Kosher Meditation

There is an issue connected with the physical and psychological health of many Jews, that demands attention. It is quite possible that these words will have no effect. Nevertheless, the health of a Jew is such an important matter, that efforts should be made even when there is not a sure chance of success.

This issue is the idea of meditation. Meditation has its roots in the very beginning of the Jewish heritage. The Torah commentaries explain that Avraham and the other Patriarchs chose to be shepherds so that they could spend their time in solitude.

Their lives were not simple, physical lives. On the contrary, they were totally given over to the service of G‑d to the point where they were called “G‑d’s chariot.” [That metaphor was chosen because a chariot has no will of its own and is totally controlled by its driver; similarly their lives were totally controlled by G‑d.]

They chose a profession that would allow them to live such a spiritual existence. Therefore, they became shepherds, spending their days in the fields, in solitude, rather than becoming involved in the hubbub of life in the cities.

The same holds true today. There are certain aspects of psychological health and tranquility that can be attained by taking oneself out of contact with the surrounding hullabaloo and tumult of life.

By retreating into solitude (not necessarily leaving the city) and by withdrawing into seclusion for a period of time, one may attain psychological health and peace of mind. This manner of behavior strengthens the individual and guards his mental health.

This process involves withdrawing from the clamor and tumult of the street and meditating on an object that brings about serenity and peace of mind.

The Torah’s statement,1 “Behold I have set before you life and goodness, death and evil” is applicable to all matters. Every aspect of life can be utilized for the good or for the opposite.

For example, the sun, moon and stars are necessary for life to exist on earth, bringing about a multitude of good. However, these celestial bodies have also been worshipped as deities.

One may ask (as the Talmud does):2 “Since these celestial bodies have been worshipped as false deities, shouldn’t they be destroyed?” The Talmud’s answer is most instructive: “Should the world be destroyed because of these fools?!”

The same applies to meditation. Though essentially positive, meditation can also be used in a destructive manner. There are those who have connected meditation to actually bowing down to an idol, or to a man, and worshipping it or him, offering incense before them, and so on.

These cults have spread throughout the United States and throughout Eretz Yisrael as well. Some of these cults have been called by a refined name, “transcendental meditation,” thereby implying that it is something above limits, above our limited intellect.

However, they have also incorporated into their practices the offering of incense and other actions that clearly come under the heading of idolatry.

Since we are living in the darkness of Exile, many Jewish youth have fallen into this snare. Before they became involved with this cult, they were troubled and disturbed; the cult was able to relate to them and offer them peace of mind.

However, their form of meditation is connected with idolatry: burning incense, bowing to a guru, etc. Since these idolatry aspects are not publicized, there are those who have not raised their voices in protest.

Moreover, they are unsure if such a protest would be met with success, and since no one has asked for their opinion, they think to themselves, “Why protest and enmesh oneself in a questionable situation?”

However, while those who should be protesting remain silent, Jewish youth are becoming involved in idolatry, a sin so severe that the Torah declares that one should sacrifice his life rather than worship idols. Moreover, this scourge is spreading, ensnaring youth and adults alike.

Additionally, since “One sin leads to another,” even those who are not yet involved in the more severe and more clearly idolatrous forms of this group will eventually be drawn into this aspect of idolatry in their search of a “holier” and more “sacred” guru-deity.

A program must therefore be organized to spread “kosher meditation.” While there are those who argue against this, maintaining that “kosher meditation” might well lead to “non-kosher meditation,” the fact of the matter is that this is not so.

It is opposite the spirit of Judaism and especially opposite the spirit of Chassidus to withhold assistance from anyone in need of it; should someone be in need, we are obligated to help him. And when the individual does not even realize that he requires help, the necessity to assist him becomes even greater.

However, the above debate ignores the main issue: We are not dealing here with providing a means of approved meditation necessarily for those who wish to begin meditating. Rather, there are Jews who have already fallen for this deception, and the simplest way to draw them out of it is by providing them with a kosher alternative.

