The last few days there’s been so much din, or judgment in the air it’s been pretty hard to think straight. There has been so much going on this week ‘behind the scenes’.
As usual, the path to ‘redemption’ is proving to be anything but smooth, and we’ve been having some ongoing and completely unexpected issues with trying to finalise the purchase of our house. Without some serious help from Hashem, things could get very complicated, very quickly on that front.
I guess we’ll find out what will be.
In the meantime, I’m not worrying about it, because on Wednesday I found out that someone I was close to in university had actually passed away a little while back at the age of 48. One day they just didn’t wake up.
So steady jobs and house ownership is all well and good, and I’m not at all knocking them. But they still pale into comparison to good health, staying happily married and actually being alive, and baruch Hashem, on that last score I’m doing OK, so really, what is there to complain about?
It’s a very useful perspective to cultivate, as the world is continuing to go even more bonkers.
If it’s isn’t the weather - crazy floods in Australia and Santa Barbara, crazy snow in the Eastern seaboard and the UK, 5 inch hail in Alabama and South Africa, bolts of lightning coming out of clear blue sky that’s ‘randomly’ killing a whole bunch of people across the African continent, to name but a few - then it’s crazy dictators with nuclear weapons and no obvious brakes on their appetite for destruction.
Syria is still seeing hundreds if not thousands of civilians being killed and dispossessed every week, even as the official ‘ceasefire’ creaks along.
The world’s financial markets are rocking around like a dingy in the middle of a hurricane, as Trump is going into ‘protectionist’ mode in the US. (Say what you will, but as a President of the US, he is actually doing what’s in the best interests of that country.)
The Arabs have started stabbing people, and running people down, and shooting people up again both in Israel and now France. The dreaded ‘peace plan’ is due to be unveiled soon, and that always brings a huge uptick in Arab violence, because God just uses them to put a spoke in the wheel of the West’s ‘best intentions’ for Israel.
But the strangest thing of all, at least to me, is all this weird stuff with the poisoning of a former Russian double-agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia, in the UK.
I was speaking to a London-based relative of mine with slightly paranoid tendencies who told me there’s this new website called ‘The Blast Zone’ that’s all the rage, because it tells you how fast you’ll be toast if the UK gets nuked. If my relative is at work, he’ll get incinerated immediately if they bomb London. If he’s at home in the suburbs, then it’ll take him three days to die from radiation poisoning.
I had to ask him: Why are you even looking at all that stuff? Who in the world is talking about nuking London, that this is even on your radar?
He told me: Kim Il Jong or Putin.
Apparently, the war of words with Moscow is getting so abrasive, at least a few people in the UK have pinged back into full ‘cold war’ mode, when worrying about getting nuked is what everyone did before breakfast.
But in 2018, is that really on the cards?
So, I started to dig around a bit with this Skripal stuff, and some very interesting things emerged, like the links between Skripal and Christopher Steele and Pablo Miller. These last two are ex-British secret service men who were apparently hired by the Clinton Foundation to pull together the ‘Russian Dossier’ on Trump.
I guess that Dossier was meant to lead to Trump being impeached, and then ‘sanity’ returning to American politics, but looks like God had other plans and now, the tables are starting to be turned all over the place and trails are starting to be followed back to some highly inconvenient places.
Rebbe Nachman told us very clearly that ‘the talkers’ would take each other out in the lead up to Moshiach being revealed in the world, and it looks to me like this Russian spy saga is another part of that process. Because if Putin wanted the Skripals dead, they’d be properly dead, and there would be no ‘obvious’ clues leading back to the Kremlin.
Russia is for sure bumping people off all the time - and so is America, and so is France, and so is Britain, and so is Israel, and so is every other government you care to name. Murdering ‘undesirables’ has been the name of the game for a very long time, Commandment Number 6 notwithstanding.
And they’ve all got so good at it, that they can pass all sorts of assassinations off as untraceable ‘accidents’ and ‘illnesses’ these days. So what on earth is going on here? Europe and the UK seem to be making a huge fuss over something that really doesn’t seem to justify it, given the way the world has been working for years.
When another Russian ex-spy, Andrei Litvinenko, was obviously poisoned to death in the UK a few years’ back, no-one raised an eyebrow. When a number of other Russian ex-spies and oligarchs all got mysteriously run-down, or ‘committed suicide’ in the UK, no-one uttered a peep.
So the official British protests over the Skripals are extremely strange.
My view is that God is getting the Brits and the Europeans to pick a fight with the Russians as part of the process of the ‘talkers’ outing each other’s skeletons. For once, Russia isn’t behind this high-profile poisoning. But my best guess is that Putin will now be highly motivated to find out who was, and to publicise that information all across the world.
And then, things will start to get really interesting.
Ah, Moshiach, who is going to be sane enough to really greet you, when you do actually finally show up? Things are moving so fast, and are potentially so stressful in a million different ways, my brain has kind of shut down and gone into hibernation.
This is the famous holy apathy that Rav Ofer Erez taught is the only way to get through this last, final stage before Moshiach actually comes. Because really, if we took all this stuff seriously, we’d all just have a nervous breakdown and then no-one would be able to make seder.
But serious it still apparently is. So, as I don’t pop pills or smoke joints to deal with my anxiety, I guess I better schedule in some more long hours talking to God and maybe, visiting some Kivrei Tzaddikim.
Because the world is getting crazier by the moment, and I still have to make Pesach.
Another oldie but goody. How many predictions of death and destruction from the autistics (and others...) have come and gone since I wrote this two years' ago?
We've all become so immune to real warnings from real Tzaddikim, and so confused and apathetic about what's going on in the world because we've been relying on 'false prophets' and tumah-dik sources of information and insight who keep putting a false spin on what is truly happening, and why.
Whatever is going on out there, the true tzaddikim are really the only people we should be listening to and paying attention to. It's like in Egypt: Pharoah's advisors could all 'predict the future' to some degree, but they couldn't see the full picture, and so their predictions were distorted half-truths.
And we're still chasing after the Prophets of Ov and Yidoni today...
There was great excitement in the town: the town crier had just gone round the streets yelling at the top of his voice: “The bone has a message! The talking bone of Ov has another message! Everyone come gather in the town square!”
Mothers rushed out of their homes, leaving their boiling pots of soup unattended. Fathers put down their Gemaras and left their shop-fronts: The Talking bone of Ov had a message! They were about to find out what was really going on in the world.
Only in the house of Rabbi Gershon did this news not cause a stir. Rabbi Gershon was sick of all the messages from the talking bone of Ov, and also its competition, the talking bone of Yidoni. It was never uplifting messages about how much God loves His people. It was never a message to make real teshuva and to come back to God, and to start treating other people more kindly and more gently.
The talking bone of Ov was always full of ‘oys!’, and full of the whole-scale destruction of the Jewish people and conspiracy theories that elbowed God out the picture, and just caused people to walk around panic-stricken about the terrible tidings they’d heard.
Who needed that?!
In his youth, Rabbi Gershon had also been a follower of the talking bone of Ov, but in recent years, he’d started to ponder why the talking bone never mentioned the nation’s holy rabbis, and all the work they were doing to sweeten the decrees hanging over the Jewish people. It never talked about the importance of going to Uman for Rosh Hashana. It never brought messages of hope…
Still, he knew why people continued to run out of their homes to listen to the talking bone of Ov every few weeks: human beings hate uncertainty. We all like the idea that we know what’s coming next, and that we’re prepared for it. Knowledge is power.
