I was just looking over on the ravberland.com website for inspiration for the parsha of the week, when I came across THIS from last year.
I'm going to quote some of the most relevant bits, below:
The Zohar says that if we could have seen the eyes of King David, [we would know that] they contained all the colors that exist in the world. The eye of Bilaam contained within it all the evil in the world, but the eyes of David only wished good on another person, “you put joy in my heart…”
The gematria of עפרון Ephron, is ‘ayin ra’ – an evil eye, the opposite of a good eye. King David had such a good eye, that every place he looked, the whole city would immediately make teshuva. If David had lived for another 30 years, the whole world would have returned in teshuva.
The moment there would be love and friendship in Israel – and means ‘you should do what is just in the eyes of Hashem’ - then a person says some lashon hara (gossip) about someone, publishes something about someone, or says something that isn’t true or accurate, this is worse than [the sins] of immorality, bloodshed or worshipping idols – it’s worse than anything!
The Rebbe says, a person who’s distributing money, who’s giving, who had a good eye for everyone, and he throws money around without making an accounting of it, and he doesn’t pay attention to anything else – he can change the whole natural order. He can shift the sun, he can move the sun, the moon, the stars – he can shift everything!
So, tzedaka can move all the celestial orbs. There are 12 mazalot (signs of the zodiac), and 7 celestial bodies, and by way of tzedaka, by giving tzedaka to the Tzaddik…not every type of tzedaka shifts the celestial orbs, only the tzedaka that goes to the Tzaddik…
All the suffering and difficulties that a person has, every type of trouble and pain, everything – a person does it to himself, by being jealous, and by hating others, and by having a stingy outlook. He doesn’t have a good eye.
Ayin tova, a good eye. ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him, and you will heap burning coals upon his head’. Give your biggest enemy something to drink, something to eat, laud him, talk about his good points. This is the only way that God will destroy all of the rashaim (evildoers), and only then will we merit to the complete geula (redemption), may it be speedily in our days.
If we really want to bring the geula the sweet way, this is the work to do: to stop speaking badly of our fellow Jews, to give a lot of tzedaka, especially to true tzaddikim, and to work on having a good eye.
And that's way, way harder than pointing fingers and launching off into holier-than-thou attacks on other people. Which is probably why so many people still prefer doing the latter to doing the former.
I know that received wisdom states that teenagers should be pressed into service, and should be tidying my house as well as their own rooms, but as usual chez moi it’s all backwards.
Yesterday, after weeks of watching my kids’ rooms descend into a maelstrom of mess and chaos that is really just reflective of what’s going on internally, I decided to grab the dustpan and brush, and enter the dragon’s lair.
The one room wasn’t so bad – a bit dusty, just a couple of old bowls of cereal, nothing too scary.
The second room, well, that was way more challenging.
In the space of an hour, I solved the mystery of where all the socks in the house had disappeared too, as well as all the deodorants. For the last five months, I usually have to go play ‘hunt the BO Basher’ because as soon as I buy one, it goes missing. Baruch Hashem, three of them were safely recovered and are now being reunited with their loved ones.
Then, there was the bags of mouldy clothes, which had been taken for a swim at the Lifta before the Three Weeks started, then donated to science, who used them to grow all sorts of weird strains of mould, some of which I’m sure will save a life someday.
In the meantime, the smell from opening the bag nearly knocked me out.
So, straight into the bin it went.
I discovered five toilet rolls under one bed (which also resolved that mystery, of why I can buy a new bag and three days later it’s already finished.)
I discovered stolen goods that had been the object of many an argument, with both sides claiming the other one had used it – and thus lost it – last.
I found two old, broken phones, one old, not quite-yet-broken computer, and four phone chargers, one of which may actually work.
I will spare you the details of the peach pits I found growing into the floor tiles, the old bottles of water that could probably half refill the Kinneret, and a few other things that were so gross they also just went straight into the bin bag.
As I was pottering around, I pondered the strange overlaps between teenagers and hamsters.
