A groundbreaking study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention showed that as many as 1 in 166 children suffer from pervasive developmental disorders (PDD). Children with PPD are of normal intelligence, but have some form of disconnect between the intellectual and emotional parts of the brain. The result is a range of symptoms that fall under the spectrum of autism, marked primarily by difficulties in communication and interaction with the outside world. Without special education and therapy, children with PPD are left severely disabled, unable to function normally within society.
The good news is that there has been an explosion of treatment methods to help children with PPD develop normally. With early intervention and specialized teaching methods, many children with autism and other forms of PPD can learn to overcome their handicaps and lead fulfilling lives.
One does not need to be diagnosed with PPD to experience disconnect between intellect and emotions. To varying degrees, all of us at times have difficulty connecting between what our mind thinks and our body desires. Think of how difficult it can be to diet, give up smoking or cure a bad temper. Although we know and understand the damage we are causing to ourselves with our bad habits, emotionally we may be unready to give them up.
How can the impasse be broken? Is there a therapy or treatment that we can use to empower ourselves, so we can calm the raging battle between intellect and desire?
Chabad Chassidus was founded to address this very issue. The fundamental work of Chassidus, the Tanya, is devoted to a discussion of the battle between the intellect and emotions. Tanya teaches us how to achieve harmony between our conflicting needs and desires.
Chassidic philosophy teaches that the battle within us is caused by a conflict between two souls, the animal and the G-dly. The animal soul desires physical pleasures and comforts, and relentlessly pursues the needs of its own ego. The G-dly soul, by contrast, is selfless and seeks to fulfill G-d's purpose in this world. Harmony and balance are achieved by channeling the energy of the animal soul to the needs of the G-dly soul.
Through following the program laid out in Tanya, one can learn how to channel all human drives to constructive use, and overcome negative emotions such as anger and depression.
Mental health professionals have only recently begun to recognize the benefits of a faith-based lifestyle. Faith helps us overcome life's challenges and lead lives filled with meaning and purpose. For example, the strong Jewish faith in the coming of Moshiach has enabled us to survive countless centuries of exile, and inspired us to work continuously to improve our world and ourselves, to merit redemption.
Prof. Yirmiyahu Branover is chairman of the Center of Magnetohydrodynamic Studies and Training at Ben-Gurion University.