Rabbi Gershon sighed deeply and picked up his chumash. He started to read again about divination and sorcery, and why our Sages had outlawed all those weird attempts at trying to predict the future like raising the dead, or listening to a talking bone that someone had shoved in their armpit.
Information is power. Knowledge is power. But information can also be used to mislead and deceive, and knowledge can also be used to control and manipulate.
Rabbi Gershon sighed again. When the sages of the generation pasted up posters telling the town residents to stop speaking so much lashon hara, and to spend more time praying and learning Torah and less time visiting the local market and circuses, no-one was interested. No-one ran from house to house, trying to gather a crowd to hear what the Sages were saying.
But this talking bone of Ov showed up, and hey presto! It immediately pulled in a crowd of thousands with its messages of imminent death and destruction.
Did people realize how ridiculous they looked, hanging on every word of a talking bone?!? Did they understand that there are no short-cuts, spiritually-speaking, and that the only people who really knew what was going on hardly ever communicated that to the masses?
Did they understand that the only way to get though the world in one piece was by making sincere, genuine teshuva, and coming back to God? It didn’t matter how many tins of tuna the talking bone told you to stock up on, how much death and destruction was being predicted (typically to coincide with the next Jewish holiday…) - even if you knew all that, even if it was true, how was it really going to help you?
Rav Gershon’s ponderings were interrupted from shouts and screams from the street. As his friend Shlomo rushed past, Rav Gershon called to him from the window, and asked him what was going on.
“The talking bone has predicted that a tidal wave will smash into our village on Shabbat, and destroy everyone who isn’t wearing sackcloth and ashes. I’m running over to Rami Levi right now to pick up some sackcloth, and 50 tins of tuna,” Shlomo called over his shoulder.
“But we’re 3,000 foot up a mountain!” Rav Gershon called after his friend. “And the sea is 30 miles away!” But Shlomo had disappeared already.
Rav Gershon sighed again. Shabbat would come, and be ruined for most of the villagers who would sit there with fear in their hearts and terror on their faces. Never mind that the last 83 predictions of earthquakes hitting on Chanuka, nuclear bombs being dropped on Pesach, and ginormous Martian cockroaches invading on Purim hadn’t materialized.
Whatever the talking bone said, that was law.
Rav Gershon returned to studies, and pondered the world around him. A world were people preferred to listen to talking bones, CNN and Arutz Sheva, instead of listening to the words of our true sages.
There's so much weird weather going on at the moment that it's really no stretch to believe in things like a plague of killer hail heading into Pesach.
Three days ago, enormous hail fell over Lesotho in Africa, and according to the Africa News, it damaged a whole bunch of property and trees and even killed some people. Does that sound familiar to anyone else?
Texas has also been getting enormous hail (although not quite on the same scale - it's only breaking car windscreens not knocking people out.)
And the UK...well, it got battered again with another highly unusual 'cold snap' that also managed to erode 10 metres of sea front in some places in less than an hour, leaving a few cottages literally hanging off the edge of a cliff where for centuries it was solid ground.
The man who owns the home in the picture (below) told reporters that two years ago, he was 90 metres away from the sea...and now he really isn't.
So bits of the UK coast are going missing from some places, and others are suddenly being reclaimed.
With all the 'predictions' coming and going still, it's very easy to think that this is all a big fuss over nothing, and the world is going to continue on its merry way for another 3,000 years. And maybe that's correct, who knows?
Except, except, except....
Rav Berland said the following on the Fast of Esther, and he's never been one for hyping up things to do with Gog and Magog, or death and destruction. His message has always been consistently one of things taking a while to play out, of Jews doing teshuva in their masses and Moshiach coming peacefully.
So when he said this, I really sat up and took notice:
Everything that has occurred up until now will appear to be nothing, compared to what will be in Gog and Magog – it will be the nothing of nothings…!
I don't know about you, but I was kind of hoping that WWII had taken care of most of the 'birth pangs' and destruction of mankind stuff associated with Gog and Magog. The Rav speaks at such a high level, it's impossible to really know what he's referring to, but on the pshat level, it seems to be a pretty clear warning that a rough ride is still ahead.
And again, I've gone through a lot of the Rav's material at this point, and while he does talk a lot about destruction coming to the world every 70 years, and Iran trying to nuke us, and other things of that ilk, in the past it's always been joined with other upbeat remarks about how previous generations tzaddikim could have saved their generation by taking shame and humiliation upon themselves.
So I really don't know what to make of this, tell you the truth.
Other than we definitely need to hang on to our tzaddikim and to ask Hashem to show us who the true tzaddikim really are. Whatever is currently cooking in the world, the Jewish people have always been saved by submitting ourselves to our tzaddikim and doing what they tell us.
It was like that in Egypt, with Moshe, it was like that in Shushan, with Mordechai, and it will be like that with Moshiach, when the call goes out to 'bring in your cattle' because some huge flaming hail is about to fall from the sky....
And in the meantime, life continues. And Pesach is around the corner. And if you'd like a good place to donate some kimcha de pischa money to with a Breslov flavor, then please take a look HERE.
Rav Ofer Erez's organisation really is helping some very poor families in Jerusalem celebrate Pesach with the basics they need - and we're really talking about the basics here. Some of these families were my neighbors, and when Rav Ofer says they don't have anything, he's really not exaggerating.
Ka'ayal Ta'arog is really keeping a lot of frum Breslov families going in Jerusalem, and it's a huge mitzva to help out, if you can and that speaks to you. Go HERE to donate, and may we all be blessed with a happy, kosher Pesach.
Massive hail, massive floods, cold snaps, earthquakes and other weird phenomena not withstanding.
November 2016, the whole family was in the car taking one of my kids back to her ulpana, up North. After a pregnant pause, the oldest one said to me: “Ima, how do you know Rav Berland really didn’t do everything they say he did?”
This was just after the Rav’s ‘show trial’, where he had to plead guilty to 3 relatively minor counts in order for the courts to release him for treatment for some very serious cancerous growths. Of course, no-one really knew that at the time, so it just looked really, really bad.
I sighed, and told my daughter about the pidyon Nefesh I’d done with the Rav the year earlier, that had resolved three years of a chronic, debilitating health issue that had been getting worse and worse. “He’s a holy man,” I told my daughter. “God doesn’t work miracles like that through frauds.”
The discussion continued, because the youngest also had kids in her class that were avid Youtube watchers, and who claimed to ‘personally know’ the victims involved. Again, I didn’t try to shut my kids up or close them down, because they were asking valid questions that deserved a response, however ‘weak’ that response seemed to sound, back in November 2016 when so many of the facts were still obscured.
We discussed it for an hour, we talked about the prohibitions of listening to and believing lashon hara, or evil speech, and at the end of the hour, I hoped that enough had been clarified to at least encourage my kids to avoid discussing the subject with their friends, so they wouldn’t get pulled into a big argument.
