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.
The last few days, I’ve had a few emails from a few different people that are demonstrating that the vaccine debate in the orthodox community, particularly in the US, is starting to burst wide out into the open.
Personally, I think this can only be a good thing. I’m not ‘idealogical’ about this either way, I just want to know what the real truth is when it comes to whether vaccines are:
a) Safe as claimed
b) Effective as claimed
My view -about everything - is always that the available information should be clearly put on the table, and that people should be encouraged to question, evaluate, and decide for themselves.
This is part and parcel of people having God-given free choice to decide for themselves and to bear the consequences for their actions and decisions, and whenever I see healthy debate being squashed, or people trying to control others and close a respectful discussion down, my red flag immediately goes up that something isn’t quite right with this picture.
On that score, I want to bring your attention to a recent article written by a Rabbi Yair Hoffman, that was published HERE. You can see the full text for yourself here, but this is some of what Rabbi Hoffman has to say about what he views as the Torah imperative to vaccinate:
“The anti-vaccination advocates have two concerns that are often intertwined. The first is the MMR vaccine itself. They believe that there is some heretofore unidentified element in it that causes autism. The second is that some vaccines contained the preservative thimerosal, which contained ethyl mercury, a type of mercury that had been suspected of causing autism. Thimerosal has actually been removed from the MMR vaccine with no accompanying drop in the incidence of autism. No matter; this has not impacted the anti-vaxxer movement.”
Rabbi Hoffman is presumably going on the information given out by the FDA / CDC on official Governemnt websites like THIS ONE, which state:
Current Status of Thimerosal in Vaccines
If you plain English this carefully-worded answer, you’ll find that what it’s really saying is:
1) While vaccines for young children are now available in a formulation that doesn’t contain thimerosal
2) The ACIP doesn’t actually recommend that these ‘thimerosal-free’ formulations should be the ones that are routinely given to the general public.
I.e. You have to specifically ask for a thimerosal-free vaccine, and vaccines including thimerosal, specifically the flu vaccine, are still being routinely given to children in the US.
What about Rabbi Hoffman’s contention that there is no proven link between vaccines and autism?
Here’s what I found on THIS website, and please do go and take a look for yourselves:
“In 2008 top public health officials at HHS conceded that vaccines caused autism.
You’ll notice that thimerosal is NOT being discussed here as specifically causing autism, but that exposure to the vaccines themselves caused a ‘metabolic overload’ that triggered Hannah’s autism.
The issue if far deeper than a simple discussion of thimerosal (i.e. mercury, one of the most dangerous neurotoxins known to man) causing all the problems.
The human immune system wasn’t designed to be exposed to three very serious illnesses in one shot, even if vaccines are 100% effective and 100% safe.
On the safety front, I’m personally highly convinced at this stage that there is a significant risk associated with vaccines. On the effectiveness front, it’s clear that flu shots can’t be working, because the flu they vaccinate against is last year’s strain, and this year’s strain has mutated already.
But that’s where I’d like to learn more, personally, because if vaccines are also not effective (as can clearly be seen with the flu shot) and also pose significant health risks, or if there is a safer way to achieve the same sort of effective protection against contagious diseases in a non-toxic way (as seems to be the case with so called homeopathic ‘green vaccines’) then it becomes a no-brainer to not vaccinate.
So where does the truth really lie?
Over on Sasson, you’ll find two highly recommended articles setting out an alternative view of vaccination in halacha, written by a dayan in the US who does not vaccinate his own children, but who is scared to publish under his own name due to the pressure tactics he fears (probably justifiably) could be used against him as a result:
Vaccines in halacha - Part 1
Vaccines in halacha - Part 2
If you compare and contrast the approach of Rabbi Hoffman and this Dayan to the subject, you’ll find that the ‘pro’ vaxxer cites very few real sources of information, or up-to-date facts, and relies quite heavily on trying to persuade his readers to vaccinate, or else.
By contrast, the ‘anti’ vaxxer cites hundreds of footnoted sources of recent information and evidence to support his position, which is always a good sign that you’re dealing with someone who is on a search for truth, and who is trying to share the clues he’s finding along the way with as many other people as possible.
The issue is clouded because of the assumptions that a lot of rabbis are making that the information they are being provided by the pharmaceutical industry and the Government etc is 100% reliable and truthful.
That certainly flies in the face of so much evidence to the contrary, including all the falsified trials about anti-depressants and many other medications.
