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Wednesday
Nov072012

TANYA
 THERAPY

By Dr. Yetta Krinsky


How can we be commanded to love? It seems counterintuitive, especially in the upside down world we live in, where feelings and what feels good rules.

The Baal Shem Tov taught that everything a person sees or hears contains a message for him about how he should act in the world, and how he should serve his Creator.

In my work as a psychiatrist I am privileged to be witness to and honor transformative moments in my patients’ lives. In fact it was through my work that my journey to observant Judaism began.

Time and time again I watched people heal from things I would not have thought it possible to heal from: refugees who had been tortured in their homelands, women who had been abused as children, and other horrible tragedies. Searching for the secret that lay beneath the surface of this inner healing process, I was lead to the work of Tanya, by the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, where I found a conceptual framework describing the part of us that is untouched by anything that happens to us. It is our essence, the deepest part of our soul.

This was for me the most profound wake up call it is possible to imagine, and I am still to this day gratefully exploring the ramifications.

I want to share a little of this process with you.

SOMETHING AWAKENS…

I was asked to urgently see a woman with postpartum depression. Many difficult experiences and challenges had confronted this young woman and her family since the baby was born, and they had taken their toll. In addition, she had had to give up breast feeding several months earlier when the baby had been severely ill in the hospital, and from that time on had found it hard to bond with the baby.

During the interview she held her 4-month-old baby at arm’s length, as the baby quivered and shook, seeking eye contact from me but not from the mother. The mother told me in desperation, “You see, she wants other people more than me. She cries and cries, she doesn’t sleep, I’m not sleeping, and worse still I don’t feel any compassion for her when she cries.”

I had been seeing her for an hour and thought I would really have my work cut out for me. Postnatal depression, mother-infant bonding problems … lots of work would be necessary. It would be a long uphill journey. But I could feel the pain and grief behind the mother’s apparent indifference. Thank G-d, at that moment something which I had read that morning in the daily Tanya portion came to mind, and I said to her, “You know what, I think there is a very deep bond; it just got a bit covered over by all the grief and things that happened. She is connected to you and you to her in a much more profound way than her having to have eye contact with you.”

At that moment there was a softening in the mother’s facial expression, her eyes glistened with tears, she drew the baby closer to her, and I saw the baby begin to respond differently.

Two days later, although there was still much work to be done, the baby was calmer and sleeping better and there was a visible warm reciprocity developing between mother and child.

So what was it that I read that morning, by Hashgacha Pratis, which catalyzed this shift in the mother-baby relationship?

In the beginning of Chapter 46 of the first part of the Tanya, the Alter Rebbe tells us not to give up if we don’t seem to feel any connection, or any love, in our relationship with Hashem (and why this is important we will return to explore a little later). Because deep down, in the deepest recesses of the heart of every single Jew, there is a powerful love inherited from our Patriarchs Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaacov, and from Moshe Rabbeinu, the faithful shepherd of the Jewish people, which just needs to be remembered and brought into the open. Over the next few chapters of the Tanya the Alter Rebbe explains how to do this. But first to set the context …

BODIES, SOULS AND THE PURPOSE OF EVERYTHING…

We learn from Jewish mysticism that everything in this world, and also all of the spiritual worlds, has a body and a soul. Even spiritual things – which seem to us to have no physical aspect at all, for example angels and even mitzvos themselves (Hashem’s commandments to us about how we should live our lives in this world) – also have a body and a soul.

The word “mitzvah” itself, which means commandment, shares the same root with the Aramaic word “tzavsa” which means connection or bond. The body of the mitzvah a person does is the action itself, which is commanded by Hashem, our Creator, and Creator of the master handbook of the world and how it should function – the Torah. The soul of the mitzvah is the intention (kavana) we have when we do the mitzvah.

The Alter Rebbe likens a mitzvah to a bird. The body of the mitzvah is like the body of a bird, but for it to soar upwards it needs wings. What are the wings of a mitzvah? These are the love and fear we have for Hashem that motivate our desire to do what He says and to cleave to Him.

