It seems cliche already, but as pop music songs have proven, some things never go out of style. One of those ever-lasting, oft sung-about ideas reflects the conflict between head and heart! The head is our consciousness; it’s where we think and process information. Whereas the heart is our gut, our intuition. It’s that place where you get a sense of something being right or wrong for you. When our hearts process information it affects our feelings; whether or not we have a great feeling or a not-so-great feeling about the actions you are about to take happens in our hearts. Knowing something, thinking it through, versus letting our emotions run the show is a struggle no one seems immune to.
As I always do when searching for an answer to any sort of question, I turn to the source of true wisdom, the Torah. And, in fact, in one of the first sets of relationships in the Torah we see this struggle between intellect and emotion play out. In Bereishit Perek Daled we are introduced to the brothers Kayin, the farmer, and Hevel, the shepherd. The pesukim give us details like their names, professions and sacrifices, but we don’t know much else about them. Rav Hirsch helps us understand the story of Kayin and Hevel, the first major interpersonal conflict in the Torah. Kayin was named Kayin, as Rav Hirsch explains, based on the word koneh, to acquire. This means to own something, but not with money, but rather with one’s own energy and effort. It is something concrete, tangible, which perfectly connects to his job as a farmer. Kayin wanted to bring a tribute to Hashem, and considering that he was a man of the field, he brought Hashem some of his inferior crops. Though a gift, it was not such a special one because intellectually he understood that God doesn’t need anything from us humans.
Hevel, on the other hand, Rav Hirsch explains, is something fleeting, short-lived or connected to the feeling of darkness. Hevel represents our emotions and feelings. He was a shepherd, who spent his days “caring” for sheep and cattle. Hevel saw Kayin give his korban but felt that something was lacking. Thus, he also decided to bring a sacrifice, but his korban was from the first born and fattest sheep. He added the emotional component in recognizing that the gift should be more.
As we know, Hashem accepted Hevel and his gift and rejected Kayin and his gift. It seems the added touch of emotional spice is just what was needed… perhaps? But the next part of the parsha seemingly turns the heart and emotions completely around.
Kayin, our intellectual representative, becomes so upset and so emotional. As he becomes totally off balance, Hashem warns him that if he allows his emotions to take over, he might do something he will later regret. Hashem explains so eloquently in one of my all-time favorite verses:
הֲל֤וֹא אִם־תֵּיטִיב֙ שְׂאֵ֔ת וְאִם֙ לֹ֣א תֵיטִ֔יב לַפֶּ֖תַח חַטָּ֣את רֹבֵ֑ץ וְאֵלֶ֙יךָ֙ תְּשׁ֣וּקָת֔וֹ וְאַתָּ֖ה תִּמְשׇׁל־בּֽוֹ׃
Is it not so that if you improve, it will be forgiven? If you do not improve, however, at the entrance, sin is lying, and to you is its longing, but you can rule over it.
Hashem gave Kayin a “pep” talk, and it’s a lesson for all of us, too, as we learn the parsha. Hashem is letting us know that we can control our emotions. Our heart is a necessity, but it is crucial to not let it run amuck.
There is an interesting Midrash that can shine an even deeper light into this struggle and theme of head and heart. After Kayin killed Hevel, God decreed that “the offering of the sinner should not be mixed with the offering of the innocent (Midrash Tanhuma B‘reishit 9:9).”
To what is this Midrash referring “not to be mixed?”.... Well, it is referring to the prohibition against shatnez, mixing of wool and linen. Kayin brought flax, linen, and Hevel brought sheep, wool. The average person is not allowed to mix the two; but while the mixing of linen and wool is generally forbidden, the Torah describes the garments of kohanim (priests) as including both wool and linen. Not a coincidence, but rather a lesson for all of us as something to aspire to.
Furthermore, the ancient rabbis taught that tzitzit may consist of wool and linen woven together, and that woolen tzitzit may be attached to a linen garment (Menachot 43a). Archaeologists have found tzitzit consistent with this description in sites from the first and second centuries. The permission to wear shatnez in tzitzit emphasizes that, like the priestly garments, tzitzit are worn in the service of God.
So perhaps one may deduce that when we are properly serving God and following the Torah, it provides a guide for us through the mitzvot on how to balance the head and the heart. Somewhere, though, we lost the art of balancing the two. I would venture a guess that in the age of “Rav Google,” where a plethora of information is at our fingertips, the “knowledge” part of us is outweighing the emotional side.We, like Kayin, are out of balance. Just the “intellect” is simply not enough.
As I grow as a person and gain more life experience it is becoming clearer to me that the concept of “knowledge is power” is definitely not sufficient. We seem to have ample knowledge, and yet, more issues than ever. This battle of head and heart is taking on a new phase for our generation. I think we need to coin a new phrase, “action is power”; as Hevel added on the emotional component to the intellectual gift of Kayin, the korban was then accepted, demonstrating the ideal balance of head with heart.
As we raise and educate the next generation, it behooves us to strengthen our emotional connection and relationship with Hashem, Judaism, people and ourselves. Perhaps we need to reteach ourselves how to focus and be mindful of our emotions. How to take the Torah knowledge we have and to build on it so that it becomes more actual and a way of living that would be accepted by Hashem as well.
Jordana Baruchov, a middle school dean at Yavneh Academy, is an innovative, experienced educator. She has a master’s in Jewish education from the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration. Through her shiurim, classes and programs, Morah Baruchov has inspired thousands! She has hosted numerous challah bakes and cooking shows for Project Inspire and Jewish Journeys. She has been featured in the Nashim magazine and her inspirational weekly parsha message, Drink it in!, can be seen on Instagram at @jbaruchov and Facebook at Jordana Baruchov. Visit her website at jordanatorah.com or email her at [email protected]