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Personality change through contemplative meditation: an integrative Hasidic and psychological approach.


Hasidic Psychology and the G-d Relationship

Habad Hasidism is an intellectual approach to Jewish mysticism that uses in-depth contemplative meditation as a way to cultivate awareness of, connection to, and ultimately yihud (bonding or union) with G-d. What is particularly noteworthy for the psychologist, however, is how Habad teachings do not simply teach meditation, nor just convey mystical teachings as material for meditation. Rather, a detailed and sophisticated psychology of meditation is found within the Habad corpus.

In laying the ground for its psychology of meditation, the Habad literature deals in depth with what I call 'basic ideational processes.' (1) These are familiar to any student of Habad Hasidism. I am referring to such matters as how an object or idea is initially made the focus of the intelligent gaze of the mind; how the mind then begins to 'clothe' or represent the idea in language; how the mind begins to 'own' the idea, and adopt one or another emotionally-valenced attitudes towards it; and so forth, all the way through to emotions, and how the idea may be expressed in speech or action.

The Habad writings are not engaged in psychology for its own sake. Rather, an understanding is developed of processes of thought, emotion, memory, internalization, and related topics, in order to apply these to the central project, which is bonding with G-d through hitbonenut (contemplative meditation). (2) For example, we can develop a sense of what it means to cultivate such a union with G-d by engaging in a discussion of how an in-depth comprehension of an idea may bring about a 'wondrous union' (3) of the mind with the idea. Habad hitbonenut can be said to begin with the placing of one's attention onto G-d; thinking, for example, of how G-d is bringing oneself and one's surroundings into existence every moment. Once G-d has become the 'object' of contemplation in this way, one begins to develop an 'understanding' by which we mean, in this context, an inner sense or representation of G-d and the creative processes initiated and maintained by G-d.

Yet, this is just the barest beginning. The expansion, maturation, and elaboration of this 'understanding' of G-d is the long-term project of hitbonenut. A person's meditatively-forged and developed sense of G-d becomes the vehicle for an enhanced connection with G-d. As stated in the Tanya (based on the Zohar) and afterwards often repeated in hasidic writings:
      G-d is revealed to each individual according to his measure
   (shiura) [meaning:] each individual according to how he measures
   [or "estimates"] G-d in his heart." (4)

Based on this reference from the Zohar in the Tanya and throughout the hasidic literature, I have adopted the term shiura--literally, the 'measure' or 'estimation' of G-d--to refer to the 'G-d object representation' that develops through hitbonenut meditation. The development of such a shiura is to be understood as fundamental to the entire Habad meditative project.

Ecstatic displays of religious fervor that are not driven primarily by such a cultivated shiura of G-d are viewed with skepticism bordering on outright disdain in a key Habad meditative textbook, the Tract on Ecstasy, by Rabbi Dov Ber of Lubavitch, the son of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the first Lubavitch Rebbe. (5) Rabbi Dov Ber describes various types and levels of hitpaalut (passion, ecstasy, or affect) that a person may experience in relation with G-d. When the Tract on Ecstasy is read carefully with a psychological sensibility, and in particular with the two commentaries by Rabbi Hillel Paritcher (6) in hand, it becomes clear that Rabbi Dov Ber deals in his text with more than just hitpaalut. Each of the five stages of meditative experience of G-d that he describes consists of a complex array of motivational, cognitive, affective, and behavioral qualities, integrated into a kind of overall relational 'posture' characterizing that stage.

A linchpin concept in my proposed integration is that this type of complex relational posture, with its array of motivational, cognitive, and emotional elements as explicated in the Tract on Ecstasy and related texts, is highly resonant with what is referred to in contemporary psychology as an intrapsychic 'object representation' (7) or 'self object.' (8) From a hasidic point of view, we could say that each of these stages consists of an entire partsuf, which means a full 'human form' of related qualities. The formation and cultivation of this type of 'object representation' of G-d through hitbonenut is what drives the general personality changes that are described--and prescribed--by Rabbis Dov Ber Shneuri and Hillel ben Meir of Paritch.

