continue to cool off for at least the next 15 years or so.

And then how quickly the world starts to warm up again depends on a lot of things, not least whether a new ice age got triggered.

Even with all the modern technology, all the electric-powered heating, all the icebreakers and snow ploughs, it’s getting hard for people to actually ‘live’ in these frozen conditions. If they only happen once, for a week, every 30 years, then that’s no big deal, right?

But what if this weather is going to become the norm, and it’s going to get colder and colder for longer and longer in places like Chicago? Then what? What does that mean for the economy? What does that mean for the quality of life, in these places? Even with all the modern technology and electricity?

Another thing I just wanted to mention, briefly, is all these reports of dead fish and dead birds from around the world. (Here’s just a few, to whet your whistle:)

https://phys.org/news/2019-01-sea-white-hundreds-thousands-fish.html

https://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/Thousands-of-Birds-Found-Dead-at-Salton-Sea-504735561.html

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-12-20/galahs-falling-from-the-sky-in-milang-south-australia/10637842

When I was researching the volcanoes book, I came across a lot of historical reports of volcanic eruptions and massive earthquakes that were preceded by mass die-offs of fish and birds in the area, beforehand.

The reason for this is pretty straightforward. The asthenosphere is a layer of partially molten magma, combined with volcanic gases including methane and a few other gases, some of which are toxic if inhaled. When that magma starts to move, and to rise closer to the surface, a few different things start to happen.

There will be lots of minute, and not so minute, fissures and ‘cracks’ in the ground, as moving magma is what causes earthquakes. (It’s a side point, but fissures, cracks and sink-holes are happening a-plenty in Iran right now.)

And much of the volcanic gas contained in the asthenosphere then also starts to rise up, and escape out. As I mentioned elsewhere, this seepage of natural gas was behind the recent spate of awful wildfires in Califonia, and it’s also behind why they’re finding so many dead birds around Salton Sea, and so many dead fish in the creeks in Australia, to name but a few.

If there’s enough of that stuff escaping out, it can poison water supplies, and also form a toxic gas cloud, before dispersing.

The scientists don’t really know what’s causing millions of fish to suddenly start dying in Australia, but there’s a lot of theories being floated that the rivers are being ‘de-oxygenated’ in some way, with many people blaming the lack of rain and drought conditions.

I think what’s going on is two things: there is less water to ‘dissolve’ the volcanic gases in, so it’s becoming more concentrated (or at least, there was. Queensland just got hit with record-breaking rainfall which now saw rivers rise to a 120 year-high), AND there is also more volcanic gas being produced, because magma is on the move underground.

Why do I think there is also more volcanic gas being produced? Because of the reports of mass bird die-offs that are coming in from all over the place, but especially from areas that are known to have been very seismically active in the past. It’s the proverbial ‘canary in the coal mine’.

If low water supplies was the only factor, then only the fish would be affected, it wouldn’t also be affecting the birds.

Again, is there really still anyone out there who things all the record snow and cold, and freak weather and weird geological phenomena, and dead creatures is just because you’re driving a diesel-powered vehicle?

Really?

Doesn’t it make far more sense, logically, that we are now in the opening stages of a Grand Solar Minimum, where the sun’s activity decreases so much that the earth starts to become cooler, and the earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis start to pick up?

(The seismic activity is related to more cosmic rays hitting the planet, and ‘agitating’ the silicon molecules that make up magma. BTW – human beings are also composed of a lot of silicon molecules too, so yes, you and me are also being ‘agitated’ at the moment.)

Doesn’t that make way more sense, logically and scientifically?

Tremendous things are happening all over the place with the weather and planet earth. That’s where the real story is at, that’s where the real news headlines should be pointed, instead of all the politics and political correctness.

There will be more cold weather (caused by diminishing heat from the sun) and more freak weather (caused by stratospheric volcanic eruptions) and more weird planet phenomenon (caused by underwater eruptions, eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis – and the fallout from all these things on the marine and animal world.)

This is the ‘scientific’ completely UN-miraculous view of what is currently going on around us. Of course, Jews are above nature, and God is the One who is really calling the shots, so who knows what’s actually going to come next?

Everything depends on our teshuva, our emuna, our efforts to work on our own bad middot and get close to the true tzaddikim.

Everything.

But in the meantime, no wonder so many of feel like we’re in hibernation at the moment, or at least, that we should be.

AKA, Serving God on the Down

“[T]he terms ‘running’ and ‘returning’ are used in Ezekiel (1:14) and describe the chayot. They refer to two different facets of phases of divine service. They apply to everyone, no matter how low his level.

“There are times when everyone feels inspired in his devotions. This happens especially when a person is praying. He suddenly feels a burst of enthusiasm and says the words with tremendous fervor. This is the phase of ‘running’.

“But then, the inspiration and the fervor pass, and all that is left is a trace. This is the phase of “returning”.

“For most people, the main effort and work come in trying to achieve the ‘running’ – the moment when the heart ‘runs’, so to speak, in fervent devotion.  ‘Returning’ is something easy for them, because that is their nature….

