גשטאלט-בראשית gestalt dreamwork "genesis", hebrew added.
gestalt dreamwork done by me, franklyn wepner, on my
own life, including my own interpretation of the
session in terms of jewish philosophy ("kabbalah").
along with this video is an essay, also by me,
commenting on Rashi's notes for the genesis portion of
the torah. the parallels between my gestalt therapy
session and the essay are striking, when we probe the
roots of both processes from the point of view of
aristotle and maimonides. if you don't want to deal
with all this stuff, push "delete" now!
FRANKLYN WEPNER OCTOBER 2009 firstname.lastname@example.org
THE ARISTOTELIAN DIALECTIC
We see clearly in Rashi's commentaries on this Torah portion his Aristotelian and dialectical orientation. Rashi cleverly finds ways to insert the Aristotle dialectic as a logical skeleton on which the glad tidings of the Torah Creation story drape in the manner of a garment on the body of a person. Essentially, dialectical logic moves from a "thesis" to an "antithesis" to a "synthesis", and that is exactly what Rashi demonstrates as the logical throughline which is at work here in the tale of how God creates His world in seven days. The creation dialectic in Parshat B'reishit moves, according to Rashi, from the One (God alone, the thesis) to the Many (the world with all its differentiated components, the antithesis) and finally to the One in the Many or the Many in the One (God in the world or the world in God, the synthesis).
THE THESIS: THE ONENESS OF GOD
Whatever it was that actually did transpire on that first day of Creation, Rashi boils it all down, logically speaking, to a manifestation of the Oneness of God. The relevant Torah passage is: "Elohim called the light day, and the darkness He called night. It became evening and it became morning, one day." Rashi's commentary on this passage is: "Why then is it written [here] 'one'? This is because [on this day] God was alone in His world, for the angels were not created until the second day. This is the explanation in Bereshit Rabbah." For Rashi, then, God being "alone in His world" is the thesis, the initial state of affairs of the dialectical logic underlying the entire Torah portion. Rashi then goes on to anticipate a possible objection of someone who might argue that the Torah next states "Elohim said "Let there be a canopy in the midst of the waters, and let it divide between waters and waters." Rashi's commentary is: [The meaning is] let the expanse be solidified. Even through the heavens were created on the first day, they were nevertheless, still fluid and were solidified on the second day by the roaring command of God, when He said, "Let there be a canopy!" Rashi's point here seems to allude to the Neoplatonic position of Philo that the heavens on the first day were there in the manner of ideas in the mind of God, and not yet created as separate components of a world. Hence, despite the presence of the heavens on the first day, God was still One. The angels, which according to Maimonides are the separate forces which result in differentiation within the world, have not yet made their appearance. B'REISHIT 1:5-6.
THE THESIS EXTENDED TO INCLUDE MORE IDEAS IN THE MIND OF GOD
The Torah next introduces a transitional stage lasting from day two until day six, until the moment when God created Eve from the rib of Adam. During this transitional time, on the one hand God was no longer One, since the creatures, including man, have somehow already appeared. But on the other hand, the Fall from an initial state of oneness with God in the Garden of Eden has not yet occurred. Again, Rashi seems to be relying on the Platonic point of view of pure ideas still residing in the mind of God. The mechanics of how God manages to pull this off involve a special meaning for the word "naming". Here is how that naming process works. The creatures have a tendency to attain a state of separateness and move onto the antithesis, but man - still created as an image of God - serves the will of God by "naming" all the creatures. The point is that this naming also implies subjugating and dominating. By naming the creatures for God, man simultaneously subjugates them to the grid of differentiations implicit in a pure language that allows God still to be comfortable with Himself as Lord of the World. The creatures, once named by Adam, are restored to the state of ideas in the mind of God, since no deviation from the will of God has yet occurred. Here are proof texts to substantiate this interpretation.