The concept of the shiura--as an inner 'estimation' of G-d, or 'G-d representation'--can provide a useful shorthand for referring to the multilayered, evolving experience of G-d that develops through long-term hitbonenut.

Having come to this point, we can now introduce some contemporary psychological thought that I suggest can be brought into fruitful dialogue and integration with the Habad psychology of meditation.

Psychology of the G-d Relationship

The terms 'object representation' and 'self object' mentioned in connection with the shiura derive from the object relations and self psychology schools of thought of later psychoanalysis. These schools of thought are concerned with the internalized representations of self and others in the psyche, especially the ways in which these representations become constitutive of identity (the 'self representation'). They are fundamental to how we perceive and relate to our interpersonal world.

Recent application of the object relations theory in psychology to the G-d relationship by Ana-Maria Rizutto (9) and Moshe Halevi Spero have inspired some of the themes in my reading of hitbonenut described above. In considering some of this psychological theorizing of religious experience, I shall focus on the work of clinical psychologist Spero, the most prolific and synthesizing contributor to this body of literature.

Spero (10) observes that just as in any other relationship, our experience of G-d is colored by a complex of pre-understandings, desires, and expectations derived from our early relations with significant others, as well as our cultural and linguistic contexts. A similar observation informed Freud's psychologistic reduction of religion, which he interpreted as merely a 'projection' of infantile needs and conflicts.

Dissatisfied with this reductionism, Spero argues that in order to do good psychotherapy the therapist needs to keep an open mind about clients' relationships with G-d. Spero insists that the G-d relationship be treated in therapy as consisting potentially of both projective and non-projective 'realistic' elements. Through his case studies, he shows how this approach allows the client (whether nominally religious or not) to deal in depth with important personal issues that touch upon these matters. In adopting this stance, Spero takes pains to distance himself from other approaches to spiritual material in psychotherapy that he says may "... encourage interpretations that simply appear mystical or religiously 'loaded' ..." (11)

Spero presents a theoretical treatment of the G-d relationship, which we can call the 'duo-dimensional model.' He conceptualizes two parallel dimensions in the inner representation of G-d: the anthropocentric and the deocentric. The anthropocentric dimension consists of the personal and cultural factors we bring to our relationship with G-d. These factors coalesce into what Spero refers to as (small "g") god-representations (which are essentially the object relations equivalent of the projective deity of Freud's Totem and Taboo). (12)

Spero describes these anthropocentric 'god representations' as evolving through a series of six qualitative stages, which he derives from Margaret Mahler, Fred Pine, and Anni Bergman's (13) 'separation-individuation' model of human development. (14) Like other similar models based on the work of Mahler, Pine, and Bergman, this model of religious change assumes that the separation-individuation stages are recapitulated at developmental crisis points such as adolescence, (15) adult love relationships, (16) and other adult transitional experiences. (17) Each of the Mahler group's six separation-individuation stages (namely: normal autism, symbiosis, differentiation, practicing, rapprochement, and individuation or emotional object constancy) is reinterpreted to describe the vicissitudes of the development of one's relationship to G-d. (18)

A noteworthy aspect of this model is that until the point of individuation, all of these stages are fundamentally narcissistic in nature. That is to say that in one's relations with the other (in this case, G-d), one is not genuinely focused on nor concerned with that other, but rather with working out one's own viability as a distinct person; forming one's own ego. The other (or 'object') provides merely a backdrop, an enabling venue, for the formation of one's sense of self. It is only once a stable sense of self and other is achieved--and many never achieve it--that a true relationship with the other, based on a recognition and acknowledgment of one's distinct subjectivity, becomes possible.

