Hard days versus acting on your values


Shimon is a successful businessman who has built his own internet start up company from scratch, by working long hours and putting his whole life into this work. Most people would envy what Shimon has achieved but Shimon is in reality not happy at all. He suffers from being depressed because of flash backs to his youth where he was badly bullied.


Steven Hayes is a professor at the University of Nevada who works in the psychology department. He is one of the main founders and proponents of action commitment therapy (ACT) which has gained a lot of interest in the last number of years. One of the parts of ACT is to help the client connect with their goals and values in life.

Hayes bases his philosophy on Victor Frankel’s beliefs that man needs meaning in their life. Unlike other psychological therapies, Hayes not only puts emphasis on the goals of the client but in addition to that he stresses the importance of acting on values as opposed to just the way one feels. Hayes gives[i] an example of a marriage and explains that one’s feelings of love may wax and wane but to act in a loving way (with respect, thoughtfully etc) only when one has those feelings (and not acting lovingly when one does not feel that way) could be problematic.

Hayes explains that we are not always in control of our feelings and depression or anxiety can happen when we least want it to be there. He goes on to say that we are in control of our actions and can find purpose in the activities that we accomplish.

The classic parable of values in ACT is of someone driving a bus. The bus driver can drive where ever he wants to go but is verbally pressured to go a certain route by all the people on the bus. The people on the bus are telling him to go on a different route than he really wants. At one point the bus driver decides to act on his own value system and even with all the commotion from the travellers on the bus, he feels that he is doing the right thing and going in the correct direction. The meaning of the parable is that the bus driver alludes to our mind and the passengers on the bus are all the negative thoughts and feelings which we come across in the day. The choices we make can be decided by our feelings or because of our thoughts from our lack of self esteem etc. The alternative is to see that we are in charge of what we do and that even when carrying some harsh emotions, we can still have a feeling of accomplishment when we choose what we think is right.

This week’s Haftorah (portion from the prophets) enhances what ACT has to offer. This week is called Shabbat Chazon (the Shabbat of vision) because of the portion from the prophets that is read in the synagogue which talks about the vision of the prophet Yeshiyah. It is read in the synagogue during the three weeks of the year when Jews focus on mourning for the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and their spiritual exile.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, the famous Chassidic Rabbi who lived approximately 220 years ago, gave a deeper insight into why this Shabbat is called the Shabbat of “Vision”. Rabbi Levi Yitzchok explained[ii] with the following parable:

There was once a father that had a precious son and so he made for him an expensive piece of clothing to wear. The child was not careful with the piece of clothing and did things that should not be done in such clothing, with the end result of the clothing being torn into many pieces. The father made another special piece of clothing which the son also ripped. The father had to figure out how to stop his son from treating his special clothing in a way that it would get destroyed. What did the father do? He made him a third garment but he did not give it to him and just hid it. Once every so often at a known time, the father showed his son the garment and said to him, “see, if you would act in an appropriate manner this garment would be given to you to wear etc”.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok explained the meaning of this parable that the first and second Temples were destroyed because of our sins. G-D, our father in heaven, shows each one of us the third Temple from time to time (on Shabbat Chazon) in order that this sight will effect that the Jews act in an appropriate manner. When the Jews act in such a manner then the third Temple will be given to them in actuality.

The following questions could be asked on the insight of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok:

The fact that each Jew is shown the future Temple is for sure for a purpose, which as explained is to effect that they should act appropriately. When they act appropriately then they will receive the third temple in actuality. At first glance what is the point of telling people like ourselves who after hearing Rabbi Levi YItzchok of Berditchev’s parable and its meaning, still cannot see anything of what he said on this Shabbat? Can you ever say that you saw the third Temple on this Shabbat in past years?

For sure there are special people that see the third Temple but nevertheless in the parable everyone is shown the third Temple not just the elite of the Jewish people. The type of people who are supposed to see the vision are from the “small people to the big ones”[iii] but when people are asked if they saw anything they answer that they saw nothing!

A possible answer could be along the lines of something that is explained concerning a voice from heaven which we are told announces to each Jew something each day. It is explained[iv] that one of the statements of the “Bas Kol” - voice from heaven – (amongst other things) is “return wayward children”.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (who was a master in both Jewish mysticism and Jewish Law) in the book Likutei Torah[v] asks “who actually hears this voice? If the majority of people don’t hear it, so what is its effect?”

