The Making Of A Legend
I am reposting this post after having hastily taken it down. I read it - and reread it - and stand by every word I wrote.
I want to add that the individual who is the subject of the post is actively involved in encouraging behavior which is likely illegal and definitely dangerous. Publicizing this is justified from a legal perspective and imperative from a moral perspective.
There is a certain young rabbi, a very popular and successful educator and a very nice person, who used to teach at Neve Yerushalayim women's college. He has successfully inspired many hundreds, even thousands, of people. His style is very different from those that resonate with me - he is very much of the mystical/ kabbalah/ New Age persuasion, and he describes himself as a "mystic, psychonaut, and spiritual guide." Still, different strokes for different folks.
Recently, this rabbi wrote a public post on Facebook revealing that, tragically, he has been very sick for the last three years. This has rendered him unable to work. To make matters worse, his illness is undiagnosable:
"The truth is I’ve been lying in bed, hardly able to move, for 2 years, 11 months, and 1 week, with a mysterious chronic illness that no one can diagnose. Yes, this is why I’ve stopped touring, teaching public classes, and have mostly disappeared from social media. We’ve tried every kind of healing approach — from mainstream medicine, alternative, psychological, energy healing, psychedelics, shamanism (kosher) and yes, every kind of Kabbalistic clearing and tikkun multiple times."
Obviously the readership here is very skeptical of most of these healing methods, and of people who seek them out. Still, to each his own. But then there is a curious additional piece of information:
"Not only has nothing worked, but every time something has started helping, my body seems to strangely develop an intolerance to it or another symptom in its place. Over and over again."
What kind of condition causes new symptoms to arise once existing symptoms are cured? I have my thoughts on that. But let's continue:
"Yes, I practice what I preach, I absolutely subscribe to the belief that so many physical ailments are in truth generated from emotional/psycho-spiritual roots. Thus I’ve used every resource and modality available and done every kind of process of humbling myself, turning myself inside out and clearing "trauma", pain and other middos ra'os to degrees I never imagined possible. While I can't tell you I'm now a tzaddik, my wife and closest friends all claim I'm a briah chadasheh compared to who I was three years ago. But still the challenges continue and intensify."
I think he's correct that many physical ailments are in truth generated from emotional/psycho-spiritual roots. Though I think that curing such ailments may require a different type of emotional/ psycho-spiritual path of growth than the one he describes. But he then proceeds to describe his condition as being something very, very different from either a physiological ailment or an emotional/psycho-spiritual one:
"What’s more, every time I drag myself up to give an occasional class online, at the second I’m about to start, right on cue, all the technology goes down — the camera literally breaks on the spot, or the internet goes down, or all the electricity goes out in the house, or strange noises come through the mics. And insanely, all at the same time. This has happened countless times in multiple locations. It's happened so many times that even the tech teams are astonished and bewildered."
Now, being a person of a rationalist persuasion, and not having any independent testimony from tech teams, I am of course extremely skeptical of this. I would see it as people reading too much significance into random occurrences. But one thing that I think we can all agree on is that if it is true, it would be of momentous significance. Extraordinary supernatural occurrences do not happen to regular people! And the supernatural effects in this case even flummox and harm those who are experts at the supernatural:
"What’s more, countless healers, despite having promised they can help me, end after numerous sessions saying they are struggling and confused and have never seen anything like this. Multiple healers and shaman types attempting to heal or cleanse me reported getting attacked or hurt somehow as they did so, and at least two said they became sick for months from working on me. One even just disappeared and refused to tell me what happened for fear of being attacked again."
Next comes an even more shocking revelation:
"Over the same few years, during major events or on certain days when major opportunities were about to come together or be announced for the project — always on the exact day — shocking events occurred to myself, my family or my team, including miscarriages, people falling down stairs, random donors losing funds and pulling out, and much worse things I can’t even bring myself to say. All on the same day. Multiple times each year. I'm not kidding. Even the rabbis and teams around us were shocked to witness and could offer no explanation. One wealthy brother, a friend and donor, went to quit his business after a lifetime of building his wealth, in order to run and scale my project. Right as he prepared to make the shift, the SEC without notice swept in and seized all his wealth, including his house. Just weeks later, in the midst of all that, just as he took on the position with us, he was diagnosed with cancer. A year later, he passed away."
