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Sometimes, a picture speaks a thousand words.

Definition of clickbait

something (such as a headline) designed to make readers want to click on a hyperlink especially when the link leads to content of dubious value or interest.
“It is difficult to remember a time when you could scroll through the social media outlet of your choice and not be bombarded with: You’ll never believe what happened when … This is the cutest thing ever … This the biggest mistake you can make … Take this quiz to see which character you are on … They are all classic clickbait models.”
— Emily Shire

Cartoon of an angler fish using'click bait' to entice a naive reader (fish)

Nuff said.

Rabbi Berland’s New Prayer to Move to Israel.

So many of the people I’m in touch with want to move to Israel, but feel totally petrified about the whole idea of uprooting their whole lives, and trying to plonk them down again in a totally different country, however holy that country may actually be, and however much God really wants the Jews to move to Israel.

This is totally understandable. Moving country is not a simple thing, it has profound consequences for everyone involved. You can understand why so many otherwise believing Jews are twisting the words of the Torah, ignoring the whole ‘sin of the spies’ episode, and making all sorts of bizarre claims about there being no need for Jews to move to the Land of Israel.

The fear is in control. The fear is running the show.

Fear is one of the yetzer hara’s most powerful tools for keeping people away from doing the right thing. How many people stay trapped in a secular lifestyle, because they are scared of what people will say, or what’s going to be, if they take the plunge and start keeping kosher….

Or take the plunge and start keeping Shabbat….

Or take the plunge, and start dressing more modestly….

Or take the plunge, and ditch the i-Phone for something far more basic and better for the soul….

Moving to Israel is no different, except the fear is less about what people will say – because after all, it’s a new start, and you’re leaving the people who are against moving to Israel behind – and much more about what will be.

Will I find work?

Will I find friends?

Will I find a place to live?

Will my kids acclimatize OK?

And maybe the biggest fear of all:

Will I regret doing this for the rest of my life?

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Again, all these fears are totally, 100% normal and reasonable to have. If we don’t acknowledge that these fears are coming from a rational place, and that they have to be addressed properly, rather than squashed or mocked, then we can’t move forward with the whole discussion of moving to Israel.

Israel is the land of emuna, it’s where a person can really start to LIVE their belief that God is running the whole world, and not just talk about it.

The answer to all of the ‘issues’ stated above – the answer to every ‘issue’ and worry a person has about moving to Israel ultimately boils down to the same thing:

God is in control. Whatever God decides, that’s what’s going to happen.

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That’s a massive level of emuna to be striving for, isn’t it? And I’m not sure that I’m there myself, really, although I’d certainly like to be.

But the more we can live our life from that genuine place of really believing in Him, and really believing in concepts like reward and punishment, and really believing that 99% of the ‘yuck’ we go through in our lives we totally bring on ourselves, via our own bad middot – the more easy we will be able to deal with any potential move to Israel.

Really, there’s only one answer to ‘why move to Israel?’

I could tell you about the amazing day I spent yesterday, swimming with my family in a stream up North, together with a bunch of frum Jews with payot, and fully-clothed Beis Yaakov girls all happily splashing about.

I could tell you about last Wednesday night, when I went off to the Kotel to recite some tehillim for the Rav, and how I watched the swallows duck and dive, swooping so close to the wall before soaring back up into the heavens.

I could tell you about how everything here is kosher (I live in Jerusalem. That’s not true of everywhere in Israel, especially not Tel Aviv.)

I could tell you about the farm one of my kids went to volunteer on last week, up in the Shomron hills, that’s being started by an idealistic young Jewish couple.

I could talk about the sun, the sea, the way my soul just feels way, way happier here, and way, way more peaceful than it ever did in London.

But really, all of these things are missing the point.

The point of moving to Israel, is because it’s a mitzvah that God commanded the Jews to keep.

So maybe you’ll move here, and you really will struggle with making a living. And you really will go through years of feeling so lonely. And you really will find it very hard to ever buy your own place, especially in Jerusalem.

And maybe you won’t.

But the point is, whatever happens to us in Israel – and in New York, and in London, and in Melbourne, and in Paris – it’s all just to bring home that same message:

God is in control. Whatever God decides, that’s what’s going to happen.

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If a person is really working on their emuna, then they will increasingly be living their life according to this idea wherever they happen to live.

But there’s another point to make here, and that’s the idea of having some humility, and overcoming our own arrogance. Or to put it another way, to start thinking much more about what does God want from me, and much less about what do I want from God.

We are here to serve God, not the other way around.

Again, let’s keep things real.

This is a huge spiritual level! It’s a level that we will have to struggle and fight for ad 120. It doesn’t come easily to anyone, and especially not to those people who find it very difficult to put anyone else’s needs and wants ahead of their own.

That’s why there are two things that really clear the path to moving to Israel, and those two things are:

  1. Working on our own bad middot
  2. Working on our emuna, particularly the idea that we are in control of our lives

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We need to pray to get to Israel.

That’s part of the process of really getting ‘ready’ to actually live here. We need to pray to get here, and we need to pray that all the bad middot that are stopping us from moving somehow disappear. And then once we’re here, we need to carry on praying every single day, that we will continue to have the merit of staying here.

Because in Israel, all the bad middot that we fooled ourselves we didn’t have in chutz l’aretz come roaring out of the closet.

Because God wants us to finally start dealing with them, and acknowledging them, and to stop making excuses about what we are really down here to work on and fix.

BTW, that’s also why even the very process of moving to Israel can be so very taxing and upsetting. It’s all part of the preparation process for the spiritual work of developing some real humility, and understanding that God is in charge of the world, not us.

All this sounds like a lot of hard work, doesn’t it?

And honestly, it is.

You can totally understand why so many otherwise believing Jews would prefer to stay in chutz l’aretz and pretend that moving to Israel is something God doesn’t really require of anyone. It’s certainly much easier that way, it’s certainly much more comfortable.

At least, on one level.

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This post isn’t for those people.

This post is for the people who are really yearning and longing to get here, and who really do know that God wants the Jewish people to be in Israel, but who can’t quite manage to overcome their fears (yet!) in order to give God what He really wants.

For those people, there is a shortcut to moving to Israel, which is basically the power of prayer. Every prayer we say on this subject, shortens the road we need to walk in order to get here. Why? Because it’s tackling the obstacles that are blocking our path at their root.

A praying person is a person who already acknowledges, at least on some level, that God is in control. A praying person is someone who knows that God is behind all the difficulties, and that if we start to clean up our own act, particularly with our own bad middot like arrogance, laziness, greed and complacency, that God will then blast so many of the ‘issues’ keeping us stuck out of the way, too.

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That’s why Israel is really only acquired via prayer.

And that’s why so many of the people who actually live in Israel still haven’t really ‘got here’ spiritually, even though they moved here with their bodies, or were born here.

Those people moan all the time about what’s going on in Israel. They complain all the time about the taxes, and about other groups of Jews, and about all the ‘bad’ they see going on all around them, because the whole world is just one big mirror, and God is beaming a very unpleasant reflection straight into their faces.

Like we said above, in Israel, bad middot are amplified – both ours, and other people’s – so we’ll stop making excuses, and finally knuckle down to the work of fixing them.

Luckily, there is a shortcut. The shortcut is to get close to our true tzaddikim, to follow their advice, and to use their prayers to circumvent all the stuff that’s holding us back from being able to even describe the problem, let alone deal with it.

Rebbe Nachman’s advice to do an hour a day of hitbodedut has totally transformed my approach to the world, and it’s the single biggest ‘help’ to navigating life in Israel. You can read more about it HERE. But in the meantime, I want to share with you a prayer that Rabbi Berland just put out for people who want to move to Israel, but who are stuck, somehow.

