Going Beyond Nature

Two problems:

Binyomin is 35 years old and has been married for a number of years with three children whose ages range from 4 to 8 years old. Binyomin was the main bread winner in the family and he is suffering from depression, being unemployed for the last year. He has seen the house bills grow with the interest on the credit cards ballooning. The inability to earn a living has caused him to feel useless, with no hope in sight. In addition to this he feels the pressure of doing what is demanded of him as a Jew, including not searching for work on Shabbos, praying three times a day etc. The demands of Judaism for Binyomin are becoming more of a hassle than an enjoyable expression of his Judaism.

Leah is a housewife and she works to help support the income into the house. The problem is that however much Leah and her husband earn it is never enough to cover the bills for their growing family. Leah feels the pressure of budgeting for the needs of her husband and children but at the end of the day, there are basic needs which have to be met with a limited budget. The pressure is causing Leah to become depressed and overwhelmed by the situation. The obligations to buy the more expensive kosher goods are not a question but she feels that they are becoming a burden for her.

The above issues cannot be brushed aside with statements from friends or colleagues of “I am sure things are going to get better” or “you need to try harder”. These types of comments are usually countered by feelings of despondency, as the individual assess the situation and is overcome by their simple take on their view of a horrible reality. In addition to that the depression itself becomes an immobiliser to try and do something to help oneself. It is estimated that there is a loss of 5.6 hours of productive work every week for a person who is moderately depressed[1].

The common therapy which is used to help people with depression is cognitive behavioural therapy also known as CBT. The basis of which is that the emotions of an individual are controlled by the different thoughts which occur in the person. Through different techniques the therapist tries to help the individual change any irrational or illogical beliefs of the person who is depressed to more realistic, positive thoughts which helps to relieve their symptoms.

Although the therapy has met with a lot of success, as it has been pointed out in previous essays, the failure rate is also significant[2]. The problem with CBT as with other therapies is that the distressful issues of the individual are not changing and there is only so much one can reframe the situation in a positive light.

The Torah portion of Shelach can shed light on how to help people like Binyomin and Leah since it has the section of the Torah which talks about mitzvah (commandment) of Tzitzit. The mitzvah of Tzitzit is to wear on a four cornered garment with strings hanging from the corner tied in a certain way (for more information about the laws of tzitzit click here).

The Midrash[3] describes a dialogue between G-D and Moses concerning this commandment. Moses asks “What have you achieved by giving Torah and Mitzvot (commandments), since the Jews find themselves in a physical and material world, which can cause them to forget all that you have given them?” G-D answers by saying “I will give them the mitzvah of tzitzit which will remind them of all the mitzvot. As each letter in the Hebrew alphabet corresponds to a numerical value (gematria[4]), the Hebrew word tzitzit totals 600 and with the 8 strings and 5 knots of each corner, the total adds up to 613.” G-D says “When the Jew sees the tzitzit they will be reminded of all the commandments”, as it states[5] “and you shall see them and remember all the commandments of G-D.”

At first glance it is hard to understand why do the tzitzit need to be put onto a four cornered garment? If as the Midrash explained above the main thing are the strings which come out from the garment, which remind us of the rest of the commandments, then why necessitate that the strings must hang from a four cornered garment?

The garment which the strings dangle from surrounds the individual and is obviously not like food which is eaten and becomes part of the person. Just as a person might say that something is “over my head” which would imply that something is above their understanding, the garment of the tzitzit which is placed over the individual also hint that the commandments in their G-Dly pristine source are above our understanding[6]. It is true that many of the commandments have reasons given for them but nevertheless the reason is an addition to the commandment’s essential character which is above understanding[7].

When a person takes the tzitzit alone without the garment then it is not a commandment and they do not remind him of anything. Only when the individual takes the tzitzit as they are connected and hang from a four cornered garment have they accomplished their goal. This is the lesson of the tzitzit that when we look at the Torah and its commandments (which are represented by the strings), then we must remember that they come from a place which is completely above understanding, only then is there a true fulfilment of a commandment.

At the end of the portion of tzitzit in the Torah the verse states “I am the L-RD your G-D that took you out of Egypt.” This message of this verse helps to channel the lesson of tzitzit into our daily material lives, making it easier to live as a Jew.

When looking at the world around us it is easy to make a calculation that to live as a Jew would make life too hard to be successful. We are commanded to keep Shabbat and the festivals, stopping work early on a Friday or on the eve of the festival. The business competition which we face has no such limitations, whether from Jews who are not yet keeping the laws of Shabbat or lehavdil non Jews.

