The last 12 months or so, since last Elul, I’ve been feeling like the whole Jewish calendar somehow got mixed up, at least for me. The whole of Elul, instead of lifting me up to the heights of teshuva, something happened to show me that I was not on the lofty spiritual level I really thought I was, and spent weeks feeling absolutely heartbroken and kind of washed-up, Jewishly.
It’s hard to be a baal teshuva the first time around. It’s even harder when you’ve been a baal teshuva for 20+ years, and then God shows you how much work you still have to do.
But then it was Rosh Hashana. A new year! A new beginning! A time to turn things around. I couldn’t find a shul to daven in, so I went to the default local shul, full of ‘traditional’ Moroccans.
There was a Downs syndrome boy on the other side of the partition who got so excited by the Shofar blowing, he started making all sorts of yells and weird noises.
Of course, you’re meant to be quiet when the shofar is blown. Of course, this precious soul was bringing God so much more nachas with his whoops then all the studied ‘silence’ of the rest of us.
Immediately after shofar blowing, some idiot man started berating the boy and his father and demanded that they leave the shul immediately. On Rosh Hashana! The argument spread to the women’s section and there on the first Day of Judgment, the most awful sinat chinam was going on, all for the best, most holy reasons, of course.
I didn’t know it then, but that shul was right next to the house we were destined to fail at buying this year, which plunged us into our own maelstrom of self-righteous arguments and sinat chinam. Probably, the woman who was selling it was sat in the women’s section too, being covered in all that machloket fall-out.
The whole thing showed me how hugely important Rosh Hashana really is, it really does set the tone and create the blueprint for the year. Thank God, my husband was in Uman by Rabbenu for Rosh Hashana, because I dread to think how much worse things could be, otherwise.
Then, the first of the days of awe – my mother-in-law unexpectedly died, and me and my husband found ourselves back on a plane to the UK. I spent the majority of the days of awe eating fishballs from the only kosher deli in town (where all the nice serving people are Liverpudlian yoks) and packets of blueberries, serving tea and making ‘small talk’ at the shiva – just like you’re not meant to do – and then topped that off with unavoidable ‘hugs’ with grieving men from my husband’s extended family.
The only plus in my favor is that by compromising our ‘religious standards’, and eating food we wouldn’t usually eat, and keeping quiet about things that upset us and disturbed us greatly, we made a lot of peace with a lot of people we’d been fighting with for years.
But we got back to Israel erev Yom Kippur, and I was so exhausted I literally slept the whole way through the chag.
Succot happened in a fog – not least because we’d just been told our landlord was selling the apartment we’d been renting for 3 ½ years, so it was no stretch to feel the ‘temporary’ nature of our lives and our dwelling, and Chanuka also passed in a blur as we were trying to buy AND also trying to rent something for six months and both my kids were stressed to the max over their new ulpanas (dorming high schools).
All year, it’s felt like the festivals have been creeping up on me before I was ready, and that I have been so spiritually unprepared and on the back foot and doing everything at ‘bare basic’ level.
Two days before Purim, we moved house, so that was another holiday that passed in a blur.
Then Pesach arrived, and with it a bunch of guests for seder that we’d recently made peace with in the UK. Kids were trying to blow out my Shabbos / Pesach candles, flipping the toilet light on and off (because I forgot to tape it down….), pressing the door buzzer for two minutes, really loudly…
We had a slight stand-off by the end of the seder, as the guests wanted to skip Hallel, and I refused. I told them ‘leave if you want, but we’re going to the end’. So a compromise was reached where my husband sped-read through Hallel in the record time of 11.36 minutes so peace would continue to reign.
But I didn’t feel so happy about it. I felt maybe I was compromising too much for the sake of peace….
The next day, the first day of counting the Omer, the bombshell dropped that the bank had pulled their mortgage approval, plunging us into months of machloket, yeoush, anger – and enormous work to try to rustle up some real emuna.
All year, God has been showing me that He wants peace, not standing on principle, and all year, I’ve been trying to give Him what He wants, but it’s come really, really hard.
So, we get to the week before Tisha B’av, and the situation with the house is giving me no peace. Their disgusting lawyer tells us we ‘burnt their house’ and I know that’s a hint from God to look past the puppet show and see what’s really going on here.
But I can’t sleep, I can’t concentrate, I’m consumed by agitation and fear and rage – and we just hit the nine days when it’s all about fixing the sinat chinam that ‘burnt God’s house’ and is still continuing today.
God, what am I meant to do to fix this! The situation is so bad, it’s so unfair, it’s boiling up every bad middot I own!!!
God told me last week: Go and do six hours, and beg Me to help you make peace.