It’s not a long prayer, but it sums up so precisely what’s really going on when people get stuck unable to make aliya, even though they admit it’s the right thing to do.

You can see the original HERE, but here’s what it says:

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A Prayer to Come to Eretz Yisrael

TO MERIT COMING TO ERETZ YISRAEL WITHOUT LOSING ANYTHING. TO SELL EVERYTHING FOR ITS FULL VALUE. AND MAY I MERIT LEAVING THE DEFILEMENT OF THE LAND OF THE NATIONS THAT WE ARE IMMERSED IN. AND MAY WE SMASH ALL OF THE OBSTACLES THAT ARE MOSTLY OBSTACLES OF THE MIND.

Master of the World, who can do everything. Merit me to go up to Eretz Yisrael with sublime self-sacrifice. That I leave all of the property and all of the belongings that I have outside of Eretz Yisrael. That I not leave anything over, that I not leave any remembrance.

Rather, I should sell everything as quick as possible at full value, and not lose even one pruta by moving to Eretz Yisrael. And may I not incur any other damages by moving to Eretz Yisrael.

For we have no more strength to stay in exile, in chutz la’aretz, even for one second.

We want to go up to the land of our forefathers, that you gave to our forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, “The land flowing with milk and honey”.

For Eretz Yisrael is holier than any other land in the world.

And Hashem Your G-d chose her over all other precious things in the world.”

Please, Hashem, merit me to go up to Eretz Yisrael with self-sacrifice,

“And bring us to Your Holy Mountain.”

For we have no more strength to stay in chutz la’aretz, but on the other hand we’ve been here for so long, in the defilement of the land of the nations, and we have no idea how to free ourselves from it.

Now we are turning to You, with humble kneeling and prostration:

Help us, Hashem our G-d, to come to Eretz Yisrael in the blink of an eye! And help us to break all of the obstacles, and all of the postponements, for the main obstacle is in the mind.   

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May Hashem help us to give Him what He really wants, as easily as possible.

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Did you ever stop to wonder how Moshe Rabbenu would go down in Monsey?

“Shlomie! Shlomie! You gotta hear this! Some guy in a frock just showed up in the beis medrash, and told everyone he’s the Moshiach!!!”

Shlomie heaved his stomach back inside the belt line of his black pants, stood up and went over to talk to his chevrusa Yankie, who was anxiously pacing backwards and forwards by the kollel’s coffee vending machine.

“Whaddya talking about, Shlomie? Calm down, speak slower. Who just showed up in the beis medrash?”

Yankie took a breath, stopped pacing, and turned to Shlomie.

“Some guy called Moshe something… He said G-d sent him to redeem the Jews, and he wants to take us out of Monsey to the promised land!”

Shlomie’s eyes narrowed. Another nut-job talking about G-d!

The last 210 years, there’d been a lot of these imposters who’d showed up trying to con the Jews of Monsey that one day they’d have to leave and go to the ‘holy land’. Wherever that place was meant to be…

“Where is this guy?” Shlomie demanded. “I wanna talk to him.”

With Yankie following behind, Shlomie headed off to the beis medrash, swung the doors open, and saw a tall, bearded figure standing in the corner with his eyes shut, rapturously reciting the bracha over a cup of water out loud.

Shlomie whispered to Yankie,

“Uhoh, this already doesn’t look good! What’s with this guy’s accent? Is he Sephardi?! And who spends five minutes blessing a cup of water?! This is definitely bitul Torah!”

Yankie muttered back, “Shlomie, we didn’t get the Torah yet…” But Shlomie didn’t hear him, as he’d already marched up to ‘Moshe the moshiach’ determined to kick this imposter out of the beis medrash.

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“Sooo, Moishe… where’d you learn?” challenged Shlomie.

Moshe Rabbenu studied Shlomie with wise, kind eyes and told him gently:

“I’ve spent the last 60 years communing with Hashem in the desert.”

Shlomie eyes rolled so far back in his head they almost popped out his neck. Geez, the nerve of this guy!!! Still, Shlomie prided himself on being open-minded, so he decided to ask a couple more questions before officially excommunicating him.

“So, who’s your Rav?” he asked.

Moshe lowered his head slightly and said:

“Hashem. Hashem’s teaching me Torah. Although I did meet Rabbi Akiva a little while back…”

Shlomie snorted again. What? That guy whose parents were goyim who converted?!?

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He tried one last time, just to be nice.

“Where did you grow up? Did you study at the Mir?”

“I grew up in Pharoah’s palace,” Moshe Rabbenu replied gently. “I had to flee Monsey-raim at the age of 20 after I killed an Egyptian by uttering one of Hashem’s ineffable names. I never got a chance to learn at the Mir….”

“Kishoofim!!!!” roared out Shlomie. “Out, out, get outta here with all your dangerous Moshiach talk! You’re nothing but a crack-pot, a false messiah, a person who’s trying to pull the Jews away from learning Torah with all your talk about serving Hashem!”

Yankie muttered again “But Shlomie, we didn’t get the Torah yet…” but again, Shlomie didn’t hear him.

With quiet dignity, Moshe Rabbenu picked up his staff, and headed out of the beis medrash.

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Yankie was anxiously biting his fingernails.

“The nerve of that guy!” sputtered Shlomie. “I can’t believe people are falling for this! We’re only meant to be learning about Moshiach, not believing it!”

“But Shlomie, a lot of the really big rabbis – like Aharon HaKohen – say he’s the real deal…” Shlomie harrumphed.

“All these ‘rebbe’ types stick together, you know that.”

“But Shlomie,” Yankie tried again, “This morning he turned the whole Nile to blood, and he’s told Pharoah there’s more natural disasters to come, if he doesn’t send the Jews out of Monsey-raim…”

“Kishoofim!!” Shlomie yelled again. “Unbelievable bitul Torah! Instead of learning another three blatt Gemara this guy’s off doing black magic and talking to goyim! Don’t fall for it, Yankie, don’t let him fool you. Seriously, where was the guy’s hat??”

Yankie tried one last time:

“But Shlomie, we have a tradition from Yaakov Avinu that at some point, the Jews have to leave Monsey-raim, and that a redeemer will show up and take them out of galus…”

Shlomie sighed a big sigh, and put his enormous arm around his frail, naïve learning partner.

“Yankie, you’re a great guy, do you know that? Here, take a look over the other side of the beis medrash. Who’d ya see?”

Yankie turned his head, and spotted Korach, the Rosh Kollel, shtiggering away to the bachorim about how why the beis medrash doesn’t need a mezuzah on the door. Korach cut a fine figure in his Armani black suit, smart tie and brushed fedora, tilted at just the right angle to set off his jutting chin.

“Now, if someone told me that’s Moshiach, I’d believe it,” explained Shlomie. “That guy’s related to one of the most important families in Monsey-raim; he’s got 14 kids – all shomer Toyrah ve-mitzvos – and he encourages his students to think for themselves. That guy is all about Toyrah and mitzvos. And his wife bakes a great kugel!

“But Shlomie, we didn’t get the Torah yet,” Yankie wanted to say. But he didn’t because he knew there’d be no point.

Shlomie heaved his stomach back behind his shtender, and went back to learning his latest blatt on his My-Gemara i-Phone app.

“The nerve of that guy, ‘Moshe Rabbenu’!” he muttered to himself, thankful that he’d managed to save the guys in the beis medrash from another false messiah. Hrrmph! As if the Moshiach would be someone who’d never stepped foot in the Mir…

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First posted in June, 2017

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I opened the door to find Susannah standing there: “I have cancer,” she told me.

