Filling the void
Yehudis is twenty eight years old with three sisters whose ages are eighteen, twenty and twenty four years old. Yehudis is married with four children and lives in a middle class suburb. Four months ago her father passed away, whom she had been very close to and she feels sad and unhappy. Yehudis wonders who will fill the void in their family? Her father was always the peace maker between her sisters and whenever someone felt bad, her father was there to cheer them up. Yehudis wonders who would now fill this role for her and her siblings? Yehudis is torn as she feels that she has her own life to lead and cannot take on the role of peacemaker etc. lowering herself to be involved in petty arguments but knows there is no one else to fill the role.
Psychology is most cases cannot solve all your problems but it can help you cope with the different thoughts and feeling which occur because of the issues at hand. There are a number of issues which might need to be dealt with in the above story in therapy. Instead of looking at each one in this article, we shall instead focus on the anxiety which Yehudis feels about filling her father’s role in her family.
Since Yehudis is suffering from bereavement, if she went for therapy a lot of the counselling might consist of Person Centered Therapy. Person Centered Therapy has a number of core conditions which include: 1) being empathic with the client, 2) giving unconditional positive regard to the client, valuing them even if you don’t value their actions and 3) Congruence – showing how you feel to the client on the inside and not hiding it behind a blank face[i]. In this type of therapy the client would probably do most of the talking, being able to unburden themselves in a non judgemental environment. This would give a certain amount of relief for Yehudis but the problem of her uneasiness concerning filling the void in her family would remain.
The answer to Yehudis dilemma might be found in this week’s Torah portion. The Talmud and Midrash on this week’s Torah portion connect three important figures with three miracles which the Jews received in the desert. The following are the miracles and who they are connected to: 1) the miraculous clouds of glory which protected the Jews from the outside of the camp. The clouds protected them from snakes and scorpions found in the desert and were in the merit of Aharon 2) the manna which fell from heaven and fed the Jews for 40 years which had a taste on any food which the individual desired[ii], was in the merit of Moses 3) the miraculous well which accompanied them and gave the Jews water, was in the merit of Miriam.
The Talmud[iii] describes how after the death of Miriam and Aharon, the well and the clouds disappeared but then reappeared in the merit of Moses.
The Torah is not just a profound intellectual book but it also contains lessons for us, including the above narrative. The Hebrew word “Torah” also comes from the same Hebrew root as the word “instruction”[iv] which indicates that every concept (including the stories) in Torah are a lesson in every time, in every place, in our daily lives[v].
Each of these three ideas i.e. the manna, the clouds of glory and the well which gave forth water are connected to a different aspect within the Torah. The Torah has an effect on a Jew in three different ways 1) just like the Manna became part of the people who ate it, the Torah which is learnt affects the way that people think, feel and act, 2) just like the clouds protected the Jews, so too the Torah protects the Jews and 3) just like water helps to transport food around the body, the Torah is able to bring the highest levels of spirituality down into this world in a way that we can use it to reach our true potential.
To explain the connection of the Torah to these three miracles:
The Manna did not reach each person in the same way, the less worthy people had to physically prepare it before eating it, whereas the righteous received it in a way it was ready to eat. The same is true of the Torah that there are differences how it is learnt. Certain people are only able to learn only a small amount e.g. they need to be involved in business and don’t have the time to learn constantly etc, whereas others can learn the whole day e.g. older children etc.
Another part of Torah is similar to the clouds of glory which protected the Jews from the outside. A desert is empty and bleak with dangerous animals, this is similar to the world around us where it is superficially hard to see spirituality and G-Dliness. How can a Jew be protected from becoming desensitised to spirituality and G-Dliness in such a world? How do they have the power to do the right thing?
