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Man, I’m SO sick of my bad middot…

When I lived in the UK, I was pretty sure that I was a bona fide Jewish saint. After all, I gave a lot of tzedaka, I kept Shabbat, I entertained lavishly, I came to Israel on holiday at least once a year. What else was there to do?!

Then I moved to Israel, and God showed me pretty quickly: There was a whole bunch of bad middot, negative character traits and very unhelpful habits and beliefs I had that were the polar opposite of how a Jewish saint should act or think.

Thank God for Rebbe Nachman, who explained very succinctly in his writings that a person’s character is like a big pot of water. At first, it looks as though the water is pure and clean. Then God brings the ‘fire’, a metaphor for all the troubles and hardships we all go through in life, to start boiling the water up, and all the impurities in our character starts to rise to the surface.

Then, Rabbenu tells us, all we need to do is just stand by the pot with a big spoon (which I think is probably referring to the sort of introspection you get by doing daily hitbodedut) – and keep scooping out all that gunky stuff as it rises to the surface.

By the end of that process, the water will actually be pure, and not just look pure.

So, I was hoping that with all the troubles, difficulties and subsequent teshuva that’s been going on in my life the last 12 years, the pot (i.e. me) was pretty much at the properly clean stage. After last week’s monster revelation and subsequent teshuva, I was hoping, really, that I’d done most of what was required and would get a least a few days off of having to notice my flaws and making teshuva for them.

But you know what? The opposite seems to be happening. Instead of sitting back and feeling like I’ve finally sorted myself out, God seems to be pulling more and more of my bad middot into the open – and I’m getting so sick of all the ‘ick’ I’m still carrying around in myself!

When is this process going to end, already?! (I know, I know, until 120, bezrat Hashem) – but in the meantime, I was really hoping that I’d have got a little further on in the cleaning process by this stage of the game.

Sigh.

I’m trying God, I really am. Either my pot was really big, or the water was really dirty to begin with, I don’t know what. But I’m not going to quit until all the gunk that’s still floating around has bubbled up and been taken out.

I just hope that 120 years is going to be enough to complete the job.

How the Erev Rav and personality disorders are connected

A little while back, I got a tweet from someone (who knew people actually read those things…) criticizing me for linking ‘mental illness’ to the Erev Rav.

As it was a one line tweet, there wasn’t a lot of detail, but I still wanted to devote a post to responding to the criticism, because like it not, mental illness and the Erev Rav ARE inextricably linked.

This is probably not going to be an easy post to read for many people, and I apologise in advance for that.

In order to explain how mental illness and the Erev Rav are linked, I have to explain how I got onto this whole subject in the first place.

HOW I GOT INTO THE SUBJECT OF RESEARCHING THE EREV RAV

Around five years’ ago, I suddenly realized that so many of the very puzzling, difficult, upsetting and frankly bizarre behaviors, relationships and situations I was experiencing at that time were because many of the people I knew had undiagnosed and unacknowledged personality disorders, and in particular, Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

NPD manifests itself in two key (and superficially opposite) fashions:

  • Smothering, bullying and controlling
  • Uninterested, ‘absent’ and neglectful

There’s SO much stuff out there in the secular world about NPD. Here’s a rough round-up of most of the main points:

PEOPLE WITH NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER:

  • Can’t accept that they are anything except 100% perfect
  • Can’t empathise with other people, or see another person’s point of view – which enables them to mistreat others in a very cruel fashion, which they feel is completely justified ‘from their point of view’.
  • Project their own bad character traits on to other people, which means they mercilessly criticize others for the same things they themselves are doing (and denying).
  • Have a superiority complex and are obsessed with keeping up appearances at all costs.
  • Have very disturbing gossiping habits, manipulate others and make serious trouble between people wherever they go.
  • Are in a barely-contained state of permanent rage and anger – but will deny they are angry.
  • Act very vindictively, spitefully. They are unable to forgive anyone they feel has slighted them, particularly by suggesting they are anything less than perfect.
  • Are incredibly selfish and self-absorbed.
  • Relate to the world in a very superficial, materialistic way. They can’t ‘relate’ to others (or themselves) in an authentic way. They aren’t interested in more spiritual ideas and concepts.

I could go on, but you get the idea. The descriptions of NPD and the other ‘Cluster B’ personality disorders fit what I was experiencing to a tee. But I knew even back then that the only truth is Torah.

So then I started researching, did the Torah describe any phenomenon that would dove-tail with the secular descriptions of how people behave and treat other people when they have a ‘Cluster B’ personality disorder?

THE EREV RAV CONNECTION

Very quickly, Hashem sent me a whole bunch of information about the Erev Rav – and that’s when things got really intense, because the typical Erev Traits as set out by our Sages, and the typical traits you find in Cluster B personality disorders fit like a hand in a glove.

God appeared to be using personality disorders, and particularly narcissism, to hide the reality of the Erev Rav people in our lives, right under our noses.

But the question haunted me for three years: Can Erev Rav / personality disordered people change? Can they make teshuva? Can they be fixed?

Most of the Jewish sources on the subject said no.

The most current secular thinking (as expressed in the DSM) also said ‘no’ – when people have a Cluster B personality disorder, and especially narcissism, there is nothing you can do to help them to change that.

The main problem is that when someone refuses to acknowledge they are a flawed human being, and strives to maintain the illusion of their own perfection and infallibility, they won’t acknowledge any of the things they are doing wrong, or make any effort to try to fix them.

