An integral part of Jewish life is all of the Jewish holidays that stud the Jewish calendar, and set a pace for Jewish life that has been continuing unbroken for more than 300 years.

Many outsiders often want to know, ‘What are the Jewish holidays in September, or around Easter?’ They want the Jewish festivals explained to them, as they see whole Jewish communities dressed up in disguise around Purim time, or menorahs being lit around hanukkah.

And there are also a growing number of Jews who don’t much about their own religious birthright and traditions, like Yom Kippur the day of atonement, a fast day where Jews neither eat or drink; Sukkot the festival of booths and lulavs and etrogs, or Purim, where we hear Megillat Esther, drink wine and eat a feast – all for the highest spiritual reasons!

In this section, we’ll get to grips with the chagim, as they are called in Hebrew and try to put together something of a ‘Jewish holidays for dummies’ guide, as the holidays are experienced by yours truly.

We’ll take a look at things like:

  • How to celebrate them
  • The meaning of Jewish holidays
  • Explaining the chagim
  • The importance of Jewish holidays like Passover, Pesach and Rosh Hashanah
  • share some holiday facts, and Torah sources about the festivals

And a few other things, besides, including how hard it can sometimes be to get into the right frame of mind to really celebrate the festival or day the way God really intended, plus the rarely understood inner dimension of the holidays and festivals.

As I walked back from hearing the shofar blowing at the Beit HaRav first day Rosh Hashana, I had this feeling well up:

It’s going to be a good year.

I know that doesn’t look obvious, but on Rosh Hashana, you can catch the ‘flavor’ of the year to come, and this year there seemed to be a lot of peace and kedusha in the air.

====

Erev chag, I was feeling pretty anxious.

I woke up with the feeling that I’ve really not been the best Jew in 5781, and I got a bit teary about how hard it’s been to try and keep up with my yiddishkeit.

As is my custom now, I went off to the tomb of Shimon HaTzaddik to say vidui devarim – and I felt like 90% of what I was saying directly applied.

Especially all the stuff about hating other people in my heart and speaking lashon hara.

Hashem, I want to be good!!! I want to do better!!! 

I want to be holy…..

I’m just really, really struggling at the moment.

I came out of Shimon HaTzaddik feeling so much better.

====

At home, I found out I was having three guests stay by me for chag this year – all formerly-chareidi girls from complicated families, who now ‘live’ in a girls’ dorm in Jerusalem.

They had no-where else to go for chag, so one of my kids invited them to us.

Oh, and the 15 year old thinks she’s a lesbian… Is that OK Ima?

Man, what a question to be asked Erev Rosh Hashana.

But, I’m trying to adopt an attitude of just going with the flow, and letting Hashem send the people and experiences into my life that is required for my growth and teshuva, so I double-checked with my husband, then gave the greenlight to my kid.

But they have to be respectful at the table, I told her.

Because otherwise, it’s just a disaster.

====

The three turned up with pierced everythings, in-your-face interesting haircuts, and the 15 year old had somehow managed to get herself tattooed already, even though it’s illegal if you’re not 18.

But to cut a long story short – it was actually fine.

A little awkward in parts, but generally OK.

I cracked open Rabbenu’s advice, and in the section on ‘Peace’ I read how true peace is achieved when two total opposites are brought together, and that this can only occur by the Tzaddik.

That me and the 15 year old wannabe-lesbian shared 4 meals together with no proverbial blood being spilt was truly an open miracle.

====

I walked into the Rav to hear shofar blowing both times, and for the first time ever on Rosh Hashana, I just had the feeling that I belonged somewhere.

And then I walked home, and I just had the feeling that some of the kedusha had returned to the streets of Jerusalem.

There were hardly any masks in sight, the sun was shining in a beautiful blue sky, but it wasn’t too hot.

And that feeling rose up unbidden that:

They have already lost. This whole, fake,’Covid 19′ plandemic is finished.

====

My husband was also davening at the Rav for most of Rosh Hashana, and he also had a good experience.

Until 5 minutes before the end of the chag, when he decided to catch ma’ariv in the local shul where we live.

The shul is pretty laid back, and most people don’t hold by the masks at all. But there is one resident ‘Mr Evil’ who likes to bully and control other people, and of course the masks is the perfect excuse to do that.

So 5 minutes before the end of Rosh Hashana, he picked a fight with my husband, who had his mask under his chin, same as 80% of the rest of the congregants.

So, the plandemic is finished, spiritually….. but the Covid bullies are probably still going to be a force to deal with for a little while longer.

At least, until the ‘vaccinations’ really start to work as they’ve been designed to.

====

So on balance, it was a very good Rosh Hashana.

We missed Uman a lot, particularly my husband.

And I’m still sitting here pondering on what comes next, and what I should be working towards and focussing on.

But I have a lot more optimism that something very good is on the horizon than I did this time last year.

And that all the terrible suffering and difficulties we all went through in 5781 are almost coming to an end.

At least, for those who are making some sincere teshuva, and doing their best to stick close to the true tzaddikim and to stay out of the world of lies.

We still live in interesting times, and there is still so much going on, so who really knows what’s going to happen next.

But I’m just feeling way happier about it all again now.

And that counts for a lot.

====

PS: Just as I was finishing this up, I got sent this via email:

You need to be honest with yourself and see how much of your day is spend worrying instead of learning the advice of Rabbenu (Rebbe Nachman).

He is the Tzaddik Hashem sent to help us specifically to find Hashem in the thickest darkness.

You must put in effort to learn his advice and apply it.

It’s very wise words.

And BH, I want to take them more to heart this year.