One day a few months’ ago, there was a buzz at the door. I opened it up to find a scrawny old woman dressed in the lightest of summer dresses standing on my stoop. She wore a pair of oversized, fake black Crocs on her feet, and she was pushing a black trolley on wheels, that was full of an odd assortment of food.

I looked at her, she looked at me. She blinked, cleared her throat, then told me:

“I have cancer. Do you have some money you can give me?”

I looked at her, she looked at me. I went to look in my purse and as usual, there were only a few shekels hiding out in its creases. When there are teenagers in the house, it’s rare for a 100 shekel note to last more than 10 minutes after they’ve woken up. I handed the small change over with an apology.

“That’s ok, darling.”

She reassured me.

Then she cleared her throat for another request:

“Maybe, you have some food you can give me?”

I’m not a balabusta who has my cupboards stocked for all occasions and contingencies. Now my girls are much older, and now that I live in Jerusalem, I tend to shop on the go, and to really just buy what I need for that day. So I blinked nervously, and started scrounging round the back of the fridge, and the back of the cupboard, to see what I could turn up.

“Tuna in water?” I offered her, over my shoulder. I’d bought them for Pesach, and we still have four cans left because no-one really likes it. Susannah’s eyes lit up.

“Perfect! I can’t have oil because of the cancer, you know.”

It was a win-win. I loaded her up with unwanted tuna, a big box of cornflakes and a bottle of water. I’d done a mitzvah, I felt good.

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The next week, Susannah came back.

I opened the door, and eyed her a little more suspiciously. Was this going to turn into one of those ‘charidee nightmares’, where I’d get to the stage of being scared to open my own front door? I looked at her, and she looked at me. I think she forgot that she’d already told me her shpiel, because she started again:

“My name is Susannah. I have cancer. Do you have some money for me? My medications are very expensive, and I need some money.”

She spoke English with an Eastern European accent that added a strange sense of poetry to her words. I fumbled in the purse – nothing, nada, totally cleaned out by the teenage hordes. I shrugged my shoulders, sorry. She hesitated, then again cleared her throat.

“Maybe you have some food for me? I have nothing in my house to eat.”

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I knew she wasn’t lying.

I could see it in her face. So once again, I rummaged around the fridge, and loaded her up with some bananas and pears, and a tin of lychees I’d just bought that morning in anticipation for a snack attack. She was very grateful, and I closed the door with half a quizzical smile on my face.

The next week, she was back. And I decided I had to put a ‘boundary’ down, a marker to show – to myself! – that whatever I gave in future was coming from a place of free choice, and not from a place of unhealthy manipulation. That time, I told her I had no money, and no food. Sorry. Not unpolitely, not harshly, still respecting the soul of this person who stood on my doorstep. But showing both of us that my giving wasn’t automatic, and that I could say ‘no’ sometimes.

She responded in such a gracious, gentle and dignified manner, that I realized it was safe to carry on giving to Susannah in future.

The next week when she came back, I greeted her with more friendliness, and she relaxed enough to ask me if I could make her a cup of coffee. Of course!

Anything else?

“Do you have any food you can give me to eat now?” She asked. Big blue eyes bulging out of her too-red face. “I haven’t eaten anything all day.”

It was already 3pm.

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Again, I’m not a balabusta, but God helped and I offered her some cornflakes. “Yes!” she said excitedly. I brought her the box, but before I could bring her a bowl and some milk, she’d stuck both hands in the foil lining and was stuffing the cornflakes into her mouth. I was shocked. Susannah was poor, but she was also genteel. She really was starving.

That time, I gave her more money and more canned goods, and she spent an hour in my kitchen just recovering from who knows what she’d just been through, the last couple of days.

The next week, she came later, when my kids and husband were home. I let her in, and one of my kids started stage whispering:

What do you know about her, Ima?! How do you know she’s not going to rob us?!

That kid has a lot of fear about ‘stranger danger’. I don’t know who got to her in junior school, but they did a great job of making her a paranoid lunatic, when it comes to interacting with strangers.

First, we have nothing to steal. And second, she’s been here a few times already, and I trust her.

The kid didn’t so believe me, but her phone started beeping and she got distracted.

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That time, I gave Susannah coffee and supper, and a tiny bit more cash – literally, 10 shekels or something – and just let her sit in my kitchen, trying to arrange some of her affairs on her phone.

There but for the grace of God go I.

That’s really all I could think. God forbid, I should end up poor, destitute and sick in my old age, and no-one would even give me a hot cup of coffee or a place to sit quietly for an hour. Just as Susannah was leaving, the kid on the phone burst out in very loud gales of laughter. I didn’t pay any attention to it – it’s the usual teenager thing that goes on all the time – but apparently, Susanna did.

Two days later, the door buzzed in ‘her’ way, and to be honest, my heart sank a bit. I could do once a week happily, but if it got more than that, I’d have to put my foot down. Susannah stood there looking even more gaunt and vulnerable than usual.

Rivka, I have to ask you something.

Ok…..

Here it comes, I thought to myself.

Here comes a request for $300, a plea to come and cater for 30 house guests, or something else OTT and totally unreasonable. I was completely unprepared for what she said next.

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“Rivka….were you laughing at me?

I looked at her in disbelief, and she stared back, tears pricking up around the bulging blue eyes.

“Rivka, I have my problems and I’m poor and I’m sick. But….were you laughing at me?”

Susannah, where is this coming from? Why on earth would you think I would be laughing at you?!

I was so shocked she thought that, I was so upset that’s what she believed.

I looked at her, she looked at me, and then she smiled a relieved smile.

“I had to check, Rivka, that’s all. Don’t mind that I asked you.”

That time, she didn’t ask for anything. No food, no money, no toilet paper. She came all the way to my flat just to check I really was who and what I was holding myself out to be.

Later that night, when I told the story over to my husband, he told me that he’d noticed she’d had a funny look on her face as she’d left, because the kid on the phone had started laughing just then.

“I thought then it could look a bit bad, like we were mocking her,” he told me.

I had no idea.

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For two days, I tried to make some teshuva about this. It’s so easy, to cause hurt to other people. It’s so easy, to ride rough shod over another person’s feelings.

God, I don’t find Susannah’s visits so easy or comfortable, but I will do my best to be friendly and welcoming to her once a week, whenever she comes, and to treat her with proper respect!

This week, she came back. I opened the door and looked at her, and she looked at me.

What can I do for you this week, Susannah, what do you want?

She cleared her throat.

“Rivka, can I have some coffee? And do you have some food you can give me now?”

Her timing was perfect. For once, I’d gone off to the supermarket mid-day, and I had a juicy watermelon waiting to be cut up and was in the middle of making some supper.

I gave her a plate of watermelon chunks, made the black coffee with two sugars, and disappeared back to my writing, while the potatoes for supper continued to boil.

Everything OK?  I asked, when I came back in to check on them.

“Rivka, it’s heaven!” she told me. “The melon is so good!”

Ten minutes later, she’d conked out on the kitchen table, and slept the sleep of the exhausted for a little while, until I’d finished making the fish cakes. I gave her some mashed potato, the ubiquitous canned goods, and two rolls of toilet paper.

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She’ll be back.

And each time she comes, I’m strangely grateful. Susannah is not a pious woman, not at all. But this last time – on a Wednesday – she wished me Shabbat Shalom.

And I know I’m buying my way into Gan Eden for the price of a tin of beans, and a box of cornflakes.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin @belart84 on Unsplash

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Identifying the real enemy within.

Back in February 2012, highly popular Israeli journalist Yaron London wrote a piece for the Ynet (fake) news site headlined: Say no to Jewish Hezbollah.

