The world of psychology has been heavily dominated by Jewish influences. One philosophy that has always appealed to me is Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. He believed that we humans have certain needs at a series of levels that must be met to live a satisfying and full life.
This is much like the assertion in Pirkei Avot (the Sayings of our Sages) that if you have no bread there is no Torah, and if you have no Torah, no bread. A starving person doesn’t need someone spouting words of wisdom. They simply can’t – and probably don’t want to – absorb them. But according to Judaism it is also true that if one does not ingest the teachings and life lessons of the Torah, they are starved for something equally important as food.
Maslow’s five levels of need are: physiological needs (the basics; food and shelter), safety needs (protection from harm), the need for love and belonging, the need for recognition and esteem, and finally the need for self-actualization.
I did not know until I read Rabbi Jonathan Sack’s column from this week (posted by the Lord Rabbi Sacks z’l Legacy project) that Maslow added a sixth level of need: for self-transcendence, “rising beyond the self through altruism and spirituality.”
As Judaism teaches, it’s not enough to take care of our own needs. We are inherently social creatures, and we crave more. We need to help others, to pay it forward, and make the world a better place. And we have an inherent desire to reach out to the Divine to feed our spiritual self as well as our physical self.
January marks the birthdays of two men who wanted to change the world for the better, for all humans. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel z’l was born on January 11; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., of blessed memory, on January 15. Dr. King told us he had a dream; Rabbi Heschel said ‘I did not ask for success; I asked for wonder.”
May you be blessed to dream, and remember to pause for wonder in this beautiful, wondrous world as you satisfy your need to make the world a better place.
Photo: Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel, two men inspired to change the world.