To Whom Do We Turn for Advice for Life?

Article by Rabbi Raleigh Resnick: 19 summers ago, after two young campers drowned, the camp director wanted to address the loss. Would he invite a chossid armed with age-old Torah wisdom or a trained professional armed with the latest research on trauma recovery?

By Rabbi Raleigh Resnick – Chabad of Tri-Valley, CA

I remember 19 summers ago, two young campers tragically drowned in a swimming pool. The shock and pain were unimaginable, and the camp director wanted to address the loss. Who would he invite to speak to the campers? Would it be a chossid armed with age-old Torah wisdom, or would it be a trained professional armed with the latest research on trauma recovery?

A girl recently told me she is entering the “dating and marriage scene”. Should she study “Eternal Joy” (a compilation of the Rebbe’s perspectives), or should she schedule a session with an “expert” and pick up the copy of the latest self-help book on dating, relationships, and communication? Where should she turn for guidance?


Pirkei Avos opens by telling us that the teachings we’re about to study were all received by Moshe on Har Sinai and passed down through the generations. But why doesn’t each book of Mishna open in the very same way? Why don’t the books of Shabbos or Sukkah open by telling us that the laws we’re about to study were received by Moshe on Har Sinai?

Because – explains the Rebbe – when you study other parts of Torah, their address is self-evident. Where else can you learn how to build a succah? Harvard and Yale? But when it comes to the questions that Pirkei Avos addresses – how to comfort someone in pain or how to achieve happiness – we might be of the mindset that the “experts” outside of Torah have the answers.

Therefore, Pirkei Avos opens by assuring us that the address is the genuine old-fashioned Torah that Moshe received on Har Sinai.

We are taught: “חכמה בגוים תאמין”. When someone says he’s found “widsom” in the secular world – believe him. You need to construct a bridge? Consult an engineer. Have a cavity? Go to a dentist.

Perusing through the Rebbe’s letters and responses, we find that when it comes to navigating medical questions, financial dilemmas, communal issues, and military strategies, the Rebbe almost always advises us: “consult a professional and expert in the field on the ground” (of course, with the necessary spiritual fortification).

Yet, in the thousands upon thousands of letters addressing anxiety, sholom bayis, depression, education, tragedy, loneliness, child rearing, happiness, meaning, and anger, you will rarely find a mention of a “professional or expert.”

Why the stark contrast? What happened to the professionals? Don’t they have the expertise, data, studies, and theories?

The answer is straightforward: “תורה בגוים אל תאמין”. When someone says he’s found “Torah” in the secular world – do not believe him.

Indeed, the Rebbe’s responses illustrate that marriage, emotional wellbeing, and child-rearing, are not “chochmas”, like finances or medicine. They are “Torah”.

If we were to create a “Top 10 List” of the Rebbe’s recurring refrains, it would certainly include: “תורת חיים, הוראה בחיים” – “The living Torah, The Guide to Life”; an ardent chorus the Rebbe echoed time and time again.

In today’s new-age culture of professionalism where many frum Jews have begun to seek guidance for “real life issues” in the halls of modern universities and in the offices of “experts”, perhaps we should pause and revisit the Rebbe’s passionate mantra.

Time and time again, the Rebbe’s refrain “תורת אמת, תורת חיים” calls us to recognize the potent relevance and utility of Torah and not to be impressed or swept up by the latest trending façades of sophistication that echo through the halls of academia.

This article is not meant to address when / if there might ever be a place for “professional help,” to what degree “professionals” help or harm people, and which of their values are in sync with or antithetical to Yiddishkeit (maybe subjects for future articles).

I only offer these words to give the reader pause:

If you or someone you know has experienced a tragic loss (lo aleinu), has a marriage on the rocks, is at a loss raising that ‘difficult’ child, is experiencing isolating loneliness, or is looking for guidance dating – schedule a session with a rov, chossid, or mashpia. Their wisdom isn’t merely relegated to Shabbos, kashrus, yiras shomayim, and taharas hamishpocho. Have the confidence in Yiddishkeit as your “הוראה בחיים”. It contains all the ingredients for a life of joy, fulfillment, tranquility, health, and success.

Allow me to conclude with educational guidance the Rebbe delivered on 19 Kislev 5726 (1965) which echoes this sentiment (direct translation):

“Education doesn’t begin with consulting a doctor about which formula to give your child and then consulting a psychiatrist as to which activities are appropriate to ensure the child doesn’t suffer from a ‘split personality’. No, for a boy it begins when his holy soul in infused within him on the 8th day and for a girl it begins as soon as she is born …

“A father and mother need to be careful and assist their child. Not ‘stuffing him like an ox’ and filling him with pills, games, songs, and dances – sticking in א-ב and מודה אני between dances. No, as soon as the child wakes up, he needs to begin with the words ‘מודה אני’ …

“In this way you will raise healthy children. Because both his neshama and his parents are pushing in the same direction – upwards.”

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    1. Music to ears!!

      So excellently brought forward!!!!!!!


      Thank you Rabbi Resnick!!!!!!!

      Wow – Keep the articles coming, this is good stuff!!!

      Thank you for bringing to light the Rebbes view

  1. Thank you for writing this!!
    I can hear your mothers voice thru this… shes been saying this for years!

  2. I wish this article could be more widely circulated! It is so well written and the message is super timely and relevant. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  3. this is the first time I am reading this author. so refreshing, please, please, we want more.

  4. While this article makes some important points, addressing this topic in such a black and white way is naive and potentially very dangerous. Lives are at stake here. Many rabanim and mashpiim are not safe to be trusted with such issues.

    While all the answers are indeed in Torah and chassidus, just because someone is a leader in the Jewish world does not mean they have the expertise to advise in all areas.