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I just got sent this very important message about travelling to Uman this year.

***Update***

This comes directly from someone within Shuvu Banim, who is in touch with the Rav, Rabbi Eliezer Berland, and who I know personally.

That person gave this message over via the Shuvu Banim WhatsApp group today:

We had heard that Rav Berland said that on Tet Vav Elul he would give instructions about Uman for this year.

I asked Rabbi B. if the Rav had said anything yet. He did. Here is our message from R’ B.:

> I asked R’ B. about the Rav’s previously unclear instructions about Uman. The rumors we have been talking about, etc. Here is his reply: [It’s an audio recording – which I’ve got, but I don’t know if I have permission to put it up on my website. I’m double-checking.}

To summarize the most important message from Rav Berland:

If you have tickets that left this morning or earlier, you may still go.

Otherwise, cancel your travel plans and come to Yerushalayim instead and make the kibbitz with Shuvu Banim at the Rav’s shul.

====

‘This morning’ means today, Monday August 23, 2021.

If you didn’t already fly out, if you aren’t already on the way to the airport – cancel your tickets for Uman this year.

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As I already wrote about HERE, this is not fearmongering.

This is simply listening to the Gadol HaDor, Rabbi Eliezer Berland, who gave over two messages before this one saying:

  1. Don’t go to Uman.
  2. If you go to Uman, make sure that you go 2 weeks before Rosh Hashana.

Rosh Hashana 5782 begins in 2 weeks times, this Monday night.

====

BH, God will keep every precious pilgrim to Uman this year safe, whatever is going on.

I have relatives there right now, and they told me there are already at least 15,000 people there at the moment (as of 2 days ago) and with more arriving all the time.

Many of those people will presumably be travelling back home before Rosh Hashana, but there is definitely going to be a bigger gathering in Uman this year than last year, even if no-one else flies out now.

====

So, that’s the message from the Rav.

If you didn’t already go as of this Monday morning, 23rd August 2021, cancel your plans, and come to Jerusalem instead.

May we only hear good news.

====

UPDATE:

According to my relative in Uman, there is an unconfirmed rumor there at the moment that ‘something’ is going down this Sunday.

What I’ve been told is that people think the authorities will shut the airport to people who aren’t vaccinated this Sunday, but it could also be something else.

My personal feeling is that the State of Israel is going to try to take a plane down, God forbid a million times.

I think this was the ‘trial run’:

https://vinnews.com/2021/07/28/report-yeshiva-boys-amongst-dead-in-small-plane-crash-in-ukraine/

The point of putting all this ‘out there’ is NOT fearmongering, it’s to open the public’s eyes that ‘disasters’ such as happened in Meron this year are carefully planned by the government and the security forces under their control.

They aren’t accidents.

====

I listened to the WhatsApp message with more details now, and the person giving over the message from the Rav is saying you don’t have to come back from Uman if you are already there.

But if you are in Israel, you should stay in Israel for Rosh Hashana this year.

I don’t know about if you are outside of Israel.

====

BH, may we only hear good news.

====

UPDATE 2:

I just got sent another message, that the Rav put out another message – after the original letter that was written, described above – to say that you can go to Uman if you want to.

The person giving over the message said this second, contradictory statement was made by the Rav after a lot of pressure from certain people.

But the point is this:

FREE CHOICE IS THE ONLY REASON WE WERE CREATED.

And this way, the Rav is safe-guarding everyone’s free choice, for them to do their own hitbodedut and to see what their own heart is telling them.

====

I will just tell you one story, and then I’m leaving this alone for you to make your own decision.

In Uman one year, I was rooming with a girl who was engaged, but was having a lot of doubts about whether to go ahead with the marriage.

She decided to ask the Rav, and the Rav told her to call the marriage off.

She didn’t like that answer, so she went back to ask the Rav again, and the Rav told her that if she really loved the man, she should get married by a certain date.

So, she got married by that certain date.

Next year, I saw her again in Uman.

She was divorced – they split up 2 months after the wedding.

====

I learnt a lot from this situation.

I learnt that the Rav is careful to maintain people’s free choice, and that you can’t use him as a ‘short cut’ that means you don’t need to do your own soul-searching and birur.

That’s part of the Breslov path, that our true leaders are very careful to not issue commands, but only advice, that a person can choose to follow or not.

So, make your own decisions, come to your own conclusions, do your own soul-searching.

That by itself is very dear to Hashem, and is doing so much in the world.

====

And wherever you end up this Rosh Hashana, BH, may God bless you with a happy, holy, healthy, fulfilled and ‘free’ 5782.

====

UPDATE 3:

A reader, D., just sent me this:

“Iran” to shoot down plane with Jews going to Uman?

I have the feeling something is being sweetened right now.

====

And also THIS caught my eye, from the Arutz 7 site from yesterday:

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I read that, and it immediately reminded me of the ‘warning’ the Health Ministry gave out just before the murders in Meron, that anyone who went their ‘blood will be on their own heads’.

BH, all this is being sweetened!!!

But open your eyes, and see what’s going on here.

Because I’m having a strange feeling of deja vu.

====

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Honestly, I totally forgot about it.

With all the craziness going on, and the ‘lockdown’ that makes it seem that days, weeks and months just kind of slide into each other, it’s not always so easy to remember what day of the week it is.

Lucky for me, I had a ‘Na Nach’ show up yesterday – with a couple of his friends – and he’s the one that told me today is Tu B’shvat.

I had a bit of fruit hanging around, some nuts in the cupboard, so we just cut it up and put it out on the table, for an impromptu, very low key ‘Tu B’Shvat’ seder.