Hamsters also stuff all sorts of things, including food, under their beds. Hamsters also like to pile things up on the floor of the cages. Hamsters also get the most active around 2.07am, which is when you can hear them twirling around on their squeaky wheels, and whooping it up on WhatsApp.
Hamsters can also bite if you try to handle them, and frequently run away if you approach their cages.
In short, hamsters and teenagers are very, very similar.
It’s that ‘animal or angel’ dichotomy going on, and in our generation, our teens have such a big battle to pull out of ‘hamster’ mode and to give true expression to the enormous soul that every single one of them actually is.
It’s so easy, as a parent, to fall into the trap of reinforcing the inner ‘animal’, that’s telling them 24/7 that they are lazy, that it’s all pointless, that they’re bad, that they’re never going to get there, they’re never going to be able to pull out of the muck and mud that is material life in 2018.
But when I go and tidy up their rooms – at great personal risk to life and limb – I’m sending them a different message. I’m telling them: you are an angel! You are a bat melech, a very holy soul. Look, God even sent you a servant to look after you!
Sure, you have some hamster tendencies right now, it’s true. But it’s not the real you. The real you is so much better, so much holier.
And you will get there, my daughter!
And in the meantime, I need to find myself a gasmask or something, because those bags of mouldy clothes probably rank up there with asbestos.
Probably like everyone else out there, I’ve been having a heck of a rough ride this Sefirat HaOmer.
In a nutshell, the apartment we tried to buy in Jerusalem – and that we paid a huge deposit on, and that we got an ‘ok’ from the bank on for a huge mortgage – has turned into a complete nightmare.
It’s a very complicated property, and basically nearly all the lawyers, mortgage people, bank reps and estate agents that ‘sold’ it to us had no idea what was really going on with it. So the bank told us we had the mortgage – and we signed a binding contract on that basis – only to be told the day after Pesach that the bank’s biggest lawyer had now rescinded our mortgage offer, due to the ‘complications’ with the apartment that no-one else had picked up.
The news hit me like a thunderclap, and I was literally ill in bed for a week afterwards. (I happened to also twist my ankle very badly 10 minutes before we got that phone call, so body, mind and soul got taken out at exactly the same time.)
We are now liable for 10% of the full purchase price for breaking the contract (through no fault of our own) and everyone from the bank reps to the lawyers are all busy pointing their fingers at everyone else.
Everyone is to blame – in some small way – for what’s happened, and yet no one is to blame enough that there is a clear cut way for us to recover the money.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know how much heartache I’ve had over house related stuff the last few years. You’ll know that we only got this deposit in the first place because my mother-in-law passed away the day after Rosh Hashana. And you’ll know how much effort I put into fixing things up with her before she so unexpectedly died.
Peace, peace you shall pursue.
HOW MANY LAWYERS DOES IT TAKE TO CHANGE A BAD CONTRACT?
So, the last few weeks we’ve been trying to figure out what on earth has gone on, and whether there is anything we can do try to rescue the situation. We’ve hired more lawyers, applied for loads more mortgages, visited every bank we can think of, spoken to mortgage brokers and anyone else who might be able to help, and even spent whole afternoons in Petach Tikva, at the head office of the Amidar organization that deals with ‘complicated’ properties in Israel.
Each time we thought we’d seen a bit of light at the end of the tunnel, it flickered out again. It’s been an enormous, massive test.
In the middle of this huge test of emuna, my dad and my friend decided to give me the exact same piece of advice, on exactly the same day, completely independently of each other (so I could be sure it was coming from God):
See the good.
Look at the situation, the people involved, positively, with a good eye.
It’s good advice, but it’s been so much work to actually implement that over the last few weeks.
I can’t tell you the number of times we discovered how someone’s small flaw, small mistake, small oversight, small negative tendency contributed to what has become a massive problem for us.
No-one did anything maliciously, or on purpose, but the tendency to say ‘yiyeh beseder’ (it will be OK) and to not actually knuckle down and to the work required has caused us a financial disaster.