It's impossible to avoid the argument
We have a big picture of the Rav in our home, and every time one of my kid’s friends would see it, she’d start up a whole discussion about how she wished we’d take it down, with a pointed look and flashing, indignant eyes. I changed the subject, and made any ‘lashon hara’ discussions out of bounds in the house.
This kid is a really good kid. She’s really passionate, she’s really kind, she really cares about other people. Sadly, she and her family also treat Youtube videos as a valid source of ‘news’ and consume a lot of ‘news’ online.
This Shabbat, a bunch of my girls’ friends came for Shabbat, and a few minutes after candlelighting, a huge shouting match began in the kitchen. This is not unusual with opinionated teenage girls, so I let them get on with it for half an hour. Then I caught Rav Berland’s name being mentioned, and the penny dropped what they were arguing about.
The picture had sparked this girl off again, and a huge argument had developed. Except now, out of the group of 7, there were 5 girls defending the Rav, and two still accusing him. I decided it was time to get this discussion properly out into the open, as whispering in backrooms - about anything - is never a good thing.
The yetzer thrives when things can't be discussed openly
The yetzer thrives in places where topics can’t be properly discussed, explored and addressed, especially with teenagers. So I invited the group to the sitting room, and I started laying out the real facts of the story.
I learned so much from that encounter. By the end, both the girls who were ‘anti’ the Rav asked me to stop, and wanted to change the subject. They are both really good girls, but I could see that I hadn’t changed their minds with what I’d told them. What had happened is that I’d changed their willingness to slag the Rav off so publicly, as they’d started to realize that they were actually on pretty shaky ground with their ‘facts’ and their ‘victims’ - who all essentially boiled down to the same one deranged woman, the wife of the false witness.
It all boils down to the same two people
That encounter taught me so much about how the yetzer is operating with this stuff. I know all the stories are coming from two people, the false witness and the main persecutor of the Rav within Breslov. But what happens is that people who get caught up in lashon hara like to embellish the story, and like to give it more of a ‘ring’ of truth, so that more people will take it seriously.
So instead of telling you straight: “All the information I have about this comes from watching Youtube videos and reading stuff online from places like Ynet and Kikkar HaShabbat”, they start making up taller and taller stories about the people ‘they know personally’, and the big Rabbis ‘they know personally’ who have apparently said the most scurrilous, horrendous lies about the Rav.
But if you press on the sources - you ask for specific names, you ask for specific details - it quickly becomes apparent that the person you are talking to is lying. It’s human nature. You can’t spend the best part of five years crusading for ‘justice’ against Rav Berland and then easily accept you were wrong, even if the most obvious facts and information are presented to you on a platter.
Which is when I realized that I have to tread very, very carefully from here on in, because God forbid we should ‘win the battle’ with the Rav Berland stuff, and ‘lose the war’.
The point is to get more Jews back to Hashem, not to be 'right'
God forbid that we should prove the truth about what’s really gone on with the Rav, only to have so many holy Jews get even more entrenched in their yetzers because they can’t easily back down or ‘lose’ an argument, even one as important as this.
Rebbe Nachman talks a lot about this ‘urge to win’, and explains that the people who have this usually find it very, very hard to make teshuva. Because in order to make teshuva, you first have to admit you did something wrong, you believed lashon hara, you spoke lashon hara, you went around slagging off the Gadol HaDor.
And that’s a really hard thing to admit.
I realized yesterday, I also have to be much more on guard against my own ‘urge to win’, because the main goal here should be to get as many Jews as possible out of the world of lies and back to Hashem, and not just to mow them down with ‘truth’ and facts.
The adults are finding this even harder than the teens
Yesterday, my husband saw an old acquaintance of his from a different Breslov yeshiva. The guy asked my husband where he was learning, and when he told him ‘Shuvu Banim’ the man took that as a cue to start defaming Rav Berland.
Long story short, it was exactly the same scenario we’d had on Shabbat, except the man was in his 40s and was a talmid Chacham. Which meant that he really should have known better to keep trying to pass off lies as truth, and that he really should have known better when he started calling my husband an ‘apikorus’ very loudly, in the middle of a sandwich bar in Meah Shearim.
Again, when pressed for the sources of his information, and for the facts that would support his point of view, this man tried to angrily dismiss my husband as being an ‘am ha’aretz’ and started verbally abusing him instead.
Again, what made this encounter so distressing was that this man is generally a really good sort, and a nice guy. Again, it underlined just how powerful the spiritual corruption that’s behind all the slander of the Rav actually is. God wants this person back, he doesn’t want him getting even more entrenched in his issues, God forbid.
Lies (and the people telling them...) are so fragile
In Hebrew, the word for lies is ‘sheker’, which begins with the letter shin, ש. It’s taught that this is a very unstable, wobbly letter, because it balances on a narrow point. The smallest push, the smallest challenge, can send it toppling over.
That’s so true. And when that happens, the person caught in the lie then has a choice: either, they can take a deep breath, makes some serious teshuva and admit they were wrong. Or (and sadly, this is by far the more common reaction) they can get even more abusive and blustery as they try to brazen things out.
The paperback of ‘One in a Generation’ on Amazon is being inexplicably held up. There is no obvious problem or issue, just Amazon still isn’t displaying it as being ‘for sale’. I’ve been pondering why that is - why the whole process of getting this book out has been one long catalogue of delays and issues and obstacles - and this week, I think I finally may have worked it out.
The truth has to seep out slowly, so that as many people as possible can have the time to digest it, and to acknowledge it, and to make the teshuva they need to make quietly, without getting pulled under by this need to be ‘right’ at any cost.
It's going to take a long time to turn this tanker around
Reversing five years of slander and falsehoods is not going to be fast work. People’s souls have become so bound-up with the forces of evil that run Youtube and Ynet and Channel 2 that it’s going to be a really hard, long and tricky process to spring them out of that dark place.
It’s immensely challenging, on so many levels, to believe that people with the title of ‘rabbi’ could lie so brazenly, that the Israeli police could be so corrupt, that the courts could be 100% in the pocket of the prosecutors, that the media could fabricate so many falsehoods and continuously refuse to acknowledge the truth.
This goes to the heart of why so many people want to continue to believe ‘bad’ about Rav Berland, even when the facts are presented clearly in front of them.
So the truth will have to come out very slowly, to prevent too many people from completely losing their minds. And in the meantime, I can’t rush things along or force the issue. When the time is right, the world of lies will fall, and the world of truth will replace it.
And this week I learned a very clear lesson that if I put the emphasis on ‘winning the battle’ over Rav Berland, instead of winning the war to get more Jews back to Hashem, that really won’t be a good thing for anyone involved.
I need to do an awful lot of praying about how to proceed from here.
A few years’ back, an acquaintance of mine invited me to come with her to Ashdod, to go and take a look at some exciting-sounding cheap clothing place for kids. It was quite a hot day, and when I got into the car I was already sweltering.
Now, I knew this acquaintance had some ‘issues’ around spending money, but before I got into the car with her on that boiling Summer day, I had no idea how bad they actually were. Two seconds in, I told her I was hot. She opened the windows (half - we were on a motorway) - and that’s when I started to get that horrible, claustrophobic feeling that I was about to have a really challenging couple of hours.
