dragons eye

The Other Trap

by Dr. David Sanders

A response to Rabbi Irwin Kula’s Trapped in Trauma: Transcending the Dragon’s Gaze

 

I have a traveling companion who I have never planned a trip with, let alone visited anywhere with. We have gone places. Our journeys are in the world of thought about preserving and evolving what is the essence and meaning of being Jewish. Spanning some 30 years, we have had meaningful all-night dialogues and early morning chats when he or I connect in New York or Denver. I seek out the wisdom that flows eloquently from his bold and disruptive thinking. I feel this deep kinship with him because we share a common destination—helping to bring awareness to the underlying currents and motivations of the human psyche and spirit. To be in a friendship where dialogue is rich and each person helps to illuminate the other’s blind spots, is a gift.

 

In his most recent essay, my fellow traveler, Rabbi Irwin Kula, addressed the endless cycle of Israeli-Palestinian violence through the lens of unhealed trauma in which each side “teaches their trauma to the next generation rather than heal it.” The underlying root cause of this conflict, he posits, is unprocessed trauma and the shared inability to tolerate feelings of vulnerability and shame. The promise of violence and war, he warns, “is the illusion that we can eliminate vulnerability by eliminating the other. Violence only temporarily numbs the feelings of fear and vulnerability – it is like an opioid, addictive and generative of more violence. Killing cannot end killing.”

 

Kula’s analysis reminded me of the myth of Hydra, the nine headed destructive monster Hercules (Heracles) was tasked to kill. To Hercules consternation he discovered that when he cut one head off the Hydra it would regenerate two new ones.

 

Kula’s analysis is rooted in the insight of the 18th century Hasidic master, the Ba’al Shem Tov, who exhorted his followers to always be self-reflective—what we call at Kabbalah Experience, mirror awareness. Put succinctly: What you see in the other is a reflection of what resides in you. “To navigate the world without doing too much damage to each other,” Kula says, “requires integrating the parts of ourselves we repress and deny. To put this most provocatively: the danger is not in the shadows but in the mirror.”

 

In the myth of Hydra, Hercules was able to find a temporary solution to stop the monster from producing more heads, but he still had to crush its life sustaining “immortal head.” We can translate the immortal head as the “root cause” or that which unsevered (or unexamined) continues the cycle of destruction over and again.

 

Kula warns us to be alert to the underlying root causes of our own views and implores us, “to dig deep and wide in search for our misplaced knowings, to find the scope of the illusions we have fallen into, to find the oversights and the erasures of each other’s truths and contexts…and there are always more contexts to perceive.”

 

The strength of Kula’s understanding lies in his presumption that, “Our views and opinions – our reasons and rationales – are intimately and integrally related to our feelings. Much of our “thinking” is an instantaneous response to unconscious emotions.”

 

I would like to explore a context beyond trauma which is an equally important root cause of the Israeli-Palestinian cycle of violence. It is how thoughts and beliefs anchor and support irrational feelings. It has to do with our stories about God.

 

Early on in his essay, Kula invites us to consider that even God had difficulty moderating “disproportionate” responses to the disappointment with human behavior. His example are the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and the annihilation of humanity, save Noah and his family, in the flood. Kula asks: “Can we be expected to be better than God in digesting painful feelings of powerlessness, fear, revenge, sadness, disgust, etc., that overwhelm us and to which we respond and defend by lashing out with aggression and violence?”

 

While clearly anthropomorphizing God (for the purpose of analogy), it is the following five words that caught my attention. In reflecting on God’s disproportionate response Kula adds: “however justifiable given it is God.” It is these five words that provide another context, that reveal a blind spot, a misplaced knowing which orients us to Hydra’s immortal head.

 

While the myths of Greece are stories in a book, their messages are carried in our psyches and transmitted one generation to another. The biblical narrative conveys messages that shape the way we think and the contours of our thoughts, in turn, shape and justify the way we feel and act.

 

“However justifiable given it is God.” Which is it then? Was God’s response disproportionate or was it justifiable? Kula attempts to ameliorate his labeling it disproportionate by suggesting that God felt guilty, had remorse for those excessive punishments. But those two stories in Genesis are not the end of what we could consider God’s (and humans) violent overreactions portrayed throughout the Bible. Trauma is not the only unprocessed piece of the equation. There are stories and beliefs which remain unprocessed, unrefined and which serve as ideological justifications for what is done in the name of God. If God’s overreaction can be justified, why does that not give license to those believers in that God to see it as a model for their own disproportionate violence, be it vengeful or not?

 

I am in full agreement, and indebted to the clarity Kula brings to the absolute necessity of healing trauma, generated with each new round of deathly violence, as a requisite for the cycle of violence to end in the Middle East. As Kula concludes: “Peacemaking demands that leadership and the people on all sides in this conflict do the painful psycho-cultural work of understanding our shared trauma and recognizing the shared suffering we have perpetrated on each other.”

 

The other work which needs to be done is psycho-spiritual. We need to examine those shared stories about God in Jewish and Muslim tradition—stories of disproportionate responses and sanctioned traumas that are justified because God is the one who is dispensing them. Necessary as it is to find ways to heal the wounds of human inflicted trauma, we must dismember the immortal head of the Hydra and place it, as Hercules did, under a rock to wither away.

 

It comes down to this: For those who have inherited a religious tradition we have to dig in and unearth what is important to preserve and what needs to evolve about our stories of God; our stories of a God who privileges some and punishes others, our stories of a God whose honor can be affronted, our stories of a God who demands retribution and vengeance. Only then can human consciousness evolve, at least to the point that dehumanizing violence or violence that dehumanizes is no longer an endless cycle. Only then can trauma have fertile soil in which to fully heal.

 

Learn more bout shifting the Human Narrative through our Level III classes at Kabbalah Experience

1 Comment

Robyn · February 8, 2024 at 10:44 am

Thank you David for your insightsful responses to Rabbi Irwin Kula’s article. The article
is from the Wisdom Daily from the organization CLAL.
Rabbi Irwin Kula and Dr. David Sanders, both brilliant wisdom seekers…

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