“Both ‘running’ and ‘returning’ are necessary parts of serving God.”

#252 from Tzaddik, by the Breslov Research Institute. Also see Likutey Moharan I 6:4

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m a period of ‘returning’ at the moment.

Elsewhere, I call this ‘serving God on the down’ – you know, when you can’t really be bothered to listen to more Torah classes, or to take on more observances, and also when you’re finding it hard to get your act together to do even the basic stuff you know you should be doing.

Like making supper. Or hanging the washing. Or even, just stringing more than a couple of monosyllables together to talk to your husband and kids.

When this stage hits, it can often feel like we’re falling far away from Hashem, God forbid, but that’s where Rabbenu comes in to tell us don’t make that mistake!

Don’t start telling yourself that you’re ‘bad’, or ‘worthless’, or that God doesn’t love you, or that He doesn’t see all your efforts.

It’s just we can’t always be serving God on the ‘up’. We also have to serve Him on the down.

And it’s much easier to do that than you might think.

All it really means is that you turn around, and you search for God in the low place that you currently find yourself in, and connect it all back to Him.

God, I still want to serve You even though I got a little too caught up recently in dumb music videos on Youtube.

God, I still want to serve You even though I don’t feel like saying a Tikkun Haklali today, or going to hear a shiur.

God, I still want to serve You even though I seem to have completely run out of energy and ideas again.

That’s all we have to do to serve God on the down.

These are heavy days, hard times. The last couple of days, I’ve really been feeling like the ‘spiritual molasses’ has returned again, after a few days’ break, and it’s hard to do anything again.

But I can still serve God from this dark, unproductive place.

How?

Just by wanting to, even if the effort itself, the act itself, the improvement itself, is beyond me right now.

All I have is my wanting to do better, but I’m sending all that back up to Hashem, and this is all I need to do stay connected.

I’m heading down again right now, God, but wherever I land, You’re coming with me. BH, I’ll be back on the up, and ‘running’ and spiritually inspired again soon.

But right now, I’m serving You on the down.

And when we tell God that, we make Him very happy.

Sigh.

Sometimes, I get so frustrated by all this fake, politically correct ‘equality’ stuff that is really just another excuse for people with bad middot to start taking out their own issues and frustrations on everyone else.

Recently, I had to send another email around to Sassonmag.com writers, to remind them to please avoid any photos of ladies next to their pieces. This has been the policy of Sasson since its inception, just sometimes people forget, as people are wont to do, especially when swimming in the moral swamp of the internet.

There are a few reasons why I wanted to avoid pictures of ladies on Sasson. One of them is that I want it be an inclusive site for as many frum Jews as possible, and if there are photos of ladies on the site, that’s going to unnecessarily exclude a whole bunch of people.

It’s like having a ‘Badatz’ certification on your restaurant. If it’s ‘Badatz’, most people will eat there. If it doesn’t have a hechsher, most people who are interested in consuming kosher food simply won’t eat there. The same sort of idea applies to sites that are trying to cater to the orthodox community.

So, inclusivity is one reason why I don’t want pictures of ladies on Sasson.

But there’s another, much more important reason why I don’t want pictures there, or also here, on rivkalevy.com, which you can sum up like this:

Personally, I don’t want my photo everywhere.

Personally, I don’t want to be put under pressure to ‘wig up’ or slap on the make-up in order to be taken seriously as a writer. Personally, I don’t want my writing, my ideas, to be judged on how I look.

I want people to relate to my writing, not to my photograph, and in this image-gorged world, that is becoming an increasing rarity.

There’s something else, too.

Personally, I don’t want my husband looking at sites where all those gorgeous lipsticked women are showing their best side to the camera, while they give over their insights and Torah. Call me crazy! Call me idiotic! But I strongly prefer that my husband ‘relates’ to other women as little as possible.

There’s something else, too.

Personally, I don’t want my two teenage daughters to get sucked into that fake, false world of ‘appearance’, where the message they are getting 24/7 is that appearance is EVERYTHING.

If you’re fat, if you’re ugly, if you’re teeth stick out, if you have bad acne, or frizzy hair of a terrible dress sense – no-one is going to take you seriously, honey.

That’s the message the world of images gives women, especially young women.

And I’m so grateful that the world of Torah, the authentic, frum Jewish world, is giving out the opposite message:

That it’s the inside that counts.

That it’s the neshama that counts. That it’s not the packaging a person’s soul comes in that’s really important, but how that soul is acting, and what that soul is saying.

Sadly, there appear to be a whole bunch of apparently ‘frum’ women out there fighting to put all the focus on the outside, and on external appearances. These superficial ‘fighters for women’s freedom’ are trying to force women’s pictures into every single space under the guise of ‘equality’.

Now, I believe in the principle of free choice. You want to slap big, faux-glamorous pictures of yourself with your too-wide fake smile all over the place, please go right ahead. It’s a free country after all, and free choice is the whole reason God created us.

But I get extremely upset when these individuals try to force everyone else into following their dictates, with the same sort of ‘shaming’ and pressure tactics psychos of all stripes have been using online for two decades, now.