The Jewish people are known as “Bnei Yisroel”, the word Yisroel is an acronym in Hebrew for “yesh shishim riboy osisos laTorah” (- there are 600,000 letters in the Torah – which according to Jewish mysticism represent the 600,000 general souls of the Jewish people)[vi]. The fact that the name of the Jewish people has a strong connection to Torah indicates the intrinsic relationship each Jew has with the G-D and his Torah. This relationship is found within each Jew, even the least spiritually inclined Jew, as each one has the power within them to give up their lives for Judaism.
This power of self sacrifice is represented by the clouds of Glory in the Torah. Just like the clouds surrounded all Jews where ever they went (even Jews who had an idol with them), so too this connection to Torah/G-Dliness is found in all Jews. The power for self sacrifice amongst Jews has been seen throughout the ages many times, as Jews gave up their lives not to convert or deny their connection to G-D. Even those individuals who at first might not want to be associated with a Torah way of life, most of them when they reached the question of self sacrifice also gave up their lives.
This subconscious determination when revealed, gives a Jew the power to go through their daily spiritual desert in this world and nevertheless not to be pulled down by things in which an individual cannot see good/G-Dliness. Incidents or issues where good is not revealed and where someone can feel depressed, frustrated, anxious etc can take people away from doing the correct thing. Nevertheless, when this intrinsic inner resolution and determination is revealed in each Jew, they can overcome these obstacles.
There is the third part of Torah which is similar to the well that gave forth water, where water as mentioned above, has the nature to carry the nutrients to their right destination in the body. The nature of water is also to descend from a high place to a low place whilst still remaining in the same form even after it has descended. The Torah is found on many planes and we are told that it is also learnt in heaven but in heaven the Torah talks about the spiritual counterparts to the physical objects and events we learn about in the Torah in this world. In order that a Jew can integrate the “Manna” and “Clouds of Glory” parts of the Torah described above, the Torah needs to descend to a much lower spiritual level whilst keeping its spiritual potency. Only after the Torah descends from its spiritual source and is enclothed in physical terms, is every Jew able to access its lessons and have the power to reveal their subconscious determination[vii]. The descent of the Torah in this way is comparable to the water which came from Miriam’s well.
Now it can be understood the connection between Moses with the Manna, Miraim with the Well and Aharon with the clouds of glory:
Moses was originally a shepherd of sheep but eventually became the shepherd of the Jewish people. When he was a shepherd of sheep he needed to give each sheep the type of grass according to its capacity of what it could eat. The older sheep he gave softer grass but for the younger fitter ones he gave grass which was harder to chew. Similarly, just like Moses had to estimate the ability of each sheep, so too when Moses had to teach the Jewish people he also needed to teach the whole subject to each group according to their capacity. The Manna as explained above was also something which was given on an individual basis, taking into account which person was receiving it. It took a lot of effort for Moses to make sure that each Jew understood according to their ability and in the merit of this effort the Jews received the Manna.
Aharon loved every Jew, even those who had very few virtues[viii]. When he showed such love to the Jews, the Jews themselves no matter how connected they felt to Judaism, would feel a deeper desire to do the commandments[ix]. Similarly, the clouds protected every Jew, no matter who they were or what they did. In the merit of the effort that Aharon made towards acting in a loving way to every Jew, the Jews received the clouds of Glory.
Miriam was also known as Puah[x] because in Egypt she helped the small children by calming them (the Hebrew name Puah is a description of how she soothed the crying children). Miriam saw with her gift of prophecy that the Jewish saviour would be born in the midst of the harsh decrees of Pharaoh. Her father had divorced Miriam’s mother but Miriam convinced her father to remarry and have more children, which lead to the birth of Moses. The well of Miriam produced water and the water as mentioned above did not change as it went down to the different locations of the Jews. In the merit of Miriam’s self sacrifice to go down to the children’s level, preparing them in Egypt to recognise G-D and receive the Torah, the Jews received the well.
When Aharon and Miriam died the clouds of Glory and the well disappeared but in Moses’ merit they both came back. It goes without saying that Moses needed to start a new type of service of G-D after the death of Aharon and Miriam to merit the return of the clouds and well.