Again, I know that most people here would either disbelieve these claims or say that their significance is being exaggerated, but for the purposes of this post (which will soon be revealed), I ask that you just accept them as true and consider their significance. Lives are being lost, and even worse things that he can't bring himself to tell us (I can't imagine what those could be), as the result of the supernatural targeting of this rabbi.
"These are not even the worst of what I've just experienced. Some I can't even begin to publicly explain. Shabbos was the reason I became frum and the most spiritually powerful day for me. For the last three years, almost every Shabbos, for no conceivable reason, I become so comatose and barely conscious during the day that I can’t move or speak at all, and I lay in bed in a semi-delusional state. My wife is horrified but we don't know what to do. It literally passes right at the end of Shabbos — every single week. I was at wits end with this 2 years ago, but here I am still in it today."
I can actually think of reasons why he would only be affected on Shabbos. But still, accepting the rest of his claims would mean that people around him are in mortal danger. Fortunately, he reassures us that not everyone needs to be afraid:
"Boruch Hashem, my family and 1000's of students around the world continue to thrive unaffected."
So this physical or supernatural lethal ailment, whatever it is, is not contagious. It doesn't affect the people who share a home with him, or whom he teaches. It only affects him, and people who try to assist his work.
"But we can't help but notice that for every major event, viral post or personal breakthrough I facilitate, I get smashed back into bed or face an immediate calamity for seemingly unknown reasons. The week I got back from the Morocco retreat, the most impactful event we’d ever done, this illness started, and I basically haven’t gotten out since. Tonight we tried to start a new online class for thirty new people. Right when I hit the camera ON button — the lights went out in the whole house. Class was cancelled. Only half an hour later the electrician came and was able to turn the power back on. He left bewildered, with no explanation of what happened to cause that. In general, every single day I'm still completely physically dysfunctional, with every possible direction of hishtadlus exhausted. Yes, we’ve spoken to every known rav, tzaddik and mekubal, and besides repeatedly saying it's the result of some ayin hara and menios from the impact we're making, none of them have been able to help."
Every known rav and tzaddik and mekubal has been asked to try to solve this supernatural targeting of this rabbi and his team. Nobody can help. And so the rabbi concludes his post with an explanation of why he is writing all this:
"This is all true. There are more insane things but I can't bring myself to say them. For all the obvious reasons, I’ve never shared this publicly before. But there’s a reason I’m posting today. Posting this is not shtick. I'm embarrassed to do this beyond words. It’s an act of sheer desperation. I don’t need your donations. I don’t need your prayers. I need your consciousness. Your awareness. I need you to witness this. Darkness can’t continue to function in consciousness. This kind of darkness can only exist in hiddenness, but it can't survive in public glare, because it would reveal its power. All my closest family, friends, students and rabbis have known about this but that hasn’t been enough. But now I’m calling it out. I’m asking you to be my witness."
He doesn't want people to davven for him. He wants people to "witness" what's going on, i.e. to be aware of it. Because such supernatural targeting of someone for harm can only endure as long at it is a secret. If lots of people know about it, it will have to stop. (I must confess that I have no idea what this is supposed to mean, nor how it has a basis in traditional Judaism.)
Now, this person is clearly in a lot of distress, for which we should have sympathy. And if you're suspecting that the nature of the affliction is something that could potentially be diagnosed by a psychiatrist (and indeed, a psychiatrist who read his post told me that he believes that the problem lies in this area), that still means that he deserves sympathy. But there's something else going on here that intensely bothers me and some others who read his post.
After writing a post like that, what does one expect one's followers to say?
