A teaching from the Maggid (teacher) from Mezerich, Ukraine (1700-1722), born Rabbi Dov Ber ben Avraham.
He is one of the early Hasidic rebbes. Think of them, perhaps, as traveling psychologists. Or self-help gurus. They’d give talks and webinars, then be available to counsel people one on one. Mostly, they spoke to Jewish audiences and saw Jewish clients. So they expressed their psychological ideas in Jewish terms. Psychic energy was the divine light of creation. Expanded consciousness: a journey through the heavens. A complex: a spark of God trapped in a shell of negativity.
What does the Maggid mean here? Psychologically speaking, that is? Here, I read “work” as psychological work. A path of self-knowledge and emotional growth. As we travel it, we observe ourselves. We tour our bad habits of thought, feeling, speech, and action. And then we try to learn new ones.
But it’s a long, slow journey. Problems show themselves in everyday life. We act out, make mistakes, miscue. And then we regret and resolve to do better. We try, we fail, we forget. And then we repeat.
Sometimes the cycle defeats us. It leaves us hopeless. So we wonder: why can’t we do better? Or feel better? See more clearly? Think more kindly?
But other times, a door opens. Just a crack. Maybe a mystical experience overwhelms us. A powerful dream uplifts us. Or a beautiful day brings us peace. And then we see—no we don’t just see—we feel that we can change.
These special moments aren’t the work. They might not even be fruits of the work. But they are its fuel.
They remind us: a different life is possible. One where the bad habits fall away. Where we don’t hurt ourselves or each other so much. It won’t happen magically. We still have to do the work. But at least we know it’s worth the effort.
Last week I dreamed: A giant stuffed bear holds me in its arms. I feel so comforted. Then the bear begins to crawl away, under a table. And I realize: it is alive.
It’s a dream about the Maggid of Mezerich. His given name, Dov Ber, is a Hebrew-Yiddish mashup. And it means: Bear-Bear. Preserved in a book, Bear-Bear’s words are like taxidermy. We see their outward appearance but inside there’s just synthetic fluff. But if we let the words in, let them hold us and comfort us, they come alive. They point us towards the highest place.
Read more about the inner work of Teshuvah (repentance, repair, return) from a depth psychology perspective HERE.