My New Site

Hello, been a long time since I’ve posted…

I finished my degree, and I’m putting my energies into that… Here’s my new site: ShmuelElbinger.com You can sign up for the email list to that… the focus is more on therapy than Torah in the new blog…. Let me know what you think! Thanks!

Freedom from the False Self

In an ironic twist of hashgachah, below is the assignment my lecturer required for “Individual Intervention” class. Maybe I’ll update later with the comments and grade he gives…

ואתכם לקח ד’ ויוצא אתכם מכור הברזל ממצרים

   דברים (ד’, כ’)

And God took you all, and led you out of the iron furnace, from Egypt. Deuteronomy (4, 20)

Exile with Purpose in Itself

Rashi on this verse explains that the iron furnace serves to purify iron of its impurities. The message of this verse is that the slavery in Egypt was not just bondage, it served to rectify negative aspects the Jewish people had that could impair them in their mission in receiving the Torah and doing God’s will. The exile to Egypt was not happenstance, or a mere punishment – it was an ends in itself that had a purpose and direction.

Along these lines, the Michtav Me’Eliyahu explains that the Jewish people needed to be able to experience what it is to have a master, to be completely beholden to a higher authority. Only in this way would they later be able to accept and follow the Torah – instructions given by God.

True Freedom

This idea would seem in contradiction with the Mishna in Mesechet Avot:

“חָרות על הלוחות” – “אל תקרא ‘חרות’ אלא חירות, שאין לך בן חורין אלא מי שעוסק בתלמוד תורה, שכל מי שעוסק בתורה, הרי זה מתעלה.”

Engraved on the tablets…” Do not read the verse “engraved,” rather “freedom.” For there is no free man besides he who is involved with Torah study, for anyone who is involved with Torah, behold he is exalted.

The final goal of leaving Egypt was to receive the Torah, to give us true freedom. Freedom to choose. Freedom to be in line with one’s higher self. The freedom to express our love and thanks for our Creator with the Mitvahs. How then is learning subservience to a master, which we have noted was a goal of the exile, in line with ultimate outcome, the exodus, and becoming free?

Free Self, Enslaved Self

In his famous essay “Ego Distortion in Terms of Real and False Self,” Winnicott elaborates on the nature and source of a person’s false self, as opposed to his real self. He explains that as a child we have natural, spontaneous, body-centered and creative expressions of self – actions that come from the True self. When we see that others don’t approve of, or respond to these self-expressions, we develop other ways of acting which are more in line with the expectations of our caretakers and people in our environment.

Winnicott describes varying levels of identification of Self with False Self, from extreme pathology to healthy range. In the case of the most pathological, the False Self totally takes over the person, and he is just a reflection of what others want him to be – a type of slave to his environment. On the other end of the spectrum, as a healthy reaction, this False Self enables a person to interact with others effectively, and thus helps him achieve expression of his True self, similar to how the healthy ego can regulate and manage its environment in order to fulfill id needs in Freud’s structural model. (Although in Freud’s model the ego always interacts with reality to balance id and superego needs with reality. Here, the False self only takes on a similar function in full health.)

This idea of Winnicott sheds light on our dilemma above. In Winnicott’s model the False Self and the True Self do not have to be at odds, it is possible for the False Self to help facilitate the True Self’s meaningful, creative expression. The outside mandated reactions of the False self instead of enslavement, can serve to facilitate the expression of the True self… Bondage thus serving freedom.

A Synthesis of Ideas, Above and Below, Perspective and True Freedom

In his essay Winnicott does not differentiate between the True self’s aspects of spontaneous spirituality and connection to divine, vs. spontaneous creative desire for physical and earthly pleasures. The True self is defined as essentially the self of creative and spontaneous expression – simply that. He mentions the physical aspect, but not to the exclusion of other aspects. (Perhaps in another article he does make a dichotomy, I’m not aware of this.)

However, In the Torah model there is a clear differentiation. The yetzer hara is not considered the true essence of the person, and is not ultimately the True self. To the Torah perspective, although it is internal, the yetzer hara represents a type of outside influence, outside to the True self of the soul. So it would be more accurate to say (or at least a useful model for understanding the Mishnah) that the yetzer hara positively reinforces earthly physicality and disconnection to spirit with its promises of pleasure and pain, just as a child’s first caretaker may respond in different ways (good enough) to allow for true self responses, or to generate false self (not good enough). From the Torah perspective, the yetzer hara functions as an outside influence that can lead to creation of the false self, to varying levels of health.