The true sign of a Jewish leader is that they do not just focus of their own job but when necessary they put aside their own activities and give themselves over for the Jewish people. A Jewish leader of Moses stature should be instructing other Jewish leaders how to direct the Jewish people and not involving themselves with the day to day needs of individuals. In times of need though when there is no one else to take on the task (such as when Aharon and Miriam died) he will learn with the lowest individual the most basic of all concepts such as reading Hebrew.
According to Jewish Mysticism there is a spark of Moses in every Jew[xi] which gives every Jew the power to act in a similar way to Moses. We find ourselves in a time of a spiritual desert with dangers to our intellectual and emotional spiritual state from all around us. Similar to the situation when the Jews were in the desert a Jew can find themselves in a situation where there is a lack of leaders who are helping the surrounding Jews. A Jew might see people becoming less enthusiastic about Torah and the commandments, lacking certain leadership who would help them in their mission in this world. In such a situation it is demanded by each Jew that they should “bring back the well and clouds” which would mean not to think whether this is “my job” or not but instead to work on helping the Jews around them. When a Jew puts themselves aside doing what is necessary, not thinking whether if what needs to be done is below them or not, then G-D pays them back measure for measure. The individual and their household are directed from above closer to the truth and they receive all that they need.[xii]
Back to Yehudis!
People many times fall into the trap of offering advice and telling others what they should be doing. This normally (but not always) leads to a lot of bad feeling as the individual rejects the advice. A more successful way would be to speak in a way that the individual with the problem comes to their own conclusion about what to do and then acts on their judgement. Yehudis is torn between her private life and her obligations to her siblings and needs to problem solve what are her options. This could be done sometimes by herself, other times with a friend or if necessary in a professional setting of therapy. Whoever is listening to Yehudis would need to give her the three conditions which Carl Rogers lists so she feels comfortable with the relationship.
This week’s Torah portion helps Yehudis to feel comfortable that she has within her the ability to tackle her own problems and deal with her new situation. When someone does not know if they have the ability to help and is uncertain what is the correct thing to do, then this can cause anxiety and frustration within the individual. Therapy would have a hard time to help such an individual overcome those frustrations and decide if they should change their role in their family, to fill a void when someone is not there anymore. The Torah instructs us that we need to try and be helpful to people when there is no one else to help, even if the job of aiding them is reckoned as below our dignity.
The Torah tells us that the situation might demand that we need to change the way we act presently and it will take effort to help those who need our help. This effort could take the form of controlling our emotions, using a level headed approach to helping when there are arguments in the family, by seeing the bigger picture and acting in a more empathic, diplomatic way. The knowledge that within each of us we have a spark of Moses which helps us cope while we have to adjust our lives filling different roles would improve any therapeutic treatment.
It should be that we see the ultimate peace in the world with the coming of our righteous redeemer, Moshiach NOW!
[i] Rogers, C. (2003). Client Centered Therapy. Robinson.
[ii] Yoma 75,a
[iii] Tanis 9,a
[iv] Zohar chelek 3 53,2; see also Gur Aryeh (Maharal from Prague) in his opening to the commentary in Bereishit
[v] See the Rambam Pirush Hamishnayos Sanhedrin chapter 10 yesod 8, where he describes how there is no difference between the verses recounting the descendents of Esau and the fundamental verse of Shema Yisroel. As both verses are G-D Almighty’s wisdom and will.
[vi] Megillah Amukos ofen 186. It should be noted that there are many more Jews than 600,000 but it is known that this number represents the sources of the Jewish souls. Each source is then split up into tens of thousands of G-Dly sparks with each one coming down into a single Jewish body. Tanya chapter 77 (see there)
[vii] See the end of the Shulchan Aruch Harav, laws of learning Torah
[viii] Pirkei Avot Perek 1 Mishna 12
[ix] Avos de Rebbe Nosson beginning perek 12
[x] Sotah 11, 2
[xi] Tanya chapter 42
[xii] Likutei Sichot chelek 2 p.331-336