The last 12 months or so, since last Elul, I’ve been feeling like the whole Jewish calendar somehow got mixed up, at least for me. The whole of Elul, instead of lifting me up to the heights of teshuva, something happened to show me that I was not on the lofty spiritual level I really thought I was, and spent weeks feeling absolutely heartbroken and kind of washed-up, Jewishly.
It’s hard to be a baal teshuva the first time around. It’s even harder when you’ve been a baal teshuva for 20+ years, and then God shows you how much work you still have to do.
But then it was Rosh Hashana. A new year! A new beginning! A time to turn things around. I couldn’t find a shul to daven in, so I went to the default local shul, full of ‘traditional’ Moroccans.
There was a Downs syndrome boy on the other side of the partition who got so excited by the Shofar blowing, he started making all sorts of yells and weird noises.
Of course, you’re meant to be quiet when the shofar is blown. Of course, this precious soul was bringing God so much more nachas with his whoops then all the studied ‘silence’ of the rest of us.
Immediately after shofar blowing, some idiot man started berating the boy and his father and demanded that they leave the shul immediately. On Rosh Hashana! The argument spread to the women’s section and there on the first Day of Judgment, the most awful sinat chinam was going on, all for the best, most holy reasons, of course.
I didn’t know it then, but that shul was right next to the house we were destined to fail at buying this year, which plunged us into our own maelstrom of self-righteous arguments and sinat chinam. Probably, the woman who was selling it was sat in the women’s section too, being covered in all that machloket fall-out.
The whole thing showed me how hugely important Rosh Hashana really is, it really does set the tone and create the blueprint for the year. Thank God, my husband was in Uman by Rabbenu for Rosh Hashana, because I dread to think how much worse things could be, otherwise.
Then, the first of the days of awe – my mother-in-law unexpectedly died, and me and my husband found ourselves back on a plane to the UK. I spent the majority of the days of awe eating fishballs from the only kosher deli in town (where all the nice serving people are Liverpudlian yoks) and packets of blueberries, serving tea and making ‘small talk’ at the shiva – just like you’re not meant to do – and then topped that off with unavoidable ‘hugs’ with grieving men from my husband’s extended family.
The only plus in my favor is that by compromising our ‘religious standards’, and eating food we wouldn’t usually eat, and keeping quiet about things that upset us and disturbed us greatly, we made a lot of peace with a lot of people we’d been fighting with for years.
But we got back to Israel erev Yom Kippur, and I was so exhausted I literally slept the whole way through the chag.
Succot happened in a fog – not least because we’d just been told our landlord was selling the apartment we’d been renting for 3 ½ years, so it was no stretch to feel the ‘temporary’ nature of our lives and our dwelling, and Chanuka also passed in a blur as we were trying to buy AND also trying to rent something for six months and both my kids were stressed to the max over their new ulpanas (dorming high schools).
All year, it’s felt like the festivals have been creeping up on me before I was ready, and that I have been so spiritually unprepared and on the back foot and doing everything at ‘bare basic’ level.
Two days before Purim, we moved house, so that was another holiday that passed in a blur.
Then Pesach arrived, and with it a bunch of guests for seder that we’d recently made peace with in the UK. Kids were trying to blow out my Shabbos / Pesach candles, flipping the toilet light on and off (because I forgot to tape it down….), pressing the door buzzer for two minutes, really loudly…
We had a slight stand-off by the end of the seder, as the guests wanted to skip Hallel, and I refused. I told them ‘leave if you want, but we’re going to the end’. So a compromise was reached where my husband sped-read through Hallel in the record time of 11.36 minutes so peace would continue to reign.
But I didn’t feel so happy about it. I felt maybe I was compromising too much for the sake of peace….
The next day, the first day of counting the Omer, the bombshell dropped that the bank had pulled their mortgage approval, plunging us into months of machloket, yeoush, anger – and enormous work to try to rustle up some real emuna.