To put it another way: as long as someone clings to the notion they are only ever perfect and never make any mistakes, they stay a mentally-ill narcissist.

And that’s where I got stuck for three long years, until I read a discourse that Rav Berland gave in 2000, that completely transformed the whole picture and gave me hope for the first time that the Erev Rav / personality disordered people in our midst can change and can make teshuva, if they really want to.

I explain what Rav Berland said, and a whole bunch of other stuff about how to actually go about fixing these Erev Rav traits, in much more detail in the book, ‘Unlocking the Secret of the Erev Rav’. But I want to end this post on an ‘up’ note, and tie everything back together with my Tweeter’s original criticism of the book.

PERSONALITY DISORDERS ARE CAUSED BY TRAUMA, AND CAN BE REVERSED

Over the last two years, I’ve learned a great deal about psychiatric thought, trauma and the true causes of serious mental illnesses including personality disorders and narcissism. (Yes, I do plan on writing it all up into yet another book, and I even have a working title for it: Animal or angel? The real roots of mental illness and how to cure it.)

The upshot is this: personality disorders are a false, pseudo-scientific construct created by a ‘materialistic’ psychiatric industry that fails to put people’s soul into the picture. The main problems underpinning mental illnesses like personality disorders come down to the same main problems underpinning Erev Rav character traits, namely:

  • People are completely disconnected from God, their souls and the more spiritual aspects of life.
  • Without a strong connection to God, they are consumed by animalistic impulses and governed by bad middot that cause them to act in a personality disordered / Erev Rav type way.
  • Physiologically, personality disorders are caused by trauma, and particularly the types of trauma that come from being emotionally abused and / or neglected in childhood.
  • The single best way to strengthen the ‘good’, mature part of the brain so that it can stand up to the traumatized, primitive, ‘animalistic’ part of the brain is via regular prayer and hitbodedut.
  • It’s about TRAITS not about LABELS. Each bad character trait we eliminate brings us closer to true emotional and spiritual health, and takes us further away from acting like a mentally ill, personality-disordered Erev Rav.
  • Everybody occasionally acts like an Erev Rav. But with enough prayer, honesty and emuna, every single negative character trait can be permanently uprooted and rectified.

To sum up, personality disorders are a secular description of Erev Rav behaviors and traits.

The two are fundamentally linked, because they are describing the same phenomena, albeit one in ‘materialistic’ secular terms, and the other in Torah terms.

But the Torah’s truth, as expounded by Rav Berland, is that the Erev Rav people in our midst CAN be fixed, and sooner or later most of them will be (barring the ones who cause terrible strife and machloket amongst Jews).

But in the meantime, we still need to recognize what we’re dealing with when we come up against those difficult, arrogant, brazen and abusive characters we all unfortunately know, and to stop making excuses for what’s going on around us.

There are lots of personality disordered people in our midst. There are lots of Jewish narcissists. That’s the reality, and the Torah also told us that before Moshiach comes, the Erev Rav would return in force in order to finally be rectified. The Jewish people have been through so much trauma, I guess it couldn’t really be any other way at this stage of the game.

Calling a spade a spade and correctly identifying the emotional and spiritual problems in our midst is the first step towards really rectifying them.

Moshiach will help us to finish this job when he finally shows up, but in the meantime, we have to start that process and recognize that a lot of mental illnesses, especially personality disorders, and Erev Rav traits are essentially just two sides of the same coin.

But the key point to remember is that these mentally-ill / Erev Rav type behaviors CAN BE FIXED, and are primarily cured by working on our emuna, and making God a real and regular force in our lives.

As soon as a person says sorry, as soon as they admit they aren’t perfect, they start the long, difficult journey of fixing their souls and returning to God.

There is are so many outright heretical ideas flying around all over the internet about the topic of ‘faith in the Sages’ or emunat Tzaddikim, that I thought it would be useful to share some of what Rebbe Nachman writes about the subject in the Abridged Likutey Moharan (translated as ‘Advice’, in the English.)

As you’ll hopefully see from these sources, emunat Tzaddikim is not an option extra in Judaism, or something that only applies to chassidim.

It’s a fundamental tenet of Yiddishkeit, and has a direct impact on a person’s understanding, or daat, and ability to perfect their bad middot and negative character traits.

NOTE: When it’s referring to ‘Sages’ that’s another word for Tzaddikim.

  • When you have faith in the Sages, your mind will be purified and your intellect clear. You will be able to derive a personal lesson for yourself from everything you learn in the Torah and develop the right habits and practices in serving God. You will know how to act in every situation, and you will be able to guide all who come under your influence.

But those who lack faith in the Sages must suffer the torments of the flesh – the ‘superfluities’. Stinking vapors rise up to their brains and distort and confuse all their thoughts. Far from being able to learn the right way to live, all their Torah studies give them the exact opposite of truth.

They never have a clear idea about anything. They are constantly afflicted with doubts and pulled in all directions at once. When a person has no faith in the Sages, his heart becomes as filthy as a privy, all his thinking is warped, and he never knows how he should act in any situation. (Likutey Moharan 61:1)

  • It is not possible to attain perfect faith (emuna) – which is the basis of everything and the summit of holiness – except through being close to the Tzaddikim. It is the Tzaddikim who foster the authentic faith of Israel among the people of their generation.

