THE HEALING OF THE SOUL
by Rabbi Morris Lichtenstein
The Society of Jewish Science; NY, NY
© 1974 (translation)
In the early 20th century, many Jews were turning to the “Christian Science” movement of Mary Baker Eddy for relief of emotional and physical problems. The numbers were apparently large enough at one time to be of real concern within the Jewish community. In 2004, Ellen Umansky published “From Christian Science to Jewish Science,” a well-researched history of this movement (see: https://rabbielimallon.wordpress.com/2011/07/14/7-14-11-from-christian-science-to-jewish-science-book-review/).
One of the organizations founded in the 1920’s is still with us – “The Society of Jewish Science,” founded by Rabbi Morris Lichtenstein, with headquarters in NY, NY.
“The Healing of the Soul” is a translation (Yiddish title: “Sefer Refuas Hanefesh”; © 1934 by Morris Lichtenstein) of the shortest of the rabbi’s six published works. All others were first written and are still available in English. It offers a fine sampling of his purpose: to “apply the principles of Judaism to the problems of everyday life.”
This book isn’t about customs, holidays, or history, nor is it an analysis of Jewish thought. It’s about cultivating personal serenity, based on the words of the rabbis, the Torah, and Rabbi Lichtenstein’s own understanding of the inner and outer aspects of life. The chapter titles indicate his focus: “G-d,” “Prayer,” “Health,” “Sleep,” “Anger,” Serenity,” “Joy,” Envy” “Patience,” etc.
Rabbi Lichtenstein tells us that serenity, joy, and health are found everywhere in Creation and in the heart of each individual. The “norm” is a life that truly expresses them. In times of sickness or distress, we often feel that circumstances are “at war with us.” The Rabbi regards such conditions as a sign that we’ve disturbed our natural harmony with the Source of Creation; have interrupted perpetual, life-sustaining impulses; probably not once, but repeatedly. The remedy for this isn’t passive acceptance and certainly not pessimism or useless self-blame. Instead, it’s a return to the state that’s truly natural for us.
How do we make this “return?” Rabbi Lichtenstein opens our eyes to a life of action and prayer. Our lives should be lived with moderation in diet, activity, emotion, etc. Beyond this, actively overcoming weaknesses and obstacles is an essential part of the program. The Rabbi regards the attempt itself as a religious act, a prayer – one that brings us closer to the actual purpose of our existence.
Should ours be a health problem, especially a persistent one, we’re urged not only to have a medical examination (Rabbi Lichtenstein doesn’t counsel against using doctors), but a self-examination as well. In what ways are we disturbing our own calmness and health with anger, worry, or envy? Is joy expressed in and through us? Are we “darkening our souls” by the style and content of our days? This book tells us that life isn’t fulfilled only by healing physical problems or resolving arguments between friends and family. To live the life for which we are born, the Rabbi prescribes the “healing of the soul” – combining physical health with correcting those habits of thought and action that disturb our mind, our body, our relations with people, and our harmony with the Divine Presence.
To aid in this, Rabbi Lichtenstein offers a method of personal prayer called “Visualization.” It’s non-vocal (he says that prayers of petition are best offered in silence), clearly defined, easy to learn and practice, and adaptable to any area of life. With it, we invoke the Divine resources in us to help us return to the natural state — joy, peace, abundance — that we’ve disturbed. We’re to use this method consistently, improving at it as we do. In so doing, we’re not only helped in healing or action; we gradually cultivate a deeper faith based in experience, too.
This practical book offers a way to go about living, praying, and bringing out the highest potentials of character in us. It’s extremely well-written, lucid, and easily understood. Doris Freedman’s translation and editing do it more than justice. In spirit, it’s much like the Breslav booklets based on Rebbe Nachman’s teachings: clear, deep, plain language; from the heart. Only someone who has had his or her own spiritual experiences could write so compellingly about the ones we can have.
Written over 75 years ago, it’s one of those rare books that has completely retained its inspirational quality. It lifts us, no less than it would have our parents, or even our grandparents. My review, which appeared in its original form in “The Jewish Press” on 6/25/80, required some updating after 30+ years; “The Healing of the Soul” requires none after 75+ years. It’s as to-the-point and personally relevant today, as on the day when it was first published. When I was ordained in 2008, I gave a gift-copy to each of the men and women who were ordained with me.
In its current edition, it’s a paperback of 75 pages. The chapters are about 5 pages each. You’ll find on reading it that this signifies their precision. This is a book for “doing;” a manual for improving the quality of our daily experience of life; a “Jewish Catalogue” for peace of mind. Much of the material is also covered at greater length in Rabbi Lichtenstein’s other works, especially in his textbook, “Jewish Science and Health,” to which “The Healing of the Soul” serves as the perfect introduction.
The design – attractive, uncomplicated; soothing – reflects well both the content and the effect created by the Rabbi’s own talents as a writer.
All will find this book personally useful and inspiring. Rabbis, rabbinical students and other spiritual teachers will additionally find it a unique resource for discussions in services or classes, or when called upon to help congregants, students and others with their spiritual needs or questions.
“The Healing of the Soul” can be ordered through the website of the Society of Jewish Science: www.appliedjudaism.org. For discounts on orders of at least 5 copies, you can also contact email@example.com (please put “Jewish Science” in the subject line).