Letters Jan . 2024

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Loving God: With Heart or Head?

Friend: If we know that thought comes from our head and not our heart, why does the Torah perpetuate this inconsistency of “loving God with your entire heart and your entire soul?” [“Heart” should not be mentioned].

Rabbi: Yes, “thought” is solely a matter of the mind. But “love”—as in love of God—refers not to thought alone, but to devotion. And one can devote himself to God partially, or wholly. To comply with Torah, one must devote himself wholly to God with his 2 faculties: his mind, and his emotions. As you rightly cited, the Shima prayer demands we love God with all our emotions (heart), all our soul (mind), and all our “strength” (meaning we devote our utmost—all our strength—with both our emotions and our minds).  So, although thought is a function only of mind, love of God—meaning devotion—is achievable with our minds as well as our emotions. Full dedication to God via mind means we exert our thinking to arrive at a clear and conclusive understanding of His will for man. We toil in Torah to uncover the beautifully-formulated halachic structures of Jewish law and Talmud. We delve into philosophy to arrive at truths. Over time, our mental knowledge grows, followed by an emotional appreciation for truth. Our emotions follow our minds, as God designed man to be more impressed with truth than with desires. As our minds see truth and attach to it, we also love God’s truths with our emotions.  

Mysticism: Forbidden Knowledge?

Rabbi: A recent Torah website posted an essay entitled, “Divine Wisdom Over Divination: The Jewish Stance on Necromancy and Forbidden Knowledge.”  This title misleads, as it suggests that what is forbidden to a Torah follower contains “real knowledge,” albeit forbidden knowledge. 

But our great sages say otherwise:

"Those with empty brains say 'Were it not that fortune tellers and magicians were true, the Torah would not prohibit them.' But I (Ibn Ezra) say just the opposite of their words, because the Torah doesn't prohibit that which is true, but it prohibits that which is false. And the proof is the prohibition on idols and statues" (Ibn Ezra, Lev. 19:31).  

Thus, Ibn Ezra discounts as false all mystical matters: magic, necromancy, astrology, idolatry, superstition, omens and the like…explaining why God prohibited them. God wants man to follow what is real and true, and reject what is fantasy and false. And Ibn Ezra is right: none of these practices or beliefs have ever been witnessed by our senses or confirmed by the mind, which are precisely Maimonides’ words to the people of Marseilles: “One must accept as truth, only 1 of 3 matters: matters witnessed by the senses, matters dictated by the mind, and matters based on the Torah.” As all these beliefs mentioned herein comply with none of these three criteria, belief in any of them violates God’s will and reality. 

God granted man physical senses, and the mind, precisely to determine what is real and what is not. God wants man to have a category of disbelief in all that does not comply with the senses and the mind. And when our senses do not detect a claimed phenomenon (viz., ghosts), or our mind says a claim is false (matter creates itself), God desires we reject such notions as false.