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Freud and the Kabbalah

The impact of Judaism on Freud and psychoanalysis has been the subject of a number of treatments over the years. However, it was only in David Bakan's (1957) Sigmund Freud and The Jewish Mystical Tradition, that an attempt was made to draw parallels between psychoanalysis and Jewish mysticism. Bakan attempted to show that Freud was a "crypto-Sabbatean", a follower of the heretical Shabbatai Sevi (a would be "messiah" in seventeenth century Poland).

Unfortunately, Bakan's work was extreme in its claims and virtually devoid of any serious discussion of kabbalistic ideas. The result has been that Bakan's often referred to work has had very little actual impact on subsequent studies of Freud's relationship to Judaism, which have tended thereby to ignore Jewish mysticism as a possible background to psychoanalytic theory and practice. This is most unfortunate as the Lurianic Kabbalah, which is extremely "psychoanalytic" in its fundamental conceptions can provide us with a genuine and specific theoretical link between Judaism and psychoanalysis.

This situation is particularly troubling because, Bakan himself adduced evidence that Freud, when he was made aware of the Lurianic Kabbalah exclaimed "This is gold!" and queried why these ideas had never previously been brought to his attention. See "This Is Gold": Freud, Psychotherapy and the Lurianic Kabbalah"

There are numerous parallels between psychoanalysis and the various practices, hermeneutic methods, and institutional arrangements of Kabbalah and Hasidism. Here I can only provide a brief outline of the parallels between Freudian theory and Lurianic theosophy. Those who wish to examine this topic in more detail may wish to read "This Is Gold"

or review the comprehensive treatment of this subject in Kabbalistic Metaphors, Chapter 7, 241-288. According to Freud the development of the individual involves the channeling of procreative energy (the libido). This energy, which is analogous to the Kabbalist's Or Ein-Sof (Light of the Infinite) is modified into structures, the ego, and superego, the function of which are to channel and modulate further emanations of the individual's libido, much as the Sefirot were designed as vessels for channeling the light and energy of God's will.

For reasons that are inherent in the nature of the conflict between instinct and culture the "Freudian" structures are not consistently able to maintain and modulate the libidinous energy in ways that are most adaptive to the individual, just as in the Kabbalah, the Sefirot are unable to fully contain God's infinite light.

There is, one might say, a partial "shattering" of each of the Freudian structures and a splitting off (exile) of ideas and emotions from the main fabric of the individual's personality, just as in Luria's system, as a result of the Breaking of the Vessels, divine sparks are separated from the main source of light in God. For Freud the "splitting off" occurs, for example, when an individual becomes aware of an impulse, thought, or desire, which his conscious self finds unacceptable. Similarly, for Luria, the Breaking of the Vessels occurs because of an imbalance amongst the Sefirot, in particular an imbalance and lack of integration between Loving-kindness (Chesed and Judgment.

For psychoanalysis, the impulse or idea and its associated affect is repressed, and subsequently exists in a nether psychological realm know as the "unconscious" which is quite analogous to Luria's Sitra Achra or "Other Side". Once in the unconscious these "complexes" of thought and affect, which are akin to the kabbalistic Kellipot (Husks), are inaccessible to the individual. They become, in a sense, "exiled" and are the source of all manner and variety of psychological discord which the individual experiences as depression or other neurotic symptoms, in the same way as the Kellipot, by encumbering the holy sparks, are the source of negativity and evil on the cosmic level.

Furthermore, these repressed ideas and impulses disrupt the individual's erotic life in such a manner that he or she becomes incapable of true genital sexuality and union, much in the manner that for the Kabbalists the Breaking of the Vessels disrupts the erotic union between the masculine and feminine aspects of God.

The job of the analyst is to make these unconscious complexes conscious], and, more importantly, to free the libidinous energy attached to these complexes so that the libido can be made available to the individual for his own erotic and other life goals just as, in Kabbalah, the energy trapped in the Kellipot must be freed and made available for "divine intercourse" the service of God. Thus from a kabbalistic perspective the psychoanalytic endeavor is itself a form of tikkun (restoration) which brings an end to a galut ("exiled" aspects of the individual's personality) and ushers in a geulah or psychological redemption.

The question of whether Freud was actually influenced by Kabbalistic and/or Hasidic ideas is an intriguing one. Freud's father came from a Hasidic background, Freud had a great interests in Jewish jokes and stories (many of which were likely Hasidic in origin), and Freud was apparently familiar with the Zohar and other kabbalistic works. These issues are discussed at length in Kabbalistic Metaphors.

The Lurianic Kabbalah is treated in detail in Sanford Drob's Symbols of the Kabbalah and Kabbalistic Metaphors .

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All material on New Kabbalah website (c) Sanford L. Drob, 2001.

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