Yesterday, I was listening to Rav Eliyahu Meirav’s interview with the Israeli media, and I felt very sad. For those who don’t already know, Rav Meirav’s stepson, Yosef Cohen, Hyd, was one of the two Nahal Chareidi soldiers gunned down at Givat Assaf, close to Bet El, last Thursday.
Rav Meirav was raised on the totally secular Shomer Hair Kibbutz of Bet Alfa, and was a fighter pilot in the IDF airforce. He made teshuva after the Yom Kippur war – along with so many others of that generation, who’d seen with their own eyes just how limited the army really was.
Rav Meirav met Rav Berland – and became one of his closest students.
If you read the secular press descriptions of Rav Meirav, you’ll notice that they kept stressing that he was part of the Breslov ‘sect’. That’s their way of using subtle language to keep dissing religious people anyway they can, and to sow division and hatred.
After Rav Meirav’s son was killed al Kiddush Hashem, all those ucky news sites with their agendas to sow hatred and strife between the Jewish people started running false stories about how Yosef had been ‘thrown out of his home’ for joining the army, and how his parents had ‘sat shiva’ for him even before he died.
Because hey, why miss any opportunity to put the boot in to the chareidi community, and especially the Breslov Chassidic ‘sect’?!
This led to the absolutely sickening spectacle of Rav Meirav and his wife having to give interviews to the press – before they’d even buried their son – refuting the lies that had been spread about their family.
I listened to Rav Meirav speak – about Yosef’s last words, about his own background and teshuva, and most of all about the need for us to stop all the awful hatred, and to come together as one people, respecting each other’s differences – and it really made me pause for thought.
The haters out there are on all sides of the equation.
They read Ha’aretz, they live in Tel Aviv, they hate any hint of yiddishkeit, and they use the media to paint awful pictures of frum Jews as ‘blood-sucking, medieval parasites’ at any opportunity. But that’s not the only place you’ll find them.
You’ll also find plenty of apparently ‘frum’ haters out there too.
‘Frum’ haters pour scorn on the Jews who don’t live in Israel and wait for big comets to smash into America and kill everyone. They hate people who want to convert to yiddishkeit, they hate people who don’t conform, they hate people who aren’t ‘frum’, or who aren’t ‘frum’ enough, or who are too ‘frum’, or not the right sort of ‘frum’.
‘Frum’ haters also hate people who don’t vaccinate….and they hate people who do vaccinate. They hate people who voted for Trump, and people who go to Uman for Rosh Hashana (or who don't go to Uman for Rosh Hashana); they hate people who don’t think exactly like them, and see the world exactly the way they do.
Every bit of the Jewish world is riddled with this disease of hating other Jews – including our bit.
And there is no segment of society that is doing better at loving our fellow Jews than any other.
We all have the problem and we all need to work on it.
One of the things that drew me to Breslov, and drew me to Rabbenu, is that in Rabbenu’s tent, everyone is welcome. When you go to Uman, you stop seeing people as ‘frum’ and ‘not frum’, or as part of your group or not part of your group.
You just see them as individuals, as Jews.
And some of those Jews are really nice, and really deep and really holy – however they may look externally. And some of those Jews are really not so easy to get on with, and have a number of obvious bad middot and issues – however they may look externally.
The yetzer works overtime to convince us that ‘our bit’ of the Jewish world is fine, the best, the shining example for the rest of Jewish society, while all the other bits are the ones with the problem.
But it’s not true! Not at all!
The problem comes down to this:
There are Jewish people who look for reasons to hate other Jews, and there are Jewish people who look for reasons to try to love them.
And both groups are scattered and embedded across all the different segments of Jewish society.
Sadly, our world being the morally-degenerate mess it currently is, it seems the people who hate the most are also the ones with the biggest mouths, and the biggest audiences, and the biggest following on Youtube.
The haters pop-up all over the place, to have a go at others, and to put the boot in, and to harp on about how great they are, and how great their group is – always at the expense of others.
I’ve had to learn the hard way, that this is not at all what God wants from us.
I’ve also had ‘hating’ tendencies that I’ve had to really work on, and to try to uproot, over the last few years. That process of teshuva taught me that the haters ‘hate’ because they actually don’t like themselves very much at all. And that they’re secretly jealous of other people, and it’s the envy that causes them to diss the other Jew, the other group, so loudly, so poisonously, so arrogantly.
Whatever the hater is criticizing so much in others, that ‘thing’ is somehow embedded in their own souls.
So, I listened to Rav Meirav talk, and I wondered ‘how can I do more, to get from hate to love’?
How can I do more, to make my house a ‘no-tolerance for sinat chinam’ zone?
I’m going to pray on it, and I’ll let you know what I come up with.
Because one thing is for sure:
Nothing is slowing up Moshiach more, or causing us more problems and heartache in our own lives, than hating other Jews.
UPDATE: You can see Rav Meirav giving over his message of unity in English, below:
Sometimes, when I’m doing hitbodedut and I feel like I need a bit of extra inspiration or guidance, I open up a Breslov book at random, and see what I get. This is what I got, this Shabbat, when I was praying about ‘the matzav’:
“Prior to this last Shabbat before Rosh Hashana, the Rebbe had been visited by two prominent Chassidim, who ate with him. In the course of the conversation, the two Chassidim started ridiculing a certain man in Nemirov who used to clap his hands a great deal, while praying. The Rebbe was upset by their comments, and told them sternly: “How do you know what it means to clap one’s hands while praying, and everything it involves?! What right do you have, to make fun of this man whose hand-clapping isn’t meeting with your approval?!”…
“A few weeks later, after Succot, this man who had been with the Rebbe before Rosh Hashana, and who had made fun of the man who clapped his hands in Nemirov, came to the Rebbe, and asked him to intercede for his son, who was now sick. The Rebbe showed him a passage in the Pri Etz Chaim…[and] afterwards, the Rebbe told him the lesson about hand-clapping in Likutey Moharan 46, discussing the three hands etc.
