Models Of Explanation In Kabbalah And Psychoanalysis


Over the years I have attempted to understand something of Judaism's great esoteric tradition, namely Kabbalah. While some see Kabbalah as peripheral to Judaism, I believe that some of its themes contribute to the very core of the Jewish religion and can also shed light on human psychology. Kabbalah can be used as a bridge between the seemingly irreconcilable modes of understanding of religion and science. The purpose of this paper is to develop some ideas in this direction which have taken root in me over the years.

I shall first discuss certain constructs useful in analysing dynamic processes. Then I will give a brief account of Kabbalah and its area of relevance, before attempting to look at psychoanalysis and how it may relate to the Kabbalistic 'Tree of Life'.

Psychoanalysis in context

I will start by considering how the social sciences and their offspring, the helping professions, operate in the wider community.

There are as many divisions in the social sciences as there are in Judaism itself. No scientific discipline holds the monopoly on truth. Each one explores different segments of a total reality which it approaches from a particular angle and at a certain level. The angle can be seen as a horizontal co-ordinate with respect to the level, considered as a vertical one. These co-ordinates are the invariant variables that define the field of investigation of a discipline and in consequence determine its area of relevance.

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with the origin, nature, methods and limits of human knowledge. It provides us with a context and fixes ground rules from which to observe science. From this vantage point we can consider issues such as the power of a scientific hypothesis, what criteria validate a theory and different levels of truth, to name but a few.

Some modern philosophers believe that ontology underpins epistemology at a more basic level. Ontology is the branch of metaphysics that studies the nature of existence. Their view is that before deciding what one knows, one has to question what it is that exists. Is the universe a physical entity, a mental construction, a spiritual one or are all these different expressions of one reality?

The nature of reality is a question that has occupied thinkers over the ages, but this question is relevant not only to scientists, philosophers and religions, but to each individual, as it provides a general context that will influence consciously or unconsciously how people frame their experiences and conduct their lives. Coming back to the social sciences and choosing a horizontal co-ordinate to explore them, they can be seen as dynamic processes in which two opposing and complementary forces can be detected. The first one moves from an imaginary centre towards the periphery; it accounts for the processes of separation, differentiation and discrimination. In psychology, for example, this process has led to the development of different specialities with different areas of interest, methods of investigation and therapeutic approaches. If this movement were not limited the main risk would be of an ensuing isolation and breakdown of communication between the central trunk, the discipline as a whole, and its different branches or specializations. It is complemented by an opposing force, a second movement which progresses from the periphery towards the centre - a unifying and synthetic force. Unless this force is balanced by its opposite, the risk here is of stagnation and lack of growth. The model of analysis I am using is one of expansion and contraction, essential in Kabbalistic methods of analysing processes.

Another key method in Kabbalistic analysis is the analogical method. Thus we can say that both in the psychological development of the individual and in the history of science considered as a process there is always a tension between these two conflicting forces and an attempt to resolve it and re-establish the balance.

To illustrate these movements from an operational level I am going to examine a model I am familiar with, the multi-disciplinary team: I have worked for several years in a small agency called a Child Guidance Clinic in a deprived London borough. I form part of a wider team which includes social workers, educational psychologists and a child psychiatrist.

In practice it is a heterogenic group made up of professionals with different trainings and theoretical backgrounds. Different theoretical positions might divide people at a scientific conference, but in a multi-disciplinary team these same individuals come together as a group which is confronted by a unifying function, namely to perform a clinical task in a professional way. With a variety of viewpoints the team considers each new case referred to the clinic, and gradually a synthesis evolves. This synthesis is fed by the contribution each professional offers from his or her different angles.

These divergent and convergent lines of thought and understanding are the core of the multi-disciplinary and have to be considered as a dynamic and ever-evolving process which tends towards an elusive equilibrium.

As a child psychotherapist, my function is to imagine, speculate and try to understand what is happening in the inner world of young people and the families that are referred to the team and also to offer individual psychotherapy to children when appropriate.

The child psychiatrist in this team is also a family therapist. Her role is to look at the family as a system, enabling the team to think about the complex patterns of interaction that have developed between the different family members and to consider the relation of the family to the wider community.

The educational psychologist can be seen as a link between the clinic and the schools. She keeps in mind the educational aspects of the cases and the learning needs of the children. The educational psychologist is also a therapist in the team.