The Mishnah doesn’t mean that one who studies Torah is “exalted,” מתעלה should be translated “lifts himself up.” With the Torah, we are able to have the perspective we need to see that the yetzer hara and earthly connections are not who we really are. We see that we can form a way of reacting and being, a healthy false self, that helps us to channel our earthly aspects, and positively interact with the world in a way that will help us express our highest true self, express our souls by bringing spirituality into this world. It is thus possible to make the yetzer hara not only “good-enough” but very good, tov meod!

This can only be done with the proper perspective of the Torah, and it is a constant job, a constant occuptation, requiring us to learn perspective from the Torah, but also to have discipline and to serve Hashem, to stick to a plan, so that the influence of our earthly selves does not become our master, and we do not become a slave to our false self, the over identification with the influence of the yetzer hara. Thus serving a higher ideal is the means that facilitates our higher expression.

Torah and Psychology II? – Surprise!

Is this the prequel or the sequel to my Torah Psychology article? I’ll let you be the judge, but I’m definitely asking for your opinion about the topic covered.

I hope to take you for a bit of a ride with this article. I’m going to start with an amazing d’var Torah that gives tremendous insight into ourselves, what it takes to be a leader, and the different stages of spiritual development.

Supernal Universes

Perhaps you’ve heard of the four spiritual dimensions (olamos), and how the soul of Moshe Rabeinu, the tzaddik, has its roots in the highest of levels. The levels are (this is obviously simplistic and I don’t really know what I’m saying): asiyah – the world of doing, yetzirah – the world of formation, briyah – the world of creation, and atzilus – the world of emanation, or close proximity.

The higher the dimension, the closer to Hashem, and the closer to the perception of His absolute unity. On the level of atzilus, there is no perception of self – the sfiros (the divine emanations, – source of our different aspects of existence) at this level are totally subsumed in Hashem’s unity. In briyah, the sfiros take on a level of differentiation, but they still are fully aware that they only exist as Hashem’s revelations – without any real sense of self.

On the level of yetzirah, the angels take on more complete identities though they are entirely aware of their source, and finally on the level of asiyah a being even has the ability to totally deny one’s creator. On the sub-level of klipah (husks, shells of evil that keep you away from the fruit of good), one’s false sense of identity completely takes over – one becomes the center of one’s own distorted universe – one’s own false idol.

Another way the olamos are described is by their mix of good and evil, tov and rah. Atlizus is completely good. Briyah is mostly good. Yetzirah is half and half, and asiyah is mostly bad. Klipah of course, would be entirely bad. (Excepting the hidden spark of good which keeps it alive.)

Brass Tacks Spirituality

Well, that’s pretty neat. What does that do for me? A lot! These dimensions also map out different levels of our own spiritual consciousness. They give us a gauge for where we are holding – a map to help ourselves and others grow to the next level.

Let’s start from the muck up. People mired in the level of klipah have a particular world view. They believe that the whole world is bad. Essentially, everyone is out to get them – it is victim or Viking, to borrow a Brene Brown term, and they don’t want to be the victim – they are the violent pillager. They are totally separate from everyone else, and they are the center of their world. People consistently in this level of consciousness are gang members, or in prison. All of their relationships are completely self serving, if they can maintain any at all.[1]

Next is the level of asiyah consciousness. People on this level think that their personal experiential world is bad. It might be good for others, but for them – not so great. This at least allows for other positive input. It is possible for Hashem’s light to shine through. They have the ability to connect to the real world, the ability to experience unity.

The level of yetzirah consciousness may seem negative at first, but it must be understood as a stage in the process of development. A person at yetzirah level thinks “I’m great.” My world is wonderful as a result of what I’ve done, and what I can do. Unfortunately the corollary of “I’m great,” can be “and you’re not.” It must be in order to maintain the “I’m great,” feeling which can be largely based on comparison.