In the meantime, I’m also trying to collect as many ‘clues’ for us all to follow as well, so we can continue learning for ourselves, and deciding for ourselves, with God’s help, where the truth really lies.
To that end, another excellent recent piece over on Sasson about the need for questions to be properly asked and properly answered about vaccines in the Jewish community, which you can read HERE, turned up this video (at the top of the post) from the World Mercury Project.
It’s a quick 9 minute view, shmirat eynayim friendly, and basically describes how vaccines are treated as ‘biologics’ (whatever that means) and NOT medications by the FDA, which means the US government doesn’t require new vaccines to go through the drug testing process in the first place.
The Safety Trials process for vaccines is corrupted
The video also shows that the ‘safety trials’ that have been conducted on vaccines typically last for a maximum of 4 days, i.e. a kid is monitored for 4 days after their injection, maximum, and then if they don’t immediately have a fit or worse, God forbid, they are no longer monitored.
Of course, the incubation time for things like asthma, severe learning disabilities and a bunch of other very serious illnesses that the ‘anti’ vaxx lobby claim are caused by vaccinations don’t show up in 4 days, or even in 4 weeks, and often not even in 4 months…
And the last thing to note is that even with this minimal sort of oversight and checking, around 60,000 children in the US are still being formerly registered as having some sort of serious reaction to vaccines every single year. And there’s a strong suspicion that this undisputed, official figure may only be the tip of the iceberg, as so many parents are being actively discouraged from linking any chronic or acute health issues to their kid’s vaccinations.
As always, watch the video, and decide for yourself.
If any ‘pro’ vaxxers out there have detailed, credible information to specifically answer these points and concerns, I’d love to hear from you, as would most of the Jewish parents out there.
But as time is going on, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that while the ‘anti’ vaxxers have an impressive amount of information to share and a willingness to discuss the matter to its depth, the ‘pro’ vaxxers generally do not.
The only way to really get clarity on this matter is for us to keep taking it back to God, and to ask Him to show us what's really going on here, and how He wants us to react. No-one can control what really goes on with their children and their health, whether they load their kid up with every shot going, or do the exact opposite.
God is the only One who's really calling the shots when it comes to our health. So whatever conclusion we ultimately come to about whether or not to vaccinate our children, we still need to be asking Hashem to look after our kids 24/7.
Because that's really what's going to make all the difference.
UPDATE: One of the commentators, Daisy, apparently has a lot of useful background info on vaccines on her website HERE. Please check out the comments for more details.
It was only when I was talking to Alizah, the fiction editor over on Sasson, that the penny dropped.
We were discussing the new writers’ workshop that BH is almost ready, which is basically an online interface that will enable participants to upload their work, and have other writers critique it - in a careful, helpful way - to help the author polish their piece.
Alizah was explaining that a good critique always starts by praising the good in the piece, then includes some points where things could be improved, then ends with more praise of the good in the piece.
And that’s when the penny dropped about why I’ve been feeling pretty so low about continuing to write for Emunaroma, and so bizarrely upset about life, and that I should just give up now and go work in Shufersal, or something.
The story begins last year, when my husband and I offered our services - for free - to translate a really awesome Breslov book that we wanted to help get out to the English-speaking public.
Neither of us were paid for the work we did, and both of us worked really hard to get it ready, to the best of our collective abilities. It was literally a week away from being sent to print when in swooped ‘the sponsor’.
The sponsor had also read the book in the original Hebrew, and also loved it, and also wanted to do whatever he could to get the book out there to the wider public. There was just one problem with this plan: he wanted the book to be professionally edited by someone who could make everything read like something from Artscroll and Feldheim.
Because this is what the English speaking frum book reading public wants! More suave, wordy stuff that loses the heart and soul of what’s really being said and is technically a million percent accurate - but so bland and lifeless you just want to dig some hole for it already, and say kaddish.
I had huge misgivings. I did a lot of hitbodedut about it. Maybe, this was just my ego? (Very likely…) Maybe, this was just sour grapes that someone was being paid a lot of money to improve on something I’d poured my heart and soul into for free? (Could be…)
At the end of the day, I really want the book out there, and I really want it to sell well. The person who wrote it richly deserves that, they really do. So I made an agreement with the middleman that the ‘professional’ can and should look at it, and could and should tweak it, but that me and my husband would have the last word on the changes, to make sure the essential flavor wouldn’t be lost in translation.
What can I tell you?
