Unsettled: Yosef, Jews, and Psychology

Dylann Storm Roof  is a mass murderer convicted for perpetrating the Charleston church shooting on June 17, 2015. During a prayer service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Roof killed nine people. He later confessed that he committed the shooting in hopes of igniting a race war. According to a handwritten motion he filed during his trial considering whether or not he should be given the death penalty the white supremacist killer said he would not be calling on mental health experts to testify because he doesn’t believe in psychology. Roof wrote separately in a journal, “It is a Jewish invention and does nothing but invent diseases and tell people they have problems when they don’t.” While I understand the pivotal role of people like Freud, Maslow, Erikson, Kohlberg, and Frankl (to name a few) played in the development of the field, what does it even mean to assume that Jews invented psychology?

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I was thinking about this question today when reading Miketz, this week’s Torah portion. There we see Yosef who accurately interpreted the dreams of the baker and butler being brought to the Pharaoh to interpret his dreams. As Sigmund Freud wrote in his The Interpretation of Dreams, “Dreams are the royal road to the unconscious.” Surely being an interpreter of dreams makes Yosef one of the father of analysis.

As the story continues Pharaoh as a reward for his accurate interpretation he puts Yosef in charge of all of the store houses of  wheat. And then there is a huge famine and Egypt is on top of the world. In a short period Yosef goes from a foreign slave, to being imprisoned, to being the second most important person in Egypt, and then the known world. You can only imagine what was going through Yosef’s mind. He was completely alienated from his early days in Canaan helping the world survive.

This reminds me of a story told over in the West Wing. As Leo’s character shares:

This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.”Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on”Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.’

To truly help someone you need to have a deep understanding of their issues.

If not a story  of alienation our national story is clearly one of being unsettled. Maybe there is something common to the story of Yosef, the Jewish people. and all of these notable psychologists. Maybe you yourself have to go through your own analysis, experience of alienation, or being unsettled in order to help someone who fell into a hole. Maybe Dylann Roof was right. Maybe we did invent psychology. Now more than ever the world  is in a hole and people needs help. You’re welcome.




1 Response to “Unsettled: Yosef, Jews, and Psychology”

  1. 1 Who’s Dream is it Any Way | Said to Myself Trackback on December 27, 2019 at 2:19 pm

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