Biblical Diagnosis

Rabbi’s Thoughts
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When I was a student pursuing my masters at Fordham’s School of SocialWork, one of the classes I took was titled “Advanced Clinical Assessment and Diagnosis.” The class was based on the DSM-IV (the “bible” for all therapists) and helped us develop an understanding of abnormal psychology, and the various pathologies and diagnoses.

There was a fascinating occurrence that kept repeating itself throughout the course. Every time we learned about a new diagnosis, I found myself applying the label to people I knew. “Hmm, he is a little bipolar, she is quite narcissistic, he sometimes seems like a borderline, she is often depressed, and he is majorly ADHD.” Then, as I thought about it more, I began to realize that I had a little of each diagnosis, and I began to label myself with each disorder (especially certain ones)!

My professor reassured us that most students who are candid with themselves have a similar experience. Most people are, at least at times, somewhat bipolar, narcissistic, depressed, anxious, obsessive, and suffer from bouts of dementia. What differentiates normal experience from a psychiatric diagnosis is whether the symptoms impede one’s daily living. When a person is so overcome with anxiety that he cannot function, so depressed that she can’t pull herself out of bed, or has such erratic mood swings that people cannot stand being around him, then it enters the realm of “disorder” and must be dealt with appropriately.

I have been thinking about that experience as we read the parshios of Chumash Bereishis. We learn about the noble lives of the patriarchs and encounter their numerous adversaries, e.g. Yishmael, Lot, Lavan, and Eisav. We carefully analyze how the patriarchs righteously traversed all of their challenges and dealt with each antagonist in a different manner. In doing so, we learn how we can deal with the adversaries and villains we too encounter in our daily lives.

But there is another important component that we often fail to focus on: That there is a little bit of those adversaries within each of us. We too can, at times, be avaricious like Lot, duplicitous like Lavan, mock like Yishmael, and cunningly antagonistic like Eisav.

Reading about the tragedies of individuals who had so much potential and yet failed miserably despite being in such close proximity to the patriarchs and matriarchs helps us think about our own shortcomings, and whether we have weathered his own personal tempests.

So basically I guess I’m saying that we’re all a little crazy. But lucky for us, we have access to the best therapists to help us normalize our eccentricities. They are Rashi, Ramban, Seforno, and all of our sages who teach us how to understand the timeless lessons of the Torah.

And best of all, you don’t need have to deal with your HMO before making an appointment.

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead,as well as a rebbe and the Guidance Counselor at Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, and Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. Rabbi Staum is a division head at Camp Dora Golding. His email address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. His website is