Getting your mind to rule over your heart is a common theme in Jewish teachings. It’s also horribly misunderstood.
Most people, when they hear about the mind ruling over the heart, imagine a cold, calculated and stuck-up neurotic. After all, the mind is all those things. Wouldn’t we much rather live with the vivacious, freedom-loving heart?
So we have to explain that when the mind is ruling the heart, it does not mean that the mind is at the top of the chain of command. Nobody wants the mind in charge—you’d never get anything done. The mind may be great at solving puzzles, but it’s an incompetent idiot when it comes to real life. Rather, the mind is meant to be but a conduit for the soul.
You see, the soul, being beyond the body, has a higher vision. It also has some great ideas to express. But the soul needs to get the body involved in that vision and those ideas. And it knows the only way that can happen is by inspiring the heart.
Problem is, the soul is just too big for that little heart to contain. So when the soul makes a direct-line connection to the heart, the heart is overwhelmed. Sure, it may catch fire and burn wild for a while. But then it’s all over and forgotten.
That’s where the mind fits in. The mind has to reach up to the soul and catch some of its higher vision. Then it chews on that vision until it becomes real enough that the heart, as well, can relate to it. That’s the point we call Da’at. Roughly translated as “realization.” The point of, “Yeah! It really is that way!” That’s the point where the heart kicks in, with lasting inspiration. It’s the mind that gets the heart to that place.
To make this more real: Let’s say you’re a musician. You know your inspiration doesn’t come from the mind—it comes from somewhere beyond that. But a lot of the time, it doesn’t come at all. Your mind has to open up, tune in to something beyond itself. Then the juices flow and you can play with your heart.
But, on the other hand, all the time you are playing, you have to keep that mind in gear. If it slides out of the clutch and the heart takes over alone, the depth of the music is lost. Like jazz musicians say, you have to stay cool. That’s what we call “mind over heart.”
Okay, let’s say you’re not a musician. But maybe you like playing football. The same dynamics apply: If your heart is not into it, it just ain’t gonna work. But if you let your heart go wild, you’re not going to be on the league for too long.
So some people lose the mind and get caught up in the heart. Others forget about the heart and become wrapped up in the mind. Neither way is good. The point is to get the soul to express itself in the heart by reaching through the mind.
Getting this mind-heart thing down is not easy. First of all, during your initial exposure to life—known as childhood—you are basically an emotional animal, with little chance that the mind will have control of anything. Secondly, even once you grow up, the whole world is out to make you “just react” to their stimuli. After all, as long as you have control over your own brain and heart, it’s kind of hard to sell you stuff you don’t need and get you to work all those extra hours to pay for it. Most of the world feels much better if you leave them the keys to your brain and heart and just take a quiet place in the back seat, thank you.
So reclaiming your brain and heart for yourself is an upstream battle. Tefillin is one of those mitzvahs that provides a major boost to your forces. Take a few moments in the midst of the morning rush to put on tefillin and say the Shema. Then, during your day, remind yourself about who’s in charge. That you don’t have to give in to every whim of the heart. That you’re higher than that. That you have a mind and a soul—all your own.
Reprinted with permission from The Judaism Website—Chabad.org