The social workers have to juggle with their legal statutory duties on the one hand and their clinical role as therapists on the other (these roles are not always compatible).

The range of problems presented by the clients referred to the team is very wide; it varies from cases of attempted suicide, drug addictions, child abuse, delinquency, alcoholism or psychosis in the family to less severe but not necessarily more straightforward cases of enuresis, anorexia, emotional deprivation, school refusals, etc.

The multi-ethnic background of the clients is another dimension to be considered. The team deals with referrals of families from India, Pakistan, Africa and the West Indies, as well as British immigrants from other areas and traditional East End groups, each with their different religions, cultures, expectations and beliefs.

In these cases nothing is taken for granted and as many angles as possible are considered before the team agrees on a general strategy and method of treatment. The clinician responsible for carrying out the therapy brings with him into the consulting room his own understanding and his understanding of what his colleagues have understood - mirrors within a mirror.

In this example of the multi-disciplinary team the tension between expansion and contraction takes place between the different ideologies and methods of work of the individuals concerned on the one hand and the compromises and synthesis that periodically take place on the other.

In practice these team solutions are not easy to reach. Their pursuit can cause difficulties, pain and emotional turmoil within the group, because confronting human problems calls into question not only professional selves and therapeutic methods but also individuals' belief systems, ethical values and their philosophical and religious views of man and the world.

This situation is mirrored in the wider community where different agencies such as courts of law, schools, hospitals, children's homes, etc. have to come together and co-ordinate their actions in order to perform their task.

Apart from the horizontal co-ordinate, science recognizes the existence of a vertical one. There is a hierarchical order in existence which progresses from levels of greater simplicity and consciousness to more complex models of organization.

José Bleger, an Argentinian psychoanalyst, considered three levels in the natural world which he called 'levels of integration'. They are defined as: 'The particular organization attained by a group of objects and phenomena which constitute a unity, governed by its own particular laws which are exclusive and characteristic on that level.'

The first and lowest level is that of physics and chemistry, the second is the biological level and the third and highest is the human level. These levels of integration stand in a hierarchical position to each other. The level above contains the one below, but it has undergone a qualitative change in its organization which does not allow it to be explained by the laws of the inferior level. Each level proceeds from the other in an evolutionary process of transformation. Bleger states that the phenomena at the human level are dealt with by different disciplines such as religion, economy, law, sociology and psychology which are interrelated in a dynamic way and operate within a unitary structure, namely the human level itself.

Psychoanalysis, a recent arrival, is a technical procedure for investigating unconscious mental processes and for treating psychoneurosis. It is also a systematic structure of theories concerning the relation of conscious and unconscious psychological processes.

From its very origin it has claimed for itself the status of an independent scientific discipline. Marthe Roberts, a French psychoanalyst, confirms this when she writes:

Psychoanalysis brought with it the theory of the unconscious which led it to investigate phenomena that other scientific disciplines, religions and philosophies had previously excluded from their field of vision and to attach extreme importance to what other disciplines had disregarded. This makes psychoanalysis independent, resting on its own feet, making its own laws and criteria of truth. It is not a prolongation of any other theory. . .

Psychoanalysis has a genuine claim to an independent status, but it should be thought of as an interdependence, because though a situation or level of integration has distinguishable substructures, the unity of the system cannot be regained when substructural studies have lost sight of the totality and the concrete unity. The Argentinian psychoanalyst and social psychologist Pichon Rivière speaks of the need for a 'convergent epistemology' to give account of the complexity and totality of the human level. He stresses the need for a co-operative and co-ordinated approach by the disciplines that deal with the different substructures pertaining to the human level.

Establishing right relations and finding the optimal distance between the disciplines that cover the various substructures that make up the human level is not straightforward.

As an example of the difficulties that can arise: the first International Psychoanalytic Congress was composed solely of Jewish analysts. Freud was aware that one of the dangers that this might bring about was that psychoanalysis might become too closely identified with Judaism in people's minds and be perceived as a Jewish science. Given the anti-Semitic climate of the times he was concerned that psychoanalysis would not survive this extra blow in addition to the combined attacks it was receiving at the time from the medical establishment. This was one of the reasons why Freud valued so highly the inclusion of Jung in his group. Thus, from its very inception, it was a matter of great importance for psychoanalysis and Judaism to discriminate between their areas of relevance and their objectives in order to establish separate identities and find an appropriate distance from each other.

