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. 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.)