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R’ Michi Yosefi, a lecturer at Bar Ilan University and a sought after speaker in Eretz Yisroel and around the world on the psycho-spiritual approach of the Torah of the Baal Shem Tov, in an exclusive interview with Beis Moshiach. * Chabad Chassidus touches the deepest places of the soul and provides a superior counterpoint to western psychology. * About the therapeutic dimension innovated by the Alter Rebbe – connecting a person to his essential powers and revealing the path to accessing them. * About the difference between psychology of Chabad Chassidus and western teachings. * About the Rebbe’s psychology – the Rebbe provides the simplest person with the tools to handle life’s challenges. * About the challenge of our generation: to transform the “lights of Tohu” of Chassidus into the “vessels of Tikkun” of the world of therapy

Photos by Kobi NatanR. Michi Yosefi, in recent years, has become synonymous with the world of psychology and therapy based on the teachings of Chassidus. He is a lecturer at Bar Ilan University and is one of the main teachers at the Beit Baal Shem Tov center in Yerushalayim where he gives courses on the psychology of Chassidus. His workshops around the country include tools from the world of therapy and he is a sought after speaker on alternative therapies and at New Age workshops for self-actualization and change. He is a student of Yemima Avital zl, who is considered a pioneer in the world of alternative treatment and who had a connection to the Rebbe. But the main chiddush in the world of psychology he finds in Chabad Chassidus and the maamarim of the Alter Rebbe. In his lectures he teaches how Chassidus empowers a person in his daily life. One of his popular workshops is based on letters from the Rebbes Igros Kodesh, from which he teaches tools for change, empowerment and psychological healing.


In recent years we are seeing that the psychological insights of Chassidus are spreading and are being recognized in the world of therapy, as well as the founding of schools for the psycho-spiritual study of Chassidus. What did Chassidus innovate when it comes to understanding human psychology?

One of the statements that touched me the most from the teachings of Chassidus regarding human potential is what the Mitteler Rebbe said, quoting his father, the Alter Rebbe, and brought in the introduction to the kuntres Pokeiach Ivrim: “You need to look at a Jew as he stands in the primordial thought of Adam Kadmon” – which is the highest spiritual level there is.

What is the background to this statement? The Rebbe relates that the Alter Rebbe gave his son, who was sixteen at the time, the job of supervising the young men who were yoshvim in Liozna. At a farbrengen with his charges, he spoke very emotionally with words from the heart about the necessity for avoda of the heart, namely prayer, in a measured manner. He made a deep impression on his audience, but being weak he fell ill since speaking about the state of his students truly affected him. As they say, he spoke with his heart’s blood, with great force, and this adversely affected his health.

When one of the Chassidim visited him as he lay sick, he asked him why he spoke so emotionally when he knew he was harming his health and had to be careful. In connection with this, the Mitteler Rebbe repeated the statement from his father, that when his father had assigned him the task of guiding the young men, he said, “You need to look at a Jew as he stands in the primordial thought of Adam Kadmon.”

The Mitteler Rebbe said that he learned from this that originally the neshama as it is in the primordial thought is on the level of a son, but after the neshama descends into a body it is on the level of a slave. This means that when you meet someone with all his challenges in this world, he is appearing before you with the concealments of the level of a slave, but you need to see him on the level of a son – where love is unconditional and there needs to be absolute acceptance without any conditions. Here, your job as a mechanech, parent or friend, is to see every person with whom you come in contact as he is on the level of a son. All of a person’s spiritual falls, all that which conceals the good within him, are from the tzimtzum (constriction) and descent to the level of a slave, but you have the ability to see him without the concealments of the world, to see him on the level of goodness and purity that exist within him as a son.

With this aphorism the Alter Rebbe gave homework to his son about how to act as a mechanech, that even in the greatest descent, a Jew needs to be regarded as a son. That is a very deep dimension from the educational and therapeutic perspective, which means it makes no difference what the person went through, his worth is not conditional. The difference between a slave and a son is that the value of a son is not conditional on his qualities and level.

On the level of a slave there are demands and then as a parent or teacher your relationship is conditional – did the slave do his work or not. The Alter Rebbe says to a Jew, your job is to look at another Jew, no matter who he may be, as he stands in the primordial thought of Adam Kadmon. You do not ignore his problems, you do not deny or overlook them, but when you meet him, you first see him as the beloved son, unconditionally.

This special empowerment here is one that the teacher or parent can instill in his charges, the students or children. The person before you needs to know that he has unconditional worth; he has shleimus (perfection) even if you don’t see it. That is how you need to view the patient or the student.