In that piece, London compared Israel’s haredi population to a ‘malignant body part’, and then called on secular Israel to “reduce the number of their grandchildren.” I highly recommend that you go and read the whole thing for yourself HERE, but I pulled out the two paragraphs that basically sums up what’s going on right now in Israel vis-à-vis the haredi draft. London wrote:

“As haredi education rejects a life of work and participation in defending the homeland, and as we cannot imprison tens of thousands of yeshiva students (and those pretending to be such,) and as national service would hold justice in contempt, and as purely haredi regiments are a recipe for an armed civil war, and as the haredi community mushrooms as result of natural growth – the national majority has no choice but to embark on a determined cultural war.

“Time is of the essence. Should the majority lose this war, the Zionist enterprise would be remembered as a short-lived historical episode.”

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I’ll unpack what all this means about identifying the ‘enemy within’ in a moment, but before I do, let me share some more eye-opening quotes with you from people in Israel’s secular establishment. This next one comes from Ephraim HaLevy, the former Head of the Mossad, and was also said in 2012:

“Ultra-orthodox extremism has darkened our lives. This is more dangerous than Ahmadinejad.”

What makes this statement all the more jaw-dropping is that Ahmadinejad, the former President of Iran, actually stated back in 2005 that he wanted to “wipe Israel off the map.”

And since then, the rhetoric coming out of Iran against Israel has barely let up for a moment.

Everyone knows what they want nuclear weapons for, and it’s not just to make a few nice radioactive experiments underground in Tehran. Here’s a few more quotes about the Iranian threat, from Israel’s top brass:

 “Iran is continuing to advance as a military nuclear capability, and it has a radical regime. The combination of the two and a high desire to achieve nuclear capability…is an existential threat against the state of Israel,” – Former Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, speaking in 2009.

“The Iranians actually wrote on one of the missiles: “Israel must be removed from the earth.” These are missiles that are designed to carry – and deliver – nuclear warheads. I call on the Security Council to take action.” – Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon, speaking to the Security Council on March 14, 2016.

I could quote reams and reams more, but you get the idea.

But despite the fact that nuclear Iran wants to annihilate the whole of the State of Israel, what did the former Mossad chief find to be the main concern, the main worry, the main threat to Israeli society? The Haredim. The enemy within.

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And he wasn’t alone.

The alarms started ringing for all of Israel’s secular elites after demographic studies started coming out from the mid-90s onwards showing that more and more people were becoming religious in Israel, and that more and more of those religious people were having large families.

For as long as the haredim didn’t vote, and effectively stayed apolitical and shunning the secular, Zionist State of Israel, honestly no-one cared too much. But, as soon as the late Rav Ovadia Yosef, z’tl, decided to pull the Sephardi haredi world into a coherent political body behind Shas, all of a sudden these secular elites woke up, and realized that ‘democracy’ no longer suited them.

You know, ‘democracy’, where a country is supposed to be governed according to the wishes of the majority, while respecting the minority’s human rights.

But apparently, democracy is only OK in Israel when the majority is secular, not religious.

Yair Lapid is the poster boy for the Askhenazi, secular, ‘socialist’ clique who have been ruling Israel with an iron fist since even before the State was founded. In his video address to the haredi stream at Kiryat Ono college, which you can go back and see HERE, Lapid let slip a lot of home truths about who he regards as the ‘enemy within’, amidst all the obfuscation and distortions. When he admitted that Israel’s secular Founding Fathers firmly expected the haredim to disappear within a generation or two, he was being honest.

When he admitted that: “the [socialist, secular, Europeanized] mainstream really did oppress them, and denied them their rights”. And when he said that: “Instead of a multi-dimensional and multi-sectoral vision that could include all different types of Jew, [the Founding Fathers] created an ethos that suited secular, Ashkenazi socialists. And they wanted all the other ‘tribes’ to submit to this ethos – he was accurately describing the situation.

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But that accurate depiction of what’s going on stopped when he started claiming that the ‘solution’ is that haredim should also enlist and ‘Share the Burden’ (picture me doing massive quote marks with the fingers of both hands.)

Because Lapid – and all the other secular politicians and intellectuals and elites like him in Israel – really don’t want haredi people in the army.

They don’t want them learning how to use machine guns properly, or learning how to defend themselves from brutal assaults by bald-headed policemen, or making the sort of connections that could launch them off on a stellar career in politics post-service.

They don’t want that at all. The last thing they want to do with their ‘enemy within’ is train them to function as an army. And a few years ago, they were even being totally honest about that, and what they they were planning to do instead, to solve their little problem.

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Let’s return to Yaron London.

In his piece, he set out the secular elite’s position very clearly: teaching thousands of haredim how to use guns is a recipe for a Jewish civil war, and will lead to the creation of a ‘Jewish’ Hezbollah – a quintessential ‘enemy within’ –  that is far more loyal to God, the Torah and their holy rabbis than they are to the State of Israel.

All the hogwash about needing more haredim to enlist in the army is a smokescreen to cover a far more sinister battle plan that began two decades, but really ramped up over the last 7-8 years, namely:

“the national majority has no choice but to embark on a determined cultural war.”

Again, be very clear about WHO is waging this “cultural war”, and WHAT they want to achieve.

It’s being waged by the remnants of the Ashkenazi, secular, formerly socialist clique who think they own Israel (and the truth is, in many ways they do). Those people are massively over-represented in the media, they are massively over-represented in all of Israel’s institutions, and they are massively over-represented in politics.

I’m wary of connecting too many of the dots for you here, so let me ask you to please try to take the ‘fake news’ blinkers off for a moment, and really try to grasp what I’m telling you next.

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What this ‘cultural war’ looks like

  • Around 10-15 years ago, secular Israel realized that religious, orthodox Jews are very soon going to be the majority in the country. They pride themselves on being ‘the only democracy in the Middle East, so while they would love to institute some sort of military coup at this stage, and do away with democracy all together, they can’t. So, they come up with ‘Plan B’, which is to wage an all-out cultural war against religious Jews in Israel, and particularly the haredim, who they view as an existential threat and the ‘enemy within’.
  • This cultural war really began with the ‘disengagement’ of Gush Katif in 2005, when settlers were routinely portrayed in the (secular, Ashkenazy, socialist) media as crazy religious fanatics with machine guns who were itching for a civil war. The smear campaign worked, most of the country were totally turned against these poor people, and that segment of the population was totally crushed.
  • Then, around 2009-2010, with a lot of ‘egging-on’ from the non-orthodox streams of pseudo-Judaism who are being very heavily funded by Jewish multi-millionaires in America, all-out war was declared against the orthodox world, and especially the rabbis.
  • The media and the secular clique who are running the country knew that if they could totally trash the reputation of a bunch of leading haredi rabbis, that would go a very long way to dragging orthodox Judaism down into the mud, too. And you know what, they were totally right!
  • Beginning in 2012, there was one high-profile investigation after another of the rabbis who were deemed to be the most influential in Israel. A whole bunch of Rav Ovadia’s sons were dragged off by the police for questioning (and some of them were even charged with the most ridiculous offences.) Others, like the late Rabbi Yoram Abergel, z’tl, from Netivot were imprisoned for two days while the media blared one yucky headline after another about ‘mafia ties’ – only for the whole thing to be quietly dropped very soon afterwards. But the damage had already been done, in the eyes of the public. Then, they started to go after the really big names – Rabbi Pinto, and Rabbi Eliezer Berland.

Click the links, connect the dots…

Again, there is so, so, so much more to be said here, but try to connect some of the dots for yourselves, to see who is really behind all this persecution of the rabbis in the secular press, and what they are trying to achieve with all their fake news and slander. But here’s the fly in the ointment:

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Not everything is a lie

Now we come to the more painful part of this post, which is the frank acknowledgment that not everyone in the haredi world, or in the orthodox world generally, is a good, nice person, and that not everyone who goes by the name of ‘rabbi’ deserves that title in any way, shape or form.

