Chassidic PsychologyTranscriptsPsychology

Lectures on Chassidic Psychology • Lecture 2 • Part 2 • Categories of Psychological Work: Music and Depth

This is the second part of a transcript of Rabbi Ginsburgh's class at the Torat Hanefesh School of Jewish Psychology from 13th of Av, 5769

To go to Part 1 click here


Understanding (Binah): Prayer and Joy

Contemplative Prayer Awakens Mercy

Just as wisdom is about learning Torah, so understanding is about praying with a contemplative heart; this is the work associated with prayer. Contemplation leads to an awakening of rachmei an Aramaic word meaning [compassion, love and] prayer. As the sages say, “Do not make your prayer an act of regularity, but one of compassion and supplication before God.” There are two types of compassion (rachamim), which is considered the inner dimension of the sefirah of beauty (tiferet). In the article “Rectifying the Ego” you already learnt about the unification between lowliness and compassion—whereby, our lowliness awakens God’s compassion. The first type of compassion is exemplified in the Torah by Jacob kissing Rachel and then crying. In this case, it is beauty (tiferet)—Jacob is the archetypal figure of this sefirah—that awakens compassion over kingdom (malchut)—Rachel symbolizes kingdom. But there is also the case where it is kingdom, whose inner dimension is lowliness, cries out first in order to awaken compassion. This is exemplified in the verse, “Rachel cries over her children.” She cries for her children who are in exile, or in Kabbalistic terms, kingdom is awakening compassion from above over her progeny who are in the three lower worlds and are thereby feel separate and cannot experience God’s absolute unity.

Sometimes, beauty is associated with rachamim (compassion) while kingdom is associated with rachmanuth (the linguistically feminine form of compassion), but the root of both is in the rechem, the womb, of understanding—the mother principle. It is in this context that contemplation gives birth to feelings of compassion in the heart. This is one of the most important goals of contemplative prayer, which as we said is the psychological work associated with the sefirah of understanding (binah)—the mother principle. Kingdom, when it descends into the lower worlds to give them liveliness, is known as the Congregation of Israel (knesset Yisrael). When it descends there, it cries before God. The place of kingdom in the lower worlds is the place of David, malka meshichah, who describes himself with the words, “I am prayer.” David’s “I” represents every man and woman in the Jewish people and it is incumbent upon each of us to awaken compassion from above upon our communal self and upon our personal self. Again, we have said that Torah is the work in wisdom—corresponding to the yud in God’s essential Name, Havayah. And now we have seen that contemplative prayer that awakens compassion corresponds to both the first hei in Havayah (i.e., contemplation is in understanding) as well as to the vav in Havayah, which represents compassion and to the final hei, which represents both the communal self and the personal self upon which we are awakening the compassion.

Working with Joy—Therapy with Song

Apart from prayer, understanding is also related to joy. Joy is its inner dimension. There is a well-known verse that speaks of work and joy together: “Serve [Work] God with joy.”[1] As much as work is not easy, it should be done with joy. We began with the verse about the Levites’ work in the Temple. The sages describe this work as the Levites, “raising their voice,” a reference to their singing and playing music.

We said in our first lecture here that the most important segulah is tzedakah—charity. But whenever someone asks us what can be done to improve the atmosphere at home, or in one’s personal space, we almost always recommend that there should be a lot of music and spiritual song filling the air. There are two types of melodies: melodies of yearning and melodies of joy. Melodies of yearning represent the type of music that captures the work of “the Levite shall work, he,” which corresponds to the crown. Joyful melodies, on the other hand are clearly part of the work involved with understanding, which is also the mother principle, about which the verse says, “the mother of the sons is joyous.”[2] Rebbe Nachman adds that joyous melodies are a segulah for pregnant women having an easy delivery.

