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At some point this week, I'm going to share the back story of the blood, sweat and tears it's taken to get this book to this stage. But in the meantime, IT'S OUT AND YOU CAN BUY IT!! You can get both the paperback version and the Kindle version over on Amazon, HERE.
Thank you God, for bringing me to this stage!
Strange to say, if this is as far as the book ever gets (ie just published, even if no-one actually buys it) dayenu. It's been a huge learning curve, a massive endeavour, and an open miracle that it even got this far. BH, I hope that in some small way, it will help a lot of people get closer to God, start to figure out the messages He's hiding in their health, and shine some spiritual light into even the darkest corners of the ubiquitous medicine cabinet....
Thanks to all my friends and readers who have helped me get to this place with the book, and also my other websites - you know who you are, and you are AMAZING!
I was discussing what it takes to really 'be' a good friend with my husband (and hence, to have more people like you and vice-versa...) and we came up with the following 9 things. Feel free to add any other tips in the comment section, as I can always use all the help I can get on this particular issue. Hope you enjoy them.
So, this is what I did as part of my six hour ‘only say thank-you-athon’: I first warmed up with a whole bunch of genuine thanks for many of the blessings in my life. I thanked God for my husband, my kids, my health, my home, my ability to type, my ability to think, my ability to write, hot water in the shower, food in the fridge, clean socks living right near to the Kotel etc etc.
I first did that for two hours, because I knew the next part was going to be much tougher: saying thank you for the things that have caused me a lot of pain and heartache over the last few years.
I decided to do a mind-map of all the hard stuff I wanted to say thank you for, so that I could go through each item one by one, thank for it, and then try to see what good had actually come out of it.
I’m not going to share the whole list with you (because let me tell you, I used the biggest bit of paper I had and I still had to write small), but I wanted to share some of the highlights, because it was an amazing exercise to do and I hope maybe it will inspire you to do your own version.
So on my massive bit of paper, some of the ‘lacks’ I wrote down were as follows:
1. Professional success and accomplishments
2. My own home
3. Old friends and new friends
4. Family support and financial help
5. A bath
6. A community
First, I said thanks for all these ‘lacks’.
Then, I started to break them up into all the different elements of ‘lack’ I felt they represented:
Ready for the magic to begin?
After I’d spent some time sincerely saying thanks for these (and a few hundred other) things, God started to show my something amazing: why it was actually the best outcome it could be for me.
Here’s a taste of what I started to get:
At the end of the process, I stopped carrying that grudge around with me that’s been weighing me down for years, already. I know I have to carry on working my gratitude, but it really was a huge weight off to know that God doesn’t secretly have it in for me; that Rav Arush was right about everything (including doing six hours, moving to Jerusalem, and saying thank you); and that life is coming good, even if the ‘good’ isn’t exactly what I had in mind.
“I said thanks, and I saw miracles!”
I have a confession to make: I’ve been finding it hard to read Rav Arush’s books for the last two years’ or so, ever since we hit that incredibly tough patch where our business went bust, sparking a huge crisis of faith that nearly took me and my husband out.
It’s not that I thought they were wrong, God forbid, or that the advice in them wasn’t sound, because I’d already seen on so many fronts how so much of what Rav Arush has taught me has stood me in such good stead. Garden of Education transformed my relationship with my kids in a fundamental way; Garden of Healing was the first time I saw a properly ‘frum’ Rav clearly set out the clear links between lifestyle choices and physical and mental illnesses, in modern times; and even one of his newest books in Hebrew, ‘Successful Kids’ made a huge impact on how much I’ve been praying on my kids, and I saw some fast, tangible turn-arounds, as a result.
But we went through such a tough patch, that some small, heretical part of me started to doubt that all of what I’d been reading in Rav Arush’s books really worked, at least, for me and my life. I mean, I’ve been doing an hour a day of hitbodedut for years now and I’ve done more six hours than I can count. Before we moved to Jerusalem, I did a six hour stint once a week for months, in the merit of being able to afford to buy our own home in the holy city.
The owner of the flat we put an offer on decided to double its price to more than 4 million shekels overnight, and then very shortly after that our finances fell even further down a hole. To crown the indignity, my husband had been doing tons of six hour stints in the merit of us having a good income, so it looked like we’d been refused on both counts.
