Knowing with one’s entire being

I will post the logotalk podcast interview in installments. This is not a transcription but my written notes. It will not exactly match the oral interview.

Marshall: Batya, welcome to logotalk.

Batya: It’s good to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

M: Batya, I recall we met at the 2009 World Congress on Logotherapy where you presented a very interesting paper on logotherapy and Judaism. How did you become interested in logotherapy, and in the similarities between logotherapy and Judaism?

B. For a long time I was looking for a therapeutic approach that would feel right to me. Logotherapy felt perfectly natural and familiar. It made sense. The more I studied it the more my mind was bombarded with parallels to Jewish texts. I believe there is a real affinity between logotherapy and Judaism.

At the Congress I spoke about the similarities. My interest has shifted a bit since then. I picture logotherapy and Judaism engaged in an animated discussion where they elucidate and enrich one another. For instance how would logotherapy and Judaism discuss conscience?

Logotherapy would describe conscience as both a conscious and unconscious ability to discover meaning.
On the conscious level I am aware of higher values or meanings in objective reality, and I then have to correctly interpret how a particular situation is presenting me with a personal invitation to meaning.

On the unconscious level I just know something intuitively from the core of my being.

To illustrate the ability to access intuitive knowledge I want to tell you a story. In the book Happiness is a Choice, Barry Neil Kaufman relates the story of a father who had been repeatedly convicted for child abuse.

The most recent incident ended with pushing his small child down the stairs. In the wake of this he saw a therapist. The therapist, who was very accepting and nonjudgmental helped him access the knowledge that was locked deep within him. “I love her,” the father said tearfully. “I have always loved her.”

Why do people love one another and act as if they don’t? Here I think the Jewish concept of da’at (knowing) helps clarify Frankl’s concept of conscience.

Like conscience, da’at can be defined as what we intuitively experience as true. It was only in the encounter with a person who was not judging him that this father was able to access this inner knowledge of love for his daughter. Until then this intuitive knowledge was buried deep inside but he was not able to access it.

Furthermore, like the discernment of conscience, with da’at we can distinguish the differences between situations, making us aware of how we are being addressed and called in a given situation. So here we have the two parts in da’at exactly as in conscience, that is, the unconscious intuitive level and the conscious discerning level.

Da’at clarifies another important aspect to conscience. Beyond discriminating the meaning of reality, da’at is a state of internal harmony within the person. It integrates thought, actions and emotion, allowing us to act on our beliefs – not only love but also display love in action.

Thus the famous Medieval philosopher and classifier of the code of Jewish law, Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides) titled his laws of personality refinement “The laws of knowledge.” With da’at (knowledge) we are able to integrate what we consciously know into our entire personality

Having da’at or having conscience means that what we know in the depths of our being becomes what we know with our entire being.

I would add that it works the other way around as well. Not only does Judaism inform logotherapy but logotherapy elucidates Judaism. People think of Judaism as a system with a lot of details, rules and regulations. This is true. Judaism takes general principles and finds expression for them in concrete details. It finds the infinite in the finite, and as a guidebook for life it is chock full of nitty-gritty finite details.

But even in this rigorous legal system, there is a place for natural morality. Not only is there a place for it; it is the absolute prerequisite of the law.

The basic assumption in Judaism is that God created man “in His image”, that is, God endowed man with natural moral sensitivity. On the verse saying God made humans being “upright,” (Ecclesiastes 7:3) Rabbi Yitzchak HaCohen Kook explains (Ein Aya, Rav Kook, Shabbat Ch. 1 par. 21) that because of the divine soul within him, the inner essence of a person tends towards goodness. Moral sensitivity is the rock bottom absolutely essential foundation of the law and also the goal of the law.

This means that in a practical sense a person has to be helped to access this goodness and create this integration. Thus by helping a person to develop awareness of how he is addressed in the details of his life and how he must answer, logotherapy actually serves Judaism.

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