First we have the peculiar notion that naming something somehow conquers and subjugates it. The Torah says, "Adonoy Elohim formed from the ground every beast of the field, and every bird of the heaven, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. Whatever the man called [each] living creature, that is its name." Rashi adds, "immediately on the day they were created He brought them to man to call them by name. According to the Aggadah, the word 'yetsirah' has the meaning of dominating and subjugating them, under the domination of man." That is to say, Rashi's interpretation is that man - even before he was created as a separate creature on day six, was busy performing God's naming function. This could only be the case if both man and the the entities he is naming still are merely ideas in the mind of God, in a state of oneness with God. Concerning vegetation, for example, Rashi says, "[the fact that] on the third day it is written 'Let the earth sprout forth' [should be interpreted] they did not protrude but they remained at the surface of the ground until the sixth day [when man was created]." That is to say, man (in his fully separated state) is needed as part of the divine plan, for the other creatures to achieve their fully separated state. Then, once man and the creatures all have become fully differentiated, we have arrived at the second stage of the dialectic, the stage of the antithesis. Now God is no longer One, alone with himself and His ideas. Rather, now the focus shifts to the limits that separate the different creatures. B'REISHIT 2:19.
Underlying this view of the creation process, we have the fundamental Aristotelian principle that "actuality is prior to potentiality". Rashi says, "everything was actually created from the first day, and required only to be brought forth". B'REISHIT 1:24. That is to say, at the moment of "b'reshit" ("in the beginning") God did his founding act of action and creation, which (logically speaking) is that moment of total reality and actuality when the knower, the known and the knowing all are one. The moment might be, for example, that at which a hero decides to risk his life to save other people, or it might be the moment at which a man decides to get married, or divorced. This first moment in an action includes all the different parts of the whole that will eventually emerge and move from potentiality to actuality, as the final stage of the action is achieved. Rashi is very clear about this. Rashi says: "He relates the end from the beginning, without stating it explicitly. He relates from the beginning of something the end of something." B'REISHIT 1:1. The basic teleological principle of Aristotle cannot be any more clearly articulated than that.
Aristotle's position also is an organismic point of view. A living creature is viewed here as a totality consistent of cells and organs, each of which also is a totality. An action, likewise, is a whole consisting of parts, each of which is also a whole which seeks to actualize its potentiality by participating fully in the ongoing action of the entire organism. Rashi ties this organismic idea to the notion that any committed, authentic action by man is, in a sense, a naming and subjugating of all of God's creatures that are involved in that action to the encompassing idea of that action. Through being fully alive in his concrete existential situation, man serves as God's proxy and enables God to maintain His organismic totality as a One with many parts. Philosophically speaking, this is the model Leibniz presents in his theory of a monadology made up of monads, a totality made up of subordinate totalities, each of which could by a figure ground reversal emerge as the new encompassing totality.
In order to consistently maintain this complex view of creation Rashi is driven to invoke some rather extreme bits of Jewish folklore. The Torah states, "And thus Elohim created man in His form. In the form of Elohim He created him, male and female He created them." Rashi's commentaries are, "this teaches you that the form that was established for him [i.e., man], is the form of the image of his Creator", and "[Yet] later it states 'He took one of his ribs, etc'. According to the Midrash Agadah He created him with two faces at first and afterward He divided him". Again we see that the Platonic notion of ideas still impacted in the mind of God provides a way out of these theological conundrums. Man as image of God, still an idea in the mind of God, has no problem having two faces, in the sense that for him chochmah and binah, the right and left pillars of the tree of life, still are in a state of oneness within keter, the original sefirah. It is only when Eve appears on the scene as an opposition to Adam, an "ezer k'negdo" ("helper against him") - in the sense of non-ego versus ego, or nature versus man - that a real contact boundary of separateness emerges between two aspects of man's reality, and between creatures in general, as will now be elucidated. At that moment the two faces of man separate into that of Adam and Eve. B'REISHIT 1:27.
THE REAL ANTITHESIS
The Torah says, "Adonoy Elohim built the rib that He took from the man into a woman and He brought her to the man. The man said, 'This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This shall be called Woman, for from Man was she taken'. Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." Rashi comments, "this teaches that Adam attempted to find [his mate] among all the animals and beasts, and he was not satisfied with them, until he discovered Eve."