But the only way to draw close to them is with boldness and determination. There are certain types of people who put up all kinds of obstacles and barriers so as to prevent others from drawing closer to the point of truth. The source of their power is the arrogant self-assertiveness of the forces of the Other Side. (Likutey Moharan 22:4)

  • Only through the Tzaddik of the generation is it possible to attain true awe and love of God. When a person is unable to experience true awe and love, it is because the light of the Tzaddik is hidden from him…

He could be in the same place as the Tzaddik, and even sitting right next to him and still not taste or understand or see the great light which radiates from the Tzaddik, and that could bring him to attain the true and enduring goal.

This is because of his wrongdoing. As a result, his divine intelligence has become clouded over with foolishness and bankrupt ideas. He looks at himself as a sophisticated person who needs to raise various questions and entertain doubts about the Tzaddik.

All these doubt and questions are completely senseless. His wrongdoing has left his mind clouded and dull and the light of the Tzaddik is hidden from him. This is why he does not have genuine awe and love of God. (Likutey Moharan Part 2, 17:1)

  • There are many different kinds of degenerate speech: talking unfairly and untruthfully about other people; telling people what their friends and acquaintances said about them or did to their disadvantage; telling lies; cynicism and sarcasm; flatters; embarrassing people publicly; obscene talk; unnecessary remarks and so on.

Worst of all is when people cast aspersions on the Tzaddikim, and on those who are honest and God-fearing. Talk like this gives wings to the primordial serpent [i.e. the root of all evil in the world]. It flies through the world wreaking havoc.

This ‘serpent’ is the sophistry of the philosophers and other apostles of atheism. Today this has spread throughout the world and is gaining ever-increasing prestige and power. But words of holiness form wings of the domain of the holy. (Likutey Moharan 63)

 

Dear reader, at the moment there seems to be an explosion in heretical statements and heretical ideas being put across by orthodox rabbis, no less, as well as others.

This is all part of the test of birur, or clarification, before Moshiach comes – and it’s going to be very difficult and confusing to navigate it properly!

BH, I’m working on putting together a cut-out-and-keep HERETIC-O-METER, which will list some of the more common heretical statements I’m running into on a regular basis on the internet and elsewhere, to make it easier for everyone to spot what’s going on.

If you have your own favourite ‘heretical statement’ that you’d like me to include, please leave it in the comments section.

Rebbe Nachman told us more than 200 years’ ago that the tests of faith (emuna) in the time preceding the coming of Moshiach would be so great, that: “…many will fall away and be evil.”

But he continued: “Still, I am revealing this for the sake of the few faithful who will remain strong in their belief (emuna).  They will certainly have great conflicts.  But when they see that this has already been predicted, it will give them additional strength and encouragement.” (Sichot HaRan 35)

On another occasion, Rebbe Nachman commented that at the end of days, the whole world would be flooded by such a huge amount of heretical ideas and theories, even rabbis would have ‘heresy dripping out of their pockets.’

Sadly, there are so many things going on today that prove that Rebbe Nachman was not at all exaggerating, so I thought it would be good to do a quick ‘emuna’ refresher today.

The Rambam’s first principle of faith states:

“I believe with complete faith that the Creator, blessed be His name, He creates and manages all of creation, and that He alone did, does and will do everything that is done.”

So to take just one example, this means that all those supernatural fires that occurred across Israel last week were 100% the work of God. That doesn’t mean He didn’t use the odd Arab terrorist here and there, but even the Israel Home Command Front estimated that 95% of the fires were spontaneous combustion, and not arson.

The Artscroll siddur makes the following comments about the Rambam’s 13 Principles of Faith.

First, it tells us very clearly: “There is no partnership in Creation.” It’s complete heresy to suggest that something could occur in the world that God ‘has nothing to do with’, as that suggests there is another force operating in the universe other than Hashem.

(As an aside, this is one of the many big problems with Xtianity, and other religions that like to claim that the forces of evil are somehow outside of God’s control. That’s complete heresy – God is doing EVERYTHING in the world, even the seemingly bad things.)

Secondly, the Artscroll siddur tells us:

“God communicates with man. In order for man to carry out his Divinely-ordained mission, he must know what it is. Prophecy is the means by which God communicates His wishes to man.”

Rebbe Nachman warned us that just before Moshiach showed up, there would be a bunch of heretical pseudo-tzaddiks who would be tripping us up and weakening our faith in God and his true Tzaddikim.

Anytime we believe that anything other than God is causing things to happen, that’s a heretical thought, and here’s why that’s such a problem:

In Tractate Roshana 17a the Gemara tells us that:

“The apikorsim (heretics)…descend to Gehinnom and are punished there for all eternity.”

Heresy is a very serious business, as it can literally cost a person all of their World to Come and consign them to a permanent billet in Hell. Not a fun prospect!

What’s helped me navigate all the confusion and heresy sloshing around is Rav Arush’s three rules of emuna. You can find a more detailed discussion of these three rules in his book, The Garden of Emuna.

RAV ARUSH’S THREE RULES OF EMUNA:

RULE 1: EIN OD MILVADO – God did, does and will do every single thing that’s happening in the world, even the seemingly ‘bad’ stuff, and including even the most smallest details of our lives.

RULE 2: EVERYTHING THAT GOD DOES IS GOOD Even when it’s painful and upsetting. Everything that occurs to us, even the most painful things, are ultimately only for our good, and will help us to achieve our spiritual rectification, or Tikkun.

RULE 3: THERE’S A MESSAGE IN EVERYTHING – Everything that happens to us or that impacts us in some way contains a message from God about what we might need to work on, fix, change, accept or rectify. The easiest way to figure these messages out is to talk to God for an hour every day.