Because while I can tolerate heat to a point, I can’t stand being in a hot car with no air-conditioning in the middle of an Israeli summer. I literally feel faint and want to throw up. But my acquaintance clearly had zero intention of turning on the aircon under any circumstances, because air-conditioning costs money.
I understand that we have to be careful with money, I really do. I also understand that sometimes, there isn’t money for petrol, and there isn’t money for food. And that under those circumstances, you can’t blow it on air-conditioning.
But we weren’t talking about those sorts of circumstances.
On the journey back, I swore to myself I would never, ever get in a car with that acquaintance again, because the lack of control I had over the situation was so distressing for me and I really, nearly threw up a few times. I was tempted - a few times - to just plonk down 50 shekels on the dashboard and to ask her to turn on the aircon, but that wouldn’t have gone down at all well with this particular person.
She could see I wasn’t handling the heat very well, but she was so intent on saving a few cents she simply couldn’t put my need to overheat ahead of her need to save money. And she also couldn’t accept that maybe, it was reasonable of me to want the aircon on in those circumstances, so there was nothing else to talk about.
A few months after that experience, another acquaintance asked me if I’d drive her to the Baba Sali. It was now winter in Israel, and not so hot, but this acquaintance had a very low tolerance to anything resembling heat, and she asked if we could put the aircon on.
Partially, it was because it really wasn’t hot at all in the car, and partially, I was also mindful of the cost of the gas (which she hadn’t offered to help me pay for, despite her wanting to make the trip) and partially, again, it was that lack of control thing.
I turned the aircon on - resentfully - and for weeks and even months afterwards, I tried to figure out why I’d been so upset about doing that. After all, I knew firsthand how horrible it was to feel like you were suffocating to death in a too-hot car. So why was I reacting with such bad grace to this second acquaintance?
After this second acquaintance asked me for a few more favors - like driving her to hospital at 1am for an emergency scan so her husband could stay at home with her kids - the penny finally dropped: there was zero gratitude blowing back from this acquaintance, who was very keen on the idea that people should be committed to the mitzvah of doing kindnesses for others.
Or at least, kindnesses for her, because the kindnesses coming back over the fence were few and far between.
This all happened 5-6 years ago, when I was the height of my process of discovering that so many people (including myself…) are literally crazy.
What makes this a problem is not that people have their foibles, because we all have our eccentricities and our ‘red lines’ many of which are completely illogical but no less powerfully policed.
The bigger problem by far is that we aren’t honest enough about our own issues, so we can’t figure out genuinely useful compromises. If my tight-fisted friend could have explained that she could see I’m half-dying in the heat, but that she simply couldn’t justify the ‘waste’ of money switching the aircon entailed, but she’d be very happy to give me the option of paying to cover it - we’d have both have been happy and that friendship probably would have lasted a lot longer than it did.
Similarly, if I could have been honest with my other acquaintance that I was feeling like she was taking me for a ride, and using me as an unpaid taxi service (like when she commanded me to switch the music I was listening to, because she didn’t like it) - things would have also been much easier, at least for me, and we could have figured out a compromise that worked for both of us.
And if we couldn’t, then I’d have known much earlier on to put this person on my ‘awkward’ list, and to give her a much wider berth.
These days, I generally spot these people much earlier on, mostly, so it’s much easier to avoid getting dragged into all these horrible, complicated situations which really just boil down to a power struggle where you are being forced to do things that you really don’t want to do.
The ‘control’ belongs to God. The ‘power’ belongs to God. The more I can live by that credo, the easier it is for me to get along with my fellow human being, even the really crazy ones. At the same time, I have to recognize that I’m not an angel or a tzaddik, and that I also have my own red lines and wants about how things should be.
If I ignore that side of things too much, I get extremely moody, miserable, stressed and even sick.
Getting the balance right between these two things, so I’m not completely self-centred and selfish, and also not completely spineless and a doormat, is the work of 120. No problem is ever 100% the other person’s fault, but figuring out the percentages is really, really hard.
And as Pesach approaches, this is one of the key bits of work that we all have to do. Rav Ofer writes that true freedom is getting out of all our bad middot and negative desires and behaviors.
And as usual, I seem to have my work cut out for me.
A few days’ back, I had four nights in a row of extremely intense dreams. This happens sometimes. I can go for months and months without dreaming anything much, and then have a bevy of whopping, big meaningful dreams one after another.
The first dream was a really awful nightmare about the force of evil being maintained in the world by thoughtless people who really had no idea what they were messing with, or what bad things they were unleashing as a result.
Thank God, I don’t get dreams that disturbing very often, but when they come, around once a year, I walk around panic-stricken and shaken for at least a day afterwards. And then there were two more internal, but still intense dreams. And then on the last day, I dreamt the whole country was being flooded by an enormous tsunami.
The weird thing about that tsunami is that while it was towering over me five stories tall, I actually didn’t get wet. It passed me by somehow, and went and flooded everything else.
It wasn’t a bad dream, like that other nightmare, but I felt I was getting some clue I had to go and research more, not least because when I was walking around Tel Aviv getting soaked to the skin a couple of months’ ago, I saw a really strange municipality sign affixed in a couple of locations.
Report from Hamodia: YERUSHALAYIM -Israel is not considered a high-risk country for tsunamis, but the Tel Aviv Municipality and Israel Police on Thursday decided that signs warning of the possibility of a giant wave hitting Israel’s coast were necessary anyway. The new signs warn that Tel Aviv beaches are a “tsunami hazard zone,” with the warning listed in English, Hebrew and Arabic. However, instructions on what to do are listed only in Hebrew and Arabic.
It was a brand new, blue and white ‘tsunami warning’ sign, which told the good citizens of Tel Aviv which direction they should run away in, should the city be hit by a tsunami.
That sign struck me as so very weird, because as far as I can tell, Tel Aviv has never, ever come even close to experiencing a tsunami. And if it did, running away a few metres up the road isn’t going to help anyone, much.
So I sat down, googled ‘tsunami’ - and I realized it was the seven day anniversary of when that massive tsunami hit the Fukishima nuclear reactor in Japan. Hmm. Maybe that was the tsunami vibe I’d picked up? Tsunami past, not tsunami present?
I googled a bit more, and I came across some videos by MrMMB333, who has been a gentle but obsessive observer of freak weather for a few years’ now. In contrast to so many of the ‘Prophets of Nibiru’ on the internet, he’s never made any big claims, never set any dates in stone, generally never even said the word ‘Nibiru’, or anything like that.
All he does is collate information from a number of satellite feeds, and other people who are also measuring strange things like huge spikes in UV readings across the North American continent, and he shares that info with his viewers with mild comments about things being ‘mighty strange’.
He had a whole bunch of recent things up on his site about what he calls ‘water anomalies’, namely strange shoreline phenomena that is seeing parts of the coast all over the world being strangely inundated with water, while other parts of the coast are being strangely exposed, and the sea water has somehow ‘disappeared’.
For example, parts of Europe and the UK got hit with Storm Emma a couple of weeks’ ago, and in the wake of that storm, an old Roman aqueduct that had been submerged for centuries suddenly appeared off the coast of Spain. How? Somehow, all the water in that area receded - permanently - and it revealed a ‘new’ stretch of coast including this ancient aqueduct.