Clearly, the Torah obligates us to do so — and this is aside from the fact that by doing so we are fulfilling the commandment of healing a fellow Jew and “Loving your neighbor as yourself.”...

In instituting this program, two major factors must be taken into consideration:

Meditation should only be used by those who are in need of it; a psychologically healthy individual does not need to practice this. To the contrary, a healthy and calm individual who begins to withdraw within himself through meditation will only harm his mental health.

A parallel to this notion can be found in the Talmud. The Talmud tells about the laborers of Mechuzah who were accustomed to hard work and carrying heavy loads. When they were unable to do so, it caused them to become ill.

Here as well, those who have no need of taking time away from their productive labor and rewarding lifestyle in order to withdraw and relax through meditation will invariably find it to be disadvantageous.

The manner of meditation required by all is that which is part and parcel of one’s spiritual service. Thus we find the directive in the Shulchan Aruch that prior to prayer an individual should meditate on “G‑d’s greatness and man’s insignificance.” This meditation, however, is one that has fixed times — prior to prayer — and specific goals, and not the calming of one’s nerves.

The second crucial feature is that the meditation must be based on a kosher idea or a Torah concept, e.g., “Shema Yisrael,” and the concepts implied therein. This will lead the individual to a greater awareness of G‑d’s greatness and man’s inconsequentiality — a meditation that is in keeping with the general meditation preceding prayer.

Furthermore, since all forms of healing possess a certain degree of control exerted by the healer over the person being healed, care must be taken to assure that the professional guiding the meditation has a clear and precise knowledge of what is permitted according to Jewish law and what things are prohibited, as the latter may lead to idolatrous practice.

Additionally, the professional must be conscious of the fact that meditation has much in common with other medical therapies:

Drugs and medications are only valuable if one limits their quantity; their excessive use can only bring harm and not benefit. Moreover, medication is only indicated when the individual is unwell; once he is healed, it is harmful to continue taking the medication. Meditation must be similarly regulated....

In view of the current situation, psychologists, psychoanalysts and the like have a sacred duty to advance their knowledge of meditation and begin working on developing a kosher program of meditation. Moreover, as we live in a country where publicity plays such a large role, efforts must be made to publicize this manner of treatment in the broadest possible way.

In addition, this form of treatment should not be connected in any way with other side issues, important as they may be.

For example, there are those who maintain that meditation must be connected with the esoteric and hidden portion of Torah. Meditation on the secrets of Torah is indeed very important, particularly now when the wellsprings of Chassidus must continually be made known to all.

However, this is not the issue at hand. There are Jews who are involved in idolatry who must be saved. This is the top priority. If one begins by teaching them the secrets of the Torah, it is most likely that the majority of them will not respond. Even those who might show an interest should first be sundered from idolatry.

While the above is the responsibility of all, however, [this is not a task that can be entrusted to everyone, for] should a novice begin studying about meditation, it would take a long time for him to master the subject. Therefore, psychologists, psychoanalysts and the like should be turned to, trying to interest them in teaching and spreading “kosher meditation.”

They should be told that thousands of Jews are being drawn into the worship of idols, offering incense, believing in gurus as deities, etc. They thus have a sacred task (and surely they desire to do this on their own as well) to heal these people.

All that is necessary for them to do is to expand their knowledge into a field already related to their own, that of meditation. After a short amount of time, they will master the techniques of this treatment, since they already have much practical experience in helping such individuals.

If publicized adequately, this campaign will be met with immediate success, saving so many who stand at a crossroads and who do not mean to live in opposition to Judaism. When these individuals will be offered the opportunity to choose between a permitted and forbidden manner of treatment, they will invariably choose the former.

This success will, in turn, also attract those who have already become enmeshed in the forbidden form of meditation to also begin practicing “kosher meditation.”...

(Excerpted from Sichos Kodesh 5739, Vol. III, p. 314ff.)

The Permitted and Prohibited Aspects Of “Meditation”

It has been some time now since I have been informed of the ruling in Eretz Yisrael concerning the absolute prohibition of the various forms of ministrations done by a guru, including seclusion, meditation, and the like.

