Mohamed, (not his real name), was a Muslim in his 30s, an émigré from Iran who had built a life for himself in Canada. Sadly, a blanket of personal problems marred his efforts to thrive. He sought out psychotherapy. For the sake of rapport, I made a mental note to avoid mention of Jewish insights into human nature, normally a staple in my work.
As the therapy progressed, my apprehension dissolved. So relevant were the ideas of Rabbi Akiva Tatz and other Jewish thinkers that I began to introduce Mohamed to concepts that spoke directly to the challenges with which he grappled. He was intrigued and one day reflected, “I’ve read a lot about Buddhism and new age psychology but I know nothing about the Jewish approach. Can you recommend a book?” I suggested Rabbi Tatz’s Living Inspired and when our session ended he went to a local Judaica shop and picked up that book and three others.
Mohamed made nice progress in the work. He implemented important changes and I commended him; these changes were quite dramatic. To demonstrate just how so, he described an incident that had occurred 10 years earlier when he stood in army fatigues with 250 other Iranian soldiers, all heavily equipped with weapons. The men participated in a familiar ritual: the burning of the American and Israeli flags as the men shouted, “Death to Israel! Death to America!” He looked me dead in the eye and said, “Ten years later, I’m buying books at the Judaica store!”
I was shocked, but shouldn’t have been. As we approach Shavous, the commemoration of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, we can remember that Jewish thought is part of the arsenal we are given to change the world. This body of knowledge contains timeless wisdom that can help individuals change, both Jew and non-Jew.
Case in point: I would argue that, right now, the most widely recognized mouthpiece for any number of important Jewish concepts is a Gentile, Dr. Jordan Peterson. When I stumbled upon his work, I was amazed at the resonance between his ideas and those of Rabbi Akiva Tatz, author of both Living Inspired and Worldmask. Indeed, my excitement about this resonance and the way the Rabbi’s ideas inform those of Peterson compelled my writing of two books: This Way up: A Faith-Based Introduction to Jordan Peterson’s ‘Maps of Meaning’ and In Good Standing: Using Jordan Peterson’s Insights on the Structure of Self to Sort Yourself Out.
It’s ironic that so many Jewish psychotherapists seeking to anchor their work in a wisdom tradition pursue Buddhist studies. These practitioners don’t realize the wealth of resources that are rightly theirs, if only they would look in their own backyards!
But don’t take my word for it. Take Mohamed’s. His ancestors weren’t included in the Sinai experience. But maybe his experience shows there’s a basis for the old proverb: if Mohamed can’t come to the mountain, bring the mountain to Mohamed. And every year at Shavous, the mountain comes to you.