Heart and mind: Judaism teaches the need to use both in relating to others

Rabbi Douglas Goldhamer

By Rabbi Douglas Goldhamer, Guest Torah Columnist

Torah Portion: Miketz (Genesis 41:1−44:17)

I was teaching a group of young people one morning, and a little boy from a very wealthy family reached into his pocket and pulled out a $10 bill.  The boy was no more than 11 years old.  He threw the $10 bill in front of one of his classmates, who was not wealthy, and he said, in a very demeaning voice, “If you pick it up, you can keep it.  I’m rich. $10 means nothing to me.”

I was stunned at the young man’s callous behavior, and immediately made him apologize to the young girl. But it was evident he did not feel he had done anything wrong.

In this week’s Torah portion Miketz, Joseph becomes grand vizier of Egypt, in charge of dispensing rations during the famine. His brothers, who sold him into slavery years ago, appear before him to ask for food rations. Joseph recognizes them immediately, but our text tells us, “And Joseph’s brothers came, and bowed down to him with their faces to the earth. And Joseph saw his brothers, and he knew them, but he acted like a stranger toward them and spoke harshly to them.” (42:6-7)

Who could blame Joseph for speaking harshly to them? The last time he saw them, they were throwing him in a pit.  Remember that Joseph had dreamed that his brothers would bow down to him.  “For behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and my sheaf …stood upright; and your sheaves …bowed down to my sheaf.” (Genesis 37:7) Joseph’s brothers rejected his claim to dominance.  

Now, lo and behold, in parasha Miketz Joseph’s dream has come to pass. When he sees his brothers, he could immediately tell them, “Hey, remember me?  I’m Joseph—the boy you threw in a pit, the guy who said you would bow down to me, and here we are, with you bowing down to me.”

The great Hasidic commentator Levi Yitzhak wrote in Kedushat Levi that this parasha proves the greatness of  Joseph.  Joseph realized how much emotional distress this would cause his brothers, to see him as their superior.  He knew that if the person with power is unknown to those seeking his assistance, if they don’t know who has gained control, the psychic pain is not as acute.  According to Kedushat Levi, this reveals Joseph’s righteousness. When they bowed down to him, and it was clear that he had overpowered them, he acted like a stranger.  He did not want them to suffer, knowing that he had gained power over them with the fulfillment of his dream. He let them think he was the king, so they didn’t mind bowing before the king.

Joseph thought not only with his head, but with his heart.  What a lesson this Torah portion teaches us. Our Torah portion this week, Miketz (which means “in the end”), refers to the days that call for the coming of the Messiah.  Wow! What a lesson we learn from our Torah parasha. We need to think with our hearts and with our compassion, with the same strength and love that we think with our mind and our intellect.  “And you shall love the Lord your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.”         

The Baal Shem Tov wrote an amazing letter to his brother-in-law, that on Rosh Hashanah in the year 5507 (1746), he made a Kabbalistic oath which elevated his soul and enabled him to achieve an amazing vision.

Among his ascensions in the celestial world was his entering the palace of the Messiah, where the Messiah studies with the Sages and the Righteous. The Baal Shem Tov comments on the extreme rejoicing that he experienced.  The Baal Shem Tov asked Moschiach “When will you come to earth, to our material world?”  And the Messiah answered, “It will be a time when your teachings become publicized and revealed to the world, and …that which you have perceived of your own efforts become known so that others will be able to perform mystical unifications and a sense of the soul like you.”

The Baal Shem Tov –his answer as to when Moschiach would come to our world is an answer based on when many like the Besht will be able to know and teach Kabbalah, by performing mystical unifications and soul ascensions. And yet, the great scholar, the Shinover Reb, Rebbe Shraga Halberstam, noted that the Messiah will come not because we should all become experts in the mystical teachings of the Kabbalah, but Moschiach will arrive when we all become concerned not only for ourselves, but for the welfare of others.  We learn from these great men that we must learn and practice our teachings from our hearts, as well as learn and practice our teachings from our mind.  The heart and the mind are equally great.  

We must learn from both. Why? Because Hashem gave us both holy organs and requires that we venerate both organs, recognizing that both come from the Creator.This is what Hashem wants us to learn, to practice and to study every day.  Amen.

Rabbi Douglas Goldhamer is the senior rabbi of Congregation Bene Shalom, Skokie and president and professor of Jewish Mysticism at Hebrew Seminary, Skokie.

1 Comment on "Heart and mind: Judaism teaches the need to use both in relating to others"

  1. Insightful and thoughtful as usual, Rabbi!
    Thank you very much.

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