Clearly no-one told the sponsor or the other editor.
The whole process was extremely challenging from day one, as I was increasingly given the impression by both these individuals that they were ‘rescuing’ the book from my extremely poor writing and editing.
I am the first to admit that grammar and punctuation are not my forte, and I always get my own books edited to catch the typos and mistakes, and I’m very happy to hear suggestions on how the work can be tightened up and improved.
But from the first second, the editor that was brought in to ‘save’ the book was out to impress on me that he was the professional here, he knew better than me how the book should read and sound (despite having zero Breslov tendencies and even being mildly ‘anti’ a lot of the deeper kabbalistic ideas being expressed in the book) - and that me and my opinions were basically surplus to requirements.
Dear reader, I did so much hitbodedut about what was going on, and how I was feeling about it all, because I know I have an ego, and I know that having two writers working on one project is always tricky.
But until Alizah’s comment, I hadn’t realized just how poisonous and toxic working with this person really was for me, and just how problematic that man’s approach to life - and to me! - actually is.
He didn't say one nice word to me the whole time.
The last two weeks, I have been inexplicably moody, miserable and on a trigger-hair with my husband and kids. I have been feeling like my writing absolutely sucks. I have been feeling so lowly and pointless - which is all helpful, and from God, I know - but because I didn’t know where all this stuff was coming from, I literally started to think I was going a bit mad.
Shabbat, I did a six hour prayer-a-thon to try to get the cloud to lift a bit, and to figure out what was going on and why I’d run out of energy, hope, and the will to live.
I didn’t realize it then, but now I can see 100% what just happened:
I got tangled up with someone who was out to prove their own ‘brilliance’ at my expense; who went over my head to the sponsor every single time we had a disagreement where right was on my side; who continually and consistently trashed and belittled all the hard work and effort me and my husband had put into the book; and who clearly has a lot of work to do on their bad middot.
The whole thing just reminded me again of how awful these types of people really are for the mental and physical health of those around them.
It’s been so long so I got blind-sided by a full-on narcissist that I’d almost forgotten how they suck out all your will to live and leave you so moody and lost in the world because interacting with them is just one big competition to prove to you how terrible you are, and how great they are.
And in the meantime, now that the penny has dropped, I am feeling so much happier and healthier again.
So if you’re having a bizarre chronic health issue, or some bizarre mood fluctuations and a feeling like life is not worth living, take it back to God and ask Him to show you which poisonous individuals in your environment may by sparking off the problem.
Because for sure, you’ll find them.
I've been having a lot of internal battles the last few days, not least about which direction my writing is going in, and whether blogging is the best use of my time. While I'm trying to sort it all out, I'm re-posting some good things from the last 3 years of Emunaroma, including this one from December 2017, which is really speaking to me still, wavering as I am between continuing and giving up.
I don’t think it will shock most of the people reading this blog if I confess to having being completely stressed out of my brain for the last three months.
Even before my mother-in-law unexpectedly passed away the day after Rosh Hashana, Elul 5777 had been a really crazy month, and then when my mother-in-law died, the craziness kind of went up a whole other level, and has stayed there for three months’ solid.
Every week there has been something ‘significant’ to deal with, and by last week, I had got so jumpy and grumpy and irritable that I was even yelling at my poor husband in my sleep. Baruch Hashem, I knew I had Uman coming up, so I was really hoping that Rabbenu would work his magic and return some equanimity to me, so I could stop being a mega-stressed pseudo-psycho.
But last week, suddenly Uman looked like it might not happen after all. My mum sent me a text on Friday telling me about the general strike (what general strike?!) that was going to shut down Ben Gurion all day Sunday, the day me and my family were meant to fly out. My adrenals were too exhausted for me to stress any more, about anything, but I decided I should still do a longish hitbodedut on Shabbat, and then leave the outcome entirely in God’s hands.
If He wanted us to fly out, great. If not, great - what else was I meant to do, at this point?
Motzash, we learned the general strike was reduced to a half day, and that our late afternoon flight would be leaving as scheduled. Cue the next obstacle: strikers causing huge traffic jams by the exit out of Jerusalem just as we needed to head off to the airport. I heard about that while I was out getting some last minute bits for Uman, so I rushed home, corralled my family to get ready now!!! and by some open miracle, both my teenagers managed to get changed and ready within 20 minutes.
