Connecting to God: Ancient Kabbalah and Modern Psychology

Connecting to God: Ancient Kabbalah and Modern Psychology

by Abner Weiss

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Distinguished rabbi, marriage and family therapist, kabbalist, and popular lecturer, Abner Weiss is extraordinarily qualified to write this book. In Connecting to God, he elucidates the teachings of Kabbalah, showing how the Ten Sefirot of the Tree of Life are the transformers of divine energy in our bodies and the building blocks of


Distinguished rabbi, marriage and family therapist, kabbalist, and popular lecturer, Abner Weiss is extraordinarily qualified to write this book. In Connecting to God, he elucidates the teachings of Kabbalah, showing how the Ten Sefirot of the Tree of Life are the transformers of divine energy in our bodies and the building blocks of creation—Weiss calls them “our spiritual genome.”

He has created a psychological system and diagnostic method from kabbalistic texts, and he uses these clinically tested interventions in his therapeutic practice. Here he tells twenty-eight stories of people he has helped liberate from their dysfunctional behavior, empowering them to achieve spiritual growth. With Rabbi Weiss as our guide, we can use this kabbalistic approach to psychology to inform our lives with its insights, rebalance what is out of kilter, and heal the emotional wounds we have suffered. Connecting to God is a wise, wonderful, and transformational book.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
In Praise ofConnecting to God

“An elegant and compelling introduction not only to what Kabbalah is, but how it can transform and elevate your life. The stories drawn from Rabbi Weiss’s rabbinical and life experience are simply extraordinary.” —Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, author of Jewish Literacy and The Book of Jewish Values

“When I began to read this book, I was deeply skeptical of Kabbalah. By the time I finished it, I had gained profound respect for its insights into the human soul. It is the first book to make sense of the Sefirot, which I had always dismissed as arbitrary and irrational. Rabbi Weiss has done a superb job of making difficult concepts accessible.” —Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People

“A hallmark of genuine, authentic wisdom is that it can be spoken of in plain terms and translated into practical applications to everyday life. This is precisely what Rabbi Abner Weiss has achieved. Connecting to God is both informative and transformative. Blending instruction and the uplifting stories of changed lives, this book is a treasure that will enrich everyone who reads it.” —Larry Dossey, M.D., author of Healing Words

“A major contribution to a field of growing importance; a book whose quality, integrity, and wisdom shine forth.” —Mark Cohen, Ph.D., cotranslator of In the Shadow of the Ladder:Introductions to Kabbalah by Rabbi Yehudah Lev Ashlag

“A beautifully woven synthesis of Kabbalah and psychology, written in a lively style and format that is sure to attract a wide audience, not only among the devotees of mysticism but also those pining for life’s meaning.” —Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center

Publishers Weekly
Armed with advance degrees in Jewish philosophy and psychology, as well as decades of work as both a licensed therapist and a congregational rabbi, Weiss thoughtfully shares the fruits of 40 years of Kabbalah study. He merges psychological analysis with a keen awareness of kabbalistic relationships as illustrated by the 10 sefirot (or spiritual roots) of the Tree of Life. In sharing his findings, he gracefully tempers his academic approach with dozens of examples (taken from patients and congregants, as well as the Bible) that illustrate the links between common and rare psychological disorders and imbalances within the development of what he has termed the "spiritual genomes" within all of us. Not for the red-string, pop culture set, this serious examination of psychology and spirituality includes references to and discussions of the ancient and contemporary Jewish sages-including Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Elijah, the Vilna Gaon, Maimonides, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan and Rabbi Schneur Zalman-and a wide array of luminaries in philosophy and psychology, such as Hegel and Jung. Those looking for a more intellectually rigorous approach to spiritual self-help and those in the fields of philosophy and psychology will find this a valuable read. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Weiss, rabbi of the Westwood Village Synagogue in Los Angeles as well as a marriage and family therapist, has written a book that encapsulates his efforts to use the ancient mystical text of the Kabbalah to heal spiritual wounds. Weiss's insights-much like those of the Kabbalah itself-defy easy summary, but in short his book is about applying the core belief of the Kabbalah-that God is "Being"-through the ten "emanations" to individual and human cases. For most collections, especially where interest in mysticism and personal psychology is strong. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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A century of clinical psychology has made therapy a household concept in the Western world. More people than ever before have experienced psychotherapy. More methods for achieving psychological well-being are available. Miracle drugs alleviate depression and relieve anxiety. Gadgets of every description make household chores and business administration less tedious and more efficient. More time is available for relaxation, entertainment, continuing education, and personal growth.