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Tu B’Shvat is way more significant, spiritually, than it can appear.

Here we are, in the middle of the winter, when the trees still nearly all look ‘dead’ and leafless and lifeless.

But on the inside?

The sap is rising.

The tree is returning back to life, and getting ready to blossom and bloom.

It may take a few more weeks, a couple more months, but life is returning.

Between here and Pesach, life is returning.

====

So take heart, dear readers.

The evil madness we are living through right now isn’t going to continue on forever.

God is great – much, much greater than all of the evil out there.

All this is just a test.

I’m not whitewashing stuff here. There are life and death issues going on all the time, and big decisions to be made with big consequences attached to them.

Each of us has to dig deep, and stop living in denial of the obvious evil that’s squishing out of just about every place right now, both in the public arena and also in our private lives.

But don’t forget, God is great.

And all this can turn around in the blink of any eye.

====

Personally, I’m starting to feel happier about the situation than I have done for the last 11 months.

Finally, more and more people are waking up to the fact that the media is bad, the State of Israel – and its institutions – are corrupt and that many of their assumptions were built on false premises.

That’s very good news.

The next stage will be when more and more people start searching for the truth, and start looking for the real tzaddikim, the real leaders, to get behind.

And here too, there’s a lot of movement.

So take heart.

====

Sure, right now everything looks gloomy, grey, dead and lifeless.

On the outside.

But hidden away inside, redemption is rising with the sap.

And BH very soon, it will start to bud and blossom.

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Last year, one of my friends put out a film called ‘Talking to God’.

I saw it and liked it a lot, and she asked me if I could put some links to it here, for anyone who wants to download it.

(The film is about a woman, FYI, for shmirat eynayim people).

For some reason, I can’t get the trailer to load here on the site, but here’s where you can see it yourself:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sM6ZrPJN2Wk&feature=youtu.be
Here’s how to watch the film:
In Israel can only be seen on iTunes and here’s the link ( There’s a button for Hebrew subtitles FYI):
https://itunes.apple.com/il/movie/talking-to-god/id1536856963
From the US here’s the link to watch:
Enjoy!
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https://www.rivkalevy.com/the-tree-of-mercy/

Enough with the tinsel, already.

Living in a building where almost no-one has a balcony, let alone a balcony that you could build a Succah on, means that as soon as Yom Kippur is over, there is a mad rush to try and grab a spot for your pop-up Succah outside on the path leading up to our building complex.

Last year, there were 7-8 Succahs out there, including ours. Already this year we seem to be holding at 10-11 – and we’re still one day to go. Part of me is really happy that more people are participating in the mitzvah of building a Succah, part of me is worrying that all the secular neighbors are going to explode in rage, about having to navigate all this canvas…

Last year, some stroppy bint had a go at me and my husband for ‘selfishly’ practicing the mitzvah of Succot at the expense of ‘people in wheelchairs’ who can no longer use the pathways.’

There was more than enough room for someone in a wheelchair to get pass our Succahs, as I’d seen a few people in wheelchairs doing it. But the bint just wanted to rant at religious people, so who were we to spoil her fun?

But now that the Succahs are also taking over large swathes of the parking lot too…. And a bit more of the space on the pavement…. Well, I’m feeling a little nervous, I have to admit.

====

One of these new Succahs was printed up with xmas-looking decorations on all 4 sides – tinsel and metallic decorations – plus a massive close-up of the Temple inside.

And there was something about that, I don’t know what, that put me in a funny mood.

I came back into our house Friday morning, and I told my husband:

I’m sick of hanging up cheap xmas overflow decorations for Succot. Totally and utterly sick of it. It just looks so tacky, so xmas-y, and this year I’m not going to do it.

He looked at me with a bit of a worried look on his face, because if there’s no tinsel, how are we going to get into the festive mood?!

====

I went and googled ‘natural Succah decorations’ and it brought up a whole bunch of totally over-the-top images of Succahs that looked like they were fresh of the cover of the ‘Ideal (Succah) Magazine’. Nope, hand-carving uplifting messages into variegated colored pumpkins stacked by the Succah entrance was not going to happen this year…

But, creating decorations made of dried out orange slices, leaves and beads really appealed to me, so instead of making my Shabbat chicken, I started trying to dehydrate orange and lemon slices in my oven Friday morning. (I cut the drying time down to 1 ½ hours, so they are still a little bit soggy, but Shabbos waits for no man, so what can you do.)

My daughters eyed me like I’d gone crazy. I could see them wondering, scared to ask:

What, is Ima back on her extreme ‘health food’ kick, and she’s just feeding us dried orange slices for Shabbos?!

Man, were they relieved when I explained that I was just having an anti-tinsel, anti-xmas-decorations-masquerading-as-Succah-decorations thing.

And then, they spent the next four hours crafting some really beautiful natural decorations, and finding a big stick to tie them all too.

I also made one.

And the husband also made one.

And while the Shabbos food still got made on time (just about), there was just something so awesome about the fact that for once, we’d sat down and made some Succah decorations ourselves, as a family.

I’ve wanted to do it for years and years and years, and never managed it.

====

So even though some of my orange slices still look more ‘chewy’ than totally dried (and will probably attract five million wasps and bugs) – who cares?

At least for this year, I’ve kicked the tinsel into touch.

I don’t have great hopes for Succot, as my chagim have been pretty lackluster so far…. I still don’t know what I’m going to cook. Our Succah is still roofless and floorless. I’m totally unprepared in a million ways, still.

But one thing I’m sure of:

This year there will be no tinsel.

