After seeing the movie The Secret I purchased the book and have become very drawn to this approach to life. Friends have suggested that the whole Secret phenomenon is not only ridiculous, but a not very Jewish attitude to life. What do you think?
Spurred by your question I have read The Secret and taken a look at the Web site. They are definitely good at taking their own advice! Here is what I think about some of the ideas and beliefs found in The Secret. from a Jewish perspective.
First, a quick overview: “The Law of Attraction” is the central notion of The Secret. The author, Rhonda Byrne, claims she is offering ancient secrets passed from generation to generation by great thinkers such as Plato, Shakespeare, Isaac Newton, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Albert Einstein. The overarching idea is that if a person wants something, he must actively visualize it and see himself as acquiring it.
Some might call this the power of positive thinking. This step alone she maintains, of being truly given over to a dream or desire, is the secret to success. The strongly articulated passionate wish will lead to its realization.
If it is wealth that you desire — and this is a major focus of the book — then actively visualize it. Paste a fake $100,000 bill on the ceiling, think about it before you go to sleep, and, when you wake up, see that wealthy lifestyle in your mind’s eye. If you want to be thinner, diets are not necessary: imagine yourself thinner and your new svelte self will be soon realized. The claim is if you want something enough, it will in turn be “attracted” to you.
My personal success in this approach has been limited until now to the deftly fortuitous and propitious locating of magically perfect parking spaces. But that aside, not only don’t I see anything wrong with this kind of wisdom, “popular” though it may be, there are some strongly articulated Jewish ideas of a very similar ilk.
In this season of celebrating the state of Israel it behooves us to begin by citing the Father of Modern Israel, Theodore Herzl. Living in the late 19th century, Herzl became the visionary behind modern Zionism. In 1902, he published a utopian novel about the Jewish State, Altneuland, (Old-new Land). It concludes: “If you will it, it is no dream.”
This idealistic stance at that moment in history was at once an outrageous and delusional pronouncement, yet it inspired like-minded idealists. Its dramatic articulation gave expression to the unique Jewish dream of returning to a homeland, in spite of all adversity and historical realities.
“If you will it, it is no dream” became the battle cry of Zionists everywhere. An uncomplicated beautiful bon mot in Hebrew, “Im tirtzu, ain zo agadah,” took on an almost canonical status, up there with other classic Jewish adages we love to invoke.
When I first began thinking about The Secret, my thoughts were drawn to the Zionist phenomenon, an idea as a people have had dreamed and visualized — a seemingly unachievable vision for countless generations. When you think about it, we truly have employed many of The Secret’s techniques.
We hung the motivational pictures in our synagogues and homes. Those visuals took the form in Jewish art of “Mizrach” signs directing our thoughts eastward. So much Jewish art depicts Jerusalem and sites in the Holy Land.
This seemingly irrational and illogical hope of returning to Zion was articulated persistently and day after day in prayers, blessings and songs. These mediums kept our aspirations alive and, I believe, ultimately contributed to their realization.
All well and good, but I have a feeling that readers and Secret proponents would hope for a faster-than-2,000-year turnaround in the dream-attainment department. This pushes the question to the more pressing arena of our own daily lives. Does the Secret method align with Jewish notions of personal fulfillment and goal realization? What do we think of this idea of visualization, and that merely thinking has the power to make things happen?
To me the Jewish axiom “the path upon which you choose to walk is the one upon which you will be led” very much supports the idea that we have direct control over the direction our lives can take.
We deeply believe in the power of prayer and the concept that prayers draw out from us our longings, which in turn lead to their actualization.
The story of the servant of Abraham’s journey to Haran to find a wife for his master’s son Isaac reflects this principle. As he embarks on his mission he declares: “O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, send me, I pray Thee, good speed this day, and show kindness unto my master Abraham. Behold, I stand by the fountain of water; and the daughters of the men of the city come out to draw water. So let it come to pass, that the damsel to whom I shall say: ‘Let down thy pitcher, I pray thee, that I may drink,’ and she shall say, ‘Drink,’ and I will give thy camels drink also. Let the same be she that Thou hast appointed for Thy servant, even for Isaac, and thereby shall I know that Thou hast shown kindness unto my master.’”
As the narrative proceeds that is exactly what unfolds. The servant’s strong hope and conviction, his articulation of his expectation to God — all make it happen! He arrives and, sure enough, Rebecca does precisely what he has set forth and our Biblical matchmaker is a success!
Conversely, we are exhorted by the Talmud as well, to not be pessimistic or dire in our predictions of the future. A person should never speak in such a way as to give an opening to Satan, meaning that there is indeed the notion of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Like attracts like, says The Secret, and that is for good or bad. Perhaps the most important element that Judaism can contribute to this conversation is that the dreams and expectations to which we aspire should be ones that are meaningful and which ultimately can contribute to the mending of the world as a whole — we can hope.
Rivy Poupko Kletenik is Head of School at the Seattle Hebrew Academy. If you have a question that’s been tickling your brain, send Rivy an e-mail to email@example.com.