These advances should have produced a happier and more fulfilled generation. But people seem to be no less troubled and no more relaxed and fulfilled than they were prior to the psychological revolution. What has gone wrong?

What happened to Sheila, Jeremy, and their extended family helps answer this question.


Our synagogue was launching an ambitious outreach program. We thought that High Holy Day services for young adult “beginners,” with lots of explanations and opportunities for asking questions, might be a good way of attracting people who had been turned off or never turned on. In addition, we were offering home hospitality.

I received a call from a young man asking if he and his friend could spend the High Holy Days as my houseguests. This was the beginning of an experience that would prove to be transformative in more ways than I could imagine at the time.

Jeremy and Sheila arrived a few hours before the evening service. I learned that Jeremy was a professor at a local university, and that Sheila had been his student in another city. They had begun to talk about building a future together, and religion was the only issue that seriously troubled them.

Jeremy was Jewish by birth, but was an atheist. Both his parents were mental health professionals, and he had embraced their contempt for religion. His father was a professor of psychiatry with an international reputation for his research and clinical skills. His mother was a licensed clinical social worker who taught at the same university as her husband. Jeremy’s father had been trained in Vienna before the Second World War, and had been persuaded by Sigmund Freud’s The Future of an Illusion that religion was a collective neurosis. He was convinced that God did not exist and that the concept of the Divine was a human invention to serve social and psychological needs. Jeremy’s mother shared her husband’s beliefs. There were no Jewish observances or even Jewish symbols in their home. I was not surprised to learn that Jeremy had had no Jewish religious education.

Sheila, on the other hand, came from a religious home. Her parents were sincere believers and had given their children a solid Christian education, but Sheila had some reservations about religion. The threat of hellfire and damnation for religious noncompliance and the negative attitude to other faiths by the family pastor troubled her deeply. However, she knew that her life needed to be spiritually centered and wanted to find an alternative to the religious values and experiences she had encountered.

Jeremy had tried to persuade Sheila that her quest for spirituality made no sense, but she told him that it was a vital part of her being. She pointed out that Jeremy had never been exposed to religion and suggested that his rejection of something he had not experienced was unreasonable. Jeremy reluctantly agreed to give religion a try. Sheila thought that Unitarian Christianity might be less objectionable to Jeremy than the Christianity of her childhood. She hoped, too, that it would do something for her. So Jeremy and Sheila had attended services at a Unitarian church near the university, but left uninspired. Then she had suggested that they go to services at a Reform Jewish temple. The services in that ultraliberal synagogue did not seem very different from the disappointing worship experience in the Unitarian church. It was at that point that the couple had relocated to our city.

Jeremy and Sheila were moved by their High Holy Day experience and decided to attend the beginners’ service on a weekly basis. Sheila asked me for literature on Judaism. She was an avid reader and devoured every book I recommended. Jeremy spent many hours in the library reading up on Judaism and confided to me that he had discovered hidden hungers. After about six months, they came to see me about Sheila’s converting to Judaism. I told them that they would both need to take classes and become involved in the other spiritual activities of the community. They were ready to do so and enrolled in the conversion program. They continued to read voraciously, mastered Hebrew, and made changes in their lifestyle that reflected their growing religious commitment.

Shortly before Sheila’s conversion, I asked them about their wedding plans. They said that they wanted to marry as soon after the conversion as possible, but that their wedding plans had brought Jeremy into open conflict with his parents. His parents approved of Sheila, but resisted the couple’s request that their wedding be catered kosher. They felt it was a rejection of their beliefs and of the way they had brought up their son. They saw me as the villain responsible for undermining everything they had done to disabuse their son of religious superstition. To put it mildly, they detested me.

However, a kosher wedding was eventually held and Jeremy’s parents attended reluctantly. Over the next few years, Jeremy and Sheila had children and introduced them to the beauty of Jewish practice. I had no contact with them for several years. Then, one day, I received a phone call. “Rabbi,” a voice said tentatively, “do you remember me?” It was Jeremy. “I need to ask you a huge favor,” he said. “My dad has a brain tumor. He wants you to come and see him in the hospital.”

All kinds of thoughts raced through my head, mainly that the old psychiatrist was finally going to let me have it for ruining his son and his grandchildren. I thought it was one of the last issues he needed to tie up before he died. Somewhat nervously, I asked, “When would he like to see me?”

“How about tonight?” Jeremy replied.

That evening, prayer book clasped in hand (perhaps more to comfort me than him), I knocked on his father’s door. A German-accented voice invited me in. We were alone in the room. “You asked to see me,” I said.