The ego there manifests in a very obvious way, but it is there in the form of positive feeling and world view. This allows the individual to be open to expanding himself in non-selfish and giving ways – something that was very unlikely in the lower levels. This is in contrast to the victim mentality of asiyah consciousness which is also an ego centered one – but it is a “poor me” attitude. There is little room in “poor me” to expand and connect to others in a way that is beyond the pure ego separate self.

Moving up to the level of briyah consciousness, a person begins to experience what we would describe as more classic unity consciousness. He becomes a part of the collective, and might say “We’re great!” referring to his culture or group, or the Jewish people in general. His self now includes the greater whole.

The level of atzilus takes a step beyond. Instead of the focus on the group (which could also include excluding other groups) the focus is on values themselves. “Life is great, Hashem is great.” Love of Hashem, Torah, doing chessed are viewed as ends to themselves, all for the higher end of revealing Godly presence. This makes a person on this level universally connected to everyone and all of existence, capable of connecting to all people and levels of experience. This is the level of the tzaddik.

But the tzaddik does not make the mistake of communicating with everyone in his own language, on his level. He knows that each and every Jew can only communicate in three basic ways: his own level, and that which is below and above. The level below does not concern him, as he pushes his flock to think in ways that are beyond their comfort zone, in ways they are capable of understanding.

The person wrapped up in his own world of pain, kill or be killed, must see that there are other ways of being better than his own. The person feeling stuck in negativity must be shown that his own world and his own being has many positives that can be focused on. The egoist, wrapped up in his own talents and accomplishments must be pushed to expand and to give to others. The communal giver must be pushed to see that there is an even bigger picture, that Hashem and His name are one. Our real goal is to seek to be an expression of Hashem Himself in the world, and to see that everywhere.

That’s the main message of this article.

It’s a really profound idea that has changed the way I view myself and place in my life’s journey.

Other people I’ve shared this with have agreed that this chiddush (novel insight) gives them a deeper understanding of their purpose in this world.

But…

But what if I told you that the main chiddush  that I used to develop this thought came from a talk from the (probably) gentile businessman named David Logan explaining his concept of “Tribal Leadership,” in a speech geared towards leaders of business and non-profit organizations?

Don’t be surprised. I see secular thoughts being presented along with Torah all the time in various  self-help/parenting/va’adim/Torah growth Torah programs (I could name five off the top of my head – and wikipedia says that Rav Volbe zt”l got his ideas on education from secular sources, when he went to university in Belin. Don’t know if that’s true.). I’m particularly equipped for spotting this due to the unique position I’m in as someone very interested in Mussar and Chassidus, and at the same time having explored the secular world of psychology and self-help as I’m on the way to earning my social work degree and all.

Some of the programs above are transparent, and admit outside influences. Some will mention them in one context, but won’t in another. The lines of what first came from what get blurred.

It confuses me. How do I know what’s definitely Torah, and how do I know what isn’t? If you assume it’s Torah, and you aren’t a trained Talmudist, you may not question the validity of the concept in any way. This phenomenon is making me nervous.

I consulted with my mentor, Rabbi Shalom Freedman, the Horneshteipler Rebbe, and I even showed him my article Torah and Psychology? to preface the question. (He wasn’t too keen, he’s very wary of psychology in any form.) I explained that it seems to me that some people take secular Torah ideas and find sources for them in Torah without mentioning where they got it from originally. “Sheker V’Chazov!” (Lies and deceit!) was his two word answer.

Another Take – Tzad l’hakel

But what if the idea really rings true… What if you think that really is what Chazal meant when they said that, or really is what the Torah was telling us? What if, like in the analogy of the lady and her maidservants (described in Torah and Pyschology?) you feel that in this instance science is acting as the handmaiden of the Torah, helping you to understand her true intent?

What if you aren’t taking secular stuff and dressing it up to sell it to the Jewish public, but you really feel that the ideas you’ve found our true, and they help you understand the Torah on a deeper level?

Maybe in such a case the “source” should really not be mentioned at all. Would you announce the queen thusly: “All rise for our majestic queen – and Katie, Bertha, and Susanne who are holding her train. Susanne also did her hair and picked out her scarf!”? This does not do anything for the honor of the queen, and as the honor of her servants is really dependent on her, it doesn’t do anything for anyone.