All year, God has been showing me that He wants peace, not standing on principle, and all year, I’ve been trying to give Him what He wants, but it’s come really, really hard.
So, we get to the week before Tisha B’av, and the situation with the house is giving me no peace. Their disgusting lawyer tells us we ‘burnt their house’ and I know that’s a hint from God to look past the puppet show and see what’s really going on here.
But I can’t sleep, I can’t concentrate, I’m consumed by agitation and fear and rage – and we just hit the nine days when it’s all about fixing the sinat chinam that ‘burnt God’s house’ and is still continuing today.
God, what am I meant to do to fix this! The situation is so bad, it’s so unfair, it’s boiling up every bad middot I own!!!
God told me last week: Go and do six hours, and beg Me to help you make peace.
So that’s what I did. The day after I did that, my husband got a phone call from the estate agent that brokered the deal: the other side want to talk, without lawyers, they want to come to some agreement.
We met on Friday – erev Tisha B’av! – and again, God is the one that made the peace because all we did for an hour was argue. It looked to me like we were going to end up in court. Me and my husband stepped outside to discuss what was going on (and to avoid punching someone…) and when we returned 10 minutes later…. The other side had transformed.
Gone was all the blaming, distortion and power plays. On the table was a simple proposal: pay our costs to date, and we’ll finish everything peacefully next week.
We still need to agree what those costs actually are, but a sum was named that sounded reasonable, and much better than the amount our ridiculous contract stated we needed to pay.
Bezrat Hashem, the sinat chinam disappeared, and the path of peace prevailed.
Instead of Tisha B’Av, I feel like I’m already in Elul.
Let’s be clear, that it wasn’t us that did anything. God did the many miracles last week, and I also tried to bind myself to all the tzaddikim of the generation before we sat down at the table, to let them take over the actual discussion.
All I did, a lot, was yearn for peace, and ask God to save me from being overwhelmed by my enormous bad middot, especially my arrogance and my victory-seeking tendencies.
Because making peace is not easy, not at all. It means coming off my high horse, and trying to see the other side, and accepting that everything that’s happening is only and solely coming from Hashem.
I’m writing this on the tenth of Av – this year’s pushed-off fast of Tisha B’Av. And I’m writing this because the one thing Hashem really wants from the Jewish people is for us to make peace with each other.
Don’t wait until Rosh Hashanah, do it now, in the seven or so weeks we have until the Yom HaDin. Make peace with your relatives, even if you’ll have to suffer through a ‘man hug’, eat dodgy fishballs and rush through the more meaningful bits of your seder.
Make peace with the people you’re arguing with, even if it’s going to cost you some money, and the satisfaction of seeing them eat it.
But most of all, make peace with your husband (or wife…) and your children. Stop holding all those old grudges in your heart, and stop blaming them for the things that aren’t going right in your life.
Last week, on the Ari’s yarhtzeit, my teenager started telling me some really hurtful, yucky things about myself– all the things I secretly worry about, but try not to notice too much. She threw them all in my face, which to be fair I completely deserved, because I’d started berating her about not taking school seriously enough and wasting her life, which wasn’t really accurate or fair.
So, she hit back with ‘teenage troof’, maximum strength, and as my blood started to boil – the oven shorted out and a small fire sparked behind it, right next to the gas pipe. We both held our breath for a very long second. Thank God, the fire burned out, I turned off the gas, she turned off the electric mains, and I unplugged the scorched oven plug with a long, grateful sigh.
Machloket is what burns down the house.
Machloket is what burned down the Temple.
This Tisha B’av, let’s really try to fix the problem at its root: i.e. in our own homes, and our own lives.
A few days’ back, I had four nights in a row of extremely intense dreams. This happens sometimes. I can go for months and months without dreaming anything much, and then have a bevy of whopping, big meaningful dreams one after another.
The first dream was a really awful nightmare about the force of evil being maintained in the world by thoughtless people who really had no idea what they were messing with, or what bad things they were unleashing as a result.