The Alter Rebbe tells us that when we do a mitzvah, such as saying a bracha over the food we are about to eat, giving to those in need, lighting Shabbos candles at the right time, learning Torah, etc., we draw powerful supernal light into our souls, and into the world, and refine the coarseness and physicality of the world. Each mitzvah, one step at a time, leads to the ultimate completion, healing and purpose of the whole world and creation, the coming of Moshiach, when all the world will heal and transform into a peaceful, settled place.

We find ourselves in this world and we have a job to do. Our bodies and souls come in a perfect match, chosen by Hashem. No soul in a body that ever was before, or ever will be again, has the particular mission of our soul, in our body, in the healing of the world. Taking this a little further the Alter Rebbe tells us in Tanya that Hashem empowers us to fulfill our mission in a joyful and meaningful way.

What we want to do is to remember and develop this love of Hashem, which is in our spiritual genes so to speak, so that it will galvanize and give wings to our learning of Torah and performance of mitzvos so they can soar upwards and do all the amazing things they are supposed to do. Each action should move us closer to the coming of Moshiach and possibly be the crucial one that flicks the switch for the full, final turning over of darkness to light.

WHAT’S LOVE 
GOT TO DO WITH IT?

How can we develop a love for Hashem? In fact we are commanded in the Shma, “And you shall love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your might.” How can we be commanded to love? It seems counterintuitive, especially in the upside down world we live in, where feelings and what feels good rules. Perhaps the whole idea of a personal relationship with G-d has no meaning or relevance to us, especially if we have been brought up in a secular environment.

In Tanya the Alter Rebbe reminds us of a completely different approach. The head rules the heart. We are hard wired to be able to make good choices and use our intellect to decide to whom and what we should attach ourselves, then allow the feelings to develop. This applies in all of our relationships.

But in this case we are talking about our relationship with Hashem. We can work on ourselves and can learn about the fundamental unity permeating all of creation; where everything that exists, has existed and will exist has a Divine Spark which gives it life, is part of the Divine plan of the Creator of the Universe and is moving towards a fundamental wholeness, healing and completeness; where at every moment the world itself and everything in it and all spiritual worlds are called into being through the reissuing of the Creative force of the Creator; where everything that happens, even the turning of a leaf one way as opposed to another on the other side of the world has cosmic significance, meaning and purpose in the Divine Plan and how much more so the existence, thoughts, speech and action of every human being.

We can reflect as we see a beautiful sunset or sunrise, that Hashem did not have to make such beauty for us every day. He could have made a world in black and white, or the transitions between day and night plain and ordinary. When we are in a beautiful forest or garden we can notice and enjoy the myriad beautiful shades of green Hashem has made for us. He could have made one, all-purpose, suits-all green, but the beauty is for us.

But what if we are not into that kind of learning, finding it hard to concentrate or apply it to ourselves or our own lives? Maybe we do learn, but it does not touch our hearts, or arouse a real love for Hashem, which will affect us and permeates all of our thoughts, speech and action to help us become who we are meant to be in the deepest fullest sense.

HEART TO HEART

The Alter Rebbe reassures us that we need not despair, quoting a beautiful and powerful teaching written by Shlomo HaMelech, the wisest of all men.

“As water reflects a face back to a face, so too one’s heart is reflected back to him by another.” (Proverbs 27:19)

He explains firstly in terms we can all understand, relating to our own relationships. When we have a faithful friend who is dependable, warm, loyal and true, this evokes a similar response back, a positive feedback loop of escalating warmth and attachment, just as I saw emerging between the mother and child the first time we met.

Now let us extend the analogy to our personal relationship with our Creator. As previously mentioned, it is a most essential thing, yet we do not have to build it up from scratch. It is an inheritance to each and every one of us from our Patriarchs Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov, and from Moshe Rabbeinu, the Faithful Shepherd of the Jewish people. We already have this love in our genes so to speak, concealed in the right side of our hearts, the abode of our G-dly soul.