These people go on about how ‘unfair’ it is to women, to not have their images in frum publications. They go on about how ‘fanatical’ it is, and how ‘extreme’ it is, and how ‘backwards’ it is. They regret how ‘closed minded’ publications and institutions are that follow this policy, which smacks to them of – eek! – some sort of ‘ultra orthodox’ or chassidic mind control.

I’ve been pondering on all this OTT hysteria for a while, but after writing my post on BTs, I think I’ve got a bit more insight into what’s going on. From what I can see, all of the women (and PC men) clamoring for more women in frum publications are baal teshuvas.

They are people who left the secular world behind, and now seem to be kind of chafing at the restrictions that come as part and parcel of being an orthodox Jew. Instead of accepting that the fault, the issue, the problem is really with them, these people are trying to get past their discomfort by attempting to change the orthodox world to ‘fit’ with their own, still half-secular worldview.

In some ways, I understand it, at least a bit.

For a while there, I also bought into all those internet ‘experts’ telling me and everyone else who wants to listen that people relate more to an image, they trust you more when they see an image, they will buy more of your product, book more of your services if they can see you…

So says all the internet experts.

But God is totally out of the picture with this approach, and it’s just not going to lead to any real, or lasting blessings.

I learned this the hard way.

Two years ago when I published the Secret Diary, I managed to get an interview about the book into the Jewish Press. We were all set to go – when I got the bombshell request that I had to give them a couple of pictures of me, to go with the piece.

Can’t we just stick with the cover of the book?

I pleaded with them. After all, that cover had been so complicated to sort out, precisely because I was trying to avoid untznius images of women. But no, we couldn’t. And I’m sorry to tell you, my emuna wobbled and I gave in and sent them a couple of pictures.

You know what? I don’t think I sold as much as a single copy of the book, thanks to that interview. Nothing. Nada. Nega nega tory. And in the meantime, I don’t know what having those pictures ‘out there’ cost my neshama spiritually, but it definitely wasn’t worth it.

Thanks to all those ‘fighters for women’s freedom’ out there, who are increasingly making it impossible for frum women to participate in anything unless they are willing to be photographed publically, I wasn’t given a choice to not have any images next to my piece in the paper.

Way to go, sisters! Thanks so much for emancipating me like that!

Thanks to you and all your self-righteous outrage and politically-correct ‘piety’, I got stuck having to buy into the warped values and upside-down ‘equality’ of the world of images – that same world that bought us Harvey Weinstein, #Me Too, and an ongoing dumbing down of standards, morals, dress and behavior in the public arena.

Personally, I don’t want to look at pictures of women.

Personally, I don’t want my husband to look at pictures of women.

Personally, I don’t want my kids to be caught up in that world that degrades and downgrades women to just another ‘pretty face’ or piece of cleavage, or curly wig.

I want there to be a safe space, an alternative to the world of images.

Not everyone has to think the same way. Not everyone has to want pictures of women on their sites – even if they are women themselves, as I am.

And there are some very good reasons for that, including that God has put a whole bunch of rules in place for religious Jews that often seem to hold us back, or cause us some sort of material disadvantage, but which really only lead to tremendous blessings for us.

Those blessings are often hidden, and aren’t immediately obvious. That’s part of the test. But they are definitely there.

For example, my husband and I don’t have smart phones. Even though my children do, neither of them has internet access, and whatever they do have on there is also being filtered by Etrog. They basically use their phones for Whatsapp, pictures and music – that’s it.

Tell me, how many people have 18 year olds with smartphones who are completely disinterested in the world wide web, or 15 year olds with smartphones who don’t give a hoot about Instagram?

I know my mesirut nefesh to avoid smart phones is having some massive, positive repercussions on my family, even though it means I can’t film myself giving over ‘wisdom’ every five minutes, or thinly-disguised plugs for my books, to post up on Youtube and Instagram and Facebook.

Another thing: Baruch Hashem, my husband works as a lawyer, and I’m continually amazed at how God is sending him clients. My husband does no marketing, works afternoons only, as he learns in the morning, and doesn’t have Whatsapp. And yet, God is continually sending him more clients and good parnassa, BH.

Over the last few years, I honestly did have a few occasions when I felt that I was missing out on being able to publicise my work, my books, my ideas, to a wider audience because I couldn’t just video classes on Google hangouts and upload them to Youtube.

But you know what?

More and more, I’m starting to see what a blessing it is to be out of all that social media murk.

I’m seeing the toll it’s taking on people spiritually, I’m seeing how much of their soul, their values, their yiddishkeit, their connection to Hashem, they are really selling out, for precious little real return, appearances notwithstanding.

So, I’m standing firm on the ‘no pictures of women’ thing.

Call me backwards, call me discriminatory, call me narrow minded, whatever you want (I know you’re going to anyway.)

But understand something:

A Jew never misses out by trying to do the right thing by Hashem, and by following the path of self-sacrifice to keep God’s laws.

Just sometimes, it can take a while for that to become obvious.