The Levites Song

One unique feature regarding the work of the Levites with song in the Temple is learnt from the way the Torah describes it. Its description appears in a verse that states, “From the age of thirty years up to the age of fifty, all who were subject to work of service and porterage relating to the Tent of Meeting”[3] (מִבֶּן שְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁנָה וָמַעְלָה וְעַד בֶּן חֲמִשִּׁים שָׁנָה כׇּל הַבָּא לַעֲבֹד עֲבֹדַת עֲבֹדָה וַעֲבֹדַת מַשָּׂא בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד). The sages explain that the phrase, “work of service” (עֲבֹדַת עֲבֹדָה) refers to the Levites’ musical service. While the priests were serving the sacrifices on the altar (in silence, with inner intent), the Levites would accompany the service with singing and music. As such, the work of the Levites was to accompany and complement the work of the priests. This is what the Torah means when it calls it, “work of service” (עֲבֹדַת עֲבֹדָה), meaning work that is for the purpose of some other service.

Let us then summarize that if a person has problems in the crown, we suggest they fill their space with melodies of yearning. If the problem is in understanding, then melodies of joy will help. When we later come to the sefirah of acknowledgment (hod), we will see that there is an entirely different type of work, work that is not a complement to anything else, but rather is considered the final and complete in itself. This as we will see is called, “complete work” (עֲבוֹדָה תַּמָּה). The connection between the two is that the influence of understanding culminates in acknowledgment.

Knowledge (Da’at): Working the earth

The first instance of work in Torah—working the earth

One of the central principles we employ in understanding a word (in our case, “work”) is that we need to look at its first occurrence in the Torah: “Everything follows the inception.” The first instance of the word “work” in the Torah is at the beginning of the second account of creation, “And there was no man to work the earth.”[4] It follows that work is essentially linked with tilling the earth, specifically.

Tilling and working the land was the motto of those who came to the land of Israel in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Interestingly, the value of this phrase, “to work the earth” (לַעֲבֹד אֶת הָאֲדָמָה) is the same as the word “Zionism” (צִיּוֹנוּת).

This phrase appears only one other time in the entire Bible, just after Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge, they were cast out from the Garden of Eden. There the Torah says, “God cast him [Adam] out from the Garden of Eden to work the earth from whence he had been taken.”[5] So the story of man in the Garden of Eden both begins and ends with working the land. This is an example of the principle that “the end is wedged in the beginning.” As the Torah says, “Everything came from dirt and everything returns to dirt,” “for you are dirt and to dirt you shall return.” Physical construction also begins with moving dirt, this is the toil of Abraham who said about himself, “I am [but] dirt and ashes.”

In both cases, working the land is situated outside the Garden of Eden. Who was it that continued the work of the earth after Adam? It was Cain, his firstborn, not the most positive figure. His brother Abel was a shepherd. Working the earth physically requires a lot of rectification. The sages note that those who became obsessed with the earth, deteriorated—these were Cain, Noach, and the Judean king Uziyahu.

Rectifying First Eve—rectifying the power of our imagination

The initials of the words, “to work the earth” (לַעֲבֹד אֶת הָאֲדָמָה) spell the name, Leah (לֵאָה). Leah and Rachel were sisters. The Torah describes that, “Leah’s eyes were weak [וְעֵינֵי לֵאָה רַכּוֹת], and Rachel was of beautiful form and beautiful visage.” Why would working the earth be related to Leah specifically?

In Kabbalah it is explained that Leah and Rachel are the rectified versions of the first and second Eve. Without get into this deep topic, let us summarize that at first God created a first Eve, who did not survive. Only then did he create a second Eve whom Adam married and had children with. Again, this is a very wide and varied topic that we have discussed in the past, but in short, the Arizal writes that Leah is the rectified version of the first Eve and Rachel of the second Eve.

