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. And then… surprise!!! Weren’t expecting that, huh?? We’ll see what you think.

Supernal Universes – An Introduction
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 these levels. The levels are (this is obviously simplistic and not totally accurate): asiyah – the world of doing, yetzirah – the world of formation, briyah – the world of creation, and atzilus – the world of emanation, or close proximity (To God).

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, as God is the essence of good. 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 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?
[ted id=651]
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 Berlin. 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. (update: I have a Masters’ now.)

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. (Thank you Rabbi, for handing me that loaded gun!)

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.

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