Rabbi Weinreb’s Parsha Column, Emor

“Introvert/Extrovert”

Although many of his adherents deny it, he definitely had an anti-Semitic streak and was at least, for a time, sympathetic to the Nazi cause. Yet he was one of the major psychological theorists of the 20th century, and I personally have found his insights into the human mind both fascinating and practical.

His name was Carl Jung, and he introduced two terms into the field of psychology that eventually became so well known that they are part of our everyday language. It was he who distinguished between the “introvert” and the “extrovert.”

I confess that I have always been so troubled by Jung’s anti-Semitism that it has been difficult for me to make use of the concepts of introversion and extroversion without feeling that I was somehow betraying my people. But his ideas make such great sense to me that I have admittedly come to utilize and apply his teachings, setting aside his anti-Jewish sentiments.

Over the years, I have developed the somewhat ornery habit of “cleansing” Jung’s dichotomy by applying it to Jewish texts, heroes, and institutions. This week’s column is an example of this habit.

The popular mind stereotypes the introvert as a shy, withdrawn, and even antisocial individual, whose difficulties with others make it hard for him to adjust to society. On the other hand, the extrovert is stereotyped as a gregarious, friendly, and outgoing person, one who gets along with all his fellows.

However, Jung’s understanding of the two contrasting terms was far more nuanced and complex than those stereotypes. As Jung explains it, there are two fundamentally human attitudes. The first, introversion, is characterized by a hesitant, reflective, retiring nature that keeps to itself, remains somewhat distant from others, and is autonomous in a very profound way. The second attitude, extroversion, is characterized by an outgoing and accommodating nature that adapts easily to a given situation, and that quickly forms attachments to others.

Furthermore, Jung insists that there is neither a pure introvert nor a pure extrovert. Rather each of us contains a combination of introversion and extroversion in varying proportions.

This week’s Torah portion is Parshat Emor, at the center of which is Leviticus 23. This chapter describes the Sabbath and all the major Jewish festivals in rich detail. Indeed, it constitutes the Torah readings for many of these holidays.

What is remarkable is that the chapter opens with the phrase “These are My festivals,” but then first lists the Sabbath, Shabbat, as if it too was a festival. Only afterwards does it go on to Passover and the rest of the holidays on the calendar. It seems the Sabbath too, though it occurs every week, is a festival.

Yet we know that there are important basic differences between Shabbat and the other festivals. For starters, the Sabbath was ordained as a special day at the very beginning of creation and was ordained as such by the Almighty himself. The festivals, on the other hand, did not begin until Jewish history began, millennia after the creation; and their sanctification, at least in ancient times, depended upon the declaration of a human court.

There are further distinctions between the Sabbath and the festivals, between Shabbat and Yom Tov. On Shabbat, objects may not be carried from private to public domains. On Yom Tov, with the exception of Yom Kippur, there are no restrictions upon transporting objects from one domain to the other.

On the Sabbath, all manner of creative work is forbidden, even the cooking and baking of Sabbath food. During the festivals, again Yom Kippur excluded, cooking and baking fresh food for the holiday is not only permitted, but encouraged.

The 20th century sage and Rabbi of Dvinsk in Latvia, Rabbi Meir Simcha, was intrigued by these and other contrasts between Shabbat and Yom Tov. He saw the Sabbath as being primarily a private time, a time for the individual to be alone and engaged in spiritual introspection. After all, the Sabbath did not depend upon other humans but was initially proclaimed in Divine utter solitude. Shabbat did not allow for easy commerce from private to public places and did not encourage cooking meals for guests.

In psychological language, Shabbat caters to the introvert within us. It is consistent with the attitude of introversion, which prefers silence and solitude over socialization and interpersonal interaction.

The festivals, on the other hand, depend upon other human beings for their very existence. Absent the proclamation of the human Jewish court, there is no festival. The barriers between private and public domains which are so characteristic of the Shabbat disappear during the festival. Entertaining guests during the festival is so important that it is the factor which permits cooking and baking even late on the festival day.

In psychological language, Yom Tov is designed for the extrovert within us. Festivals are the time when our attitudes of extroversion have their opportunity to be fully expressed.

Given the origin of the concept of introversion/extroversion in the mind of a person who failed to honor the Jewish tradition, it gives me a special pleasure to utilize it as a way of elaborating upon the deep insights of a proud and pious jew, Rabbi Meir Simcha.

I would conclude with yet another example of the “introversion” of Shabbat and the “extroversion” of Yom Tov. The key emotions of Shabbat are kavod, dignity, and oneg, personal delight. Both of these typify the introvert’s experience.

Yom Tov is characterized by a different emotion entirely. That is the emotion of simcha, joy, an emotion best experienced, and arguably only possible, in the company of others.

It is because the human being is a complex combination of the attitudes of introversion and extroversion that we can understand why there is both a weekly Sabbath and a yearlong series of festivals. We need times to nurture our autonomous selves, and we need the opportunities for contemplation and reflection that the Sabbath offers.

But we also need times to connect to others in the context of joy and celebration, opportunities which the festivals amply provide.

No wonder, then, that our Torah portion insists upon including the Sabbath, the “introvert,” among the “extroverted” festivals. It is the complex combination of the two attitudes that bring about the spiritual harmony which our Torah advocates and which is the essence of the complete person.