In order for the dialectic to unfold, there needs to emerge a stage of true antithesis, which we can represent as X/-X, where "X" and "-X" are two states in a relationship of opposition. The initial state of oneness we can represent as "X". For a relationship to exist there needs to emerge a contact boundary through which the opposing states can relate to each other. By continuing his naming function and naming Eve "eeshah" (woman) as an opposite to "eesh" (man) Adam establishes a true contact boundary, an otherness that now negates the original oneness of God, and builds up the left side of the sefirotic tree of life under the rubric of "binah" (Hebrew: "building"), as an opposition to the right side of the tree under the rubric of "chochmah". Extending the literal story of Adam and Eve to the realm of metaphor allows us to look at the awareness process of Gestalt Therapy as a similar process of contact boundary formation, in keeping with the tradition of Aristotelian psychology. In awareness work our mind (oneness, chochmah, Adam) radiates a ray of awareness, while the object contacted likewise may be said to radiate a ray of awareness (otherness, binah, Eve). The two rays, the original one and the projected and returning one, meet somewhere between subject and object, and establish a moment of living experience as a dialectical synthesis of the two opposites. This is the kabbalistic moment of "da'at", which links chochmah and binah on the sefirotic tree. Nachman of Breslav uses the metaphor of two pure birds encountering each other.
We now can decode the two statements of Adam: (1) that Eve is "bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh", and (2) that "a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and they shall become one flesh". If the mother and father in question are the chochmah/binah relationship on the level of pure ideas, sefirot in the mind of God, and, furthermore, if the relationship of Adam to Eve is on the level of living, concrete, contactful experience in this world of human encounters, then we have followed the dialectical movement from thesis to antithesis, from pure ideas as oneness in the mind of God to living, concrete experience in a world alienated from and resistant to the oneness of God.
THE FINAL SYNTHESIS IN GOD'S CRUCIBLE
Fragmentation, at the moment of the antithesis, need not be the end of the dialectic, however. For the prediction by Adam that "they shall become one flesh" is actualized to the extent that the awareness and contact process is successful, and leads to authentic action as the final synthesis. The honeymoon of pure contact on the level of pure ideas in the mind of God does not last long. Soon arrives the serpent with his tempting offer, that "your eyes will be opened and you will become as gods, knowing what is good and what is evil". B'REISHIT 3:5. The moment of the Fall into sin is, as Maimonides maintains in his "Guide", the shift from completed actions to actions interrupted by an excessive focus on distinctions of good versus evil, which is the work of the left pillar of the tree of life. Self-interruption of authentic action is a reliance upon rigid distinctions rather than a submission to the active passivity of the middle way which is represented by the middle pillar of the Tree of Life.
The Torah describes the plight of Adam at this moment. "Adonoy Elohim said, 'behold, the man has become like one of us to know [what is] good and [what is] evil. Now he must be prevented from reaching out his hand and also taking from the Tree of Life and eating [from it] and live forever . . . He stationed the Cherubim and the flame of the rotating sword to guard the way to the Tree of Life." B'REISHIT 3:22-24. In terms of the
dialectic, we have arrived at the moment of extreme opposites, arising from too many judgments, rigid distinctions and unaware habits, all of which interfere with the flow of awareness and contact. Non-contactful blocs separating the fragments of a person's personality and shattering the Oneness of God are alluded to in the metaphor of Cherubim blocking the return to the Garden, while the "flame of the rotating sword" suggests the cycles of the dialectical logic (theses/antithesis/synthesis) which a spiritual pilgrim or therapy client needs to work through in order to arrive "home" again. The hard work of overcoming and encompassing opposites in higher syntheses is what kabbalists of various sects label the moment of "tsimtsum", in which the searcher shifts his focus from deductively struggling with endless logical distinctions to inductively focusing on integrating his fragmented self. "Induction" is the philosophical term for the therapy process of gestalt formation and integration, through work on awareness. What in Gestalt Therapy is labeled "the rhythm of contact and withdrawal", is the endless spiral of alternating moments of deduction (all the things encountered in the contact boundary via awareness) and induction (withdrawal into the no-thingness of the void), leading to finding new ideas internally in the fertile void at the moment of "tsimtsum" during each cycle. The path is a difficult one to traverse, but with the tools of Gestalt Therapy (awareness and the rhythm of contact and withdrawal) a man does oftentimes succeed in "reaching out his hand and taking from the Tree of Life and eating from it and living forever", that is to say in the messianic now of authentic action. Thus, if Rashi's commentary on Genesis is the theory component, then Gestalt Therapy is a paradigm case of practical laboratory work which embodies Rashi's Aristotelian point of view. God is the alchemist, and the world we live in is His crucible.