An implication of Spero's work is that once these stages of the anthropocentric G-d relationship have been traversed, a key point of development is reached as the second, 'deocentric,' dimension becomes accessible. Only then is the person "... on the road to experiencing a relationship with G-d not based wholly in anthropocentric experiences." (19)

The deocentric dimension, in turn, is said to derive from genuine perceptions and resultant object representations of an objective G-d, mediated through such avenues as prayer, meditative practice, ritual, the perception of Divine Providence in one's life, and the like. (20) Spero says little about this deocentric dimension, however, and makes no attempt to create a stage model for its development, as he does for the anthropocentric dimension. Rather, he observes cautiously that "... some ultimate manner of perceiving G-d may transcend the terms of object relations and other psychological theories." (21) However, in a later work, he adds the following intriguing comment:
   Following a sufficient number of experiences with special
   perception (such as prophecy) of the objective divine object, one
   could imagine the direct internalization of an ideal 'divine'
   representation. (22)

This comment could serve well as a description of the intended psychological changes wrought through hitbonenut in Rabbi Dov Ber's Tract on Ecstasy.

Narcissistic, Anthropocentric Hitbonenut

Returning now to the Habad sources, we can observe that in addition to the later stages of development described in the Tract on Ecstasy (which relate to Spero's deocentric dimension), Rabbi Dov Ber discusses two earlier stages of problematic meditative involvement. He calls one stage kavanah l'hitpaalut, meaning "intention [or motivation] towards ecstasy." In this case, the person does meditate and there are beginnings of a shiura; however the endeavor is subtly undermined by tainted motives. One such motive could be an excessive focus on the pleasure state that arises in meditation (rather than focusing on the object of meditation). Another is the motive to "feel oneself on a spiritual level" (23) through the hitbonenut. The individual may also have a desire to boast of his meditative experiences or to feel greatness. (24)

The common denominator of these problematic motives is the factor of yeshut ("somethingness"), which engenders a separation between the meditator and the object of meditation. (25) When aspects of oneself are inserted into the focus of meditation, the depth and quality--and authenticity--of the meditative gesture towards G-d are impaired.

It seems to me that no English term in current usage more accurately captures the richly textured meaning of yeshut, as used in hasidic sources, than the term 'narcissism' as it is used in contemporary psychoanalytic discourse. (26) Indeed, were we to formulate the problem put forth in the Tract on Ecstasy in terms of this discourse, we would speak broadly of a tendency to 'use' the dimly- and unempathetically-perceived object (27) (whether a person, an affiliation, or an involvement such as meditation) for self-gratification. (28)

The second type of false or imaginary spirituality discerned by Rabbi Dov Ber involves a more gross, obvious problem that he calls "a completely foreign fire." (29) In this case there is no development of a shiura apparent at all ("... in his mind there is no ... meditative concept of G-d at all, only in the most general way" (30)). The entire motivation from the very beginning of the person's involvement in spiritual practice was false, driven by yeshut-narcissism. This person's activity is one of trying to directly arouse a kind of pseudo-spiritual enthusiasm (namely, the "fire") associated with positive feelings and energy. Rabbi Dov Ber quotes Proverbs 18:2 to elucidate this case: "The fool desires not understanding, but rather the revelation of his own heart." (31) This person has entered into meditation not as a genuine search for G-d, but rather as a means of self-expression or self-actualization ("the revelation of his own heart").

The coupling of these sorts of motives with hitbonenut meditation is a bad mix. Rabbi Dov Ber cautions against vain and superficial spirituality--the "foreign fire" that can result. He warns that if left unchecked, this can deteriorate further into overt, grandiose delusions (with an autistic cast). (32) At this furthest extreme, the initially somewhat flawed orientation has taken on truly pathological momentum, at which point we begin to speak of not only pathology but of idolatry, in the form of 'worshipping oneself.' (33) In this case, there is no shiura to speak of, but only a rampant yeshut-narcissism with no room for the Other at all.