So, we get to Uman, and after a balmy, dry 10 degrees all of Shabbat, on Sunday the snow and ice showed up - as did ‘Boris’, our Ukrainian cab driver. I’ve been to the Ukraine so often now that the completely crazy way people drive over there doesn’t really faze me anymore. My husband climbed into the passenger front seat, me and my two girls squished in the back. I looked for a seat belt - I had the ‘belt’ but no buckle could be found - so I gave up and went to sleep, because I was exhausted.
I woke up twice: once when Boris refueled the car with petrol, and another time when he refueled himself with a beer - behind the wheel! This is the traditional Ukrainian way.
My husband later told me that the visibility during that night-time drive was around 2 metres as there was driving snow, and that Boris was going at Grand Prix speeds. I couldn’t really see any of that from the back as it was dark and the windows were all fogged up, but apparently my husband was praying very sincerely for a good 2 hours, until Boris safely delivered us to our hotel.
And man, what a hotel! The first time I went to Uman, 8 years’ ago, there were two showers for 60 women - both located directly opposite the front door. There were power cuts every couple of hours, I had to bring my own toilet roll, there was no mobile phone access, and a lot of the locals were still getting their water from the local well on a sled. It was SO primitive.
The last couple of years, Uman has developed in a no less than miraculous way, and the clearest sign of that was that the new hotel we’d somehow managed to book was actually almost like a real hotel! There were single beds, not bunk beds, a nice (looking….) shower, a door person and a front desk person who both tried to be helpful.
Me and my husband were completely stunned by all this, and my kids were thrilled to be going to a ‘real’ hotel for a change.
We arrived at 2am, so we lit chanuka candles, then went straight to bed. The next day, even before I got to the Kever, I had an urge to do some ‘writing hitbodedut’ in the room before everyone else woke up - and out came a huge list of things that I’ve been mega, mega stressed about over the last couple of months.
No-wonder I’ve been so tense and highly strung!
Once I realized that I’m not just turning into a psycho, and that I truly have been under some immense pressure and stress recently, I felt so much better. But my davening seemed a bit flat the rest of the day, tell you the truth. I went to the Kever 3 times with my kids, recited some Tikkun Haklalis, did some more hitbodedut etc.
But no big revelations hit me this time, and I have to say I felt a bit disappointed. We were leaving at 5am the next morning, so I turned in for the night at 9pm - and at 11pm a new group of loud, crazy secular-looking women from Ashkelon stormed the hotel and tried to turn it into a disco.
This sort of thing happens a lot in Uman, because avodat hamiddot is one of Rabbenu’s favorite things. So I swallowed the loud screams, the ululations, some annoying woman’s really loud, horsy laugh - all of it. But then when they started playing trance music right outside my door at ear-splitting levels and screaming along with it, my patience evaporated and I went into ‘I need to go to sleep now!’ psycho mode.
I opened the door to yell at them to ‘sheket!!!’ and my eyes nearly fell out of my head. Some 20-something woman was literally dancing in the corridor holding a massive i-Phone and just wearing her underwear.
I thought I’d got to the point where nothing in Uman could shock me, but man, I was wrong. I shut the door, stunned. Then opened it up again to yell at them to be quiet, because the thought struck me that if I didn’t manage to shut them up, my husband might have a go instead.
Who wears their underwear in a hotel corridor filled with chareidi men?! In the middle of a freezing Ukrainian winter?! And then starts playing music from their i-Phone loud enough to fracture your skull?!
The mind boggles.
God helped me by sending a couple of other Israeli guests who also came out to yell at them in a much better way than I ever could, and peace returned…For two hours. Then the screaming and beatbox started up again. Again I went out to yell at them and one of them told me:
“Who goes to sleep when they come to Rabbenu?!”
Well, I do.
And this time they finally took the hint and quietened down.
I asked my daughters the next day if they’d heard the crazies in the middle of the night. One of them had slept like a log, and the other one told me: “Yes! I went to join them because I was so bored.”
So now, we get in the car with ‘Sergei’ - a solid lada type car this time, nothing fancy. And I said goodbye to Uman feeling as though I hadn’t really achieved so much this time around, except maybe stop feeling like a stressed-out psycho. Which shouldn’t be under-rated, I admit.
Two minutes into the drive, I started to realize this was going to be a pretty bumpy journey. It had snowed overnight, and now icy sleet was raining down and covering the snow drifts with black ice.
