In a couple of days' time, I will have been in Israel for seven years. It's an amazing milestone, and an enormous reason to celebrate, and to thank the Creator of the World for His kindnesses to me.
At the same time, it's also the end of a cycle, and a beginning of a new one. Seven comes up a lot in yiddishkeit. We have the seven day week, with the seventh day the Sabbath, or day of rest. We have the seven year shmitta cycle, where once every seven years, the ground is left to lay fallow, and regain its strength and blessing for the next six years. There's the Jubilee year, of seven times seven years, where in biblical times all property would revert back to its original owners.
Seven times seven shows up in a redemption context as well: Am Yisrael were at the 49th level of impurity (out of a possible 50) when G-d took them out of Egypt. If they'd have fallen to that last level, it would have been game over. Conversely, there are 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot, where we received the Torah. Again, the 50th level is one of transcendence, of something super holy (for good and for bad) that you just can't really access from the 'real' world.
I was pondering all the things that happened the last seven years, since we made aliya. So much has changed. I came to Israel an over-achieving workaholic who had her own business. These days, I clean my own toilets; I do my own gardening; I spend a lot of time praying, and I barely bring in a dime to the family budget.
I came to Israel with quite a bit of savings, and some huge aspirations for spending money and living the 'good' life. We've been in what Israelis call 'meeenus' one way or another for six and a half years.
We've bought and sold four houses here, in the space of five years. We've moved four times. My kids have been in countless kindergartens and schools. I've morphed from a jeans wearing 'yummy mummy' to a headscarf wearing 'frummer'. My husband grew a beard and payot (side curls) and learns half a day in yeshiva. He's moved job four times.
Am I happier, with all these changes? Yes, I am. But I'm also sometimes a bit wistful.
There's been so much growth, so much clarity, so much spiritual 'mending' - but also, so much pain, confusion, isolation and doubt.
Because you don’t get Judaism, or Eretz Yisrael, or the world to come for free. You have to earn it. And earning it is really hard work.
There have been so many seminal moments, so many turning points, in the last seven years when picking truth over comfortable lies cost us pretty much everything. It cost us our 'friends' and our social convenience and comfort. It cost us our financial 'stability' and our status as successful 'career people'. It cost us the illusion that we were 'good' people who really didn't need to do a lot more work to get a first-class ticket into Gan Eden (Heaven). Recently, it's also cost us the illusion that we have people behind us, who will love us and support us no matter what.
Our recent period of growth and clarity showed us very clearly that all we really have to rely on is G-d. And while it's a relief to finally see that so clearly, it's also very painful and isolating.
All of us have work to do down here - big work. If we didn't, G-d wouldn't have gone to all the trouble of reincarnating us as a human being. If we had something small to fix, we'd come back as a carp, get made into gefilte fish that some holy Jew would eat for their Shabbat supper, and that would be that. Soul rectification completed. Welcome to paradise.
I read a Baal Shem Tov story this week that contained a parable that really summed up how my life has been, the last seven years. Two travellers have to pass through a forest to get to their destination. One is drunk, and one is completely stone sober. As they go through the forest, they are set upon by bandits, who beat them to within an inch of their life and steal everything they have.
They manage to escape and make it out of the forest. On the way out, they meet a group of travellers coming from the other direction. They stop the drunk man and ask him: "Is it safe to go through the forest?" The drunk tells them: "Of course! It's a great shortcut and really pretty. You have nothing to worry about." So they ask him: "If that's true, how come you are covered in bruises and limping so badly?" The drunk doesn't know what to say.
So they ask the sober man the same question. He responds: "It's a very dangerous place, teeming with cut-throat bandits. You need to be armed, and to walk very quickly if you want to get through the forest in one piece."
All of us down here need to get through the forest. We can see the bruises and cuts on everyone else, but when the drunk tells us it's all A-OK, nothing to worry about, fret over or work on here - we believe them.
Great! I can get through the forest safely and carry on treating my family members like dirt… Great! I can get through the forest safely and continue to cheat my customers… Great! I can get through the forest safely, doing the bare minimum Jewishly, and without having to shell out for a trip to Uman…
That's what the drunk is telling us. The sober man? He's telling us to arm ourselves with prayer - lots and lots of it, and in particular, hitbodedut, or personal prayer. He's telling us to move quickly - if you umm and ahh about doing the right thing, whether it's unplugging the internet or moving to Israel or staying away from the terrible influences in your life - they'll get their claws in to you and you'll find it much harder to get away in one piece.
Most of all, he's telling us it's not a picnic; it's not a joyride; it's not an outing. It's a dangerous necessity, and each step is fraught with traps, pitfalls and problems.
In the UK, I was being punched and pummelled all the time, without having a clue why. I was drunk on movies, work, shopping trips and eating out.
In Israel, I sobered up. Very quickly.
I hope I'm through the worst of the forest. At least, I know that if I'm set on by bandits again, I'll be armed and expecting them, and moving fast. The drunks all tell me I'm too serious; I'm too 'extreme'; I think about things too much; I need to be happy all the time - 'aren't you a Breslever!?!?!?'
On the way to becoming a Breslever, I've had to go through a forest full of dangerous, killer bandits. Now, I'm trying to warn my fellow travellers what's really out there. So they can get the biggest spiritual gun they can find, and make sure they have a Master of Prayer to lead them through it. Because if not, their chances of making it through the forest at all, let alone healthy and in one piece, are very, very small.