Unlike this level of "foreign fire," Rabbi Dov Ber views the other level of problematic hitbonenut, the "intention towards ecstasy," as containing the seeds of future progress. (Thus, Rabbi Dov Ber does not consider the foreign fire as a 'stage' of meditative hitpaalut, but rather as a competing, artificial substitute for it.) He says that the very choice to be involved in hitbonenut indicates that at a deeper level the person making the choice is in fact motivated to connect with G-dliness. Were his only desire selfish and/or imaginary, he would not maintain the discipline. The shiura, although rudimentary, is nevertheless present and potentially evolving. Although the person seeks a certain feeling, an experience, rather than seeking G-d, nevertheless underneath there is the desire for "... feeling with reference to G-dliness." (34) Thus, this "intention to ecstasy" can be considered a sort of preliminary stage of groping towards G-d through a haze of conflicting desires and intentions.

Sketching the Proposed Integration

I wish to argue that both an object relations and a Habad hasidic account of psychological development in the G-d relationship include two general levels. These have been distinguished by Spero in terms of whether an anthropocentric or deocentric-derived G-d representation predominates; in Rabbi Dov Ber's terms they are distinguished motivationally, by whether one's own yeshut-somethingness or a genuine interest in G-d is driving the meditative endeavor.

I suggest that Spero's six stages of narcissistic anthropocentric G-dobject relational development correspond to the two negative types of yeshut/narcissistic meditative (or pseudo-meditative) involvement described in the Tract of Ecstasy. Thus, for example, Spero's first, Mahlerian-derived, stage is that of autism. This refers to an imaginary sense of idealized union with G-d (for example after a conversion experience)--a kind of omnipotent fusion with the object. Rabbi Dov Ber's description of the "foreign fire" level of experience, which is devoid of shiura, and about which he adapts the verse from Isaiah 47:8 and Zephania 2:15, "There is I, and none else," certainly evokes a grandiose fantasy with an 'autistic' quality.

The second problematic stage that Rabbi Dov Ber describes is much more general and dynamic--the intention towards ecstasy. The sense is of a person striving to engage in the meditation, yet still too caught up in his own urgent need of basic psychological growth to properly focus on and progress towards the ambitious spiritual goals of hitbonenut. I believe that Spero's four other stages of development can be placed here, as the individual moves haltingly through the stages of symbiosis, practicing, and rapprochement, towards the achievement of "emotional object constancy."

This crucial latter stage--that of transition to a deocentric experience of G-d--dovetails nicely with the first of Rabbi Dov Ber's five deocentric stages, which he calls 'acknowledgment.' At this stage, the meditator has begun to face the stark realization that he hasn't even begun to truly seek, let alone know, G-d. This is the acknowledgment of the Other, the achievement of the sense of the object as stable and existing in its own right, apart from one's own needs and preoccupations.

There is a parable for this stage. A poor man contemplates the honor, wealth, and splendor of a king. He develops a strong appreciation for these things, greatly values and desires them, but does not feel he has any personal connection to them now. (35) Implied here is a critical shift from a more or less subtly narcissistic orientation to the Object (as well as to the practice of meditation itself as cited in note 28) to a mature stance of recognition of the Other as other. This then opens up the possibility of developing "... the unique relationship between the individual and the Object called G-d" (36) through hitbonenut, in a realistic, grounded way. The achievement made in Rabbi Dov Ber's first stage seems entirely analogous to Spero's description of the endpoint of the separation-individuation process in relation to 'the G-d Object.' (37) In both perspectives, there now ensues a shift from one fundamental way of relating to G-d to another.

A parable for this type of crucial personality shift occurring through hitbonenut is told by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, in the name of Rabbi Hillel Paritcher. A person walks towards a merry-go-round. Drawing nearer, he observes people riding toy horses going around and around. Then he actually steps onto the merry-go-round. Suddenly the people and toy horses stop going around, and the earth where he had been standing before begins to circle. This is the shift. All the initial elements are in place; what changes is the experience of the center and the experience of who orbits whom. The profound valuing of the Other, of G-d, and an unconflicted desire to connect with the Divine through meditative practice make the stage of acknowledgment "... the real beginning for those who seek out and demand G-d in truth and sincerity, with a proper intention towards G-dliness specifically." (38)