If a person is experiencing an extraordinary supernatural effort to stop his mission, one that no Rav or tzaddik or mekubal in the world can help with, he is clearly extraordinarily special. Like, on a whole different level of existence, with a unique holy mission that the forces of darkness are desperate to prevent. Indeed, some of his followers draw exactly this conclusion:
"This can only happen to a leader, who is on the verge of tipping the world balance towards illumination and consciousness. It is time for everyone you have ever helped to collectively hold you in holy light."
"We stand as your witness. Clearly there is something super powerful you are trying to bring to the world and the Satan is doing everything he can to not let it enter this realm. You are a force like no other."
"Now that your army has been mobilized, please tell us what the next move is, let us help spread the light."
"I am witnessing the birth of a Tzaddik and the darkness and light that goes with it. In your modesty, you may disagree, but I feel like you are morphing into a new kind of human and you're just way ahead of your time. It's hard for the old "wiring" of your physical and energetic body to hold the new vibrations so you blow a lot of circuits...."
Others suggest that this suffering tzaddik may be the Mashiach. And one woman leaves a particularly disturbing comment:
"I’ll just say what I tell all my friends: Rebbe Nachman says in Likkutei Moharan that a person loves their rebbe more than they love their own spouse. And (as usual for Rebbe Nachman) this is quite true. I know everyone here gets it."
(I reached out to this rabbi and told him how disturbing this comment was; he claimed to me that she was joking. But she showed no indication that she was joking, and when I asked her if she was joking, he blocked me.)
How should a person react to getting such comments? In a follow-up post, this rabbi says as follows:
"I want you all to know that in the last 48 hours, in response to my most raw and intense of posts, I’ve received close to 1500 personal messages through Facebook, email, phone texts, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp."
This is, of course, unsurprising. He has many, many followers, and even though he only asked people to "witness," and said that he didn't want prayers (though he readily gave out his Hebrew name), naturally those who have benefited from his teachings want to reach out and praise him. Which, he says, he hates, hates, hates:
"I hate hate hate reading people saying nice things about me on social media, or in general. It feels egotistical, indulgent, and deeply uncomfortable, and I avoid it at all costs."
So this entirely predictable result of his previous post was something that he says he utterly hates. But he then says that even though he utterly hates doing it, he spent many hours reading every single comment out loud:
"Despite that, I want you all to know that I sat here for hours AND HOURS, together with my wife, personally reading every. single. one out loud. "
He proceeds to explain at length how reading all the responses helped him (and he clicked "Like" or "Love" on all of the comments that praised him). Although apparently exposing the darkness to light did not make it disappear, it did make him feel that he is on the path to healing.
Now, I don't think that there's anything wrong in reading people's good wishes when you feel down. And I'm happy that his post helped him. Still, I am intensely bothered by all this (and I'm not the only one). And I'm not referring to the concern that anyone he hires to help with his education projects is risking illness and death.
I know this man has suffered terribly. I know that his post resulted in him starting to feel better. But, entirely aside from the non-rationalist aspects of his post, it reads like a manual for how to create a cult messianic figure. And there is no attempt to disillusion any of his followers from seeing him in this way, or to warn them about how in general to be wary of charismatic teachers making astounding claims about how special they are. Which is very dangerous indeed.
One (chassidic) rabbi that I discussed this person's post with said as follows: "I have had several people suggest to me that I might be Moshiach. It's a real thing that happens when you're a rabbi and you help people. Of course I immediately shot down the idea. But if you're someone who is susceptible to those kinds of delusions about yourself, and you have several people telling it to you, it becomes a feedback loop, and you can start to believe it."
I tried arguing these points with the rabbi who wrote the post, which got nowhere. The good thing I can report is that I heard that Neve has a new policy of not employing teachers who are overly charismatic and form cult followings. Halevay that this should be a general policy of yeshivos and seminaries.
But it's not enough to avoid hiring such people. There needs to be an active effort to teach people about the potential dangers of charismatic teachers and those who overly revere them. History is replete with examples of the problems that can result.
(If you are commenting on this post, please bear in mind that the rabbi will probably read your comment, and write with appropriate sensitivity.)
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