What has complicated the matter so much over the last few years is that so many of the leaders of Am Yisrael, both on the secular side and also on the religious side, are actually people with awful characters. This is a totally different dimension of the problems associated with the ‘enemy within’.

In this post, I shared the story of the poor woman from Meah Shearim who was publically slandered by some of the ‘rabbis’ in her community in the worse way, before being picketed in her own home and even firebombed, as part of a divorce that turned very ugly.

I’d love to pretend that story is just a one-off, but the more you look to see what’s really going on here, the more you come across stories like this one, from 2013, describing the abuse that haredi thugs were doling out to people in Bet Shemesh.

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It boggles the mind that a society that claims to be following the Torah can tolerate such a public display of bad middot.

Why were these bullies and thugs not shunned by their communities? Why weren’t they challenged? Why weren’t there public sermons being made about the need to treat other people with respect, even if they aren’t ‘religious’, and decrying the use of violence and abuse against other Jews in any way, shape or form?

For the answer, we have to take another look at what occurred – and is still occurring – within the haredi community when it comes to the persecution of Rabbi Berland.

The 2-3 people in Meah Shearim who started all the smears against him are all ‘haredi’. The ‘rabbis’ who have signed their names to misleading or even outright false statements against him and his Shuvu Banim community are all ‘haredi’. The hundreds and thousands of people in Israel and around the world who eagerly gulped down all the fake news being put out against him by Ynet, and the Times of Israel, and Ha’aretz, and Channel 2, and Channel 10 – a whole bunch of them are haredi.

A whole bunch of them consider themselves to be religious. A whole bunch of them think they are better than others. And in the meantime, there are totally fooling themselves about the real state of their own middot, and their real spiritual level. Their personal ‘enemy within’ – i.e. the yetzer hara – is totally ruling the roost.

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Rebbe Nachman taught that in the generation before Moshiach comes, most of our Jewish leaders – including those in the religious world – would be false.

He also warned us in Sefer HaMiddot[1] that these wicked people could fool the rest of us very easily. Here’s what he said:

“There are those who are great apostates and heretics, but they don’t reveal their heresy and people are not aware of the need to guard themselves from them. However, through conducting oneself modestly, one is saved from these heretics.”

He also warned us that:

“The wicked don’t confuse us in our holy service with their sins, but instead with the ‘good deeds’ they do.”

These evil people are full of good deeds! They’re full of mitzvahs! They have long beards, and impeccable lineage, and a lot of Torah learning, and they even live in Meah Shearim – but they are still full of jealousy, arrogance, slander, atheism, anger and even violence.

So, how can we guard ourselves against this sort of ‘enemy within’? How can we spot them, and make sure we’re not being pulled into their bad middot and malicious behavior, too? Rebbe Nachman tells us:

Conduct yourself modestly.

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What does this mean, tachlis?

First and foremost, it means don’t hold yourself out to be some big ‘know it all’ because you happen to spend all day gorging yourself on fake news. Act with some humility! Admit you don’t really know anything, you have no idea which way is up, you have no way of being able to judge who is a ‘real’ rabbi and who isn’t these days, or who is coming from a ‘good’ place and who isn’t.

Also, modest, humble people don’t gossip about others. They don’t enjoy sharing bad information around. They don’t use every story, true or not, to start loudly beating their own drum, or stacking up their own soap-box.

Also, it means we make every effort to judge others favorably, because we know there but for the grace of God go I.

It’s hard to fit all these ideas into one post, but the more we work on refining our own bad middot, the more we work on uprooting our own jealousy, and arrogance, and hypocrisy, and anger, and lack of emuna, the easier it’ll be to spot the people who aren’t doing this work – and to stay far, far away from them.

We are heading into some very turbulent times right now, and the birur, or clarification process, is only going to accelerate from here on in. God isn’t interested – at all! – which community we belong to, which outfit we wear, what we look like on the outside.

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God wants the heart.

There is good everywhere you look in the Jewish community, and there is also bad, and a key way of being able to navigate through it is to listen to every message God is sending us, even from ‘sullied’ sources, and to take it seriously.

Which brings me back to Yair Lapid, and all those secular people who are waging a cultural war against the haredim. Why are they doing it, spiritually? Did you ever stop to ponder that? Emuna teaches us that God is behind absolutely everything that is happening in the world, even the awful persecution being doled out by Israel’s anti-haredi, anti-religious, media and establishment.

God often uses the yucky people to send us very important messages about what ourselves need to acknowledge, recognize and work on. Everything is just part of that ongoing conversation the Creator is having with us, even Yair Lapid. Everything has to be sorted and clarified, to see what point of truth it may concern, and how we may need to respond to it.

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So this is some of what Lapid said, in the second half of the clip:

“If an Ethiopian child in Netivot is starving, it’s just as much your responsibility as mine, and you can’t say that you only give to haredi charities.

If rockets are being fired at Ashkelon or Kiryat Shemona, it’s your responsibility as much as mine. You can’t just send Zaka. You’re responsible as a community, as part of the State of Israel.

And if tomorrow another huge fire breaks out on the Carmel, I want to know what you plan to do about it, because it’s your responsibility as much as mine….

Can you still tell yourselves that only chilonim (secular Jews) should join the army, because it’s not your business? Can you still tell yourself that the only poor people you care about are poor haredim? And that you’re not even a tiny bit interested if poor, secular people starve to death?”

Haredi hating rabble-rouser that he is, he still made some points that beg a proper response from the religious world.

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Is it OK, to be so focused-inward that we ignore all the suffering going on all around us just because those people don’t belong to ‘our’ communities?

Sure, I get we can’t cure everyone’s ills, and I also get that it’s overwhelming to even begin to try. That’s why it’s so much easier to just stay in our own dalet amos, and our own little clubs, and pretend that people who are different from us, or not as religious as us, aren’t our problem.

I get it, we all do it, it’s understandable.

But, is that what God really wants?

Is it OK for so many of us to keep pretending that we’re better than other Jews because we happen to keep a few more mitzvoth? Living in Israel doesn’t automatically make someone a better Jew (just ask Yair Lapid…) Keeping Shabbat doesn’t automatically make someone more holy.

There are big questions here, massive questions here, about how the haredi world really relates to our fellow Jew, both within our community and without.

If more of us were really doing the work of refining our own bad middot, the false leaders in our midst wouldn’t last a moment. No-one would be drawn to them, no-one would be fooled, no-one would follow them down the path to perdition.

And that last thing to throw out there, at least today, returns to the idea of whether we really believe more in God, or more in the guns of the IDF.

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What is really protecting us here in Israel, the Iron Dome and the Shabak, or all our prayers, mitzvoth and Torah learning?

Right now, so many people in the haredi community can fudge this issue, and make a lot of pious noises about having ‘emuna’ and ‘believing in God’ – whilst hiding behind the secular IDF and the State of Israel’s military might.

(It’s especially easy to hide your lack of real emuna when you live outside of Israel, and can carry on enjoying all the perks of a non-Jewish society and a non-Jewish way of life while pretending to yourself that you are the holy of holies just because you happen to keep a few mitzvoth.)

But in Israel, the question of what we really believe in – God or guns – is looming larger and larger, and the secular people who are pushing the haredi draft question are sharpening it all the time.

But they are just the stick in God’s hands.

It’s God who is really asking us: when the sirens go off and you run to the safety room, are you really thinking that Hashem is in charge, or praying that the Iron Dome will work? Are you saying tehillim, or are you relying on all those clueless 19 year old boys in the army to save you? What’s really going on, here?

