The Chassidic Secret to Emotional Health

By Akiva Greenbaum, Ewing, NJ
Essays 2016

MyLife Essay Contest 2016


This essay’s aim is to effectively address the difficulty in which many people have in experiencing the emotions required for a happy and successful life.

There are countless books, workshops and websites with valuable pieces of advice on how to achieve true happiness. Often they are centered around the idea that with a change in attitude, there will be a change in heart.

Indeed, many Jewish sources preach a similar idea, and in fact Chabad Chassidus speaks highly of mind over heart when attempting to develop emotional health[1]. Tanya, which is one of the most fundamental works in Chassidus spends chapters training a person to manipulate his thoughts in order to help experience joy.[2]

Three classic examples of positive emotions which most people strive for are listed below with a brief explanation of the thought contemplation which are often associated with them.

  1. Gratitude

By thinking about what one should be grateful for, it is understood that one will come to have a heartfelt feeling of gratitude. The Hebrew prayer book, the Siddur begins with a list of basics that a person is supposed to feel grateful for.

  1. Confidence

Torah teaches and Chassidus expounds on the importance of developing a trust in Hashem, called Bitachon[3]. To be successful in life, chassidus suggests a person understand and meditate in that Hashem is the only true power in the world. The person should in mind surrender his success to Hashem and then feel confident that Hashem will help.[4]

  1. Joy

To illicit a sense of joy, Chassidus teaches that a person should think about how great G-d is and yet in His infinite kindness G-d allows us to partner with Him in creation[5].


However, even with serious meditation many people still struggle to translate these ideas into emotions. There seems to be some blockage between mind and heart which make it difficult to actually feel the desired sensation.

I believe many people are missing an important ingredient which Chassidic teachings and lifestyle deem imperative.


Chassidus explains that there is a similar challenge to the one mentioned above which takes place in the spiritual realms. From the solution on the macrocosmic level, we can learn to apply it to our personal lives:


According to Kaballah and Chassidus, we can talk about G-d as having a personality.[6] Although G-d is in essence beyond our understanding and beyond any definition, He chooses to express Himself and create the universe(s) through a process which is similar to the way a human personality creates[7], although on an infinitely greater level. It is this infinite personality of G-d to which we refer to when making any description of Him.

To understand this ‘personality’ of G-d, we must analyze the personality of man.


Chassidus explains that a human personality can be divided into 2 parts[8];

  1. Understanding
  2. Emotions

Every person is different in the way they a. understand their reality and b. the way they feel towards it.

For example, currently, you are understanding: that you are a person, you are reading an essay, and hopefully you are understanding the content of this essay etc.

Based on your understanding, you will evoke an emotion. You might feel bored, frustrated, excited, interested etc.

Every experience is made up of these 2 personality traits.

Furthermore, based on the way you understand and then feel, is the way your body will react. You might start to yawn or close your eyes if you feel bored, or you might start to sit up and open your eyes wider if you are enjoying this read.


The ‘personality’ of G-d also has these 2 powers which are used to create everything. He chooses to express Himself with a. an infinite ability to Understand and b. an infinite ability to Feel.[9] These divine attributes of understanding and emotions are the source of all wisdom and feelings.

Depending on how G-d decides to metaphorically ‘understand’ and ‘feel’, will determine how His ‘body’ reacts. ‘His body’ being a metaphor for the universe.  This world is a reaction to what is happening in the deeper layers of reality which we call G-d’s personality.


In His infinite wisdom, G-d has an understanding of life and what it should look like. That is the Torah.[10] We cannot change that. However, explains Chassidus, He wants a world in which there is a two-way relationship. He doesn’t just dictate how He will ‘feel’ and ‘react’, rather he chooses to be affected by our actions and choices.

It is incumbent upon us, explains Chassidus, to make a move. A human being in this world has the ability to open up the channel  from G-d’s level of ‘understanding’ and let it flow into his ‘emotions’, which in turn effects His ‘body’, our universe.


To use an example,[11] In G-d’s level of ‘understanding’, the Torah tells us that He has infinite love for us. However, it is up to us to draw down this love into the world of His divine ‘emotions’, and thus eventually into a state that we as humans can sense it. To do this, He has given us Torah study. By meditating on His Torah we have the power to channel His love for us and move it from an abstract divine Idea to having it flow into the world of His emotions and then into our world.

Simple right? Not so. The problem is that to achieve such a cosmic flow in reality, it would require constant study of Torah, literally all day and night. Who has that kind of time?


Chassidus explains based on a Medrash, that G-d has given us a simple act and when done properly will achieve a similar goal. By wrapping Tefillin for a few minutes every day, after a brief meditation (which includes the Bracha and the kavanah in the siddur), one has the ability to cause G-d to ‘feel’ His infinite love for us and cause Him to express that through all layers of reality. Because the physical act of Tefillin represents His love for us and our love for Him, it has the ability to channel his love from a state of divine mind to divine heart. A similar effect to meditating on Torah all day!


We can apply the above solution to any emotion we are trying to evoke in our individual lives. To really sense the gratitude, confidence, joy or any other feeling, it could take hours of meditating on these ideas to really feel them. However, a simpler way is to think about them for a few moments, and then to do an action which is representative of the emotion. This will allow the idea to flow from the mind and flood the heart with a fully expressed emotion.

For example. For sixty seconds try to think about a list of things you are grateful for. As you come to the end of the minute, put a big, wide smile on your face. You will feel the ideas you were thinking about flood your heart and you will sense a real emotion of gratitude.

The same could be applied to joy, confidence or any other emotional goal. With a few moments of thought followed by a simple physical act such as similing, clapping, dancing etc. you can flood your heart with positive feelings.

One could also just do the act without any contemplation beforehand, however the emotion felt will not nearly be as strongly felt, long lasting or inspiring compared to preceding it with some thought.

This can explain why chassidim really encourage singing and dancing particularly after a Torah thought like at a farbrengen or after davening. We don’t necessarily sing BECAUSE we are joyous, but rather SO we feel the joy!


[1] Tanya Chapter 13

[2] Tanya chapters 26-28 for example

[3] Psalms: 115, chovos Halevos: Shaar Bitachon

[4] Likkutei Sichos, volume 36. Shemos

[5] Tanya

[6] Tanya Chapter 3

[7] Tanya Chapter 3

[8] ibid

[9] Maamer issah Bemedrash Tehillim (Bar Mitzvah Maamer) from the Rebbe Rashab

[10] ibid

[11] ibid