In the psyche, the first Eve represents the power of imagination. While the first Eve was unrectified in terms of her imagination (she imagined herself to be something she was not), Leah has clear and precise thoughts. For this reason, Leah represents the world of though in Kabbalah and Chassidut. She rectifies her imagination in order not to be wed to Esau the wicked—his wickedness is in his bloodthirsty nature and unrectified imagination as well (recall that earth, אֲדָמָה, is related to “imagination,” דִּמְיוֹן). Leah’s eyes were weak because of all the tears she shed, and thanks to those tears, she merited being married to Jacob (numerically, “Leah’s eyes” [וְעֵינֵי לֵאָה] is equal to “Jacob” [יַעֲקֹב]).

Rachel, on the other hand, represents speech. Even though there is a Kabbalistic insight that “Rachel” (רָחֵל) equals 2 times the value of “tear” (דִּמְעָה), Rachel’s innate nature is joy. Only when she had trouble conceiving did she begin to fear that Jacob would divorce her and that she would end up being wed to Esau. The sages explain that these unrealistic fears stemming from her imagination, were the product of Esau coveting her. Later in the Prophets, Rachel is described as crying for her children—she learned the art of crying from her older sister, Leah.

Working the Earth—Rectifying the Imagination

We said that both man (אָדָם) and earth (אֲדָמָה) stem from the same two letter root, blood (דָּם), and all are related to “imagination” (דִּמְיוֹן). Knowledge, the sefirah of da’at, is where the shattering of the vessels began. This is where the Primordial Kings (referring to the emotive sefirot from knowledge to foundation) of the World of Nekudeem, or the World of Chaos, started shattering. In the Torah, these kings are the kings of Edom (Esau), a name that also is related to “imagination.”

Rebbe Nachman writes that the value of “power of imagination” (כֹּחַ הַמְּדַמֶּה) is equivalent to the value of “Zilpah” (זִלְפָּה), Leah’s maidservant (and half-sister). Of course, in this context, Zilpah represents the rectified form of imagination, which is known as the Tikkun of Leah.

In Kabbalah, the root of all mental and psychological problems can be found in the sefirah of knowledge, of da’at and in the imagination. To work the earth is thus, figuratively, working to rectify our imagination. We do this by integrating into ourselves the meaning of the verse, “To know your ways in the earth”[6] (לָדַעַת בָּאָרֶץ דַּרְכֶּךָ). An interesting gematria reveals that the initials of this phrase (לבד) have the same numerical value as “Leah” (לֵאָה).

Leah Imagines that Jacob Hates Her

Even though Leah is considered the rectification of first Eve, she too has some problems with her imagination. She imagines that Jacob hates her. She says, “For I am hated.” As we mentioned, Rachel too was affected by this an imagined that Jacob would divorce her, as we explained.

Indeed, it can certainly be the case that Jacob loved Rachel more than he loved Leah. The Torah describes this as, “He loved also Rachel more than Leah.” The unnecessary “also” in the phrase indicated that Jacob also loved Leah. The Hebrew original even means, according to some commentaries that “He loved also Rachel because of Leah.” Meaning, that his love for Rachel was the result of his love for Leah. The Ba’al Shem Tov explained this as, “the love of Leah became a seat [a basis] for the love of Rachel,” which is why, he explains, that Divine Providence dictated that he had to first marry Leah. In short, Jacob did not hate Leah, but Leah imagined that he did.

Stealing Laban’s Idols—Saving Laban from his Imagination

Leah and Rachel were the daughters of Laban, who was a swindler. One of the most obvious symbols in the Torah for the power of imagination (and the worship that surrounds it) are Laban’s idols. The Hebrew word for idols in this case is terafim (תְּרָפִים), which is related to the word for “chemical medicine” (תְּרוּפָה)—suggesting that the rectification of the imagination is necessary in order to properly deal with false systems and false doctrines in psychology and beyond. Just as Jacob had to “steal” Laban’s heart—essentially, his trust in Jacob—in order to escape from his grip without his knowing about Jacob’s plans, so too Rachel stole Laban’s idols in order to release her father from the iron-grip idolatry had on his mind and heart; and yet, there are opinions that she was punished for this act, since in the end it disrespected her father.