These issues of right relations and optimal distance are still relevant. Not to consider this dimension leads to the danger of rejection and splitting on the one hand and over-identification on the other. As an example of these problems, at one end of the spectrum we find Rabbi Amsel, who attempts to use Judaism to dismiss psychoanalysis. In his book Psychology and Judaism he says that psychotherapy should be a means to an end and the end is to fulfil the Jewish Law. He believes that mental illness is an accumulation of bad habits caused by the evil inclination in man which leads him to break with the Jewish Law, right living. He dismisses psychoanalysis because it has adopted a position of neutrality with regard to the Law. He also believes that the concept of the unconscious is an attach on one of the basic ideas of Judaism - that of 'man's free will'.

At the other end of the spectrum we find David Bakan, with his classical book Sigmund Freud and the Jewish Mystical Tradition. He attempts to place Freud and psychoanalysis firmly in the Jewish camp and sees his work as a modern development in the line of Jewish mysticism. In his book he writes:

The contributions of Freud are to be understood largely as a contemporary version of and a contemporary contribution to the history of Jewish mysticism. Freud consciously or unconsciously secularized Jewish mysticism, and psychoanalysis can intelligently be viewed as such a secularization . . . By separating the supernatural elements in mysticism from its other context Freud succeeded in making a major contribution to science.

Both Amsel and Bakan failed in discriminating between the areas of relevance of psychoanalysis and Judaism and in establishing an appropriate distance between them.


I will now turn my attention to Kabbalah, the main expression of Jewish mysticism. Kabbalah means to receive. I will attempt to convey a brief outline of it. The model I will use is the Tree of Life, which Kabbalists have described as a picture of existence, a diagram of the principles working throughout creation (see figures 1 and 2, pp. 34-5).

Tradition teaches that existence was 'Called Forth, Created, Formed and Made' by the Holy One. For Kabbalah each of these words represents literally a world. The first word, 'calling forth', which in effect means naming, refers to Atzilut, the divine world of Emanation. It is the realm in which the Tree of Life is in its purest form. It is the world of eternity and pure will. All the dynamics and laws of this world are complete except that nothing has happened and nothing will happen unless there is movement in space and time. It is represented here on earth by the element fire or light.

The second word, 'Created', refers to Beriah, or the world of Creation. This is the cosmic or spiritual world. It is here that time and space appear in existence. This world is described in the Bible in terms of the seven days of creation. It is represented on earth by the element of air.

The third word, 'Formed', refers to Yetzirah, the world of Formation. It is the world of our solar system, our planetary world. In man it is the psychological world. It is represented on earth by the element of water.

The fourth word, 'Made', refers to Assiah, the world of Action. This is the physical world we live in. It is the world we experience through our senses and is represented by the element of earth.

Each level is a fainter mirror of the one above, and existence is seen as a continuum in which these four worlds form a chain of increasing density and complexity the further they are removed from the world of Atzilut. The world of Assiah, our material environment, is so dense that we usually can observe only the surface of things.

As tradition teaches us that God created man in his image, Kabbalah sees man as a microcosm of the macrocosm, and though he lives in the world of Assiah he partakes of all four worlds. This is man's unique position. He can evolve as an individual. He has access to the upper universes should he evolve and refine his being to be able to become aware of these realms.

Each of these four worlds contains within it a complete Tree of Life. The Tree is an attempt to represent in a graphic way how the divine will is manifested. It does so in ten distinct phases. These ten stages have been known since the Middle Ages as Sefirot. Mystics along the ages have pictured them in different ways. Some have seen them as the faces of God, the garments of God, the hands of God; others have considered them as powers of God or divine vessels. However, all Kabbalists agree that they represent divine attributes.

According to Zev Ben Shimon Halevi, a British Kabbalist, the relationship between the Sefirot are governed by three unmanifested divine principles of Primordial Will; Mercy; and Rigour or Justice.

'Will', which runs down the central axis of the Tree, holds the balance while 'Mercy', the right pillar, expands and 'Rigour/Justice', the left pillar, contains the flow of emanation. In this way, they organize the ten Sefirot into the specific archetypal pattern known as the 'Tree of Life'.