“However, the man refused to incline his shoulder to bear the yoke of Torah and become a follower of the Rebbe.
“The man returned home, and his son’s condition became more serious. He told me the entire story of how the Rebbe had dealt with him and the lesson he had given. He also told me that the Rebbe had told him a story about a certain aristocrat who was extremely hard, and brazen… The man asked me to remind the Rebbe about his son’s illness, next time I went to him, and to ask him for help.
“Soon afterwards, I went to the Rebbe and spoke with him about this. He said, ”The boy is still alive?” in a tone of surprise. I stood there trembling, because I understood from this that the boy’s decree of death was already sealed. The Rebbe said: “If this man had accepted what I said, the boy would already be healthy” – but now, it was impossible for the boy to stay alive. And indeed, the boy died shortly afterwards.
“When the Rebbe spoke to me about the man, I started making excuses for him, saying, “How can he become your follower, when he already has a leader?” – namely, one of the Rebbe’s opponents.
“The Rebbe replied: “If so, it is a big test for him.”
“In other words this did not mean it would be impossible for him to become the Rebbe’s follower, only that his test would be greater. He should certainly make every effort to withstand the test, overcome all the obstacles, and become a follower of the Rebbe.”
This passage hit me like a ton of bricks.
There’s more to say, but I’m strangely reticent to say it. Let each person understand what they will.
Around 3 years ago, my life was in a real mess.
Me and my husband had lost everything we owned, we felt completely alone in the world, we were arguing with just about everyone you could think of or imagine, and to top it all off, I then had four early miscarriages in the space of a year and a half immediately before, during and after our move to Jerusalem.
To say we were going through the wringer was kind of the understatement of the century.
And still moshiach hadn’t come, and still no geula, but I just couldn’t take it anymore, and I either really needed life to get much easier, nicer and better pronto, or I didn’t really want to carry on.
(I get emails from a lot of people, BH, and I know so many people have reached that stage at the moment, may God send us all the balm and the cure and the solution for all of our woes.)
I always thought I had emuna, but at that stage in my life, I was in serious danger of falling away from yiddishkeit, God forbid. I’d been let down by so many of the rabbis in my life, and I’d been through so many difficulties and problems despite trying to follow all the extra chumrot and super-duper frummie stuff I’d been told would guarantee me the easy life that I felt like the floor had been ripped away from under my feet.
And then on top of everything else, came those four miscarriages, back to back, at the single most stressful, financially precarious moment of my married life. I’m sure the awful stress I was under contributed a great deal to the miscarriages, but long story short, I was completely and utterly wasted at all levels of body, mind and soul by the fourth one, and I was ready to throw in the towel.
Believing in miracles again
At that point, I started reading the Knishta Hadar newsletter that my husband was picking up from Chut Shel Chessed every few weeks – and what I read blew me away. What, there was still a rabbi out there who was the real deal?! Who was doing mamash open miracles?! Who could really help the people who turned to him with their problems?!
All this sounded far too good to be true, in the bitter, super-cynical state I was in back then.
But, I’m half-Moroccan, and while that fact often gets me into so much trouble, on this occasion, it was actually the source of salvation. Because my Moroccan side started saying: “Try it out! What have you got to lose at this stage? Ask for a blessing, pay a pidyon, and see if works! This Rav is the last shot you’ve got to keep believing that real tzaddikim actually exist…”
So, I called up the hotline, I sent in a brief email describing the 4 awful, early miscarriages, and how much physical, emotional and spiritual difficulty I was going through, and then, I waited for a response.
From the moment I spoke to the Rav’s gabbay (attendant), I already started to feel better than I’d been feeling, physically, for two years. And that’s what got me thinking: This Rav is the real deal.
Still, I waited to hear what the Rav himself had to say.
The Rav was in South Africa back then, so his attendants were recording his messages on WhatsApp and emailing them back to people. After a couple of days, I got sent an audio message via email where the Rav addressed me directly using my Hebrew name, and it’s hard to explain it, but I felt for the first time in my life that someone had finally ‘seen’ me.
Someone had finally ‘heard’ how much pain I was going through. Someone was behind me, finally, I didn’t have to stagger on alone any more.
I was told I needed to pay 5,000 nis as a pidyon nefesh, and I did that happily – I was already feeling better and happier than I’d felt for years.
Things moved fast after that. On the advice of Rav Berland, my husband moved over to the Shuvu Banim yeshiva, and so many of the difficulties and issues that we’d been struggling with for years just kind of resolved or disappeared.
Life got bearable again. Life even got kind of nice, mostly, again. We made peace with so many of the people we fell out with, we felt healthier and happier again, our parnassa started to do so much better, Baruch Hashem.
Throughout all my difficulties, I’d been praying my socks off, doing hours and hours of hitbodedut, and going to Uman regularly, and trying to make teshuva.
All that stuff is so important, and so helpful, but at this stage, it’s clear to me that there’s only so much we can do by ourselves, especially in this spiritually lowly generation.