He fixed his gaze on me. “Is it okay for an old man to say he’s been a fool?” he asked. I could not believe what I was hearing. What did he mean? He answered my question before I asked it. “You know who I am, what I teach, and what I have believed. I was trained in Vienna. In high school we used to mock the rabbi whose classes we had to attend later in the day.” He mimicked the rabbi’s eastern European accent. “Mi-she-bayrach, Mi-she-bayrach, Mi-she-bayrach. We thought this was a witch’s incantation. After all, everything Jewish was supposed to be crude and primitive. These feelings were reinforced at medical school and became central to my beliefs. That’s why I so bitterly resented your influence on my son.”

“What happened?” I asked. “What made you think you’ve been wrong all these years?”

“Spirituality did not fit any of the accepted categories of the life and mental health sciences,” he told me. “but I finally did discover spirituality at the Sabbath table in my son’s home. The prayers and hymns resonated with a part of my soul I had completely disowned, and the radiance in the faces of my grandchildren transported me to another dimension.”

“What happened after you made this discovery?” I asked.

“I decided that I needed to learn more. I began by asking my son to tell me what Mi-she-bayrach means.”

“What did your son tell you?” I asked.

“He told me that Mi-she-bayrach is the beginning of an ancient Jewish prayer for blessing and healing,” he answered. “And I’ve another confession. I have been attending your public lectures over the past few years.”

“I did not know . . . ,” I began.

“How could you? I did not introduce myself. I was not sure you would want to know me after what you had heard about me.”

“Nothing would have given me more joy than to hear of your personal transformation,” I replied.

“You’re probably wondering why I wanted to see you,” the old man said. “It was not only to tell you I had been a fool, and a very stubborn fool, at that. It was to ask you to do something for me. I’m about to have surgery to remove my brain tumor. Would you say a Mi-she-bayrach for me?”

This story is a dramatic illustration of the failure of the psychological revolution. The hidden hungers Jeremy had discovered pointed to an innate need for spirituality. Even the old Viennese professor had to admit that the traditional model was wrong, because it overlooked the universal yearning for spiritual fulfillment.

My first encounter with the study of psychology was in 1956. Six hundred freshmen were crowded into a large lecture hall at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. None of us had any previous exposure to psychology. We were all eagerly awaiting the introductory session, which had been listed as “An Overview of the Science of Psychology.” The instructor, a tall and very imposing man, wasted no time in laying all his cards on the table. “I’m going to disabuse you of three myths,” he declared. “There is no God; there is no soul; and there is no mind. If you can get that archaic nonsense out of your heads, you’ll be ready to study and practice psychology seriously.”

Every undergraduate psychology course I took during the next several years proved his point. Experiences of transcendence and of spirituality were beyond the scope of psychology. Sigmund Freud had, after all, described himself as “the personal enemy of God.” Spirituality was the problem, not the solution to people’s problems. The psychiatric Bible is called Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders–DSM for short. Therapists usually make their diagnoses according to DSM criteria. Until very recently, almost every reference to religion in the DSM was linked to pathology. Neurophysiology, learning theory, and experimental psychology had joined Freud in removing the soul from psychology.

Because God and soul were fundamental to my personal beliefs and way of life, I decided not to become a psychologist but to try another way of helping people to heal and grow. And so, after graduation, I enrolled at the local rabbinical seminary, eventually going to New York for my doctoral work on the writings of the great kabbalist Rabbi Judah Loewe of Prague (1512—1609). My study of his theory of psychology and ethics was my segue into the literature of the Kabbalah. At last, I had found my spiritual home.

After I received a Ph.D., I became a full-time rabbi. Kabbalah was still outside the bounds of mainstream Judaism, and the time was not yet right for me to publicly proclaim my kabbalistic convictions.

Meet the Author

Abner Weiss is a clinical member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists and a member of the American Psychological Association. He was senior rabbi of Durban, South Africa, the Riverdale Jewish Center in New York, Beth Jacob Congregation of Beverly Hills, and the Western Marble Arch Synagogue in London. He has held professorships in Jewish thought at the University of Natal, Yeshiva University, and London University and has served as chief judge of the Rabbinical Court (Beth Din) of Los Angeles, president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, and vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America.

Rabbi Weiss has studied Kabbalah since 1965 and given lectures on it in North America, South Africa, Australia, and England. He lives in Los Angeles and is rabbi of the Westwood Village Synagogue and copresident of Village Mental Health Associates.

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