And that, at least, is something.

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Photo by Jukka Heinovirta on Unsplash

5780: Did we turn the corner?

I don’t know about you, but I could describe the last few months of 5779 as some form of: hanging on by my fingernails.

That’s how it felt – for months!

I don’t know why, it just seemed like so many things were kind of permanently stuck, permanently dragging, permanently pointless. It was hard to get out of bed… It was hard to stay focused once I’d managed that part… It was so hard to keep going, to keep doing stuff, to keep my house clean, to keep making food for Shabbat, to keep saying my morning brachot, to go out for a walk.

Everything was such an effort, such a drag.

We are in to the fourth day of 5780, and what I can tell you is this:

The energy of this year is totally different from what came before.

Even Rosh Hashana felt so different this year.

Usually, I hunker down on Rosh Hashana, and wait for the feeling of oppressive din, and panic, and yirah to dissipate a little, so I can come out of hiding and stop holding my breath. The last few years, Rosh Hashana has been mostly difficult, for a whole bunch of reasons.

This year, for the first time in I don’t know how long, I can say that I came close to actually enjoying Rosh Hashana.

Me and the girls were out for two meals, home for the others, and none of us were stressed and fighting. Nobody was moaning that my husband was in Uman. No-one was stressing that they didn’t have the right thing to wear, or that their hair looked horrible (I’d like you to believe that last statement is referring to my children….)

We didn’t feel lonely, we didn’t feel out of place, we didn’t feel lost in the world or lacking.

Even more amazingly, I managed to find a body of water that the Jerusalem municipality couldn’t turn off for Rosh Hashana, to prevent residents from chucking their challah into it at tashlich.

So for the first time in at least five years, me and my girls all managed to do tashlich, and to actually do it on Rosh Hashana itself.

I spoke to someone yesterday who has also had quite a challenging few years here in the Holyland, and they said the same thing: there was a great feeling floating around on Rosh Hashana 5780.

There is hope in the air again, there is a light illuminating the path.

Dawn has finally broken.

That’s how it felt.

Now, I’ll guess we’ll see what happens next.

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What is Tisha B’Av really all about?

The last few days, I’ve been in a funny mood – you might have noticed. I’ve been feeling frustrated, angry, even a little bitter, that despite so much effort, I’m going into yet another Tisha B’av with what feels like zero progress on so many fronts.

In fact spiritually, I even feel as though I’ve been going backwards in some ways, recently. I tried to capture a little of that HERE, but I feel I’ve had so much brain fog going on the last weeks I’ve lost touch with my soul again.

Yes, I’ve still been doing an hour a day of talking to God (or trying to…) – sometimes even more. In the old days, I could sit down for a six hour talking to God session, usually on Shabbat when I had the time to spare, and come out of it feeling like something had really moved or ameliorated.

The last few months, even the six hours I’ve been doing don’t give me much of a spiritual ‘bounce’. The best I can say, is that I feel calmer, usually, and sometimes I get a bit more clarity, and a bit more hope and determination to continue.

But underneath all that, there’s this sense of what am I doing all this for? Where am I going? How can I carry on like this, aimlessly drifting because I can’t seem to get anywhere, still?

====

On Shabbat, I did another six hours on why I feel like such a spiritual zombie so much of the time, when God threw me a clue:

I have tremendous amounts of despair gushing around still.

It’s not preventing me from getting on with things, day-to-day, and thank God, I’m not a depressed zombie or an angry, ranting cynic (most of the time…) but what I am is totally despairing that things are going to change. On the national level, it just seems to me like the ‘bad’ always wins, the superficial is always preferred, the lie is always more welcome than the truth.

In my own dalet amot, there seems to be so many things I’ve given up on or lost over the last few years, that I can’t seem to figure out how to get back. I know what happened with losing the apartment in Jerusalem, last year, was a massive blow, psychologically. Just as I thought I’d actually got somewhere – we signed, after all!!! – it all turned around for the worst, and left us with the biggest nightmare we’d had to deal with for a very long time.

It’s been a year since we made the agreement with our seller that saw us pay for all of her expenses (and of course ours…) as the ‘punishment’ for being dumb enough to trust her, and for being dumb enough to trust our dumb lawyer was actually doing his job. I think it’s taken a year for what happened to really work its way through my system.

The last 2 days, I realized that I’ve been effectively numbed-out for 18 months.

====

Part of me knows it’s good to have had so many things not get anywhere, and to have so much frustration and failure. It keeps me humble. But it’s also keeping me lonely and despairing, because another part of me just doesn’t want to try anymore.

We’re meant to sit on the floor and weep over the destruction. Thank God, me and my family are healthy and we have a roof and food to eat. That’s already so much to be grateful for. But there are still parts of my life that appear to be ‘destroyed’, and that I can’t see any way of fixing.

I’ve pretty much given up on making new friends, for example. So many people have gone crazy the last few years, that I find it easier to keep my distance than too risk getting to close when the inevitable implosion happens. But I miss talking to people. I miss inviting people for Shabbat. I miss being part of something, socially.

And I just don’t see how it’s going to come back. I think I’m just too weird, these days, too out of sync with what passes for ‘normal’.

====

Also, my spiritual side seems to be bumping along the bottom.

If not for the Rav and Rebbe Nachman, I really don’t know where I’d be because I am just going through the motions with so much of my yiddishkeit. I try to learn 2 laws of the Shulchan Aruch most days, with my husband. Of course I try to keep Shabbat, Kosher, the laws of Tisha B’Av etc etc – but I’m doing so much of that from a place of ‘default’, and not from a place of enthusiasm.