Strange to say, I still try to do six hours once a week, as I actually really enjoy it and I think it’s probably the only thing keeping me sane. But the link between ‘six hours’ and ‘getting your prayers answered’ definitely got broken last year, which created a small suspicion in my heart that not everything being taught by Rav Arush actually worked in the ‘real world’.
Fast-forward to Shabbat, when my husband brought home a copy of the Rav’s latest book in Hebrew, which you could paraphrase as: ‘I said thanks, and I saw miracles’. It’s a collection of 190 true miracle stories that happened to real people who followed the Rav’s advice. To be honest, my heart sank a little when I saw it. I mean, great that all these miracles are happening for everyone else, but given my own experiences, I felt like I was going to give this latest book a wide berth.
So I’m there, doing hitbodedut (personal prayer) next to a picture of Rav Arush on my wall, when I got the distinct impression that the Rav was telling me I should go and pick up his new book. To be honest (again…) I didn’t want to – so we got into quite an argument in my head, and I actually told the Rav that I was feeling quite cynical about ‘miracles’ and ‘saying thank you’ at the moment.
Long story short: I lost the argument, and went to open the book. I opened it randomly at story 120, which was called: Advice on how to really be happy. What can I tell you? It was spot on. So then, I started reading the book, and I quickly hit a true story that really resonated with me.
A man wrote to the Rav explaining that he’d lost his faith in the Rav’s teachings after watching a close relative of his faithfully say ‘thanks’ for her difficult marriage, only to end up having to go through a wrenching divorce that left her alone with a bunch of children to raise.
While the woman kept her emuna, her relative didn’t, and it led to quite a drop in his observance. Then a few months later, came the turnaround: the woman got remarried to a single man who had an amazing character and loved her children, and had rebuilt her home into a true ‘beit ne’eman’. She was happier than she’d ever been, married to a man who truly adored her.
The relative wrote to Rav Arush to request his forgiveness for doubting his advice. The Rav responded that the main problem was that the relative had lacked belief in God’s goodness, and thought that things should have turned out the way he thought they should, when God had a different, but better outcome in mind.
The first thing I did when I read that is ask Rav Arush for forgiveness (I talk to his picture, and let me tell you it’s a whole lot easier than trying to arrange an actual meeting). Then, I decided to do a six hour ‘only thank you’ session motzash, because I know I’ve had a lot of axes to grind about how my move to Jerusalem turned out.
I’ll tell you what I learned in the next post.
Last week, I read something that completely changed my take on how difficult my life seems to have been the last decade: don’t collect things, collect experiences.
By the ‘stuff’ measure, the last few years’ have been almost a complete bust. I have less net worth at 42 than I had at 23 – and that’s sometimes a pretty painful realization. (Hopefully at least one of my books will take off big-time in the next 20 years or so, so I can afford to retire at some point.)
Buying stuff has been very far down my ‘to do’ list for years now, partially because I just couldn’t afford much, and partially because the shine went off all the gashmius and I realized that keeping the clutter, gadgets and outfits to a minimum actually makes me feel much happier.
But that London part of me still occasionally registers its displeasure with the way things have turned out. I mean, I can’t afford my own house! I don’t have a bath! I don’t have a garden! I can’t entertain more than two (thin) people at a time in my compact flat! Etc etc etc
LondonRivka tells me: ‘You know, I hate to share this, but I think we might officially be a loser…’
And until I read that line about collecting experiences instead of stuff, I didn’t really have much to argue about.
But now? Now it’s all different! Because while my bank account has been pretty empty the last decade, my experience bank has been full to busting. I’ve been to Uman 8 times; I lived in so many different places in Israel (and elsewhere); I’ve met so many interesting people; I’ve lived 50 lifetimes in the past 10 years, and packed so much into every day.
Now, I go to the Kotel pretty much every Friday night – and it’s an amazing experience that money really would be no substitute for. I’ve seen my kids blossom and grow into the most amazing young people, with far more insight, maturity and wisdom than I ever had at their age. Me and my husband could write 50 books about the challenges we’ve had to weather in our 19 years of marriage, from multiple moves, to multiple bankruptcies, to health issues, family issues, infertility issues, crazy friend issues, crazy rabbi issues – you name it, we’ve had a dose of it.
And until last week, I’d filed all that stuff away in the ‘debit’ column, but no more! Now I’m starting to see that every single experience I had gave me something priceless. I learned so much. I grew so much. I hope I improved so much and worked on a bunch of bad middot that otherwise I wouldn’t have got near in a million years, if I was still pulling things off on the ‘more stuff’ front.