Our driver was really good, but it was pitch black, and they aren’t set up to clear the streets so fast or so efficiently in Uman. BH, we left 5 hours to get to the airport, so we thought we’d still manage it OK, even in the really bad driving conditions. (Boris had taken three hours, but clearly he’d been speeding like a fiend).
20 minutes into the drive, I noticed a bunch of lorries left by the side of the roads, emergency lights blinking, and I started to worry a little. 30 minutes later, we started to hit huge queues of jack-knifed lorries buried in snow drifts all over the highway - and that’s when I started to pray my socks off, as I’ve never seen that before.
When our side of the motorway got blocked by three parallel lines of lorries - all stalled in their tracks - I was convinced we’d just lost all hope of making our flight. But I figured without Sergei, who neatly reversed back, crossed the dual-carriageway barrier, and started driving at 80 km and hour on the other side of the motorway.
Long story short, we all prayed extremely intently for two hours solid, and somehow or other, we got to the airport just in time to make the flight.
That return trip taught me a great deal about the power of perseverance, and of not giving up in the face of truly overwhelming circumstances.
It taught me about the power of prayer. And it taught me that when things get far too scary to deal with, you can always pull your hat down over your face and manage things that way, too.
The bizarrest thing of all is that after two days of no sleep, and two really crazy trips to and from Uman, you’d think that I’d be feeling even more stressed and antsy. But the truth is, I feel better than I have done in months.
Rebbe Nachman has pulled it off again.
In the meantime, I’m waiting to see what other presents we brought home from Uman. There’s a lot ‘pending’ in my life at the mo, which I hope will move forward soon. If Rabbenu could get us to Borispol airport in the pitch black, on the other side of the road, when even snow ploughs had given up the ghost and pulled over to the side of the road, then anything is possible.
I will keep you posted.
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.
Before we begin, here’s one of my favorite infographics, showing the Erev Rav traits versus true Jewish traits.
You’ll notice that speaking lashon hara, indulging in harsh judgments against others, brazenness (which is refusing to accept that you ever do anything wrong, or may be at fault), trying to make a name for yourself, craving honor - all these things are very clearly associated with the Erev Rav.
The Gemara teaches that when a Jewish person lacks compassion, we should question whether that person’s feet stood at Mount Sinai. Anyone who knows their Erev Rav sources properly knows exactly what this is referring to.
Before we go on, again, I just wanted to bring this excerpt talking about (trauma-induced) Narcissistic Personality Disorder, as it’s so useful to help you understand the context of what is currently playing out online, and in the media, both in the Jewish and non-Jewish world:
“People with NPD won’t (or can’t) change their behavior even when it causes problems at work or when other people complain about the way they act, or when their behavior causes a lot of emotional distress to others.”
Here’s how NPD plays out in real terms:
(As an aside, I've noticed that blogging and having a public 'platform' can definitely bring these tendencies out and exaggerate them. It's one of the reasons I'm very keen to keep pointing out my own flaws and to field questions on Emunaroma, and to give others a platform to express themselves, too, so it's not just 'all about Miiii'.)
Why this stuff is important to know:
I’ve spent the last 3 years researching and writing about mental health issues over on spiritualself-help.org and in a bunch of books, and what I learned is that Erev Rav tendencies and personality disorders are one and the same.
People act like ‘Erev Rav’ because they are mentally-ill, and mental illness is primarily caused by experiencing serious trauma and / or emotional neglect, especially in childhood.
And it can be fixed and changed when God, and connecting to our true Tzaddikim are in the picture!
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov’s whole work in this final generation before Moshiach was to give our generation the tools we needed to overcome all the heresy, and mental illness, and ‘Erev Rav’ traits that would be flooding the world at this stage.
If anyone wants to learn more, Unlocking the Secret of the Erev Rav gives all the background to this concept, including sources, but it’s very important to understand one thing:
The only way the Erev Rav can get fixed is by coming close to the Tzaddik of the generation.
The Zohar brings down how the Erev Rav are actually ‘sparks’ of Moshe Rabbenu’s soul, which is why he wanted to bring them out of Egypt and rectify them.
That first time around, the job was too big for him, but over the last 3,300 years, each of the Tzaddikim of the generation have been involved with this task of rectifying the soul-sparks from the Erev Rav, because when that is completed we will have finally rectified the world, spiritually, and we can get to geula.
In Rebbe Nachman’s story of The Cripple, he depicts the Tzaddik of the Generation as a wondrous tree, with every type of healing and bounty in its leaves.
