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Yesterday morning, me and my family tried to go to Mearat HaMachpela, in Hevron.

Before all the Covid lockdowns, we used to go every chol hamoed Pesach, and also over Succot, as that was when the hall of Yitzhak and Rivka was open to Jews.

I’ve been in Hevron a few times over the last few months anyway, notably for the atzerot for the Rav, but this was the first time trying to get back into the Yitzhak and Rivka hall.

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We drive up there, and apart from the stupid masks, all looks like it used to before.

My daughter even called me while I was on the shuttle bus to tell me the government just announced they are no longer enforcing wearing masks outside, so I had that warm, fuzzy feeling that maybe things really were starting to shift in a good direction.

We get to the Mearat HaMachpela – and that’s when I saw a massive sign that had been erected at the top of the stairs leading into the main plaza.

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It said in simple Hebrew that anyone with a ‘Tav Yarok’ (Green Pass) should go to the right…. While people with what they were calling a ‘Tav Segol’ (i.e. no Green Pass) should go to the left….

Really?

Someone thinks these types of instructions are appropriate, at the top of the stairs leading into the Mearat HaMachpela?

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There was another sign hung up, reassuring all us unvaccinated ‘Tav Segol’ people that for sure, you can totally still get into the Tomb of the Matriarchs!!! Yessirree, no discrimination going on here, don’t worry!!!

Apparently, that was a lie.

My husband and kid queued up for half an hour, together with a fairly large group of other potentially diseased undesirables, and didn’t see anyone get let in.

In the meantime, I watched all the ‘Green Pass’ people get their little green wristbands that granted them magic entry to the Tomb, and I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe, I’d got all this wrong, and Israel really is an Apartheid State after all.

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I didn’t hang around there long.

I figured it was a queue going nowhere, in the best tradition of Stalinist Russia, so I decided to walk off to the tomb of Yishai and Ruth, in the oldest part of Hevron’s Jewish cemetery instead.

Past the natural spring named for the Patriarch Avraham, up past the old Muslim cemetery, and on a path up through a few rickety Arab houses and across a green hill top – there it was.

I got in, and I had it to myself.

No-one asking me if I was ‘Tav Segol’ or ‘Tav Yarok’.

Just me and the Tzaddikim and Hashem – and that familiar twinge of heartache that has been accompanying me for many months, already.

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There was a volume of Likutey Halachot lying around, so I opened it ‘randomly’ – and got straight to a passage talking about Pesach.

There, Rav Natan was explaining how the real chametz to seek out and uproot during Pesach is anger.

And how whenever God is about to send a person a massive flow of riches and shefa, he is first tested with situations designed to provoke his anger.

Because if the yetzer can get a person angry, then all that flow of shefa and riches gets diverted away from the person, and lost.

And so I discovered, that I still have lots of lots of chametz hanging around, even on the 5th day of Pesach, that still needs cleaning out.

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I get back to our meeting point, and I find my husband and kid in a funny mood.

I guess it started to sink in a little, what is really going on in this country, where good Jews are prevented from praying at the Tomb of the Patriarchs because they don’t want to be guinea pigs for Pfizer.

“I went to pray on the Arab Step” my daughter told me, with an odd look on her face.

If you don’t know what that is, take a look at this:

The Seventh Step – Restriction on Jewish Prayer in Hebron

For 700 years, this was the closest Jews could get to the Tomb of Machpela.

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That evening, I had tickets booked to finally get to the Kever of Yosef HaTzaddik, in Shechem.

I’ve been once before a few years’ ago now, which I wrote about here:

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Last year, I tried to go again, and I booked tickets and all – only to have it all cancelled last minute by Coronavirus restrictions.

But this just kind of fell into my lap, and I had the feeling I was going to get there, this time around.

Me and my husband didn’t know if they would let us potentially disease-bearing ‘Tav Segol’ religious Jews in, after what had happened in Hevron that morning – but let’s just say, Kever Yosef appeals to a pretty different crowd.