Thank God, I don’t get dreams that disturbing very often, but when they come, around once a year, I walk around panic-stricken and shaken for at least a day afterwards. And then there were two more internal, but still intense dreams. And then on the last day, I dreamt the whole country was being flooded by an enormous tsunami.
The weird thing about that tsunami is that while it was towering over me five stories tall, I actually didn’t get wet. It passed me by somehow, and went and flooded everything else.
It wasn’t a bad dream, like that other nightmare, but I felt I was getting some clue I had to go and research more, not least because when I was walking around Tel Aviv getting soaked to the skin a couple of months’ ago, I saw a really strange municipality sign affixed in a couple of locations.
Report from Hamodia: YERUSHALAYIM -Israel is not considered a high-risk country for tsunamis, but the Tel Aviv Municipality and Israel Police on Thursday decided that signs warning of the possibility of a giant wave hitting Israel’s coast were necessary anyway. The new signs warn that Tel Aviv beaches are a “tsunami hazard zone,” with the warning listed in English, Hebrew and Arabic. However, instructions on what to do are listed only in Hebrew and Arabic.
It was a brand new, blue and white ‘tsunami warning’ sign, which told the good citizens of Tel Aviv which direction they should run away in, should the city be hit by a tsunami.
That sign struck me as so very weird, because as far as I can tell, Tel Aviv has never, ever come even close to experiencing a tsunami. And if it did, running away a few metres up the road isn’t going to help anyone, much.
So I sat down, googled ‘tsunami’ - and I realized it was the seven day anniversary of when that massive tsunami hit the Fukishima nuclear reactor in Japan. Hmm. Maybe that was the tsunami vibe I’d picked up? Tsunami past, not tsunami present?
I googled a bit more, and I came across some videos by MrMMB333, who has been a gentle but obsessive observer of freak weather for a few years’ now. In contrast to so many of the ‘Prophets of Nibiru’ on the internet, he’s never made any big claims, never set any dates in stone, generally never even said the word ‘Nibiru’, or anything like that.
All he does is collate information from a number of satellite feeds, and other people who are also measuring strange things like huge spikes in UV readings across the North American continent, and he shares that info with his viewers with mild comments about things being ‘mighty strange’.
He had a whole bunch of recent things up on his site about what he calls ‘water anomalies’, namely strange shoreline phenomena that is seeing parts of the coast all over the world being strangely inundated with water, while other parts of the coast are being strangely exposed, and the sea water has somehow ‘disappeared’.
For example, parts of Europe and the UK got hit with Storm Emma a couple of weeks’ ago, and in the wake of that storm, an old Roman aqueduct that had been submerged for centuries suddenly appeared off the coast of Spain. How? Somehow, all the water in that area receded - permanently - and it revealed a ‘new’ stretch of coast including this ancient aqueduct.
Then weirder still, Storm Emma headed up the west coast of the British Isles, on the Irish side of the country, and on the east coast of Britain, facing France, a new massive stretch of coastline suddenly appeared, containing a massive forest of ‘7000 year old’ (sic) tree stumps.
Again, what’s strange about this is that these new/ old stretches of coast seem to have been permanently acquired. Something fundamental is shifting the earth’s oceans around and gently, gently, starting to re-draw the map of the world.
WHEN MOSHIACH COMES THE WORLD IS GOING TO CHANGE RADICALLY
For months, the messages I’ve been getting in my hitbodedut sessions is that the world is going to change, radically, but also (relatively…) very slowly and gently this time around. There will be no massive and instantaneous wrenching of the earth’s mantle without warning. Things will happen in due course, the world will probably experience a new ‘Matan Torah’ type event at some early stage of the open geula process.