And me and my husband also have a small share of the blame in this regard. We used the same lawyer we’ve used on all of our house purchases, and we trusted him to do the job without double-checking the contract properly. It was written in Hebrew, and hard to get our heads around, so we didn’t bother. And that small oversight, that minor tendency to not take enough responsibility for our own lives, is now costing us an absolute fortune.
And we have to make teshuva for that, and accept that pointing the finger at everyone else is not really going to get us anywhere useful. Sure, if it had been done maliciously, if we’d been deliberately de-frauded by our sellers (as I thought up until yesterday, when I got some more pieces of the puzzle), I’d be willing to fight it the whole way.
You can’t let ‘bad’ off the hook, you can’t run away from it, you can’t back down from taking it on.
But I now know we aren’t dealing with that. We’re just dealing with a bunch of people, who are actually quite nice and well-meaning, each of whom was a little bit lazy, a little bit laissez faire, a little bit over-reliant on God making sure everything would turn out OK, like He always does – but now the rules have changed.
And there is no-one to blame, and no-one to sue, and nothing to do, it seems, except to swallow the enormous amount of money we are about to lose, and try to accept God’s judgment with love.
THE LAST BIT OF LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL
God forbid, I should get bitter about this, or paranoid, or consumed with anger and hatred. I’ve seen that happen, where 50 years on people are still going on about the huge injustice that was done to them, and they live their whole lives miserable and hating as a result.
The last bit of light that we might be able to turn things around on the house got extinguished yesterday night.
This morning, I was feeling pretty down so I went to the Rav, to just sit quietly at the back and do some hitbodedut. It was pretty quiet there, compared to how it usually is, but someone had brought a guitar and the crowd was singing the davening, which was really nice.
I sat there kind of heartbroken and very sad, pondering what I do next and where I go next. Our lease is up in August, and I can’t stand the thought that I’m going to have to keep moving, and moving, and moving, every year to some new rented place. I’m so tired of packing. I’m so tired of moving. I so hoped that now, finally, I was at the end of the huge upheavals I’ve had to deal with for so many years, already.
So I sat there, feeling pretty sorry for myself, and I got the message in hitbodedut: pursue the path of peace, even if it’s going to cost you a lot. Don’t try to sue, don’t try to brazen things out, just pursue the path of peace. In the end, God can still send you all the money in the world, and pursuing peace now will open up so many good things for you.
So that’s what we’re going to try to do. The alternative is to try to get all legally aggressive and nasty, which sounds tempting when you feel aggrieved and hard done by. But God is behind this, only God, and going after people for their small, accidental mistakes and failings is probably not what God wants us to do.
We all mistakes some times. We all turn blind eyes to things that we shouldn’t, and rely on other people to fix the problem and do our work for us.
I can’t open the ledgers and accuse other people of those things when I know I’m doing it myself still.
So, that’s where we’ve got to. Resolution. Not the resolution I hoped for, or prayed for, or waited for, but resolution nonetheless, and even that is something. Because all the up and down and backwards and forwards that’s gone on since the day after Pesach has been beyond exhausting and debilitating.
Some days, I haven’t been able to do even basic things like wash up and make food. That has to stop! Even without my own home, even with a massive financial loss, life is still good. My family is still healthy, BH, we’re still together, we’re still in Jerusalem. There is so much to be grateful for.
So, I’m looking forward to the end of this Counting the Omer period. It’s always an interesting time, but this year’s event have truly taken the biscuit. What’s left of me is now ready to receive the Torah. And I know the path you have to pursue in order to really get it:
Peace. Only peace.
With ourselves, with our fellow Jews, and most importantly of all, with God, and His plan for our lives.
I just got back from a whirlwind trip to Uman over shabbat, and I’m so pleased I went. Last week, I was literally starting to feel like I was disintegrating, there was so much din in the air.
After Uman, I’ve got some energy and some clarity back, and I feel more like a human being again. Not that Uman was ‘easy’ – it’s never that, but it’s always worthwhile, as Rabbenu has a way of bringing things up to the surface that need acknowledging and resolving.
