Imagine you bought a new car and after six months it starts to get very sluggish. You take it to the mechanic and he recommends a good wash and wax. “What? Are you crazy? There’s an internal problem,” you say. “Okay,” he says, “how about putting on some of those fancy rims?”
Believe it or not, this is what we do with something even more precious than a new car. When people are feeling negative, sad, or unresourceful, they often opt for an easy superficial solution that is more of a distraction than a cure. Go to a movie, have a drink, eat some ice cream. Sleep. These bandaids don’t address the core issue. The reason why we opt for them is because we really aren’t used to delving into our insides. If you are able to get in touch with what’s on the inside, it’s a very useful thing to do.
One of the elusive things in life is surprisingly very close to your beating heart. It’s called intuition and for most people it has a life of its own. Do you want to have more of a handle on it?
Actually, your mind and heart are in cahoots to form an inner sense called intuition. This elusive part of us can be a powerful tool, if we understand it. Since you’re more familiar with your mind, let’s start with that. The sixth chapter and sixth mishna of Pirke Avot lists “binat halev” as a tool for Torah, and some girsot have “sichlut halev”.
In Hebrew the word Binah sometimes refers to intuition, and is one of the main spiritual connections to the Almighty, as explained in Kabbalah. Binah can mean knowledge that comes to a person without an intellectual process. A flash of insight or an uncomfortable feeling about a person or situation can come to us for a variety of reasons. But usually we think of this as intuition.
Technically, binah is a word that grammatically implies making connections between two different things. (Similarly the word “bein” means – between.) Sometimes it refers to the type of analysis that takes an idea and compares and contrasts it to everything else we know to be true. We can do this naturally, or we can do this intentionally. If I say “I’m not really 47 but I’m actually 35,” you will automatically, not necessarily intentionally, start matching that statement with internal knowledge in a split second. Does he look 47 or 35? Why would he have said he was 47 if he isn’t? Does he have an expression on his face that shows he’s joking?
On the other hand, a process of comparing a statement with everything else you know to be true can also be done intentionally. The Torah states God said to love your fellow man. Here are some analytical questions: Can I choose to love? What if my fellow man is a moron and a jerk that leaves his garbage cans in front of my driveway every week? Why isn’t it enough for me to merely like my fellow man? Can I just love my fellow man in my heart or is God asking me to try to stop famine and war in the world also?
You can develop, with practice, an analytical intellect that naturally breaks information down, clarifies, defines, and then compares and contrasts. The Gemara trains people to do this, and learning this process is a large portion or any “traditional” scholar’s training.
Have you ever had a premonition? Have you ever felt like something was going to happen before it did? The heart knows when something is about to happen. The Gemara calls refers to this as the person doesn’t know but his/her mazal knows. We all have intuitive feelings all the time, but we ignore them because they are distractions. We have no idea, usually, what information these feelings carry. Is it heartburn? A headache? Or an inkling that something is about to happen. Job, the quintessential sufferer of the Bible, had three friends that sensed something was wrong and all showed up at his door on the same day. Their friendship was so strong that they were able to get in touch with their intuition. Many people have had an experience similar to this. They say “I don’t know why, I just felt I had to call my mother or my brother, etc.” and the phone call was needed at that moment.
There is a spiritual world all around us that is complex. There are thousands of spiritual beings on your left and on your right. And there’s a good reason why we are unaware of the spiritual world. It’s too much for us to handle. But many generations held onto sensitivity to spirituality and didn’t leave it completely. For the past one hundred years people have gone away from the unseen and the mystical. They wanted facts and science, not religion and superstition. But they threw the baby out with the bathwater.
The truth is that you are not required to get in touch with your intuition. But if you do, it can be an extremely powerful tool.
Graphology is the study of handwriting and is used by psychologists, criminologists, (some yeshivos), and job application analysts. A good graphologist can tell you many things about your personality. They can describe your relationship with your parents; they can assess your general level of honesty, tell if you’re happy or depressed. But it takes time to learn this skill, and you have to have an intuitive ability also. They studied children’s ability to assess handwriting based purely on intuition. It turns out the children were extremely accurate until they reached puberty. After that, as pre-teens they began to rely more on intellect or visual factors and less on their intuition. Children are naturally intuitive. If you want to relearn your intuition, you need to get in touch with your “inner child.” You have to choose a time and a place to feel childlike. Not immature, but more like going with the flow, having unstructured fun. Sometimes spending time with a child and letting the child dictate the flow of activities and conversation can help. Sometimes being around other people who are intuitive like artists and musicians can help too. When was the last time you sat on the floor with a child and played?
The Gemara mentions that women have extra Binah, and many people understand this to mean something similar to what people refer to as “women’s intuition”. (How this relates to “daatan kalos” is an interesting discussion but beyond the scope of this article.)
People tend to think of “feelings” as emotions like anger or jealousy, but there are various feelings that aren’t emotions. You can feel tired, hungry or thirsty. You can feel “funny”. You can feel out of sorts, awkward, uncomfortable, upbeat, or “on your game”. You can feel like something isn’t quite right. Feelings can be synonymous with intuition. Feelings come and go all day long. An exercise you can do to get control of the power inside you is to write down on a piece of paper numbers one to ten. Carry the paper with you and every once in a while write down exactly how you are feeling. It may not be easy, but with effort you can articulate what you are feeling. This act puts your internal barometer more in the palm of your hand.
Kabbalists describe the internal workings of the human being. We all recognize that we are not our body. The physical masks the spiritual. Our body is our “mortal coil” that we are enclothed with while in this physical world. Some of us are also aware that we are not our thoughts and feelings. If you can say, “I can’t control my thoughts.” then you are not your thoughts. If you can say, “I can’t stop feeling this way.” then you are not your feelings.
But the act of getting in touch with your thoughts, feelings, and intuition gets you one giant step closer to understanding your true self. Some people say “ignorance is bliss”, but I believe true happiness comes from understanding yourself, God, and spirituality. The tool described here, of getting in touch with your inner self, is a powerful means to greater happiness.
With Kabbalah entering pop culture in a way that makes us frum people uncomfortable, the stance towards Kabbalah in the yeshiva world has become even more closed than before. But its possible that the secular world is grabbing onto something that the frum world is leaving behind. One of the gedolim said that since the frum world didn’t grab the mitzvah of settling Eretz Yisroel, the secularists were able to be zocheh to that mitzvah. I wonder if the same thing is happening with Kabbalah? This is just my personal conjecture. I throw it out as a question to you.
Be that as it may, Binas halev remains a powerful tool unused by many. Teshuva is enhanced by introspection and this requires an accurate assessment of the inner you. We need to not only look at the mitzvah scorecard, but search inside for what inner challenges the Almighty is testing us with. That’s where the real work begins, and that’s where the greatest possible gain may be.
In loving memory of Joan Lipsitz Fried. And in the zechus of a refuah shelaimah to Yisroel Noach ben Hinda and Yisroel Moshe ben Golda Basya, and Yehuda Leib ben Chava Rochel