Then weirder still, Storm Emma headed up the west coast of the British Isles, on the Irish side of the country, and on the east coast of Britain, facing France, a new massive stretch of coastline suddenly appeared, containing a massive forest of ‘7000 year old’ (sic) tree stumps.
Again, what’s strange about this is that these new/ old stretches of coast seem to have been permanently acquired. Something fundamental is shifting the earth’s oceans around and gently, gently, starting to re-draw the map of the world.
WHEN MOSHIACH COMES THE WORLD IS GOING TO CHANGE RADICALLY
For months, the messages I’ve been getting in my hitbodedut sessions is that the world is going to change, radically, but also (relatively…) very slowly and gently this time around. There will be no massive and instantaneous wrenching of the earth’s mantle without warning. Things will happen in due course, the world will probably experience a new ‘Matan Torah’ type event at some early stage of the open geula process.
But Moshiach will be revealed by then, and telling people to ‘bring in their cattle’, or to move country, or whatever it is they need to do to stay safe. This is how it happened in Egypt. Moshe the redeemer showed up, was believed by some of the people, not believed in by many of the others, things started to get pretty strange, weather-wise - and the whole test was whether to believe Moshe was ‘in control’ of events, as the prophet of Hashem, or whether it was all just comet-induced freak weather.
That’s why the sorcerers only grudgingly acknowledged that the ‘finger of God’ was somehow involved from the third plague onwards. But even by the plague of hail, many Egyptians were still denying Hashem’s kingship of the world, and refused to heed Moshe’s warning to ‘bring in their cattle’ when that plague struck.
HOW DID DATAN AND AVIRAM MAKE IT OUT OF EGYPT?
A few weeks’ ago, my husband asked Rav Ofer Erez why Datan and Aviram made it out of Egypt, and didn’t die in the plague of darkness with the other 4/5 of Am Yisrael? I mean, they were pretty ucky, yucky people, and they were behind so many of Moshe’s problems right from the start, with their evil speech, criticism, heresy and trouble-making.
Rav Ofer said there were two explanations:
1) That Datan and Aviram were actually enormous souls. He told my husband there’s a midrash that says they actually didn’t leave with the rest of the Israelite camp, because they thought they were only going out for three days, and then returning to Egypt, so they couldn’t be bothered coming along for that.
It’s only when the Egyptians realized that the Jews were going for good and set off in pursuit that Datan and Aviram grabbed their things, and tried to catch up with them. The midrash says an amazing thing: the sea split again, just for these two evil-doers.
They had so much potential in their souls, but they used it all for bad. So that’s one explanation, Datan and Aviram were not ‘standard’ evil-doers and potentially extremely lofty souls.
2) Another explanation is that the Jews that died in the plague of darkness died for a specific reason, and not necessarily because they were ‘bad’. And the specific reason given by the deeper Jewish sources is that they didn’t believe in the Tzaddik’s ability to redeem them.
Clearly, some ‘bad’ people made it out of Egypt - Datan and Aviram, Korach, the Erev Rav etc etc. Clearly, being ‘good’ wasn’t the measure of who made it out.
Believing in the Tzaddik was.
As it was then, so it may well be today.
After that tsunami dream, I did some serious hitbodedut about it, trying to figure out the message, at least for me. I got a picture in my head of a massive Rav Berland holding back the waves, and all these half-dead people who’d been buried in the sand kind of levitating up out the ground and floating after him.
To me, the message was clear. There is some sort of tsunami coming, whatever that actually means, that will overwhelm the world. But if you’re following after the Tzaddik - whoever that ultimately turns out to be - you’ll be ok, you’ll stay dry.
And if not?
I shudder to think.
Another oldie but goody from last year. Sadly, since I wrote this I've seen another marriage explode primarily thanks to dysfunctional in-laws who kept trying to force their children to choose between siding with their spouse or siding with them. And their kids made the wrong choice! May Hashem help us all to get into Pesach with our marriages, and sanity, intact.
I’ll never forget the first year I was with my husband: the week before Pesach he disappeared for two days to go and help his healthy, 50-something mother clean her house for the upcoming festival.
To say I was upset is something of an understatement. We were both working full-time jobs at the time, I couldn’t afford cleaning help, and instead of rolling up his sleeves to help me - he scarpered for 48 hours to go and clean another woman’s house!
I’ve been married now for 20 years, and as my own children start to grow up I can see how this sort of situation can develop so easily, if the parents don’t keep reminding themselves that what’s best for them is not always and absolutely what’s best for their children.
The Torah makes it very clear when it tells the man that he should leave his parents and ‘cleave to his wife’.
His wife is the other part of his soul, and vice-versa. Happy marriages are built on the strong foundation of mutual respect and always putting what’s best for your spouse ahead of what’s best for your parents and other extended family members.
So many marriages are going to the wall because this rule is not being respected
In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to make this point so strongly. In a perfect world, parents would be telling their married children this themselves. They’d say things like: ‘We’d love to have you come to us for seder this year, but only if that’s what you and your wife would really like to do, too.”
Or, they’d phone up and tell their married children: ‘Please check this with your spouse before agreeing anything with me, but would it be OK if we joined you for Pesach this year? And be completely honest, I won’t be upset if you say no. I know how much you both have going on in your lives at the moment.”
In that sort of healthy, open environment where free choice is allowed, and the spouse of the married child feels seen, respected and heard by their in-laws, the friction on the marriage will be kept to a barely-there minimum.
Sadly, that’s not how many families operate today. Today, many people are having to deal with selfish, egotistical and home-wrecking in-laws who treat their children (and their children’s spouse….) as an extension of themselves, and therefore see them as people who can be bossed around, guilt-tripped, taken advantage of and stressed-out whenever they feel like it.
And there are few festivals that bring their destructive behaviour and attitudes out more than Pesach.
The festival of 'freedom'?
There’s a few reasons for this. Firstly, seder is a big production. Controlling parents who insist on everything being about them usually take it extremely hard when their married children actually want to live a little independently, and run a seder their own way. I know people in their 40s with many children of their own who have NEVER conducted a seder in their life.
Because their parents wouldn’t hear of it. Each year, the seder has to be with family, and of course, that means with their family, according to their rules and whims. Do you know how emasculating it is for a 40-something year old man to sit at the table like a little kid, unable to ever be the ‘head’ of his own seder table?
Pesach is the time of kingship, or Malchut. Seder night is when that measure of ‘malchut’ or rulership descends to each man’s table, and each man’s home for the coming year. If your father or father-in-law keeps happing your husband’s ‘rulership’, that has enormous consequences for his self-esteem, ability to make money, and the peace in your home.
Another flash point can be when parents get on a bit, and then start inviting themselves to your home for the whole of the holiday because organising everything is so stressful, expensive and time-consuming, and they’ve run out of energy.
Again, if you’re OFFERING to have them stay with you, out of 100% free choice and not because you’ve been guilted into doing it, or are worrying about the consequences of saying no, nothing could be more wonderful.
But if that’s not the case - and with the sort of difficult in-laws I’m talking about, that’s really NOT the case - then seder night and the holiday becomes a powder keg placed under your shalom bayit, just waiting for ‘Bubbe’ to show up and light the fuse.