As time goes on, I’m truly feeling like the stuff comes along as the cherry, once you’ve experienced whatever it is you’re meant to, and squeezed every last drop of knowledge out of it.
So if you’re currently struggling to have much to show for yourself materially-speaking (and even if you’re not…) I invite you to join me in changing the focus completely around, and looking at life as more a collection of experiences, than a collection of things.
It’s a small mental switch, but it’s put me in the best mood I’ve been in for ages.
No, this isn’t another ‘drugs gone mad’ post… Believe it or not, Rav Dessler actually brings this story from the Gemara, where a young father loses his wife, and can’t afford to pay a wet-nurse to feed his child (clearly, this is before the days of Materna.) So then, God does a miracle for the man, and has him grow boobs in order to nurse his own child.
The Sages of the Gemara are split in their view of whether this is a good thing or not. One says: “How great is this man, for whom such a miracle was performed!” The other says: “How lowly is this man, for whom the order of creation was changed!”
This discussion takes place in Rav Dessler’s essay on ‘Torah and Economic Activity’ in Michtav Me Eliyahu, where he brings the five levels of faith that people are on, when it comes to earning a living. The five levels are as follows:
When my husband quit his job to ‘let God provide’ – as he’d been encouraged to do by his then rabbi – I knew we weren’t on the level to really live that reality. But it’s only when I came across this that I realized we were aiming for Level 1 – which even Yaacov Avinu didn’t think he was on – when really, we were at tops, Level 3, same as the man who grew boobs.
The two years we were trying to rely on miracles, we got a lot of them, but they weren’t exactly enjoyable, or easy, or something that helped us make friends and influence people. In fact, they often did quite the opposite, because when all is said and done, who wants to hang out with a guy who grew miraculous boobs?! Mommy and me doesn’t want him; his mates down the pub don’t want him; even his mum thinks he’s a little strange and off-putting and tries to keep the visits short and sweet.
Miracles don't come for free
Sure, it’s still a spiritual level higher than most people probably ever get within spitting distance of – but it’s a not a ‘good’ place to be, is it? Where did he buy clothes? Did the boobs disappear again, once the kid grew up, or was he stuck 42DD forever? These are all very important questions, because as Rav Dessler and the Gemara makes clear, miracles don’t always, or even usually, come for free.
So where are we holding now that we’re definitely not in the relying on Heaven for everything category? I’d love to say it’s level 4 – I’d love to say we’re now back to working hard, while still knowing that God truly is providing everything, and there are days when I really believe this. But not always. Sometimes, I still complain. I still feel aggrieved when I hear of rich foreigners buying up all the apartments in Jerusalem, which means us poor locals can’t even get a foot in the door. I still worry sometimes about ‘what will be?’
Sometimes, I feel like an open miracle is the only way I’m ever going to own my own home again. So maybe, it’s somewhere between 3 and 4. Who knows. The point is, just because someone is getting miracles, even a lot of them, doesn’t mean they’ve completely made it in the spirituality stakes.
Personally, I’m not having enough financial success to be at Level 1, or enough horrible challenges to be at Level 2, or enough open miracles to be at Level 3, so maybe it is Level 4 after all. I guess we’ll see what happens next.
Exciting news from Rav Berland’s blogspot: one of the police officer’s charged with fabricating the charges against Rav Berland showed up in Rav Shalom Arush’s office last week, desperate to make teshuva.
The man has had one serious problem after another, since working on a ‘case’ to frame Rav Berland, and accuse him of things he never did. He asked Rav Arush how he can make teshuva for his deeds, and Rav Arush told him he has to publicly confess to his part in trying to frame Rav Berland.
That’s going to put his job and possibly also his freedom on the line (as it’s a criminal offence to do what he and his colleagues did, by fabricating ‘evidence’) – so he’s currently balking at full disclosure. But I'm willing to bet it’s just a matter of time now, until Rav Berland comes home to Israel completely vindicated. And if that happens, can Moshiach really be far behind?
You can see more of the story unfolding for yourself and here it, too HERE.
I just finished the book: Anatomy of an Epidemic, by Robert Whitaker, and I was shocked at just how many lies are being told by modern psychiatrists to keep the ‘consumers’ coming to their doors for psychiatric medicines, many of which are addictive, all of which are expensive, and most of which give their users far more mental and physical health problems than they solve.
