Chassidic PsychologyPsychology

Lectures on Chassidic Psychology Part 1: The Wondrous Advisor — Advice from the Tree of Life

The direction of our training – “wondrous advisor”

By Divine Providence today is the 27th of Tammuz. There is a tradition that today is the birthday of Joseph. In our book, Transforming Darkness into Light, we wrote that Joseph is the archetype of a psychologist, or advisor, who helps people by interpreting their dreams; he helps people figure out who they are and helps them solve their psychological problems.

We had some deliberations about what the course of study in our school should be called. What should a graduate of the program be called? Should it be a therapist, an advisor, a helper. To use the Torah’s nomenclature, the best term is an advisor. Even the Mashiach himself is called, ”a wondrous advisor”[1] (פֶּלֶא יוֹעֵץ), whose value is equal to the word for “doctor” (רוֹפֵא), suggesting that every doctor should be a wondrous advisor. The wondrous part implies that the advice comes from a supernatural source.

The root of advice and advisor in Hebrew is “tree” (עֵץ). In the Garden of Eden—mankind’s origin—there were two trees, the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Mankind’s primordial sin was eating from the Tree of Knowledge before eating from the Tree of Life. The Torah states that once the order has been reversed, it is not good to eat from the Tree of Life. But, if first man would have found his true essence, his true self by integrating (eating) from the Tree of Life, he would have the ability to refine the Tree of Knowledge as well—by not tasting from the evil mixed into it (this is how the Mei Hasheelo’ach explains).

Since there are two trees, it follows that there are two types of advice, two types of psychological treatment. One type originates from all-encompassing life—to this we connect the concept of “eternal life.” The second type comes from a place of knowledge or consciousness, but it contains a mixture of good and evil. Its success is predicated on the ability to properly distinguish between good and evil, thereby guiding the advisee along a good path. But normally, even the advisor cannot properly distinguish between them, therefore most advice offered by therapists is mixed. In our program we stress the need to pray that the advice originates from life and not from the mixture of good and evil.

In every piece of advice that we give someone there could be a mixture of good and evil. Just as when light was created, in the beginning, light and darkness were mixed together. Because of this mixture, my advice does not advance either my advisee or humanity in general towards the true goal of Mashiach. The fact that people have problems is apparently positive because it forces them to search for the Tree of Life.

When we think about the Tree of Life as the source of wondrous advice, another acronym comes to mind. The two letters of “tree,” ayin and tzaddik, literally mean “eye” and “tzaddik,” referring to a holy and righteous individual.

But, as long as one is not receiving psychological advice from a wondrous tzaddik, whose advice originates in the Tree of Life, one should assume that the advice being given is from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Here too, we can differentiate between three levels of advisors and their advice. Let us see how this applies to the case of a marriage counselor or advisor.

There is an advisor, or counselor, who acts in opposition to the Torah. His or her guiding principle is the release of the lower and destructive parts of the psyche, so it follows that all his or her advice come from the Tree of Knowledge of… Evil. Such a person will seek practical advice that looks for a quick fix and does not demand any change or refinement on the part of the individual. In the end, such solutions only hurt the inner fabric of marital life. They will eventually lead to the destruction and death of the power of life and birth inherent in marriage. One who is sensitive enough feels that in an advisor of this type beats the force that seeks to tear marriage apart and prevent the birth of offspring!

Advice of this sort stems from the “tree of death,” the total opposite of the Tree of Life.[2] In correspondence to the model of the Four Worlds, this advisor expresses the essence of the world of the World of Action, whose majority is evil and only a small fraction of which is good.[3] This advisor’s practical solutions are negative and arouse anger and division and it is about them that the verse says, “I have even [anger] made it,” alluding to the World of Action.

A second type of advisor seeks to develop the more delicate parts of the psyche with an eye on preserving marriage. Such an advisor addresses the person’s ego, teaching him or her how to sustain a pleasant and good marital relationship, all with the purpose of benefitting himself. The advice of such an advisor focuses on the client’s feelings and how he or she relates to others. But, because of the sense of self mixed into the advice, they are a mixture of good and evil.

This advice stems from the World of Formation, the world of emotions, where the good and the delicate are mixed with the feelings of self-involvement and personal bias.

A third type of advisor is positive and worthy. This advisor strives to teach the couple how to improve their relationship through mutual love and a willingness to surrender to each other in order to benefit the other. The third advisor teaches the couple to exercise the principle of “the mind over the heart,” before acting; the mind allows a person to escape his or her self-involvement and to act with less self-interest and to strive for true goodness and justice. This advisor’s advice stems from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and expresses the consciousness of the World of Creation, the world of intellect, which is described as “mostly good,” and only a minority of which is evil.

However, even the advice coming from the Tree of Knowledge of Good is essentially human and do not reflect the wonder inherent in the righteous individual’s advice, for though it elevates the mind over the heart, it cannot reach the unconscious parts of the psyche. The advice of the tzaddik originates in the Tree of Life, paralleling the World of Emanation, the unified reality (known as the domain of the One, in Kabbalah). In this reality, everything is constantly viewed from a Divine perspective. There is no evil here at all and the tzaddik can reach the roots of the unconcscious and purify them of all evil. How does the tzaddik do this?

The tzaddik is unique in that he can be described as the “wondrous advisor,” who can give a couple advice that is described by Isaiah as, “Advice from afar, strong faith.”[4] The advice he offers strengthen faith. In the context of marriage, they strengthen the faith husband and wife have in one another. The tzaddik penetrates the unconscious recesses of the psyche where faith is lacking and identifies them as the source of the problems the couple have. His advice then strengthens these pockets of distrust. Such advice requires one to be a “wondrous advisor” because faith in the psyche is considered the highest and most unknowable part of the unconscious, which is known as “the unknowing and unknowable head”—meaning that it both does not know itself and cannot be known to others.