I think I have a source that this is ok, with a minor adjustment. When I was getting ready to give a speech, my Rosh Yeshivah Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt”l told me that if I had an idea I wanted to present, I could interpret a piece of Aggadic gemara to fit my idea, with the disclaimer that the idea may be one of the many things that Chazal (the Sages) intended when they said what they said.

This unique approach gives ownership over an idea; it tells the audience that you believe it’s true to the best of your knowledge, and that it might be Torah. And it gives the message of humility, and deference to the true Torah knowledge of Chazal. I really miss Rabbi Weinbach zt”l. I’m not the only one.

Another Try

Perhaps I could modify the above d’var Torah by quoting the Ba’al Shem Tov. The Ba’al Shem Tov describes different types of Jews, whose roots are in the different olamos. He describes different levels of l’shmah, degrees of positive intent the Jew has, in line with each olam.[2] In addition, I have seen the idea (can’t remember if it was in Toras Ha’Ba’al Shem Tov or from a gilyon of Rav Motel Zilber, the Stichiner Rebbe) another way of corresponding the souls of Yiddin to different olamos. Asiyah – action oriented, Yetzirah – emotion oriented, Briah – thought oriented, and Atzilusp’nimiyus (inner dimension, soul) oriented.

Perhaps based on the above one could say that the Ba’al Shem Tov might have also included the “dvar Torah in question’s” way of understanding different level of consciousness according to the olamos.

Maybe now if you can pretend you never heard of David Logan you can continue to be inspired by what I think is an amazing paradigm, phenomenal leadership advice, and amazing tool for self awareness.

I think anyone would agree that choosing a secular idea randomly without guidance or personal deep Torah knowledge and dressing it as Torah is “Sheker V’Chazov!” But what would the Horneshteipler Rebbe say about Rav Weinbach’s approach? What do you think? (Don’t worry, I’ll show the Rebbe this article and get his opinion. I hope he doesn’t give it to me over the head! Please don’t directly name any names of any program etc… if you have any real gripes. Keep it clean.)

 


[1] The truth is, this is a simplistic way of viewing things. Klipah actually imitates all of the worlds. Evil is selfishness, the desire to take for self serving needs alone. This can manifest itself in different ways that will actually mirror each level on the surface. Here we described the “lowest of the low.” See Kuntres Hispa’alus by the Mitler Rebbe for a more thorough description of these aspects.

[2]   See note 1. The Mitler Rebbe gives a full description of these levels of l’shmah, although in relation to meditative spiritual states.

 

Torah and Psychology?

Do I hold of Torah psychology? First lets define terms. Does the concept of Torah psychology exist?

Nowadays, people have issues. It’s debatable whether they always had them, they only just started noticing they have them, or they always had them but now we have a lot more people having a lot more issues. But the bottom line is that lots of people have serious issues they need help with, and Jewish folk are not immune at all.

Up until now, people could follow the advice of the Orchos Tzadikim (Paths of the Righteous). If you had emotional or mental issues you would turn to the “Chacham,” the wise Rabbi, and he would direct you on the right path for the rectification of your middos, your misaligned character traits.

But now, there just ain’t enough holy Rabbis to go around. And the problems aren’t only middos that prevent a person from being a righteous Torah yid – today’s problems prevent a person from acting as a normal, healthy human being.

So is there Torah Psychology?

I don’t buy it. I don’t think in terms of Torah psychology.

What, aren’t you frum (religious)? Are you an apikores (heretic), one of those evil therapists bent on taking our imbalanced, weak member’s of the herd away from the fold?! No, I’m not qualified to be one of those guys yet, chas v’shalom. Hear me out.

The Zohar says that the Torah is analogous to a noble woman (matrinusa), and the wisdom of the nations, the arts and sciences (chachmas umos ha’olam), are all compared to her maidservants.[1] The maidservants’ identity is part and parcel of their service to the matrinusa, and they all serve as a unit, functioning as ancillary aspects of the matrinusa – her and her entourage are as one.

But if the palace household takes the focus off of the matrinusa and directs its attention on the maidservant alone, then you have – well, a low-bred maidservant running amuck in the palace, and the lady of the house alone and despised.

In the analogue: When you learn and invest time in sciences with the intent of helping you to understand the Torah, it raises them up, and brings them into her fold. But when you study them for their sake alone, they have the ability to lower you.