He explains along the lines of the explanation of the Talmud[vi] concerning a G-Dly vision which was shown to a certain group of individuals. Not everyone in the group was able to see the vision, however they did experience a palatable awe which they suddenly felt. The Talmud asks why did they feel something, if they did not see the vision? The Talmud explains the reason they felt this awe was because “that even though they did not see their “Mazel” saw”. Rabbi Shneur Zalman explains what the term “Mazel” means through describing the relationship of the soul to the body. [A possible parable for the explanation of Rabbi Shneur Zalman would be the relationship between a light bulb and the electricity produced by the power station. The main bulk of electricity will remain in the power station and only a small amount will be sent to light up the bulb. The electricity in the light bulb will still be connected to the power station when it is shining. The same to a certain extent could be said of the soul which lights up the body.] Rabbi Shneur Zalman describes that only a small ray of a person’s soul comes down into their body (in psychological terms this would be termed the conscious level at which people operate), while the whole soul, the source of its ray, remains above and this source of the soul is called “Mazel” (in psychological terms this would be termed the subconscious level of an individual). The level of “Mazel” of the soul caused to draw down the feeling of awe which the individuals described in the Talmud experienced.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman explains that the same is true concerning the “Bas Kol” – voices from heaven – which we are told emanate each day. The “Mazel” of each Jews soul hears this voice and from there it is drawn down into the soul which is enclothed in the body. The person will feel sometimes a sudden spiritual alertness which might express itself in thoughts of changing their life and doing better. These thoughts come to the person without any preparation or contemplation but just as a result of the essence of their soul (their “Mazel”) hearing these G-Dly announcements, which then effects the ray of the soul in the body.

It could be said that the same is true of the vision which an individual sees on the Shabbat Chazon, that the vision is not a physical sight but instead the essence of their soul sees the third Temple. The vision of the Third temple would then be channelled down to effect the conscious level of the Jew, who would have a thought of changing their ways for the good.

If however this was the whole case that this vision was only there to give a Jew a thought of changing their ways then it would have been enough a “Bas Kol” –voice from heaven. The fact that this vision comes only once a year indicates that its effect should be much deeper, to the extent that the change found in the person is not superficial but can actually change their nature. The change could be so effective that the individual will not turn back to their old ways.

There are two reasons why the sight of the third Temple could be so significant for each individual:

  1. The sight which they are shown is not just a vision of any house. It is also not the vision of the first two Temples which both were momentous achievements both physically and spiritually. The vision which the essence of the soul is shown is of the third Temple, which is called[vii] “G-D’S building” and which will be on a much higher spiritual level than the first two Temples. When looking at the sight of the third Temple it becomes obvious the truth of the world and the innate G-Dliness which is in it.

  2. The vision of the Third temple is exactly that i.e. seeing a vision and it is not like hearing something. When seeing something it has much more of an effect on someone than if they hear about it, since it becomes permanently ingrained in the person. This is why in Jewish law a witness of a crime cannot act as a judge in the same case[viii] because the impact of the sight of such a situation will affect them so much that it will take away their objectivity.

Normally when people suddenly become inspired from something they see or hear, it has a short lived effect (which can also apply to feeling waking up motivated in the morning). For example when someone hears an inspiring thought they might feel more energised but after a while they will have to go back to work and carry on with life. The effect of the inspirational idea will wear off, although it might last for a limited time. The question then becomes since the soul is seeing the third Temple why is the effect so permanent?

The answer can be found through understanding the command to love G-D. There is known question[ix] concerning this command as an individual can be commanded about an action e.g. give charity or putting on Tefillin, but how can he be commanded to feel something? The command to feel something would be like instructing someone to “like my mother’s chocolate cake!” The simple reply would be “at present I cannot say that I feel any emotion of like or dislike concerning your mother’s chocolate cake since I have never tasted it.” How then are we commanded to love G-D? The answer is that we are commanded to contemplate about things which arouse a feeling of love (e.g. the greatness of G-D, how much he does for us etc) and through the proper contemplation a person will inevitably come to a feeling of love.

The idea that one has to contemplate to arouse a feeling is also connected to the knowledge of the vision which we receive on Shabbat Chazon. The knowledge that the essence of the soul which is found within him sees a vision of the third Temple, is to stimulate us to contemplate about the ramifications of this vision. Through this contemplation we feel assured of the end of exile due to our actions and a new era starting. This will inevitably have a permanent affect in positive way on the person.