The Rambam wrote his 13 Principles of Faith to help us avoid the sort of heretical people and ideas that could do permanent damage to our souls. In our mixed up world, there really are a bunch of ‘orthodox’ rabbis out there who literally have heresy dripping out of their pockets.

Caveat Emptor.

Rosh Hashana is never an easy time of year for me, as I usually feel the ‘din’ in the air and I spend a lot of time in a state of advanced internal stress.

That my husband goes to Uman really helps my peace of mind, because however ‘bad’ an experience I’m having at home, at least it comforts me to know that my husband is over by Rabbenu, getting the judgments sweetened on our family for the coming year.

But still, even with all the sweetening that’s going on in Uman, the last three Rosh Hashanas have been so hard for me and my family that as Elul began a few weeks’ back, I could already feel my stomach sinking.

Elul is here…which means Rosh Hashana will soon be here….which means two days of pure torture as we all just sit in the house feeling lonely, or try to find a shul somewhere with a tune I recognize…or I start thinking back to all the ‘fun’ Rosh Hashanas I seemed to have had back in galut, when I had a nice house and a big circle of friends…

The problem is that your mindset on Rosh Hashana sets the tone for your year, so if you’re feeling down, lonely, lost, victimized and ‘bad’ it doesn’t bode so well for the next 12 months.

My girls have also had difficulties getting into ‘happy’ mode on Rosh Hashana, as all of their friends disappear to do family things, and the three of us are left sitting at home and staring at each other, trying very hard not to feel too sorry for ourselves.

But this year, God gave me an idea to do something different. This year, I found a hotel in Tiberias that was meant to be catering to the Israeli Chareidi crowd for Rosh Hashana, and we booked to stay there.

A huge weight fell off my heart to know that this Rosh Hashana, it was going to be different. I had no idea if it was going to be ‘nice’ or ‘enjoyable’, but at least different, and that was a good start.

Tiberias is much, much hotter than Jerusalem, but given that it was already October, I wasn’t so worried.

As we got in the car to head up North, the temperature slowly climbed until it hit 40 degrees… WHAT?!?!? Even in the Summer that’s rare and a heatwave. Tov. I told myself and the kids: ‘Whatever God is going to bring us on this trip, we’re going to be happy with it.”

After a massive traffic jam, we finally got there an hour before the Chag. I ripped toilet paper. I made up the third bed in the room for my daughter. I went out on to the balcony to read my ‘Seder Vidui Devarim’ looking out on to the Kinneret, and I nursed a secret hope that this Rosh Hashana would be much better than the last few.

We went downstairs to the lobby to wait for supper, and were quickly surrounded by Jews of every type: Sephardim with the standard ‘Tunisian Savta’ in a wheelchair; Chareidim with a bunch of kids; the odd tattooed, tanned woman in a tank top who looked like she’d been dragged there against her will, to be with the mishpacha.

There seemed to be a few single women there too, older types who either wanted a break from all the cooking and / or just wanted to be somewhere around people for Rosh Hashana.

To cut a long story short, despite the rattling aircon in our room, the very hot, humid weather and the fact I was staying with two teenagers (!) we actually had the best Rosh Hashana for a very long time, baruch Hashem.

Watching all the complicated family dynamics playing out all around us worked a treat to make me see how spending holidays with ‘family’ is usually a bittersweet experience. My kids loved the 8 desserts – and better yet, hated the 8 desserts by the end of their stay as they realized that while it all looked so good, it made them feel like they wanted to throw-up afterwards.

I realized my cooking is still pretty darned good (a huge thing for me…) and also, that my life, my kids, my family is also very nice exactly how it is.

As a couple of bonus treats, God arranged for us to somehow find Rav Dov Kook’s shul in Tiberias, so I got to see him from the women’s section and hear some shofar blowing there. And on the next day, we managed to track down the ‘Tomb of the Imahot’, where six of our righteous women are buried, including Moshe’s mother and wife, Bilha, Zilpa and Elisheva, the wife of Aaron HaKohen.

The feeling I got by the holy mothers was so nice, I stayed there for 45 minutes saying some Tikkun Haklalis.

Towards the end of the Chag, I noticed one of the signs the organisers had posted up on the wall telling guests that their mood on Rosh Hashana was a good indication for the sort of year they were going to get. For the first time in about five years, I felt good on Rosh Hashana, and calm, and at peace, and happy.

Yes, it cost a lot of money to go there. But it helped me and my family go into the new year with feelings of gratitude and contentment, instead of feeling lonely and dissatisfied.

And getting a good start like that was worth every single penny.

Of all of Rebbe Nachman’s tales, I have two favorites: The Cripple, and the Master of Prayer.

While it’s always something of a stretch to claim to be able to ‘understand’ Rebbe Nachman’s teachings, I always get so much chizzuk and inspiration from both of these stories.

Both are talking about what will be at the End of Days, before Moshiach comes, but while the Master of Prayer is phrased more in terms of global and national redemption, The Cripple is very, very personal.

It describes a cripple – a person who can’t walk, and who ends up being robbed in the forest by a bunch of bandits, and who then has to eat grass to survive. In the process of eating grass, the cripple finds a magic diamond (aka hitbodedut, or personal prayer), that shows him how he can heal his legs and regain his wealth from the bandits who robbed him.

So far so good, then the tale gets a little wild: The cripple hears the sun and moon discussing their problems, and the moon describes how the world is full of all these families of ‘demons’ – people who look like human beings, but who are actually missing something big, spiritually-speaking.