Beyond "Object" Relations

The Tract on Ecstasy describes the four ensuing, higher stages of deocentric hitbonenut following the acknowledgment stage as generating ever-increasing awareness and affective responsivity to G-d--with an important shift. Having achieved the capacity to acknowledge and experience G-d as separate from, and outside of, oneself, one then becomes capable of beginning to experience that one is not separate from G-d. This growing self-nullification facing G-d's omnipresence defines the unfolding of the higher stages of hitbonenut. (39) Experiencing G-d as object lays the groundwork for a true experience of G-d ontologically subsuming and suffusing the self (whereas earlier there was a superficially similar, yet false, experience based on immaturity and 'blurred boundaries' between the self and G-d [see Wilber's discussion of the 'pre/trans fallacy']). (40)

This perspectival shift from experiencing G-d as Other to realizing G-d as inclusive of self is illustrated by comments of Rabbi Hillel Paritcher on the opening section of the Code of Jewish Law (Shulkhan Arukh 1:1). This section enjoins the Jew to think of G-d as a "great King" who "stands over him and observes his activities," so that through this "... fear [of G-d] will come to him," and he will therefore measure his words and deeds carefully. This opening passage frames that entire endeavor of Jewish observance, detailed in the rest of the Code. On this passage, Rabbi Hillel Paritcher comments:
      They [the authors of this Judeo-legal teaching] have spoken,
   however, exoterically ... and they have written "... stands over
   him," which implies [G-d is] like an 'other' [zulato] who stands
   over him. But the truth is that he is not separate from Him at all,
   and is nullified in Him absolutely, since He flows into his entire
   inner being, and his innermost being, and is bringing him into
   existence and vitalizing him every instant. We find [therefore]
   that the human being is not outside of Him at all, and consequently
   the matter of 'fear' is to be interpreted not according to the
   simple meaning that he fears something outside himself. Rather, its
   interpretation is 'abnegation' [bittul]; namely, that "fear will
   come to him," meaning until he becomes completely self-abnegated to
   Him, not being an existent unto himself at all, in any way ... And
   this is the ultimate intention [of Torah Judaism], as it is
   written: "The end of the matter, when all is said and done: Fear
   [i.e., abnegate to] G-d ..." (41)

What is most interesting about these latter four levels is how they seem to represent paradoxically the deepening of a relationship, together with the progressive negation of the duality required by the entire concept of 'relationship.' The absorption into the Other, the fruition of a relational movement of meditational embrace and self-surrender, is not the negation of relationship, but rather its climax. Thus, the actualized self-nullification that defines the furthest reaches of this process is not the end of object-relating. Rather, it is a teleological 'end' and purpose of Jewish meditation as a way of relating to G-d.


When object relations concepts and in particular the imago of G-d are applied to religious experience, (42) the result is remarkably similar to the concept of a shiura (the intentional object or 'measure') that evolves through meditation implicit in hasidic texts. In both contexts we are speaking of a malleable, yet relatively stable and specifiable, developmentally-referenced, (43) intrapsychic representation of G-d as a relational object. (44) Furthermore, careful analysis of the G-d-object relational stage-type models of each tradition will show that there are many shared observations, even some similar terminology, and--perhaps most importantly in view of the troubled history of the relationship between Judaism and psychology--a shared motivation to assist individuals who wish to increase the depth and authenticity of their religious life.

In terms of practical application: I have found in teaching Jewish meditation that the use of the integrative approach and terminology outlined here seems to help people both appreciate and apply Jewish meditation better. Applying concepts and skills drawn from contemporary psychology can increase the relevance and potency of the teachings of Jewish meditation in our complex and 'psychologized' modern society. The clarification of the relationship between Judaism and psychology that this requires is an unavoidable and potentially highly-enriching challenge faced by Judaism in this generation. (45)

For Further Reading

Dov Ber Shneuri, Kuntres Ha'Hitbonenut [Shaar Ha'Yihud] [Tract on Meditation (Gate of Union)] in Ner Mitsvah ve'Torah Or (New York: Kehot Publications, 1995) pp. 216-294. First published in Kopys in 1820.

