Wednesday, December 11, 2019


As a wondering Jew(I have practiced many versions of Judaism), I chose to incorporate into my life, many concepts of orthodox, conservative and reform Judaism that I can personally relate to.By way of example, all male orthodox Jews wear tallis,(prayer shawls)while attending synagogue on Saturday mornings,when the Torah(5 books of Moses),is brought out. A custom I follow ,despite attending a Reform synagogue where this is uncommon.
 Personally, to be a Jew,is to be a responsible,caring human being who trys to help others.For an orthodox Jew, as I understand it, the goal is to make the world a better place,so that G-d will return.For this to be accomplished,it is incumbent on Jews to perform the 613 Mitzvahs(blessings),in the Torah.According to orthodox doctrine, any one mitzvah,can be the one that makes G-d return to earth. 
As a wondering Jew I subscribe to the concept of making the world a better place.(  Tikun Olam) I believe strongly that each of us has a purpose and it is incumbent on all of us to find our calling. For me it is to continue to practice my craft and to help my clients find their purpose in life.
 As a young boy of 10,I asked my agnostic father,"what is a jew?' A jew is someone who does good deeds." Simple but elegant.I read one scholarly argument that the difference between religion and spirituality is the difference between thought and action.In the view of one orthodox Rabbi, a religious person attempts to put G-d in all aspects of his/her life.
One way in which spirituality is defined is by Dr. Stephen Diamond in Evil Deeds,"Spirituality can be best be characterized by psychological growth,creativity,consciousness,and emotional maturation."Essentially spirituality is the process of seeing and understanding life as it is with both it's tragic events as well as it's more joyous experiences.
 My take it does not matter whether you consider yourself religious or spiritual ,as long as that means taking action to help others and make the world a better place.
 By way of background I am presently a reform Jew,  however at other times in my life I have been conservative with a healthy exposure to orthodox Judaism.From this personal perspective as a practicing clinical psychologist, I have concluded that G-d is a psychologist.How else to explain that the laws and customs of Judaism follow sound clinical principles of psychology..
 Let us look at "Shiva",the 7 day ritual of mourning the dead that almost all Jews, both religious and secular follow.After the burial,family and friends gather around  the mourners to offer comfort in their time of grief.This consists of providing food, sharing stories about the deceased,and generally offering emotional support to the bereaved.
 Psychologically  this is sound as it provides a celebration of life. The mourner feels support and is able to put the death of the bereaved into perspective with the life cycle.Essentially the mourner receives the time honoured ritual of support and love of his/her community.
Similarly. Rosha Hashana(The Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur(the day of atonement), are the perfect example of the marriage between psychology and Judaism.In preparing for Yom Kippur.where Jews ask G-d for forgiveness, there are required to do the same of people they have hurt in the past year. Similarly they are asked to forgive those who have hurt them.Psychologically, this process of forgiving, is extremely beneficial to both partners and allows, bitterness,hate and bad feelings to be discharged.This promotes healing  between the parties.
For an observant Jew, the process of preparing for the day of atonement, includes a period of self discovery,that prepares oneself for the cleansing of Yom Kippur. During this process, which typically occurs during the month preceding New Years, a person examines his//her life ,values,relationships, in order to become a better person in the New Year.Thus the goal is to try and become a more holy and compassionate person in the New Year.
 As a clinical psychologist who works with clients who have been traumatized,hurt and rejected, I see the process of psychotherapy as being an attempt to examine their lives and become more human and compassionate human beings. Clearly the process of psychotherapy. and  examining your life before the high holidays  are similar process leading to self grow and self fulfillment.
 Rabbi Hillel, a well known Rabbi, is perhaps most famous for the following quote.
 "If I am not for myself, who is for me?
If I care only for myself,what am I.If not now,when."
 The above quote addresses 2 basic human needs,namely the need to have your own distinctive identity and the need to belong to a community.
 Hillel's quote perfectly describes the balance between taking care of yourself and being there
 for others needs.
 The last part of the quote addresses the issue of living in the presence,a sign of good mental health.
During the latter part of my 48 years of practicing psychology I have intuitively felt that spirituality was an important component of psychotherapy enabling the client to find personal meaning in life.
In my view,there is a parallel process between psychotherapy and religious/spiritual pursuits.
 Simply stated there is more than one way to climb the mountain of self actualization and self growth
Follow your own unique. journey of life and path up the mountain. Find your passion ,live it and be open to the experiences and challenges of life.

 I wish all of you a warm,fulfilling and meaningful New Year.

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