The Tree is a dynamic model. Its dynamism resides in its flow, which is traditionally thought of as zig-zagging in a lightning flash which originates in the central pillar of balance and then moves to the right pillar of expansion and across to the left pillar of constraint.

The first Sefira or stage on the Tree is called in Hebrew Keter (the Crown); it expresses all that was is and will be. It is the place of the first emanation and the ultimate return. Its nature as a divine attribute is expressed by the name of God that is usually associated with Keter - I AM THAT I AM. From this point of equilibrium the beam of light expands on the Pillar of Mercy, Expansion and Force to manifest the second Sefira, known as Hochmah (Wisdom). Tradition thinks of this Sefira, both in the divine and in the human mind, as the active part of the inner intellect. It is what human beings experience as a flash of genius or revelation. It is balanced and complemented on the Pillar of Severity, Form and Contraction by the third Sefira, Binah (Understanding). This is intellect in its passive, receptive and reflexive capacity. In human beings it can be represented as reason and tradition. Hochmah and Binah represent the level of intellect in the structure of the Tree.

After the beam of light leaves Binah it touches again the central pillar underneath Keter. This stage is known as Daat (Hidden Knowledge), a non-Sefira. Tradition tells us that this is the place where the Absolute may enter at will to intervene in existence. In human terms it is the knowledge that seems to manifest out of nowhere and comes direct from God. Its main characteristic is that what comes from Daat is not only seen but known.

Below Daat the lightning flash moves to the pillar of expansion at Hessed (Mercy) and back to the pillar of contraction at Gevurah (Judgment). These divine attributes appear in man as complementary tendencies: on the one hand, love, tolerance and generosity; on the other hand, discipline, rigour and discrimination. Hessed and Gevurah represent the level of emotion in the structure of the Tree.

Having left Gevurah, the descending lightning flash returns to the central pillar of equilibrium, manifesting in the central Sefira, Tiferet (Beauty). It lies at the Heart of the Tree. On the Divine Tree it is the heart of Hearts. Whenever the Tree diagram is applied to the dynamic of any organism or system, Tiferet is where the essence of the thing can be found. Tradition regards this Sefira as the central core of the individual which stands behind the everyday ego. Tiferet (Beauty) is also known as the Watcher, and in man it appears as that capacity of the mind that can detach itself and observe.

Below Tiferet the lightning flash manifests in two other complementary attributes: Netzah (Eternity) and Hod (Reverberation). Together they constitute the level of action on the Tree. In human terms, Netzah refers to emotional processes and Hod refers to mental processes.

Between these two Sefirot, lower down on the pillar of equilibrium is Yesod (Foundation). In man it appears as the lowest phase of consciousness. Yesod acts as a mirror of Tiferet in which we see ourselves and which projects a persona for others to see. This persona may or may not (according to the state of balance and self-knowledge of the individual) reflect the true nature of the self at Tiferet. Most of man's perception of the world and most of his implementation of will takes place at Yesod.

The lowest Sefira in the Tree of Life is Malkut (the Kingdom), In it the lightning flash is earthed. It constitutes the presence of the Holy One in matter. Its nature is fourfold, encapsulating the four levels inherent within the Tree as a whole: the root, trunk, branches and fruits of the Tree as it grows down into existence. In human beings, Malkut appears as the body with its traditional four elements: the interaction of the solid, the liquid, the gaseous and the radiant which keeps us alive.

Besides this general scheme of the Tree of Life, the relationships between the Sefirot are determined by twenty-two paths which form a system of active triads on the column of force, passive triads on the column of form, while the central triads linking the two pillars are concerned with consciousness.

According to Kabbalah, the configuration of relationships that constitute the Tree of Life underlie the whole of existence. It is a model of the relative universe, a divine blueprint, which is imitated by any complete suborganism or organization.

As the basic definition of Sefirot is that they are attributes of God, and man is cast in the Holy One's image, each Sefira can be defined in terms of human experience and any branch of knowledge. This implies an anthropomorphic method which is common in Kabbalah.

Psychoanalysis from the perspective of Kabbalah

Having established the general outline of the Tree of Life I will consider psychoanalysis from the perspective of the Kabbalistic model. This will constitute an example of how the Tree can be used in practice.

If we look at psychoanalysis from a vertical perspective we can distinguish two levels: the level of its body of theories and that of the psychoanalytic practice. Each of these levels feed from each other and are enriched and transformed in an ongoing dialogue.

