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One thing I can say about the Baba Sali is that it’s never dull.

For some reason, I decided I just HAD to go to the Baba Sali this time with my good friend S.

I don’t know why. I’m very happy going all over the place by myself usually, and especially to kivrei tzaddikim. But Sunday night, I was on the phone to S., persuading her to come with me to Netivot.

She lives in the South, so it wasn’t a big shlep, and she likes to go to the Baba Sali herself, plus she’d been ‘locked down’ for three months, and really needed a break.

Problem was, S. is married to a Cohen, and had a small son that she couldn’t find a babysitter for. Cohens aren’t allowed into graveyards, and the Baba Sali is buried on the edge of the main cemetery in Netivot.

I’ll babysit him, while you go in, and we’ll switch off, I found myself saying.

Even though I haven’t babysit for anyone small for around 7 years now. But how hard could it be…. I mean, I could just wheel the kid around in its stroller for half an hour, even if it was bawling that would still be OK.

Wouldn’t it?

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So we get there, and we agreed that S. would go in first while I walked around Netivot a little with her son in the stroller, so by the time he got cranky she’d be back to deal with him.

She took off for the kever, and I started pushing.

Something on the pavement caught my eye – it was a leaflet with a psak din on it, printed both sides. I walked on, and there were more of these leaflets scattered all over the floor. So I bent down to pick one up – and I was totally disgusted to find it was the psak din against Rav Berland and Shuvu Banim, printed in color and spread all over the streets of chareidi Netivot by his persecutors.

What can I tell you?

I started feeling really, really angry, and upset and judgmental – and all the other negative emotions and bad middot that you can basically classify as ‘hakpada’ or harsh judgment.

Just that morning, I’d read something on the RavBerland.com website where the Rav had said it’s assur – forbidden! – to get harshly judgmental against anyone, even a Jew who is up to his neck in wickedness.

Yet walking around Netivot, I totally forgot all about the Rav’s holy words, and as I spotted more of these infernal leaflets scattered all over the place, I started to fume more and more.

By the bus stop, there was a stack of about 30 leaflets. I walked past them – then decided I was going to go back, rip them into pieces, dramatically, then shove them in the waiting rubbish bin.

My small charge was talking happily to himself, so I parked him in the bus stop, three paces away, and pushed down on the stroller’s brake, to keep him anchored in place while I went on my ‘holy’ rampage.

What can I tell you?

In the two seconds I turned my back to gather the leaflets up, the stroller unbraked itself, and then tipped over on to its side. The small kid started shrieking, and my heart started beating in that wild, uncontrolled way that occurs when you think you may just have done something really bad, however unintentionally.

I ran over, picked the stroller and kid back up, and tried to shush him soothingly, while I found somewhere shaded to sit, where I could take him out and cuddle him. Two minutes later, he was on my lap – and that’s when I noticed he had a small, bruised egg on the front of his head.

My heart sank again.

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I called his mum, explained what had happened, and she was so understanding.

Is he puking?

No. Thank God.

Is he awake and aware?

Yes. Thank God.

Rivka, I think it’s OK. He gets a lot of knocks at home, too, don’t worry.

But of course, it was too late for that.

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I have a history of ‘interesting things’ happening at the Baba Sali, including the massive car crash that got me to move to Jerusalem back in 2014. This wasn’t that extreme… but I was still feeling pretty shaken up at this stage.

The kid had calmed down enough for me to put him back in the stroller and to walk around a bit more. So I buckled him in again, and started circling Netivot, trying to figure out why I couldn’t even keep a small child in my care for 2 minutes safe…

The answer wafted over to me from the Baba Sali’s kever:

Hakpada. Harsh judgment. Anger. Self-righteousness. Arrogance.

All things that I’d been totally guilty of, when I picked up those leaflets and started thinking dark thoughts about the poor frum community of Netivot.

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God, I’m really sorry! Please just let the kid be OK, and I’ll do my best to try to steer clear of those things from now on. But please help me! Because I’m going to find it really hard to uproot those bad middot from my heart, even though I really want to!

God was basically showing me just how dangerous hakpada really is.  Even just two seconds of self-righteous anger can lead to a lot of bad things happening…

And the people who get the most hurt by it are you, and the people closest to you.

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My friend came back, and I told her that I wouldn’t need long at the tomb, as I’d already got the clarity I’d come for. In typical Baba Sali fashion, I’d got a real slap across the face again, and I’d learned my lesson before I even got into the compound there.