But Moshiach will be revealed by then, and telling people to ‘bring in their cattle’, or to move country, or whatever it is they need to do to stay safe. This is how it happened in Egypt. Moshe the redeemer showed up, was believed by some of the people, not believed in by many of the others, things started to get pretty strange, weather-wise - and the whole test was whether to believe Moshe was ‘in control’ of events, as the prophet of Hashem, or whether it was all just comet-induced freak weather.
That’s why the sorcerers only grudgingly acknowledged that the ‘finger of God’ was somehow involved from the third plague onwards. But even by the plague of hail, many Egyptians were still denying Hashem’s kingship of the world, and refused to heed Moshe’s warning to ‘bring in their cattle’ when that plague struck.
HOW DID DATAN AND AVIRAM MAKE IT OUT OF EGYPT?
A few weeks’ ago, my husband asked Rav Ofer Erez why Datan and Aviram made it out of Egypt, and didn’t die in the plague of darkness with the other 4/5 of Am Yisrael? I mean, they were pretty ucky, yucky people, and they were behind so many of Moshe’s problems right from the start, with their evil speech, criticism, heresy and trouble-making.
Rav Ofer said there were two explanations:
1) That Datan and Aviram were actually enormous souls. He told my husband there’s a midrash that says they actually didn’t leave with the rest of the Israelite camp, because they thought they were only going out for three days, and then returning to Egypt, so they couldn’t be bothered coming along for that.
It’s only when the Egyptians realized that the Jews were going for good and set off in pursuit that Datan and Aviram grabbed their things, and tried to catch up with them. The midrash says an amazing thing: the sea split again, just for these two evil-doers.
They had so much potential in their souls, but they used it all for bad. So that’s one explanation, Datan and Aviram were not ‘standard’ evil-doers and potentially extremely lofty souls.
2) Another explanation is that the Jews that died in the plague of darkness died for a specific reason, and not necessarily because they were ‘bad’. And the specific reason given by the deeper Jewish sources is that they didn’t believe in the Tzaddik’s ability to redeem them.
Clearly, some ‘bad’ people made it out of Egypt - Datan and Aviram, Korach, the Erev Rav etc etc. Clearly, being ‘good’ wasn’t the measure of who made it out.
Believing in the Tzaddik was.
As it was then, so it may well be today.
After that tsunami dream, I did some serious hitbodedut about it, trying to figure out the message, at least for me. I got a picture in my head of a massive Rav Berland holding back the waves, and all these half-dead people who’d been buried in the sand kind of levitating up out the ground and floating after him.
To me, the message was clear. There is some sort of tsunami coming, whatever that actually means, that will overwhelm the world. But if you’re following after the Tzaddik - whoever that ultimately turns out to be - you’ll be ok, you’ll stay dry.
And if not?
I shudder to think.
Last Wednesday, as the boxes started to mount up in the small apartment and as the floor space (and table space and counter space and every space…) started to disappear under cardboard, I asked my husband if we could go away for Shabbat.
Both the kids were out for Shabbat anyway, and there was nowhere to sit, or cook, anyway and the Rav was also doing his ‘big gathering’ in the North, that I felt like going to, for a change.
The husband, tzaddik that he is, agreed, so I rang around a few places and ended up booking Hotel Ron in Tsfat. Thursday, I continued to pack like a crazy person and around 8pm, we headed up North.
The Rav does his gatherings late, and the plan was to try to stick with the program as long as we could, then drive on to Meron and sleep in the car until day break, when we’d make our way to Tsfat.
Finding the location was an adventure in itself. Thanks to the ongoing persecution of a bunch of people who have taken it upon themselves to threaten every hall that hosts the Rav with bankruptcy and closure, these gatherings are happening in increasingly unusual locations.
The last time I went to one, in Beer Sheva, they put up a massive marquee last minute in someone’s tile warehouse. This time round it was a proper events hall - in the middle of an Arab neighborhood.
It’s hard to know who was more surprised, the local Arabs who suddenly had a whole bunch of Breslov chassidim descend on the hall (with their own refreshments, natch…) or the Breslovers who had to drive past a bunch of xtian effigies in glass boxes and huge light-bulbed crucifixes while trying to find the place.
