April 21, 2024
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April 21, 2024
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Full Circle in Our Personal Journeys Toward Freedom

Part IV

We recently began Sefer Vayikra, which is devoted to the topic of korbanot, the manner in which we’re meant to get “close” to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. At first glance, this seems odd, since “animal sacrifice,” appears to be counterintuitive to the goal of connecting with God in a deep and personal way. With the help of our rabbis we come to understand how something that evokes such aversion in the hearts and minds of modern man was selected as the vehicle through which Bnei Yisrael were to serve God, express their appreciation and even atone for our sins. Yet, it begins to make sense when we learn that in ancient times, animal sacrifice was the standard practice for religious service among all the idol-worshipping nations. And so, Hashem, the master psychologist He is, understood that in order to forge this new relationship with the people of Israel, He had to use a familiar and desirable mode of connecting; one that provided the safety they needed in order to transition from an idolatrous culture to one of holiness and spirituality. This, in turn, opened the door for greater receptivity to the mitzvot, and it carries us to this day—in our openness to the guidance we receive from our Torah leaders.

Our rabbis, on the first verse in Sefer Vayikra, teach us much about how this pasuk bears relevance to further strengthening our relationships with God and mankind. The commentators wonder about the shift in nouns, pronouns and verbs in the two segments of introductory verse: “Vayikra el Moshe, vayidaber Hashem eilav—And He called to Moshe, and Hashem spoke to him.” According to Rashi, these variations are meant to refer to the two roles Hashem plays in our lives: one as “Avinu, our Father,” and the second as “Malkeinu, our King.” Thus, in the first segment, when Hashem “calls” to Moshe, we note that Moshe is referred to by his name. Rashi explains that this wording reflects the personal, affectionate and parent-child relationship we enjoy with Hakadosh Baruch Hu. In contrast, in the second segment, once His love for us is established, Hashem shifts into the more instructive, “kingship” persona, when He needs to teach, guide and, at times, even reprimand as necessary. This change in roles is reflected in the shift from “call” to “speak” in the word used to describe Hashem’s interaction with Moshe, as well as the use of a pronoun, instead of Moshe’s name, in this interaction.

Still, the commentators question the seeming contradictions between the two roles. After all, the love of a parent is unconditional, and the relationship is directed toward the best interest of that child. In contrast, the role of the king or leader is impersonal, and even despotic, often driven by the egotistical needs of the ruler. Moreover, in the parent-child relationship, when instruction, criticism and even punishments are meted out, they serve the purpose of guidance. Yet, in the king-subject role, the punishment is often harsher than the crime, and typically serves to satisfy the sadism of tyrannical rulers.

The Rebbe, in his “Likkutei Sichot” as referenced by Rabbi Kalman Mendelson, reconciles these differences; he believes that the two roles, intimated in these insights, reflect two vital aspects in our relationship with God. His parental persona reflects “Who” God “is, while the kingship role expresses “what” God “does.” He also points out that in our tefillot, when we talk to God, we refer to both roles alternatively, and in the tefillah of Avinu Malkeinu they appear joined as one. Moreover, since “Avinu” always precedes “Malkeinu,” we learn that Hashem as our “father” is the primary, or default, mode. Indeed, He only relies on the secondary role of malkeinu on an as-per-need basis; in addition, He assumes this role only after He has expressed His love and when guidance, instruction and punishment are needed. To conclude, these ideas are also reinforced through the shift in nouns, pronouns and verbs in the two segments of the pasuk. Thus viewed, the verb “call” is used in conjunction with the name Moshe to express God’s affection for Moshe and His people; and once this has been accomplished, only then is the impersonal verb “speak” and the pronoun “him” used to reflect the interaction that takes place between the two. Based on these insights, we can extrapolate the manner in which we are meant to interact with Hashem and all those we love and care about; moreover, we learn that it is the default mode of love that opens the door to receptivity and sustains the relationship, even in the face of accidental or deliberate harshness that creeps in from time to time.

As we discovered in previous articles, it has taken research and practice in the gold standard orientations of relational therapy 2,000-plus years to catch up with Torah wisdom. This is because some of our misguided cultural mores, such as our valuation of independence and overdependence negatively impact our ability to grow and sustain optimal and lasting relationships. As a result, until recent times, couples’ and family therapy focused on issues of power, control, autonomy and mediation conflict. In contrast, the three most current and revolutionary schools of relational therapy, Imago, Gottman and emotionally focused therapy (EFT) advance the import of love and nurturance in facilitating and sustaining the bonds in marriage.

Dr. Sue Johnson, founder of EFT, begins her chapter on attachment theory with the words from a love song of the ‘60s: “Hold me tight, and never let me go….” It is these very words that also express our longing for the ideal relationship we enjoyed with Hakadosh Baruch Hu at the time of creation. It is, however, important to understand and avoid the major obstacles in achieving this level of depth in our connections. Current research and practice informs that among the culprits in marital and relational challenges are the misguided cultural mores, which view the need to hold on and connect in a deep way as wimpy and even childish. However, as noted, if we are willing to probe its depths, the Torah provides us with solid evidence regarding the importance of love, nurturance and other positive shows of affection in building strong and lasting connections. This is because these sentiments provide the safety to transcend the innate and experientially-based vulnerabilities that are shaped by our genetic endowments and life experiences. And no surprise, it is the verse introducing the seemingly counterintuitive topic of animal sacrifices that offers some of the keys to optimizing the bonds we forge. As we approach the Yom Tov of Pesach, which arouses our yearning for our long-awaited redemption, let us do so by ridding ourselves of the spiritual chametz, the misguided cultural values we possess, and thereby strengthen our bonds with Hashem and mankind.

By Renee Nussbaum, PhD, PsyA

 Renee Nussbaum is a practicing psychoanalyst with special training in Imago Relational Therapy. She can be reached at [email protected].

 

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