Linking psychoanalysis to the Kabbalistic scheme of the four worlds we can say that its area of relevance corresponds to Yetzirah, the world of Formation. It is the world of man's actions, feelings, thoughts and will: his psychological world. On the extended Tree it is seen to overlap with Beriah, the world of Creation, man's spiritual world and with Assiah, the world of Action, man's physical world.

Pioneers of psychoanalytic theory focused on different aspects of this range. By doing this they created different schools of thought, many of which have survived to this day. Reich, for example, concentrated his attention on the psycho-physical dimension, the area where Assiah and Yetzirah overlap. Freud seems to have focused his on the central area of the psychological Tree, and Jung attempted to deal with the psycho-spiritual aspects of man, the area where Yetzirah and Binah overlap.

If we turn our attention to the Tree we notice that three pairs of complementary Sefirot are arranged on the side pillars in descending order. They can be considered as three levels of abstraction and are in essence pairs of opposites which balance each other.

The upper two Sefirot on the side pillars are Hochmah and Binah, or Wisdom and Understanding. They are the first and highest level of abstraction on the Tree. Tradition knows it as the level of the abstract intellect. In psychoanalysis this level corresponds to the theory of psychoanalysis and its metapsychology.

Hochmah (Wisdom) is the Sefirah of inspiration and of revelation. The intuitions at this stage arc ¡is yet unformulated. They take shape in Binah (Abstract Understanding), which acts as a container to the inflow from Hochmah. It is here, in the Sefirah of tradition that the intuitions become formulated as thoughts, concepts, theories and laws which are integrated into an evolving body of knowledge, constituting the discipline of psychoanalysis. This body of knowledge is preserved in written form through books, journals and papers and the tradition is passed on orally to future generations by training institutions, lectures, seminars and, last but not least, the candidate's personal analysis.

A stage below Hochmah and Binah we find Hessed and Gevurah, or Mercy and Judgment. This is the Tree's second level of abstraction. Tradition knows it as the level of emotion. In psychoanalysis it corresponds to the higher level of its practice. It is the level of the practising psychoanalyst who, according to the American author Donald Meltzer, must discover the whole of analysis for himself guided by his teachers and the literature.

Hessed (Mercy) should be thought of as the analyst's sensitivity, his intuitive capacity to empathize with his patient. However, offering patients nothing but Mercy would do them a great disservice. If the therapist did not have the capacity to step back and reflect he and the patient would be hopelessly lost. Here is where Gevurah balances Hessed. Gevurah (Judgment) can be seen as the analyst's reflective and discriminating aspects. Gevurah defines the parameters, determines the constants and directs the treatment.

Malcolm Pines, a British psychoanalyst, points to the functions of this level when he writes: '. . . to empathize with the patient and to communicate his sensitivity by words represents the analyst's containment'.

At the next stage below Hessed and Gevurah we find Netzah and Hod, or Emotion and Intellect or Concrete Intelligence. It is the Tree's third and lowest level of abstraction, Tradition considers this the level of action. In the process of psychoanalysis it corresponds to its second level. It is the level of the patient.

Netzah (Emotion) can be seen broadly as recurring processes. It is the patient's emotions, instincts and drives and also the energy invested in the treatment. Netzah is balanced by Hod (Concrete Intelligence). It is here where the patient's thoughts are manifested. Its function is to act as a container to the feelings and emotions and to make sense of the world at large.

I will now give a brief clinical example that will illustrate the interactions between these three pairs of Sefirot and will discriminate between their different levels of activity.

Mr M. was a man who in a classic psychopathological diagnosis would have been classified as a severe paranoid character. He was born in an African country which his family had to leave for political reasons when he was very young. They moved to the Middle East where they lived for many years as stateless persons. Mr M.'s father, who had been a successful professional, remained unemployed for the rest of his life.

When Mr M. was in his early twenties he was offered employment in England and after many years became a British subject.

He was in his mid-thirties when he came to see me. He was short and plump, had been on anti-depressant drugs for years and had never had sexual relationships. In his initial interview, he showed signs of great mistrust expressed by an obsessive concern about the confidentiality of the treatment. He was very worried that I might belong to some organization to which I would relay the contents of his interviews and which, in turn, would pass on this information to the company he worked for.

