A couple of days’ back, one of my kids came to me with a strange complaint: she was having troubles remembering stuff.
She couldn’t remember what our last house looked like, what she’d just learned for an exam etc etc.
First things first: I freaked out, and started imagining all the worst possible scenarios, God forbid. Then, God calmed me down a bit and I realized that my kid is completely sleep-deprived, and operating in zombie mode. We had a chat about doing less social activities, and trying to get at least 6-7 hours sleep a night, regularly, and I felt a bit happier and calmer.
But still not 100%.
So the next day, I had a long chat with God about it all, because He likes to use my kids to bring my attention to things I’ve been sweeping under the carpet for years, and I had the feeling that another ‘message’ had just been delivered, that needed decoding and responding to. Sure enough, I lifted up the corner of the mental rug, and all this icky stuff started tumbling out.
To cut a long story short, the last two years’ has been about me and my husband trying to find the ‘real us’ in the middle of all the pseudo-frum, keeping up appearances stuff that can happen in the baal teshuva world (and many other places, too).
For many years, we were taking our cues from people who were far more superficial, and far less ‘plugged in’ to authentic yiddishkeit than was apparent. God is not always so subtle: last year, my main influencer and my husband’s main influencer were both revealed as religious phonies within a week of each other – and the impact stuck us harder than anything else we experienced in that terrible two years.
Thank God for Rav Arush. He’s what kept me and my husband afloat, as we struggled to find ourselves in the wreckage of who we thought we really were, and what we’d been told, and all the confusion about what God really wanted from us, given that we’d been following advice for years that had come from a very warped source – and our lives were in tatters, as a direct result.
To be blunt, I got hit by such a spiritual tsunami that I kind of shut down for a year.
I dealt with whatever I had to, to keep functioning and keep my faith going at even a basic level (and even that was hard enough, let me tell you) – but a lot of the bigger questions? I couldn’t face them then, and I swept them under the carpet.
As did my husband.
We forgot. At least, we tried to. We tried to blank all the feelings of anger, denial about what had happened, betrayal, hatred, vengeance etc, and carry on being sweet, good Jews.
But God showed me with my daughter’s ‘memory blanks’ that it was time to lift the lid, and begin to deal with the rest of the fall-out. So yesterday, I began that process, and it’s already been very helpful.
Already, I’m starting to get clearer and clearer that the people who encourage others to rush out and ‘dress the part’ regardless of what’s going on internally are coming from a warped, superficial place.
People who lack compassion for the human struggle and effort that is involved in keeping even the most basic mitzvahs in today’s world, are coming from a warped, superficial place.
People who love acting like ‘Rabbi Rockstars’, where the emphasis is all about their personalities, and their amazing spiritual level, and their amazing Torah shiurim on Youtube and Twitter posts – are coming from a warped, superficial place.
If ‘Rabbi Rockstar’ can’t tell you how he sometimes struggles to get out of bed in the morning; if he casually gossips about other Torah figures; if he likes to suggest, directly or otherwise, this his prayers caused barren women to give birth, or cured cancer, or held off World War III for another 20 years, or any other of that self-serving clap-trap that is unfortunately so commonplace, and so believed by the gullible masses – get the heck away.
There are few rabbis who are more spiritually plugged in, or clued up than Rav Arush. Rav Arush’s books are full of his own personal struggles to have emuna, and be a simple Jew. Even a few weeks’ back, he was still sharing how he’d woken up one day and felt really down and depressed. And then he realized God wanted him to serve him as a depressed person that day, and he said ‘thanks’ for it.
Rav Arush is real. Rav Berland is real. Rav Ofer Erez is real.
They understand your pain, they share your problems, and they give you practical advice how to pull through.
By contrast, one of our phoney influencers told us the reason we were having such a hard time last year was because my husband hadn’t shaved his head, the authentic Breslev way, to go with his peyot. The man told us this with such contempt in his voice, and such disdain for us in his eyes, that it broke the spell I’d been under for years.
All the personal prayer, all the effort to improve, all the huge self-sacrifice we’d made to give God what he wanted, at enormous cost to us in just about every way – and this phoney was suggesting that my husband not shaving his head was all God cared about, when it came down to it.
It was so ludicrous! But at that point it showed me so clearly that external appearances were really all that counted for our religious phoney, and that he’d been advising us from that pretend, intolerant, judgemental, superior and superficially-pious place for years, without us realizing what was going on.
For weeks, even months, afterwards, I was so angry about it all, I couldn’t trust myself to write or talk about what had happened. But now, I think it’s time to remember it again, and to share my hopefully useful insights about it with you, dear reader, so we can get to a place of communal clarity about what God does and doesn’t want from us.
TBC in the next post, God willing.