My kids keep telling me: we can’t pray, because we can’t really feel anything when we do.

I get them. I feel that about almost all the mitzvahs right now. There are so few things I’m doing that I can really feel I’m getting anything back from. My husband says this is good. He tells me this is keeping Torah lishma, for its own sake, and that this makes Hashem very happy.

I’m doing my best to believe him.

And in the meantime, I sit here spinning my wheels, wondering what I’m meant to be doing with my life. More pointless blog posts? More pointless books? More pointless efforts to try to move forward and ‘get somewhere’, even though it feels there is totally no point in even trying?

It’s a struggle of will each morning, to get out of bed and get on with the day, because it all feels so aimless and pointless.

====

All this effort, but I’m so far from giving God what He really wants from me.

I’m still struggling with very harsh judgment calls against other people. I’m still lazy. I’m still selfish and self-centred, not really seeing other people in my picture and looking out for number 1.

The Temple isn’t rebuilt still, and I know who’s to blame for that: me.

Hard as I try, I can’t switch my ‘bad’ into good. I can’t be the force for good that God really wants me to be. I can’t resist goading people and provoking them, and seeing their ‘bad’.

So today, I’m going to try and sit on the floor, and spend some time mourning the destruction. I’m going to try to cry a bit, sincerely, for the trainwreck that modern life has become. It’s a place where we spend so much time staring at a screen, it hurts the eyes to look a real person straight in the face. It’s a place where the inner destruction is so total, we can’t feel anything anymore. Where the ability to really speak from the soul has been replaced by Whats App monologues and emojicons.

Today, I’m going to cry a bit, and spend some time engaging with the broken bits of my life.

I’m broken God, I’m clueless. I’m lost and hurting. I’ve given up on things ever really changing.

And I wish things were different.

But it’s totally beyond me to change them.

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A Seder Meal for One.

The day before Seder, I had a breathless conversation with an older single I know whose ‘plans had changed’ last minute (as they so often seem to do with this person), who needed a place to go for the Seder meal.

I said no.

I said no for a few reasons, not least because I had my hands full with a ton of non-religious family members who also believe that Seder isn’t actually something you ‘do’, at least, not yourself, but something that you show up for, say your lines, eat your boiled egg, then go home and tick the box.

But the person pulled a half-successful guilt trip on me that they had nowhere else to go blah blah blah so in the end I compromised and invited them for the morning meal after Seder.

I was so exhausted. I was so tired.

And this person stayed in my house for four hours on one pretext after another, until finally when they went to the bathroom, I saw an opportunity to escape and went ‘to sleep’ in my room until they finally got the message and left.

Recently, I’ve been thinking more and more about how so many of us unwittingly ‘enable’ bad behavior, and massive yetzer haras, through some misguided attempt to ‘do good in the world’. Sure, in theory, it’s a great wonderful, amazing thing to have people around your Seder table who otherwise would have no-where to go.

But at what point does it stop being a mitzvah?

At what point does enabling other people’s selfish, freeloading behavior stop being a good thing?

You know why that older single had no-where to go on Seder night? Because she’s exhausting to be around. That’s why. She doesn’t treat people so nicely and she has a lot of bad middot.

Do you know why I’m doing something completely different for Seder next year? Because even the very minimal requests I set for my Seder were ignored.

People didn’t buy haggadot for their kids….they didn’t prepare a tiny something about anything related to the Seder…they didn’t have the patience to sit through Hallel and made the fact they wanted to leave so obvious that there was no choice except to comply…they didn’t help-with-a-single-thing with the Seder.

They left it all to me.

Now, if they were 80 and feeble, fair enough. If they were ‘lost Jews’ who had never seen or heard of a Seder before in their life, fair enough. But that’s not the case. We’re the same age, and they’ve sat at someone else’s Seder every year since they were born, for more than four decades.

After I was inundated with so many people’s ‘freeloading behavior’ this year, and after I found myself getting so upset about it all, I realized there was something else going on, here, that God was trying to draw my attention to, namely:

I was enabling these people’s bad middot.

And I don’t want to do that anymore.

You might be reading this hand to mouth in horror, thinking what is the woman saying?! This is terrible, shocking, awful!!!!

It’s a free country, you’re allowed. We’ve all been so brainwashed into believing that we have to be the ‘solution’ to other people’s problems, it’s totally understandable if you are having that reaction. I also had that reaction to myself, initially, and thought I’d totally lost the plot. But then, I started to think things through more carefully in hitbodedut, and to dig a little deeper, and here’s what I came to:

God for sure wants me to help other people, as much as possible. At the same time, He for sure doesn’t want me to take all the responsibility for ensuring they have a Seder to go to, or people to hang out with, or a nice life.

For example, it says very clearly, that it’s the father of the household’s responsibility to recount the exodus to their children.

If that father has his head permanently in his business affairs, or prefers to play cards at the Seder table, or doesn’t value his own yiddishkeit enough to make any real effort to pass it on to his kids – it’s not down to me, to fix that problem.

What’s more, there’s the law of natural consequence at play here. The natural consequence of having guests who I experience as ungrateful, entitled, freeloaders is that I don’t want to have them back.

IFFFFF, guests make it clear that they really want to share the responsibility, IFFFFF they make a huge effort to participate, IFFFFF they offer to buy in the desserts, and clear the table, and wash up – then I probably would be extremely happy to have them back. Who wouldn’t be?

But, IFFFFF the guest is totally self-absorbed and self-occupied, IFFFFF they act like they are doing you a massive favor, by being there, IFFFFF they make ‘perfunctory’ noises about helping that you know aren’t the least bit sincere, and then scarper before the dishes have even been taken off the table – then, I really don’t want them back, until and unless something massive changes in their behavior and their attitude.

