Stages of Spiritual Growth
Resolving the Tension Between Self-Expression and Submission to Divine Will
By Batya Gallant
Devora Publishing, 2010, 180 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - November 2, 2010
Batya Gallant, who teaches at Darchei Binah Seminary in Israel, explores the psychological and spiritual system of the Chassidic Rabbi Tzadok Hakohen of Lublin (1823-1900). She shows her understanding of the rabbi's view - although she admits that he uses different words than she uses - that spiritual growth goes through three stages: love and kindness, submission to divine authority, and truth perception. The first is generally found in youth, the second in middle age, and the third in a person's later years. She stresses that it is a mistake to suppose that observance of the laws of the Torah stifles free will and self-expression.
Gallant believes in an ever present God who not only aids people, but to whom people are obligated to beseech help, for people cannot achieve anything worth-while without God's help. She writes that divine assistance "is indispensable. We often don't realize that we must request Divine assistance in learning to love and care for others," the first stage of spiritual development, as well as the other two, and all other personal endeavors.
She divides each of the three stages into three or four sub-stages and usually devotes a chapter or several chapters to each sub-stage. For example, she calls the final stage Emes, Hebrew for "truth," and discusses four sub-stages: a narcissistic perspective of life, a realistic perspective, a paradoxical perspective, and finally a consciousness of the Infinite (meaning God) informing the finite (meaning helping people).
She explains that the final stage of the three stages is recognizing the illusions we may be holding on to, and discarding them. "The study of Torah," she writes, "provides a 'royal road' to this true perspective." She says that Rabbi Tzadok taught that Jews should wash their hands when they awaken in the morning because this "symbolizes cleansing oneself of narcissistic biases."
By "paradoxical truths," she means that "we begin to realize that, at times, logical opposites can be true simultaneously." She cites as an example "that human beings have free will, yet paradoxically, Hashem (God) has foreknowledge of our choices." She defines the final stage, the fourth sub-stage of the third stage, as "to live out our lives as agents of Hashem's will." This reliance on Torah, God's will, removes all difficulties, including apparent paradoxes. It is: "The necessity of balancing self and Divine authority, of expressing one's individuality while simultaneously submitting to the will of Hashem." She ends her book by concluding: "This is the end-goal of psychological development and spiritual growth. This is kedusha (Hebrew or holiness)."
Gallant mentions the view of only one psychologist, Sigmund Freud, and states that his "theory is a grotesque portrayal of the sequence of human development." She states that Rabbi Tzadok's teaching is "the Torah viewpoint."
In summary, Gallant offers one view of Judaism, a somewhat mystical view, the psychological-spiritual teaching of Rabbi Tzadok. This perspective focuses on God, who is seen to be always present and always involved; in fact, Gallant and Tzadok say that people need God's help in all that they do. They identify what they believe to be three stages of spiritual growth. They say that people move from being self-centered to a realization that they must obey God's will. They also say that obeying the Torah, letting God help you, and "submitting to the will of" God does not take away from a person's free will.