A Jew has to get up early in the morning and pray, then go to learn something, which only after that do they go to their work. Then in the middle of the business day, the Jew is told that they must go and pray the afternoon prayer of Mincha (which is why this prayer is so special to G-D). At night the Jew must go and say the evening prayer and the prayer of shema before they go to sleep. With all this the Jew is told not to cheat, steal, over charge their customers etc. This type of lifestyle can cause the Jew to have a question “how am I supposed to act according to the Torah, when the way I would discharge my duty is opposite the way to success in the world?”

The answer to this question is from the section of tzitzit. As it was explained above the tzitzit teach us that a mitvah connect us to something above logic[8]. When a Jew does not make calculations according to the limitations of the natural world around them but instead fulfils the commandments in a way which is above logic, then G-D acts in a similar manner. G-D will also acts in a way which is above the limitations of the natural world.

This is the meaning of the verse states “I am the L-RD your G-D that took you out of Egypt.” We are told[9] that the borders of Egypt were guarded so well when the Jews were slaves there, that even one slave was not able to leave the country. Then the Torah tells us that after the ten plagues the Jews left Egypt, consisting of 600,000 men (which does not include the women and children), with great wealth. Each Jew we are told had ninety donkeys laden with gold and silver which they took with them when they left[10]. A number of Egyptians also came along with the Jews as the non Jews recognised that the Jews were not bound by the laws of nature.

This is a lesson for a modern day Jew that when a Jew acts in a way which is above nature then the verse is applied to them “I am the L-RD your G-D that took you out of Egypt” so that from above they are given all their needs in an abundant measure[11].

Practically this would mean that someone like Binyomin whom we described at the beginning of the article would be out and about trying to earn a living (as the Torah itself says that 6 days you shall work). On the other hand he would understand the need to make time for learning and his other Torah obligations (including the family).

For Leah and Binyomin going above their nature and intellect would be to stay on track, staying focused on fulfilling their obligations as Jews and not being deterred by the pressures they face. That means despite the way that the world would view their situation and the lack of motivation the situation should cause, they are able to carry on with a firm commitment to do what they should be doing as Jews. Judaism is then not seen as something taking away from their ability to earn a livelihood but the instead as the means to channel the blessings into our lives (including our physical needs).

Even with the knowledge that when we go beyond our natural limitations then G-D reciprocates, this can still leave the person feeling down. The ever growing bills are real and it is hard to see the more spiritual side of life in the period of our lives when things are not so easy. That is why we have the constant reminder of the tzitzit on us or the obligation to mention them in our prayers, so we can remember that we are ultimately not limited to nature when we connect in the way the Torah demands.

Psychology is enhanced when coupled together with a Torah view of the world. The assurance which the Torah gives helps to calm and strengthen the resolve of anyone that is in distress. Only G-D can give a guarantee about what will happen in the future and when we take the lessons from his Torah in our daily lives it helps us to achieve what we ourselves want to accomplish.

May we see the revelation of the true good and G-DLY reality very soon with the coming of our righteous redeemer, when the “knowledge of G-D will cover the earth, like the sea covers the seabed”.

[1] Stewart, M. (2003). Patient Centered Medicine Transforming the Clinical Method. Radcliff Medical Press.

[2] http://www.journalslibrary.nihr.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/117663/FullReport-hta18310.pdf

[3] Midrash Aggadah, Shlach, see also Yalkut Shimoni, Shlach, par 750

[4] Each letter in the Hebrew alpha bet has a numeric value which is called its gematria

[5] Bamidbar 15,39 and see Rashi there

[6] Usually when people use the term “it makes no sense”, it would imply something negative and illogical. Above logic in this case is something positive and denotes a state so great that our limited worldly logic does not exist in that infinite condition.

[7] The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim chelek 3 perek 26 writes that the reason is only for the general mitzvah but not for the specific parts of the mitzvah e.g. reasons are given for sacrifices but not why a cow is used in certain cases instead of a sheep. This demonstrates how in the laws which are rational they still retain their essential point of being above logic.

[8] The word for mitzvah in Hebrew has the same root as the Aramaic word connection Bava Metzia 28a

[9] Mechilta brought in Rashi on the Torah Shemos 18,9

[10] Bechoros 5,b

[11] Lekutei Sichos 1 p.324

#TzitzitpsychologicalTorahDepression #depression #Torah #Psychological #Shelach #Therapy #Jewish #Bamidbar

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