We took a red-eye to get there before Shabbat on Friday, so I fell asleep shortly after we checked in – and had one of the nastiest nightmares I’ve had in ages. I started dreaming the whole room was smoking and on fire, which meant I started screaming my head off – and my poor husband had to shake me awake.
This is maybe what happens when you’ve been watching Youtube videos of lava in Hawaii spurting 100s of feet into the sky. And that ‘event’ so isn’t finished yet, by any means. It’s probably only just beginning.
I went to the Kever, did some Tikkun Haklalis and prayed for various people, then got back to my strangely quiet hotel when I noticed something interesting: half the guests were deaf, and had come together as part of a group of deaf women from Israel.
So instead of shrieking, ululating and very loud statements of kappara aliy and chaim sheli, there was a lot of hand gestures and soft grunting noises going on in the lobby.
The women came from across the religious spectrum, and they were clearly having a whale of a time. Those deaf people ‘talk’ in a much more real way, these days, than most of the rest of us. They look into each other’s faces, they just don’t barge in with ‘clever comments’ (because no-one can hear them anyway) and they wait patiently for their turn to speak. I was extremely impressed.
Then came the Friday night meal, and another glorious sight: 50 deaf women wordlessly ‘singing’ Shalom Aleichem together in sign language. It was beautiful.
So, we ate, bentched, then went back to bed exhausted – and I had yet another bad dream.
This time, I was in Jerusalem trying to get Shabbat ready, when there was a flash flood and my car suddenly got swept out of the car park and down some hill towards the Al Aqsa mosque. I was standing there holding a salmon in my hands, unsure what to do next.
Again, I woke up in a bit of a panic – I mean, salmon is pretty expensive. I calmed down, gathered my wits about me, and realized that the toilet in the hotel room was running, and figured that might have contributed something to my dream. Then I got changed and headed off to the Kever.
I had some big insights there, even though I was so tired, spiritually and physically, I could barely open my mouth to pray. Sometimes, you just have to sit quietly and receive the information you’re being sent, and internalize the insights you’re being given as a free gift.
So that’s what I tried to do.
We had one other couple at our table, who clearly weren’t (yet…) married. The guy was a new baal teshuva, and he was trying to persuade his girlfriend of the deeper and more spiritual aspects of life.
At the next table sat a Chassidic family, be-strymelled and be-cloaked, straight out of Meah Shearim. Then there was the deaf community, and around another 10 families or groups of various sizes and appearance.
And that is really the magic, the miracle of Rebbe Nachman. That so many people from such different backgrounds can come together, and focus on what unites them, instead of what superficially divides them.
You only get that sort of tremendous unity, or achdut, going on by Rabbenu, although sometimes you can also find it by other big inclusive tzaddikim like the Rashbi in Meron, and Rav Berland.
I’ve noticed that so many of the people who are ‘anti’ Rebbe Nachman, and ‘anti’ Breslov are also the ones that cause so much strife and dissent amongst the Jewish people. They are the ones who spend an awful lot of time dissing and criticizing ‘the other’, and looking for other people’s flaws and defects to harp on and magnify.
No-one is interested in that stuff by Rabbenu, quite the opposite. In Uman, you get a small taste of the beauty that’s hidden in every Jewish soul, however ‘weird’ or different they may look from the outside. Including yours.
After someone has been to Uman, and seen how fervently all the blonde-haired ‘secular’ ladies in tight jeans and tattoos pray; or how the be-wigged anguished mother breaks into tears by the tomb; or how there is good and bad mixed up in every single one of us, the trouble-makers have to work so much harder to try to convince you that ‘the other’ is so bad, and so dangerous, and so different.
Maybe, that’s why the haters can’t stand Breslov and the real tzaddikim.
We got the red eye back to Israel, and I had my nightmare scenario on the plane: sat next to the fattest woman in the world, stuck in the middle seat while she blocked the aisle (and the toilet…). She promptly fell asleep, which means she spread over half my seat and I started to feel more than a little claustrophobic.
