You know what?
Something good is starting to happen, I can feel it in the air.
The last few days, I’ve been getting yet more bashing via email from yet another anonymous online psycho who actually lied about what his real name is, even when I made writing with a real name a condition of accepting comments on the blog.
(Because ‘anonymous’ and ‘psycho’ always go together, online.)
The problem with these people is that they affect the whole tone and mood of my writing, because I’m still not on the level where I can just ignore them and happily gather up all the spiritual diamonds they are flinging at my head.
That’s a big part of why I took the blog down, repeatedly, the last few months, because I kept feeling it was being hijacked by anonymous psychos, who don’t like it when I write about loving other Jews; and who get very angry when I write about the importance of working on our own bad middot instead of pointing fingers; and who get very upset when anyone suggests that hating other people is not what God really wants.
And like it or not, those people have been setting the tone for most of the ‘discussion’ online for over a decade. No wonder it’s so ucky and poisonous! No wonder, so many people have gone seriously bonkers the last 10 years! No wonder that so many of us are feeling alienated and turned off from our fellow Jews and other human beings!
It’s exactly as our Sages said would occur at the end of days, when all of these disturbed people start setting themselves up as ‘leaders’ and fake spiritual mentors.
These bullying types push themselves ‘to the front’ in every area of life, Jewish or not, and set a tone for human relationships that basically comes down to shaming, flaming and insulting people personally until they break and go along with what they think, or what they want.
No wonder, communication between people has fallen into the gutter over the last decade, in so many different ways!
But something is starting to change.
Around the edges, the good is making a come-back, and the anonymous psychos and spiritual fakers are starting to beat a retreat.
I’m seeing that more and more of us are waking up to what’s really going on, and we’re starting to move away from them, and their pernicious influence on our thinking and outlook and faith.
More and more people are looking for ahavat Yisrael, not more tirades and rants and sinat chinam.
More and more of us are looking for sincerity, and ways to practically give God what He wants, and not just pointless, harsh and judgmental theorizing about what ‘perfect’ people should be doing in a ‘perfect’ world.
The worm is turning. The tanker is turning around.
I know that doesn’t look so obvious still, but I can see it coming.
There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
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.
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.
One of my ongoing issues, which is still ongoing, and still an issue, is how to share some of the insights I get from hitbodedut, and from research, and from Breslov, without completely frying people’s brains out and doing more harm than good.
What can I say?
It’s got better than it used to be, but I know it’s still not great. And, I also know that my bad middot, and in particular, my arrogance, is still really getting in the way of me being more useful to more people.
I’m praying on it. And praying on a lot of things, generally, as some days, it feels like the things I have to work on internally are still multiplying, especially when it comes to the subject of communicating information to others.
Rabbenu warns us repeatedly: Don’t rebuke!
If you rebuke, you’ll just ‘stir up’ all the cack inside the other person’s soul, and make it very hard for them to function, or even, to get out of bed.
Sure, people are neglecting their children left, right and centre. Of course, they’re caught up in pointless stuff, and wasting their precious time on things that don’t really matter (of course, including yours truly…)
No doubt about it, the whole world has weak emuna, and is lying to themselves about a whole bunch of things.
Aren’t we all?
Aren’t I, also?
Of course I am!
So Rabbenu tells us, don’t rebuke! Because first of all, you’ll just do more harm than good, and second of all, Rivka, you’ll just come off as a Class ‘A’ arrogant hypocrite, because who are you to be telling anyone anything?
So-called ‘blast blogging’ is all about trying to call out other people on all the bad stuff they’re doing, and throwing around judgement calls and fire and brimstone like it’s on special deal at Walmart, or something.
I so don’t want to be ‘blast blogging’ – and that’s a big part of why I quit a few months back, as I was finding the so-called ‘geula blog’ scene incredibly poisonous, in that way.
At the same time, I honestly think a lot of the stuff I find out about, and learn, is genuinely useful for others.
So, I’m a little stuck, because the fine line between ‘blast blogging’ and ‘blast talking’ and being a self-important, hypocritical, arrogant know-it-all – and actually putting useful and helpful information out there – is incredibly, dangerously small.
And it’s so very easy to step over the boundary.
On Shabbat, I did a long praying session, to try to deal with some of the internal anxiety and tension that’s been ratcheting up like nobody’s business, the last few weeks again. I got one main message out of that session, and this was it:
DO AS MANY KINDNESSES FOR OTHER PEOPLE AS YOU CAN.
Then, I remembered what Rav Yehuda Zev Leibowitz, the former head of the Lamed Vav Tzaddikim, put across as his ‘last will’ before he died.
Rav Arush has summed the main points up on the back of his little emuna booklets, and it says this:
If we do all that, we’ll have the best chance of making it through the birthpangs of Moshiach, which have kicked off, in my view, but still haven’t reached their maximum crescendo.
But man, doing these things is so hard, sometimes.
It’s so much easier to just keep calling out the faults and flaws in other people, and to tear other people down, instead of squinting into the internal darkness, to see what bad middot monsters still lurk within.
Lucky for us, the whole world is a mirror.
There’s no hiding from our internal issues, when God is flashing them back at us every step we take.
Man, it’s not easy trying to rectify crazy person tendencies, it really isn’t. Sometimes, I feel like giving up. But then, I remember another core teaching of Rebbe Nachman:
There is no despair in the world!!
Rabbenu’s telling me, ‘even you will get there eventually, Rivka. Don’t give up!’
And who am I to argue.
The last few days, it’s been pretty hard to think straight.
There’s always a lot going on in the world these days, it’s true, but between the 500 rockets in 24 hours that Hamas dropped on us two days ago, and the wildfires scorching through California, and the freak weather, early snow and flash flooding all across the globe, including the Middle East – well, I’m just feeling overwhelmed at the moment.
Even when I don’t listen to the news, I’ve still had that uneasy feeling that keeps me pacing the floor of my home, that ‘something’ is going on.
What could that something be?
How much time have you got, to really start answering that question…
But something is definitely going on, and the birth pangs of geula seem to be accelerating.
But tomorrow, next week, next month, the intensity will suddenly disappear again, the pressure will reduce, the stress with drop off, and for another day, week, or month, we’ll all go back to ‘normal’ again.
In those increasingly rare windows of relative calm, that’s when I start planning my next book, that’s when I notice that my floors need a clean, that’s when I have the headspace to try and do some proper hitbodedut again, and to start figuring out where I’m trying to go in my life.
I make some lists, I take some action, I put some irons in the fire – and then boom! The birthpangs start up again, and I find myself walking around in a daze struggling to even put supper on the table.
How long is this birth process going to last, that is the question?
From what Rav Berland said HERE, it looks like we still may have two years left to go. I know a lot of people don’t like to hear that. I know many of us are struggling hard to hold things together in our homes and lives, and we want Moshiach now!!!
But, Moshiach doesn’t work like that. Moshiach doesn’t come and magically change our moany, critical spouses into someone nice to be around. He won’t turn all our off-the-derech kids into yeshiva bochurs or Beis Yaakov girls.
(I’m digressing, but I have to say thank God for that!! I just found out you need 400,000 shekels as a dowry, if you want to marry your Beis Yaakov girl to a full-time learner, otherwise no-one will even look at you. Finally, there’s a silver lining to my kids wearing jeans and piercing their nose!)
Moshiach is not going to come and fix all our bad middot for us with the wave of his magic wand, because he’s not Dumbledore, or Merlin. God gave us the job of working on our bad middot, and all Moshiach is going to do is to help us recognize what they really are.
Talk about a scary prospect!
What Moshiach will do is create more God-awareness in the world. He’ll be part of that process that increasingly makes it clear that only God is behind every little thing that is happening to us, from the fires in Paradise, to the teen who refuses to come to the Shabbat table, to the inability to buy a house, or have another child, or land a good job.
It's all God.
And God is doing everything in order to fix us, and to get us to acknowledge and work on our own bad middot.
So from what I can see, while the freak weather, earthquakes and volcanoes are starting to soften a lot of us up, (and let’s not even talk about Hamas, Brexit and Trump), there’s still quite a long way to go.
A lot has to change between now and 5781 (2021).
And one way or another, like it or not, it probably will.
Does anyone really believe that Santa Ana winds can ‘create’ wildfires out of thin air? Does anyone really believe that a spark from a burst tyre, or that a blow from a hammer, can spontaneously combust hundreds and thousands of acres in California?
Do people really believe that wildfires can ‘jump’ massive rivers, without being fed by a source of natural gas? Or that fires can race across the bare earth at the rate of 80 football fields a minute, without their being some sort of additional external source feeding their flames?
The answer, apparently, is yes.
But here’s what is really going on across California: over the last week, many of the State’s ‘hidden’ and not-so-hidden volcanoes were experiencing a number of micro-quakes. Usually, very few people even bother with micro-quakes, 2 magnitude or less, because you can’t really feel them, and they do no damage.
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t signposts to much bigger, much more destructive forces being unleashed underground.
In the last two years, California has been hit by 7 separate massive ‘wildfire’ events. Each time before the fires spontaneously broke out, a bunch of micro-quakes started striking the flanks of the volcanoes in the vicinity a week to ten days beforehand.
No-one likes to talk about this.
No-one likes to consider that California was built on hundreds of thousands of volcanoes that the USGS and the scientists (and probably also, the people who live there…) all like to believe last exploded millions of years ago.
But that’s not true.
The volcanoes in California are still very much active, and the magma is currently moving underground, as we can see from the microquake activity.
After the microquakes, land tremors begin, showing that the tectonic plate under California is moving, or slow-slipping. As the plate slips, volcanic gases including methane rise up from the magma below the earth’s crust, and escape into the air. Just waiting for the spark from a tyre, or a cigarette, or even the grating of a car’s gears to start burning.
In the reports of this latest fire that completely burned out the town of Paradise in California, and which has killed 31 people already, with almost 300 still missing, eye-witnesses spoke of seeing ‘blue flames’ playing around the burnt-out cars.
Does that sound familiar?
Back in Hawaii a few months ago, there was a ton of footage shot of the ‘eerie blue flames’ burning through the cracks in the tarmac of what used to be the Leilani Estates subdivision – a sure sign of natural gas, the main component of which is methane.
And now, those same blue flames are licking around a number of town and cities in California.
Those blue flames are linked to volcanic gases, and both are linked to magma on the move, and sooner or later, volcanoes exploding.
Here in Israel, we’re also under fire, of a different type. The Arabs in Gaza are continuing to send their burning balloons over the fence while the media and government basically ignore the ‘mini-war’ being fought in Israel’s south.
Today, it got escalated up to 17 rockets (and counting) and schools have been closed. An IDF soldier has been killed, may Hashem avenge his blood, and now, even the craven Israeli media are having to talk about what’s really going on. At least a little bit.
The media in all countries loves talking politics, and loves punditry, and loves trying to turn everything into a pointless personality show.
And that’s why the whole world appears to be fiddling while Rome burns.
Israel’s south is burning.
California’s North is burning.
And all the media can do is talk politics and point fingers.
But really, there’s one reason it’s happening, one true Cause behind it all: Hashem.
Hashem is calling us all back to Him. Hashem is telling us we need to make some serious teshuva. We need to stop with all the bread and circuses and realize that massive changes are underfoot, that could transform the world in an instant.
Most of the people burnt in the Paradise fires were killed in their cars, trying to out-run the flames. They literally had five minutes to get out of town, and anyone who stopped to put on their make-up, or peer behind them, was instantly consumed.
God is not messing around. The message is getting louder.
We need to turn off the talking heads, pull our souls out of all the pointless politics and come back to God.
Because what’s going on in California right now is probably only the beginning.
NOTICE: The blog is only restarting at this address temporarily.
I will be migrating this blog over to a new site at: rivkalevy.com