Sunday, April 10, 2011

Is reality all in the mind or is it objective?

One of the issues I am working on now is the Jewish view about attitude  towards reality. One view is that there is such a thing as  objective reality and that one must know about this reality. One must understand the facts, one needs a clear evaluation of one's talents and a critical review of whether they are beling applied in a way to bring about change. There is a need for feedback and consultation with others as to how effective one is interacting with the world. One needs to learn new skills or make changes in behavior or attitude. This is the view of the Ramban

On the other hand others claim that reality ultimately doesn't matter but all that matters is your feeling or beliefs as to whether they are positive or negative i.e., It all depends on what is going on in your mind.. If you have bitachon you will be happy and wealthy and if you don't you will be an unhappy failure. If you believe everything is wonderful and G-d will provide whatever you need than there is really no need to get a job or see a Rav or therapist about improving your communication skills or stopping harmful behavior. You just need to focus on the quality of your thoughts. Positive thoughts attract blessing and negative thoughts create the reverse. This has a direct counterpart in the non-Jewish world i.e., The Secret. This is the view of Chovas HaLevavos

The following is an example of the "all in your mind" school.

From "Its all in Your Mind" by Sara Yosef page 26 She is Rav Ovadia Yosef's daughter in law - married to Rav Avrahm Yosef.

"If a family is not doing well financially, the wife ought to consider whether in her mind she questions he husband's abilities as a provider. Does she think of him unsuccessful, or unable to earn a living? Does she feel that he allows others to take advantage of him, or that he is unwilling to work hard? Without realizing it, she projects her thoughts to her surroundings. Ultimately, these thoughts and beliefs become realtiy. The moment she changes her negative attitudes toward her husband, and instead strives to think positive thoughts about him such as, "He's earning a nice living; he's really quite talented" - that family will begin to see Hashem's blessing in their labors. The family's economic situation will change for the better. Our belief is the key to producing change in our day to day living."


  1. There is a third set of views...

    The Rambam emphasizes the search for Truth, which he associates with knowing what is Objectively Real.

    The Chovos haLvavos, or your more recent example from Rt Sara Yosef say that the Subjective is more important than the Objective.

    However, there is a strain of Jewish thought in which the Objective isn't just less important, it doesn't really exist. That reality is itself subjective. What we think of as "Objective Reality" is really only those subjective impressions that are products of things all people hold in common.

    The Tanya says that the only Objective Reality is G-d. "Ein od milvado -- there is nothing but Him" quite literally. All of creation is the illusion that there is something apart from the Creator.

    In a markedly different approach, the Maharal (Gevuros H' haqdama 2) asserts that people can experience different realities based on where they stand spiritually. That in fact, miracles happen all the time; but on a different plane than nature. A person who can place himself on that plane experiences miracles. Reality as experienced by different individuals can conflict. (One person's blood is another person's water.)

    There is a similar theme among the Mussarists, starting with the Alter of Kelm. "Every person who has talent in some area will really feel something when he sees some thing in this area. For example: a tailor who sees a person will look in particular at his clothes. A cobbler -- at so-and-so's shoes. A hat maker -- at so-and-so's hat. Similarly a shopkeeper in the market will be very alert to speech or action that will bring him some gain in his sales. Unlike another person, who wouldn't hear or see these things, for his heart isn't given over to ask and look into these thing, for he has no desire in them." (Chokhmah uMussar II ch 113)

    This could be of the school that values subjective reality more than objective, except that neither the Alter of Slabodka nor Rav Dessler take him that way. The Alter of Slabodka talks about a person living in two worlds -- the world of common experience and one's own world (bishvili nivra ha'olam). Rav Dessler uses the same quote to identify the Alter of Kelm's position with the Maharal's (see Michtav meiEliyahu I pp 304-312).


  2. Breslov Chassidut emphasizes emuna/bitachon to an extreme, but it does not say that we should not try to succeed. On the contrary, in a recent lesson by R' Shalom Arush (and R' Lazer Brody) on the issue of "all is foreseen yet free will is granted," emphasized that in going about a task we must do our very best to succeed, which involves normal efforts, advice from (spiritual and worldly) experts, and prayer. Only once the task is over and we have either failed or succeeded do we say that whatever happens is G-d's will so that we do not become despondent or arrogant. So even though emuna and how one thinks and prays is ultimately the most important thing that does not mean that we need to do what we can to succeed and escape difficulties using our reason.

  3. This comment may be more appropriate for the recent post on "American Mussar" and my comment on why 12 Step programs make me uncomfortable. But in reply to R Yeshaya's observation about Breslov...

    In Breslov (and related forms of chassidus), one prays for G-d to fix you, and your main job is to stand out of the way. That's very different than seeing one's duty as taking ownership for one's own state, and praying to Hashem for success in one's efforts.


  4. In Breslov chassidut, it seems that action is important too -- it's not all about prayer. And objective reality is clearly important in this passage:

    "Each person should say to himself: `The whole world was created only for my sake,' One should therefore constantly be looking for ways of improving the world in order to make up for any deficiencies, and one should constantly pray for the world (5:1)." (Likutei Eitzot, Prayer).

  5. I'm curious if the author has seen the Ramban's HaEmunah V'Habitachon, 1st chapter. It's in Mosad Rav Kook's Kisvei Ramban, 2nd volume. You can find it on Hebrew books as well. Seems a lot more like the "Secret" than he is making out. Especially when he quotes Rav Yitzchak Sagi Nahar at the end. The truth is a zivug of both understandings, they are both true.

  6. I'm curious if the author has seen the Ramban's HaEmunah V'Habitachon, 1st chapter. It's in Mosad Rav Kook's Kisvei Ramban, 2nd volume. You can find it on Hebrew books as well. Seems a lot more like the "Secret" than he is making out. Especially when he quotes Rav Yitzchak Sagi Nahar at the end. The truth is a zivug of both understandings, they are both true.
    I'd like to know where the Chovos HaLevavos is... The Rabeinu B'chayey, Ohr Hachayim, Maggid of Mezritch, and Chafetz Chaim all hold that "betachon works." But if you aren't willing to act in the direction of that bitachon, what is it really?


please use either your real name or a pseudonym.