This week, I’ve written a series of detailed posts about what’s going on with big pharma and the psychiatrists over on the JEMI website, and I highly recommend you take a read BEFORE you or your loved ones agree to pop any pills recommended by a psychiatrist, regardless of how ‘frum’ they may be.
The biggest lie – that to this day has still not been proven with any evidence – is that people only have mental and emotional illnesses because of chemical imbalances in their brain. Psychiatrists started telling this lie 30 years ago because it seemed like a plausible hypothesis, and at the time their revenues were seriously dwindling because why spend a fortune on a psychiatrist when you can go to a therapist, coach or counsellor instead?
So psychiatry fought back by updating the Diagnostic and Statistician’s Manual in the 1980s, and creating literally hundreds of new mental illnesses that could be ‘cured’ by medications that only the psychiatrists could prescribe. Overnight, they were back in business, raking in the dollars again from people eager to ‘cure’ their chemical imbalances, and able to buy that second home in Cape Cod.
There was just one problem: the chemical imbalance doesn’t exist.
For any mental illness.
So it’s all a crock of lies.
Which is why the drugs they prescribe often do far more harm than good – and as the bandwagon has gathered speed, and they’ve started inventing ‘disorders’ for children too, now, the evidence is stacking up at a terrifying rate that they are literally maiming hundreds of thousands of patients, worsening their mental health issues, cutting 20-25 years off their life expectancy, and getting them stuck in a ‘drug trap’ that’s incredibly difficult to escape.
In the non-frum world, maybe we wouldn’t expect any better. But how can it be that frum psychiatrists are pushing these drugs to their patients? How can it be that frum schools are demanding that kids be drugged-up with ineffective, dangerous Ritalin? How can it be that the frum poster people of psychiatry aren’t ashamed to tell us that depression is just like diabetes, and is caused by a chemical imbalance?
I’m by no means a medical expert, but if the information about the terrible damage psych drugs are doing to people is out there and readily available – and has been for at least a decade already – why do our frum psychiatrists not know about it?
Chazal teaches us that ‘a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise’ – and as always, they knew what they were talking about. Patients will eagerly queue up to be ‘cured’ of their chemical imbalance, but trying to get people to do the real work of examining the true causes and cures of their emotional difficulties is always a much harder sell.
Trouble is, God wants option 2. The drugs don’t work, they just make things worse. Why? Because God doesn’t want any easy options or quick fixes for that stuff, as that would kind of bypass the whole point of creation.
You can understand (maybe…) why secular psychiatrists prefer drug dealing to encouraging their patients to fulfill their spiritual potential and to put God more in the picture. But what excuse do frum psychiatrists have? (If you’re a frum psychiatrist and you’re reading this, please write in and tell me, I’d love to know your side of the story.)
And how can we, as a community, continue to sanction and even encourage the use of psychiatric drugs when they are literally destroying people, body, mind and soul? Zyprexa makes that packet of cigarettes look positively tame, by comparison.
I know, many people are desperate for relief, and mental issues are amongst the most torturous to experience – believe me, I know! But drugs is not the answer. If they were, God would make the drugs work, and He isn’t (at least, not in the way that actually fixes the underlying problem.)
So what’s the answer? To put it very simply, we need to live the sort of lives God wants for us, deal with our emotional problems and relationship challenges honestly, and put God much more in the picture than He currently is.
Over on the JEMI website, I hope to start fleshing out these ideas in much more practical depth over the next few weeks, and I’d love your feedback. We aren’t going to find the solution to mental illness in Pfizer’s laboratories; rather, we’re going to find it in personal prayer, and a courageous determination to stop living all the lies that characterize modern life, and to finally come clean about what’s really happening behind closed doors.
Over the last decade, I’ve been to a ton of kevarim, or graves of holy people, all over the place. I’ve visited the patriarchs and matriarchs in Hevron; the tomb of King David in the Old City, the Rashbi, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, up in Meron; the Ari and Rabbi Yosef Karo in Tsfat; the grave of Rachel Imenu, near Bethlehem – and all the Ukraine lot besides, including Rebbe Nachman, the Berditchever and the Baal Shem Tov.
But there’s one grave that’s stood out as a ‘must visit’ – and because it’s in the middle of a heavily populated Palestinian town with pronounced terrorist tendencies, getting to it has been pretty tricky, the last 10 years.
