A while ago, I authored a piece entitled “Frankl’s Conscience Versus Freud’s Superego”, which, for whatever reason, has been the most read post on this blog. I left off with the following thought/question:
But then, the question, which appears in my mentor Dr. Teria Shantall’s book The Quest for Destiny (Pretoria: Unisa Press, 2003) is: how do you differentiate between an experience of true conscience (i.e. according to Frankl’s model) and superego-type pressures? In other words, how do you know that you are not simply acting out of guilt or because of demands, but are responding to a call to meaning where your desire to do what is right is authentic?
It seems to me that if we are to be able to answer this question, we would have to subvert some basic paradigm assumptions that we customarily make about life. Also, the difficulty in answering this question on highlights just how deeply embedded Freud’s model is in the subconscious of the average Westerner.
I want to suggest that there is a litmus test for a “conscience” versus “superego” experience. I have found, in my study of Torah, that there are many concepts I have learned therein that are simply anti-intuitive. Take the commandments of shaatnez and kashrus, for example. The first is a prohibition against wearing garments comprised of an admixture of wool and linen, as well as deriving benefit from other products with this combination. Manufacturers today and for many centuries past have made fabrics out of wool and linen, because the addition of linen makes the product feel lighter, while the wool’s weight enables linen to lay better. Why on earth would one forgo the luxury or convenience that can come from such an alloy of materials?
The second consists of many laws that render certain types of animals unfit for consumption, but with no reason given. The fact that a Jew may not eat pork is not because at one point refrigeration did not exist and therefore people had to contend with the problem of trichinosis; the prohibition against pork is not a public health mitzvah. In fact, there were methods used to preserve meat in the ancient world, such as salting (which is why hard salami keeps for extended periods of time); why not just salt the pork, if the problem is trichinosis? Rather, the reason why these animals are prohibited is because the Torah designates them as such. But why?
Both of these aforementioned mitzvos fall under the category of chukim, statutes for which there is no rationale other than “that is the law”. These are laws that must be followed without knowing G-d’s reason for them. Furthermore, the tension between a person’s desires and the Torah’s parameters ought to be experienced and even preserved, according to some authorities. Rambam, for example, states that a person should not say that he does not desire something forbidden to him by the Torah; rather, he should say that, in fact, he does desire the forbidden item, but desists because the Torah forbids it to him. Does this imply that the Torah is supposed to operate upon us from the realm of the superego, like another–although divine–moral message?
To be continued…