(My husband wanted a window seat, to make it easier to sleep. I acquiesced, as he’d let me go for the aisle on the flight in. I spent the next three hours fighting back the urge to wake him up as ‘punishment’.)
So, I’m exhausted. Every time I dropped off, the fat lady managed to flop an arm the size of a tree trunk onto my leg. She’d half wake up, fold it back over her three stomachs, then fall asleep and drop it back on me again. Like, 10 times a minute.
As I said, Uman always brings out what’s simmering underneath, so I realized a few things:
So, there’s a lot of work to be done before I’m all fixed up and ready to accept the Torah.
And only a week of the Omer to go!
So either Hashem has to cut me some slack here, or it’s going to be another wild week.
Thursday evening, when the news of the 10 teenagers who lost their life in the crazy flash-flooding hit Israel, my two teenage girls were in very somber moods.
One was feeling pretty scared about even going outside, as clearly, the world had just got pretty dangerous if even a bit of rain could end up killing a minyan of Jews. The other one was deeply sad about what had just occurred – both for the loss of life, but more for the outpouring of sinat chinam, or baseless hatred, that occurred straight after it.
The media initially got the details of the tragedy wrong, and reported that the dead teens were boys – yeshiva students - from the Har Etzion Yeshiva in Gush Etzion. That lead to an outpouring of disgusting comments on websites like Ha’aretz and elsewhere, as ‘enlightened leftists’ rushed to try to pour salt on the wound.
It was so disgusting, that the externally secular journalist Ivgeny Zarubinski took a screen shot of the comments (below), and posted it up on his Facebook page decrying the horrible hatred.
My daughter showed me what he’d written, and told me her friends were also so upset by all the sinat chinam flowing around such a tragedy.
I told her the way to fight this is person by person – i.e. by uprooting all these feelings of hate for other Jews from within ourselves. Because while it’s nice to tell ourselves that only loony-left Ha’aretz readers have a problem with awful sinat chinam, even a quick glance at so many apparently ‘orthodox’ blogs and websites tell a very different story.
Immediately after the event, one popular ‘orthodox’ blog had a post up naming and shaming a really awful Haaretz reporter’s coverage of the tragedy, that ended with this barb:
[The reporter] need not be concerned about one thing. When he finally leaves this world, Israeli TV won't spend more than a few seconds noting his passing.
Why write this? It’s just promoting sinat chinam, and lashon hara. How is that meant to help anyone?
Then, the first commenter on that post said:
Hope his daughter dies in a flashflood.
Which is just as obscene and hateful a comment as you’d find anywhere on Ha’aretz.
Is this really how orthodox Jews should be behaving?
Is this really the sort of discussions we should be promoting on our websites, and the sort of comments we should be posting up?
Over on another very popular ‘orthodox’ website, I found this recent example (sadly there were SO many to choose from…) of hateful speech and sinat chinam against other Jews, written by the blog’s owner:
The Kipa Seruga is the emblematic identifier of Religious Zionist Jews. That is the kind of Kipa warn by most settlers, including these disgusting ‘Hilltop’ animals pretending to be human.
I don’t read this blog, thank God, but even a quick glance through the posts and the comments showed that it is stacked to the gills with lashon hara, hatred, ignorance of other Jewish traditions and beliefs, particularly in the charedi world, and an overwhelming arrogance and belief in the rightness of their own opinions, regardless of how so much of what is written flies completely in the face of Torah law.
And this is apparently one of the most ‘popular’ blogs in the ‘orthodox’ Jewish world, God help us.
The sinat chinam and lashon hara is flowing all over the orthodox internet, and every time we read these articles, link to them, or give their authors any space or respect, we are basically injecting ourselves with more poison against other Jews, delaying the geula, and bringing more tragedies down on ourselves.
And so much of this horrible hatred is happening unperceived, as it’s being tagged as ‘interesting debate’ or ‘fearlessly discussing controversial topics’ – because then, apparently, it’s OK to spread your hatred of other Jews far and wide.