Mr M. worked as an engineer for a large multinational company and he believed that there was an organized plot to control him, which was orchestrated by the management with the complicity of all his colleagues. The network of the plot extended to the wider world, in which every chance encounter was felt to be a danger, as he might be dealing with the probable accomplices in his employer's machinations. This strange reasoning corresponds to Hod. During the interview he complained that he was suffering from feelings of isolation and fear; he felt lifeless, empty, was incapable of loving and his life lacked any meaning. Feelings are the function of Netzah.

Hod and Netzah form the pair of complementary functions that constitute the third and lowest level of abstraction of the Tree of Life.

Through a long and arduous psychotherapeutic process I began to get a picture of Mr M.'s life history. With whatever sensitivity and capacity for care and concern I possessed, I was able to identify and empathize with him. Sensitivity which enables compassion is the function of Hessed (Mercy).

As the treatment progressed I gradually developed an intuitive understanding of his inner world. These intuitions then became thoughts that were articulated and fed back to the patient. Reflecting on the nature of Mr M.'s predicament, I was able to understand that his feelings of emptiness, of lack of recognition and fear, were linked together and were very primitive. They related to his early bonding to a depressed and displaced mother who was over-preoccupied with her own plight and did not have enough psychic space to incorporate and contain intuitively the primitive affects and anxieties of her baby.

In some way babies acquire the capacity to do for themselves what the environment does for them and thus the process of psychic structure development and maturational function takes place (Pines 1986). In Mr M.'s case his cries of distress that might have represented hunger, loneliness, fear or rage were not adequately taken in and dealt with for him by his mother. He grew up without having had the experience of a mother that could act as a reliable container and a faithful mirror. His uncontained anxieties made him feel lost, unrecognized and frightened.

These feelings were first experienced as a hostile force inside himself which was felt to be attacking and persecuting him. When the intensity of the feelings increased, they were experienced as internal attacks which became unbearable and so they were projected on to the outside world, and were externalized. A universe filled with demons was preferable to an internal hell created by the absence of a containing mother.

This reflective capacity is Gevurah (Discrimination). Hessed and Gevurah constitute the second level of abstraction of the Tree of Life. They represent the level of the practising psychoanalyst. Empathy and Reflection together constitute the containing function of the psychoanalytic process.

My thinking at this stage was informed by my studies of developmental psychology and my understanding of the psychoanalytic theories of introjection and projection. This is Gevurah fed by Binah (Abstract Understanding). It was enhanced by whatever intuition I might have brought to bear on the subject. This is Hessed fed by Hochmah (Wisdom).

Hochmah and Binah constitute the first and highest level of abstraction of the Tree of Life, the level of psychoanalytic theory and metapsychology.

I will now use this same example to illustrate the process, as an instance of how the Sefirot relevant to these levels interrelate dynamically.

By my being able to empathize with the patient despite his violent projections, without retaliating or dismissing him (Hessed) and by reflecting on his feelings of hostility and dread (Gevurah), it became possible for me to contain his anxieties in the therapy (Hessed and Gevurah) which were then articulated in a way that had meaning and were understandable to him (Gevurah feeding Hod). Throughout the process, the patient started feeling understood and less isolated (Hessed feeding Netzah) and he gradually became more able to tolerate thinking about the emotions in the core of himself (Hod) which led to a reduction in his feelings of fear, lack of recognition and emptiness (Netzah).

In this model of the Tree of Life, I have so far looked at the two side columns: the Pillar of Force, which is comprised of Wisdom, Mercy and Emotion, and the Pillar of Form, constituted by Understanding, Judgment and Intellect.

I will now focus on the central Pillar of Equilibrium known also as the Pillar of Consciousness. Malkut (the Kingdom of Earth) is the lowest Sefira on the Tree. It is the point of contact with the physical world. It is the place where the psychoanalytic process gets grounded. It is the consulting room which provides the setting that holds the whole process. According to Winnicott, holding has to be a feature of the environment if the line of life is to remain unbroken.

Above Malkut on the central pillar is Yesod (Foundation), the ego or persona. Yesod, the ego, organizes the feelings, Netzah, and the thoughts. Hod. It has a conscious and an unconscious aspect. In the psychoanalytic process Yesod corresponds to the position of the patient.

