Discovering Oneself: Kabbalah and Psychoanalysis

By Schneider, Stanley; Berke, Joseph H. | Midstream, November-December 2005 | Go to article overview

Discovering Oneself: Kabbalah and Psychoanalysis


Schneider, Stanley, Berke, Joseph H., Midstream


Over the years we have seen a burgeoning interest in mystical self introspection: travels to India and the Far East to discover and search for oneself, meditation, contemplation and studies in Buddhism, Zen Buddhism and Jewish Mystical Kabbalah. Popular figures like Madonna and Richard Gere have actively pursued their own self-discovery and attracted large followings that have been looking for ways to actualize their own sense of being.

Is this desire and even obsession to discover oneself a new phenomenon? Or, has this silently and unobtrusively been a part of our lives--we just never realized it or were unaware of the underlying pull and attraction.

In our research and publications on Freud, psychoanalysis and Kabbalah, we have slowly come to understand the interplay of Freud's biography upon his developing a radical approach to self-awareness and delving into the depths of the nefarious unconscious. Freud, an avowed anti-religious person, grew-up with a father who had been raised in a devoutly religious-Hassidic home. Upon his 35th birthday, Freud's father presented him with the family Philippson Bible inscribed in Hebrew with Biblical and Rabbinic verses and aphorisms. Yet, Freud throughout his lifetime denied understanding Hebrew and wrote negatively about Jewish religious practices. The paradox becomes more convoluted as, on one hand, Freud denies any Jewish knowledge and understanding. Yet, on the other hand, he treats a Hassidic Rebbe (1), writes an obituary for his religious teacher Professor Samuel Hammerschlag and (indirectly) alludes to underlying Rabbinic Jewish understanding in many of his theoretical and clinical writings.

His 1900 book, The Interpretation of Dreams, is replete with paraphrases from the Talmud and Midrash--which we can safely state were written before 1900! This has led us to remark about an overt Freud who denigrated his background and upbringing, and a covert Freud who was knowledgeable and enthused with Jewish philosophy and Rabbinic understanding. We feel that this was the only way that Freud could advance his newly developed theories of psychoanalysis without its being perceived as a new Jewish religion.

Kabbalah and psychoanalysis are both theories about the nature of existence. They are contemplative, meditative and introspective methods for restoring shattered lives. These are lives, which have been separated from their source, and possibly this explains the underlying strong drive to discover oneself--to return to the source. An unconsciously driven desire to self-correct, to rectify, to center oneself. Interestingly, in Eastern Religions as well as in Jewish mystical Kabbalah, there is a desire and need to correct the incorrect, to straighten the crooked, to align the misaligned.

The Zohar is a Kabbalist work with parts dating back to discussions of Palestinian scholars of the 2nd century, led by Simeon bar Yochai. Modern scholarship has dated the main parts of the Zohar to the end of the 13th century and attributed it to Moses de Leon, a Castillian Kabbalist. The central text of the Zohar discusses at length the importance of "centering." If one is "off" in any way, it could tilt that person to a more "right" or "left" position. Our modern term for this is: "off center." Such directionality has basic/fundamental meaning and could describe an overly physical or emotional person. Or one who is too active or too passive. Or, it could relate to a person whose temperament can be too warm or too cold etc. Hence, the significance of finding just the right center of balance.

The particular domain of psychoanalysis is the mind and the seat of emotions, metaphorically described as the head and the heart. This is the totality known as the self. In contrast, the domain of Kabbalah is the soul, a person's "holy," timely essence. This entity is part of the mystical Godhead, the spiritual. Not necessarily spiritual in a religious ceremonial sense; possibly religious sentiment. …

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