As long as you can claim you’re only interested in the truth, it’s OK to call Breslov ‘idol worship’, or call Chabad ‘Jewish Replacement Theology’, and to speak awful lashon hara about some of the leading sages in the Jewish world, referring to them as ‘am ha aretz’ who ‘teach childish drivel’ and ‘the Torah of fools’, God forbid.
The hatred that is delaying the geula isn’t just lurking on the pages of Ha’Aretz and Ynet.
It’s also in our own hearts. And our own families. And our own communities.
And our own blogs.
Why did so many of us want to believe that most other Jews were 'evil' Erev Rav?
I was pondering why so many 'frum' people – including me – warmed to the messages coming out of the autistics that most Jews today are a sort of sub-class, sub-Jew called the ‘Erev Rav’.
Why did so many of us want to believe their messages that it’s a mitzvah to hate other Jews, and that it’s a good thing to want to see whole communities of people destroyed en masse?
How could we fall for such evil ideas? How could we believe for a moment that God would close the door to teshuva for anyone, and make it impossible for anyone to come back to him?!
God wants Jews to return back in teshuva, He doesn’t want Jews dead in their millions, God forbid. If people don’t make teshuva, it’s true that this worse-case scenario could still happen, God forbid – but it’s not at all what God wants!!
But when frum Jews sit there for day after day, and year after year, reading blogs telling them that:
Tel Aviv isn't Israel, it's not Israel at all, and also Haifa - not Israel.
Or reading things that conclude that it’s a ‘duty and a commandment’ to hate your fellow Jew, like this:
G-d established a time and place for love and for hate, and in the right time and place, each is a duty and a commandment. The Torah never contained, and never will contain, a concept of “groundless love”, just as the Torah absolutely rejects the concept of “groundless hate”.
Then we start to get the answer. We slowly but surely brainwashed ourselves into believing that black is white and that good is evil, and filled ourselves up with self-righteous anger and hatred and arrogance – and so many other really bad middot – that completely blinded us to our own part in perpetuating the ongoing suffering and the exile of the Jewish people.
In this shiur by Rav Ofer Erez (with full English subtitles) on how to fix baseless hatred, you can see a very complete refutation of this statement that ‘the Torah never contained, and never will contain, a concept of ‘groundless love’, that brings a number of sources across the Gemara and the Torah.
So-called ‘groundless love’ is the only antidote for sinat chinam, and the only way we’re going to get geula the sweet way.
Again, that doesn’t mean that we ‘love’ evil actions and accept them. Rav Ofer explains very, very clearly, that we must continue to demonstrate against evil ACTIONS, and that we can and should hate evil ACTIONS.
But it’s an enormous mistake to say a Jew is fundamentally EVIL. Or fundamentally un-saveable. Or fundamentally ‘Erev Rav’ and unable to make teshuva and return to God.
I’m as upset as the next person when I hear people call chareidi Jews things like ‘leeches and parasites’. I’m also upset when people call hill-top youth ‘animals’. I’m also upset when people say disgusting things about dati leumi yeshiva students who they mistakenly thought died in a terrible tragedy. I’m also upset when so-called ‘rabbis’ mis-characterise and slander whole segments of committed, Chassidic Jews simply from their own ignorance of deeper Jewish concepts and ideas.
But I’m also upset when people state that Tel Aviv is not really part of Israel. Or when they state that most secular Jews are ‘Erev Rav’. Or when they write awful lashon hara and evil speech, condemning and criticizing everyone else who happens to be different from them just so they can feel like they are superior and ‘the winners’.
If I’ve learnt one thing from my kids, is that they won’t let our generation’s sinat chinam pass unchallenged. My daughter saw me looking askance at the bald, kippa-less head of the obviously Russian Ivgeny Zarubinski, and took me to task for the obvious distaste I must have showed that she’d been reading stuff from someone like him.
“Ima, he’s really nice. He writes really nice things about Jews,” she gently upbraided me.
And as usual, she was so right.
It’s not how the person looks, or what image they’re trying to portray to the rest of the world about how righteous and how frum they really are that counts, it’s what they’re saying, and thinking and doing that really matters.