Above Yesod is Tiferet (the Watcher). It is the heart of the Tree. It is the consciousness of being conscious. In relation to the patient the analyst must locate himself in Tiferet, and effectively be the Watcher informed by Mercy (Hessed) and Judgment (Gevurah).

Focusing on the interactions that occur as the psychoanalytic process unfolds, the analyst notices that he is often treated not as if he were himself, but as if he were a succession of different significant figures from the patient's past. This process is known as transference and it provides vital clues about the psychodynamic quality of the patient's relations and the state of his inner world. The relation between the patient and the analyst, the transference, located on the Tree is the path between Yesod and Tiferet. It is known in Kabbalah as the Path of the Zaddek, the Righteous One. It is also called the 'Path of Honesty and Truth'. In the measure in which the analyst can maintain an appropriate distance and a compassionate and discriminating objectivity, he can act as a truthful mirror for the patient to look in to and see himself reflected. Winnicott wrote about this mirroring functioning of the analyst:

Psychotherapy is not making clever and apt interpretations; it is by and large a long term giving the patient back what the patient brings. It is a complex derivative of the face that reflects what is there to be seen. I like to think of my work in this way and I think that if I do this well enough the patient will find his or her own self and will be able to exist and to feel real. Feeling real is more than existing; it is finding a way to exist as oneself and to relate to objects as oneself and to have a self into which to retreat for relaxation.

The ultimate aim of the analysis must be to enable the patient to develop the functions of Tiferet (the Watcher), Hessed (the compassion) and Gevurah (the discrimination) in himself. In Kabbalah these three Sefirot form what is known as the soul triad.

Above Tiferet we find Daat (Hidden Knowledge), the unmanifested Sefira. Daat has the connotation of the unmanifest that can suddenly become manifest. In the psychoanalytic process it is the place where insights occur. Insight can be seen as an expansion of consciousness - a sudden synthesis of previously unrelated factors.

Above Daat is Keter (the Crown), the point of contact with the divine. It is also known as the Sefira of Will or Power, the point of origin and ultimate return. I think psychoanalysis has nothing to say about this divine attribute. Wilfred Bion, the pioneering British psychoanalyst, could have been referring to Keter when he wrote:

The scientific, psychoanalytic view of God can in no way describe the reality of religion, but flattens out religious dread, or religious love or religious hate, to a point where the individual cannot feel awe or dread, tremor or stupor. This is one reason why modesty is becoming to (he analyst, arrogance is not. . . However long we live, we cannot possibly as individuals experience events such as those recorded by a few, mobilized from the whole of the human race who, in spite of differences of age, religion, race and language are all in agreement.

I will add that Kabbalah and Dr Bion also seem to be in agreement because the path between Tiferet (the Watcher) and Keter (the Crown) is traditionally known as 'The Path of Awe'.

To conclude: in this paper I have examined certain epistemological issues relevant to the notion of areas of relevance and hierarchy in science; I have described briefly the Kabbalistic model known as the Tree of Life; and I have used this model to look at psychoanalysis.

It is important to bear in mind that models of explanation are maps, they are not the territory itself. The truth-value of a model of explanation remains open to questioning and further enquiry. The territory that Kabbalah maps out only becomes accessible to the practising Kabbalist in the same way that the psychoanalytic process is accessible to one who has undergone it. We learn by doing.


I am grateful to my wife Patricia Pitchon and to Zev Ben Shimon Halevi for their encouragement.


Rabbi Abraham Amsel, Judaism and Psychology 

David Bakan, Sigmund Freud and the Jewish Mystical Tradition 

W. R. Bion, Brazilian Lectures 1 

José Bleger, 'Psicología y niveles de Integración', Acta Psiquiatrica y Psicológica de America Latina, December 1967 

Zev Ben Shimon Halevi, Kabbalah - Tradition of Hidden Knowledge 

Zev Ben Shimon Halevi, The Tree of Life 

Donald Meltzer, The Psycho-analytical Process 

Malcolm Pines, Coherency and its. Disruptions in the Development of the Self

Enrique Pichon Rivière, 'Introducción a una nueva problematica de la psiquiatria'. Acta Psiquiatrica y Psicologia de America Latina, December 1967

Marthe Roben, From Oedipus to Moses 

D. W. Winnicott, Mirror Role of Mother and Family in Child Development