Why do you use the term patient?

If you look at the person before you as a son, you see his essential qualities. With your look, you see him as he is perfect, with his full powers. The Alter Rebbe’s chiddush is that the look itself gives him the ability to connect to his essential powers. So you are actually instilling in him the awareness that he has unconditional shleimus.

This is not only the way you need to look at him, but the way that you enable him to experience himself. When the Rebbe looks at a Jew, that person does not just suddenly feel that he is important to the Rebbe in that moment; he feels whole. The Rebbe’s gaze enables a Jew to feel the good within himself and even if he had undesirable things about him, he feels that his essence is good. The goodness is his essence and the rest are klipos that can be peeled away.


How do you turn these ideas into therapeutic tools?

The amazing model for me is the courses given by Rabbi Yitzchok Arad. I attended a number of his classes and I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to him.


As much as I learn Chassidus, with him I got the gift of “lights in vessels.” There are many people who learn Chassidus, but they say when it comes to coaching or therapy we need to learn in foreign pastures. People think that Chassidus is for the beis midrash, to learn as a preparation for davening, but they do not find the tools to heal the soul in it. With R’ Arad I learned how to bring the lights of Chassidus down into vessels of tikkun. In this context the word “tikkun” is very apropos – vessels that provide rectification. Fixing the psyche comes through connecting it to the true source of its flow. Our job is to create the therapeutic tools that will enable these ideas to translate into practical tools that will provide a person with the answers.

From R’ Arad I also learned that when you see a Jew in front of you, you don’t ignore what he’s done, and you’re not fazed by it; you see him as a shaleim. Like we have in Chassidus, “joy in the heart on this side, and tears on the other side” – we have the ability to contain these opposites. On the one hand, there is a person facing you who is on the level of a slave and you need to see his difficulties, but at the same time, you need to see him as he is on the level of a son, utter goodness.

The therapeutic or parental dimension of this understanding is that everyone has the ability to be on the level of a son in the here and now, and what will determine whether he appears that way depends on you. First of all you need to know this guiding principle from the Alter Rebbe, and you need to adopt it and learn to view the other that way and reveal the good within him. The way you look at him will determine whether he behaves as a son or a slave.

So the chiddush in the psychology of the Alter Rebbe is the ability to reveal within a Jew to see himself as good?

The Mitteler Rebbe added to what his father said and explained that he learned from this that the neshama in its essence, as it is on the level of a son, has intense innate powers. That means it is given all the power to do the avodas ha’birurim, so the fact that you are not in touch with these powers is not because they disappeared, but because nobody told you that they exist within you.

We don’t need to be convinced that we have these abilities; it’s simply a matter of knowing that we have these abilities and consequently, we will have access to them. If not for Chassidus, we wouldn’t know they exist in us. The key tool of Chassidus is contemplative meditation because all of Chassidus connects us to our essence which is the hidden powers within us.

The Mitteler Rebbe concludes by saying that this statement of the Alter Rebbe is not meant just for others but for the person himself. You need to look at yourself not as you are here in the world, operating within the hiddenness and concealments of the good within you, but as you are on the level of a son, connected to your essential powers before the tzimtzum covered them over. You need to view yourself with goodness being your essence.

The purpose of therapy is to connect every person to this dimension of the essential powers, to the goodness within. The end of the story is that the Mitteler Rebbe told that Chassid that when he meditates on the fact that every Jew who stands before him is on the level of a son, and in this seminal state is included all generations that descend from him, how could he contain his emotions as a mechanech?


How is the world of Chassidic therapy different than western therapy?

In the world of western therapy, you do not take the needs of the G-dly soul into consideration at all. The point here is that to the extent that you help a person by way of his true inner roadmap, you don’t only help him rehabilitate himself socially or improve his marriage, but you connect him to his source of spiritual flow.

How does this psycho-spiritual inner work affect a person’s avodas Hashem?

In this story I see this very point. The reason that the Mitteler Rebbe spoke with his charges was because of the need for measured prayer, and this excited him very much. I was thinking about how the thing that so affected him was slow and measured davening, something that we’ve moved away from. Sometimes it is good to remember that it was because of this that the Mitteler Rebbe became so emotional. So perhaps we can say that we have a hint here that the way for a Jew to have the strength to look at himself as a son is by davening properly. If we want to look for the deeper message here, perhaps we can say that this itself is what enables you to see yourself on the level of a son and to peel away the layers of concealment over all that is good within you.