So that’s what I did. The day after I did that, my husband got a phone call from the estate agent that brokered the deal: the other side want to talk, without lawyers, they want to come to some agreement.
We met on Friday – erev Tisha B’av! – and again, God is the one that made the peace because all we did for an hour was argue. It looked to me like we were going to end up in court. Me and my husband stepped outside to discuss what was going on (and to avoid punching someone…) and when we returned 10 minutes later…. The other side had transformed.
Gone was all the blaming, distortion and power plays. On the table was a simple proposal: pay our costs to date, and we’ll finish everything peacefully next week.
We still need to agree what those costs actually are, but a sum was named that sounded reasonable, and much better than the amount our ridiculous contract stated we needed to pay.
Bezrat Hashem, the sinat chinam disappeared, and the path of peace prevailed.
Instead of Tisha B’Av, I feel like I’m already in Elul.
Let’s be clear, that it wasn’t us that did anything. God did the many miracles last week, and I also tried to bind myself to all the tzaddikim of the generation before we sat down at the table, to let them take over the actual discussion.
All I did, a lot, was yearn for peace, and ask God to save me from being overwhelmed by my enormous bad middot, especially my arrogance and my victory-seeking tendencies.
Because making peace is not easy, not at all. It means coming off my high horse, and trying to see the other side, and accepting that everything that’s happening is only and solely coming from Hashem.
I’m writing this on the tenth of Av – this year’s pushed-off fast of Tisha B’Av. And I’m writing this because the one thing Hashem really wants from the Jewish people is for us to make peace with each other.
Don’t wait until Rosh Hashanah, do it now, in the seven or so weeks we have until the Yom HaDin. Make peace with your relatives, even if you’ll have to suffer through a ‘man hug’, eat dodgy fishballs and rush through the more meaningful bits of your seder.
Make peace with the people you’re arguing with, even if it’s going to cost you some money, and the satisfaction of seeing them eat it.
But most of all, make peace with your husband (or wife…) and your children. Stop holding all those old grudges in your heart, and stop blaming them for the things that aren’t going right in your life.
Last week, on the Ari’s yarhtzeit, my teenager started telling me some really hurtful, yucky things about myself– all the things I secretly worry about, but try not to notice too much. She threw them all in my face, which to be fair I completely deserved, because I’d started berating her about not taking school seriously enough and wasting her life, which wasn’t really accurate or fair.
So, she hit back with ‘teenage troof’, maximum strength, and as my blood started to boil – the oven shorted out and a small fire sparked behind it, right next to the gas pipe. We both held our breath for a very long second. Thank God, the fire burned out, I turned off the gas, she turned off the electric mains, and I unplugged the scorched oven plug with a long, grateful sigh.
Machloket is what burns down the house.
Machloket is what burned down the Temple.
This Tisha B’av, let’s really try to fix the problem at its root: i.e. in our own homes, and our own lives.
So, it was a whole week after Moshe Rabbenu had triumphantly led the Children of Israel out of Egypt, that place of harsh slavery and cruelty, as the culmination of a whole year of miraculous signs and wonders.
Massive flaming hail had destroyed so many buildings, and injured and killed countless Egyptians and their animals. In the plague of darkness, the Jews had seen 4/5 of their own countrymen pass away and been forced to bury them in secret, so the Egyptians wouldn’t see this and try to use it against the nascent Jewish people.
Then the last plague had come, the death of the firstborn, where the Jews had huddled in their homes behind their blood-daubed lintels, praying that they would be protected from the terrible scourge that was being released on their neighbors.
And after that - so quickly after that - redemption! Finally, finally, freedom! Pharoah himself gave the Jews their marching orders, and the Children of Israel emptied Egypt out of its finery and jewels, and left with their dough on their backs.
The first few days, the people were ecstatic, elated.
But then, the test returned.
Egyptian spies went back to sound the alarm that the Jews had no intention of returning, and before long in the distance, the Jews could hear the hoofbeats that signaled that Pharoah and his army were chasing after them.
And what happened at that point? Did Moshe Rabbenu sit down and sketch out the rough plan of what was going to come next? Did he explain how they were going to be saved? Did he give a public address where he told everyone to calm down and stop worrying, because this was all just part of the process?
It’s not too much of a stretch to believe that Moshe Rabbenu was also a little rattled and stressed by what was occurring. Moshe was a realist. The whole way along, he could see how difficult it would be to redeem the Jews, and what a challenge he was really up against. That’s why he turned down the job, when God first offered it to him.
But now, against all the odds, he’d managed to get the Jews out of Egypt, and was heading for the desert rendezvous where the nation would be given the Torah. It’s not too much of a stretch to believe that the encounter with Pharoah’s army at the Sea of Reeds was just as much of a surprise, and a trial, for Moshe Rabbenu as it was for everyone else.