We just have to remember it is there and allow it to emerge from its concealment. Then we will feel warmth and love and heat, so to speak, in our relationship with Hashem, and it will energize our connection. As we know from our personal relationships, when you love someone you will happily extend yourself and go that extra mile for them, to do what pleases them or what they ask of you.

BECAUSE HE LOVES US …

The Alter Rebbe now gives us a beautiful parable. Imagine a great and powerful king who abandons all the glory of his palace, his throne, the myriads of ministers and courtiers, and descends with his retinue to the house of the lowliest peasant who lives in filth and grime. He raises him up, and brings him back to the palace to his innermost chamber, where even his loyal ministers and courtiers are not allowed to enter .There he washes him and wipes him clean, and draws close to him, at the level of kisses and embraces and fusion of spirit to spirit. How much more so would that lowly peasant feel a reciprocal warmth and love and attachment to the king!

Exactly so has Hashem, in His relationship to us, abandoned all the spiritual worlds, upper and lower, and descended to Egypt (Mitzrayim, meaning a place of limitation and constriction), the cesspool of obscenity and excess in the world. There we were, His enslaved children, B’nei Yisroel, sunk to the 49th level of impurity. Any lower and we would never had been able to come out. Furthermore Hashem Himself descended, not though the agency of an angel or a seraph, and took us out and brought us to His palace and innermost chamber and purified us in order that we should receive His Torah.

In the words of the beautiful children’s picture book When the World Was Silent, written by Phyllis Nutkis and Patti Argoff:

“When Hashem gave us the Torah, the whole world was quiet. The people did not talk. The babies did not cry. The birds did not chirp. The fish did not splash and the ducks did not quack. The sheep did not ‘baaa.’ The goats did not ‘maaa’ and the roosters did not crow. The turkeys did not gobble. The cows did not moo. The wind did not swish. The leaves did not rustle and the ocean did not crash. There was no sound except for Hashem’s voice. He said ‘I am the One and Only Hashem.’ And then…in His quiet, quiet world…Hashem gave us the Torah because He loves us.”

Because He loves us! What greater gift can anyone give other than a destination, purpose, meaning, map, signposts, instruction booklet and a connection to the Creator and Master of everything?

Returning to the Tanya, the Alter Rebbe explains that attachment at the level of kisses is when our mouth utters Hashem’s words, i.e. the words of Torah, particularly the laws about how we should conduct ourselves in the world (Halacha). The level of fusion of spirit to spirit is when we use our minds and intellectual faculties to attach, think and meditate on Hashem’s will and wisdom as expressed in the Torah. The level of embrace is when with our actions we perform the 248 positive mitzvos of the King, i.e. the actions Hashem wants of us.

UNDER THE CHUPPA

The Alter Rebbe goes on to tell us that when we do a mitzvah, we say “Asher Kid’shanu B’Mitzvotav,” that Hashem has sanctified us by His commandments. This means He makes us holy. The word kodesh means elevated, separate and sacred. This implication of the word is illustrated in the statement that the chassan says to the kalla under the chuppa “Harei At Mekudeshes Li,” you are sanctified to me, meaning that you are now raised up and separate from everyone else; it is just you and I in a unique bond where we will become one.

This happens each time we do a mitzvah. We are literally standing under the chuppa with Hashem, becoming one. At that moment, all the joy and awe and power and trembling we feel at the chuppa with our chassan, but surely infinitely more so, is actually experienced by our souls. Yet we are not able to consciously feel this or we would literally swoon (be nullified out of existence).

EVERYTHING IS FOR US

The Alter Rebbe then explores another level of interpretation of these words of wisdom of King Solomon to help us generate a love and appreciation of Hashem at an even deeper level, related to the whole purpose of Creation. Such is Hashem’s love for us, the Jewish people, that in fact the whole world was created for us.

How so? Before the world was created there was only the Infinite Hashem filling all space. Not that space or time existed then; the concept of space and time are both created concepts, which only began at the beginning of Creation as we read at the beginning of the first book of the Torah.

