The American Psychological Association (APA) defines psychology as:
“The study of the mind and behavior. The discipline embraces all aspects of the human experience — from the functions of the brain to the actions of nations, from child development to care for the aged. In every conceivable setting from scientific research centers to mental healthcare services, ‘the understanding of behavior’ is the enterprise of psychologists. ”
All paradigms of psychology ultimately deal with a picture of man. Judaism provides a complete and comprehensive vision of man. Psychology and Judaism address common concerns such as well-being, ethical behavior, and the fulfillment of a meaningful life. Additionally, the practice of psychology is based on certain underlying assumptions about what it means to be human. It addresses such questions as: What is human nature? Do we have free will? How do we create a psychologically healthy lifestyle? Which thoughts and feelings should be expressed and which suppressed? Judaism also has much to say on these issues.
This class will not focus on psychological problems per se – issues better left to mental health professionals to discuss. Rather, the focus will be on positive psychology – how people thrive and experience normal life in a more fulfilling way.
In order to understand how Judaism promotes these goals, we will first have to explore the basic Jewish understanding of human psychological makeup. We will explore the understanding of human nature and how it is built to facilitate free will. This in turn will lead to an investigation of various facets of the intellect and imagination, and about the development of personality and character traits. We will then be poised to appreciate how the Jewish system of Torah study and mitzvot observance can help us achieve the goals of positive psychology and personal development.
Ultimately, this NLE Morasha shiur, based on a class taught by Rabbi Avraham Edelstein, Director of Ner Le’Elef, goes beyond the APA academic framework. It’s about how we can know ourselves better to embark on a journey of “profound change”. In the words of Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe (Alei Shur I, p. 141):
“Self-knowledge is the prerequisite for any self-improvement. One who does not know himself – for him the gates of self-improvement are shut tight. He will live his spiritual life in peace, he will fail as many fail, and will perform good deeds like every man of Israel – and G-d does not deny the reward of each individual. But a person of self-growth and truth he will not be. Someone who reaches self-knowledge is forced by it to embark on a trail of fruitful labor and profound change, in behavior and in disposition.”