Never a dull moment…
We got there around 11, the Rav showed up around 12 midnight, and less than an hour later, word went out that the gathering was re-locating to Meron. So, we got back in our car, joined the throngs of people driving off to Rashbi - and somehow managed to lose everyone.
I anyway was so knackered I fell asleep in the back of the car, but my husband tried to find everyone for a bit, before also falling asleep in the front. I woke up at 6am, went to do an hour of hitbodedut in the tomb, and ended up spending most of the time perched overlooking the beautiful greenery, wondering where all my ability to do six hour prayer sessions has gone, these days.
Life has been so busy for months, it’s hard to catch my breath.
The hotel said we could book in at 12pm, and it was only 8am, so I said to my husband: ‘Let’s go to Lake Montfort!’ We headed out, got lost, took a wrong turn - and ended up driving by Rashbi’s cave in the now Arab village of Peki’in. So of course we stopped!
The village seemed like it was deserted at that time of day, so we went and had a wander around, found Rashbi’s cave, and saw the massive Carob trees that are still sprawled all around it.
It was really cool. I’ve been wanting to see Rasbhi’s cave for years already.
Next stop was ‘Lake’ Montfort which was impressive for Israel, but about the size of a large puddle, for people who come from rainy Britain. Still, we walked around in the sunshine and enjoyed the view before heading off to Tsfat - which someone told me ages ago is one of the biblical cities of refuge.
And in many ways, it still feels like that.
After checking in, we went for a walk around the Old City, through the artist’s quarter and then down to the old Tsfat cemetery. I’ve been going to Tsfat for a decade already, and this is the most bustling and alive I’ve ever seen the old city there. It really seems to be going through some sort of renaissance.
The husband went for a dip in the Ari’s mikva while I went to do some praying by his grave.
There’s a lot going on at the moment, and I came with some heaviness of spirit and upset which very quickly lifted after an hour in the cemetery.
I heard someone talking about Chana and her 7 sons being buried in Tsfat, so I decided to try to find them. We were headed in completely the wrong direction when a couple of yeshiva boys with a guide to graves in their hands passed by. I asked them if they knew where Chana was buried and they gestured to the other side of the massive cemetery, and told us to try there, instead.
My husband gave me his quizzical half-eyebrow - finding a grave in Tsfat is not so easy, particularly if it’s not so well-known - but I told him let’s try anyway! If God wants us to find it, we’ll find it.
As it happens, God wanted us to find it.
As we got close to that side of the cemetery, where people are buried in the caves under the mountainous dips of Tsfat, we heard this gorgeous harmonizing coming from one of the caves. It was so beautiful, and the cave acoustics were amazing. We drew closer to see what’s going on, and my husband turned to me and smiled: the writing above the cave entrance proclaimed ‘Chana and her 7 sons’.
Who 2,500 years later is still being remembered and serenaded by Am Yisrael. Unbelievable.
We packed a lot into a day and a half, including praying in Meron, praying by the Arizal, finding Chana and her 7 sons, praying in Rav Yosef Karo’s shul, and visiting the grave of Rav Yehoshua ben Chanina, and Rebbe Nachman’s shamash Reb Shimon, who moved to Tsfat and was murdered by Arabs in the surrounding hills whilst doing hitbodedut.
It reminded me how much I’ve missed visiting the holy graves the last couple of years, caught up in a pace of life that’s been really, really crazy.
I got a lot of clarity in Tsfat, I got a lot of inner strength, and I got the energy to come back home and to carry on packing, and to carry on writing, and to carry on trying to shine light into the world, even when sometimes it’s hard and I’m tired of dealing with psychos.
Am Yisrael is so beautiful.
And we are so blessed to be part of this beautiful Jewish story, that is continuing to unfold in all of our lives, linking us back to our ancestors and forward to geula and Moshiach and true peace in our times.