And as a community, it behooves us to be honest.

So many of us don’t have a lot of emuna. So many of us really don’t believe that God is running the world. We don’t believe in supernatural miracles. We don’t really want geula and moshiach in any tangible way. And we really are relying more on the guns of the IDF than on God, to protect us.

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By the way, that’s OK.

Because the whole point of this birur process is just to get us to the point of truth.

If the truth is that we really do rely on the IDF for our peace of mind, then that requires quite a change in our attitude and actions.

Instead of belittling the people who serve in the army, we should be profusely grateful to them. Instead of continuing to deride the whole concept of an Israeli army, we should admit they are playing an important part, and consider what we ourselves can do to contribute. If we really don’t believe our Torah learning is protecting the country as well as the F16s, we need to come clean and be honest about that.

And then, we’ll start to act much less arrogantly. Then, we’ll start to realise that so many of those secular people have just as much good in them as we do, and that we have just as much ‘bad’ in ourselves as we are pointing out in others. It’s a whole sea change going on now, a whole transformation.

But this only happens if we’re honest with ourselves.

And what if we really do believe that it’s God, and not the guns, who are protecting us? Then we’ll wholeheartedly throw ourselves into learning more Torah, and saying more tehillim, and attending more prayer gatherings in Hevron, and above all, working more on our bad middot and trying to unify Am Yisrael, instead of looking for ways to criticize and tear down ‘the other’.

Again, it’s a total sea change, a complete transformation.

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Why are the secular people jumping up and down so much about the haredim right now?

Because so many of us apparently ‘religious’ Jews don’t act nicely, we don’t treat other people right, and we’re arrogant, self-righteous hypocrites.

We want all the kudos and credit for being ‘frum’, we want to continue looking down our nose at other people, and to think that we’re better than they are, without actually doing the inner work of refining out characters, and God is sick of it all.

Regardless of the community we belong to, we all have a lot of work to do on our own bad middot. We all have work to do, to develop some emuna, and some humility, and to figure out who is really a tzaddik today, and who is just a false leader, an ‘enemy within’, only interested in their own ego gratification and sense of being a ‘somebody’.

We are currently all fighting a war against the ‘enemy within’, make no mistake about it. It’s a war to be real, to be good, to really believe in God and to make the teshuva we need to make to get to the next stage of the redemption process.

And it’s anyone’s guess who is really going to still be standing when it’s all over.

[1] The Chapter on Avoiding the Wicked, Second Book, Numbers 4 and 5.

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UPDATE:

Myrtle Rising has a very eye-opening first-hand account of her son’s experience in the IDF which bears out much of what’s written above. You can check it out, HERE.

We’re all in this together.

You know how I came to realise that so many of my own opinions and attitudes were dripping with sinat chinam, or baseless hatred of my fellow Jew?

My teenagers.

I know a lot of parents bemoan those polite times of yesteryear when your kids just had to nod mutely as you behaved like a jerk, or treated them (and others…) abusively, or felt too scared to tell you the truth because they didn’t want a slap or a cold shoulder or some other form of parental punishment.

But you know what?

My chutzpahdik teenagers have helped me to work on my middot like no-one else.

They’ve magnified every little bit of arrogant self-righteousness, every tiny speck of lashon hara that I was trying to pass off as ‘chinuch’, and challenged every rage fit that was more befitting of a two year old than a grown woman.

And one of the main areas they’ve been working on is my attitudes towards other groups of Jews.

It’s human nature, to find your ‘place’, your milieu, your level in the world, and then to start defending it to the hilt as being ‘the best’, ‘the only’, while everyone else is awful, terrible, disgusting, yucky or inferior.

That’s why people who move to Israel love to point out the flaws in the people and places they left behind; that’s why people who have no intention of moving to Israel love to point out the flaws in the people and places of the Holy Land; that’s why ‘frummers’ rail against secular people, and secular people rail against chareidim, and national religious people have no idea who to rail against, so they take it all on a case-by-case basis.

And underneath all this self-righteous judgment and indignation and anger and finger-pointing and accusations lies….

Our own bad middot.

And nothing else.

This is what my teenagers helped me to learn. Every time I’d start telling them about the founding fathers of the State, and how many bad things they got up to (to try to counteract the hagiography going on in school about people like David Ben Gurion) – my youngest would go for the jugular.

You’re talking lashon hara!!! Why are you only seeing the bad in people, why can’t you see all the good they did, too?!?!

But, what about all the Yemenite children they kidnapped and sold to the highest bidders?

But, what about the awful treatment they doled out to the Sephardim (including your Saba?)

But, what about the 500,000 Jews in Hungary that they could have rescued, but chose not to?

Ima, I’m not saying they were good people, but they did a lot of good things, and they were still Jews! Why are you always looking at the bad?!

She had a point.

So, I started trying to work on it, and it was really, really hard going to keep identifying bad behavior without going off on big, generalized rants about the Jew themselves. As Rebbe Nachman teaches us, the soul of every Jew is only pure, it’s only good. It’s just surrounded by so much trauma, so many klipot that’s eating up all their innate good.

But then, as God likes to use the mirror principle both ways, after we had this discussion when my youngest started ranting about ‘chareidim who don’t serve in the army’, and ‘chareidim who go around abusing everyone’ etc etc – I had to give it back to her:

You’re talking lashon hara!!! Why are you only seeing the bad in people, why can’t you see all the good they did, too?!?!

Man, did she hit the roof. Because while it’s easy and enjoyable to point out other people’s blind spots and prejudices, it’s so very much harder to accept them being pointed out in yourself, and in your school, and in your classmates.

Over the next two years, we came back to this subject a lot, because me and my husband skew much more to the chareidi side of things, even though we aren’t chareidi, while my two kids are very much in the national religious camp.

Between us, and all the arguments about different groups, and different Jews, we eventually figured out that there are people doing very good things in all groups of Jews, and there are people doing very bad things in all groups of Jews.

It comes down to the idea that in Judaism, there are no ‘good people’ or ‘bad people’.

There are only ‘good actions’ and ‘bad actions’, and we are all a collection of our actions that ultimately, only God will judge as being overall ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

So, my kids act as a guard-dog on my natural tendency to start criticizing in others what I really just need to work on in myself. And I do the same for them – and while the arguments are not so pretty, while they’re happening, I can feel how much good they are doing us all.

These days, my kids are far more careful about throwing out derogatory statements about ‘chareidim’, because they know they are going to be challenged to bring real facts, and not just a collection of chareidi-bashing rumors and headlines.

(We’ve had some very interesting discussions around the Rav, for example, and that’s also what spurred me on to set the facts of the story down and write the book. Sadly, they don’t read English… but it’s going in the right direction.)

And on my side of things, they keep prodding me to look for the nekuda tova, the good point, in even the most yucky, anti-God Jews, and to keep trying to inject some compassion for them, and all the trauma they must have gone through as kids, to be such messed-up, hate-filled, yucky derangos.

Ultimately, we are in this together.

All the problems we see in everyone else are just our problems that WE need to acknowledge and work on, and there are no exceptions to this rule. The more we all internalize this, the less we’ll be pointing our fingers all over the place, and the more we’ll be putting our hands up to the fact that the main people holding up the geula is…us.

So, if you have a teenager at home, take a deep breath and unmuzzle them. It’s hard to hear – often so hard to hear!!! – when you get assailed with a strong dose of ‘teenage trufe’, but it’ll help you work on your middot like nothing else in the world.

There are crazy people all over the place. In every section of our community, there is sinat chinam and lashon hara and arrogance and jealousy and self-righteous anger.

We can’t fix those problems in anyone else. We can only work on ourselves.

