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Moses vs. Freud: Can Marriage Thrive?

Moses vs. Freud: Can Marriage Thrive?


Our current generation's awareness of marital conflict and marital vulnerability has hampered many people's interest in marrying. People are marrying later than they did just 30 years ago. There are unprecedented numbers of never-married people in their 30's and 40's who question whether they will ever marry. Significant numbers of women are considering having children without the burdens of marriage.

In the 1970's, there were people who challenged the concepts of monogamy and fidelity, naively believing that they could be truly caring and faithful to multiple contemporaneous sexual partners. These individuals argued that monogamy was abnormal, unrealistic and hypocritical. That simplistic flower child innocence has been replaced in the 90's by a hard cynicism. I recently saw a young woman wearing a T-shirt that said don't expect me to be faithful to anybody.

In contrast, Torah commands us to marry, to have children, and to be faithful. Torah clearly encourages the viewpoint that men and women do better, emotionally and spiritually, when married rather than single. In fact, it can be argued that the Torah sees men as having a greater need for the protection and nurturance of marriage than do women. Thus, for men marriage is not only advised but is an absolute commandment. This is commandment #213 in Maimonides' listing of the 613 commandments ("mitzvot"). This need is reflected in the report by American sociologists that the adults at greatest risk for suicide are older non-married males.

The Rabbis require that an unattached male marry, even in a situation where he had been married before, and even if he had had children by that previous marriage, and even if he is no longer capable of siring additional children, and even if his current children prefer that he not marry, and even if he would have to sell precious possessions in order to marry. For specific details, see The Code of Jewish Law, Even Ha-Ezer, section 1. (I had the pleasure recently of being taught that part of the Code by Rabbis Benzion Chanowitz and Yossi Rosenbloom.)

Torah sees both practical and spiritual advantages in the married state. On a practical level, marriage provides emotional and ethical stability. Beyond stability, marriage demands and promotes personal growth, as we learn to accommodate to our spouses' needs and as we are encouraged by our spouses nurturance.

On a spiritual-mystical level, marriage represents a uniting of the feminine and masculine forces of the universe. Faith, deductive elaboration and gravity are examples of the feminine forces; they are paralleled by masculine counterparts including reason, sudden insight and lightening. This intangible mystical union of feminine and masculine forces results in visible, physical manifestations; for example, the individual personalities of husband and wife are enriched by a blending of male and female traits.

Torah's optimistic view of marriage contrast markedly with many secular psychological theories. For example, approximately 70 years ago, when Sigmund Freud was in his 60's, he wrote a book, Civilization and Its Discontents. There, he stressed the instinctual barriers to human bonding.

Freud asserts that people possess two primary instincts. One of these, Eros, the love force, gives people gratification when they bond with others. The second, the death force Thanatos, gives people gratification when they are destructive to each other. Freud notes that obviously Thanatos blocks human closeness. However, even Eros has its limiting effect on human closeness. Only part of Eros power comes from a stable, non-selfish, altruistic love of the other person. The second component of Eros is based on a selfish love, on the fact that I care about a second person because they give me pleasure; thus, should they frustrate me, I may stop loving them.

Having seen the rise of Fascism and Totalitarianism in Europe, Freud expressed major concern over the ability of people to contain their destructive tendencies. Freud says that these selfish and destructive instincts are curbed by the ethical rules of civilization. However, he describes a catch 22, in that these rules often cause guilt, neurosis and an aggressive backlash of resentment.

Torah and Freud agree that there are destructive forces and instincts wired into the universe. How is it that Torah and Freud reach such different conclusions about our capacity for bonding? An answer may be seen in the very beginning of Freud's book. He says that a dear friend of his described a mystical feeling of being at one with the universe, a religious experience of feeling bonded with G‑d and mankind. Freud acknowledges that he himself had never experienced such a feeling. He then goes on to give a psychoanalytic explanation of that feeling, which trivializes that experience as a residue from infantile wishes. Lacking a connection to G‑d, Freud also lacks Torah's antidote to Thanatos.

