There's a Breslever tradition that if you go to Rebbe Nachman's grave; give a penny to charity; and say the 10 psalms that make up the Tikkun HaKlali, or 'General Remedy', Rebbe Nachman promises to pull you out of gehinnom (purgatory) by your payot (side curls).
When I first read this, five or six years' ago, I was quite perplexed. What if you didn't have any payot? Was it deal off? What if you were a girl (maybe only men were being sent to Gehinnom?) What if your payot were teeny-tiny payot, stuck behind your ears, pretending to be something else?
When I first read about Rebbe Nachman pulling people out of hell by their side curls, my husband was clean-shaven and completely payot-free. Of course he was. We'd just moved to Israel the year before, and my husband was a British-trained lawyer, with English clients.
That first year, it was a big deal for him just to walk around outside with his tzitzit hanging out and no baseball cap.
Payot were for Israelis. Payot were for teenage boys who didn't have to worry about making a living. Payot were for hardcore religious fanatics. Payot were definitely not for English lawyers, working with English clients, who had to go back and visit the 'motherland' a few times a year.
That's what we both told ourselves - but we were secretly both quite sad about it.
Deep down, I just loved those long, luxurious, Breslev side curls. I loved the message they sent the world that it was just so cool to be a Jew! That here was a Jew who really didn't give a stuff about 'fitting in' with the non-Jewish world, and its norms, expectations and appearances.
That here was a Jew with emuna, who knew that Hashem would send him his work, his business, and his clients, regardless of how he looked.
But for years, me and my husband just weren't there yet.
We weren't alone. Most of the observant people I know who made aliya to Israel are more than happy for their young sons to have payot - but it's a step too far for most foreign-born professional parents to do it themselves, especially if they still have to go back to the 'motherland' for regular visits.
So I resigned myself to the fact that we would kind of be half 'stuck' in appearance exile, until my husband retired or we won the lottery and he didn't have to work any more.
That doesn't mean that nothing changed in the meantime - lots did. First, my husband grew a beard (which I still insist gets regularly trimmed…) Then, he started growing some 'hidden' payot, which were regularly policed by my kids, if they dared to pop out from behind his ears.
A few months' ago, he ditched the beige chinos and started wearing black and white.
But the payot? The big, beautiful, in-your-face Breslev payot?
We just weren't there yet. Until yesterday.
Yesterday, I was doing some personal prayer on a number of situations and issues that we've been struggling with all year. You know, all the usual stuff about trying to do the impossible, and keep irreligious family members 'happy' as you get more and more sincerely religious; or trying to be accepted for who you are, when you just never will be; or trying to resolve massive emotional and spiritual problems that you've inherited from the last 50 generations, and which even multiple trips to Uman and massive praying sessions haven't managed to budge…
When it struck me: we are currently stuck in a 'purgatory' of other people's making, that we just can't get out of by ourselves, no matter how hard we try. We can't solve the issues we're up against - but I know a man who can.
'Purgatory' doesn't just mean that place full of fire and little red people with horns and pitchforks; it can also mean right here, right now, a place or situation that's incredibly painful to bear; impossible to get out of; and completely out of your control.
"Rabbenu! Get us out! I'm going to tell my husband to liberate his payot as soon as I get home - please yank him out of gehinnom!"
The payot look quite weird today - a bit like a hairy frame for my husband's face - but for the first time ever, my husband is putting the Jewish inside ahead of the non-Jewish obsession with external appearances.
The payot have been set free from their behind-the-ears exile. Now, we're just waiting for a quick 'yank' from Upstairs, and for me and my husband to follow them to freedom.