When Laban caught up with Jacob and his family he searched everywhere for his idols. Finally, he came to Rachel who had indeed stolen the terafim. Why would Rachel be the one involved in rectifying her father’s power of imagination? The background story is that on her planned wedding night, when Laban cheated Jacob and switched her with Leah, Rachel in an act of emotional self-sacrifice passed the secret bodily gestures that Jacob had revealed to her to Leah so that Leah would not be ashamed if Jacob would realize it was her and not Rachel whom he was wed to. On that very first night, Leah conceived Reuben. Now, legally, if Jacob was expecting Rachel, but ended up with Leah, having relations with a woman other than the one he meant to would make the conceived child, Reuben, what is known as a ben temurah—meaning, the son of the exchanged [woman]. There are 9 different types of blemishes that can relate to a child who was born from an irregular conception, a topic we have discussed elsewhere.[7] So how is it that Reuben is not considered to be blemished in this manner?

According to Kabbalah, by handing the bodily gestures over to Leah, Rachel is considered to have “impregnated” herself in Leah. It is as if Jacob was with Rachel that first night—following his pure intent. In return for her sacrifice, Leah gave Rachel the power to rectify their father’s imagination by stealing his idols. It is easy to surmise that just as Rachel gave Leah the gestures Jacob taught her—gestures that are considered to purify the mind of husband and wife during marital relations—so Leah gave Rachel the “gestures” taught to her by their father Laban—gestures, or techniques that would have prevented Jacob from realizing that he was having relations not with Rachel, but with someone else. These “gestures” are based on tricking the mind using Laban’s impure mastery of the powers of imagination and suggestion. So, though it was Leah who was meant to rectify Laban’s imagination, Rachel received the power to rectify Laban from Leah when she divulged the gestures Jacob had taught her. There is a beautiful allusion to this in the Torah, as the initials of the words, “She [Rachel] took the idols” (לָקְחָה אֶת הַתְּרָפִים) spell Leah (לֵאָה)!

That Laban’s consciousness is drowning in his imagination we see when he confronts Jacob and says, “the daughters [your wives] are my daughters, your children are my children, the cattle is my cattle, and all that you see belongs to me.” As far as Laban is concerned, Jacob does not exist. He is nothing more than an imaginary placeholder connecting him with his extended holdings and property. Rachel wants to sever the hold that Laban’s imagination has on his mind, but in the process, she herself is affected by the impurity and reality-bending effect of her father’s idols. This is somewhat like what we have seen in our school here, that sometimes students come with knowledge of various methods they have learnt elsewhere and believe that they have already succeeded in “converting” these methods making them kosher. But in reality, it is only their imagination that convinces them of this. How do we know that Rachel was made impure by the idols she stole from her father in her attempt to break their hold on him? Because she excuses herself for not standing up in his presence by saying, “I cannot stand before you, because I have the way of women.” In other words, she herself is likening her state to the impurity of a niddah, whose essence is also related to the power of imagination, which leads to defilement.

Moshe Rabbeinu—the All-Inclusive Knowledge

The one who most rectified the partzuf of Leah (i.e., the sefirah of understanding, binah) was Moshe Rabbeinu. He is described as, “And the man Moshe was humbler than all men on the face of the earth.”[8] The words for “very,” “man,” and “earth” (מאד אדם אדמה) are all related. In passing, let us mention that there are three verses that conclude with the word “the earth” (הָאֲדָמָה) and that are related to self-nullification, humility, lowliness, and humility: “And there was no man to work the earth,” which we saw above—is about self-nullification; the verse, “Havayah Elokim formed man dirt from the earth”[9]—is about lowliness; and, this verse about Moshe—describing humility.