Because ‘Bubbe’ will expect things done her way, and food served that she’s used to, and the same songs sung in the same order as she always did it by her own table. Also, ‘Bubbe’ will go to great pains to invite as many of her extended family and friends to your home, too, to share seder with her. And again, she’ll just expect you to agree to that, regardless of how much additional stress it causes you.
Newsflash: You are not a free Pesach hotel
When you live in Israel and your in-laws come from abroad, there can be the added issue of people deciding to stay with you for the whole of the holiday to:
a) save them having to clean their own homes or buy Pesach food;
b) save them having to go to a hotel (which is what they’ve effectively turned you into).
Again, if you WANT to have your in-laws living with you for a whole nine days, great! But if you don’t? And they start playing your spouse off against you, and getting them to agree to have them come against your wishes? They just ignited World War III in your marriage.
(I won’t even get into the problems that can crop up when you’re more observant than your parents in this post, which is a whole other can of worms. Basically, just times all the difficulties and potential flashpoints by 500…)
How to protect your marriage this Pesach:
So, what can you do to keep your marriage ticking over this Pesach? Here’s a few guidelines that will help, if you can actually implement them:
1) Maintain a united front - no decisions should be made unilaterally by either spouse. Everything has to be discussed upfront and agreed by both parties well in advance of seder night.
2) Set down firm boundaries, and stick to them - If you can manage seder night (just about…) but you can’t manage a whole eight days of the in-laws in your home, make that very clear to your spouse and to them - and don’t be guilted or shamed out of doing what’s best for yourself and your own family.
3) Be honest about what’s really going on - Often, it takes us and our spouses many years to realise that our in-laws don’t always have our best interests at heart. Remember, a husband and wife are one soul. If your spouse doesn’t like your parents, it’s usually because your parents aren’t treating them (or you….) very nicely.
You don’t notice that, you’re not aware of it, because that’s how it’s been since you were born.
But an outsider can spot the issues much more easily. So if your spouse doesn’t like your parents, carefully consider WHY that is, and what your parents might need to explore in order to improve the relationship.
4) Move to a different country - Sometimes, some in-laws are so impossible to deal with that moving far, far away from them is the only option to protect your marriage and mental health.
This isn’t always a cast-iron solution - especially if they can easily afford air-fare and you have a big home - but it’s still a good start.
Pesach is the festival of freedom and redemption. It’s a time when a man should be a ‘king’ in his own home (serving Hashem…) and his wife his ‘queen’. It’s a night of royalty, not slavery.
So if you have difficult in-laws, emancipate yourself from their unreasonable demands and selfish behaviour, and this year ask God to help celebrate the holiday the way He truly intended.
The last few days, I’ve had a few emails from a few different people that are demonstrating that the vaccine debate in the orthodox community, particularly in the US, is starting to burst wide out into the open.
Personally, I think this can only be a good thing. I’m not ‘idealogical’ about this either way, I just want to know what the real truth is when it comes to whether vaccines are:
a) Safe as claimed
b) Effective as claimed
My view -about everything - is always that the available information should be clearly put on the table, and that people should be encouraged to question, evaluate, and decide for themselves.
This is part and parcel of people having God-given free choice to decide for themselves and to bear the consequences for their actions and decisions, and whenever I see healthy debate being squashed, or people trying to control others and close a respectful discussion down, my red flag immediately goes up that something isn’t quite right with this picture.
On that score, I want to bring your attention to a recent article written by a Rabbi Yair Hoffman, that was published HERE. You can see the full text for yourself here, but this is some of what Rabbi Hoffman has to say about what he views as the Torah imperative to vaccinate:
“The anti-vaccination advocates have two concerns that are often intertwined. The first is the MMR vaccine itself. They believe that there is some heretofore unidentified element in it that causes autism. The second is that some vaccines contained the preservative thimerosal, which contained ethyl mercury, a type of mercury that had been suspected of causing autism. Thimerosal has actually been removed from the MMR vaccine with no accompanying drop in the incidence of autism. No matter; this has not impacted the anti-vaxxer movement.”
Rabbi Hoffman is presumably going on the information given out by the FDA / CDC on official Governemnt websites like THIS ONE, which state:
Current Status of Thimerosal in Vaccines
If you plain English this carefully-worded answer, you’ll find that what it’s really saying is:
1) While vaccines for young children are now available in a formulation that doesn’t contain thimerosal
2) The ACIP doesn’t actually recommend that these ‘thimerosal-free’ formulations should be the ones that are routinely given to the general public.
I.e. You have to specifically ask for a thimerosal-free vaccine, and vaccines including thimerosal, specifically the flu vaccine, are still being routinely given to children in the US.
What about Rabbi Hoffman’s contention that there is no proven link between vaccines and autism?
Here’s what I found on THIS website, and please do go and take a look for yourselves:
“In 2008 top public health officials at HHS conceded that vaccines caused autism.
You’ll notice that thimerosal is NOT being discussed here as specifically causing autism, but that exposure to the vaccines themselves caused a ‘metabolic overload’ that triggered Hannah’s autism.
The issue if far deeper than a simple discussion of thimerosal (i.e. mercury, one of the most dangerous neurotoxins known to man) causing all the problems.
The human immune system wasn’t designed to be exposed to three very serious illnesses in one shot, even if vaccines are 100% effective and 100% safe.
On the safety front, I’m personally highly convinced at this stage that there is a significant risk associated with vaccines. On the effectiveness front, it’s clear that flu shots can’t be working, because the flu they vaccinate against is last year’s strain, and this year’s strain has mutated already.
But that’s where I’d like to learn more, personally, because if vaccines are also not effective (as can clearly be seen with the flu shot) and also pose significant health risks, or if there is a safer way to achieve the same sort of effective protection against contagious diseases in a non-toxic way (as seems to be the case with so called homeopathic ‘green vaccines’) then it becomes a no-brainer to not vaccinate.
So where does the truth really lie?
Over on Sasson, you’ll find two highly recommended articles setting out an alternative view of vaccination in halacha, written by a dayan in the US who does not vaccinate his own children, but who is scared to publish under his own name due to the pressure tactics he fears (probably justifiably) could be used against him as a result:
Vaccines in halacha - Part 1
Vaccines in halacha - Part 2
If you compare and contrast the approach of Rabbi Hoffman and this Dayan to the subject, you’ll find that the ‘pro’ vaxxer cites very few real sources of information, or up-to-date facts, and relies quite heavily on trying to persuade his readers to vaccinate, or else.
By contrast, the ‘anti’ vaxxer cites hundreds of footnoted sources of recent information and evidence to support his position, which is always a good sign that you’re dealing with someone who is on a search for truth, and who is trying to share the clues he’s finding along the way with as many other people as possible.
The issue is clouded because of the assumptions that a lot of rabbis are making that the information they are being provided by the pharmaceutical industry and the Government etc is 100% reliable and truthful.
That certainly flies in the face of so much evidence to the contrary, including all the falsified trials about anti-depressants and many other medications.
In the meantime, I’m also trying to collect as many ‘clues’ for us all to follow as well, so we can continue learning for ourselves, and deciding for ourselves, with God’s help, where the truth really lies.
To that end, another excellent recent piece over on Sasson about the need for questions to be properly asked and properly answered about vaccines in the Jewish community, which you can read HERE, turned up this video (at the top of the post) from the World Mercury Project.