Everything is in the Torah – it is the blueprint of the world. Your whole life is in the Torah.  A=πr² (Hope I got that right.) – there’s a famous gematria hint to it where the prophet describes the dimensions of “Solomon’s Sea.” E=MC² – definitely in the Torah. The DNA molecule for every living being – yup, it’s in there somewhere.

So how does this mean I am now going to learn psychology from the Torah? To heal real pathologies, to get passed things like addiction, abuse, and mental illness? O.C.D, anxiety disorders, bi-polar, A.D.D? Should I learn Torah until I become a master Kabbalist who can rip this information out from under the veil – and become a Torah psychologist?

This is why I think there is no such thing as Torah Psychology. There is Torah, and there is psychology. Just like any science, we must carefully remove false non-Torah ideology before we can use it. Just like in learning biology and quantum physics (plenty of kfirah there) we must be careful to view the raw data through the lens of the Torah – not any outside philosophy.

Don’t You Know about Chassidus and Mussar?

I know a little bit about them. I know that the main focus of the Torah is the soul, not the body. It is to help us learn to focus on the soul, the neshama, and give it dominion over the guf, the body. This means that one’s da’as (aware consciousness) the interface between soul and body, what gives us bechirah (free choice), must come into play – and the soul is experienced through the higher guf faculties. So there is a type of psychology involved – and that’s where chassidus and mussar come in.

Chassidus, mussar, sifrei yirah, teach us how a healthy individual can make himself more spiritual, more holy and kadosh. It does not teach us directly (I say directly, remember, everything is in the Torah.) how to become normal. The Rambam in Hilchos Deos discusses character trait refinement, not extreme pathology, addiction or disfunction. The Kotzker said you have to be a mentch before you can be a yid. You might need different technology for that.

I have not yet spoken with HaRav Isamar Schwartz shlita, and I don’t come up to his toes. I understand, however, that he comes down hard on psychology. He feels that all of the techniques are focused on strengthening the guf aspect of the mind and not on the neshamah at all. I can hear that. But I also feel that without a healthy guf, that we can be mevatel (nullify to our neshama), we’re just plain broken. How can a person begin to learn to feel and experience our neshamah when he is constantly living with a sick, pathological animal mind?

Summing it Up

Why is psychology and sociology different from any other science? It’s not Torah, but it can be used within the context of Torah to help people. If you have a slight problem with moodiness or anger, you tend to be a bit egotistical, by all means learn a sefer about it, go to a shiur, speak to your Rav.

Thank God, our generation has been given many tools to help a person who is within the “normal” behavioral range. “How to” ruchniyus guides are coming out more and more, that speak to us in our situation. (I personally love HaRav Issamar Schwartz shlita’s bilvavi sforim… They are deceptively simple, but they must be worked through again and again. I’ve just went through “Da Es Atzmecha,” and I’m going through the second Bilvavi. I just wish there were summaries and bullet points, with the exercises bolded. 🙂 )

But if you sleep for sixteen hours out of every twenty-four, or your spouse is literally afraid of you if you she burns the soup, or you’re on the internet six hours a day reading “the news,” or you wash negel vasser 32 times to make sure you got it right, or you’ve never had a friend in your life, if you need a l’chayim 7 times a day (to help you with your simcha), or you take sponge baths instead of showers because you’re afraid of being not tzinius, or you won’t stop putting quarters in the coke machine because you think you’re on a winning streak, etc… Please, get some professional help by a therapist approved of by your Rav!! (Don’t worry, he has a whole list. If you’re embarrassed to ask your shul‘s Rav, go to your local kiruv Rabbi.)

 



[1] Heard from Rav Moshe Schatz, author of Ma’yan Moshe, and Sparks of the Hidden Light.

Really Ancient Wisdom

This is an ancient practice I’ve committed to doing for almost six times a week on average… See the article below from the Journal of Chinese  Medicine for all the extra benefits: spiritual and mental clarity, memory improvement, and stress relief – all these acupuncture points are activated. The true spiritual benefits are immeasurable.

I’m presenting you the article here in full with permission of the Journal of Chinese Medicine. My new friend Rabbi Ariel Tvito sent me the pdf. (The editor generously gave me permission to display it, even though the hard copy price is $6.60 for archived articles.)

Journal of Chinese Medicine on Tefillin