Yitzchak Ginsburgh, Lecture on Hitbonenut to Instructors at the Merkaz Ha'Rav Talmudic Academy, Jerusalem, cassette recording in Hebrew (Rehovot: Gal Einai Institute, 1997).

N. Lowenthal, Communicating the Infinite: The Emergence of the Habad School (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990).

Moshe Halevi Spero, Religious Objects as Psychological Structures: A Critical Integration of Object Relations Theory, Psychotherapy, and Judaism (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1992).

Margaret S. Mahler, Fred Pine, and Anni Bergman, The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant (New York: Basic Books Inc., 1975).

R. Elior, The Paradoxical Ascent to G-d: The Kabbalistic Theosophy of Habad Hasidism (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1993).

Yaacov Lefcoe, MA (Psych)

Presented at the Fifth Miami International Conference on Torah and Science, 16-18 December 2005


(1) I use the term "ideational" rather than "cognitive" in order to connote the classical Greek eidia, as something existing beyond the mind but that the mind can grasp. When we want to read Habad thought psychologically, we need to do so with certain basic ideas and assumptions of "classical" Greek psychology in mind. In this connection, the term "idea" can serve as a serviceable translation of the Hebrew muskal, although David Bakan's somewhat cumbersome "incorporeal intelligibles" is a better literal translation. (See In an unpublished manuscript Hitbonenut: A Psychological Reading of Hasidic Contemplative Meditation (Lefcoe, 2008), I explore these hermeneutic issues at greater length.

(2) I use the term "bonding" for the Baal Shem Tov's deveikut advisedly, to allude to the psychological process of that name by which a newborn forms a primary attachment to his/her parents and other important early figures. There are profound processes that occur during this kind of "bonding" which make the term both literally and metaphorically appropriate to the idea of deveikut. The term hitbonenut derives from the root word for "understanding" in Hebrew.

(3) Shneur Zalman of Liadi (N. Mindel, N. Mangel, Z.I. Posner, and J.I. Schochet, trans.) Tanya (New York: Kehot Publications, 1981) pp. 17-18. First published in Slovita, 1796.

(4) Ibid., pp. 4, 124, based on Zohar 1:103.

(5) Dov Ber Shneuri, Kuntres HaHitpaalut [Tract on Ecstasy] in Maamarey Admor Ha'Emtsaee: Kuntresim (New York: Kehot Publications, 1991) pp. 37-196. First published in Koenigsberg, ca. 1831.

(6) Hillel ben Meir Paritcher, Likutey Biurim [A Collection of Explanations] in Maamarey Admor Ha'Emstaee: Kuntresim (New York: Kehot, 1991) pp. 52-196. First published in Warsaw, 1868; Hillel ben Meir Paritcher, Likutey Biurim al Shaar Ha'Yihud [A Collection of Explanations on the Gate of Union] in Ner Mitsvah veTorah Or (New York: Kehot Publications, 1995) pp. 295-390.

(7) J.R. Greenberg and S.A. Mitchell, Object Relations in Psychoanalytic Theory (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983).

(8) H. Kohut, The Analysis of the Self: A Systematic Approach to the Psychoanalytic Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorders (New York: International Universities Press, 1971).

(9) A.M. Rizutto, "The Psychological Foundations of Belief in G-d" in Toward Moral and Religious Maturity: The First International Conference on Moral and Religious Development (convened by Christiane Brusselmans) (Morristown, NJ: Silver Burdett Co., 1980).

(10) Moshe Halevi Spero, "Parallel Dimensions of Experience in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy of the Religious Patient," Psychotherapy, vol. 27, no. 1 (1990) pp. 53-71.

(11) Spero, "Identity and Individuality in the Nouveau-Religious Patient: Theoretical and Clinical Aspects," Psychiatry, vol. 50 (1987) p. 68.

(12) Spero, "Parallel Dimensions," pp. xiv-xvii.

(13) Margaret S. Mahler, Fred Pine, and Anni Bergman, The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant (New York: Basic Books Inc., 1975).