Torah in general, and the Chassidic classic text Tanya in particular, teach that we can overcome any of our negative instincts. We do so by opening ourselves to experiencing the love of G‑d that is inherent in our souls. There are many texts and exercises in Judaism that teach us to feel this overwhelming love of G‑d. When we feel that love, we naturally desire to follow G‑d's wisdom, as it is revealed in Torah. The power of that love strengthens us as we overcome temptations. We surrender to G‑d joyfully, not out of a sense of burden, guilt or fear, so there is no backlash of resentment.

One can make a comparison to being on a diet. Sometimes people struggle terribly to stay on a diet. After having been good all day, they may wake up in the middle of the night and eat everything in the house. In contrast, there are times when a person is really into their diet. They are thrilled with themselves each time that they turn down a temptation and see their progress toward their goal. They don't feel that someone else is forcing them to diet. Rather, they welcome the discipline of the diet as self-actualizing.

When we feel at one with G‑d, we are glad to surrender to our love of G‑d. This model of relating to G‑d teaches us how we are to relate to our spouse. Torah says that when we marry, we are no longer supposed to be two separate entities (and they shall become one flesh—Genesis 2:24).

I have met with many troubled couples, where each spouse carefully guards their own independence. Marriage is not about independence. It is about mutual joyful surrender. In marriage, one plus one equals one. When my foot hurts me, I do not get angry at my foot, nor do I punish my foot, because I experience my foot as part of me. In fact, I then try to assuage my foot's pain.

I was driving home with my wife recently, after my daughter's wedding, and we passed a highway billboard. It said, "I loved the wedding. Please invite me to the marriage... signed, G‑d."

May we all extend that invitation to G‑d by creating a marriage that is worthy of his visiting. And may all our lives be a marriage of union with G‑d, heralding the divinely perfect world of Moshiach, speedily in our day.

Dr. Yisroel Susskind is a clinical psychologist who practices locally in Monsey, New York, and internationally over the telephone. He can be reached via e‑mail ( or by phone (845-425-9531).
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Victor Zilbersztajn Brazil August 15, 2017

Very beautiful text! Reply

Yisroel Susskind Monsey, NY May 16, 2011

response to Julie's post on 12May 2011 Julie is totally correct. It does take work (as well as a lot of fun). Seeing yourself grow more skilled in being a loving person is a lot of fun.

When the "stronger" personality annihilates the timid one, we have 1-1=0, because neither person feels loves. The "stronger" feels that the timid one is "obedient out of fear", rather than "giving out of love" so no matter what the "stronger" one gets, it is never enough. Reply

Tim Winters Syracuse November 15, 2017
in response to Yisroel Susskind:

I currently am in the situation where my wife has the stronger personality and keeps me as a bird in a cage. I am obedient out of fear and whatever I try to do it seems like I can not give any more love. I feel paralyzed. If only there was a magical formula to make a person feel loved. And maybe my eyes are in the wrong place but from observing my environment I feel that true unconditional love is becoming a rare phenomenon. When I look at the popularity of dating sites (desiring love for yourself) or how the newer generations just engage in random sexual relations. It just feels like there is only more shattering of love between humans. We mostly love our smartphones because they show us what we want to see. But it makes us so indifferent for other people. If the opposite of bestowing love upon your environment is an increase in egoistic desires. Then I am sad to say that this world will pass by as love is dying out. May Torah be our light in dark days. Reply

Julie Durham, UK May 12, 2011

marriage I think the ideals of the article are beautiful but 1+1=1 can mean the strongest personality anihalates the the more timid one. Making a relationship work so that one feels the others pain as their own is a piece of very hard work! Not to be taken lightly nor romaticised. Reply

Anonymous nevada city, ca January 26, 2011

psychology and article funny, the posts are angry comments, as if the article is a personal attack to them or threat to their foundations? I studied and received a B.S. in psychology, always yearning for words to express what was missing in psychology (Freud and Jung included) in general. It was/is G-d. His shekinah presence. My spirit received this article with joy. Thank you. Reply

Anonymous Pittsburgh, PA, USA January 24, 2011

marriage without the possibility of children How about a jewish home with love for children by previous marriages? How about a home past the time to bear more children? Reply

Avi baltimore, md November 4, 2010

Jews and Freud This article and it's author really frustrate me. I don't know why religious Jews always mention Freud to mention the failings of psychology, and contrast it with a religious work.

