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.
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!
Following on from the 'Erev Rav' discussion below, Rav Ofer Erez just posted up a new clip with English subtitles that kind of makes the point very keenly about the importance of seeing the good in the world.
That means seeing the good in everything that happens to us, seeing the good in ourselves, and seeing the good in other people (even the 'awkward squad' that really do drive us mad with their terrible behavior.)
Again, this is not at all easy, and it's the work of 120 years.
But from experience, it's those people who are struggling to see the good in what's happening to them and around them, and who are struggling to see the good in themselves, who tend to be the most harsh, judgmental and unforgiving about other people.
Judging favorably is going against basic human nature, but it's the key to redemption the sweet way, as it's seeing the spark of Hashem that exists within all of creation, and certainly within our fellow Jews - even if they are the worst of the worst.
I'm not saying ignore bad behavior, quite the opposite. What I'm saying is that anyone who is really doing the work of judging THEMSELVES first of all will start to understand how they themselves got to be the way they did.
And once that happens, then they'll also start to understand how so many other people got to the place they got to, and they'll feel more compassion for them.
Without all the true tzaddikim we have in our lives, without all the help God sent down to us, which one of us can honestly say that we wouldn't be just as nasty and horrible as all these 'Erev Rav' types we see walking about?
If you had the sort of childhoods they'd had, the sorts of experiences they had, the sort of huge inner demons they've had to fight, wouldn't you also act in the same disgusting ways?
Again, it's not excusing the behavior, it's understanding where it comes from. People make trouble and hurt others because they are mentally and spiritually disturbed, they are fundamentally cut off from God, they don't believe God cares about them, or sees them, and they deeply hate themselves.
That's what they're projecting out into the rest of the world.
And the way to cure that problem at its root is to help them re-attach to God, to reassure them that God still loves them, and to encourage them to start judging themselves favorably. That means criticising the BAD ACTION not making global statements about people BEING BAD.
This is a crucial distinction.
Even the wicked King Menashe who the midrash says killed 8 million of his fellow Jews (more than Hitler!), including his grand-dad the Prophet Isaiah, ultimately made teshuva and returned to God.
God wants these people back.
Go read the story about how God Himself dug out a special passage under His heavenly throne to enable the prayers of Menashe to ascend to Him, because the angels were blocking them.
The angels said: "What?! You're going to let Menashe make teshuva?! After all the really awful, terrible things he's done?! No way!!! Who can be more of an 'erev rav' than Menashe?!"
But God ignored them, and welcomed Menashe's prayers, and he ultimately made teshuva.
Looking for the good in these people is what God wants.
And if we don't want to give God what He wants, that's something we really have to go take a careful look, and explore why that is, and why we are so determined to hold on to our hatred and harsh judgments against our fellow Jews.
Because maybe, that's pointing to the fact that deep inside, we also may be feeling a little cut-off from God and God's mercy, and that we aren't really judging ourselves so favorably, or liking ourselves so much, despite all appearances to the contrary.
Whenever I read a rant these days, I come away knowing 100% that this person doesn't like themselves very much, and is struggling spiritually.
And yes, they're still acting like a pig and driving me mad! And yes, I need to stay away from them and their destructive behavior, and to protect myself from becoming collateral damage as a result of their spiritual malaise and inner turmoil!
But from that safe distance, then I can understand why they do what they do, and why they act how they act, and I can ask God to help them out of the hole they are in.
Because if other people don't feel compassion for them, and pray for these disturbed individuals, they will never, ever find their way out, and find their way back to God.
And God wants them back.
Rav Ofer does a much better job of explaining this than I do, so here he is. (You can turn on the English subtitles by clicking the tab at the bottom right of the screen. It's a 4 minute quick view, but he packs an awful lot of Torah into that time.)
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.