This is the law of natural consequence, and we ignore it at our peril.

As I was mulling all this over, I had a chat with a friend of mine, Gila, who I have invited for Seder a couple of times down the years, but who has always turned me down. Partially, it’s because Gila and I live in different cities. But the real reason is much more awe-inspiring:

Gila often does Seder all by herself.

I asked her if she would share her experience of that more widely, and she very generously agreed. Here’s what she told me, in her own words:

“Seder is a very personal experience, and I wanted to do it my own way, of course still within the framework of halacha. I read the ma nishtana myself, I did both sides of the ‘Mishar rotam’ dialogue that many Sephardim traditionally do at the beginning of the Seder. It could have been a bit weird or awkward, but I embraced Seder night, and I really enjoyed it.”

I asked Gila, why didn’t you want to go out and be a guest at someone else’s Seder? She told me:

“I really wanted to feel the holiday. I wanted to concentrate on the Seder, and not get so distracted by everything else that was going on around me. There are lots of segulot you can do when you’re having a Seder by yourself, so I really took advantage of it. I drank all the wine you’re supposed to, and I ate all the matzah.”

What happened about hiding the afikomen?

“I just put it away somewhere, so I didn’t see it. And I really enjoyed the idea that I really was eating the afikomen – and only the afikomen – for dessert. Usually, you have to supplement the afikomen with more matzah, but I was eating only the real thing. I also really loved preparing for the Seder. “

This year wasn’t the first time that Gila has done a Seder by herself.

I asked her what she finds challenging about doing it by herself.

“Beforehand is the hardest part. When people start asking me, what are you doing for Seder? That can be a hard question. It’s hard anticipating being alone, and worrying about how society views me. Other people’s reactions are the main problem for me, not actually doing the Seder. The first time I did it, my parents thought I was nuts, until I explained to them how the Seder actually went.

“For someone who has never done it, who has never enjoyed the fruits of their own labor at the Seder, it’s so gratifying to be really involved, and to not just be a guest. Even the shopping was enjoyable and meaningful. I was using my own hands to create the Seder!”

Gila has now done Seder by herself on 5 different occasions.

She’s very happy to still be a guest at other people’s tables, if that’s suitable for her and her hosts, but she told me something about the reality of being an older single at other people’s Seder that made a very profound impact on me:

“Even if you have a bad experience at a Seder, you need to take responsibility. You can’t just accept an invitation to someone because you feel you don’t have a better alternative. When I first decided to do Seder by myself, as an older single in my 40s, it’s because I had never made it myself, and I felt it was just time to do it. When I took that decision, it showed me that I really have a choice about how and where I do Seder, and that was liberating. In general, when you know you have a choice it also makes you more tolerant since you take responsibility for what you want to do, instead of blaming other people.”

I will share more of Gila’s tips on how to do a Seder for one below, but I didn’t just find her experience liberating for some of the singles out there, who maybe are sick of being guests around other people’s tables.

I also found it liberating for myself, because it underscored the point God had been trying to teach me that everyone has a choice.

If a person truly wants to experience a Seder, there is nothing stopping them.

I don’t need to relate to people as nebuchs¸ unfortunates, because they aren’t used to making a Seder, or don’t find it easy. It’s a mitzvah! It’s a privilege! It’s an obligation – their obligation to recount the Haggada and eat matzah and drink four cups of wine.

If they care about the mitzvah, they will find a way to pull it off.

(It’s a whole other story, but I have friends in Costa Rica who are going through a very tough time, financially. This year, they only had enough money to buy the minimal matzah and wine for Seder night, and they just ate vegetables the rest of the week. Talk about mesirut nefesh for the mitzvah! Amazing.)

And if they don’t really care about the mitzvah – then having them back year after year is just enabling them to keep ticking a box, and just keeping them stuck in that place of being a permanent, uninterested, entitled guest.

And I’m not going to do that, any more.

It’s not helping me, for sure, but Gila’s story also showed me that it’s also really not helping them. Or their kids.

So, if you’re young enough and healthy enough to change your kitchen over and cook for three days straight – do your own Seder. If you’re single, consider doing it alone, or consider inviting your other single friends and doing it together. If you have a family and you’re approaching your fifties without ever having done your own Seder, make a decision that next Pesach is the year you finally grow up, and take responsibility for yourself and your families.

Making Seder is hard work, for sure, but it’s a mitzvah, and every ounce of effort you put in is repaid, spiritually.

If you want some more guidance on what to actually do on Seder night, take a look at the Seder Guide on the Torah.org website. And HERE is where you’ll find a run-down of the customs and minhagim that Rabbi Berland follows on Seder night. Finally, I have discovered two excellent cookbooks for Pesach, which contain simple, pretty healthy food that is not a pain in the bottom to put together, but tastes pretty good. You can get A Taste of Pesach #1 by clicking the bold, and also check out A Taste of Pesach #2.

And now, let’s end with Gila’s dos and don’ts for how to do a Seder for one:

PERSONAL SEDER DOS:

  • Try to get excited about it.
  • Appreciate that you have a choice of how and where you do Seder, and that if you really want to do it in your own home, you can.
  • Run the Seder exactly how you want it to go, and include any segulot or customs you want.
  • Have realistic expectations.
  • Prepare for Seder properly – and enjoy preparing for it.