But the only way an outsider can tell who is a spiritually-corrupt ‘demon’ and who is really a human being is by looking at the demons’ feet:

The demons have chicken feet, not human feet. (‘Feet’ is a reference to emuna, and more particularly to bringing God down into the world by seeing Him in every single aspect of our lives.)

These demons have a king. They have jobs. And they have a mission in life, to keep people away from the true Tzaddik (aka Moshiach), who’s represented in the story by a big tree. If enough water would reach the tree, the demons would disappear and the world would be redeemed.

The demons make it their number one priority to keep people away from this tree. They dig ditches around it. They go around torturing people and making them suffer. And most importantly of all, the ‘talkers’ amongst the demon speak a lot of lashon hara about how believing in Tzaddikim is ‘cultish’; and how people don’t need to get close to the real Tzaddikim, they ‘just need God and their own (warped…) intelligence’.

To cut a long story short, there’s a wise man and his small band of followers who takes on the demons.

This wise man’s main weapons are prayer and perfect faith in Hashem – he advises his followers to accept whatever God decides for them, good or bad, and to not try to find ‘spiritual short-cuts’ involving sorcery and other things to try to solve their problems.

At the end of the story, due to the wise man’s great emuna and submission to God, the demons end up destroying themselves. Again, to cut a long story short, the ‘talkers’ amongst the demons start turning on the other demons (as opposed to the human beings) and this sparks off a civil war, which leads to a bunch of earthquakes and other natural disasters which finally cause the ditches around the tree to collapse, and the tree to be watered.

This brings Moshiach. Hooray!

Now, why am I telling you this?

You’ll recall that lashon hara, or speaking evilly of other people (even for supposedly ‘good’ reasons) is one of the biggest tell-tale traits of the Erev Rav. You’ll hopefully also recall (from THIS post) the basic rules of lashon hara which forbid us from pointing out people’s bad middot, publicly to other people.

The reason for this is simple: the people who speak lashon hara always justify the bad things they are saying about other people. As soon as you or I start speaking lashon hara about the people who are speaking lashon hara, we fall into that same trap – and in the words of the Cripple, it’s akin to using ‘sorcery’ and other demonic habits to try to solve our problems, instead of asking God to deal with it.

(That said, there ARE times that we can speak negatively about others in a public forum.)

So how does ‘good’ triumph, ultimately, if these demonic people are running around shooting their poisonous mouths off and nothing can be done to stop them?

Rebbe Nachman explains something wonderful: the talkers will destroy themselves.

One person with a huge lashon hara issue will pick a fight with another person who has a huge lashon hara issue, and all we have to do is stay out of it and watch them kill each other.

Genius!

Things are so, so mixed up at this time at the End of Days.

I know from my own experience it can be so darned tempting to weigh in on all the machloket, arguments and mud-slinging that’s going on all around us – all for the very best reasons, natch. But our voice is the voice of Jacob. Where ‘Esav-type’ people will use their words and voices to attack and destroy others, the authentic Jewish way is to use our voices to pray, and get God involved in solving our problems, and destroying all the bad, evil things that are permeating our world.

And if we do that, the demonic forces in the world will automatically destroy themselves; the tree will get watered, and Moshiach WILL come.

Drone view of a city

A little while back, another email popped into my inbox, from someone who had been so traumatized and ‘burnt’ by their experiences with a false rabbi, that they’d decided to leave Yiddishkeit.

Ever since I wrote the ‘how to spot a false rabbi’ post for Rav Arush’s site, I’ve been getting emails like that, from other people who have been so betrayed and hurt by the ‘religious’ leaders they trusted that it’s plunged them into a huge crisis of faith.

Some of them manage to swim to the other side, and to pick up the pieces of their life within a Jewish orthodox framework again. But some, don’t.

Also a little while back, someone else told me about some really bad advice they’d got from another ‘religious’ influencer, this time an orthodox woman who’s pretty famous on the rent-a-rabbanit circuit.

For reasons of privacy, I won’t share all the juicy details, but let’s just say that the advice was SO bad it was almost fantastically unbelievable that someone could give it over with a straight face.

Now, I’m a big believer in people being able to think for themselves, and to decide for themselves and being able to develop their intuition and self-knowledge to a place where they can actually really trust themselves.

The key, if not the only way, to doing this is by regularly talking to God for an hour a day, aka the practice of hitbodedut, or personal prayer.

When you take that time to reflect on past events, how you reacted, how you felt, what you said, what you thought, what’s bothering you now – PLUS  you’re actually including God in the whole process, and asking Him to show you your own biases and blind spots and issues – then sooner or later, God will start showing you the right thing to do; God will start giving you some amazing advice, and God will clear away all the doubts and confusion that we’re all so filled with today, to shine a light on the correct path to follow.

So when I got the phone call from my confused and panicked colleague – who’d been bowled over by the breath-takingly bad advice they’d been given and had no idea what to do next – the first thing I asked them is:

What do YOU think about it?

Once they’d got over the shock of being allowed their own opinion, they could very quickly see for themselves that the advice they’d been given was 100% a crock, and that the person handing out the advice from that place of apparent wisdom and superiority was actually a complete phony.

Dear reader, Rebbe Nachman warned us that in the time before Moshiach, false leaders preaching falsehood would abound.

It takes a lot of self-work, and hitbodedut to be able to figure out who these false leaders actually are, especially as so many of them are wildly popular on the rent-a-rabbi-or-rebbetzin circuit, and public success brings its own patina of respectability and credibility along with it.