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It was the same midnight trip, the same bursting out into the Kever in the middle of an otherwise silent trip through the backstreets of Shechem (aka Nablus) as the first time around.

I got to the Kever stood inside a few minutes – then started to realise just what a petrified Jewish zombie I’ve turned into, spiritually, over the last 12 months of mega stress and religious oppression.

I’ve been carrying a heart of stone around for months, thanks to all the worry and stress of ‘Covid 19’, but Yosef HaTzaddik is the first time that I really realised just how bad things have been, spiritually.

I stood there feeling totally disconnected.

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I went outside, said a Tikkun Haklali, and watched a couple hundred men and boys singing and dancing songs about Rabbenu at the top of their voices.

A taste of Uman…

A hint of Rabbenu….

Man, I’ve missed that so much.

Slowly, I felt some embers of hope and emuna and simcha start to re-ignite, and start to warm up my heart of stone, at least a little bit.

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On the bus on the way out, a shocking thing happened.

We’d come in on a full bus, and there were no spare seats.

A small group of 4-5 boys with long, Breslov payot – ranging from about 10 to 13-14 – tried to sneak in, to get a ride out of Shechem with us.

Initially, they were sat in our seat, so my husband asked them to move.

They did – but because the bus was full capacity, there was no-where for them to really go.

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Our bus driver was a psycho.

There is no other way of describing him.

Once he realised these kids were trying to get a free trip out of Shechem, he went into a towering rage and started cursing and shouting at them to get off the bus.

A couple behind me – the only people wearing masks on the whole bus – decided to get involved too, and started heaping verbal abuse on these kids, who were now doubling-down and refusing to budge out of the bus.

Before I knew it, there was half a brawl going on directly behind me, in the stairwell.

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I tried to get involved by deliberately putting my hand out to ‘touch’ any of the religious men who were trying to throw a punch, slap or strangle someone else.

Strange women are way more scary than almost anything else you can think of, for this crowd.

And I also started trying to tell the woman cursing these young kids that they were just children, and that she should calm down.

And then, when the police and army were called and forcibly started putting the kids into headlocks and dragging them off the bus, I also started yelling at them to be more gentle.

My husband had to pull me back over to my side of the seat, I was getting so upset about what was going on behind me, I almost literally dived in to try to break it up.

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What’s wrong with us Jews????

We can’t even come to the grave of a Tzaddik like Yosef HaTzaddik without getting into a brawl and angry fist-fight on the bus????

Where is our compassion for the other?

Where is our empathy?

That’s what I was wondering, as the bus finally pulled away leaving those poor kids to their fate, in custody with the army and Border Police. And those guys just lurve young teenages with payot. They treat them SO VERY nicely.

(Sarcasm / Off)

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I don’t have an answer.

Then I remembered what I read that morning about not getting angry, and I wondered if I blew it.

Probably.

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Ah, God.

We’re a bit of a mess.

But please redeem us anyway, because if You don’t have compassion and mercy on us…

Then who will?

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UPDATE:

A reader sent me a link to this video below (mostly shmirat eynayim friendly, save for a headshot of a frum woman and a couple of female doctors.)

https://www.freedomisrael.org/videos?wix-vod-video-id=c365a6bfc32a421e989ce93b45f0c99c&wix-vod-comp-id=comp-kmxdkjqj 

First, I’ll tell you why I’m posting it up here: It shows what the picture in Israel looks like right now, if you don’t have Rav Berland, and emuna in the true tzaddikim, very firmly in the picture.

I.e., really worrying and terrible.

That’s the reality, if you aren’t connected to the Rav, and if you aren’t buying into the lie that the vaccine is somehow saving the world and medical apartheid is a wonderful idea.

Baruch Hashem, that’s not my reality.

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I’m not denying that reality – any more than I would deny that the Holocaust happened, or that good Jews go through externally very bad, difficult experiences all the time.

But I’m saying that when you connect to the real Tzaddikim, and when you talk to God for an hour a day, there is another layer of spiritual ‘reality’ that becomes superimposed on this dark world, and that continues to light the path to hope, faith and happiness.