The above-mentioned ruling is based on the fact that this form of ministration by gurus includes aspects of idolatry, or at least a semblance (avizrai’hu) of idolatry — idolatry being one of the three sins that are so severe that the Torah declares that one should sacrifice his life rather than commit them.

However, the aspect of seclusion and meditation, etc., in and of themselves is not something novel that they discovered, G‑d forbid, nor does the successful implementation of these measures depend on them, Heaven forfend. As to their offering incense and the like — this is not important to the achievement of meditation, as one can readily understand.

Therefore, in accordance with the saying of our Sages, of blessed memory, “Should the world be destroyed because of these fools?!” my suggestion is the following:

It would be worthwhile and proper — and possibly even necessary — for you (either doing so yourself or having it done by those who follow your instructions) to contact G‑d-fearing doctors and other experts in the field of “nerves,” peace of mind, and mental illness, and place upon them the obligation (more properly — the merit and opportunity) that they enhance their knowledge of healing and treatment through seclusion, introspection and the like.

Having done so, they should then publicize this to the greatest extent possible, particularly since in addition to their ability to then heal so many individuals who are ill and in need of this form of therapy, this will also serve as a good medium to sever them from the “gurus” who draw them close through using this form of healing, as they will see that the same benefits can be received without incense and through a G‑d-fearing man or woman....

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXXVI, p. 335)

A Scourge That Is Spreading

…It surprises me that I have yet to receive any news regarding any actions taken concerning the “healings” of yoga, the gurus, and all that is related thereto, [particularly,] after you notified me some time ago that you spoke about this matter or conveyed it to Professor ... Surely you are aware that this scourge is spreading: the event in Tzfas, the letter of the Sephardic Chief Rabbi, and more.

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXXVI, p. 336)

An Imminent Danger and Its Proper Response

…The main problem is the immediate danger (facing the many Jews who are receiving therapy involved with aspects of idolatry). Thus it is understandable that the first steps to be taken are that of saving them from this danger — this requires immediate and ongoing action.

One of the methods and ways of doing so [immediately] is that all those who already have permission to perform a similar form of therapy devote particular attention as to how they can perform the above [meditation] therapy in a kosher manner.

Moreover, it is important that these doctors and others as well publicize that this particular doctor is offering this particular form of therapy. They should also seek to influence all other doctors who practice mental healing that they too interest themselves in providing such [kosher] therapy to those patients who are in need of it.

[Once this is done, it is] also [important] to establish a connection between these doctors so that they be able to be of assistance to one another in therapeutic techniques, that they be able to offer encouragement to one another, and similar matters.

An in-depth study of this form of therapy, establishment of a general institute [of kosher meditation] and the like are all fine and necessary.

However, all this requires preparation (assembling material from those who have already been practicing this and from those who will be doing so in the future; acquiring a thorough knowledge of the literature that has already been written about meditation; consulting the experts throughout the world and doing so with proper honor to each of them).

This, of course, cannot be done in haste (in order not to anger the experts, etc.) and must therefore be done step by step. This is not so with regard to the methods I proposed above that can be implemented immediately — and the sooner, the better....

(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXXVI, p. 336)

Attract as many individuals as possible

Thank you for your letter of 13 Adar II. I appreciate your comprehensive response to my letter and memorandum on the need to organize widespread use of T.M. and similar techniques in psychotherapy compatible with the Torah with the double objective of making such therapy available to Jewish patients in a kosher way and at the same time saving numerous Jews from getting involved with Avodah Zora as now commonly practised in the USA.

Needless to say, I noted your suggestions and observations in this connection with understandable interest.

In reply, let me first say that, as a general principle, so long as the said two objectives can best be served, whatever project is determined to be most effective is most desirable, and, of course, acceptable to me.

There are, however, some points in your response which need careful assessment. For instance, the suggestion that an Institute employing the said healing techniques might be linked with a strictly orthodox, even Lubavitch, orientation should be examined in light of it being a possible, or even likely, deterrent for many candidates who might hesitate to turn to such an Institute for fear that it may impose upon them religious demands and commitments which they are not yet prepared to accept.