But here too, Rebbe Nachman gave us a clue as to how to proceed. In his Book of Traits (Sefer HaMiddot) Rabbenu tells us the following:

If you do not become attached to known liars, you will merit discerning who hypocrites are.

My perush on this: The more we strive after truth, and particularly, the truth about what we ourselves need to work on and fix, and the truth about how flawed we actually are, the easier it’ll be to spot the fakers in our midst, and to call a spade a spade.

Perush 2: It’s hard to think of a group of people that would be more worthy of the epithet ‘known liars’ than our modern media.

Ergo, stay away from your news feed and you’ll also start to figure out who the problematic people are, in our midst.

Rebbe Nachman also tells us:

There are those who are great apostates and heretics, but they do not reveal their heresy and people are not aware of the need to guard themselves from them. However, through conducting oneself modestly, one is saved from these heretics.

My perush: Modesty isn’t just about dressing in long skirts and covering our hair. There’s an inner dimension to modesty, which is where we try to avoid honor and publicity and ‘notoriety’ – which is the polar opposite from how the heretics act, even the externally very pious ones.

They’re all out there trying to make a name for themselves, and trying to influence the masses, and trying to be the ‘A’-list speakers and top advice givers in the country.

(To my shame, I think I’ve also been a little too caught up in this mindset in regards to trying to sell my books, and I’m seriously considering scaling everything back at the moment, and just letting God do as He sees fit.)

When we’re trying to be modest like that, then the crass people who are self-promoting (only for outreach purposes, natch); and having their faces plastered all over the place (only for the sake of Heaven, natch); and charging premium prices for people to attend their classes (only for the sake of Bank Mizrachi, natch) – those people and us, well, we just won’t mix.

We won’t like them, and they won’t like us, and via this mechanism, we’ll be saved from the false leaders, heretics and purveyors of bad advice with a first-class hechsher.

It’s such an upside-down world at the moment.

The people on the top are, for the most part, really big scumbags. The people on the bottom are, for the most part, the most decent, salt-of-the-earth people you could hope to find. (There’s always exceptions, of course, just to maintain free will and make it really hard to figure out what’s actually going on.)

But you know why that is, don’t you?

Because when Moshiach comes, the whole world is going to flip. God is going to rip the masks off all the false leaders out there, and He’s going to show us what’s really going on behind closed doors in a million different ways.

If you’ve been working on figuring out the truth for yourself, it will all come as a welcome relief to finally have everything so clearly laid out on the table. But if not? Let’s just say they’ll be working overtime in the cardiac arrest unit.

So, what did I read in Likutey Moharan, that helped me to start to get more of a correct Jewish perspective on the whole meditation thing?

I opened up randomly to Part I:78, and this is what I read:

 “Where do Jewish souls come from? – From the world of speech…

Jewish souls come from the world of speech…

Now, speech is an aspect of Malchut / Kingship, as Elijah said: ‘Malchut is the mouth.’ It is also an aspect of the Divine presence, which always dwells with [us], without a moment’s interruption….

When one unifies speech with God… then, “God’s glory will be revealed,”… the radiance of His presence, which is an aspect of the Malchut, is revealed and enhanced.”

 

WHAT THIS MEANS, TACHLIS:

Jews can’t just spend hours in silent meditation or mindfulness. We need to SPEAK (i.e., talk to God, confess what’s going on in our lives, what we’re struggling with, what help you need.) Just meditating on a leaf for 13 hours is NOT the path of a Jewish soul.

I already started to feel better, as I could see that there was at least one reason why the whole ‘silent meditation’ thing really isn’t the Jewish way. Jews believe in the power of prayer; we know that God spoke the world into creation, and that speech is what differentiates us from the animals.

I think Jews are the only people who teach that evil speech, gossip, mockery and slander can do even more damage than physical violence or abuse. That’s because we know the spiritual power of speech – and we now that an hour spent TALKING / PRAYING to God can achieve some amazing things.

And what’s more, Rav Arush teaches that speaking to God is the single best measure of how much you really believe in Him.

If you talk to God – it’s a sign you believe in Him. If you don’t – the opposite.

But there was more.

In the same lesson (I:78), Rebbe Nachman also teaches:

 

“One lives only by breathing. But what is the breath? One exhales and inhales ruach (air)…When a person is bonded to the holy Malchut, speaking Torah or prayer, one exhales and inhales the spirit of holiness (ruach hakodesh)…

When one studies Torah…then the ‘spirit of God’, which is ruach hakodesh, ‘hovers’ above a person and one draws the spirit of life from it.

This is because without Torah, one cannot live….

Therefore, ‘The wicked are considered dead even while alive’ (Brakhot 18b), for since the cord of holiness has been cut, from where can he draw life? Rather, he draws a spirit of foolishness [evil].”

 

(As an aside, it never ceases to amaze me how I always get directed to just the right lesson in Likutey Moharan. Definitely try this for yourself at home, if you haven’t already.)

WHAT THIS MEANS, TACHLIS:

There is nothing ‘neutral’ in the world. If a Jew is doing ‘breathwork’ and focusing on their breathing etc – but failing to bind themselves to Torah, and failing to attach their breathing to God, then they are effectively attaching themselves to the opposite force in the world, i.e., the forces of evil, and the yetzer hara.

No wonder I was feeling so uncomfortable!

God has to be in the whole process right from the beginning, because otherwise every breath we’re taking is just attaching us more and more to the side of darkness and ‘no-God’, God forbid.

