Do our clothes expose the way we think?

Every culture has rituals and traditional dress. But do they make the people distinct? After all, behind the clothes, we may be pretty much the same. Yes, a Native American dresses different from your average American, but they have so much in common. They both have aspirations and fears; they both react when their egos are threatened. Societal expectations may differ between cultures, but our thought processes are surprisingly similar.

Jews, Thinking as a Jew can be even more challenging than acting as a Jewtoo, have distinct rituals: a way of dress, interesting holidays and a unique diet. When G‑d gave us these instructions, He told us that He was choosing us as His special nation. But beneath those rituals, are we truly distinct? As Jews, do we think differently?

Thinking as a Jew can be even more challenging than acting as a Jew. Today, I lost my keys, and lost a lot of time looking for them. When I finally found them, I was angry and frustrated. This wasn’t supposed to have happened! “But what about G‑d?” I thought. “Don’t you believe that He’s in control?” “Of course!” I retorted to myself. “Aha—but if you really believed in His plan, you wouldn’t be in a sour mood.”

It was much easier for me to act like a Jew today than to think like a Jew.

True, G‑d chose us and instructed us to act Jewish. But He also wants us to think Jewish: to rewire our brain so that our reasoning grows in sync with His reasoning. That’s a distinction that runs deep.

In fact, every year we celebrate Shavuot, the day that G‑d gifted us with the Torah and chose us to be His nation. And every year, on the Shabbat preceding or following Shavuot, the Torah portion begins with the following words: “Lift up the head.” At the literal level, this phrase is a command to count the members of the Gershonite family of Levites. But “lift up the head” is a funny way to say “count.”

At a mystical level, “lift up the head” is G‑d’s command to every Jew, right before (or after) Shavuot. Utilize the Torah to lift up your head, to change the way you think, not just what you do.

The Torah is often called “bread.”1 Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains why. Just like bread is chewed and digested until it becomes an indistinguishable part of your body, when the Torah is learned with focus it becomes an indistinguishable part of you, food for your soul. When we do mitzvot, G‑d’s commandments, we clothe our soul with holy garments. But when we learn Torah, G‑d’s wisdom, we feed our soul. You can take off a garment, but you can’t really remove food once it’s been digested and becomes the substance of your being.

Celebrate the Torah, G‑d says, and use it to “lift up your head.” Chew it, digest it, and let it alter your mind.

At that moment of learning Torah with focus, says Rabbi Schneur Zalman, there is an amazing unity between human intellect and G‑d’s intellect, the likes of which does not exist in the physical world.

It’s The Torah trains our intellect to grasp an idea from its sourceamazing that our limited intellect can access and unite with G‑d’s wisdom through the medium of Torah. G‑d blessed humans with sophisticated brainpower. But we can reason only from what we know, and we can develop wisdom only as it is relative to the human experience. That makes the mind limited.

So G‑d gives us the opportunity to “lift up our heads” and grasp concepts that are otherwise unknowable. G‑d’s wisdom is infinite. Our mind attacks ideas that are quantifiable and finite. But before any idea is developed and defined, it exists in G‑d’s infinite wisdom. From there it devolves to become a conscious thought with a distinct identity. The Torah trains our intellect to transcend the limitations of the world and grasp an idea from its source, the source of all knowledge.

The Torah lifts up our head. It’s a miraculous phenomenon. With G‑d’s infiniteness accessible through its teachings, the Torah can lift up our consciousness to experience the infinite understanding within our finite intellect.

When G‑d chose us, we became innately distinct. And to make this distinction more evident, He gave us the amazing opportunity to lift up our head, to rewire our brain with the infinite charge of His Torah.2