These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[Alumni Guest Post] Learning with One’s Heart

Posted on November 9, 2012 by The Director of Digital Media

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Originally posted by Aryeh Ben David (Year Program ’79-’80) on the Ayeka Blog:



Does it mean to understand it?
Does it mean to know something well enough to pass a test?
Does it mean to be able to recite it, to relate it to someone else, to give a D’var Torah on it?

Or does it mean to integrate it into your life? Does knowing entail understanding something not only with the mind, but also knowing it in your heart? If knowledge is a basis for life – then how do I live? Do I interact with the world exclusively with my mind? If my intellectual life and emotional life are not harmonized, then is it knowledge or is it a bunch of disconnected facts floating around in my brain? Is this what we call life, or is it chaos and disorder?

When the Torah stated that “Adam knew Eve” it did not mean that Adam understood Eve. They were not analyzing or comprehending their relationship. Knowledge in the Torah signifies unity. Adam became one with Eve. Da’at (knowing) is not mere data. In Chassidic thought, da’at is often referred to as the process of joining together, of connection and attachment.

To “know” something is to experience it fully. Not just with the mind, not only with the heart, and not just with the body. To “know” something is to fully know it, with all of our life forces. We don’t “know” most of the knowledge that we have. How can we learn to “know” something with our full being?


The mind has the ability to grasp a new thought in a moment. In a flash of clarity, one can grasp a new concept, a new approach, or a new point. But after this moment of brilliance, do I really know it? I may understand it with my mind, but is my heart engaged – have I emotionally grappled with it? Or does this new knowledge, absorbed by my mind, remind a detached piece of information disconnected from my life?

How do I then enable my heart to “know” this new idea?

Unlike the mind, the heart works very slowly. Unlike the mind, which can be utterly detached from the rest of my life, my emotional well-being is interwoven with the countless parts of my personality and life. To alter one part of my being without consideration of my whole self can render chaos to the whole system. Emotional health is fragile. The heart needs time to fully know something. If the mind can grasp a new idea in a flash of inspiration, the heart needs reflection, meditation, pausing. In the language of the Mishna (Brachot 5:1), the heart simply needs “to be” with the idea for a period of time. Otherwise, this new mental awareness will remain an isolated, detached entity, not penetrating into the emotional fabric of my life.

This is unquestionably one of the biggest psychological challenges in education. There is a strong drive within us that impels us to move ahead, to seek new material and read another book. There is an intellectual rush each time we have a flash of inspiration and mentally take hold of a new thought. We have a deep feeling of accomplishment, perhaps even of control. We can look back and feel proud of how much we have accomplished. We can quantify our successes.

The rabbis of the Talmud understood how difficult it is for people to control these urges. They tried to motivate us to slow down and continually review learning. “Someone who learns something and does not review it resembles one who sows but never reaps.” Without review, learning is (or knowledge is) a lost cause, futile and vain. Without dwelling on something we never really know it. And even if we succeed in pausing and spending a long time on the same information, the rabbis further asserted that “Someone who reviews his learning 101 times does not resemble someone who reviews it 100 times.”

Every single time someone slows down, controls the urge to push ahead, there is a qualitative change. The heart is still learning what the mind grasped long ago.

Knowledge of the mind is just the preparation and prelude to bringing it into our hearts. First we seek to control the material, then we pause and allow it to control us. Only when we are affected by the subjects we learn can we begin to claim that we know them. Only when we have united with them is there true da’at.

We need to really know what we already understand.