Rabbenu tells us that there are large communities of demons in the world whose whole purpose in life is to spread lies and slanders about the true Tzaddikim, to prevent people from drawing close. Every few years, the king of these demons tries to totally uproot the tree, but the tree lets out a piercing scream that reduces these demons to jelly, and scares them off.
So in the meantime, they content themselves with digging ditches around the tree (with their lashon hara, trouble-making and slander) that prevent it from being ‘watered’, and from truly blossoming in the world.
The human beings in the world have no idea that half the planet is populated by these ‘demons’, many of whom presumably have blogs and write things online, and have no clue that these demons are focused on one thing, and one thing only: keeping people away from the true tzaddik of the generation.
Rebbe Nachman teaches us that at the end of time, the ‘talkers’ amongst the demons will turn on each other, and start a civil war.
This one will give an interview to the Jpost decrying corruption in the police, while ‘that one’ will give an interview to Channel 2 decrying corruption within the Knesset.
This ‘rabbi’ will speak evilly about that ‘rabbi’, this organization will slag off that organization, this blogger will criticize that blogger - and all this will lead to massive earthquakes and natural disasters, that means that finally the ditches collapse, and the tree - the True Tzaddik of the generation - finally gets watered.
And then we have geula.
Looks like we are getting very close!
So, judging by the contents of my inbox this morning, we’re seem to be very, very close. But in the meantime, pay attention to all the ‘Erev Rav’ tendencies, and NPD traits that are coming to the fore at the moment, and know that most people today are literally insane, and shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
BH, when the True Tzaddik is finally revealed in the world, he’ll hopefully give them (and the rest of us!) another chance to come clean, admit that we have some serious mental health issues, and to make the teshuva we so desperately need to make.
Because God really does want all these people back.
And the only people who’ll tell you different are the ones who are struggling with some enormous (but fixable!) ‘Erev Rav’ / NPD tendencies themselves.
As always, your comments and questions are welcome, as long as they don’t contravene the laws of lashon hara. God forbid we should act like ‘demons’ and put more evil speech, slander and strife into the world!
I've been going through my blog archives, and there's some really good stuff in there that I think would be good to re-post, so over the next few weeks, you may see some 'old' articles that I'm recycling, usually because they deal with things that are still relevant today.
Like most of the people reading this, the first time I heard about the Erev Rav in any ‘real’ way was from the autistics.
The more I read the autistics, the more I started suspecting other people of ‘being’ Erev Rav. Initially, it answered so many questions, cleaned up so many problems! I mean, the only reason that a Jew would or could act in such a horrible, disgusting way could only be because they must be Erev Rav….
Like many others, the Erev Rav quickly became a kind of obsession by me. And when I get obsessed with things, I research them as much as I can, and I try to bottom them out as much as possible. So, I threw myself into reading anything I could about the Erev Rav, including a document called ‘The Modern Erev Rav’, which brings together a lot of the sources about the Erev Rav in English.
By the time I’d finished going through that document, I had a very clear understanding of what sorts of things the Erev Rav did, and that the Vilna Gaon, amongst others, was telling me that I should cut them out of my life and avoid them as much as possible.
So over the next few years, that’s what I tried to do. (This was when I wrote that series on the Erev Rav over on www.breslev.co.il.)
As a result, I lost so many friends, stopped speaking to so many close family members, and even started suspecting my husband of being an Erev Rav (! - if you ever met the guy, you’ll understand just how crazy that particular statement is…) And then, I came to the ultimately disturbing conclusion that I myself must also be an ‘unfixable’ Erev Rav, because I also spoke lashon hara (sometimes…) and made trouble between people (sometimes…) and was obsessed with making a name for myself (sometimes…)
It’s axiomatic that when you follow God’s laws, and really try to give God what He wants, you see brachas and blessings from doing that. Dear reader, all I got from cutting all the supposed ‘Erev Rav’ people out of my life was heaping doses of heartache, misery and suffering.
Today, we are ALL 'Erev Rav' people
The more I tried to run away from ‘Erev Rav’ people, as the Vilna Gaon’s students suggested, the more I came to realize that in 2017, we are ALL Erev Rav people.
At the same time as this was going on, I realized that the secular world was also noticing the negative character traits associated with the Erev Rav, particularly the traits of lack of compassion and empathy for others and rigid thinking, and defining them as the basis of personality disorders, especially Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).
