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.)