The Kabbalah Approach to Mental Health

Kabbalah and Psychology: Anxiety Relief – The Kabbalah Approach to Mental Health – Part 37 – Therapy and Hassidic Paths

There are three major streams of thought and approaches to the service of G-d within the Hassidic movement. The Ba'al Shem Tov was the father of all these streams. We may associate these three streams with the three aspects of therapy, based on the three translations of the verb in the verse from Proverbs around which our discussion of therapy has centered.

Tzadik, Beinoni, and Rasha

Quashing anxiety through submission and prayer recalls the approach of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. The Hassidism of Breslov centers on meditative isolation in which the hassid talks out his anxieties and problems with G-d, profuse recitation of psalms and petitionary prayers, and an overall emphasis on simple humility and submission before the Creator. Clearly, the path of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov is directed toward a person who considers himself still in the clutches of his evil inclination, a rasha. The advice he offers and the mode of behavior he developed are intended mainly to keep a person from despairing over his situation. His path encourages the individual to remember that G-d is with him at all times and on at whatever depths to which he has fallen. No matter what he can call upon Him and connect with Him through prayer.

Ignoring anxiety recalls the ethical system of the Tanya , the seminal work of Chabad Hassidism, founded by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Lyadi. In the Tanya, Rabbi Shneur Zalman divides the Jewish people into three types, based on the relative dominance of their opposing inclinations towards good and evil: the tzadik (righteous person) has overcome his urge to do evil; the rasha (wicked person) has succumbed to it; in between these is the beinoni (intermediate person), who has not overcome his urge to evil but succeeds in holding it in check and never succumbs to it. It is virtually impossible for someone to become a tzadik on his own. The most a person can aspire to become is a beinoni, and if G-d then desires to grace the beinoni by making him a tzadik, he will. Thus, the image of the beinoni is the one most people are working towards. Indeed, the Tanya is subtitled The Book of the Intermediates.

The beinoni requires and is offered a different psychological approach to life in general (and his own psyche in particular) than that of a tzadik or rasha. On the one hand, he dare not ignore the evil still within him and consider himself a tzadik, yet on the other hand, he need not have the rasha's fear of confronting it. Rather, the greater focus of his spiritual life is on coping with his own inner evil, in the form of his ego, which prevents him from developing his relationship with G-d.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman advises the beinoni to ignore his anxieties. He must concentrate instead on filling his empty pit with the water of Torah. This is how he rectifies, albeit indirectly, his subconscious.

Inasmuch as the beinoni has not entirely overcome his urge to do evil and extricated himself from his desire to indulge in the forbidden, he is not yet ready to openly face his darker side. He may never reach this level. Still, by ignoring his anxieties and actively engaging in filling his mind with positive and wholesome thoughts, he will eventually neutralize any deleterious aspects of his subconscious.

The rare exception to this is the individual G-d has singled out to be consummately righteous from the day of his birth. Such a person is not hampered by his not having ever fallen from grace. Such a person can experience the yearning for redemption by virtue of his being a created entity, bound by the constrictions of time and space. Still, he will never experience the pain and terror of knowing how much he himself can aggravate the unredeemed situation of reality.

Articulating anxiety recalls the path in the service of G-d promulgated principally by Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk and his disciples. Rabbi Elimelech emphasizes in his teachings the role of the tzadik particularly as he assumes the mantle of leadership as a rebbe. This focus on the complete transformation of evil into good at the hands of the consummate Hassidic practitioner is the fullest expression of the messianic vision of the Ba'al Shem Tov. Through this process, the world indeed begins to experience something of the metamorphosis that will occur when Mashiach will come. Once a certain critical mass of this consciousness is reached, it will cause the revelation of Mashiach to in fact occur.

In the teachings of this wing of Hassidism, the more the general populace recognize and appreciate the exalted spiritual stature of the tzadik, the more they will be devoted to him. This obviates the necessity for them to confront their inner evil alone, for the holiness of the tzadik envelops them and neutralizes their darker side, enabling them to establish a true and profound connection to G-d. In contrast to the Tanya, we may consider the literature produced by these leaders (particular Rabbi Elimelech's work Noam Elimelech ) the book of the righteous, guide books for rebbes and those who follow them.


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