"Moshiach is ready to come now-our part is to increase in acts of goodness and kindness" -The Rebbe

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Standard and individualized medicines

The Previous Rebbe explains:
In general, there are two types of medicines:
  • A standard medicine that is already prepared, that the doctor can prescribe for a more wide-ranging or common disease. For example, there is a standard medicine prescribed for a person with a very high temperature or a very low temperature.

  • A medicine prescribed for a specific illness only after the doctor has carefully examined the patient and determined his specific illness. This medicine must be prepared according to specific requirements, which takes time.
The same holds true of spiritual cures:
  • There are spiritual sicknesses of a more typical nature, such as an intense desire for material indulgence, or a coldness and apathy to the holiness of Torah and Mitzvos. These conditions have certain standard cures, as described in the holy books of Mussar and Chassidus, and they can even be prescribed by a non-expert.

  • Other spiritual sicknesses need to be correctly diagnosed by an expert spiritual guide, who will then prescribe the appropriate medicine. For those who suffer from these sicknesses, standard medicines will be ineffective.
Adapted from Igros Kodesh Admur HaRayatz, Vol. 4, pp. 28-29.
For some types of sicknesses, there is no need to visit the doctor. The symptoms are known, and the treatment is known—e.g., the common cold. However, an ailment that has unusual symptoms demands that one consult with a specialist, for otherwise not only will one not recover, but his state will steadily worsen.

Likewise, not every type of spiritual sickness requires that one consult with a spiritual mentor for guidance; although such consultation may well be advisable (but see note below), it is not necessarily crucial. If one is suffering from a clear-cut “textbook case” spiritual sickness, one can treat it oneself through using clearly defined spiritual prescriptions written in holy books.

For example, if forbidden thoughts enter one’s mind, one should not attempt to explain to oneself why such thoughts are detrimental; rather, one should simply distract oneself by focusing on other things, and especially thoughts of Torah (see

However, if one sees that one’s spiritual condition is in some way unusual, or one realizes that the “textbook advice” isn’t working, this indicates that one’
s spiritual malady is more complex, and one must obtain an individualized prescription by consulting with an expert in spiritual healing—or, in Chassidic parlance, a mashpia.

However, it should be emphasized that a doctor and a
mashpia are different in that in general, a doctor will diagnose the illness and prescribes the medicine, but will not give the patient a pep-talk about the importance of taking it. In contrast, a mashpia may well need to goad the one who has approached him for advice to actually implement that advice—see here.

Also, it is important to mention that, just as is the case with physical health, one may well be suffering from a spiritual sickness of which one is unaware, and which one needs intensive study of
Chassidus under the guidance of a mashpia to discern, as explained here.

In summary, one should consult with a mashpia on a regular basis in order to receive inspiration, but if one’s spiritual illness is more “standard,” and one is sufficiently motivated to rectify the situation, although it is definitely worthy and advisable to consult with one’s mashpia, and one should do so in due course, one need not do so urgently. However, as soon as one realizes that the situation is more complex, such consultation is vital and cannot be delayed.


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