(14) Spero, "Identity and Individuality."

(15) P. Blos, The Adolescent Passage (International Universities Press, 1979). Cited in Spero, "Identity and Individuality," p. 56.

(16) S.S. Gilfillian, "Adult Intimate Love," Smith College Studies in Social Work, vol. 55 (1985) pp. 183-196. (Cited in Spero, "Identity and Individuality.")

(17) J. Edward, J. Ruskin, and P. Turrine, Separation and Individuation (Gardener Press, 1981). (Cited in Spero, "Identity and Individuality.")

(18) Spero does not appear to address the discrediting of the concept of autism as a normative stage in human development by later developmental research on infants (Stern, Interpersonal World). Mahler herself is reported to have acknowledged this problem and repudiated this aspect of her work later in life (Coates, "John Bowlby"). Nevertheless, the notion of a non-normative, pathological autistic withdrawal into fantasy--as the term states (Cahn, "Eugen Bleuler")--remains relevant to the discussion of delusional grandiosity and pseudo-spirituality in Rabbi Dov Ber's writings (below). My retention of Spero's use of Mahler's autistic subphase should be understood as referring only to qualities of a pathological state, and not to a normative one in infancy.

S.W. Coates, "John Bowlby and Margaret S. Mahler: Their Lives and Theories," Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, vol. 52 (2004) pp. 571-601.

C. H. Cahn, "Eugen Bleuler's Concepts of Psychopathology," trans. R. Kuhn, History of Psychiatry, vol. 15, no. 3 (2004) pp. 361-366.

D. Stern, The Interpersonal World of the Infant: A View from Psychoanalysis and Developmental Psychology (New York: Basic Books, 1985).

(19) Moshe Halevi Spero, Religious Objects as Psychological Structures: A Critical Integration of Object Relations Theory, Psychotherapy, and Judaism (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1992) p. 69. I may be simplifying somewhat here. It would be more accurate to say that there are both anthropocentric and deocentric dimensions of one's G-d representations present during all stages. I suspect that Spero would agree that some deocentric elements are present even at early religio-developmental stages, when anthropocentric elements predominate the G-d representation (this despite his use of the phrase "wholly based" here). The question is one of degree; of which dimension predominates at a given point. Nevertheless, for the sake of simplicity here I will stay with the more 'categorical' language.

(20) Spero, "Parallel Dimensions."

(21) Spero, "Identity and Individuality," p. 63.

(22) Ibid., p. 59.

(23) Paritcher, Likutey Biurim (1868/1991) p. 74.

(24) Ibid., p. 71.

(25) Shneuri, Kuntres Ha'Hitpaalut, pp. 63-64.

(26) The term narcissism is being used here in a universal sense, and not as a categorical diagnostic distinction. In his 1914 work On Narcissism: An Introduction, Standard Edition, vol. 14), Freud recognized an idea of universal (as distinct from a specifically pathological) narcissism. The idea of a basic narcissistic dimension, stage, or developmental line in human psychology is common currency in contemporary psychodynamic psychology. Yeshut similarly carries this connotation, of something natural and relatively universal, yet more prominent in some people than in others. In the specific context of meditation, however, an otherwise "normal" or "healthy' adult narcissism may become a major stumbling block on the way to authentic progress. See A.P. Morrison, ed., Essential Papers on Narcissism (New York: New York University Press, 1986) for a collection of key articles on the topic.

(27) See W.N. Evans, "The Mother: Image and Reality," Psychoanalytic Review, vol. 59, no. 2 (1959) pp. 183 1999; O.F. Kernberg, "An Ego-Psychology Object Relations Theory of the Structure and Treatment of Pathologic Narcissism: An Overview," Psychiatric Clinics of North America, vol. 12, no. 3 (1989) pp. 723-729; and H. Kohut, The Analysis of the Self: A Systematic Approach to the Psychoanalytic Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorders (New York: International Universities Press, 1971).