The knowledge that a Jew actually sees the third Temple should trigger feelings of joy since he or she sees clearly that there will be an end to the exile. What would the end of exile look like and why would that make us happy? The famous codifier of Jewish law, Maimonides, explains[x] that after the redemption there will be no more war, famine, jealousy etc and the whole occupation of the world will be to understand G-D. In addition to that as mentioned above the Temple itself is not just a building but a place where G-Dliness will be revealed. It will be a place where we can feel at home and secure, close to our loving father.

There is an additional effect which this knowledge should achieve. All the achievements of the future are dependent on our actions during the time of exile[xi] and the revelations which will occur will be somewhat like the work that we do now (like a seed turning into a tree). The Temple is a place where G-Dliness is revealed and so a Jew so to speak builds the third Temple by doing acts which reveal G-Dliness in this world. A Jew who makes their daily activities a place where G-Dliness can be seen is making themselves into a miniature Temple. This would include acts of charity, prayer, Torah study etc. but would also consist of eating, doing business, exercising etc for a G-Dly purpose (e.g. so they can be healthy to do all the other commandments etc).

Since there is a general rule of “ascending in holiness”[xii] each year we need to add in what we are doing when contemplating that “my actions are bringing into reality the vision which my soul was shown.” [xiii]

Back to Shimon:

Shimon has some harsh feelings that he needs to deal with and he probably will need help from an orthodox Jewish therapist. Acceptance commitment therapy would help him overcome times when he feels that he cannot carry on and just revert going to bed.

The problem with ACT is that the goal and values which Shimon will focus on are according to his feelings of what is important. It is quite a self centered and egotistical way of looking at life. That does not make the person bad, since one of their values might be to try and be loving and they would then feel achievement in performing loving acts. The feeling of achievement in this therapy is limited according to the individual’s understanding and will be limited to how much they think the action they are doing is worth. The Torah gives an individual the ability to feel they have achieved for the greater good, something which is beyond their understanding. This gives the individual the ability to achieve more and overcome bigger obstacles than with therapy just based on the individual’s understanding.

Another problem with this therapy is who defines love for Shimon and when he should be loving? If he is to be loving in all situations and a small child asks for a sharp knife, would it be ok to give the child the knife? The Torah gives parameters for what values are correct and important which would help the therapy progress in the right direction.

The parable and lesson of the vision of the third Temple from Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev can enhance the therapy for Shimon. The inspiration in this case will not just come from some sudden feeling of I have to do better but instead will demand a time for contemplation. However, the sensation of joy at the feeling of certainty of seeing the goal of 2000 years of exile can still be simultaneously joined with feelings of depression. This is because as we have explained before, there are two different identities within us, one which identifies with the G-DLY and the other which identifies with the material world around us. The Jew can nevertheless lead a productive life with a feeling of achievement, focusing on their values of bringing the world closer to its climax.

The lesson from this vision is also important as each individual step that we take is important and should be valued. Each time we overcome a feeling of depression or anxiety to do the right thing we are bringing that vision closer to a physical reality. Business then becomes an achievement for all of humanity and causing G-D pleasure as a result of the intention which is behind the work. The businessman views each deal as another way to be able to give more charity and help others as well as helping supporting his family to progress spiritually. This ultimately brings the revelation of the third Temple even closer than it is now!

[i] Hayes, S., Strosahl, K., & Wilson, K. (2012). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. New York: The Guilford Press.

[ii] Ohr Hatorah Nach (Chelek 2) p.1,97 see the side notes

[iii] The wording in Tehillim 115,3

[iv] Chagigah 15,1

[v] Tetzei 36,4

[vi] Megillah 3,1

[vii] Zohar chelek 1 28,a

[viii] Rosh Hashanah 26,a

[ix] See sefer Haerchim Chabad “Love of G-D” in the beginning

[x] Laws of Kings ch.12

[xi] Tanya ch.37

[xii] Brachos 28,a

[xiii]Toras Menachem tuf shin mem zayin p.169 to 171

These articles are only general scenarios and for specific advice a professional should be consulted

#Devarim #Depression #ShabbatChazon #Jewishtherapy

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