It’s a quick 9 minute view, shmirat eynayim friendly, and basically describes how vaccines are treated as ‘biologics’ (whatever that means) and NOT medications by the FDA, which means the US government doesn’t require new vaccines to go through the drug testing process in the first place.
The Safety Trials process for vaccines is corrupted
The video also shows that the ‘safety trials’ that have been conducted on vaccines typically last for a maximum of 4 days, i.e. a kid is monitored for 4 days after their injection, maximum, and then if they don’t immediately have a fit or worse, God forbid, they are no longer monitored.
Of course, the incubation time for things like asthma, severe learning disabilities and a bunch of other very serious illnesses that the ‘anti’ vaxx lobby claim are caused by vaccinations don’t show up in 4 days, or even in 4 weeks, and often not even in 4 months…
And the last thing to note is that even with this minimal sort of oversight and checking, around 60,000 children in the US are still being formerly registered as having some sort of serious reaction to vaccines every single year. And there’s a strong suspicion that this undisputed, official figure may only be the tip of the iceberg, as so many parents are being actively discouraged from linking any chronic or acute health issues to their kid’s vaccinations.
As always, watch the video, and decide for yourself.
If any ‘pro’ vaxxers out there have detailed, credible information to specifically answer these points and concerns, I’d love to hear from you, as would most of the Jewish parents out there.
But as time is going on, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that while the ‘anti’ vaxxers have an impressive amount of information to share and a willingness to discuss the matter to its depth, the ‘pro’ vaxxers generally do not.
The only way to really get clarity on this matter is for us to keep taking it back to God, and to ask Him to show us what's really going on here, and how He wants us to react. No-one can control what really goes on with their children and their health, whether they load their kid up with every shot going, or do the exact opposite.
God is the only One who's really calling the shots when it comes to our health. So whatever conclusion we ultimately come to about whether or not to vaccinate our children, we still need to be asking Hashem to look after our kids 24/7.
Because that's really what's going to make all the difference.
UPDATE: One of the commentators, Daisy, apparently has a lot of useful background info on vaccines on her website HERE. Please check out the comments for more details.
It was only when I was talking to Alizah, the fiction editor over on Sasson, that the penny dropped.
We were discussing the new writers’ workshop that BH is almost ready, which is basically an online interface that will enable participants to upload their work, and have other writers critique it - in a careful, helpful way - to help the author polish their piece.
Alizah was explaining that a good critique always starts by praising the good in the piece, then includes some points where things could be improved, then ends with more praise of the good in the piece.
And that’s when the penny dropped about why I’ve been feeling pretty so low about continuing to write for Emunaroma, and so bizarrely upset about life, and that I should just give up now and go work in Shufersal, or something.
The story begins last year, when my husband and I offered our services - for free - to translate a really awesome Breslov book that we wanted to help get out to the English-speaking public.
Neither of us were paid for the work we did, and both of us worked really hard to get it ready, to the best of our collective abilities. It was literally a week away from being sent to print when in swooped ‘the sponsor’.
The sponsor had also read the book in the original Hebrew, and also loved it, and also wanted to do whatever he could to get the book out there to the wider public. There was just one problem with this plan: he wanted the book to be professionally edited by someone who could make everything read like something from Artscroll and Feldheim.
Because this is what the English speaking frum book reading public wants! More suave, wordy stuff that loses the heart and soul of what’s really being said and is technically a million percent accurate - but so bland and lifeless you just want to dig some hole for it already, and say kaddish.
I had huge misgivings. I did a lot of hitbodedut about it. Maybe, this was just my ego? (Very likely…) Maybe, this was just sour grapes that someone was being paid a lot of money to improve on something I’d poured my heart and soul into for free? (Could be…)
At the end of the day, I really want the book out there, and I really want it to sell well. The person who wrote it richly deserves that, they really do. So I made an agreement with the middleman that the ‘professional’ can and should look at it, and could and should tweak it, but that me and my husband would have the last word on the changes, to make sure the essential flavor wouldn’t be lost in translation.
What can I tell you?
Clearly no-one told the sponsor or the other editor.
The whole process was extremely challenging from day one, as I was increasingly given the impression by both these individuals that they were ‘rescuing’ the book from my extremely poor writing and editing.
I am the first to admit that grammar and punctuation are not my forte, and I always get my own books edited to catch the typos and mistakes, and I’m very happy to hear suggestions on how the work can be tightened up and improved.
But from the first second, the editor that was brought in to ‘save’ the book was out to impress on me that he was the professional here, he knew better than me how the book should read and sound (despite having zero Breslov tendencies and even being mildly ‘anti’ a lot of the deeper kabbalistic ideas being expressed in the book) - and that me and my opinions were basically surplus to requirements.
Dear reader, I did so much hitbodedut about what was going on, and how I was feeling about it all, because I know I have an ego, and I know that having two writers working on one project is always tricky.
But until Alizah’s comment, I hadn’t realized just how poisonous and toxic working with this person really was for me, and just how problematic that man’s approach to life - and to me! - actually is.
He didn't say one nice word to me the whole time.
The last two weeks, I have been inexplicably moody, miserable and on a trigger-hair with my husband and kids. I have been feeling like my writing absolutely sucks. I have been feeling so lowly and pointless - which is all helpful, and from God, I know - but because I didn’t know where all this stuff was coming from, I literally started to think I was going a bit mad.
Shabbat, I did a six hour prayer-a-thon to try to get the cloud to lift a bit, and to figure out what was going on and why I’d run out of energy, hope, and the will to live.
I didn’t realize it then, but now I can see 100% what just happened:
I got tangled up with someone who was out to prove their own ‘brilliance’ at my expense; who went over my head to the sponsor every single time we had a disagreement where right was on my side; who continually and consistently trashed and belittled all the hard work and effort me and my husband had put into the book; and who clearly has a lot of work to do on their bad middot.
The whole thing just reminded me again of how awful these types of people really are for the mental and physical health of those around them.
It’s been so long so I got blind-sided by a full-on narcissist that I’d almost forgotten how they suck out all your will to live and leave you so moody and lost in the world because interacting with them is just one big competition to prove to you how terrible you are, and how great they are.
And in the meantime, now that the penny has dropped, I am feeling so much happier and healthier again.
So if you’re having a bizarre chronic health issue, or some bizarre mood fluctuations and a feeling like life is not worth living, take it back to God and ask Him to show you which poisonous individuals in your environment may by sparking off the problem.
Because for sure, you’ll find them.
I've been having a lot of internal battles the last few days, not least about which direction my writing is going in, and whether blogging is the best use of my time. While I'm trying to sort it all out, I'm re-posting some good things from the last 3 years of Emunaroma, including this one from December 2017, which is really speaking to me still, wavering as I am between continuing and giving up.
I don’t think it will shock most of the people reading this blog if I confess to having being completely stressed out of my brain for the last three months.
Even before my mother-in-law unexpectedly passed away the day after Rosh Hashana, Elul 5777 had been a really crazy month, and then when my mother-in-law died, the craziness kind of went up a whole other level, and has stayed there for three months’ solid.
