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.