And if we do that, we’ll accomplish everything God sent us down here to do.

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We just put together a website for the book telling the true story of Rabbi Eliezer Berland, which includes the back story, FAQs and the video. You can see the website at the address below, so please stop by and take a look – and if you want to help someone else get over their media-induced sinat chinam of Rabbi Berland, please feel free to share the link:

http://oneinageneration.com

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.

A Seder Meal for One.

The day before Seder, I had a breathless conversation with an older single I know whose ‘plans had changed’ last minute (as they so often seem to do with this person), who needed a place to go for the Seder meal.

I said no.

I said no for a few reasons, not least because I had my hands full with a ton of non-religious family members who also believe that Seder isn’t actually something you ‘do’, at least, not yourself, but something that you show up for, say your lines, eat your boiled egg, then go home and tick the box.

But the person pulled a half-successful guilt trip on me that they had nowhere else to go blah blah blah so in the end I compromised and invited them for the morning meal after Seder.

I was so exhausted. I was so tired.

And this person stayed in my house for four hours on one pretext after another, until finally when they went to the bathroom, I saw an opportunity to escape and went ‘to sleep’ in my room until they finally got the message and left.

Recently, I’ve been thinking more and more about how so many of us unwittingly ‘enable’ bad behavior, and massive yetzer haras, through some misguided attempt to ‘do good in the world’. Sure, in theory, it’s a great wonderful, amazing thing to have people around your Seder table who otherwise would have no-where to go.

But at what point does it stop being a mitzvah?

At what point does enabling other people’s selfish, freeloading behavior stop being a good thing?

You know why that older single had no-where to go on Seder night? Because she’s exhausting to be around. That’s why. She doesn’t treat people so nicely and she has a lot of bad middot.

Do you know why I’m doing something completely different for Seder next year? Because even the very minimal requests I set for my Seder were ignored.

People didn’t buy haggadot for their kids….they didn’t prepare a tiny something about anything related to the Seder…they didn’t have the patience to sit through Hallel and made the fact they wanted to leave so obvious that there was no choice except to comply…they didn’t help-with-a-single-thing with the Seder.

They left it all to me.

Now, if they were 80 and feeble, fair enough. If they were ‘lost Jews’ who had never seen or heard of a Seder before in their life, fair enough. But that’s not the case. We’re the same age, and they’ve sat at someone else’s Seder every year since they were born, for more than four decades.

After I was inundated with so many people’s ‘freeloading behavior’ this year, and after I found myself getting so upset about it all, I realized there was something else going on, here, that God was trying to draw my attention to, namely:

I was enabling these people’s bad middot.

And I don’t want to do that anymore.

You might be reading this hand to mouth in horror, thinking what is the woman saying?! This is terrible, shocking, awful!!!!

It’s a free country, you’re allowed. We’ve all been so brainwashed into believing that we have to be the ‘solution’ to other people’s problems, it’s totally understandable if you are having that reaction. I also had that reaction to myself, initially, and thought I’d totally lost the plot. But then, I started to think things through more carefully in hitbodedut, and to dig a little deeper, and here’s what I came to:

God for sure wants me to help other people, as much as possible. At the same time, He for sure doesn’t want me to take all the responsibility for ensuring they have a Seder to go to, or people to hang out with, or a nice life.

For example, it says very clearly, that it’s the father of the household’s responsibility to recount the exodus to their children.

If that father has his head permanently in his business affairs, or prefers to play cards at the Seder table, or doesn’t value his own yiddishkeit enough to make any real effort to pass it on to his kids – it’s not down to me, to fix that problem.

What’s more, there’s the law of natural consequence at play here. The natural consequence of having guests who I experience as ungrateful, entitled, freeloaders is that I don’t want to have them back.

IFFFFF, guests make it clear that they really want to share the responsibility, IFFFFF they make a huge effort to participate, IFFFFF they offer to buy in the desserts, and clear the table, and wash up – then I probably would be extremely happy to have them back. Who wouldn’t be?

But, IFFFFF the guest is totally self-absorbed and self-occupied, IFFFFF they act like they are doing you a massive favor, by being there, IFFFFF they make ‘perfunctory’ noises about helping that you know aren’t the least bit sincere, and then scarper before the dishes have even been taken off the table – then, I really don’t want them back, until and unless something massive changes in their behavior and their attitude.

This is the law of natural consequence, and we ignore it at our peril.

As I was mulling all this over, I had a chat with a friend of mine, Gila, who I have invited for Seder a couple of times down the years, but who has always turned me down. Partially, it’s because Gila and I live in different cities. But the real reason is much more awe-inspiring:

Gila often does Seder all by herself.

I asked her if she would share her experience of that more widely, and she very generously agreed. Here’s what she told me, in her own words:

“Seder is a very personal experience, and I wanted to do it my own way, of course still within the framework of halacha. I read the ma nishtana myself, I did both sides of the ‘Mishar rotam’ dialogue that many Sephardim traditionally do at the beginning of the Seder. It could have been a bit weird or awkward, but I embraced Seder night, and I really enjoyed it.”

I asked Gila, why didn’t you want to go out and be a guest at someone else’s Seder? She told me:

“I really wanted to feel the holiday. I wanted to concentrate on the Seder, and not get so distracted by everything else that was going on around me. There are lots of segulot you can do when you’re having a Seder by yourself, so I really took advantage of it. I drank all the wine you’re supposed to, and I ate all the matzah.”

What happened about hiding the afikomen?

“I just put it away somewhere, so I didn’t see it. And I really enjoyed the idea that I really was eating the afikomen – and only the afikomen – for dessert. Usually, you have to supplement the afikomen with more matzah, but I was eating only the real thing. I also really loved preparing for the Seder. “

This year wasn’t the first time that Gila has done a Seder by herself.

I asked her what she finds challenging about doing it by herself.

“Beforehand is the hardest part. When people start asking me, what are you doing for Seder? That can be a hard question. It’s hard anticipating being alone, and worrying about how society views me. Other people’s reactions are the main problem for me, not actually doing the Seder. The first time I did it, my parents thought I was nuts, until I explained to them how the Seder actually went.

“For someone who has never done it, who has never enjoyed the fruits of their own labor at the Seder, it’s so gratifying to be really involved, and to not just be a guest. Even the shopping was enjoyable and meaningful. I was using my own hands to create the Seder!”

Gila has now done Seder by herself on 5 different occasions.

She’s very happy to still be a guest at other people’s tables, if that’s suitable for her and her hosts, but she told me something about the reality of being an older single at other people’s Seder that made a very profound impact on me:

“Even if you have a bad experience at a Seder, you need to take responsibility. You can’t just accept an invitation to someone because you feel you don’t have a better alternative. When I first decided to do Seder by myself, as an older single in my 40s, it’s because I had never made it myself, and I felt it was just time to do it. When I took that decision, it showed me that I really have a choice about how and where I do Seder, and that was liberating. In general, when you know you have a choice it also makes you more tolerant since you take responsibility for what you want to do, instead of blaming other people.”

I will share more of Gila’s tips on how to do a Seder for one below, but I didn’t just find her experience liberating for some of the singles out there, who maybe are sick of being guests around other people’s tables.

I also found it liberating for myself, because it underscored the point God had been trying to teach me that everyone has a choice.

If a person truly wants to experience a Seder, there is nothing stopping them.

I don’t need to relate to people as nebuchs¸ unfortunates, because they aren’t used to making a Seder, or don’t find it easy. It’s a mitzvah! It’s a privilege! It’s an obligation – their obligation to recount the Haggada and eat matzah and drink four cups of wine.

If they care about the mitzvah, they will find a way to pull it off.