But there was still more.

In Lesson I:79, Rebbe Nachman says the following:

 

“The rule is that each individual must see to it that he is not an obstacle to the coming of the Messiah. In other words, one must repent fully and rectify one’s actions.”

 

WHAT THIS MEANS, TACHLIS:

Any practice we’re engaged in, however ‘spiritual’ it may be, that doesn’t encourage us and enable us to identify the things we’re doing wrong, identify our negative emotions, bad middot and unhealthy habits, beliefs and behaviors, and to fix them, is SLOWING UP THE REDEMPTION OF THE WHOLE WORLD.

So for example, meditation/ mindfulness that’s devoid of any self-introspection and / or teshuva is at best a waste of time.

By contrast, truly Jewish meditation and mindfulness (i.e., hitbodedut or talking to God) accomplishes the following spiritual outcomes:

1) It’s SPEECH (i.e. verbalised prayer) not thought, which rectifies the root of the Jewish soul, which comes from the world of speech. (This is also connected to the idea of why Jews need to say their blessings out loud).

2) It binds us to God with every breath (ruach haKodesh), as opposed to binding us to the opposite of God with every breath, God-forbid.

3) It encourages us to work on our middot – and working on our middot is the ONLY way Moshiach is going to come.

 

As always, there’s so much more to say about this. But let’s end with this idea:

If you have an hour, or half an hour, or even five minutes to spend on some form of spiritual practise, then hitbodedut, or talking to God unquestionably gives you the best bang for your buck.

Yes, it’s nice to be a raindrop, or to listen to birds chirping, but when you’re an active partner with Hashem, working on rectifying the world and your part in it, nothing else comes close.

Rebbe Nachman was right again. And not for the first time, I’ve learned a very big lesson about searching for ‘truth’ anywhere outside Yiddishkeit. It may look like a duck, and quack like a duck and walk like a duck, but really – it’s still just a kosher pig.

Now that all the hooha about yoja has dimmed down a little, I think it’s time to look at another disturbing ‘pseudo-spiritual’ practice.

In the alternative health world, there are three main sacred cows, as follows:

  • Yoga
  • Healthy food
  • Meditation

The basic idea is that if you do all three of these things, your life will be perfect, your will float through all your troubles like a serene fairy, and you will only enjoy complete health and happiness.

Of the three, healthy food is by far the least troubling, although it’s true that everything can be taken to an extreme when God somehow gets forgotten about.

And we’ve already gone a long way to exposing the flawed thinking (and bona fide idol worship) behind yoga – and God willing, I hope to put together a special report on why yoga is NOT for believing Jews very soon, that you can download and share around.

So that leaves us with meditation.

Now, what could possibly be wrong with meditation, you ask? Isn’t meditation just the same sort of idea as the Breslev practice of hitbodedut, or personal prayer? The short answer is: no, no, and absolutely not.

Here’s why: the goal of meditation, even so-called ‘Jewish’ meditation, is to empty your mind of all thoughts, and concentrate on your breathing, and on experiencing your ‘nothingness’. God is completely out of the picture. (More on this shortly.)

At the holistic health event, I actually went to a couple of what was billed as ‘Jewish’ meditation classes, to get a feel for what really goes on with it all, and how it compares to hitbodedut.

In one class, that had bells, and Tibetan glass bowls, and few other props (plus very strict instructions to turn all mobile phones completely off) – I spent a whole hour being told I was a drop merged in the huge Kinneret, separate but part of something much bigger. There was also a lot of talk of being merged in the ‘velvet blackness’ that exists somewhere beyond the world. Just as I started to get really uncomfortable, Hashem finally made an appearance – we were to imagine the four letters of God’s ineffable name, etc.

At the end of that class, I went over to the teacher and asked him straight out:

How does this sort of meditation help you to fix your bad middot, or negative character traits? I mean, really cool that I got to relax a little and be a raindrop in the Kinneret, but if that’s all I spent a whole hour doing every day, then what on earth was the point?

I asked the teacher (who in fairness, did seem a whole lot more sincere than a lot of the other people there) to tell me how this type of meditation had helped him to become a nicer person, or get closer to God – because when people can only tell you those types of things if they’ve actually experienced them.

He replied by telling me that I should picture Hashem’s ineffable four letter name, and picture it washing away all my bad middot. It sounds good in theory, but in practice it’s baloney. In order for us to change our negative character traits and really improve ourselves, we have to change how we treat people in the real world. We have to apologise. We have to acknowledge our bad behavior. Sometimes, we have to make some difficult choices that are going to completely shake up our lives, make us look bad, or cause us some serious discomfort.

All of that was missing in the whole ‘raindrop’ meditation thing.

I will come on to other problems with it in the next post, but I just wanted to mention the other ‘Jewish meditation’ I went to. This one was taught by a very nice, sincere rabbi who’d spent years studying the teachings of Rav Aryeh Kaplan.

Again, we had to focus on our breathing, or on the birds, and not think about anything else. Then, we had to walk around the room super-slowly, and concentrate on how our feet were lifting up and being set back down again, super-slowly.

While this was miles better than the other version, not least because the Rabbi actually talked directly about God, and about connecting to God, and even had a ‘Shema meditation’ to share with us, I still had a problem with it:

How does focusing on my breathing, or the birds, or my walking, help me to fix my bad middot? How does it help me to get the advice I need to move forward in life, or to figure out all the knotty issues and problems in my life, or to be nicer to my husband and kids?