In general, connecting and having a relationship with the tzaddik of the generation who loves all of Israel, believes in them, and feels their underlying unity, ingrains us with faith in the better and Divine part of every Jew. As the absolute trust between husband and wife strengthens, they are freed from those lingering and unconscious points of disconnect and separation between them and merit a healthy flowing relationship, void of unexpected hurdles.[5]

The advice that originates in the Tree of Knowledge can be attributed to the intellectual force of knowledge (da’at) in the soul, which is anatomically associated with the hindbrain (including the medulla, pons, and cerebellum). It is responsible for the marital connection described as, “And Adam knew Eve, his wife,”[6] a connection in which the couple sense themselves as actually being two separate entities whose relationship is secondary to their individual essences. As a result the advisor inspired by the Tree of Knowledge (of Good and Evil) will guide the couple by considering their level of suitability for one another, approaching it form the point of view of two that are separate in their essence and must now come together. Of course, when two people consider themselves essentially separate, there is always (consciously or sub-consciously) the potential for separation or divorce, God forbid.

In contrast, the advice inspired by the Tree of Life is associated with consciousness and a head-on gaze described as, “See life with the woman you love.”[7] Seen from this perspective, the marital bond is viewed as stemming from an essential unity, rooted deeply in the combined being of both partners. They are essentially one. The advisor inspired by the Tree of Life opens the couple’s eyes (they have been closed shut until now) and reveal to them that their bond is their very essence and does not need to be revisited or questioned periodically. Building upon his sense of this absolute truism, the advisor heartens the couple’s feeling that every problem or crisis can be solved.

Based on our exposition, we can generalize that the advisors coming from the point of view of the three lower worlds—action, formation, and creation—address the lower parts of the psyche (known as: psyche, spirit, and soul). The action-oriented advisor addresses the lowest part of the couple’s psychology thereby focusing on their physical compatibility and attachment.

In contrast, the wondrous advisor whose consciousness lies in the World of emanation is able to penetrate the psyche’s unconscious—in particular, the two aspects of the super-consciousness known as the surrounding faculties of the living one (chayah) and the singular one (yechidah). The sages describe the living one faculty with the words, “Even though he [consciousness] cannot see, it [the living one] sees.” The living one is also known as a person’s mazal. The righteous advisor can reveal the common mazal surrounding the couple as one. He can even reveal their common surrounding faculty of faith, awakening their faith in one another. These two surrounding faculties are revealed in unison: true faith in one another supports the feeling that they are one and vice versa; this is akin to the faith an individual has in himself. By recognizing their essential unity, the couple can overcome any temporary crisis, even coming to reveal its deep roots allowing them to rectify it at its source.

The path of the Tree of Life—the way of the land precedes Torah

The Torah writes that after man was exiled from the Garden of Eden, God placed cherubim and a flaming revolving blade to guard its entrance and to make it difficult to follow the path of the Tree of Life. Some cherubim are pleasant, for instance the cherubim in the Temple, which were a symbol of love between God and the Jewish people, but these signify terror.[8] Apparently the same word is used because the cherubim that are guards can be transformed into the cherubim of the Temple.

How does one become worthy of approaching the Tree of Life? The sages explain that “the path [of the Tree of Life]” refers to what is known as “the way of the land” (דרך ארץ), while the Tree of Life itself refers to Torah. From this description they learn that “the way of the land precedes Torah.” When a person has attained this state, he is permitted to approach and even eat from the Tree of Life.

From Eve’s actions, we see that whoever eats from the Tree of Knowledge immediately wants to share it with others. The same is true of the Tree of Life. One who has found life, immediately wants to share it so that others can attain life as well, eternal life. So what is the way of the land that precedes Torah? It too is part of the Torah actually, but it refers specifically to rectifying one’s character, the tikkun of the psyche. Any problems we might suffer from psychologically, they are problems in our way of the land, the way to live as a Jew. There is a concept known as “Jewish nature.” The way of the land is the Jewish nature that we need to adopt in order to live a good life in this world. This certainly also includes performing mitzvoth, which means that the Torah that this all precedes is not just the literal Torah, but the secrets of the Torah which reveal Godliness. All this happens after the individual has rectified himself. This rectification itself needs to be based on the Torah and on the mitzvoth.

One can study psychology in university. There are many systems to be learnt and much advice stemming from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. But, following these just repeats what is related in Genesis. Not only will it not lead to the Tree of Life, it will cause the cherubim and the revolving blade to be erected to guard the way of the Tree of Life. Advice that mixes good and evil prevent progress to the real goal. What we are striving for is to give true advice based on Torah.


Translation of Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburhg’s class of 27 Tammuz 5768 given at the first annual commencement ceremony for Torat Hanefesh graduates. Not reviewed by Rabbi Ginsburgh.

[1] . “For a child has been born to us, a son has been given to us. And authority will be settled on his shoulders, he has been named, ‘Wondrous advisor, mighty force, an eternal father, minister of peace’” (Isaiah 9:5).

[2]. See Zohar ???.

[3] . Tanya ???

[4]. Isaiah 25:1.

[5] . Another way of saying this is that the relationship between the World of Emanation and the three lower worlds—Creation, Formation, and Action—is like the difference between the conscious and the unconscious. This will be further explored in the next section.

[6]. Genesis 4:1.

[7]. Ecclesiastes 9:9.

[8]. Yet it seems that the suggestion is being made that these terrible cherubim can be transformed into their loving counterparts in the Temple.

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