My friend told me that the ‘rules’ for visiting were that you had to wear a mask, get your temperature taken, and avoid kissing the tomb.

So, I decided to skip the tomb itself, and to just throw two packs of candles into the yahrtzeit candle pyre that is nearly always burning strong by the Baba Sali.

God, just as these candles are melting, please melt my hakpada. Please get rid of my self-righteous anger. Please uproot my arrogance.

I threw them in, slowly, one by one.

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In the car home, I was in a somber mood.

There’s so much harsh judgment in the world right now.

The government in Israel is talking about passing a bill that will enable the police to break into homes and forcibly remove people deemed to be ‘corona risks’ if they have a warrant.

Which of course, they will have for anyone they want to target, so all this emphasis on having a warrant is a meaningless piece of propaganda designed to lull people into thinking they still have any civil rights or legal protection in the State of Israel.

As if.

Things are crumbling all around.

If I didn’t keep my head in the sand as much as possible at the moment, I’d probably be totally freaking it.

As it is, we need all the judgment, all the hakpada to be sweetened.

And I guess that each of us are responsible for trying to do that in our own dalet amot.

Which means trying to seeing the good in the other person. Trying to let go of all our anger and indignation. And to quit hating people who act differently from us, or believe different, or even, that hurt us and those we love, intentionally or otherwise.

It’s a big ask, honestly.

But if I got one thing from my trip to the Baba Sali, it’s just how dangerous all that hakpada really is.

Especially to ourselves.

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The last few days, I’ve been feeling pretty exhausted again, spiritually.

Much as I need the internet to do what I do, I absolutely hate the impact it has on my life, in so many myriad ways. So yesterday I decided to take a day off, and to go walk on the beach somewhere.

For many years, I found ‘the beach’ a very challenging subject, because I love the beach, and I love jumping the waves, but finding tznius ways to do that has been difficult, even in Israel with the separate beaches.

First, even though the beach IS separate, that doesn’t mean there are no men. There’s still the lifeguard…and the guys repairing the fencing…and the icecream man…. When I was going through my ‘mega frum’ stage, I felt like I couldn’t really go to the beach unless I’d wear exactly the same clothes I’d wear on the street. But feeling the waves lap your feet through a thick pair of socks was not so much fun, so I kind of gave up.

Over the last few years, I’ve calmed down a bit, and I realized that as long as I was wearing my tznius bathing costume, I didn’t have to worry TOO much about the lifeguard taking an interest.

But then, I had another challenge to contend with:

The separate beaches are often so packed and crowded, that it’s really, really unpleasant to be there. Part of the problem is that people bus in en masse from the frummer enclaves of the country, which means that a thousand people show up all together and cram into a tiny space.

Another part of the problem is that the separate beach is tiny – because hey, very frum people don’t really count for much, and it’s enough they got anything, beach-wise.

The last problem I had, at least in the past, is that if I didn’t feel comfortable walking around in ‘mega frum RBS’ or Meah Shearim (and in the past, I didn’t) – then I also didn’t feel so comfortable trying to bathe in Meah Shearim-by-the-sea.

Now, I realize this issue was 100% internal, and was my own judgmental meshuggas tendencies being reflected back at me to deal with, but a few years’ back, I’d get so obsessed with tugging down the hemline of my already long tznius bathing suit that it kind of wrecked the enjoyment factor too much to make it worthwhile.

SO – yesterday was about reclaiming the beach, in a healthy, balanced way.

It was too cold to swim (for me) but I decided to walk on the beach a little, and put my real feet, without socks, into the water. It was so fun!

But not so much fun that I’d like to do it every day. Or even every week. Or even every month. But now the tug of my nefesh had been satisfied, the tug of my neshama started up. ‘Let’s go to the Baba Sali!’ it whispered at me. ‘It’s only half an hour’s drive from here, and you haven’t been there in ages.’

Since I had my accident on the way out of Netivot, I’m now always nervous about going there, but the Baba Sali is such an amazing place, it’s still worth the driving stress.

I got there, parked, sat down in my usual spot in the unusually quiet enclave, and felt so much of the stress kind of percolate away. Wow, I’ve been really stressed…

Then, I started getting some of the amazing insights that seem to come very easily by the Baba Sali. About the need to forgive a certain person, and to really make my peace with them. And about what to do about my kid’s school, that looks like it is closing down at the end of the year. And about trying a different style of head-gear, and paying my husband more attention again.

