Many times I have been asked if there was a conflict between religious principles and psychotherapy; if religion and psychiatry were at odds. It was always my belief that if one did enough research he would find accepted psychiatric beliefs in the writings of our great rabbis and scholars.
Alfred Adler, one of the disciples of Freud, in many of his writings, stated that happiness depended on satisfactory conditions in three areas of life, Society, Sustenance and intimacy. It was his clinical opinion that the neurotic could be diagnosed from his failures in these three areas. He felt that an individual must be social minded, must be aware of the people around him and must want to mix and be part of a growing community. The person who withdrew from human relations was the one who was on his way to mental and emotional failure.
Let us read what this great psychoanalyst had to say about “The Social Feeling.” In Understanding Human Nature, Adler writes, “We may now understand that any rules that serve to secure the existence of mankind such as legal codes and education, must be governed by the concept of the community and be appropriate to it We can judge a character as bad or good only from the standpoint of society. The criteria by which we can measure an individual are determined by his value to mankind in general. We compare an individual with the ideal picture of a fellowman, a man who overcomes the tasks and difficulties which lie before him, in a way which is useful to society in general, a man who has developed his social feeling to a high degree. He is the one who plays the game of life according to the laws of society. In the course of our demonstrations it will become increasingly evident that no adequate man can grow up without cultivating a deep sense of fellowship in humanity and practicing the art of being a human being.”
Our own sacred writings are just full of good, practical psychiatric advice along the same lines. What psychiatrists and psychologists are now discovering has been uttered hundreds, if not thousands of years ago. “Man was not intended to live alone, but as a member of society” is advice that can be read almost anywhere in our writings. Ample illustrations are offered by our rabbis as to just what this rule entails. “A person is a unit in the body of humanity,” they claim, “and this fact creates many duties for him with respect to his relationship with his fellowman. His life is not his own to do with as he pleases. His conduct affects his neighbors as their conduct affects him.”
It is like a company of men on board a ship. One of them took a drill and began to bore a hole under him. The other passengers were worried. One said to him, “What are you doing!” He replied, “What has that to do with you? Am I not making the hole under my seat!” “Yes”, they retorted, “but the water will enter and drown us all.”
“An isolated life is not worth living”, advised Choni the Circledrawer (HaMa’agel), the Rip Van Winkle of the Talmud. Since the life of a man has grown more complex man’s requirements are so many that he must realize how much of his comfort he owes to the toil of others. In Ecclesiastes 9 the advice is given “Two are better than one.” “Separate not yourself from the community” (Avos 2:5) was the advice of Hillel. Cooperation and mutual assistance are essential factors in life, as a proverb tells: “If you will lift the load I will lift it too; but if you will not lift it, I will not.”
The ethical wills of some of greatest rabbis contain a wealth of good advice as to how an individual can be social minded. In 1544, R. Eleazar the Great published a work which he called Paths Of Life. Part of it might be called an ethical will. It advises a son, believed to be Tobiah son of Eleazar, a contemporary of Rashi, along social lines. The advice might very well be a listing prepared by a psychologist as to examples of social mindedness. He states, among many other items, the following: My son!! Take heed to hold constant intercourse with the wise. Rely not on thine opinion. Be zealous in visiting the sick, for sympathy lightens pain. Bear thy part regularly in the burial of the dead, delivering them into the hand of their maker. Comfort mourners, and speak to their heart.
Join in bringing the bride to the canopy, help to gladden the bridegroom. Show honor to the poor, and draw out thy soul unto him. Crush not the poor with harsh words. Stop not thine ears at the cry of the poor, for he who is deaf to the appeal of others, when he crieth shall himself obtain no answer. Make not thyself too much feared in thine home. Love the wise and attach thyself to them. Walk not alone, judge not alone, nor be witness and judge at the same time.”
It seems that our scholars laid down some basic rules as to social living which we could do well in following. We ought to remember that knowledge without common sense is folly; without method it is waste; without kindness it is fanaticism; without religion it is death. But with common sense, it is wisdom; with method it is power; with character it is beneficence; with religion it is virtue, life and peace.