If I hadn’t had the merit of connecting with Rav Berland three years ago, I dread to think what would have happened. As it was, I can tell you without the shadow of a doubt that the Rav is what pulled me and family through the hardest few years of our life, in one piece, and with our faith and sanity still intact.
And that’s why now, I am willing to do whatever it takes to try to help the Rav, in whatever way I can.
On the one hand, I know that if I hadn’t started writing about the Rav, it’s possible that I’d have far more readers at this stage, and certain that I’d have had far fewer unpleasant interactions with all the anonymous internet psychos out there.
It’s possible more people would have bought more of my books, and it’s also possible that I’d be part of the ‘chummy club’ of frum internet people who all promote each other’s stuff, and rub each other’s backs, and keep each other happy.
If I’m honest, making the decision to be behind the Rav 100% publically hasn’t always been easy, especially when there’s been another wave of lies and slander that’s rippled out of the recesses of some extremely disturbed people’s imagination.
If I’m honest, sometimes all I want to write about is my kids, and life in Israel generally, and all my holistic health stuff and mental health stuff. People like that, people respond positively to that, I know.
Before I start typing, I try to ask God to send me the words that He wants me to write, and I think that's why so often over the last two years, when I’ve sat down to write apparently ‘normal’, what’s come out is ‘geula’ and off the wall.
So often, I’ve decided to just leave the Rav’s stuff to one side for a bit, and just to concentrate on the everyday life stuff more, and then God pulls me right back around to writing more unexpected, often dramatic updates.
Dear reader, I yearn for ‘normal’.
But it seems, God is getting ready for ‘geula’.
So at this stage, I can’t think of anything more worthwhile to do with my time, and with my blog, and with my writing, than helping the Rav anyway I can.
After everything he’s done for me and my family, it’s the least I can do for him.
And this is what the people who are persecuting the Rav, and the people who are slandering him, will never, ever understand:
People don’t support the Rav with everything they’ve got because they’ve been brainwashed, or are part of a cult. If you see how the Rav really operates, you’d understand just how laughable these accusations really are.
People will do anything for the Rav for the simple reason that they know how much they owe him.
I owe the Rav so much. His blessings, his pidyonot, his advice helped me to make a 180 degree turnaround, and to go from a life that was literally a living hell, to one that is pretty nice, most of the time.
I know how low I fell, after that last miscarriage. I had no energy left, no hope left, no emuna left.
And the Rav somehow picked me up, put me back together, and set me back on my feet.
So, even though I’m yearning for ‘normal’, and I’m yearning to be a little more accepted, and a little more ‘standard, in the meantime, I will carry on posting up whatever is required to help the Rav, even when it’s 'out there', even when it’s disturbing and upsetting.
What can I do?
It seems increasingly likely that the days when ‘normal’ was normal, are drawing to a close.
And here's another one from Rav Glazerson, also discussing the process of redemption laid out by Rav Eliezer Berland, between 5776 and 5781:
You know, I’m writing this knowing that most people aren’t really interested in reading about – or working on – their bad middot.
I know that.
It’s hard work, it’s yucky, we’d all much prefer to think that Moshiach hasn’t shown up because of everyone else’s personality disorders and dysfunctional behavior.
I know that.
And yet, masochist that I appear to be, I’m going to keep writing about this stuff for at least a little while, because at some point, maybe we’ll all have an epiphany, and realise that the work we have to do down here is really just on improving ourselves, instead of trying to point fingers at everyone else.
So in this post, I wanted to come back to the infographic showing how Rebbe Nachman describes the genesis of some of our main bad middot (which I spiffied up a little, after some helpful comments from reader Rachel) – and take a closer look at how the bad midda of jealousy can lead to a lot of people’s anger issues.
Strange to say, while jealousy is all-pervasive in our society today, most people – until fairly recently, including myself – have no idea just how much it’s playing into their anger issues. If you’d have asked me 10 years ago whether I had a jealousy problem, I would probably have shrugged, and told you ‘no more than anyone else’.
Sure, I occasionally had pangs of envy about other people’s bigger houses…or better jobs…or bigger families…or better hair – but jealous, moi?! Really, not.
Or so I thought.
Then I started going to Uman, and to the Baal Shem Tov, and it was actually in Medzibozh the second time I ever went to the Ukraine that I had one of the most disturbing dreams of my life: I was with a good friend of mine in the dream, and I was hating her guts and wishing awful things of her, because she was well and truly beating me in the ‘perfect life’ stakes.
In the dream, she had tons of super-successful gorgeous children…and they were all coming to visit her in her swanky office because she also had a great job…and she had a basketball court in her office for her kids to come and shoot some hoops at….and she lived in an amazing house that was spotlessly clean right opposite from her work….
And and and – I woke up from that dream literally gagging on all the terrible, jealous feelings that had just risen to the surface, and that’s when God really showed me, “Uhuh, honey, you really do have a jealousy problem.”
Since then, I’ve had ample time, and ample opportunity to really get to grips with it, and mostly, I’m doing much better than I used to be. The pangs of jealousy come less often, and last less long, Baruch Hashem! And a big part of that improvement is due to trying to count more of my blessings, and to stop taking things for granted.
Still, until I put together that diagram, I hadn’t realized how jealousy is one of the main motivators for anger, but over the last few days I’ve been pondering that, and it makes perfect sense.