Every week there has been something ‘significant’ to deal with, and by last week, I had got so jumpy and grumpy and irritable that I was even yelling at my poor husband in my sleep. Baruch Hashem, I knew I had Uman coming up, so I was really hoping that Rabbenu would work his magic and return some equanimity to me, so I could stop being a mega-stressed pseudo-psycho.
But last week, suddenly Uman looked like it might not happen after all. My mum sent me a text on Friday telling me about the general strike (what general strike?!) that was going to shut down Ben Gurion all day Sunday, the day me and my family were meant to fly out. My adrenals were too exhausted for me to stress any more, about anything, but I decided I should still do a longish hitbodedut on Shabbat, and then leave the outcome entirely in God’s hands.
If He wanted us to fly out, great. If not, great - what else was I meant to do, at this point?
Motzash, we learned the general strike was reduced to a half day, and that our late afternoon flight would be leaving as scheduled. Cue the next obstacle: strikers causing huge traffic jams by the exit out of Jerusalem just as we needed to head off to the airport. I heard about that while I was out getting some last minute bits for Uman, so I rushed home, corralled my family to get ready now!!! and by some open miracle, both my teenagers managed to get changed and ready within 20 minutes.
So, we get to Uman, and after a balmy, dry 10 degrees all of Shabbat, on Sunday the snow and ice showed up - as did ‘Boris’, our Ukrainian cab driver. I’ve been to the Ukraine so often now that the completely crazy way people drive over there doesn’t really faze me anymore. My husband climbed into the passenger front seat, me and my two girls squished in the back. I looked for a seat belt - I had the ‘belt’ but no buckle could be found - so I gave up and went to sleep, because I was exhausted.
I woke up twice: once when Boris refueled the car with petrol, and another time when he refueled himself with a beer - behind the wheel! This is the traditional Ukrainian way.
My husband later told me that the visibility during that night-time drive was around 2 metres as there was driving snow, and that Boris was going at Grand Prix speeds. I couldn’t really see any of that from the back as it was dark and the windows were all fogged up, but apparently my husband was praying very sincerely for a good 2 hours, until Boris safely delivered us to our hotel.
And man, what a hotel! The first time I went to Uman, 8 years’ ago, there were two showers for 60 women - both located directly opposite the front door. There were power cuts every couple of hours, I had to bring my own toilet roll, there was no mobile phone access, and a lot of the locals were still getting their water from the local well on a sled. It was SO primitive.
The last couple of years, Uman has developed in a no less than miraculous way, and the clearest sign of that was that the new hotel we’d somehow managed to book was actually almost like a real hotel! There were single beds, not bunk beds, a nice (looking….) shower, a door person and a front desk person who both tried to be helpful.
Me and my husband were completely stunned by all this, and my kids were thrilled to be going to a ‘real’ hotel for a change.
We arrived at 2am, so we lit chanuka candles, then went straight to bed. The next day, even before I got to the Kever, I had an urge to do some ‘writing hitbodedut’ in the room before everyone else woke up - and out came a huge list of things that I’ve been mega, mega stressed about over the last couple of months.
No-wonder I’ve been so tense and highly strung!
Once I realized that I’m not just turning into a psycho, and that I truly have been under some immense pressure and stress recently, I felt so much better. But my davening seemed a bit flat the rest of the day, tell you the truth. I went to the Kever 3 times with my kids, recited some Tikkun Haklalis, did some more hitbodedut etc.
But no big revelations hit me this time, and I have to say I felt a bit disappointed. We were leaving at 5am the next morning, so I turned in for the night at 9pm - and at 11pm a new group of loud, crazy secular-looking women from Ashkelon stormed the hotel and tried to turn it into a disco.
This sort of thing happens a lot in Uman, because avodat hamiddot is one of Rabbenu’s favorite things. So I swallowed the loud screams, the ululations, some annoying woman’s really loud, horsy laugh - all of it. But then when they started playing trance music right outside my door at ear-splitting levels and screaming along with it, my patience evaporated and I went into ‘I need to go to sleep now!’ psycho mode.
I opened the door to yell at them to ‘sheket!!!’ and my eyes nearly fell out of my head. Some 20-something woman was literally dancing in the corridor holding a massive i-Phone and just wearing her underwear.
I thought I’d got to the point where nothing in Uman could shock me, but man, I was wrong. I shut the door, stunned. Then opened it up again to yell at them to be quiet, because the thought struck me that if I didn’t manage to shut them up, my husband might have a go instead.
Who wears their underwear in a hotel corridor filled with chareidi men?! In the middle of a freezing Ukrainian winter?! And then starts playing music from their i-Phone loud enough to fracture your skull?!
The mind boggles.
God helped me by sending a couple of other Israeli guests who also came out to yell at them in a much better way than I ever could, and peace returned…For two hours. Then the screaming and beatbox started up again. Again I went out to yell at them and one of them told me:
“Who goes to sleep when they come to Rabbenu?!”
Well, I do.
And this time they finally took the hint and quietened down.
I asked my daughters the next day if they’d heard the crazies in the middle of the night. One of them had slept like a log, and the other one told me: “Yes! I went to join them because I was so bored.”
So now, we get in the car with ‘Sergei’ - a solid lada type car this time, nothing fancy. And I said goodbye to Uman feeling as though I hadn’t really achieved so much this time around, except maybe stop feeling like a stressed-out psycho. Which shouldn’t be under-rated, I admit.
Two minutes into the drive, I started to realize this was going to be a pretty bumpy journey. It had snowed overnight, and now icy sleet was raining down and covering the snow drifts with black ice.
Our driver was really good, but it was pitch black, and they aren’t set up to clear the streets so fast or so efficiently in Uman. BH, we left 5 hours to get to the airport, so we thought we’d still manage it OK, even in the really bad driving conditions. (Boris had taken three hours, but clearly he’d been speeding like a fiend).
20 minutes into the drive, I noticed a bunch of lorries left by the side of the roads, emergency lights blinking, and I started to worry a little. 30 minutes later, we started to hit huge queues of jack-knifed lorries buried in snow drifts all over the highway - and that’s when I started to pray my socks off, as I’ve never seen that before.
When our side of the motorway got blocked by three parallel lines of lorries - all stalled in their tracks - I was convinced we’d just lost all hope of making our flight. But I figured without Sergei, who neatly reversed back, crossed the dual-carriageway barrier, and started driving at 80 km and hour on the other side of the motorway.
Long story short, we all prayed extremely intently for two hours solid, and somehow or other, we got to the airport just in time to make the flight.
That return trip taught me a great deal about the power of perseverance, and of not giving up in the face of truly overwhelming circumstances.
It taught me about the power of prayer. And it taught me that when things get far too scary to deal with, you can always pull your hat down over your face and manage things that way, too.
The bizarrest thing of all is that after two days of no sleep, and two really crazy trips to and from Uman, you’d think that I’d be feeling even more stressed and antsy. But the truth is, I feel better than I have done in months.
Rebbe Nachman has pulled it off again.
In the meantime, I’m waiting to see what other presents we brought home from Uman. There’s a lot ‘pending’ in my life at the mo, which I hope will move forward soon. If Rabbenu could get us to Borispol airport in the pitch black, on the other side of the road, when even snow ploughs had given up the ghost and pulled over to the side of the road, then anything is possible.
I will keep you posted.