I asked the Rabbi, and he responded along the lines that when you realize that God is behind everything, then you can’t get angry at people any more.

Again, it’s a miles-better approach than the first guy, but practically speaking? I still don’t think it’s a very practical idea. I’ve spent years working on my bad middot, and things are really not that straight-forward, easy or simple.

By contrast, Rav Arush teaches that you have to spend a full half an hour every single day, asking God to nullify a single bad character trait, or negative habit – and even then, it can still take years before it’s fully gone, particularly if it’s one of your ‘big’ issues. There’s layers and layers and layers to this stuff, which is why our Rabbis taught that it’s easier to learn the whole Shas then to change even one character trait.

And here, I was being told that listening to birds and watching myself walk slowly was going to do the trick….

Who was right?

Was I just being judgmental, or was there some other, deeper, reason for how uneasy and uncomfortable I was feeling about the whole subject? I came home, cracked open Rebbe Nachman’s Likutey Moharan – and the answer was staring me straight in the face. I’ll share it with you in the next post, God willing.

Last Pesach, my husband got me a blue opal bracelet, set in copper settings.

(It sounds kinda weird, I know, which is probably why the man in the shop gave it to him for a bargain basement price). But when he brought it home and I put it on, I knew exactly what the message was: Fire and Ice.

Somehow, God was giving me a hint that this was the year that I was finally going to figure out how to balance those two elements, those two extremes, in myself, and my life and my work.

With God’s help, I wrote and published five books in the last year since Pesach, that tried to encapsulate the ‘fire’ of trying to live a spiritual, soul-full life in the middle of the emotionally ice-cold, ‘factual’ rationalism and fake materialism of our modern world.

But then…

The fire seemed to have sputtered out a little a couple of months’ ago. The fuel ran low, the replenishments ran out, and I kind of burned myself out in a big way, on many different fronts.

My ideas and my insights kept going, but my motivation to share them, or to believe that they might change the world in some way disappeared. I found myself stuck. Actually, I found myself completely frozen in place, unable to move forward in any direction.

After everything….what? What’s the point? What’s the point of writing things that people can’t relate to? What’s the point of talking about things that no-one wants to listen to, or believe? What’s the point of trying, when nothing ever gets anywhere?

What’s the point?

At this pretty low stage in my life, one of my daughters started blasting out a secular song from the Disney move ‘Frozen’. (She’s hitting that nearly teenage stage, and while we’ve made a point of banning secular music up until now, there comes a stage where you have to let it go a little.)

And guess what: The name of that song is: ‘Let it go’ – something that I’d been praying on for months, already, in my hitbodedut (personal prayer sessions). So instead of yelling at her and confiscating her phone, I knew it was a clue about something from Upstairs. So I went to find the lyrics, and here’s what I got:

The snow glows white on the mountain tonight,
not a footprint to be seen.
A kingdom of isolation and it looks like I’m the queen.
The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside.
Couldn’t keep it in, Heaven knows I tried.
Don’t let them in, don’t let them see.
Be the good girl you always have to be.
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know.
Well, now they know!
1

Let it go, let it go!
Can’t hold it back any more.
Let it go, let it go!
Turn away and slam the door.
I don’t care what they’re going to say.
Let the storm rage on.
The cold never bothered me anyway.

(I have no idea what the movie is about, BTW, but given that it’s Disney, no doubt it’s up to no good.)

So anyway, here I was, feeling ‘frozen’ in my life, and stuck, and here’s my daughter playing ‘Let it go’ full blast, and then here’s all these lyrics that seemed to really resonate with me (all except the bit about not crying, because clearly, I’ve been crying a lot the last few days, and I’m not even sure why.)

That’s the ice bit of the equation.

Last week,  I started to feel really unwell again, which hasn’t happened for a few months. (If you want to know how I could write a book called ‘Talk to God and Fix Your Health’, let’s just say I had to figure it all out the hard way.)

I anyway had an appointment scheduled with my reflexology lady, so I went even though I felt really poorly. And this is what she told me:

“Something’s moving! Your foot is full of fire today, and it’s not normally like that.”

My reflexologist practices according to a theory that divides the foot into four elements, namely earth, water, fire and air. Apparently, my foot is mostly ‘water’ with some air thrown in.  But seemingly, not anymore! As of the end of last week, the fire is back.

I know what the fire is: it’s Rabbenu.

Every single time I feel I’m spiraling down into ‘FREEZE/FROZEN/DEPRESSED’, I get a burst of the fire again, to thaw me out and keep me going.

As if to underline that point, yesterday I had this weird urge to call someone I don’t speak to very much. I called, left a message – and she called me back five minutes later from Uman, where she was praying at Rebbe Nachman’s grave.

I had no idea she was going, or that she was there.

Somewhere deep inside, a little bud of hope started to blossom again.

God DOES see me. He DOES notice my efforts. He knows how lonely the last ten years have been, and how hard I tried to fit in to all the boxes being produced for me by people I shouldn’t have trusted or listened to.

He knows how much effort I’ve made to fix things that I never even broke, and how hard I’ve tried to see the good in people, and situations, that have excelled in hurting me, and making me feel like all the problems in the world are somehow my fault.

Let it go! Let it go!

Can’t hold it back any more!

Let it go! Let it go!

Turn my back and slam the door.

Here I stand

And THERE they’ll stay.

Let it go, let it go.

The cold never bothered me anyway.

But only because I’ve got Rabbenu rubbing my feet, and giving me some will to continue.