PERSONAL SEDER DON’TS:

  • Don’t do a Seder by yourself if you’re not in a good frame of mind, or if you feel isolated.
  • Don’t a Seder by yourself if you can’t be alone for a meal on Shabbat.
  • Don’t tell yourself you have no choice, except to be a guest at someone else’s table. You always have a choice to do the Seder yourself, if you really want to.

Nothing but nothing can strain a marriage faster than dysfunctional in-laws.

I’ll never forget the first year I was with my husband: The week before Pesach he disappeared for two days to go and help my healthy, 50-something mother-in-law clean her house for the upcoming festival.

To say I was upset is something of an understatement. We were both working full-time jobs at the time, I couldn’t afford cleaning help, and instead of rolling up his sleeves to help me – he scarpered for 48 hours to go and clean another woman’s house! I didn’t realise it then, but I’d been struck by the 11th plague of Pesach, aka, dealing with the in-laws.

I’ve been married now for 20 years, and as my own children start to grow up I can see how this sort of situation can develop so easily, if the parents don’t keep reminding themselves that what’s best for them is not always and absolutely what’s best for their children.

The Torah makes it very clear when it tells the man that he should leave his parents and ‘cleave to his wife’.

His wife is the other part of his soul, and vice-versa. Happy marriages are built on the strong foundation of mutual respect and always putting what’s best for your spouse ahead of what’s best for your parents and other extended family members.

In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to make this point so strongly. In a perfect world, parents and in-laws would be telling their married children this themselves. They’d say things like: ‘We’d love to have you come to us for seder this year, but only if that’s what you and your wife would really like to do, too.”

Or, they’d phone up and tell their married children: ‘Please check this with your spouse before agreeing anything with me, but would it be OK if we joined you for Pesach this year? And be completely honest, I won’t be upset if you say no. I know how much you both have going on in your lives at the moment.”

In that sort of healthy, open environment where free choice is allowed, and the spouse of the married child feels seen, respected and heard by their in-laws, the friction on the marriage will be kept to a barely-there minimum.

Sadly, that’s not how so many families operate today.

——

Today, many people are having to deal with selfish, egotistical and home-wrecking in-laws who treat their children (and their children’s spouse….) as an extension of themselves, and therefore people who can be bossed around, guilt-tripped, taken advantage of and stressed-out whenever they feel like it.

And there are few festivals that bring their destructive behaviour and attitudes out more than Pesach.

There’s a few reasons for this. Firstly, seder is a big production. Controlling parents who insist on everything being about them usually take it extremely hard when their married children actually want to live a little independently, and run a seder their own way. I know people in their 40s with many children of their own who have NEVER conducted a seder in their life.

Why not?

Because their parents wouldn’t hear of it.

Each year, the seder has to be with family, and of course, that means with their family, according to their rules and whims. Do you know how emasculating it is for a 40-something year old man to sit at the table like a little kid, unable to ever be the ‘head’ of his own seder table?

Pesach is the time of kingship, or Malchut. Seder night is when that measure of ‘malchut’ or rulership descends to each man’s table, and each man’s home for the coming year. If your father or father-in-law keeps happing your husband’s ‘rulership’, that has enormous consequences for his self-esteem, ability to make money, and the peace in your home.

Another flash point can be when parents get on a bit, and then start inviting themselves to your home for the whole of the holiday because organising everything is so stressful, expensive and time-consuming, and they’ve run out of energy.

Again, if you’re OFFERING to have them stay with you, out of 100% free choice and not because you’ve been guilted into doing it, or are worrying about the consequences of saying no, nothing could be more wonderful.

But if that’s not the case – and with the sort of difficult in-laws I’m talking about, that’s really NOT the case – then seder night and the holiday becomes a powder keg placed under your shalom bayit, just waiting for ‘Bubbe’ to show up and light the fuse.

Because ‘Bubbe’ will expect things done her way, and food served that she’s used to, and the same songs sung in the same order as she always did it by her own table. Also, ‘Bubbe’ will go to great pains to invite as many of her extended family and friends to your home, too, to share seder with her. And again, she’ll just expect you to agree to that, regardless of how much additional stress it causes you.

——

When you live in Israel and your in-laws come from abroad, there can be the added issue of your in-laws deciding to stay with you for the whole of the holiday to:

  1. Save them having to clean their own homes or buy Pesach food;

and

  1. Save them having to go to a hotel (which is what they’ve effectively turned you into).

Again, if you WANT to have your in-laws living with you for a whole nine days, great! But if you don’t? And they start playing your spouse off against you, and getting them to agree to have the come against your wishes? They just ignited World War III in your marriage.

(I won’t even get into the problems that can crop up when you’re more observant than your parents in this post, which is a whole other can of worms. Basically, just times all the difficulties and potential flashpoints by 500…)

So, what can you do to keep your marriage intact, and your in-laws under control this Pesach?

Here’s a few guidelines that will help, if you can actually implement them:

1) Maintain a united front

No decisions should be made unilaterally by either spouse. Everything has to be discussed upfront and agreed by both parties well in advance of seder night.

2) Set down firm boundaries, and stick to them

If you can manage seder night (just about…) but you can’t manage a whole eight days of the in-laws in your home, make that very clear to your spouse and to them – and don’t be guilted or shamed out of doing what’s best for yourself and your own family.

3) Be honest about what’s really going on

Often, it takes us and our spouses many years to realise that our in-laws don’t always have our best interests at heart. Remember, a husband and wife are one soul. If your spouse doesn’t like your parents, it’s usually because your parents aren’t treating them (or you….) very nicely.

You don’t notice that, you’re not aware of it, because that’s how it’s been since you were born. But an outsider can spot the issues much more easily. So if your spouse doesn’t like your parents, carefully consider WHY that is, and what your parents might need to explore in order to improve the relationship.