(28) Consider Eagle's succinct comments on "narcissism and interests:" A critical feature of this narcissistic style ... is a relative lack of interest in the object per se. Rather, interest is dictated mainly or entirely by the aims of self-enhancement and self-aggrandizement ... For example, when an individual seems to relate to an object (e.g., music) only or mainly for the purpose of self-aggrandizement, the genuineness of the interest in that object can then be questioned. M. Eagle, "Interests as Objects Relations" Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Thought, vol. 4, no. 4 (1981) pp. 527-565.

See also Spero, "Parallel Dimensions."

(29) Shneuri, Kuntres HaHitpaalut, pp. 61-63, 77.

(30) Ibid., p. 61.

(31) Ibid., p. 63.

(32) Ibid.

(33) Ibid., p. 62.

(34) Ibid., p. 78.

(35) Ibid., p. 82.

(36) Spero, "Parallel Dimensions," p. 54.

(37) Ibid.

(38) Shneuri, Kuntres HaHitpaalut, p. 81.

(39) In ascending order, the four higher stages are called "good thought," "ecstasy in the heart," "intention in the heart," and "simple will." A detailed treatment of these higher stages would take us too far afield here. The reader is referred to Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh's cassette recording, Jewish Meditation: Fundamental Structures and Practices (Rehovot: Gal Einai Institute, 1993). See also N. Lowenthal, Communicating the Infinite: The Emergence of the Habad School (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990); and my unpublished manuscript (see note 1).

(40) Ken Wilbur, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (Boston: Shambhala, 2001).

(41) Paritcher, Likutey Biurim (1868/1995) p. 342.

(42) See Rizutto, "Psychological Foundations;" and Spero, "Parallel Dimensions."

(43) Rabbi Dov Ber Shneuri's Tract on Ecstasy explains at length how maturity and life experience impact upon one's ability to develop a connection to G-d through hitbonenut. We can discern in these discussions a notion that might be called "meditation readiness," akin to "reading readiness" in educational psychology.

(44) Yitzchak Ginsburgh, Bakshu Panai [Seek My Face] (Rehovot: Gal Enai, 1984). Rabbi Ginsburgh ex plains how hitbonenut, despite its nominal focus on G-dliness (as distinct from G-d Himself), is nevertheless always undertaken within a larger, relational/personal context--that of prayer. Lowenthal ("Communicating the Infinite") cites a parable by the early Habad thinker Reb Yitshak Aizik Hummler that hitbonenut is like a child contemplating his father and thereby adding dimensions of matured understanding to his primal recognition of the father. This analogy embeds the project of hitbonenut into a relational framework.

(45) The challenge is unavoidable, as we see that Jews of all ages, including very observant Jews, are using modern mental health sciences to address a variety of issues. The detailed psychological teachings of Hasidism, the Torat Ha'Nefesh of the Baal Shem Tov provides the tools with which to effectively clarify and integrate elements of psychology with Torah.

Yaacov Lefcoe spent his early years in London, Ontario, Canada playing hockey and developing interests in antinuclear activism, rock music (playing bass for the Canadian band White Punks on Funk), and Eastern mysticism. Upon graduating high school in 1987, he left for a seven-month solo trek to Southeast Asia and spent time learning vipassana meditation in Thailand (Wot Suan Mok) and India. Towards the end of this journey he entered the Ascent Institute in Tsfat looking for a room for the night, met its director Rabbi Shaul Leiter, and ended up spending five years in fulltime Torah study, primarily at the Yeshivat Od Yosef Hai at the Tomb of Joseph in Shekhem with the hasidic teacher Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh.

Today Yaacov is a psychologist in private practice in Rosh Pina, Israel and a PhD candidate in clinical psychology at York University in Toronto. His interests include meditation and the interaction of Judaism and psychology, in particular authoring research on the psychology of tshuvah (return to Torah Judaism) for which he won the Ivana Guglietti Prize for Excellence in Qualitative Research at York University. Yaacov also plays bass for the American-Israeli rock trio YOOD.
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Author:Lefcoe, Yaacov
Publication:B'Or Ha'Torah
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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