As I headed out, I felt calmer than I’ve felt in a long time.

I used to go to Kivrei Tzaddikim all the time, but since I moved to Jerusalem I’ve done that much less. Partially, it’s because I was often overwhelmed with life and I didn’t have the energy to go anywhere, much. Partially, it’s because I had a very big test of faith, and apart from going to Uman I didn’t have the same motivation to go anywhere else. And partially, it’s because I got a little disconnected from my true self, and I stopped listening so much to that ‘soul whisper’ that tells me:

Go to the beach!

And then tells me half an hour later:

Now go to the Baba Sali!

It’s taken me a while to figure out that my mental health depends on listening to both sets of instructions.

God in His infinite kindness finally arranged it that after 10 years, we could afford to get a new car again.

The old Getz has racked up hundreds of thousands of kilometres, and served us very well down the years, but as it’s windscreen wipers got ever-more squeaky, and it’s steering got even more clunky and heavy to maneuver, about 6 months ago I stopped wanting to drive it far afield by myself.

What that meant is that trips to the Baba Sali, that used to be a monthly if not a weekly staple before I moved to Jerusalem, all but stopped.

But last week, we took delivery of our new i20 leasehold set of wheels, and I knew its first real trip had to be a visit to the Baba Sali, in Netivot. So today, I set out with a friend who’d never been to the Baba Sali’s tomb, and we headed down South.

You should know something about the Baba Sali and me: I had a bad car crash there a couple of years’ back, that sparked a chain of events that ended with me selling my house and moving to Jerusalem (as well as a massive nervous breakdown, but that’s a story for another time.)

The last time I went to the Baba Sali, a few months’ back, I also got into a minor crash.

We were trying to find the way to our daughter’s new school, and kept getting completely lost and driving past the exit for Netivot. The third time it happened, I told my husband we should just go visit the Baba Sali already, and while we were sitting at the lights deliberating on what to do, someone rear-ended us. (Did I mention that the Baba Sali has a sense of humour?)

After we’d got our crash out the way, it was a no-brainer to take the detour and make the trip.

The Baba Sali’s grave is probably one of my favourite holy sites in the whole of Israel: I know this sounds a little strange, as I’m actually describing a graveyard, but it’s one of the most vibrant, ‘alive’ places you’ll ever visit. There’s always people there celebrating some simcha or other, screaming into their phones that they’re ‘By the Baba Sali!’, trying to stuff their homemade cake into your face, or BBQing up a storm in the outside area next to the tomb.

Man, it’s a party place, in the best sense, and I always love being there – but since my crash, I’m always a little wary of the drive there and back.

So I got there, settled myself in my usual spot, and started to feel instantly calmer and just ‘good’ again. Life was good. Everything’s good. I’m good. Baruch Hashem, my family’s good. I got a few insights into a few of the more taxing issues I’m dealing with at the moment, and I also got a nudge from a big poster on the wall to stop talking on my mobile on the street.

Apparently, poskim have come out to say that it’s not a tznius thing to do, and should be avoided at all costs. One of the things I came to pray on was that I should manage to be more tznius now I’m back in the ‘real world’ again, so I was happy to find something that I could try to do, to up my tznius standards a little, and show God that I still want to do better than I am.

I collected my friend, drove out, and made my way back to the highway. On the way out of Netivot, this white cat suddenly appeared at the side of the road, and proceeded to stroll very slowly straight in front of my car.

The cat committed suicide. There’s no other way of describing it.

I tried to brake a little, but I was going so fast (but still legally…) that slamming on the brakes could have caused an accident, and risking human injury to save a cat didn’t seem like a good idea.

So the cat died, and I sat in the car a little unnerved, wondering what ‘the message’ was with this latest car incident involving a visit to the Baba Sali (as far as I remember, I’ve never killed a cat, or any other animal, while driving.)

Suddenly, I got it: slow down!

The same message I’ve been getting again and again and again, recently.

Slow down! Live life a little more, savour it, stop rushing everywhere and thinking the world is going to end tomorrow.

So I’m trying to do that, even more than I was. It’s a shame the cat had to buy the farm to give me that clue a little louder than usual, but clearly it had its own tikkun going on. How I actually slow down without causing a pile-up, I still don’t know. But BH, I’m planning to go back to Netivot soon, and I hope to get more guidance then, that won’t revolve around my car in any way, shape or form.