Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Kosher Meditation

Is “Jewish meditation” really the way to attract seekers and combat the allure of cults? Or is that itself a danger? Dr. Yehuda Landes was a noted Stanford professor in the mid 1970s who wrote to the Rebbe for advice on establishing a healing center that would provide “kosher” mysticism. The Avner Institute would like to present a letter from this lengthy correspondence in which the Rebbe answers with careful insight and guidelines on these seemingly exotic practices.

The Rebbe Archive would like to present a photo of a Rebbe beaming at guests and photographers at a Lag B’Omer parade 5720 (1960).

Good Shabbos

11 Sivan, 5738
Brooklyn, NY

P.A., Cal

Greeting and Blessing:

Thank you for your letter of 2nd Sivan upon your return from Eretz Yisroel and previous communication.

I am pleased to note that you and your wife enjoyed your visit in Eretz Yisroel and were impressed with the activities of Chabad there. As I have remarked on similar occasions, it is customary to bring back souvenirs from the lands one visits that are characteristic of native features and products, etc. I trust, therefore, that you, too, brought back with you the right souvenir from the Holy Land, namely an extra measure of holiness, which will serve as a fitting memento for your visit. And, of course, there is always room for improvement in matters of holiness, Torah and Mitzvahs, in the daily life. In your case this is even more important, not only for your own benefit, but also for the benefit of the many who look to you for inspiration; and one is inspired not by someone else’s good thoughts and intentions, and not so much by word of mouth as by living example, which needs no elaboration to a psychologist.

Now to the main subject of our correspondence, namely saving Jews from getting involved in avoda zara [idolatry] 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:

1: 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 to prolong 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 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 the 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 set up 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 avoda zara, 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 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 mikvot. While it is not in my domain to assess the therapeutic effect of relaxation in a hot mike. I fear that to include a mikva “officially” in the regimen might be suspected—by some people, at least—that it is a gimmick to involve them in mitzvoth. 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.

In view of the fact that everything is by hashgocho protis [Divine Providence], it is significant that your letter and my reply were written in proximity to the Yom Tov of Kabbolas HaTorah [Shavuot], when we renew and redouble our commitment to the Torah on the basis of na’aseh before v’nishma, with emphasis on the doing and that na’aseh is the key to v’nishma.

With esteem and blessing,

M. Schneerson