Yosef’s tomb is in Shechem, and you can only get to it if you go as part of a midnight convoy on armoured buses, with the whole trip coordinated with the Israeli army. Long story short, until last Sunday, I’d never been able to organize everything to go. But a couple of days’ earlier, someone told me about a trip that was leaving on Rosh Chodesh Shvat, and even sent me an email with all the details.
I called them up Sunday morning – still only half interested, if I’m honest, as I like my sleep and Shechem is a 2 hour shlep by bus from Jerusalem – and there was a place free. So I decided to go.
I get to the bus stop in Jerusalem, and the first person I see there is a former room-mate from Uman, who starts telling me the most amazing, miraculously-hair-raising true stories of sons who recovered from terminal illnesses after doing a pidyon nefesh with Rav Berland; and people who dropped dead the day after they finished translating a particular Breslev book into English; and miraculous moving-apartments-with-no-money stories.
Uncertainty, kedusha and surrealism
I took a breath of cold air, and I could smell Rabbenu all around me – it was that same heady mix of uncertainty, kedusha and surrealism that so often comes with me to Uman, when I’m going to visit Rebbe Nachman. You start feeling like ‘anything can happen’, and it can be quite unnerving, if still exhilarating at times.
The bus showed up – and it was an old bullet-proof clunker with double windows so thick and scratched, you couldn’t see out of them at all. It was like being blind-folded and led off down an alley. I tried to fall asleep, and I mostly managed.
I woke up a few minutes before the convoy drove into Shechem (at least, that’s what I guessed, because I couldn’t see a thing through the window) and then the bus pulled over to the side of the road, and we got the order to move out. I stepped out of the bus, and into Arab Nablus at 2am.
It was a cold, clear night, and you could see Yosef’s tomb 50 metres ahead – surrounded by a whole bunch of army APVs and soldiers in all sorts of combat gear, many of whom were holding really big guns.
How cool! I thought. Then: How weird, to be visiting a kever at 2am with half a platoon of the IDF and a whole, very mixed, crowd of people from across Israel. There were families with small kids, teens, chareidim, hill-top youth with huge payot, sem girls, Chassidic matrons from Monsey, yeshiva students from London, wives, grannies and everything in between, besides.
I tried to grab two minutes by the kever, before it turned into a tin of sardines, and then I spent the rest of my short time there standing outside the building, trying to take it all in. You could see dark Nablus towering up the slopes all around the tomb, and I thought this must look pretty impressive in the day time. (Maybe one day I’ll find out…)
I tried to do some personal prayer, but the truth is that between the trip, the tiredness and the surreal situation, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed and speechless. So I watched, and this is what I saw: secular soldiers and chareidi men laughingly posing for pictures together; hundreds of people playing musical instruments and loudly celebrating Rosh Chodesh; ‘hill top yoof’ digging up the ground near the tomb and putting up a big blue tent (I still have no idea what all that was about, but it looked distinctly naughty; two teenage girls sat on the floor wrapped in the same blanket, reciting tehillim.
And the last thing I saw, just before I left, was a couple of teenage boys lugging a six pack of coke bottles around with them.
At least, that’s how it looked from a distance, until I noticed a whole bunch of tubes were sticking out of the coke box, and were attached to one of the boys. The boy looked really ill – he had that ethereal, angelic quality that a person can get when they’re physically very frail. His friend had ‘disguised’ his respirator, or whatever it was, in a coke box, so his friend wouldn’t feel embarrassed while visiting the tomb.
That sight brought tears to my ears, and I said to God: Who is like your people, Av haRachamam? There’s me complaining about making this grueling trip in the middle of the night, but look at all the old people, and small kids, and sick teens that have showed up here today, just to celebrate with Yosef HaTzadik. Unbelievable.
A little while later, we were back on the bus, and heading back to Jerusalem. As kever trips go, it was pretty uneventful in some ways – I had no big flashes of inspiration, no massive insights, no answers to big questions. What I did have, though, was a renewed appreciation for my fellow Jews.
Who is like your people, Am Yisrael?
Will I go back? Maybe. Not soon. It took me a day to recover and I’m still a little ‘out of it’ now. But one thing I can tell you for sure: Yosef’s tomb reminded me a lot of Rebbe Nachman’s. It was the same energy, the same intensity, the same holy madness. So something tells me that sooner or later, I probably will be going back.
Books by Rivka Levy: