So, I ran away with my husband to Tsfat for Shabbat, that city of refuge, where the Arizal, Rav Yosef Caro, Rav Moshe Cordovero, and a few other massive tzaddikim are buried in the ancient graveyard, that dates back to first temple times.
One of my kids wanted the house to herself, to throw an 18th birthday party for her bestie, and the other one had a Shabbat away with her school, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to ‘get away from it all’, for a weekend, and try to regain some equilibrium.
Just one problem: the hotel couldn’t find our booking.
And we got there 10 scant minutes before Shabbat began.
And the hotel was completely, utterly, totally booked up.
I looked at my husband, he looked at me, and for a minute there, I thought I’d be spending Shabbat in the car, just eating the nosh we’d brought with for the meals.
The nice manager type immediately got on the phone, and called another hotel which had lots of room – of course it did! It was so skanky!
But it was a bed. It had a toilet. So we ignored the pink fixtures dating from the 1970s. We made peace with the fact that the entire bathroom was overlooked by a neighboring building and had no curtains. And we were grateful that God put it into our heads to bring a duvet with, as the one thin blanket on the beds was no match for a cold winter night in Tsfat.
A bed is a bed is a bed. Even if it’s right next to a wall that’s as cold as a block of ice, and abuts a built in wardrobe so snugly, you can’t really wiggle your toes.
And a toilet is a toilet is a toilet. Even if it’s salmon pink, older than your children and overlooked by neighbors.
And the nice manager type told us we could come back to his hotel for the meals, so we also had food aplenty to eat, Baruch Hashem.
My husband headed off to the Carlebach-style shul in the Old City, while I headed down to the graveyard, to do some tikkun haklalis. The sun was lowering over the hills that face the Old City of Tsfat, and the fields where the Ari and his disciples used to go out on a Friday night, to greet the Sabbath Queen.
As I looked out over those massive mountains – Meron, Shammai, Hillel, and Nof HaYamim – all I could in the distance was the streaks of red, purple and bluey-grey that announced the sun’s departure. Some of the clouds were piled up in weird shapes that suggested more mountains, and a whole other vista, a whole other world, just there over the hills.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the view. I just stood there for 15 minutes, drinking it all in and somehow feeling as though I’d arrived at the edge of the world, and something much better was just there, over the distant peaks, waiting to unfold.
I cried a bit – I don’t even really know why – and then I started to feel a little better, and a little more hopeful, than I’ve been feeling of late.
I tramped back up the four million stairs leading into the Old City, and went to stand outside the shul my husband was davening in. That shul has a reputation for achdut, or unity. You get just about every type squeezed into its four walls, and they were singing their hearts out when I got there.
The women’s section was full to busting – people were crammed in at the top of the stairs, trying to get a peak at the action – so I decided to wait downstairs on the street, and watch the stars appear over Tsfat.
After 10 minutes or so, an older lady who was also standing outside came over and asked me if I spoke English. I told her I did – and long story short, while my husband was welcoming the Shabbos with 400 Jews and a lot of dvekut with Hashem, I got stuck talking to a staunch Baptist from Oregon, who started telling me about ‘the rapture’ and ‘the tribulation’.
Thankfully, the rest of Shabbat picked up significantly.
The hotel we were eating in had tons of youth groups. The guy who started up Shabbat.com was there, and he was talking about the need for achdut, and Jewish unity. Then there was another group there of English-speaking yeshiva high school boys from Bet Shemesh, and from the way their Rebbes were talking at the meals, I could see that it was a school that was trying very hard to put the ‘inner dimension’ of the student first.
And then, there was the group of black-hatters from America, who also seemed to be on some sort of yeshiva group tour of the holy land.
Long story short, there were a lot of different people together in that hotel – and all speaking English! The only Hebrew I heard spoken was by the Arab waiters.
Later in the afternoon, we took a free tour of the Livnot building in the Old City, which you can learn more about HERE.
Livnot basically organizes for volunteers to come and dig, hike and learn in Israel, and has been going for over 40 years. 20 years ago, they wanted to expand their operations and extend the building they bought in the middle of the Old City of Tsfat.
When they started renovating, one of the workers found an underground passage. After 20 years of digging, and 35,000 volunteers, Livnot uncovered a huge, 16 room community centre in their basement, that dates back to the times of the Ari, in the 16th century.
While they still have another 200 metres to uncover, they’ve fixed up around 6 of the rooms and give free tours around it on Shabbat. As well as a bunch of small, underground houses and water cisterns, we also saw the communal mikva, the communal kitchen (which contains a huge stone oven, that Livnot has got working again, and where you can come and bake challot), and a few other rooms besides.
All Shabbat, I was asking God for some direction, some spiritual inspiration.
It seems so hard to keep going at the moment, for a number of reasons.
When I heard the story of how Livnot found the Ari’s community centre – one of only three buildings from that time that remained standing, after the horrendous earthquake that struck Tsfat in 1837 – it gave me a lot of hope.
Sometimes, it can seem that the light is so covered over, so hidden under layers of dirt and decay. But I felt like God was saying all shabbat: “Keep digging! Keep going! Sooner or later, you will hit the paydirt!”
It may take 20 years of hard work, but eventually it will pay off.
Ken yiyeh ratzon.
The last few weeks, I’ve been feeling pretty aimless again.
got the volcanoes book finished – I wrote it like it was a PhD, mamash, everything was footnoted and sourced in research papers, and I was quite proud of the amount of info I’d managed to uncover and pull together.
Problem was: it was boring as heck for most people who aren’t PhDs themselves.
I was stuck on the horns of a furious dilemma, because I’m not a scientist, so I had to quote tons of papers and research to be taken seriously, but at the same time, quoting all that stuff made what I was writing too ‘high level’ for most people.
For six weeks I ummed and ahhed about what to do about the book. Then a couple of days ago, I finally decided to dismember the content into Quora posts, and hope to get the information out that way.
All that effort….and nothing really to show for it.
As often happens, my mood follows my publishing experiences, so it plummeted off a cliff for a week. But then, I decided to try to pull myself back into ‘doing’ mode again, and to start again, to start over, to start afresh.
For the 400 millionth time, because isn’t this what Rabbenu tells us we have to do? Renew every second, don’t get old, keep making a new start.
It’s excellent advice, just not always so easy to implement.
Especially when you start looking around and asking yourself where exactly, all your effort has got to date. But I rolled up my sleeves, did the first mind map for a good few months, and started trying to plan a course ahead again.
Then, the atzeret in Hevron came along to distract me, and then last week all the terrorism kicked off big time, and I felt like I was in the middle of craziness again, and couldn’t do anything much except wait and see how it was all going to play out.
Then – that awful terrorist attack which killed the two Yosefs at the junction with Bet El, and which upset me greatly. But, their deaths also seems to have ‘sweetened’ things again, holy souls that they were, because by this week, everything is ‘back to normal’.
Or so it seems.
And so, having pinged back from the edge of geula again last week, with its yellow jackets, plunging stock markets, rising anti-semitism, Hezbollah tunnels and terror attacks, this week I’m back to wondering what on earth I’m doing with my life.
Everything has gone back to ‘fantastic plastic’, the fake, superficial world has got a reprieve and we’re back in nonsense land again. We’ve all got that fake smile pinned firmly back in place, and there’s nothing more to worry about than what colour to repaint the walls.
I don’t do so well in nonsense land.
So, I cracked open the Likutey Moharan to get a clue from Rabbenu what, what, WHAT?!?!?!
And I got to lesson 45 in part 1, where I read the following:
“[T]he exile in Egypt was essentially an exile of speech, for which reason Moses stuttered.”
Then, I read the following in lesson 46:
“[S]peech is a manifestation of consciousness, as in, “From His mouth come knowledge and discernment.”
And then, I started to understand why communicating in any sort of ‘real’ way is becoming increasingly difficult these days.
The exile is deepening, it’s reaching it’s zenith. It’s an exile where people can’t pray; where people can’t speak out what’s really in their hearts, where they can’t even really talk to themselves - or listen to themselves - honestly.
Speech today has been hi-jacked by the yetzer, and so we live in a world of superficial platitudes, pointless rants and painful silences.
And not much else.
Once Rabbenu explained what’s really going on, I started to feel a little more sane. Because sometimes, when I’m going on about how ‘plastic’ and how ‘fake’ and how ‘phoney’ so much of our communication is today, so many people apparently have no idea what I’m talking about.
It’s the world of lies, mamash, and 99.9% of us are in it up to our eyeballs.
As I wrote about HERE, I got chewed out last week for trying to cross a quiet Jerusalem road, on Shabbat morning when there are three cars an hour, when the red man was showing.
I was chewed out by an elderly chiloni lady, who clearly wasn’t very happy with her own life, so welcomed the opportunity to vent her frustration and anger on yours truly.
It really made me think about how most of us communicate, because while I was 100% in the wrong, for trying to cross the road with the red man, the way she spoke to me was so unnecessarily aggressive, I had to fight hard to keep myself from going off on one myself, and giving her a mouthful back.
Speech is in exile.
It’s in exile, when parents can’t have real heart-to-heart conversations with their children, and can’t tell them who they really are and where they really came from, and can’t share their experiences and mistakes with them in any but the most superficial and condescending ways.
It’s in exile, when husbands can’t tell their wives how much fear they actually feel about trying to make ends meet; or how much worry and confusion they are carrying about the future. It’s in exile when wives can’t tell husbands how much they miss them, when they’re working late again, and how much they miss them, when they just walk around with their fake smile plastered on their face and their heads stuck in an i-Phone, or a gemara, as a way of avoiding intimate contact and real conversation.
It’s in exile when one friend can’t tell another: I feel for you so much. I wish things were different. And when we just keep playing the same, awful, game of keeping up with the Cohens, instead of stepping out of the competition, and off the rat wheel.
It’s in exile when we can’t say to God, “God, help me! I’m lost! I’m totally overwhelmed, I don’t know if I’m coming or going! I’m bouncing off the bottom here, Hashem, pick me back up!”
Of course we can’t say that to God.
Most of us can’t say anything to God, so we pretend we’re communicating via the Shemoneh Esrei when really, our mind is on work, and the bills, and the upcoming barmitzvah, and the blocked drain.
Speech is in exile.
I feel it nearly every day, when I sit down to write, or sit down to answer a few more emails, or catch up with someone else only to have to sit through another phone call where I can feel there is so much more to be said, so much more going on, but the other person can’t quite put it into words.
So I read that, then I asked God:
“What’s my job then, in this nonsense land where most people are completely lying to themselves and can’t speak out what they are really feeling and experiencing?”
Because in case you haven’t noticed, most people think I’m crazy (but entertaining…)
And the answer I got back is this: Just be real.
Just carry on writing about your struggles.
Just carry on telling people that sometimes you fall down and watch some pop videos on Youtube, because it makes you really happy to see Mariah Carey got so fat. Just keep sharing how hard you sometimes find it in the fake world.
Just be real.
There’s nothing more to do.
Until Moshiach comes, speech is going to stay in exile.
But once geula gets under way in earnest, we’re going to need to remember how to actually talk to each other again.
And maybe, just maybe, that’s where me and my writing could come in a little bit useful.
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:
One of the things that happens when the terror attacks start up again is that you become hyper-sensitive to ambulance sirens. So it is, that every siren portends another pigua, God forbid, and you go quiet and start listening to see if that one, lone siren, is going to be joined by many others – the sure sign of terror stalking the land.
On Shabbat, I fell asleep on the couch, and started dreaming about crashes and sirens. I woke up with a start – to find one ambulance, 5 ‘first responder’ motorbikes, a first responder car and even, a first responder on a bike, right outside my building.
In the middle of the road, there was an unconscious Domino’s Pizza delivery guy, lying a good 4 metres from where his bike had fallen. They stretchered him into the ambulance, blared off to hospital, and the locals all gathered around to discuss.
Was it a pigua? (terror attack). Was it a hit-and-run? Had the pizza guy just fallen off his bike randomly, in the middle of a quiet Jerusalem street on Shabbat, and somehow knocked himself unconscious?
In the meantime, it just brought back again how fragile life actually is.
One of my correspondents lives in the shadow of a live volcano, In Central America, a place where they also get a lot of large earthquakes. I asked her if that was scary, and she told me that after she learned most accidental deaths happen in the bathroom, she stopped worrying about the volcano up the road.
God is in charge.
Whatever He decides, goes.
It’s a very useful lesson, isn’t it? Especially if you’re a parent of teenagers who have an uncanny knack of finding themselves in the middle of the ‘action’, wherever that action tends to be.
What am I going to do? Lock them in a box for the next five years? Chain them to their beds, so they can stay ‘safe’ at home but go completely bonkers?
(It’s still tempting…)
But after the last, horrible, spate of terror attacks a couple of years ago, where people were being stabbed and run over on my doorstep on a regular basis, I realized life is to be lived, and that I can’t let my fear of ‘what might be’ run my life or control my children.
True, I can’t rely on miracles.
But also true, we all rely on miracles every single day just to function. Every morning I wake up in one piece, that’s a miracle.
There’s a bumper sticker in Israel that reads:
“You woke up this morning. Everything else is a bonus.”
At times like this, it’s good to be reminded.
One of my kids is in school in a yishuv that’s smack bang in the middle of the area that’s been experiencing all the terrorist attacks of the last three days. 12 minutes drive from Ofra, 10 minutes drive from Givat Assaf, 14 minutes drive from Bet El (when there’s no traffic).
Also, everyone caught up in that shooting attack in Ofra has siblings, or parents, or cousins in my kid’s school. And the young woman who was seriously hurt in yesterday’s shooting at Givat Assaf is the commonarite, or local head, of the Beit El branch of the youth group Ariel, so a whole bunch of the kids in the ulpana know her directly.
These are the kids that stand at the trempiadas (hitch-hiking posts) and bus stops up and down Route 60, the road that leads out past Pisgat Ze’ev, and then forks between Ramallah to the left, and Bet El, Ofra, and the northern route up through the Shomron on the right.
I know it well.
I was driving it almost every day for six months last year, when my kid was having a nervous breakdown most days and just couldn’t get herself to school on the bus.
This is the road, these are the communities, being hit by this awful spate of terrorist incidents.
Yesterday, even before I heard about Givat Assaf, I got an email from the school’s principal explaining how the kids were down in the main hall reciting tehillim together, and how counselling services were being offered to any kid that required them.
You know, I hate getting emails like that.
My kid was late home from school, of course.
Budding ‘hill top yoof’ that she is, she and five of her friends decided to make massive banners stating “Am Yisrael Chai” and “Jewish blood is not hefker” (ownerless). Then, they went and climbed up on some of the rocks next to the junction that pulls off into the yishuv where they’re studying – on that self-same Route 60! – to pin them to the fences up there.
Thank God, she told me all this after she was home safe.
“Ima, do you beep when you agree or when you disagree?” she asked me. “Because we had a lot of Palestinian cars beeping us.”
For once, I was speechless.
Then that night, both kids told me there were going to an atzeret, or gathering, in Jerusalem, organised near the PM’s residence, where they were going to sing songs, light candles, and ‘demand’ that the Government do something to beef up the security in the West Bank.
My kids are very idealistic. They are very good, holy kids.
Probably, they are also a little naïve.
What can I tell them?
“Dear children, the government can’t do anything to stop this current wave of violence, and really, we just need to open our eyes and realise what’s really going on. The government is over a barrel. Whatever they do, it’s only going to escalate the situation, and bring all the Jew-haters in the world after us.”
It’s exactly as Rav Berland said a few days ago, that if we lift more than the tiniest finger to really start defending ourselves, the whole, PC, Jew-hating world will be after us in all in the international (kangaroo…) courts of law, screaming ‘war crimes!!!’ and ‘genocide!!!’ and ‘sanctions!!!’ and who knows what else.
There are no military solutions that really solve the problem.
Really, the government knows this. That’s why they are so big on pseudo-reassuring bluster, and so short on real, concrete action.
I wish more people in the religious community here would realise that, and stop pinning all their hopes on the army, and on some massive ‘offensive’ to finish the problem off.
The problem is coming from God, the Arabs are just a stick in God’s hand, to bring the Jews back to Him, and get us all to make teshuva.
If more of us would realise that, then more of us would have showed up to the Rav’s prayer gathering in Hevron on Zot Chanuka, to try to get the awful decrees the Rav could see coming down the pipe cancelled, or sweetened.
As it is, now there are atzerot and gatherings of a different kind happening this week, and large groups of people reciting tehillim together in very different circumstances.
My kid showed me a clip she’d been sent on WhatsApp of people taking the law into their own hands, and smashing the windows of Arab cars in the West Bank with stones.
She wanted to know what I thought, because she was of the view that this is what it would take, for them to stop killing Jews so freely.
I told her that answering senseless violence with more senseless violence doesn’t solve anything, and just brings us Jews down to the terrorists’ very low spiritual level.
So what, then, can we do?
Pray. Make teshuva. Stop pinning our hopes on the IDF, and the government, stop wasting our time discussing politics and arguing with each other, and reading all the God-less news sites.
God wants the heart. God wants us back.
And when more of us give God what He really wants, the violence will stop, and the problem will disappear by itself.
This is what I told my kid, who is now in her room reciting the Tikkun HaKlali, because there was another stabbing in Bet El this morning, and there is talk that her school is going to close on Sunday in protest, and to ‘force’ the government to do something.
Of course, closing the school doesn’t change anything (except to make my kid very happy to have a free day off.)
This is out of our hands.
Because the hands are the hands of Esav.
And the voice is the voice of Yaakov.
Yesterday, I had my kid’s parents’ evening. Thank God, she’s doing better this year (Uman really helped), but as I sat there for an hour (outside the wrong classroom….) waiting for my turn to speak to the teacher, I started pondering why it is school = torture.
Because make no mistake about it, it really does.
Both for the kids, and for the parents.
I’ve been pondering on how the only real difference between school and prison is that in prison, you get let out early for good behavior, while in school, good pupils are expected to add on another 3-4 years to their sentence by going to university.
And I’m not sure about this last one, but I think the food is probably better in prison.
One kid keeps finding spiders in the lettuce, dead flies stuck to the tomatoes, and other pieces of ‘mank’ that should be no-where near a kitchen, and especially not an apparently ‘kosher’ kitchen.
The other one just keeps getting fed white pasta…and more pasta…and more pasta… Except on Chanuka, when the pasta is replaced by donuts. Her candida is now way off the charts, and she’s bloating up like the proverbial blimp – and I’m just waiting for her sentence to finally end, in June, so I can start her proper school detox program.
The other one just eats cans now – cans of tuna, cans of corn, anything to avoid the insect-infested salad and dry bread. (I know, doesn’t this sound Victorian?) And her spots are also way off the charts.
Sometimes, I wonder if school was designed by the medical establishment, as it’s hard to think of a better way of wearing kids down, filling them up with poisonous things of all stripes, and stressing them out no end.
And we all know, stress is the underlying cause of nearly all illnesses, not least because it weakens the immune system a whole bunch.
And we all know, school is incredibly, awfully stressful.
Part of it is the endless, pointless, exams, where the kids aren’t really being taught to think for themselves, but just to regurgitate material, like some masticating bovine.
Part of it, is the endless, pointless expectations and pressures on the student to conform, and to fall into line, and to become one with the herd.
And part of it is the fact that school goes on for way too long.
As my kids have passed through this penal system called ‘school’, I’ve come to realize that they could easily finish their bagrut by 16, and then be off doing far more useful things with their life.
I’ve seen how each one got so depressed and miserable that first year of high school, at age 14, because they could feel in their bones that they were completely and utterly wasting their time, and wasting their lives.
Why ‘force-feed’ Tanach to students and then set exams on it?
Just so they’ll hate it so much when they’re adults, they’ll never open up a sefer of navi ever again in their lives?
One kid tells me her Tanach teacher just projects biblical verses up on the screen in the darkened classroom, and drones on in such a boring voice that my kid is usually asleep within 5 minutes. I’ve asked her to record it, as it sounds like a fabulous sleep aid and healthy replacement for Lunesta.
And then there’s sport, where they’re expected to drop to the floor and do 10 press-ups a minute, mamash like boot camp.
Except boot camp is less stressful, because no-one is grading your press-ups in boot camp, and telling you that the rest of your life depends on how well you do those 50 stomach crunches.
Here’s what I can see about school:
My kid comes home telling me all sorts of stuff that is the ‘mainstream’, secular view of the world (even though she’s in a religious ulpana) and I have to explain that there’s another view of things. We discuss, we argue – and she starts to see that so much of what’s she’s being told is actually just not true. And certainly, not in alignment with the authentic, Torah view of things.
But then, that puts her in a quandary. Once, she made the mistake of trying to discuss an alternative view of things with one of her teachers, and the teacher was extremely disconcerted and didn’t know what to do with her.
(The pupils aren’t the only ones who are being brain-washed in school.)
So I told my kid: ‘Play the game, nod and smile, and keep your mouth shut. Tell the teachers whatever they want to hear that will get you a passing grade and keep you out of trouble, and then come home and ask me your real questions. We’ll go find things out together.’
Because I don’t pretend that I know everything. (My husband would probably say I’m lying.)
2. It’s the main cause of teenage’d depression.
Not least, because most of it is a complete and utter waste of time, and has only been put in place as a brain-washing program by the secular atheists who run governments and universities.
Thank God, I live in Israel where a huge chunk of the society is already very suspicious of school.
Thank God, I’m not stressing my kids out endlessly about bagruts, or making a living, or going to university blah-de-blah-de-blah.
I tell them:
Just get through your prison sentence, and try to get a bagrut if it’s at all possible, as it’s a pain to go back and do it when you’re older. But, you CAN go back and do it when you’re older, if you need to figure things out first. And only go to university after you’re married, and if you really need a degree for the career you want to do. Otherwise, avoid it like the plague!!!
Yes, there are some good things about school, it’s true. Learning how to self-motivate, complete tasks, get on with other people, work as part of a team and problem solve is all useful stuff.
I find that these skills are mostly developed after hours, when the students are working together to figure out how to properly game the system and stay out of trouble.
Horrible, torturous school.
Throw-back and relic of Victorian times, when children were expected to be ‘seen, but not heard’, and cruelty to children was considered necessary for building their character.
There’s got to be another way, don’t you think?
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.
Such confusing times we live in, aren’t they? Part of what I’ve been finding so hard is just how quickly ‘friend’ can become ‘foe’ and vice-versa, the last few years.
It’s hard to trust anyone. It’s hard to really know where anyone is really coming from these days.
Back in 2015, I realized that God has done all this on purpose, because what He really wants is for us to keep talking to Him every single day – about everything going on in our lives – and to not just turn our brains off, and give away our free choice to other people.
That ‘other person’ could be a doctor. They could be a politician. They could be a scientist, or a schoolteacher, a parent, or even a rabbi.
Because free choice is the whole reason God made us; it’s the defining ability of a human being, and it’s something we have to exercise all the time – even if that means we’re going to end up making a mistake, or suffering something we’d prefer to not have to deal with.
I know there is a lot of controversy raging about the vaccines issue right now. (For my take on it, see THIS post.)
I was doing some praying on what’s really going on with it all, and here’s what came to me: the story of Rav Eliezer HaGadol, and the Sages, in the Gemara.
Turns out, Rav Eliezer HaGadol was 100% right, when he and the Sages were arguing about the halachic status of an earthenware oven. Rav Eliezer was so right, the river ran backwards, the walls of the yeshiva caved in, and a bat kol, a voice from Heaven, even announced that Rav Eliezer was correct.
But the rest of the Sages still banded together, ignored all these phenomena, and actually ex-communicated Rav Eliezer! The cherem was only lifted shortly before he died, so the Sages could attend his funeral.
We are talking about massive tzaddikim here – including Rabbi Akiva, the redactor of the Oral Torah, the teacher of Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai, the person who said that no-one in his generation was on the level to rebuke another Jew.
Yet, even Rabbi Akiva joined the other Sages in excommunicating his teacher, and the most outstanding Rabbi of the generation, Rav Eliezer HaGadol.
And Rav Eliezer HaGadol was 100% right, don’t forget! Even the angels said so!
So, what was really going on here?
In a nutshell: Jewish unity.
Having peace between Jews is the single most important thing, the single best guarantee of good health and blessing.
At the end of last week, I spoke to one of my relatives in the States who is a believing Jew, a quick thinker, and more amenable than most to hearing new ideas. I broached the vaccines topic with him – and I was amazed at how he was having a hard time accepting even the most basic ideas.
Like, the stronger a person’s immune system is, the easier they will find it to fight off disease easily.
Like, germs are around us all the time, and the main factor in whether we’ll get really sick (which is really just God, but we couldn’t really get to that level in the discussion) is whether we’re already weak and ailing in some way.
Like, the measles vaccine doesn’t guarantee immunity from measles – even according to the Department of Health’s own figures, 3% of all people fully vaccinated will still develop measles.
So that means measles can never actually be fully eradicated.
The man just couldn’t hear it. He just couldn’t agree. He’s living in a world where he’s bombarded with information telling him that germs are the only factor causing disease, and that vaccines are the solution to avoiding disease.
He told me one other piece of information that I thought was very pertinent: Apparently, there’s been a few measles breakouts in Monsey, amongst predominantly chassidish communities.
“Having a measles epidemic in the Jewish community is making us look bad to the goyim,” he told me. “We already got blamed for the Black Death in the Middle Ages, we don’t need to give them any more ammunition.”
I have a feeling this last sentiment may be holding more weight when it comes to the hysteria over the measles outbreak than any of the other things so far discussed
But bottom line is: most of the people out there are so caught up in the world of lies that even if they are sincere, believing, thoughtful Jews, there is still no-one to really talk to when it comes to broaching the topic of how health really works.
So, what are our rabbis to do? Are they to promote divisive pronouncements that a majority of even frum Jews are literally incapable of accepting or following? Where is that going to lead?
So, even though Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol is figuratively right, the Sages chose unity and achdus, and hoped that God would keep everyone healthy and well.
Did they make the right decision? Honestly, there’s a machloket about that.
But what all this comes down to is that there is no shortcuts, and that the only way to get through this world in one piece, sanely, without being overwhelmed by doubts and confusions on all sides, is to keep talking to God every single day, and asking for clarity and emuna.
The last thing to say is this: Any rabbi who counsels a couple with conflicting opinions on the issue of vaccines to get divorced over the matter is not coming from a good place at all, spiritually.
God values peace above all else. God values shalom bayit above all else. And if a rabbi is saying to divorce because the other person wants to vaccinate, or doesn’t want to vaccinate, then get the heck away from them.
Bezrat Hashem, God will help us all to find our path through this maze, and to stay close to Him, and to keep our kids truly healthy in all ways, spiritually, emotionally and physically.
After I put this up, I realized I'd forgotten perhaps the most important point of all, which is that our rabbis make the reality.
When that Bat Kol came out from heaven, the Sages argued that halacha was not decided in Heaven, it was decided on earth - by the true rabbis that God had set over the people.
And God agreed!
Yes, I know what's going on is difficult. I know vaccines are not the health panacea they are made out to be by the Pharmaceutical industry. But at the same time, if our rabbis are saying we should vaccinate, we now have an additional layer of spiritual protection for our vaccinated children that wasn't there before.
The rabbis make the reality!
That's a fundamental foundation of Emunat Tzaddikim. And the true rabbis in our midst see much further down the road than we can, and are taking many more factors into account than are immediately obvious to the rest of us.
Again, Rabbenu is 100% anti-doctor. That is the Breslov path. And yet, he was pro-vaccines.
How these two things really go together is something requires an awful lot of hitbodedut, but go together, they do. And as I've said before on this blog, Rabbenu is always right.
Rebbe Nachman tells us: it’s a huge mitzvah to be happy! And to be happy all the time!
But then he also tells us: Happiness is also the single hardest thing to achieve in life, and you are going to have to work at it ad 120, to really get there.
Which is why when I sometimes have a sad day or two, I don’t get too freaked out about it.
Honestly, there’s a lot of hardships going on in the world. Barely a day goes by without an email bringing its own tale of nasty disease, horrible divorce, or some other massive personal challenge.
We can’t close our eyes to the suffering that’s going on all around us – to do that turns us into unfeeling robots, and that’s not what God wants. At all.
At the same time, we also can’t let other people’s ‘stuff’ take over too much of our headspace, or take out too much of our joy. Because when we’re down, we get distanced from God, we get discouraged and demoralized, and we don’t tend to do very much to build the world.
Main-lining Youtube videos generally does not build the world!
Moping around in bed, or on the couch, instead of washing up or making the supper generally
does not build the world!
Getting in bad moods about how unfair it all seems, somehow, or how pointless, generally does not build the world!
At the same time – we can’t close our eyes to the suffering all around us. And especially not to the suffering that we ourselves still experience deep down inside.
So then, what’s the answer?
How do we walk this narrowest of bridges?
Honestly? I don’t really know.
But what seem to work for me at the moment is to not run away from the occasional sad feelings that still crop up, and to not ignore them, but also to not give them too much encouragement.
“Ok, Rivka, you want to feel sad that the evil pioneers killed a whole bunch of Native American tribes off in such vile, awful ways? You can! But only for half an hour. Then remind yourself that God is running the world, and snap out of it.”
Ditto, when I saw that poor, abused boy on the bench after he’d been kicked out of the house by his folk. My first inclination was just to feel really, really sad. But after a couple of hours of that, I realized it wasn’t really helping. It wasn’t building the world. It wasn’t putting God in the picture.
All it was doing was making me angry, apathetic and overwhelmed with thoughts of how ‘bad’ the world actually is, and how retarded so many parents appear to be.
So first I snapped out of it, with God’s help. And then, I spent a week seeing if there are any opportunities for me to start volunteering with at-risk teens in Jerusalem, and there might be.
We can’t ignore the darkness, we can’t just wish the evil away – we’re not on that level.
But at the same time, Rebbe Nachman tells us: don’t lose your simcha! Hang on to your happiness! Really, that’s the way out of the gloom, it’s the winch that will hoist you – and everyone else - out of all the yuck, and into the geula.
Following this advice is really not easy, especially as so many people are struggling today.
But one thing I do know for sure, and this is it:
Rebbe Nachman is always right.
Mina Gordon, one of the writers over on SassonMag.com, just set one of her poems to video. It originally appeared on the Chabad.org website - and it's here below, too.
Just what I needed to get in my inbox today.
NOTICE: The blog is only restarting at this address temporarily.
I will be migrating this blog over to a new site at: rivkalevy.com