So he had no comforting words for the wretched crowd spread before him, who thought that the tests were over already. They’d left Egypt behind, they’d left slavery behind, they were following Moshe, Hashem’s prophet, into a very uncertain and insecure future. Surely, everything would just be plain sailing from that point on?
It’s probably fair to say that none of the Jews expected another encounter with the Egyptians so soon after fleeing the country, and certainly not in the awful circumstance that they currently found themselves in: with their backs to the sea, trapped, with all their women and children around and precious little ability to fight back.
Can you imagine the despair they must have felt at that point?
They’d backed the wrong horse! They’d put all their eggs in Moshe Rabbenu’s basket, and now look what was happening to them! They were about to get mercilessly destroyed by the vengeful hordes of Pharoah.
What was the point of going through all those plagues, the terrible test of faith that was the plague of darkness, the terrible test of faith that was the Korban Pesach, just to get killed in this horrific fashion, trapped against the sea?
How could Moshe Rabbenu have led them to this place? How could God have done this to them?
The despair was overwhelming.
And then….the sea split. Even then, not at once. Even then, it still took Nachshon ben Aminadav’s bravery and emuna to wade in, when all hope was gone - I mean, what?!? You’re going to listen to Moshe Rabbenu again?!? And believe in miracles again?!? After everything that’s just happened to you?!? Are you crazy!!!
Thank God, he was crazy.
And the sea split.
And the Jewish nation escaped destruction, while the Egyptian were utterly destroyed.
To put this another way, the ‘down’ was solely to facilitate the ‘up’. God wanted the Jews to know and see that their oppressors had finally been destroyed for good, and that they were truly free people.
But until the sea split, can we imagine the test the people at the sea went through? The doubt and fear they experienced? The despair that kept them paralysed, waiting for the ‘inevitable’ to happen?
What a test.
In some ways, so many of us are still facing that test of the sea. After we’ve followed after God and his holy men for so long, and tried so hard to give Him what He wants, and sacrificed so much to finally get free of our bad middot and abiding problems.
We thought we were out, we thought we were free.
And now, the test returns even greater than before.
But soon, the sea will split.
As we head into the holiday, I want to wish all my dear readers an uplifting, happy, and peaceful festival of freedom. BH, this is the year we really will get out of Mitzrayim, both collectively and personally.
In the meantime, here's a round-up of some Pesach-related reading material that you may want to check out, if you're taking a quick break from all the cooking and cleaning:
Nesanel Yoel Safran wonders why this holiday tends to take people to extremes, in Extremely Pesach.
Helen Schwimmer shares a peek of what goes on between the covers of her haggada.
Zisi Berkowitz shares a Pesach Parody based on Paul Revere
Rav Ofer Erez explains in his newsletter for Nisan 5778 that our redemption depends on connecting to the Tzaddik
Alizah Teitelbaum writes a heartfelt plea for redemption to come this year.
And all I can say is 'amen', I really hope that will happen too.
Every year when I’m about to get overwhelmed by the mess, the expense, the cleaning of Pesach, I ask myself: ‘isn’t there some sort of short-cut I could do, to just get the fun stuff out of this experience and leave all the yuck behind?’
Because Pesach routinely comes along with SO MUCH yuck. Even when you’re working on yourself. Even when you’re trying your hardest to just have emuna, and to just let God get on with running the world.
I’ve had Pesachs when I tried so hard to clean everything just so, and even a week earlier than usual, so I could take my girls away for a short break with the neighbor’s girls up the road. That was a disaster. Pesach seemed to last for three months that year, the ‘break’ was a stressful fight-fest, and then on seder night my husband got completely knocked out by the first glass of wine and was practically comatose.
Recently, my Pesachs have gone in the other direction, where it’s been hard to muster up the energy required to actually clean. Anything. The first couple of years this happened, I just kind of pushed through the weariness and fatigue, because I had enough OCD going on about chametz that it gave me the energy required to actually do something about it.
But this year, my chametz OCD has receded considerably (which is probably a good thing…) but it also means the ‘panic button’ has been disconnected from cleaning for Pesach. Add to this a very nice article in Hamodia a couple of weeks’ ago making it clear that most of what we consider ‘essential’ in cleaning for Pesach is actually OCD-induced chumras, and voila! I really haven’t felt like doing much.
So then, I started exploring other shortcuts to getting Pesach done, like:
a) paying someone else to do it or
b) expecting my kids to act like the adults in the house.