Whatever is going to happen next, God decides.

Full stop.

But at the same time, I so, so believe in the power of heartfelt prayer, and the power of real teshuva, and the in the power of our true tzaddikim – like Rabbi Nachman and Rav Berland and Yosef HaTzaddik – to still turn things around for the good.

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The people who are really doing their best to stick to God, in whatever way they can, will come through WITH THEIR SOULS INTACT, whatever happens to their bodies.

And that’s the point. The soul.

Whoever uses all this current yuck to make some real teshuva, and to develop some real humility, and to put their hand up to all the things – and people – they’ve ‘broken’ in this world, and to genuinely return to God – that’s a great outcome, regardless of what else happens.

And each of us can make that choice, and get to that outcome right now.

Nothing ‘bad’ happens to any of us, that isn’t 100000000% deserved, at least when you take the past lives and gilgulim into account.

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But there is another level, too.

And that’s where the true tzaddikim come in.

King Shaul was the reincarnation of Lamech, Noach’s father, who killed his ancestor Cain and also his son, Tubal-Cain.

King Shaul came back to this world with a lot of ‘past life baggage’, and a big tikkun to do, to rectify what he’d done in a previous life as Lamech.

So many times, Rav Berland has emphasized how King Shaul could have come through his tikkun peacefully, if only he’d swallowed his pride and listened to the true Tzaddik of his generation, the Prophet Shmuel.

But twice, Shaul decided to do his own thing, and to come away from the words of Shmuel.

And as a result – he lost the kingship, and spent the last few years of his life chronically depressed and paranoid, trying to kill King David any way he could, before being killed by the Philistines in battle.

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Staying close to the true Tzaddikim ‘sweetens’ all this past life stuff that would otherwise literally drag us all down to the very bottom.

Even when I was at the top of the pile financially and socially in London, my life was so, so difficult internally, until I hit Rabbenu and started following his advice of doing hitbodedut for an hour a day, amongst other things.

Even post-Rabbenu and Uman, even after I’d made as much teshuva as I thought I could make, my life continued to be so difficult internally because I’d ‘inherited’ all this past-life trauma, and had all these heavy past life tikkunim to go through, still.

Until I hit the Rav.

And that’s when it all started to really turnaround, and to sweeten.

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A lot of people don’t like to hear this, I know.

I makes them uncomfortable.

I say to them – go do some hitbodedut, and see what God tells you.

That’s really the only way to get to any sort of ‘truth’ in today’s world, whatever the subject.

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But in the meantime, this is why my picture is still radically different from the one portrayed in the video above:

I have experienced the power of the true tzaddikim to ‘sweeten’ things in my own life, and I know that even very harsh realities like the one we are currently all living through can sweeten in an instant – if we get with the real tzaddikim, and start following their advice.

No-one left Mitzrayim unless they followed Moshe Rabbenu out and followed his instructions.

And as it was then, so it will be again.

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Over the last decade, I’ve been to a ton of kevarim, or graves of holy people, all over the place.

I’ve visited the patriarchs and matriarchs in Hevron; the tomb of King David in the Old City, the Rashbi, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, up in Meron; the Ari and Rabbi Yosef Karo in Tsfat; the grave of Rachel Imenu, near Bethlehem – and all the Ukraine lot besides, including Rebbe Nachman, the Berditchever and the Baal Shem Tov.

But there’s one grave that’s stood out as a ‘must visit’ – and because it’s in the middle of a heavily populated Palestinian town with pronounced terrorist tendencies, getting to it has been pretty tricky, the last 10 years.

Yosef’s tomb is in Shechem, and you can only get to it if you go as part of a midnight convoy on armoured buses, with the whole trip coordinated with the Israeli army.

Long story short, until last Sunday, I’d never been able to organize everything to go. But a couple of days’ earlier, someone told me about a trip that was leaving on Rosh Chodesh Shvat, and even sent me an email with all the details.

