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Mind Over Heart?

Mind Over Heart?


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.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
Artwork by Sarah Kranz.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with's copyright policy.
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Ryan Gelb 11598 December 11, 2016

Thanks let the mind and heart work together Reply

Tim Idaho, USA January 25, 2015

Understand the "mind" as used in the old testament I sincerely appreciate your article. It helped me understand the "mind" better especially when there appears to be no "precise" Hebrew word used for mind in the old testament. Reply

vandana jharkhand india August 9, 2013

to judge the correct one Thanks for making things simpler. It gave a new dimension to my thoughts. It's correct-there should be a perfect balance between our heart and mind. Both of them are inter dependent. But how can we judge which one of them is correct? After all situation matters. Reply

Nishtha Tiwari gujarat, India May 1, 2013

heart or mind In the matter of marriage, to whom we have to listen??? Reply

Anonymous chandigarh, India August 31, 2011

answer to this question 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. Reply

Maxim Rybinsk June 28, 2011

Matter of age Aside from the fact I don't see how rituals can help achieve the discussed mechanics, I appreciate the wonderful explanation. So the timing for this discovery is always different for people? Reply

Hunter Dickson Richmond, BC Canada April 21, 2011

Mind and Heart Thanks. It was a great blog. I am discovering more about my heritage. Born in Scotland,we moved to Canada in the 1960's. I am finding that there is a direct link to the Jewish faith that was previous unknown.

Thanks for writing about the heart and mind so clearly.
Cheers Reply

Thomas Karp New Haven, Ct. March 25, 2011

Upon re-reading, Rabbi,- I find this to be a wonderful post on your part.

Upon further reflection, I think a lot of the problem has to do with what Rabbi Eliahu, Gaon of Vilna did to Rabbi Zalman Schnuer:

What entered his mind to think that it was wise to go to the Czarist authorities and have Rabbi Schnuer jailed over a policy dispute between learned Jews?

I think the ramifications of that can be felt amongst the Children Of Israel to this day.

Would you consider it possible that if it hadn't been for that, you and your Hasidic fellows may have eventually accepted Rabbi Eliahus' criticisms as constructive, and likewise his followers to the crticisms of the Baal Shem Tov; and by now there would have been more of a positive reconciliation between you?

I, for one, suspect that that has to happen for the Moshiach to be able to come; that has to happen first.

Rabbi Eliahu could have made his criticisms without being an opponent (Mitnagdim), and kept the Czar out of it, too. Reply

Thomas Karp New Haven, Ct. October 22, 2010

To Rabbi Freeman You have another thread here at entitled-'Mind Or Heart?'

In it you actually state the opposite of what you state in this thread here:

In that thread you state that the mind must lead the heart because the heart can't on it's own decipher ethical behaviour as opposed to unethical behaviour.

Led by the heart, many people are led to do bad things; indeed, can't always tell the difference between good and bad.

You are right about that.

But isn't it historically correct that Mitnagdim Jews put more of an emphasis on that point, the vital necessity of the mind taking the lead, then do Hasidic Jews?

Yes, the mind apart from the heart can be a cold place, and who wants to live there; and yes, even the intelligent are capable of acting like idiots.

Weren't those essentially the points that the Baal Shem Tov posed to Eliahu, Gaon of Vilna, and which led to the Mitnagdim-Hasidic divide which continues to this day?

Something has got to lead; not both ways! Reply

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman October 21, 2010

To Thomas Karp This is neither historically correct nor does it demonstrate an understanding of the lesson I am attempting to present.

The term "Chabad"--which is a movement based on the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov--stands for Chochmah, Binah, Daat. These are the three intellectual faculties. Chabad places much emphasis on the role of the mind. A person must know, however, that their mind cannot be the judge of all things. Intellect has inherent limitations. Reply

Thomas Karp New Haven, Ct. October 20, 2010

Rabbi Freeman,- what you have touched upon here goes back to the dissension between Eliahu, Gaon of Vilna, and the Baal Shem Tov, and what still amounts to key differences between Mitnagdim and Hasidic Jews.

Under Eliahu, Gaon of Vilna, Judaism tended to become 'cold' in it's unrelenting logic, and so much so that many Jews started to feel estranged from their covenant, which became a big problem.

Your mentor, the 'Master of the Good Name', helped to develop an approach for Jews to their covenant that was more heartfelt and pro-active on an emotional level.

Along with this became the great Hasidic emphasis in Judaism of committing acts of chesed (kindness), and doing good for others even when at times it appeared against logic and reason to do so.

There are basically two things I'm trying to tell you: G-d always has good reason for the acts of chesed you and your ilk commit, for they do improve and support the mind.

Secondly, the enemies of Israel always lead with the heart over the mind. Reply

Anonymous Sunds, Demark January 11, 2010

Very nicely written :) Excatly what i was looking for that gave me some new sprectrums to veiw life in thanks :) Reply

Anonymous tg neamt, romania September 9, 2009

the heart is always in control of the mind or brain, although you belive your mind controls your heart it s not true... it's just giving you the impresssion that it leads but that's false. the mind is just a moral law, a moral code, a filter - we know just one quarter from our brain and three quarters remain unknown so we can not say that the heart is controlled by the mind, it is the opposite.... Reply

Nidhi Berlin, Berlin August 28, 2009

Hello.. I am amazingly impressed with the simplicity of this write up..

thanks a lot for this.. Reply

Rob May 28, 2009

Mind Over Matter, Heart Over Mind This is a very well explained post.

The way I see it is that your heart takes instruction from your mind, but seeing as most instructions are made unconsciously that is of little help.

When exercising the discipline of conscious thought, creative thought and thoughts that serve you, you are giving the instruction you actually want your heart to act upon rather than the whole thing being random.

The conscious mind has very limited abilities compared to the rest of our being, but it's ability is a very handy one becasue it is the part that gets to choose.

Nice one. Reply

Anonymous December 26, 2008

mind heart i often get too wrapped up in my mind and lose touch with my heart because i have forgotten how to connect o my soul. it needs a constant update Reply

Anonymous Fremantle, Australia May 18, 2008

heart and mind i have challenge with this mind over heart. to me, the mind is often confused and vacilating, or rigid and stuck; but the 'brain' in the heart knows what is right. i feel the heart knows what is right direction like a compass, and the mind knows w how to figure what to do to get there. also, psychology often advises to calm the mind and thoughts to calm emotions; but it is easier just to go directly to the heart. Reply

Anonymous November 4, 2007

mind-heart I'm also undergoing the same struggle, just 'reacting to stimuli'...its good to know that I can reclaim my mind, and have internal peace again.. Reply

Nic Manila July 3, 2007

Very nice. Thanks alot. This really helped me get over some of my confusions.:D Reply

Chaya Rivka CA May 29, 2007

Very liberating, thanks! Reply

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