According to modern psychiatry, most of these personality disorders, but especially NPD, can’t be fixed. The person with NPD will stay permanently broken, egotistical and nasty. Again, I spent years and years going through all the literature on personality disorders, and measuring it up against my own experiences of difficult people, and it dovetails amazingly with all the ‘Erev Rav’ stuff.
Except, I came to the same problem with that stuff, too: I started to notice that I MYSELF sometimes acted like I had NDP, (especially after I went through the worst year of my life, when I got hit with so many traumatic experiences that my capacity to feel compassion or empathy for anyone else pretty much completely disappeared.)
Trauma is what makes people act like narcissists
Which is when the turning point happened, and I realized that TRAUMA is what makes people act like narcissicists, etc, and what makes people act like Erev Rav, etc.
So then, I started researching trauma, and C-PTSD obsessively, and again it was a perfect ‘fit’ for what I was seeing around me and experiencing in myself, and it convinced me once and for all that just as personality disorders CAN be overcome, so can Erev Rav traits.
Then, I started looking for proof from authentic Jewish sources that this was the case, and I hit the jackpot with various teachings from Rav Berland and Rebbe Nachman himself, a lot of which I bring down in the book Unlocking the Secret of the Erev Rav.
Jews don't believe in bad people, only bad actions
So, here’s where we currently stand:
It’s not a Jewish idea to call someone ‘bad’, anymore than it’s a Jewish idea to call someone ‘Erev Rav’. Xtians go in for that sort of global, meaningless ‘good and bad’ people rubbish.
By contrast, Jews talk about good and bad DEEDS, good and bad TRAITS, but we don’t give people labels like good and bad, because we understand that is something that only God is qualified to do, at the end of a person’s life, when all their merits and sins are weighed up together in the Heavenly court.
In that sense, the Erev Rav is a completely false paradigm. Who can claim to be qualified to call someone an ‘Erev Rav’ and to assume that person can never make teshuva and will be permanently consigned to an eternity in Gehinnom?!
People with pronounced ‘Erev Rav’ traits aren’t just left-wing politicians or corrupt journalists, you know. If we’re honest, then we’ll admit that each and every one of us know people, are related to people, talk to people EVERY SINGLE DAY that fit at least some of the criteria set out by RASHBI and the Vilna Gaon (amongst others) for the Erev Rav.
We’re not just talking about Shimon Peres here, we’re talking about your ‘Erev Rav’ mum, and your ‘Erev Rav’ kid, and your ‘Erev Rav’ spouse. Do you really want all these people to be permanently consigned to destruction and Gehinnom?
Lacking compassion for others is a key 'Erev Rav' trait
And if the answer is ‘yes’, then there’s an enormous irony here, because only people who have a severe lack of compassion and empathy for other people (which remember, is one of the key traits of the ‘Erev Rav’ as identified by our Sages…) would willingly go around accusing others of being ‘Erev Rav’, with all that entails.
That’s why the authentic Jewish approach is to talk about EREV RAV BEHAVIOUR, and not EREV RAV PEOPLE.
It’s a crucial, massive distinction.
Because people can always stop behaving like Erev Rav, but they can’t stop being Erev Rav.
God loves everyone
God is full of kindness and compassion for His creations. Does it really sound realistic to you that this kind, merciful Creator would create a category of person that can never, ever make teshuva, no matter what effort they make to improve, no matter how much suffering they go through?
Does that sound ‘right’ to you?
God can do anything!
We saw in the Torah so many times - including in this week’s parshat Korach - that God was going to destroy the Jewish people because of their disgusting behaviour, but didn’t because the Tzaddik of the generation, Moshe Rabbenu, prayed for them.
Which brings me to my last point for today (although I will be returning to this subject again and again, until we all start to really get what I’m going on about here):
If we really want all the horrible ‘Erev Rav’ type traits and behavior that are definitely flowering all over the place in our modern world to really disappear, we need to pray for other people, and also for ourselves.
Again, asking God for help, and really believing in God’s mercy and compassion and willingness to help out, and really building a genuine, personal relationship with God is something that people with pronounced ‘Erev Rav’ tendencies find very difficult to do.
That’s one of the reason’s why hitbodedut, personal prayer, is the fastest and most effective way of neutralizing a person’s ‘Erev Rav’ tendencies, because it goes to the very heart of the problem, namely that ‘Erev Rav’ people don’t really believe in God in any real way, and certainly don’t believe that He’s compassionate, kind and good.
SO TO SUM UP: