Over on Rav Ofer Erez's new English website, there's some very useful advice on the thorny subject of how we can actually judge others favorably in practice.
Rav Ofer helped me so, so much when I got stuck on seeing the bad in other people - and suffering a great deal from doing that - so I'm so pleased that his wisdom is finally making it out into the wider English-speaking world.
You can see his practical advice for how to actually do judging favorably, in practice (that I got stuck on for around five years....) here:
PS: Thanks so much to everyone for their kind words and support. Dear readers, you are the best! I'm so touched that my good news is also bringing a smile to your faces.
People, you are amazing.
One of Rebbe Nachman’s followers was once asked whether he could recount any of the open miracles that Rebbe Nachman was reputed to have done. He turned to his questioner and told him:
“Me! I’m the biggest miracle of all. You had no idea what Rabbenu did with me!”
I have to admit that when I first heard that, I wasn’t so impressed. I mean really? What’s the big deal that now someone started eating kosher, or even grew some impressive side-curls? Lots of people do those things without Breslov, so how was that meant to be a proof of Rabbenu’s
These days, I have a different view.
Around three years’ back, at the time when I was writing The Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife, things seemed so very bleak. Me and my husband had been broken into a million pieces by everything we’d gone through, from the finances turning sour through to losing our home, through to having no-one to talk to - at all! - because we’d both turned into holier-than-thou martinets.
By God’s grace, we managed to hang on to our marriage, our kids and our sanity, but it was a very close call.
I look back at that awful, absolutely awful, time, and I wonder: How on earth did me and my family come through all that in one piece? And not only in one piece, with more equanimity and genuine simcha than we had before everything fell apart.
How did that happen?
Or more precisely, following the advice of Rabbenu, which includes talking to God for at least an hour every single day, knowing that everything that happens is 100% determined by Hashem and for our own good, and going to Uman every time you think you’re really going to crack up because you simply can’t take it anymore.
There’s other stuff in there too, like working on your bad middot, understanding that everyone, even the psychos, are just a mirror reflecting your own ‘uck’ back at you, and doing your darndest to have no despair in the world, even when really, you’re drowning in it.
All that stuff really, really helps.
But ultimately, it’s Rabbenu that got me through the last few years, and into a space where things are really starting to turn around, BH.
Yesterday, we signed on a house in Jerusalem.
We can’t move into it for another six months (long story…) so I have to go live somewhere else for a while, but who cares?
A home of my own in Jerusalem!
I had really given up on owning a house of my own anywhere, let alone the holiest city in the world. Let alone, one of the holiest neighborhoods. Let alone, a place where you can literally see Har HaBayit out your window if your apartment faces in the right direction. (Mine doesn’t).
But who cares?!
My husband sighed a big sigh today, and told me he couldn’t believe how far we’ve come the last three years, what miracles God has done for us.
There’s a mitzvah to publicise the nes¸ so let me end with this: Two days ago, after two months solid of wrangling with our seller, it really looked like our house was going to fall through. Her horrible lawyer wanted to put a clause in the contract that no person in their right mind would ever agree to, as it basically amounted to underwriting a blank cheque.
We’d given in on every other matter, so our hopes weren’t high that our seller and her horrible lawyer would back down, and for once, we simply couldn’t be the ones to compromise.
We really needed a miracle for things to move.
Luckily, we live in Musrara, so my husband nipped over to Rav Berland’s shteibel and amazingly managed to get near enough to his podium to ask him what to do, and whether to continue.
“Continue!” the Rav told him.
Although frankly, we couldn’t see how that was really possible.
The next day, all by herself, the seller came around and pulled the impossible-to-agree-to clause so we could actually close the deal.
We got the house.
But the biggest miracle is still me.
It’s often happened to me that God gives me a tremendous flash of insight in my hitbodedut, or talking to God, sessions, that I then have to try to explain to other people in logical terms.
And I usually struggle to do that, as the insight I get in hitbodedut isn’t a linear argument or a progression of information, it’s a quantum leap from one place to a completely different reality.
My poor husband has been on the receiving end of this so many times that now he just mutters ‘bina yetira’ when I’m trying to explain why I’ve just done something else that doesn’t make any sense, logically, yet I feel 100% with every fibre of my being that it’s the right thing to do.
So with that intro, here goes the ‘logical’ explanation which really only partially describes why I pressed ‘delete’ on my blog, motzae Shabbat.
Why I pressed 'delete' on my blog
It started a little earlier in the week when two things happened:
1) I got sent links to a really good, in-depth expose of the crazy psychos who have been hounding Rav Berland for well over a decade, and it was frankly more than a little disturbing to see the lengths these people were going to, when it came to trying to hurt and disrupt the Rav.
2) The draft of One in a Generation, the biography of Rav Berland, finally passed through all the editorial checks and obstacles, and was put up on Amazon for pre-order just a couple of hours before Shabbat came in, here in Israel.
I’ve known for months already that this book marks a huge turning point, at least spiritually, in the ongoing battle between truth and lies in the Jewish world. Rav Kook from Tiberius told us all very clearly that everything that happens with Rav Berland is directly connected to the geula, the redemption of Am Yisrael.
So I knew the publication of the book would mark a big upswing in something, that would probably kick-off the next stage of geula. (I only found out after Shabbat that probably the exact same time the book went up on Amazon, that Israeli jetfighter got shot down by Iranian proxies in Syria…)
So anyway, I’ve been feeling pretty excited, but also pretty nervous about this book coming out, because while it’s going to be a game changer, I was anxious about the anti-Berland psychos targeting me and trying to cause me issues and damage the way they’ve been doing to everyone else who is publicly ‘pro’ the Rav.
This is a very big reason why so many people who are ‘pro’ the Rav are keeping shtum, because no-one really has the stomach to fight these people.
You’ll remember a few months back, I got sued for the enormous sum of 40,000 shekels for posting up a picture of Rav Berland in court which I thought was covered by ‘fair use’, seeing as my blog is not commercial and I was writing about the story.
Long story short, even with a lot of help from the lawyer husband of a friend, my own lawyer husband, and a lawyer I had to pay to deal with it, I still ended up paying out around 7,000 shekels, because these people are ruthless.
"Why do I feel so anxious?"
Shabbat morning, I had a huge amount of anxiety going on, and as I started to dig around, what came up is that I was very nervous about the ‘anti’ psycho brigade combing through four years of Emunaroma to find another picture they could try to use against me, or another careless use of words that they could use to try to use to damage me in some way.
I also realized that they may try to hack my site and disable it, the way they did to ravberland.com a few months ago.
Which is when God gave me my brainwave: If I deleted my archive myself, on my own terms, ensuring that I had copies of all my articles saved on a stick somewhere, then these people wouldn’t be able to use Emunaroma against me.
As soon as that idea popped into my head, I felt so, so happy and really relieved.
Which is when I realized some more things about why it would be good to make a new start here on Emunaroma. With God’s help, I’ve built up quite a big audience over the last few years, which is a huge privilege - and also a huge responsibility.
And I haven’t always managed to carry that responsibility appropriately. While most of the time I’ve very careful with my lashon hara, and with trying to see Am Yisrael with a good eye, I’ve had times when that’s not the case, and I don’t want those things ‘out there’ permanently, bringing who knows what judgments down on my head.
I want Emunaroma to be a positive blog, to spread light and God’s goodness in the world, and ranting on about nasty people is not the best way to do that.
Now, I’m not saying it won’t happen again, because it probably will. But at least I got rid of the backlog in the meantime.
Words are so powerful
Another reason I pulled the plug is because having a ‘big’ blog presence can lead to some serious ego and arrogance problems. Words are so powerful, and there’s something very spiritually corrupting about the idea that ‘XX thousand people are reading my blog!’
I wanted to do some ‘blog teshuva’ and humble myself, so God doesn’t have to send me other hard things to do that job for me.
Another reason why I pulled the plug is because the idea of a new start is just so appealing.
I’ve had many occasions over the last few years when I had enough of blogging, and being so caught up online.
The plus of blogging is all the tremendously awesome people I’ve met through doing Emunaroma, but as the pressures on my time have grown astronomically over the last few months, I’ve been spending so much time typing, and so little time living, that I felt a desperate need for a grand gesture to redraw the balance.
Pressing ‘delete’ showed God, and showed me, that there is so much more to me and to my life than my blog.
With that certainty, I can now carry on blogging happily, and I’m not worried now that I’ve blogged my soul to the devil, and I’m stuck posting things up for the next 50 years just to keep my audience happy.
I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem
How different the world would look if people only blogged about things that were actually good to blog about, and not just out of a need to keep the audience coming back for the next installment.
So I’m hoping that by pressing ‘delete’, I will stop being part of the addicting internet problem, and make a small move in the direction of being part of the solution.
I can hope.
And the last reason I pulled the plug comes back to wanting what I write to be ‘real’ in some way, and not just virtual. Rav Ofer explained once that this world offers us fake ‘pleasure’ and fake ‘achievements’ to fool us into thinking there’s nothing else to aim for.
Every time hundreds of people read a blog post, that’s a really nice feeling. It gives me some real pleasure. But in the meantime, I feel like I want to be an author of books, real books, not just an author of virtual blog posts, however much I enjoy writing them.
The more time I spend online, the less time I’m writing real books. And real books is what I want to show my kids, and their kids, and what I want to fill my own shelves with.
A friend brought this point home to me last week when she emailed me an invite for her son’s bar mitzvah, then reassured me that she’d call to remind me too ‘because no-one really pays attention to things that are just on-screen.’
She is so right.
And I need to spend more time migrating my stuff off-screen and onto Amazon and the Book Depository.
All of these reasons sound reasonable, logical, possible. But none of them really capture the real reason why I pressed ‘delete’ on my blog, which is this:
Once I understood that this is what God wanted from me, I was happy to give it to Him.
In my own small way, it’s a korban I’m offering up to the Al-mighty, and I hope He finds its aroma pleasing.
And that’s why I know it’s going to lead to really good things happening, even though I can’t for one second explain what they might be.
Binah yetirah or crazy person alert.
You can decide, dear reader.
But in the meantime, I’m feeling happier about continuing to write for Emunaroma then I have been for a very long time.
It’s so true that you sometimes only appreciate what you have when you don’t have it any more.
For three long years, I’ve been bewailing being stuck in my current apartment, the so-called ‘rented dump’ which was a third of the size of my old house in the village, and that has only one toilet.
And no bath.
That bath thing upset me so much the first two years because I have had some pronounced germ issues, and the thought of having to use the bath at the local mikvah was pretty challenging, to say the least.
Especially that (thankfully unique…) time when I got there and someone’s clipped toenails were still scattered around everywhere. I almost left… but couldn’t. I came home in such a bad mood, that this was my lot in life, having to bathe surrounded by someone else’s mouldy toenail clippings.
Uck uck uck.
So the bath was a sore point.
The one toilet was also a sore point, for similar reasons. In the West, it’s de rigeur to have a guest toilet for other people, and one you keep just for you. My germ issues loved this arrangement! To bits!
And then suddenly, there was one toilet for everyone: me, the rest of my family, my kids’ 15 girl-friends that would show up for Shabbos, my landlord, the charity collector who knocked on my door, the rare Shabbos guest.
Uck uck uck.
But after nearly four years of this, I have to report that most of my germ issues have reduced greatly, so there is a silver lining to that cloud.
But then, there were other issues like having just one working electric socket in every room. For three years, I had to literally wrap myself in electric cables to be able to print anything off, or to have a light on concurrent with my CD player.
We’d trail a cable across 20 metres of floor to plug in a radiator in during winter. And I’d trip over it every single time I walked around. That’s just how it is.
Then, there was neighbors’ insistence that I should sponga the outside stairs every two weeks, which I just couldn’t do. I have many talents, but housekeeping barely makes the list and sponga is completely off it.
The first time, it took me an hour, I soaked the bottom of my (long) skirt in bleach water, and I couldn’t figure out how to whisk all that water down the stairs and out the entrance fast enough to:
a) actually clean the stairs
b) prevent the dirty water from seeping under my downstairs neighbour’s door.
She came out with an extremely displeased expression on her face, and I could see this sponga thing was just not going to work.
So, I’ve always had one neighbor or other upset about the stairs - both on the rare occasions I tried to clean it, and the far more frequently occasions when I didn’t.
Then there’s the location. Musrara. So close to the Old City, Meah Shearim, Downtown - and the Rav.
So busy. So crazy. So intense. So lonely.
And yet now that it looks like I have to leave, at least for a few months, I’m starting to really appreciate what I truly have in my neighborhood. Even the crazies that have been driving me bonkers for three years.
People around here are alive, they’re real. And I have my place in the pantheon of neighborhood characters, I’m the crazy ‘English’ person that no-one can quite figure out.
They see me pop up at the Rav to read tehillim with my beach chair, then they see me wearing weird hats that no-one else within 5 miles of Meah Shearim would touch with a bargepool.
They hear me blasting out Gad Elbaz (occasionally….) and then hear my household blasting out Tyler Swift, and a few other things besides. I see the obvious confusion on their faces not infrequently, because whatever box they’ve got handy, they can’t quite fit my family into it.
So, we’re kind of famous around these parts, as the weird, semi-frum English family who are into the Rav but whose kids have blue hair.
Wherever we go next, we’ll be anonymous again.
So, the point of this post is that I’m understanding that because I didn’t appreciate my apartment, and because I also didn’t appreciate my neighborhood, at least for long swathes of time, I now have to leave, at least for a few months.
We’re still hoping to stay in Jerusalem, but nothing is coming up for rent remotely close to Musrara except places that are up four flights of stairs in the ‘gay’ area of town where you have to put your oven and fridge on the balcony as there’s no space for them in the kitchen.
And that’s too much of a stretch, even for me.
So dear reader, mea culpa for not appreciating my rented dump enough.
I learned my lesson, the hard way, the same way I always seem to learn my lesson.
But BH, that also means that hopefully when we return to Musrara in the Summer, I’ll have a renewed appreciation for this mad, crazy, intense and amazing neighborhood.
Where Breslov rebbes and crazy chilonim rub shoulders, where you see chassidim on motorbikes, payot flying, where your apparently ‘secular’ neighbor quotes passages of the Zohar by heart, and where every preconceived notion you ever had about life in Israel is challenged head-on.
I’ll miss you Musrara.
But BH, I’ll be back soon.
Over shabbat, I was doing quite a bit of praying, about quite a few things.
It struck me that I am way too 'over-invested' in Emunaroma spiritually, in a way that I hope to explain more about in a future post.
All the internet gurus out there make us feel as though we have to keep endlessly churning things out online to have any 'weight' in the world. But what really remains of digital stuff that remains purely digital?
So, I've decided to start over, to let go of all the ego investment that's gone into Emunaroma the last 3 1/2 years, and to make a new start. I will be fiddling with the site over the next few weeks and making some more tweaks, but the other thing I decided is that I'm going to carry on printing my best posts out as books.
The best of Year 1 of Emunaroma became The Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife, and I'm going to continue printing those books, I decided this Shabbat, even if only for my kids to know what life was like at this stage of the world's development.
It was pretty scary, in theory, pressing delete on my blog.
But I have to tell you, I know that so many blessings are going to flow from this.
To be continued...