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Chasidic Psychology and Demons: The Epilogue

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The Service of the Tzaddik and the Service of the Beinoni: Psychoanalysis and Distraction of Thoughts

We have discussed two different forms of service of God. Relatively, they are the service of the tzaddik and the service of the beinoni, the intermediate person: The service of the tzaddik is psychoanalysis—first of all, as he applies it to himself. Hence, all mental health practitioners must first go through psychoanalysis themselves. Otherwise, they cannot employ it on others.

The service of the beinoni, is the service that is appropriate for everyone, is generally to divert one’s thoughts and move forward in the present. In Hebrew, the word for “present” (הֹוֶה), also means “to break.”[1] The person who has experienced trauma should think less about the crack and the wound and more about joy, about what is good in his or her life. This is the way to relate to the inner soul. Suppression (which is the conscious form of repression) is excellent for the beinoni. When a person suppresses a thought, sometimes it simply goes away for a long time on its own. If the individual continues to think about it, it lingers and becomes more pronounced and the beinoni does not know how to deal with it and transform it.

With their song in the Holy Temple, the Levites had the power to transform the demons. If we want to make transformations, we need to sing. Not from the mind, but from the heart. Then there is a chance. This is the service of the Levites. Levi also means “to accompany.”[2] What this means is that any individual who wants to positively impact and help someone else by accompanying him, every such individual is worthy of being called a Levite. A Levite must have the wisdom to give his friend’s demons the proper vessels—i.e., the proper body, or expression—that will ultimately bring that person closer to Judaism. He must know how to correctly uncover his friend’s demons and transform them in a way that they do teshuvah, so to speak.[3]

“The Left Rejects and the Right Brings Near”

We have presented two options: Sometimes, we can give the demons a body, and allow them to express the mental or psychological problem and by doing so, we make it possible to deal with it. But most often, it is best to distract one’s thoughts and to hope that the demon will disappear.

How can we know which option to choose? The primary question is if the person himself, or with the help of his mentor, can perform the transformative service of the tzaddik. This type of work is called it’hapcha (אִתְהַפְכָא) in Chasidic thought. But if the individual is a beinoni, it is preferable for him to consciously suppress his awareness of his demons. This type of work is called it’kafya (אִתְכַּפְיָא). Going back to the terminology of the sages, they describe these two options as “the left rejects and the right brings near.”[4] The left rejects or suppresses the demon; the right brings it near, gives it room, and uncovers it so that it can get to the root of the problem and reach a fundamental solution.

The right side refers to the right axis of the sefirot, which begins with the sefirah of wisdom (chochmah). Wisdom is associated with a flash of lightning, or insight, lighting up the intellect. In our context, we know to choose it’hapcha to rectify the situation, to transform the demon, when, as the Ba’al Shem Tov says[5] upon encountering a fallen state that requires elevation, we immediately experience a lightning flash of insight on what to actually do to fix it. This flash of insight constitutes a sign from Heaven that we are capable of giving the demon the proper vessels that will then transform it.

The right axis of the sefirot terminates with the sefirah of victory (netzach), whose inner dimension is confidence. The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn writes[6] that to heal from mental illness (as well as from physical illness), the person who is ill must be willing to strengthen himself with two principles. First, he must recognize his illness and harbor a powerful desire to be healed from it. Secondly, he must recognize fully that it is possible to heal and have hope and confidence that with God’s help, he will indeed be healed from his illness.”

Before he passed on, the Ba’al Shem Tov’s father instructed him to fear nothing but God.[7] A person who is not afraid of anything but God can counter demons without fear.

Between the sefirot of wisdom and victory on the right axis, lies its most characteristic sefirah, loving-kindness (chessed). What this tells us is that to employ the effect of “the right draws near,” the individual must have true love and loving-kindness. The emotional strength to process traumas and rectify them depends on the fact that he is truly connected to others and is not immersed in himself alone.

Just as the sefirot of the right axis govern the option of “the right brings near,” the sefirot along the left axis define the option of “the left rejects.” In contrast to the right axis, the left axis fear is governed by a dynamic of contraction, fear, and self-absorption. A person who finds himself in these emotional states is better off suppressing the negative phenomenon until it fades into the depths of distraction and oblivion.

As a rule, it is specifically the tzaddik who aligns with the right axis. In fact, the value of  “right axis” (צַד יָמִין) is the same as “tzaddik” (צַדִּיק). As noted, the tzaddik has the power to treat problems and rectify them at their source. Every person, however, has a bit of a tzaddik in him. When that point of tzaddik manifests, he or she can also perform this type of work. The primary point of the tzaddik in everyone manifests in the service of “think good and it will be good.”[8] In this frame of mind, a person naturally controls the demon and can rectify it, even by granting it a good vessel, a holy body. If the person is weak in his positive thinking, he may think that the demon controls him. In that case, it is best for him to continue to suppress it with all his might.