I know many, many mothers manage to off-load all their household chores onto their children, and that the children even don’t mind it (OK, I made that last bit up, but the first part of the sentence is definitely true.) But in my house, I’ve never quite managed to pull that off. The more I expect of my kids, the less they do.
The less I’m in their face about cleaning and helping, the more they actually start volunteering to do all sorts of things around the house. But when it comes to Pesach, I forget this rule and start to expect things from them - and this is where the problem really begins, because we are just talking a completely different language.
To me, ‘morning’ means sometime before 11am. To them, ‘morning’ means ‘some time after I wake up’ - which could be 2pm in the afternoon. So I’ll ask them to clean something, or arrange something in the morning, and because it’s Pesach, each chore is carefully nested and stacked within 15 others, so choreography is key.
So I CAN’T cook, however much I want to, until the kitchen counters have been cleaned and covered. If the person assigned to do that job doesn’t wake up on time, doesn’t feel good, can’t figure out how the sponge works - there are millions of obstacles, you simply wouldn’t believe what can happen - then I get stuck having to do it myself.
I can just completely let go, and let things happen in their own sweet time.
And I’m not there yet, although each year it gets closer and closer. I know this is just a test from God. I know the real cleaning for Pesach is all my bad middot and Pharoah-nic tendencies to slam around the house muttering about how ‘lazy, lazy’ my kids-cum-slaves are.
Don’t they know this is the whole point of having children?!? So I won’t have to do the chores myself?!?
So in the meantime, I get stuck with some huge bad middot issues that I know is the real work to be done, because honestly apart from Pesach, my kids are actually really sweet, and really lovely, and would really put themselves out tremendously to help me.
There’s just something about this time of year that makes all that goodwill evaporate, and that seems to pit me against them in a really ucky way that no-one ever comes out of happily.
Last year, we had people putting their feet through bathroom doors in a rage because no-one had set the seder table (and no, that wasn’t a kid.) I understand they also have bad middot to ‘find’ and dispose of. I understand that just as my mini-Pharoah is waking up in me, it’s doing that inside of them, too.
We all think that someone else should be the ‘slave’, and we’re all upset that the ‘slave’ isn’t working hard enough….
I so want geula. I’m really sick of cleaning for Pesach. Not just this year, but every year, because I don’t have a cleaner, and my kids-cum-slaves apparently always get liberated BEFORE Pesach, and because sometimes, I really can’t understand why I have to work so hard to get to that tiny bit of ancient pretzel that’s down the back of my couch.
I know, all this stuff is achieving wonderful spiritual rectifications that I can only guess at, because I certainly can’t grasp them in the here and now. I don’t want my bad middot anymore. I don’t want to have unreasonable expectations anymore. I don’t want to be lazy and apathetic, and I also don’t want to be enslaved and worked to the bone.
So what’s the answer? What’s the shortcut to the joy of the festival without all this back-breaking work and grumpy power struggles?
Maybe this Pesach, I’ll finally find out.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Now that Purim is just about over (although I seem to be having a bunch of 'upside-down' experiences in my own life at the moment, but that's a post for another time) - it's time to plan ahead a bit for Pesach.
No, I don't mean cleaning the house and hoovering the car (although clearly there has to be some time found for that stuff too, between here and March 30th - seder night!).
I'm talking about picking up a copy of '49 Days', my interactive journal for self-development that sets out a meaningful and useful exercise to do for each of the 49 days of counting the Omer - which begins after nightfall on March 31st.
And guess what? Amazon is doing a really cheap promotion on the book right now - I have no idea why - so you can get it for the bargain basement price of $4.43 - for a real, live paperback!
So strike while the iron is hot, and get pick up your copy HERE.
Before you know it, Pesach will be upon us. So quick, go order this while you still have 5 minutes for a bit of surfing before you have to knuckle down and clean all that stuff away from behind the fridge.
As has been going on all year, I'm going into Purim completely unprepared.... I moved house two days' ago, so even just finding my Megillot is a bit of a task (and let's not even talk about getting my oven working or figuring out the hot water.)
But Baruch Hashem, other people are a bit more organised, so here's a quick round-up of some other Purim pieces you may like to read:
hOver on www.ravberland.com, the Rav tells us about the correct mindset we should have going into Purim, HERE.
Over on www.ofererez.com, Rav Ofer tells us that before Hashem is about to make a big spiritual change in the world, the Jewish people first have to go through another test with Amalek. Read that HERE.
Over on the soulfoodie blog, you'll find this:
And then on Sasson, there's a very nice selection of poems, stories and non-fiction pieces about Purim, including:
The recipe for survival that was concealed in my mother's kreplach
V'ne'hafochu - A fish story
And BH, things really ARE starting to turn around in the world for the good this Purim, 5778.
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