    This article is extreme and omits many important points including the many times the rebbe spoke positively about receiving professional help. If we inspire people to believe in the extremity of this article we are literally endangering lives by encouraging people to not get the help they or their children need

  5. We believe that the truth is in Torah. Those who know and truly represent Torah are most qualified to address life questions. If you don’t agree with this, then you don’t really believe that all the answers are indeed in Torah and Chassidus.

    Regarding what you write that “Many rabanim and mashpiim are not safe to be trusted with such issues,” the same can be said about doctors too. There are real doctors and there are frauds. You won’t say all doctors are no good because there are some bad ones, but you will look for someone good.

    The same is true with rabbonim. As you yourself write, “Just because someone is a leader in the Jewish world does not mean they have the expertise to advise in all areas.”

  6. You go to Beis Din. Sometimes Beis Din tells you or allows you to go to court.
    Same with Mashpia vs. therapist..

  7. While this article does bring up some true points, I encourage everyone to read Healthy in Mind, Body and Spirit, all the volumes.

    The Rebbe did tell people to go to professionals, let us not forget that.

    Each situation is different also….

    1. Did the Rebbe refer regular people dealing with everyday challenges to speak to therapists or was it people struggling with mental illness? There’s a big difference.

      Let’s stop considering everyone as ill.

      1. The message of this article is not that one should avoid therapy etc for “everyday” needs and only go to a professional when there is “mental illness” involved.

        I will reiterate what others have already said. There is so much nuance involved in all of these things, publishing an article like this is actually reckless and can cause tremendous damage.

        It seems some people think that it’s either Torah or professionals. One does not automatically exclude the other. We always need Torah and hopefully we all always have Torah. And sometimes we need an outside professional, while maintaining our Torah standards. It’s not black and white. It’s not this or that.

        You carry a tremendous achrayos for all who read this article and the decisions that people may make based off of it. It would be worthwhile to clarify your intentions here and specify what you might be referring to.

        In discussing this article with others it was suggested that maybe the author intends to guide us to FIRST consult with daas Torah and then go to professionals … Either way, this is a very close minded perspective that can be ch”v so damaging.

  8. Unfortunately this article has very little actual benefit.
    In short :
    *) it makes the point Rabbeinu Ovadya Bartenura makes at the beggining of pirkei avos, saying that our ethics come from Torah,
    *) it claims that since the Rebbe rarely directed people to mental health professionals (in contrast to professionals in more technical areas), it must be in the category of Torah Bagoyim Al Taamin,
    *) it reminds us the Torah is Hora’a relevant and instructive,
    *) reminds us to raise our children with unadulterated undiluted passionate (hard core) Yiddishkeit,
    *) advises us that if we have a rocky marriage we should book an appointment with a chassidisher yid, or Rov,
    *) and disclaims that its not here to delve into the issue of when to seek professional help and when not, when is it beneficial and when not, that will be in a different article, its just to give pause.

    Rabbi Resnick,
    have you ever been challenged with dysfunction in any area of life? Behaviour patterns that you weren’t able to get out of? In relationships? How did you deal with these issues? Has your marriage been rocky? How did you deal with it? I don’t wish it upon anyone. I’m not saying your opinion is only valid if you’ve been through issues. Maybe you have been.

    What I am saying is therapy is really truly helping people that are lubavitcher chassidim that really truly need it, in ways which they perhaps weren’t able to find by speaking to their local chassidisher yid, whether because he didn’t have the time to delve into their issues, whether because he didn’t necessarily have the tools to apply the information in chassidus to make it practical.

    More importantly, after chassidus was nisgale, that caused that the goyim should also investigate chochmas hanefesh (also according to the sicha in noach about the zohar that talks about the year 5600). At this point, there exists in velt an opportunity (that costs money) to have someone who has learned a few things (or predictable patterns) within chochmas hanefesh to help people overcome their dysfunction, and become better people. (Why is that a davar assur?) So that lead to their being a question in people’s mind about if its okay and if its desirable to make use of that opportunity. (which is what triggers this article.)

    So to write an aritcle which doesn’t adress this question in any way shape or form, just basically quotes a few ideas and Paskens that we should turn to chassidisher yidden, is not really beneficail. Its not illuminating. The people cheering are the people who like to hear the words “torah and chassidus is the best, we are the best.” We need articles that illuminate the issues, that give clarity, not ones that push away thousads of people who are finding peace or who have found peace and still identify as fully farbrente chassidishe yidden and shluchim. thanks!

    The fear with mental health is that it validates the person’s feelings, which could lead to losing our core values of Naaseh Venishma, respect for rabbonim and mechanchim, the value of every din in shulchan aruch and ultimately kol davar shebikdusha. But in its purest form, chochmas hanefesh (even if its not toras moshe misinai and its based on sechel and observation) can be very helpfu for people that need it, to help their marriages, their shlichus, their parenting, etc etc etc.

    So that’s where a very key and important Bavorenish comes in: (as stated in earlier comments:) make sure that you get an okay from an aseh lecha rav or rov, that you need it, and that you do it with the frame of mind that this is to heal my character and make me a better yid, chossid, shliach [__(mishechist)__]. Therefore also Its imperative and crucial that if possible it should be a frum person and I would go further to say a lubavitcher… FOR lubavitchers. for a satmar chossid I would say the best therapist for him would be a satmar chassid, but a lubacitcher chossid would not be able to help a satmar kid with his issues as much (even he actually spoke a good yiddish). And if you can’t find someone frum then you really need to be constantly in touch with an aseh lecha rav, but either way you should be.

    I wish, there were more ashe lecha ravs that were effective inhelping people use chassidus to deal with dysfunction. I’m waiting for that day so that we won’t need exterior chochmas hanefesh…

    vehamevin yavin. vedok hetev.

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