Returning to the way in which Moshe Rabbeinu rectifies the imagination. In this episode, where his sister and brother were speaking about him, Moshe could have imagined that they hate him. But this statement that he was the humblest of men is meant to justify why it is that he does not fall into fanciful speculation. Rashi explains that “humble” means, “lowly and patient.” His power of imagination is so rectified that he is the only prophet to have transformed the “thus” (an approximate description) that opens prophecies into “this” (an exact description).

That is why when Moshe prophesies, he starts with the word “this.” His prophecy was seen through a transparent pane. Not through a mirror, but through a pane of transparent glass. In this respect it is worth mentioning that women like Leah and Rachel can look at their image in a mirror—doing so helps them rectify their power of imagination. But a man like Moshe Rabbeinu, who has already rectified his power of imagination, is forbidden from seeing an image.

Thus, Moshe Rabbeinu ascended to this level of prophecy, of seeing precisely and not seeing images alone, because of his humility. This can serve as an illustration of the Ba’al Shem Tov’s teaching on the verse, “And there was no man to work the earth,” because of which God had not rained on the earth. His novel interpretation states that in order to become someone who can work the earth—and in whose merit God does rain on the earth, i.e., God reveals the Torah—one has to attain the state of being a “no man” (אָדָם אַיִן), meaning a person who is in a consummate state of self-nullification (bitul). There are many levels of self-nullification discussed in Chassidut, among them the unique state attained by Moshe Rabbeinu, a state that is predicated on his humility. This is the inner meaning of the sages’ statement that “Moshe merited understanding.” The sefirah of understanding is associated with humility (עֲנָוָה). As we said, Moshe corresponds to the all-inclusive knowledge (da’at) of the Jewish people and this phrase, “Moshe merited understanding [through his humility]” (מֹשֶׁה זָכָה לְבֵינָהּ) has the same value as “knowledge” (דָּעַת). At times Moshe Rabbeinu is associated with wisdom and at times he is associated with knowledge (in this case, the knowledge that unifies the intellect with the emotions). As the all-inclusive knowledge of the Jewish people he is known as the “Shepherd of Faith” (Raya Mehemna) in the Zohar, as he sustains and nurtures the faith of the Jewish people by imbuing them with his own knowledge or consciousness.

Rectifying Knowledge—Learning to Not Be Shallow

Now we are getting to what “working the earth” means. We already said that it involves rectifying the power of imagination. This is certainly hard work. To heal someone of their paranoia for instance, you first have to put them in touch with reality—show him what is really going on—and get them to admit that the rest is a flight of fancy. How do you do this? This is a very important goal. On the one hand, you do not want to give them a pill—a charm—and in 99 percent of the cases, you really do not need drugs. In 1 percent of the cases, you do end up needing to use drugs, but we started our school to prevent people from getting to the stage where they would need to take drugs. So, what should you do?

To succeed, a lot of hard work is needed. Knowledge (da’at) is akin to deep reflection on reality. The intellectual faculties of the mind (wisdom, understanding, and knowledge) are described as the three dimensions of length, breadth, and depth. Knowledge (da’at) is the depth.

What are the delusions that imagination gives rise to? They are a shallow and external assessment of reality. How can you show someone who is certain that everyone hates him that he is lost in delusions? The only way is to help him deepen his understanding of reality. We had some classes recently on the topic of shallowness in general. Most people live their lives in the shallowest way. They do not know that it is shallow, that it is haphazard, but everything they do in life is shallow without any attempt at reaching depth. In order to attain depth, one has to be humble, like Moshe Rabbeinu. This is the quality of the sefirah of knowledge.

If you are able to teach someone, train them to be deep, that is the rectification of knowledge. That is the way to extract a person from their delusions. All the delusions are a result of interpreting reality in a shallow manner. These are all shallow interpretations that have no real connection with reality, conclusions that have no real basis and it is all the result of being shallow-minded.