Ivgeny’s post inspired my daughter (and me…) to make some serious teshuva about our own problems with sinat chinam. Other posts from apparently ‘orthodox’ bloggers frequently just inspire more hatred, more poisonous comments, more harsh judgment, and more lashon hara.
So now you tell me: who’s doing more to hasten the geula, or slow it down?
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.
Following on from the 'Erev Rav' discussion below, Rav Ofer Erez just posted up a new clip with English subtitles that kind of makes the point very keenly about the importance of seeing the good in the world.
That means seeing the good in everything that happens to us, seeing the good in ourselves, and seeing the good in other people (even the 'awkward squad' that really do drive us mad with their terrible behavior.)
Again, this is not at all easy, and it's the work of 120 years.
But from experience, it's those people who are struggling to see the good in what's happening to them and around them, and who are struggling to see the good in themselves, who tend to be the most harsh, judgmental and unforgiving about other people.
Judging favorably is going against basic human nature, but it's the key to redemption the sweet way, as it's seeing the spark of Hashem that exists within all of creation, and certainly within our fellow Jews - even if they are the worst of the worst.
I'm not saying ignore bad behavior, quite the opposite. What I'm saying is that anyone who is really doing the work of judging THEMSELVES first of all will start to understand how they themselves got to be the way they did.
And once that happens, then they'll also start to understand how so many other people got to the place they got to, and they'll feel more compassion for them.
Without all the true tzaddikim we have in our lives, without all the help God sent down to us, which one of us can honestly say that we wouldn't be just as nasty and horrible as all these 'Erev Rav' types we see walking about?
If you had the sort of childhoods they'd had, the sorts of experiences they had, the sort of huge inner demons they've had to fight, wouldn't you also act in the same disgusting ways?
Again, it's not excusing the behavior, it's understanding where it comes from. People make trouble and hurt others because they are mentally and spiritually disturbed, they are fundamentally cut off from God, they don't believe God cares about them, or sees them, and they deeply hate themselves.
That's what they're projecting out into the rest of the world.
And the way to cure that problem at its root is to help them re-attach to God, to reassure them that God still loves them, and to encourage them to start judging themselves favorably. That means criticising the BAD ACTION not making global statements about people BEING BAD.
This is a crucial distinction.
Even the wicked King Menashe who the midrash says killed 8 million of his fellow Jews (more than Hitler!), including his grand-dad the Prophet Isaiah, ultimately made teshuva and returned to God.
God wants these people back.
Go read the story about how God Himself dug out a special passage under His heavenly throne to enable the prayers of Menashe to ascend to Him, because the angels were blocking them.
The angels said: "What?! You're going to let Menashe make teshuva?! After all the really awful, terrible things he's done?! No way!!! Who can be more of an 'erev rav' than Menashe?!"
But God ignored them, and welcomed Menashe's prayers, and he ultimately made teshuva.
Looking for the good in these people is what God wants.
And if we don't want to give God what He wants, that's something we really have to go take a careful look, and explore why that is, and why we are so determined to hold on to our hatred and harsh judgments against our fellow Jews.
Because maybe, that's pointing to the fact that deep inside, we also may be feeling a little cut-off from God and God's mercy, and that we aren't really judging ourselves so favorably, or liking ourselves so much, despite all appearances to the contrary.
Whenever I read a rant these days, I come away knowing 100% that this person doesn't like themselves very much, and is struggling spiritually.
And yes, they're still acting like a pig and driving me mad! And yes, I need to stay away from them and their destructive behavior, and to protect myself from becoming collateral damage as a result of their spiritual malaise and inner turmoil!
But from that safe distance, then I can understand why they do what they do, and why they act how they act, and I can ask God to help them out of the hole they are in.
Because if other people don't feel compassion for them, and pray for these disturbed individuals, they will never, ever find their way out, and find their way back to God.
And God wants them back.
Rav Ofer does a much better job of explaining this than I do, so here he is. (You can turn on the English subtitles by clicking the tab at the bottom right of the screen. It's a 4 minute quick view, but he packs an awful lot of Torah into that time.)
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