To conclude, we may say that the default approach to demons is “the left rejects” (שְׂמֹאל דּוֹחָה), whose initials actually spell “demon” (שֵׁד). If we can add to this (at least part of the time) the principle of “the right draws near” (יָמִין מְקָרֶבֶת), then combining the initials of both approaches together, we get the word “demons” (שֵׁדִים). With the combined impact of both approaches, there are no demons that cannot be handled.

Once again, we can glean the proper order of dealing with demons from the sages’ saying, “The left rejects and the right draws near”: First and as a default, we should adopt the work of itkafya or suppression and then the work of it’hapcha or transformation through giving the demons expression. This is true for every demon in the soul. When a person has a worry in his soul,[9] he should first seek to suppress it and remove it from his thoughts and only then, speak about it with others.[10]

Levites: Inter-inclusion of Left in Right

If we have been following carefully, a serious question arises. We explained above that the power to rectify the left axis—to complete the creation of the demons and then to elevate them to holiness—was entrusted with the Levites who correspond specifically to the left axis. But we have also explained that it is the tzaddikim who correspond to the right axis who can give the demons bodies, allow them to express themselves, and thereby complete their rectification. Is it left? Or right?

The answer lies in understanding that according to the Arizal[11] the Levites are not simply the left axis in its absolute and pure manifestation. Rather, they represent the power of the left within the right—or specifically, the might within loving-kindness (גְּבוּרָה שֶׁבַּחֶסֶד), the inter-inclusion of the left within the right.

In the Temple, the Levite accompanies the Priest, who is the man of loving-kindness, and serves him—this in itself is an expression of connection and relationship, hallmarks of the right axis. This might, the inter-inclusion of left in right (in holiness) is the overpowering loving-kindness that also has the power to overcome the demons (who are indeed purely from the left axis). This rectification was completed with the giving of the Torah, which is the secret of inter-inclusion as it is manifest through the Torah’s sanctity and ability to rectify reality through inter-inclusion. Immediately following the giving of the Torah, the Levites demonstrated their great love for God, their overpowering loving-kindness, when they did not sin with the Golden Calf.[12] This is also expressed in the fact that following the Sin of the Golden Calf, the tribe of Levi replaced the first-borns in the Temple service.

As the Rebbe emphasizes in the essay, it is specifically when the Levite—who is associated with might (gevurah) and the service of the beinoni—is nullified to the Priest and inter-included in him, that he has the power to recognize all the demons (from a place of inner identification, which does not exist in the tzaddik) and to rectify them with wisdom, love, and confidence in God. The Levite is able to perform this work first on himself and then he is ready to accompany others as they face their own demons.


It is crucial to know that the Rebbe’s most important principle is that, in most cases, one should employ the power of distraction and suppression and simply forget all the traumas and scars one has collected and move on with life. At the moment, one should seek to emphasize feelings of joy and gratitude and “serve God with joy.”

This is the revelation of the concealed “hu” (he) as in the verse on which this essay is based, “But the Levite, he alone shall do the service of the Tent of Meeting.” The good is concealed in itself.[13] The good that is concealed within a person is referred to by this “he.” Clearly, however, the ultimate purpose is to reveal the good and to be good both toward Heaven and to God’s creations here on Earth.

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[1]. For example, Exodus 9:3.

[2]. As in Numbers 18:2.

[3]. One possible application of this principle is with regard to the question of whether it is good or not that a Leftist government be elected in the Land of Israel? It should be self-evident that if I want those with Left-wing ideology to do teshuvah, I would want them to be elected. I want to give them vessels to fulfill their cravings. Even though their cravings are obviously not mine, by giving them a chance to fulfill what their “demons” crave. Then they could change, then you could transform their opinions. But all this can work only if you have very strong and influential people that they are willing to listen to that are fully dedicated and knowledgeable in Torah. Because the Levites are those that carry the Ark of the Covenant. The “Levites” today are those that can help others do teshuvah; specifically, after the demons have already been given the vessels to express themselves. But if there are not enough “Levites,” not enough people who can transform the demons, then it is not a good idea to allow them to be elected. What they want is to be in the government. The government is what gives their demons the vessels to do what they crave. Again, this is an example in the public sphere of how strong one needs to be in order to use the technique of expressing your demons in order to transform them. If you are not so strong, then resort to the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s principle of distraction or suppression, and then, in the public sphere, you should make every effort to ensure that a Leftist government is not elected into office and work hard so that the government contains as many Rightist elements as possible that will strengthen the Torah path.

[4]. Sotah 47a and Sanhedrin 107b. Zohar 3:177b.

[5]. Keter Shem Tov 39.

[6]. Quoted in HaYom Yom for 16 Sivan.

[7]. Shivchei HaBesht, ch.1.

[8]. Iggerot Kodesh Rayatz, vol 2, p. 537.

[9]. Proverbs 12:25.

[10]. Yoma 42b and as explained in length in our volume, Transforming Darkness Into Light.

[11]. Likkutei Torah (Arizal), Shoftim.

[12]. See Shulchan Aruch Admor Hazaken, Orach Chaim 9:4.

[13]. Based on Zohar 1:3a and 2:230a.

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