I don't know anyone who was cured of a mental illness through learning Torah. Maybe they've curtailed bad activities, but not dealt with the underlying issues.
In my experience, psychology has revolutionized the way we all think about the human mind- much more than any religious Jewish work.

But this is seen as a threat to Torah authenticity for some reason, so people pick on Freud. Granted, he was an innovator in the field, but his work was improved upon by literally thousands and thousands of people.

For instance, the Thanatos theory has been rejected by modern psychology. That's called progress, and it's something that should not be knocked just to promote an agenda to discredit science.

Can't we get over this stupid kick? Reply

Anonymous New York December 17, 2017
in response to Avi:

I recovered from mental illness through Torah.
I was terribly anxious, and depressed. Through total faith in Gd, my anxiety improved. Through the same faith, and gratitude, I gradually improved my depression so that I don't feel it as much and do not consider myself depressed any longer.
Through adhering to Torah laws, I would never try to hurt myself, or someone else.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels this way.

But this idea of taking ownership of your depression and anxiety is not in line with current psychological thinking. Some people would say it's "blaming the 'victim'" whatever that means. I say, it means you stop being a victim and make some choices.
Choose to be happy.
There is a way through mental health in Torah. People just need to learn it. :) Reply

Y. rechovot, israel November 15, 2009

to anonymus in the uk Frued, as a jew , obviously has that connection. But since he unfortunately didn't reveal that connection, it didnt effect his work. Reply

Anonymous NMB, FL February 9, 2009

obesity, diet, G-d, commitment No one is comparing our commitment to G-d to our ability do diet. What I got from that paragraph is that so many of us do struggle and stray when we diet. However sometimes we find a diet tailored to our bodies needs or a naturalpathic doctor to help us with the chemical, hormonal , and other physical challanges that prevent us from actualizing our will. Then, we are able to feel self expressed in our eating and health habits and our progress is an expession of our goals in life. I think it's a great comparrison.
I also think that people who fail at dieting fall into two catagories.
1. Making themselves crazy trying to be built as if they were still young or like magazines, this is insanity.
2. Don't have a full comprhension of how holistic our bodies are. We come from different countries and our bodies need different fuels, tailored to our DNA. We need to remember that obesity started rising when scientists started creating convienance packages as food substitutes. Reply

Anonymous liverpool, united kingdom January 29, 2007

chabad The following is a quote from this article.. "Lacking a connection to G-d, Freud also lacks Torah's antidote to Thanatos."

is it not the chabad weltanshung that: Every Jew, irrespective of era, geographical whereabouts, personal philosophy and/or claim to religion, has an innate connection to god that is absolutely inseverable.
and that no Jew (at least at the core of his/her being) would under any circumstances even want to, diminish, harm or damage this attachment in any form or fashion.

In light of the above, it could, at most, be argued, that Freud lacks an immanent or an apparent manifestation of his connection to god.
is it not, however,(according to Chabad) definite beyond doubt and infinitely true that Freud, as every other Jew, is unconditionally attached to god in the deepest possible manor?

please clarify??

As to the general theme of this article, I have only compliments.
As to your website, I stand in awe of your outstanding work. Reply

Anonymous anywhere, ny March 10, 2005

susskind & poster Previous poster wrote - I am concerned about the author's comparison of surrendering to G-d to staying faithful to a diet. As obesity experts now know, dieting success is very complicated, and related to an interplay of genetics and environment.

It may be a very good comparison. Both marriage success and relationship to Gd are even more complicated and relate to heavy interplay of social, psychological, genetical, historical, etc. factors.

And so, how many marriages do you think are really "Successful" (of course - what is a successful marriage - is a pivotal question) and how many successfully integrate G-d (I don't mean lip service, I mean truly religious = true to the religion)?

Katherine Spitz Lipkin, medical writer Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal October 20, 2004

Moses v Freud Wonderful article written by someone who melds psychology and religion very well.

One small point: I am concerned about the author's comparison of surrendering to G-d to staying faithful to a diet. As obesity experts now know, dieting success is very complicated, and related to an interplay of genetics and environment. The overwhelming majority of dieters fail; the recidivism rate is about 90 percent.

One can only hope and pray that the recidivism rate for surrendering to Hashem, more directly related to will alone, is significantly lower. Reply

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