(It’s a whole other story, but I have friends in Costa Rica who are going through a very tough time, financially. This year, they only had enough money to buy the minimal matzah and wine for Seder night, and they just ate vegetables the rest of the week. Talk about mesirut nefesh for the mitzvah! Amazing.)

And if they don’t really care about the mitzvah – then having them back year after year is just enabling them to keep ticking a box, and just keeping them stuck in that place of being a permanent, uninterested, entitled guest.

And I’m not going to do that, any more.

It’s not helping me, for sure, but Gila’s story also showed me that it’s also really not helping them. Or their kids.

So, if you’re young enough and healthy enough to change your kitchen over and cook for three days straight – do your own Seder. If you’re single, consider doing it alone, or consider inviting your other single friends and doing it together. If you have a family and you’re approaching your fifties without ever having done your own Seder, make a decision that next Pesach is the year you finally grow up, and take responsibility for yourself and your families.

Making Seder is hard work, for sure, but it’s a mitzvah, and every ounce of effort you put in is repaid, spiritually.

If you want some more guidance on what to actually do on Seder night, take a look at the Seder Guide on the Torah.org website. And HERE is where you’ll find a run-down of the customs and minhagim that Rabbi Berland follows on Seder night. Finally, I have discovered two excellent cookbooks for Pesach, which contain simple, pretty healthy food that is not a pain in the bottom to put together, but tastes pretty good. You can get A Taste of Pesach #1 by clicking the bold, and also check out A Taste of Pesach #2.

And now, let’s end with Gila’s dos and don’ts for how to do a Seder for one:

PERSONAL SEDER DOS:

  • Try to get excited about it.
  • Appreciate that you have a choice of how and where you do Seder, and that if you really want to do it in your own home, you can.
  • Run the Seder exactly how you want it to go, and include any segulot or customs you want.
  • Have realistic expectations.
  • Prepare for Seder properly – and enjoy preparing for it.

PERSONAL SEDER DON’TS:

  • Don’t do a Seder by yourself if you’re not in a good frame of mind, or if you feel isolated.
  • Don’t a Seder by yourself if you can’t be alone for a meal on Shabbat.
  • Don’t tell yourself you have no choice, except to be a guest at someone else’s table. You always have a choice to do the Seder yourself, if you really want to.

Like Alice Through the Looking Glass, somehow a malfunction occurred in my Pesach outing plans, and I ended up tripping through the glass into the Land of Money*.

We wound up at this swanky, newly-built apartment complex overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, where we were told we could park on Level Minus 2. I nearly crashed into a concrete wall, because there was only Minus 1. Later on, we discovered that Minus 2 was carefully hidden behind a retractable Iron Curtain, policed with cameras that didn’t recognize our car as ‘belonging’.

I knew the feeling.

One of the residents of the Land of Money came down to greet us, as we were ushered into the expensive but sterile lobby, then over to the elevators with no buttons.

“Why are there no buttons?” I wanted to know.

“Some Arab got in here a few months ago from the parking, and started visiting all the floors and they caught him on camera,” came the explanation. “The residents all went mad, so the management changed the elevator and now it will only open on your own floor.”

“How does it know what floor your apartment is on?”

He flashed me the round blue plastic toggle on his keychain, as he pressed it to the screen reader outside the elevator.

Man, this is really a prison, I thought to myself.

We got up to the swanky five-room cell, hidden behind its ominous security door, and walked into an atmosphere so thick, you could cut it with a knife.

Not even the stunning view, or the massively-colorful artwork could take your mind off the oppressive, gloomy feeling of suppressed anger and resentment, that was swirling all over the place like a toxic cloud.

The sofa was oversized and pure white. It was covered in a cheap white blanket, and one of the inhabitants of the Land of Money sat uncomfortably perched on the edge of it. God forbid, that a speck should land on that purity and sully it! God forbid, that someone’s careless heels should leave a scuff-mark on the couch, or that it’s perfection should be creased or diminished in any way!

“Sit down, sit down!” they told me heartily. But I was too scared of the couch to want to comply. So, I stood awkwardly for a few minutes, admiring the view, then proffered the two boxes of fresh strawberries I’d brought as an offering to appease the gods of the Land of Money.

This started a panic.

I know they aren’t so fussed about kashrut, so they’re not worrying about bug infestation. So what? What is going on here, what?!

It took me a couple of minutes of deciphering worried glances and barked commands to sit down at the table to figure out the problem: Strawberries contain red juice – lots of it – and red juice stains. And the expensive designer chairs around the carefully upholstered glass dining table were first in the line of fire.

They had their hand-sewn, cheap grey covers to protect them – which presumably would be whipped off whenever all humans had left the premises, restoring them to their pristine appearance – but even so. Were those covers enough to defend against two boxes of strawberries in the hands of young children?

It took ten minutes of strict policing and worried hovering with wipees until the residents of the Land of Money could breathe out again.

In the meantime, I started to find the atmosphere totally choking and suffocating.

No-one asked me how I was doing – why would they? In the scale that the Land of Money uses to measure worth, I’m less than a cockroach. I have no big investments to boast about, no easy cash to flaunt, no designer clothes to swish around in.

Whatever money I have, I spend.

I’d just spent a small fortune having different residents from the Land of Money for Seder, where no expense was spared to try to make it a good evening for the (not religious) people attending.

They didn’t offer to help cover any of the expenses, natch, because they were ‘Stars’ in the Land of Money, and as I’ve mentioned, my net worth ranks me alongside the ‘animals’ that are expected to sacrifice themselves for the idols in that place.

“Let’s get out of here, and go to the icecream place down the road,” one of the kids suggested, and I jumped at the idea far too enthusiastically.

Freedom! Let’s get out of this poisonous cloud of choking gashmius ASAP!!!

Somehow, the button-less lift with its million electronic eyes knew to let us out at the lobby, and we bounded out of the elevator just as an expensively-dressed group of secular Americans were waiting to crowd back in.

They caught one whiff of my husband’s payot (side-curls) and their eyes immediately grew large in their faces, and almost fell out. You could hear what they were thinking:

What is something like this doing in our building?!?!

Strange to say, I had the same thought.

What are we doing here, in this awful, sterile, dead place where the money has killed every spiritual impulse, every natural kind tendency of the human heart, stone dead?

As soon as we got outside, we breathed easier again, the kids lightened up, and the conversation that had frozen into stilted rivulets of polite small talk up in the apartment started to gush forth with much more genuine warmth and interest.

“You have to get out of there, it’s killing you.”

That’s what I told the prisoner who I’d come to visit in the Land of Money.

“Yeah, it’s a gilded cage. But I’m stuck in it,” he told me back.

And we both knew that at least for now, he’s right.

I came home so thankful to God for so many things.

Thanks, God, that my armchair is 15 years old, but people can eat strawberries on it without anyone risking a heart attack. Thanks, God, that you made my business fail when it did, so I would put so much more of my effort into building relationships than building my bank balance. Thanks, God, that I’m not so obsessed with money that I’m totally close-fisted about sharing what I have. Thanks that I don’t spend all my time ‘complaining’ about how other people aren’t giving me value for money.

And most of all, God, thanks for getting me out of the poisonous, toxic atmosphere of the Land of Money, where people can’t talk to each other, and the only thing that matter is how it all looks.

The apartment looked stunning (underneath all the cheap covers….) but felt totally dead and deadening.

And not for the first time, I learnt that freedom is priceless, and that too much money truly is the worse curse in the world.

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  • The Land of Money appears in Rebbe Nachman’s Tale called ‘The Master of Prayer’. It’s a place where all the residents believe that making money is the only true purpose of life, and where the people with the most money are literally worshipped as ‘gods’ and ‘stars’.