The above is not to say that the idea should be rejected out of hand, since there may be many individuals who would not be deterred by it. But I believe that if the project is to attract a wider circle of candidates for therapy, it would have a wider acceptance if it is not overtly tied in with such an orientation, or discipline; at any rate, not in the initial stage.

Needless to say, the emphasis is on the overt orientation of the projected Institute, which should have no religious or other preconditions for anyone seeking its services. But the Institute itself should, of course be run in strict keeping with the Torah, with a kosher, indeed glat-kosher, kitchen, strict Shabbos observance, with Mezuzos on all doors - just as there are glat-kosher Hotels and institutions.

With regard to the basic point you make in your letter, namely, that most people for whom our plan is envisaged consider themselves “normal” and would not be interested in a program that offers professional (medical) services, but would prefer a more simplistic setup for relaxation, etc., — this should certainly be taken into account, since the ultimate goals of our plan would not be affected. And, if as you suggest, this would be the more practical setup for attracting more people and achieving our two objectives — healing and elimination of Avodah Zora — then, by all means, this method should be given due consideration….

Your further comments will be welcome, and many thanks again.

(From a letter of the Rebbe, dated 21 Adar II, 5738)

Send me a budget

…Now to the main subject of our correspondence, namely saving Jews from getting involved in Avodah Zora through T.M. and the like by offering them a kosher alternative.

With reference to your letter of April 9, I would like to make the following observations:

Although a well-planned and systematic approach is generally required to ensure the success of any project, I do not think that we can afford to delay too long the implementation of our plan through time-consuming preparations, and for two reasons: Firstly, every day that the plan is not in operation means so many more Jews turning to those unholy cults, and there is no other sure way of preventing or discouraging this. Secondly, and this is also a weighty consideration, every new project is provisional by nature, for it is expected that as it progresses there would be need for changes and improvements, which is common experience in various fields, medicine, science, business, etc.

2. I note in your letter that your discussions with your colleagues have advanced to the point of forming an ad hoc committee. I therefore believe that the stage can now be set to start immediately a pilot clinic or similar facility, to start offering actual treatment, on the basis of your and your colleagues’ professional expertise and mutual consultations. The pilot project should be set up in a way that allows for ample flexibility for modification and change as may be necessary.

As indicated, I will be able to provide funding for the initial stage, within limitations. You will no doubt send me a tentative budget of the initial outlay, with an estimate of the period of time it may take until the setup becomes self-supporting. Indeed, I am confident that before long it will not only be self-supporting, but also profitable, considering the popularity of techniques involved. But it is important to start in a way that will not inhibit the effectiveness and development of the project, even if it costs much more.

3. With regard to specifics, I do not think it advisable to use the term “mystic” for the planned healing center, since the goal is to attract the greatest number of Jews and save them from Avodah Zora, and the said term might discourage some. Moreover, generally mysticism connotes something that lies beyond the pale of human comprehension, while the therapeutic benefits of the techniques are quite understandable rationally. Besides, to emphasize the mystical aspect would leave the door open also, lehavdil, to non-Jewish mystical cults.

For the same reason it is advisable to be circumspect in regard to the description of the techniques to be used in the healing center. For example, you mention the use of “Mikvos.” while it is not in my domain to assess the therapeutic effect of relaxation in a hot Mikvah, I fear that to include a mikvah “officially” in the regimen might be suspected — by some people, at least - that it is a gimmick to involve them in Mitzvos. I think that veiling it in some such term as “immersion”, hot bath, and the like would entirely allay such suspicion.

As for calling the healing center by the name “Noam” — it is a name already in use by various organizations and journals. Another suitable name would have to be found, but there is no need to make a final decision on this right away.

Finally, let me relieve you of any apprehension that you might be “pushing” me on this matter. On the contrary, in connection with such a vital project “pushing” could only be all to the good, since time is of the essence, as I emphasized above….

(From a letter of the Rebbe, dated 11 Sivan, 5738)