The last few weeks, I've been finding it very hard to write for the Breslev website. That happens from time to time, and I usually just wait things out until G-d inspires me again - but weeks were passing, and I still didn't have anything much to write.
In my secret soul, I knew why.
A couple of weeks ago, I was in a state of permanent anxiety and stress. I had headaches; I felt as stiff as a board across my shoulders and back; I felt 'heavy' - incredibly heavy - and it was a struggle trying to function as my head was so clouded from all the din, or judgement, that I could feel in the air.
I didn't know what to do with myself, so I booked myself to go on a trip the following week to Uman.
When I went to Uman the last time, around a year ago, I came back on a high. I'd met one of the hidden tzadikim, (righteous people) in whose merit the whole world is sustained! I'd got some incredible help from Upstairs to 'crack' being happy! (or so I thought…) I'd had the most amazing, uplifting, out-of-this-world praying experience at the Baal Shem Tov's rebuilt synagogue in Medzibozh! Life was great. Life was good. I was doing priiiiitttty well, thank you very much.
A week later, I crashed.
It was a very 'heavy' time. The world was meant to be ending before Rosh Hashana, unless we all did some serious teshuva. My Rosh Hashana was one massive test after another; my husband went to Uman for the New Year, and came back unwell for the first time in years. My daughter's food intolerances and allergies went bonkers - everything she ate seemed to be triggering things. My father-in-law died unexpectedly the day after Succot; we had our first trip to London for five years that same week, to attend my sister's wedding, which sparked off a massive bout of soul-searching and existential angst.
The next couple of months were horrible for everyone. Things improved, a bit, when my husband went to Uman for Chanuka. They improved a lot more when he decided to quit his job and go out on his own. And they improved again when he undertook to do a lot of intense praying about what was going on in his head and heart.
That brings us up to two weeks before Purim, when I felt like I was being crushed under all the din in the world, and I just couldn't take it anymore.
This visit to Uman was quite strange for me. Firstly, I found myself getting blood-boiling angry at the antics of a couple of the women who seem to have taken up permanent residence by the tomb of Rebbe Nachman.
Since my last trip in the Summer, they've put up a big sign in the women's section asking women to keep the noise down, avoid singing, and to keep all the secular chit-chat to a minimum, so that people can actually pray.
These women were completely ignoring it: they danced, they sang, they organised loud renditions of tikkun haklali, loud renditions of Likutei Moharan; loud discussions about the best place to buy a kosher pot noodle in the Ukraine…
If these women ever did any personal prayer, they would know that it was impossible to pray in any meaningful way with all the racket they were making. For all their 'piousness' and 'holiness' and 'Breslev-ness' - they were holy fakes.
I was livid.
I moved away from the tomb, I went under my scarf, like a tent, and I prayed that G-d would protect me from being such a 'holy fake' myself. I must have had a lot of kavana (intention), because by the time we got to Medzibozh, to spend Shabbat by the Baal Shem Tov, I was starting to feel quite strange.
I had a sort of knot in my stomach, and it just wasn't going away. I didn't feel 'sick' per se, just not 'right'. I couldn’t eat, so I went to do some praying by the Besht, and asked G-d to show me what was going on.
I didn't get an answer.
In the meantime, I was feeling more and more like something 'big' was shifting around, and I didn't have the energy to deal with it, so I went to bed.
That night, I had a dream.
Someone I used to know from London, and who I used to compete with, was showing me around her gorgeous new office in some posh area of town. She was having a mini-basketball hoop installed, so that her five kids could come and play while she worked. She was blonde; she was thin; she was expensively dressed, she was popping out perfect kids every two years…
I woke up with a really horrible feeling in my stomach - and I knew what had just surfaced: I was jealous! Not just a little bit jealous. A massive, huge, enormous bit jealous, and I had been for years and years.
I was completely shocked.
I have a big list of bad middot (character traits) to work on, but jealousy simply wasn't on it. I thought it was something I used to have a problem with, but that I grew out of long ago.
Boy, was I wrong.
Once I realized that, I realized I had a whole bunch of other nasty character traits to deal with, that simply hadn't been on my radar before. What, me selfish? Me stingy? Me spiteful? You must have the wrong person - I have my faults, but I'm basically nice.
In Uman, I realized I wasn't.
In Uman, I realized that I'm actually still quite nasty, and that I still have a lot of things that need a lot of work.
I came back home very subdued. We went straight into Purim, then straight into the rockets, so I didn't really have time to digest it all until this week.
But I knew that's why I've been having trouble writing: I didn't want to admit to what was really going on.
It's great to be able to tell everyone about progress, and to tell everyone about amazing meetings with amazing people, and to tell everyone about all my latest insights. But to tell everyone that I'm basically not very nice?
But until I bit the bullet, I knew I wouldn't be able to write about anything else.
The last thing you should know is that it's actually quite liberating for me to realize that I'm not so nice. The pressure is off for me to have to pretend to be what I'm not - especially to myself - and it's also making it much, much easier to do a proper self-assessment of how I'm really acting and behaving.
I've stopped making excuses for myself now. Now I know what's really in there, it's just a matter of tracing back how it's coming out in my interactions and encounters, and then to make real teshuva for it.
Strange to say, it's actually quite fun…
I always come back with a present from Uman. This time round, it was the gift of clarity, to see how I really am, and how I'm really doing. I'm often not very nice, it's true. But every day, I'm trying to get a bit better - and I'll take being an 'improving' nasty person over being a 'holy' fake every single time.