I called them up Sunday morning – still only half interested, if I’m honest, as I like my sleep and Shechem is a 2 hour shlep by bus from Jerusalem – and there was a place free. So I decided to go.

I get to the bus stop in Jerusalem, and the first person I see there is a former room-mate from Uman, who starts telling me the most amazing, miraculously-hair-raising true stories of sons who recovered from terminal illnesses after doing a pidyon nefesh with Rav Berland; and people who dropped dead the day after they finished translating a particular Breslev book into English; and miraculous moving-apartments-with-no-money stories.

I took a breath of cold air, and I could smell Rabbenu all around me – it was that same heady mix of uncertainty, kedusha and surrealism that so often comes with me to Uman, when I’m going to visit Rebbe Nachman.

You start feeling like ‘anything can happen’, and it can be quite unnerving, if still exhilarating at times.

The bus showed up – and it was an old bullet-proof clunker with double windows so thick and scratched, you couldn’t see out of them at all. It was like being blind-folded and led off down an alley. I tried to fall asleep, and I mostly managed.

I woke up a few minutes before the convoy drove into Shechem (at least, that’s what I guessed, because I couldn’t see a thing through the window) and then the bus pulled over to the side of the road, and we got the order to move out. I stepped out of the bus, and into Arab Nablus at 2am.

It was a cold, clear night, and you could see Yosef’s tomb 50 metres ahead – surrounded by a whole bunch of army APVs and soldiers in all sorts of combat gear, many of whom were holding really big guns.

How cool! I thought. Then: How weird, to be visiting a kever at 2am with half a platoon of the IDF and a whole, very mixed, crowd of people from across Israel.

There were families with small kids, teens, chareidim, hill-top youth with huge payot, sem girls, Chassidic matrons from Monsey, yeshiva students from London, wives, grannies and everything in between, besides.

I tried to grab two minutes by the kever, before it turned into a tin of sardines, and then I spent the rest of my short time there standing outside the building, trying to take it all in. You could see dark Nablus towering up the slopes all around the tomb, and I thought this must look pretty impressive in the day time. (Maybe one day I’ll find out…)

I tried to do some personal prayer, but the truth is that between the trip, the tiredness and the surreal situation, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed and speechless.

So I watched, and this is what I saw: secular soldiers and chareidi men laughingly posing for pictures together; hundreds of people playing musical instruments and loudly celebrating Rosh Chodesh; ‘hill top yoof’ digging up the ground near the tomb and putting up a big blue tent (I still have no idea what all that was about, but it looked distinctly naughty; two teenage girls sat on the floor wrapped in the same blanket, reciting tehillim.

And the last thing I saw, just before I left, was a couple of teenage boys lugging a six pack of coke bottles around with them. At least, that’s how it looked from a distance, until I noticed a whole bunch of tubes were sticking out of the coke box, and were attached to one of the boys. The boy looked really ill – he had that ethereal, angelic quality that a person can get when they’re physically very frail. His friend had ‘disguised’ his respirator, or whatever it was, in a coke box, so his friend wouldn’t feel embarrassed while visiting the tomb.

That sight brought tears to my ears, and I said to God: Who is like your people, Av haRachamam?

There’s me complaining about making this grueling trip in the middle of the night, but look at all the old people, and small kids, and sick teens that have showed up here today, just to celebrate with Yosef HaTzadik. Unbelievable.

A little while later, we were back on the bus, and heading back to Jerusalem. As kever trips go, it was pretty uneventful in some ways – I had no big flashes of inspiration, no massive insights, no answers to big questions. What I did have, though, was a renewed appreciation for my fellow Jews.

Who is like your people, Am Yisrael?

Will I go back? Maybe. Not soon. It took me a day to recover and I’m still a little ‘out of it’ now. But one thing I can tell you for sure: Yosef’s tomb reminded me a lot of Rebbe Nachman’s. It was the same energy, the same intensity, the same holy madness. So something tells me that sooner or later, I will be going back.