Hashem had to conceal Himself, withdraw His infinite light so to speak, to make a space or void within which the worlds (upper and lower) could be created. Through the void created by this great contraction or tzimtzum penetrated the kav, a single ray of Hashem’s infinite light, a chain of descent and additional contractions and concealments followed until this physical world could exist. Not just this physical world per se but especially our physical bodies, the bodies of the Jewish people.

Why? So that in this physical world, we, the Jewish people, should receive Hashem’s Torah, and be partners in creation with Hashem to create a dira ba’tachtonim, a dwelling place for Hashem in the lower world. The intention was that very place in the world should be a place where Hashem can feel comfortable, at home, so to speak.

Hashem pushed everything away for us – His great infinite light, and all the spiritual worlds, higher and lower – out of His unbounded love for us. How can we not respond in kind, and push away all the hindrances and obstacles that come up and try and distract us from our service of Hashem, from reaching our utmost potential in this world? Remember also that all those hindrances and obstacles are only there to raise us higher and draw down an even greater light into the world.

We cannot do this just with our souls, which are literally part of Hashem. We can only do this through our souls being vested in a body. Then we can work with physicality and refine it, by doing physical mitzvos. Even regarding learning and davening, we do not fulfill the mitzvah unless there is physical movement of the lips.

Our bodies are physical and corporeal and have their own lusts and desires and urges for physical pleasures and delights of this material world. However we are told that that through this great descent of our souls – which before they came down to this world were basking in the light of Hashem in heaven – into this lowly physical body chosen by Hashem, and performing these mitzvos which are the connections with the Infinite, we purify and refine and transform the darkness of this world, even the places of deepest impurity, into light. Not just light, but a light which is even more powerful than the light which existed before we came down to this world.

SO THAT WE 
SHOULD FIND HIM…

For those who struggle with the details Hashem expects from us, there was a beautiful interview on Living Torah (shown Motzaei Shabbos 21st Iyar) where Mr. David Stauber described a yechidus (personal audience) that he and his wife and father-in-law had with the Rebbe. He went in reluctantly, influenced by experiences in his childhood when Judaism had been presented as punitive and restrictive. He asked the Rebbe, “If G-d is so big and infinite, why does He need all these tiny details?” The Rebbe responded that the details are not for G-d Almighty; rather they are for us. Hashem desires that we should find Him, and connect with Him, and relate to Him. Therefore He has given us the path to find Him, out of His love for us. Not G-d forbid that we should be punished if we get something wrong, but that we should find Him.

As water reflects a face to a face, once we start to reflect on these ideas or at least introduce the possibility that there might be more going on here than meets the eye, something will begin to awaken inside us. It is there already. It just needs to be brought into the open and allowed to blossom.

In addition, the more we push away everything for Hashem out of our love for Him, how much more so does Hashem do so for us in an ever increasing cycle of increasing love. It is one step at a time, one little flicker of response after another, just as I saw emerging with this mother and child. And this is possible for every single Jew, no exceptions.

DRAWING CLOSER 
EVERY MOMENT

The last time I saw this young woman, who continues to bond more and more warmly to her baby with the passage of time, she expressed the fear that the early block in the bonding might cause long term damage to the child and to their future relationship.

We discussed times of nidda in a marital relationship (times when the couple is not allowed to touch). Not only do these times not block the warmth and closeness in the relationship, on the contrary, the couple must find different ways to relate and express love and affection, which then contributes to a deeper level of closeness, each time the woman immerses in the mikva and they come together again, than there was before.

It is precisely the apparent lack of connection this young mother felt which spurred this new-found closeness which is, and will continue G-d willing, to be expressed and valued more deeply day by day, year by year.

Perhaps one could also say this about the darkness and perceived block in our connection with Hashem in the time of galus (exile). An even greater level of closeness and unity in our relationship and oneness with Hashem will soon result.

Just as each child should have a blessing to have the best possible bonding, to be able to grow and thrive in a loving environment, allowing he or she to become exactly who he/she is meant to be in the world in a joyful and peaceful way, so should each of us be blessed with the deepest possible bond with our loving parent, Creator of Heaven and Earth.

The author can be reached at dr.yettak@gmail.com

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