Jan 29, 2017

Mentch Before Ruchnius?

I have read the idea "emotional health comes before spiritual growth" several times and have wondered about it.  Sometimes it's couched as "first he needs to become a mentch, then we can work on his ruchnius." It is in the context of those off the derech or those having personal problems.

I can see that if someone is an emotional mess, they are in no position to listen to a shiur.  But they could very well be encouraged to do a mitzvah!

In the book Incredible, the story is told of Yossi Gevili, an inmate in an Israeli prison who showed up at an Arachim seminar.  He was on furlough, only his second one in seven years because after he was allowed out the first time and got into a fight, they were hesitant about letting him out again.  This time, he figured the safest place for him was at an Arachim seminar.

Yossi Gevili had been one of the worst prisoners at the prison.  He did not get along with anyone, he argued constantly, was mean, and broke all the rules.  When he returned to the prison after the seminar, he was a different person, polite, and he started using a siddur.  Four days at the Arachim seminar made him into a baal teshuva and model citizen.

Arachim personnel found him a job when he was released and gave him the support he needed to stay on track. He married and settled down and gave his mother nachas.

So here was a man who was difficult inmate in a prison who did not first undergo therapy or any sort of program to address his emotional state of being, his obnoxious behavior, and his anger.  He was exposed to Torah lectures and this changed his life.


  1. 1. The whole concept of emotional health and sickness is new, a fabrication (or in the minds of some, a discovery) of modern psychology. In the past there were just bad middos and good middos.

    2. Some might argue that this example of a non-frum Yid discovering his heritage for the first time, although very inspiring, is not comparable to the first scenario of an FFB kid going OTD. The FFB kid is perhaps more akin to the microbe in the hospital that has developed an immunity to the standard medicines and vaccinations that work on regular germs.

  2. re #1 - there were people who were emotionally broken after going through the Holocaust.

  3. Sometimes the study of modern psychology helps us understand a person's feelings or behavior and I think that it has long been recognized that insanity is a state of mind that goes beyond midos.