By the way, this story also appears in the HaYom Yom for 16 Elul, so that it also pertains to the avoda of t’shuva which is the theme of Elul, and which at its core is about returning to one’s G-dly essence. In the HaYom Yom the story is slightly different: “The Alter Rebbe interpreted the statement, ‘Whoever saves a single person of (the people of) Israel is as though he saved an entire world:’ One must perceive a Jew as he stands in the primordial thought of Adam Kadmon. There, each soul stands with all the generations destined to descend from it until the coming of Moshiach Tzidkeinu. When one does a favor to an individual, it is a favor to all those souls until the end of all generations.”

The Mitteler Rebbe also refers to this idea that a Jew as he is in the primordial thought is not only on the level of a son, but includes all the generations that will descend from him. So when a Jew is connected to his essential powers he can tap into truly amazing places within his soul.

Aside from the depth in Chassidus, how is Chassidus different than therapy?

There was a story I heard at a farbrengen which really touched me, about a yeshiva bachur in Kfar Chabad who veered off the derech somewhat and starting feeling cold toward avodas Hashem. At a farbrengen, R’ Shlomo Chaim Kesselman was deep into the farbrengen and then said to the bachur, “Give yourself to me for three weeks.” I see this line like a coach or even your spiritual master saying to you, “Give yourself to me,” i.e., give me your absolute trust, give yourself over entirely, and I will take you to a place that you want to get to.

Sometimes we look for change but are not ready to fully dedicate ourselves to it. In Chassidus there is complete devotion. If you want change you need to devote yourself. If you devote yourself and are really open to change, you will see results. All of Chassidic guidance is – if you want to change, you need to devote yourself to it. You cannot remain on the outside and expect change.

People look for someone to change them, someone to do the work for them. People wait for a master to bring about the change. In the world of hashpaa in Chabad Chassidus, the emphasis is on – if you want change and you have a mashpia, you need to give him your absolute trust and then change will happen. The end of the story is that the bachur was very moved by what R’ Shlomo Chaim said and he jumped towards him on the table and said, “R’ Shlomo Chaim, I’m yours.”

This story brought out for me that we are always searching for the approach that will change us, but actually it is whatever we put our faith in and stick to that will bring about change, because change is about our ability to devote ourselves fully. With the Chassidic approach, the mashpia gives you a pathway but you have to give your absolute trust and walk it and be devoted till the end.


Much is said about psychological insights of Chassidus in the maamarim of the Alter Rebbe or in the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. Where do you find psychological insights of Chassidus in the Rebbe’s teachings?

The Rebbe innovated, in the most unique way, that ability to see the good in everyone and to bring his abilities out from the potential to the actual. I feel that the Rebbe’s main chiddush can be found in his letters. I call the Rebbe’s letters, “the civilian correspondence of the Lubavitcher Rebbe,” since the Rebbe’s main teachings are in his maamarim and sichos, but his letters are things the Rebbe said to a Jewish soldier in the American army, to a principal of a school dealing with difficulties, to an unfortunate woman who writes about her sorrows.

There you see two central points that repeat themselves again and again. First, that the answer is positive, meant to uplift a person, it makes no difference what he says and what he experienced. The Rebbe always responds positively and gives encouragement and hope. Second, there is absolute faith in a person’s abilities. For example, when the Rebbe asks someone to start learning the daily Chitas or light Shabbos candles or put on t’fillin, he does not say to them, “there is such a practice, try to start observing it.” Rather, “surely you observe the three shiurim of the Chitas,” and the Rebbe often mentions, “at least from now on you surely will observe it.” The Rebbe’s demand comes from absolute trust in the goodness of a Jew.

When a person reads what the Rebbe wrote, “surely you observe,” he connects to the power within, for if to the Rebbe it is clear then it should be clear to you too. The Rebbe believes in you and when he makes demands of you he conveys the message that you have what it takes to do it. There is no question here, but a certainty which you have the ability to implement.

The Rebbe took all of Chassidus and brought it down more and more to the practical tools that pertain to our generation. If to the Alter Rebbe the main dissemination of Chassidus was among Torah scholars, the Rebbe did not see any obstacle to taking the deepest chiddushim of Chassidus into the inner workings of the soul and applying it to every Jew. In the Rebbe’s letters you see how the Rebbe provides the psycho-spiritual tools for every Jew in every situation, to deal with the reality he finds himself in. The Rebbe speaks with everyone in their language and enables them to see the good in their life, and in the situation they find themselves in.

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