For example, for as long as I was secretly jealous of the people who hadn’t left their comfort zone, and status, and easy-money jobs to make aliya, I was SO self-righteously angry about the people who hadn’t (yet…) moved to Israel. It was all dressed up in holy clothes, natch, but underneath all the rants about the people who weren’t moving to Israel, there lurked that green-eyed monster, jealousy.
What, they can stay put in their careers, and their social group and the comfort zone and still be considered good Jews?! That just didn’t seem fair… it didn’t seem right…
This attitude only finally vanished when I went back to the UK 2 years ago, and realized once and for all what a huge present God gave me and my family when He let me move to Israel. I came back to Israel completely and utterly UN-jealous about all the people who still live in London, poor them.
But for as long as I secretly wanted what they had, and what I resented having to give up myself – man, I was so angry at them!
And I think this same dynamic is playing out all over the place.
When stay-at-home mums start ranting about working mums, or vice-versa, it seems to me that on some deep, subconscious level, the person is really just jealous of what the other mum is doing.
Otherwise, why do they care so much? Why so angry? Why so disapproving? Why so upset?
And the same is true for so many of the subjects that are being dressed up in self-righteous clothing. You sir, you're ranting about people going to see movies because really, you're jealous, and you wish you could do it too, without feeling guilty.
And you ma'am, you're ranting about people spending Pesach in a fancy hotel because secretly, that's really what you'd like to do....
Otherwise, all the anger and harsh judgement calls and OTT name-calling and villification just wouldn't be in the picture.
Again, to recap: Anger doesn’t just appear out of nowhere. It’s caused by a couple main bad middot. One of those bad middot is JEALOUSY, what we’re discussing today, but anger can also be caused by FALSEHOOD and, indirectly, by FEAR (which in turn is caused by ARROGANCE, FLATTERY and WORRY).
Any way you slice it, angry, disapproving people have a bunch of bad middot they need to work on, and Rabbenu has helpfully set out where that work should really begin.
Again, I really get that no-one really wants to read this stuff.
It’s so much easier just to pretend we’re all perfect, and everything that’s going wrong in the world, and in our families, and with our relationships, is just Donald Trump’s fault.
But what can I do? I really want geula, I really want Moshiach, and the only way we’re going to get that any time soon, without the whole world disappearing into some fiery vent in the earth’s crust, is by working on our bad middot.
We all have them, you know. I'm not the only person in the world with a huge jealousy-leading-to-self-righteous-anger problem.
But sometimes, I get the feeling I'm the only one who's willing to admit it.
The following is a translated excerpt of a shiur Rav Eliezer Berland gave a few years ago, on the topic of 'Azamra', aka the importance of judging our fellow Jew favorably.
“Vayetze Yaakov Vayelech Charana” (‘Yaakov left and went to Charan’) (Bereishis 28:10)
The Torah tells us: “Vayetze Yaakov” (‘and Yaakov left’). When Yaakov left Beersheba, he’d already completed the seven levels of holiness, the seven Sefirot, namely: Malchut, Yesod, Hod, Netzach, Tiferet, Gevurah and Chessed. These are the seven ‘Gevurot’.
“Vayelech Charana” (‘and he went to Charan’). Yaakov went to Charan, to the place where the roots of din, or judgment, was found because he wanted to draw down chessed, or kindness, into the world, and to bring shefa (bounty) into the world, because the work of the Tzaddikim is to bring chessed and shefa into the world.
From the moment that Rebbe Nachman of Breslev came into the world, he sweetened all of the judgements in the world until the end of all generations. He drew down Shefa into the world, he drew down Chessed into the world, and he announced that there are no more wicked people, and that the age of wickedness in the world had come to an end!
From the moment that Rebbe Nachman was born, the age of wickedness finished; there were no more wicked people in Am Yisrael, as he himself revealed in Lesson 282 of Likutei Moharan (popularly known as ‘Azamra’).
In that lesson, Rebbe Nachman explains: “Od me’at v’ain rasha”, (‘a little more, and there is no longer a wicked person). Just a little more - today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow – and we’ll already see that there won’t be any more wicked people in Am Yisrael, because everyone will be on the path of teshuva, or repentance.
This verse, “Od me’at v’ain rasha”, comes from Tehillim (the book of Psalms), and Rabbenu explained its simple meaning: Just a little more! A little more, and there will be no more wicked people, and everyone will be Tzaddikim, and everyone will reach the level of
“Your entire nation are Tzaddikim” (Yeshaya 60:21).
One Jew will become a Tzaddik today, another one will become a Tzaddik tomorrow, and yet another one the day after. And the one who will become a Tzaddik after a few days will fulfil the verse: “the smallest one will be like a thousand, and the youngest will be like a vast nation” (Yeshaya 60:22).
This ‘small’ one will rise up and up, as the greater the soul that a person possesses, and the more refined their soul, the more difficulties and obstacles they have to overcome when they want to make Teshuva.
Rabbenu teaches us in Lesson 282 that there is no such thing as a wicked person in Am Yisrael! There is no such reality. Even if you see a completely wicked person, from his head to his feet, you can’t see any Yiddishkeit in him at all, he is completely anti-Torah, anti-observance, God forbid, even if it seems to you that there was never a more wicked person than this since the creation of the world, you should know that the main problem is that this person simply lacks da’at, or spiritual awareness.
But a huge fire of holiness still burns inside of them! A raging fire of holiness and yearning for Hashem Yisbarach burns inside of every Jew, just that it’s covered over by mountains of dust. Their neshama is on fire for God, but it’s covered in a layer of dirt. These Jewish souls are like spiritual volcanoes; from the outside, a huge mountain covers the heat and the lava flowing just beneath the surface, but the moment the fire and the lava burst forth it consumes the entire mountain. The mountain explodes!
A spiritual mountain of dirt and rocks is currently resting on every Jewish soul, but the day will come when the fire will bursts forth, and consumes all of these mountains of sand and dirt.
In lesson 282, Rebbe Nachman writes:
“And you need to search and find in him a small amount of good. And in that small place, he is not a wicked person.”
Rabbenu is teaching us that here is no such thing as a wicked Jewish person, from his head to his toes, just that it currently seems that way to you.
But it’s only your imagination! You imagine that he’s a completely wicked person, but if you train yourself to look for some little bit of good that he has done, or some kindness that he did to help someone else, you’ll always find even in the most worst wicked person lots and lots of good. And the very act of you finding some good in this person, and judging him favourably, through this very act you raise him up to the side of good, and you can cause him to make Teshuva.
We need to look at every Jew with a ‘good eye’, and stop thinking to ourselves: ‘Well, I made Teshuva and I keep Shabbat, and I learn Torah, so why doesn’t he make Teshuva like me?! Why doesn’t he keep Shabbat like me?! He should be doing the same! I went through what he went through and more, so why doesn’t he also make teshuva!?’
It’s exactly about this that Rabbenu said: “Od me’at v’ain rasha”. A little more! He is going to do it eventually, tomorrow or the day after. You can’t interfere with Hashem’s order for the world, and the order of the teshuva process. The order of Teshuva, when each person will make Teshuva, how he will make Teshuva, this process is hidden from all of His creations, but it’s a process that needs to happen to every single Jew.
Every single Jew will one day make teshuva!
Now, it’s possible to speed this process up, but only if we start looking with a ‘good eye’. Only if a person merits to look at every Jew with a ‘good eye’ then, “he will consider his place and he [the wicked person] won’t be there any more”, [ie, in the place of being wicked]. If people would realize this, and internalize that if they started to judge others favourably, and to stop looking at them with an ayin ra, or ‘bad eye’, then there wouldn’t be any more wicked people in Am Yisrael.
Because it is possible to bring all of them back to make Teshuva, in the blink of an eye.
Even when a Jew appears to be the most wicked person, know that he really has the most righteous Neshama, or soul. It’s the opposite of how it appears to be externally: the more ‘bad’ the Neshama seems, the more righteous it actually is. Only, because it’s so full of righteousness it’s scared. It has a hidden, internal fear about keeping Mitzvot, because it knows if it starts the process of teshuva, it will go ‘to the end’!
There are many Jews who are far away from Yiddishkeit who say, ‘if I start to fulfil Mitzvot, then I will go to the end… not like you! I will go to the end, I will learn Torah day and night; I will become holy, I will purify myself, to the end!’ But to go ‘to the end’ seems very difficult for them.
So, we try to say to them, ‘go at least halfway, and keep half the laws’. But they tell us no, they are not prepared to do that, because by them, they want everything - or nothing. And in truth, if you were to show them and to explain to them how to reach the entire way, and how to become holy, and how it’s really not as difficult as they think, they would all make Teshuva!
Every Jew is a part of Hashem, and every person has Godliness in him. “Man is beloved that he was created in the image of G-d” (Avos 3:14). The heart of every Jew, even the most wicked, burns for Hashem Yisbarach.
There is no Jew whose heart does not burn for Hashem Yisbarach.
Because a Jew is not a cow or a sheep, every Jew is a holy Neshama, that was carved out from theKiseh Hakavod [the Throne of Glory]. Every Jew in the place where he is, even if the burning coals of his soul and heart are currently covered over by mountains of sand, billions of grains of sand, nonetheless, the coals continue to burn.
We need to blow away the dirt covering his heart, the mountains of sand covering his heart, and this is what Rabbenu said – come lets blow away the mountains of sand from his heart, because there is no such thing as a wicked person in Am Yisrael. There is no such thing as ‘chilonim’ [secular Jews], there is no such thing!
There are people who succeed in fulfilling the Torah’s commandments 80% of the time, 70%, 20% and 10%. Every Jew fasts on Yom Kippur, and eats Matza on Pesach. There is no such thing as a ‘secular Jew’! Every one of them fulfils some aspect of the Torah. Every Jew is a holy Jew, a pure Jew.
This is the foundation of what Rebbe Nachman taught us, that there are no wicked people in Am Yisrael. It’s forbidden to call any Jew ‘wicked’. It is forbidden to say: ‘this one is wicked’. We need to fix this way of speaking, because there’s no such thing.
How can you believe that so-and-so is wicked? Were you in his place? Do you know where he was born? Do you know who his parents were? What he went through? How can you decide to call a Jew wicked?
How can you decide to call a Jew ‘chiloni’ (secular)? How can you say things like this? Do you think you can decide who is righteous and who is wicked? Do you think that you can really know? You need to know that everyone is righteous, because “Your nation are entirely righteous”, and there are no wicked people in Am Yisrael.
FOLLOWING THE TRUE GADOLEI HATORAH
It's often very hard to see the world through the eyes of our true Gadolei Torah like Rebbe Nachman, and Rav Berland, and to try to judge our fellow Jew favorably - especially when our bad middot are clamoring for a 'target' to attack.