Deepening Knowledge—Truly Understanding Reality

To penetrate reality is not a simple thing. You need a Chassidic mashpee’a or counselor in order to teach you how to thoroughly consider what your eyes see. It is not a simple thing to analyze the world we see with depth. This is the work taught by Chassidut, particularly the deep thought of Chabad. But if you do this successfully, you can get rid of delusions that all stem from making incorrect associations and connections.

Imagination is about association, likening one thing to another. One thing happened and another thing happened and perhaps they are connected. Something happened and then I heard another thing on the radio. If this becomes a mental illness then one begins to think that the radio is talking to them personally. The general problem is that a person takes unconnected points and draws lines to connect them, imaginary lines that have no basis. This is how insanity begins. All because there is no real connection with reality and no truly deep knowledge.

Deep knowledge is referred to as pitching or planting one’s knowledge, like in the verse, “I will fix him as a peg in a firm place”[10] (וּתְקַעְתִּיו יָתֵד בְּמָקוֹם נֶאֱמָן). You have to fix your faculty of knowledge in firm ground and with that you work the earth, you fix the power of imagination. The word for “peg” (יָתֵד) is an acronym for the sefirot along the middle of the middle axis (foundation, beauty, and knowledge— יְסוֹד תִּפְאֶרֶת דָּעַת).

In the Tanya,[11] it states that if there is no da’at, no consciousness or knowledge, then the feelings born in the heart end up being delusions. A delusion is like a miscarriage. The mother is a symbol for understanding and if there is no knowledge to go with it, no true connection or association, then what is born cannot thrive.

Without Knowledge there is No Differentiation

Another statement by the sages is that if there is no knowledge, there can be no differentiation. Knowledge is the power to differentiate—to recognize the difference between phenomena. As we said, when knowledge is deep, no false connections or associations are created. It means that one does not drive oneself crazy by finding all types of flimsy connections between what one heard on the street and what one saw on an internet site. You need to be able to differentiate.

Normally, we say that the Ba’al Shem Tov taught us that we need to learn something in our path of serving God from every encounter and every experience in life. He espoused that in every word spoken by every person—even though they are speaking out of their own volition—God is speaking to me, guiding me. Yet, this was a teaching meant for people who had a strong faculty of knowledge (of da’at) people that are able to tell the difference between truth and falsehood (i.e., delusions); those who are people who are accustomed to profound and penetrating thought, as the Rebbe’im taught us to do. The Ba’al Shem Tov’s injunction to learn something from everything we see or hear is pertinent only if a person is able to glean insight from these regarding his own inner state; not if what he “discovers” are hints regarding the future, nor all kinds of threats or revelations of danger, nor even accolades or praise. The only acceptable types of insight are those that lead one to give thanks to God for what the person has seen, or those that cause him to rectify something in his conduct out of a sense of joyful teshuvah—nothing else! There need to be very strong reasons to associate or tie two things together, just like when the sages teach about links in the Torah text known as gezeirah shavah. Such links are only true if they have a tradition that runs back to Moshe Rabbeinu (and the soul of every Jew contains a spark of Moshe Rabbeinu, as explained in the Tanya, and thus the most important thing is to be humble like Moshe). So, seeing the connection or association between two phenomena requires a special sensitivity that not everyone has. This sensitivity can be described as the ability to draw correct parallels and as is well known, the word “Kabbalah” literally derives from the word meaning “parallels.” Not everyone can do this properly and certainly not when they still see reality from a shallow perspective.

[1]. Psalms 100:2.

[2]. Ibid. 113:9.

[3]. Numbers 4:47.

[4]. Genesis 2:5.

[5]. Ibid. 3:23.

[6]. Psalms 67:3.

[7]. See Nedarim 20b. These nine blemishes correspond to the sefirot. The ben temurah, in this case theoretically referring to Reuben, corresponds to the sefirah of beauty (tiferet), the sefirah corresponding to Jacob himself.

[8]. Numbers 12:3.

[9]. Genesis 2:7.

[10]. Isaiah 22:23.

[11]. End of chapter 3.

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