4) Move to a different country

Sometimes, some in-laws are so impossible to deal with that moving far, far away from them is the only option to protect your marriage and mental health. This isn’t always a cast-iron solution – especially if they can easily afford air-fare and you have a big home – but it’s still a good start.

Pesach is the festival of freedom and redemption. It’s a time when a man should be a ‘king’ in his own home (serving Hashem…) and his wife his ‘queen’. It’s a night of royalty, not slavery.

So if you have difficult in-laws, emancipate yourself from their unreasonable demands and selfish behaviour, and this year ask God to help celebrate the holiday the way He truly intended.

==

You might also like these articles:

The surrendered husband

Please put your spouse first

 

It’s always the way of Adar, isn’t it?

To keep us all running around, busy, busy.

If we’re lucky, all we’re busy with is organizing costumes and mishloach manot and Purim seuda invitations, and running around to see our kids in Purim Shpiel plays.

Last week, I was busy, busy all week, but thank God, it was all for good stuff.

One day, I was driving up to the new city of Harish to see how the apartment we are buying is coming along.

After the disastrous house purchase in Jerusalem fell through, costing us a few hundred thousands of shekels, my husband and I realized that buying a property in Jerusalem is currently off the cards.

Around that time, Rav Berland gave a shiur about buying a property in Harish on the cheap, and gomarnu.

So, naïve believing-in-the-words-of-true-tzaddikim idiot I am, I went to check out Harish – and I can’t tell you what a blessing that place is turning into.

It’s a totally new city just off Highway 6, and it’s growing so fast, most people still haven’t heard about it, so they don’t know that it’s turning in to the next ‘boom’ place in Israel.

But soon, they will.

So in the meantime, I had to drive up to take a look at the construction on the new flat, and I was so impressed with just about everything, Baruch Hashem. But, it was a whole day of driving.

Then the next day, I had to spend a morning choosing tiles for a close family member abroad who decided he wants to buy in the same building, so that was more busy, busy.

All for good things.

I sat in that tile shop, pondering on how good God really is to me. If my house purchase in Jerusalem hadn’t fallen through, I never would have found out about Harish, or bought there, and then neither would this relative.

And I’m so thrilled this relative is getting a place in Israel, it’s a massive silver lining around all the fall-out that happened with the flat in Jerusalem.

Then, the next day I was off to Bikaa Yarden area, where my kid was starring in the lead role of her school’s production of ‘Mikimi’, about a TV presenter who gets frum the Breslov way. Of course, I had to take 4 teenage girls with me, so even though I told everyone we were leaving three hours before curtain rising, by the time we’d actually collected everyone, I barely had an hour to get there.

Busy, busy.

Then the next day, I was at the theatre again, as I promised to go and support an old friend who was appearing in a production. I was so tired, my eyes were crossing, but a promise is a promise.

Busy, busy.

All for good things, thank God.

Motzae Shabbat, we got a call from my husband’s family back in the UK: his uncle is on his last legs, and it’s a matter of days.

My husband flew out today for an unplanned lightning visit before Purim kicks off.

My husband’s family don’t really ‘do’ Purim, they don’t really realise it’s Adar, yet they are ‘busy, busy’ same as we are right now. Just for much harder, difficult things, like pinging in and out of the hospital every few hours to see where things are holding.

Adar is the month of busy, busy, that’s just how it is.

But God is showing me, better to be busy, busy with mitzvahs, mishloach manot, prayers, kindnesses and ‘good’ things, than otherwise.

Because one way or another, we are all being run off our feet.

The last time I slept through the night in one shot, for an unbroken stretch of at least 7 hours, was more than 5 weeks ago.

Since then, God has been waking me up every single night, usually at 4am in the morning.

All of a sudden, boom! – I’m awake. For no obvious reason. All kids are either in bed asleep, or out for the night in ulpana. The husband isn’t snoring loudly. There’s no shutters banging around, no wind blowing up a storm, no sirens, or shouting, or singing.

Nothing.
Just me, and my being awake.

The first week, I thought this must be subliminal stress, so I started doing all the things I usually do with lentils, and Rescue Remedy and taking long walks and wearing socks to bed, so my feet don’t get cold.

None of that worked. 4am rolled around, and I was still suddenly far too awake.

So then, I thought I need to pray some more about this. I did a few long sessions, usually on Shabbat, and while I got some interesting insights into some other things on my mind, I didn’t get a dickie bird about what is causing the insomnia.

After a month of really not sleeping properly, I started to get those tension headaches you get when you’re overtired. But what can I do? I never figured out the art of napping in the day, and once I’m awake, I’m awake.
Last week, I realized I have to just start accepting that right now, this is God’s will for me.

To be pointlessly awake at 4am, knowing that I will doze off just as my alarm rings at 6am, and then find it really hard to get out of bed, even though I’m not really asleep.

And then, to struggle through the rest of the day like a zombie, feeling like my brain really isn’t functioning properly.

This is God’s plan for me, this is God’s will right now.

I happened to be looking for past Purim articles on the blog, and when I searched, it threw up a whole bunch of posts talking about the madness, and the rush, and the pressure that so many of us seem to feel when Adar rolls around.
And this year, it seems to be happening again. The pressure is building.

I’m waiting for things to flip-over, and get sweetened.

As always seems to be the case, I’m doing it backwards. The nearer we get to Rosh Chodesh Nissan, and Pesach, the more ‘awake’ God wants us.
But personally, I’m waiting to be able to go back to sleep.