But, to quote something I was just sent by Rav Avidgor Miller, who was responding to someone who had criticised the late Satmar Rebbe's stance on the State of Israel:
"So you’re bringing a proof from yourself? Who cares what you think? Are you a gadol batorah? You’re merely saying your opinion, that’s all. The question is, are we going to ask you, you over there, an unknown man; are we going to ask you for your opinion for the Jewish Nation?! Or shall we ask the great men who have Torah minds, the ones who lead our nation? Who should we ask, you or the great men?
Q: The great men we should ask.
A: So keep quiet. Keep quiet! Keep quiet, then. Your da’as is not da’as Torah, so we don’t care about your opinion. Da’as Torah means that you go to the gedolei Yisroel and ask their opinion. If you get gedolim to tell you that you’re right about it, then you’re right.
Everyone and his dog is entitled to their own opinion. But when it comes to who we should really be listening to, especially on a topic as 'fraught' as rebuke and harshly judging our fellow Jew, I'm following the Gadolei HaTorah, like Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, and Rav Berland.
Let’s see if we can apply what we’re discovering about what really sparks off our bad middot to the recent, absolutely bonkers, ‘measles madness’ that’s apparently going on in the States right now.
I basically read no Jewish news sites, so the first I heard of all the balagan about a measles epidemic was when I started getting phone calls and emails from a few of the people I know there.
One person – a non-vaccinating mother – told me that even some of her friends were turning on her over the whole measles thing, and sending her emails blaming her, *and people like her*, for the recent death of a child from measles. Then today, someone forwarded this email on to me, that she’d just received from someone clearly very upset about her public decision to not vaccinate:
"You are a Rodef and Mazik according to all Gedolei Yisrael spanning all spectrums of Judaism. You might want to think twice before you go out against all of these big people. You might want to think about what you are going to answer to Hashem after 120."
Without getting into all the discussion about vaccinations generally (you can go HERE to read a very thoughtful, and meticulously-researched article on the subject, written by an orthodox American posek), I think it’s useful to really understand what’s actually playing out here.
God is just using the vaccination thing to draw attention to the real work to be done here, i.e. working on our middot.
And the same is true of pretty much every ‘great debate’ currently raging in the Jewish community. As soon as we get too caught up in the details, we lose sight of that big picture, but everything that’s going on around us right now – whether it’s Trump, Brexit, California’s fires and stirring volcanes, measles epidemics, terrorism – all of it is just God trying to talk to us, and trying to give us a message.
So, let’s see if we can get past all the superficial stuff, to see what’s really going on with the measles madness in America, right now.
Let’s go back to that curt, three line email. What are the underlying emotions, or ‘vibes’ we can pick up from it, to see where the writer is really coming from? This is what I picked up:
Now, let’s go back to our infographic from the last post, which sets out how these different bad middot are actually related.
There are two main routes to anger:
Route 1 is JEALOUSY.
I don’t think that’s at play with our pro-vaccine abusive emailer, (although jealousy is often a huge factor behind many people’s anger issues. We’ll return to this subject another time.)
So, it seems to be FEAR that’s leading to this emailer’s ANGER.
So now, let’s take a look at what’s causing the FEAR, as that is the key to understanding where this person is really coming from, and dealing with the problem at its root.
The FEAR is being caused by WORRY and ARROGANCE.
Where is the WORRY coming from? That’s pretty easy to figure out. It’s coming from the media stories about kids dying from measles, it’s coming from the schools, it’s coming from the people in the medical industry who are using all parents’ innate concern and love for their children to motivate them to vaccinate their children.
(Again, with absolutely no judgment about whether vaccinating is the correct route, or not.)
When we boil things down, we start to understand that this emailer is worrying that their kid may be injured or killed by an infectious disease, God forbid. That’s the first bit of clarity.
Already, that should enable us to feel a lot more compassion and understanding for the other person, because aren’t we all just worrying about our own children, too?
But there’s another factor in here, too, which is ARROGANCE.
ARROGANCE is the one sin that Hashem can’t stand, that He can’t be around. When a person has the bad trait of ARROGANCE, it basically means they have very little real emuna, they aren’t seeing God in their lives at all, and they think everything is in their own control, and down to them.
By contrast, emuna is when you live with the idea that EIN OD MILVADO, there is only Hashem.
If Hashem wants your kids to get sick or pass away, God forbid a million times, no vaccine in the world is going to prevent that.
This is the very uncomfortable truth that a lot of people –even in the frum world - find very, very hard to accept.
Now, God isn’t a tyrant, God isn’t a sadist. God forbid, He isn’t looking to maim and kill our loved ones. What God is trying to do, is to get us to face up to our bad middot, and to work on strengthening our emuna.
In the case of the measles vaccination, the ‘truth’ that has to be accepted by everyone, on both sides of the debate, is that God is running the world, and whatever God decides, that is what will be.
If God wants your kid to be healthy and strong, that’s going to happen even if you shtup your kid with a million vaccinations. And if God doesn’t want that, that’s what’s going to happen even if you shtup your kid with a million vaccinations.
This is the truth.
But, when people are ARROGANT, they don’t acknowledge that truth, which is when they start telling themselves lies about what’s really going on, and looking for scapegoats to blame for the fact that life is not 100% in their control.
These FALSEHOODS then lead to self-righteous ANGER – and then voila, people start acting like psychos and sending OTT emails.
THE FALSE PARADIGM
Giving the OTT people in our midst more information about the pros and cons of vaccination is not going to help at all, or calm them down.
Because the real problem isn’t a lack of correct information. The real problem is a lack of emuna.
When people have very little emuna, they come to believe that their child’s health is 100% in their own hands, and dependent on their own actions, and that God is out of the picture.
This false belief is what makes them feel justified in writing such ANGRY, yukky emails to the people who happen to be on the other side of the debate to them.
The better course of action would be for us to figure out what’s causing our feeling of overwhelming FEAR, and to work on that instead. Rabbenu is telling us “the more you can reduce your WORRY - (which would include getting proper information, researching the subject to its depth, and minimizing the consumption of news, generally) – the more you will reduce your FEAR!”
At the same time, we need to be working on our ARROGANCE, too, which basically means working on our emuna that God is running the world, and what God decides happens.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE EQUATION
The key thing to note is that the bad middot described above can play out on both sides of the vaccination debate. If someone believes that eating healthy and avoiding vaccinations is all they need to do to keep their children fit and well, that’s also ARROGANCE.
God is the one deciding things, not us.
That ARROGANCE can also lead to FEAR, FALSEHOODS, and then OTT ranting about vaccinations, and self-righteous, attacking ANGER.
Wherever we stand in relation to the subject of vaccination, the real and only answer is just to keep asking God what He expects and wants from us. If a person is working on their emuna, and asking God for guidance to do what’s best, then if at the end of that discussion with Hashem they decide to vaccinate their children – then that’s what best for them.
And, if at the end of that discussion they decide to not vaccinate their children– that’s what best for them.
AND NO-ONE SHOULD BE CRITICISED FOR FOLLOWING THE PATH GOD HAS LAID OUT FOR THEM.
Vaccinations don’t prevent illnesses from striking – only God does.
Not vaccinating doesn’t prevent illnesses from striking – only God does.
At the end of the day, there are parents on both sides of the vaccination question who are feeling a lot of FEAR about their children’s health and well-being, and that’s what is motivating the vitriol and ANGER. If more of us understand where all of this is coming from, then we’ll have a much better chance of finding a way forward together that promotes achdus, empathy and understanding of the other person’s position.
And maybe, that's the whole point.
I write about this way more over on www.spiritualselfhelp.org, but in the meantime, I thought I’d take a look at Rebbe Nachman of Breslov’s ‘Sefer HaMiddot’, to get his take on what’s really underneath our main bad middot.
You can boil most bad middot down to one of the following:
While there are for sure a whole bunch of other bad middot we could add to this list too, if you try to follow them back to where they’re really coming from, you will find them rooted in one of these six.
If you’ve been following me over on spiritualselfhelp.org, you’ll know that I write a lot about the stress response, which basically divides into four main areas of:
The infographic explains it pretty nicely, but these basically correlate to the ‘base’ bad middot in the following ways:
Of all of these flattery is probably the least talked about, and the most difficult to really understand and to get to grips with.
You could describe flattery as people pleasing behavior – i.e. being nice to people because we’re scared of them, or are trying to get something out of them, as opposed to because we really want to be nice to them.
In his book on overcoming Complex PTSD, Pete Walker actually states that you can tell how threatening a person found their parents by how much people-pleasing behavior they engage in as adults, which is an interesting idea.
So, let’s get back to Rabbenu.
I was trying to figure out ‘what bad middot comes first’, because once we can untie the first sin in that bundle, the rest will fall away by themselves. This is what I managed to glean from the Sefer HaMiddot:
Rabbenu also says that sometimes, ANGER comes from bearing a heavy burden. (More on this another time, but sometimes those ‘heavy burdens’ the soul has to bear come from a previous incarnation.)
The infographic lays out the basic relationship between all these different bad middot.
With God’s help, let’s see if we can figure out together the progression of all these bad middot, and then bring it down to ‘real world’ level, so we start to understand what’s going on, what God is really expecting from us, and how we can start to heal ourselves – and judge other people with more compassion.
And all that before breakfast…
As you’re hopefully starting to figure out for yourselves already, bad middot are complicated.
They aren’t things we can just wish away, or suppress, or pretend that we don’t have.
God gave them to us, and He expects us to acknowledge them, and work on them. And BH, that part of the process is not as difficult, or scary, as we might think.
So, that’s what we’re going to be doing here on the blog for the next few posts, as once more people understand where all this stuff is really coming from – and how to really start getting a handle on it – Moshiach really can’t be too far behind.
I still can’t get that homeless kid on the bench out of my mind. You know, the one who got kicked out of his home on a Friday night, presumably because he’d done something to break Shabbat.
The last two weeks, I’ve been thinking it over and over – how can parents do that to their own flesh and blood? How can people have so little empathy, so little understanding, for what it really means to be a teen growing up in 2018?
I know that somewhere along the line, that kid’s soul agreed to all this, and that being kicked out of his house is something that he needs for his own tikkun, or spiritual rectification. God doesn’t make mistakes, and everything that’s happening is meaningful, and on some very deep level, 100% deserved.
But at the same time, I can’t get over how utterly clueless this kid’s parents really must be.
In a nutshell, here’s the problem: Most people today have really bad middot.
And, because most people today also have really weak emuna, they don’t know, or don’t understand, or don’t want to accept that all that bad stuff they see in their kids, and especially their teens, is actually just their own bad middot being reflected back at them, and amplified.
Rav Arush (and a bunch of the other genuine Breslov rabbis) talk about this a lot. For example, in Maayan Ganim (a compilation of some of the best bits from a lot of his books), we find the following:
P 278: “One of the first things that a parent needs to do is to check whether or not they are excessively scaring their children. And if they are – then they need to completely stop doing this. Parents are obliged to be good friends with their children. Their children should be able to tell their parents everything, without fear.”
And, we also find this:
P 244: “If a parent sees some sort of hisaron (lack /issue) in their children, they should take it a sign that they themselves still have some work to do. Then, the parent will see with their own eyes how slowly, slowly, this starts to effect the child, and the whole household.”
I do my very best to follow this advice, and I have to tell you: I have a great relationship with my teens, Baruch Hashem, bli ayin hara.
And again, that last one is really what I see so few other parents, frum or not, chareidi or not, really doing in any way, shape or form.
I know, it’s hard.
It’s much easier to try to outsource everything to the school shrink, or just get some Cipraxil for Junior, or to blame the kid’s friends, or all the sugar they mainline from the school kiosk.
I know how much guilt most of us parents are lugging around, how much worry, how much internal panic and overwhelm, how much stress.
But, until we really accept that:
Our kids’ problems all boil down to our own, unrectified bad middot
We just ain’t going to get to Moshiach, any time soon.
And this is also closely connected to the whole subject of proper rebuke, that we’ve been discussing, because to put it bluntly:
Only disturbed individuals enjoy criticizing other people – and this goes double, when it comes to criticizing our children.
Again, people go to such great pains to dress up their own bad middot as ‘chinuch’, or some big mitzvah from the Shulchan Aruch, but the simple fact is that THE WORLD IS JUST A MIRROR.
So the more you feel compelled to blast other people’s issues and bad middot, and the more ‘bad’ you see in other Jews – and again, especially your own kids – the more ‘bad’ you really just have in yourself.
All the critics in our midst find this idea extremely hard to swallow. I know that until I started to really get to grips with my own bad middot, I also used to find this an extremely upsetting and disturbing idea.
What, I should just let ‘bad’ have a free hand? I shouldn’t try to protest? I shouldn’t try to fight all the darkness out there?!
It’s taken me years and years and years to finally realise that the one place I need to be fighting the darkness is solely within. I am the only person I can really influence, I am the only person I can really affect, I am the only person I can really improve.
Sure, we have to still protest BAD BEHAVIOR, and bad deeds, of course we have to do that.
But, there’s a world of difference between criticizing a bad action, and painting someone as a globally ‘bad’ person.
All of us, even the biggest saints, will occasionally do bad actions. That’s what teshuva is for, and that is why we all are meant to be doing a cheshbon hanefesh every single day, to try to catch those ‘bad’ actions in ourselves.
But when it comes to being able to say who is really a ‘bad’ person – no-one is on the level to judge that. Only God.
Again, the critics in our midst hate this idea.
They prefer to split the world up into ‘good’ people, who can do no wrong even though they are filled to the brim with bad actions and evil speech, and ‘bad’ people, who can do no right, and who will never make teshuva, and must be condemned to everlasting purgatory.
But this isn’t authentic Judaism.
And it certainly isn’t chassidut.
And it definitely isn’t Breslov.
What it is, really, is just an excuse for people to keep indulging their own bad middot, and to avoid having to face down their own demons, and to carry on blaming everyone else for the fact that Moshiach didn’t show up yet.
And personally, I’m so sick of it.
So, to sum this post up: People who enjoy criticizing others are very disturbed people who are doing untold damage to the world, and particularly their own families; and the main and really ONLY person we should be rebuking is
There seems to be some confusion about whether it's permitted to rebuke, and the right and wrong way to do it.
This is what Rebbe Nachman says in Likutey Moharan 2:8, about rebuking:
"Though rebuke is of great import, and all Jews are obligated to rebuke each other when seeing that the other is not behaving properly...nevertheless, not everyone is capable of rebuking.
"As Rabbi Akiva said. 'I wonder if there is anyone in this generation who is capable of rebuking' [Eruvin 16b]. And if Rabbi Akiva said this about his own generation, how much more so in our generation.
"When the rebuker is not capable of rebuking, then not only is his rebuke ineffective, but he is also causing a sense of malodorous repulsiveness in the souls hearing his rebuke."
Then, in the translation of the Kitzur Likutey Moharan, translated into English as 'Advice', by the Breslov Research Institute, we find the following, in the chapter on Moral Guidance, p 304:
"There is no contradiction between what was said earlier about the obligation which every Jew has to discuss spiritual matters with his friends, and the statement here that not everyone is fitted to give criticism.
"If you examine the different passages carefully, you will see that the idea that is applicable to everyone is having discussions with friends about spiritual matters: what is the purpose of life? What will remain of us, in the end? And so on.
"Even the simplest of people should discuss these things."
The Kitzur Likutey Moharan then continues:
"The kind of moral criticism which is referred to in the last passage is a completely different matter.
"It means making explicit reference to another person's sins, and saying to him: 'Why did you do such and such?' One should be very careful not to discuss people's sins and bad behavior with them, because one can weaken their soul through arousing this bad smell.
"The distinction between moral guidance and rebuke is implicit in Rashi's comments on the opening words of Deuteronomy, where he says that Moses did not rebuke the Children of Israel until immediately prior to his death."
So, go right ahead and rebuke if you are
a) on the spiritual level of Moshe Rabbenu
b) only going to do it once every 40 years.
Otherwise, Rabbenu seems to clearly be telling us to keep our mouths shut, and just stick to general discussions encouraging the people we know to think more about the spiritual aspects of life.
NOTICE: The blog is only restarting at this address temporarily.
I will be migrating this blog over to a new site at: rivkalevy.com