Women are frequently accused of being guided by their hearts rather than their heads. When the accusation is levelled, it is often intended as an insult and a gender stereotype. Being guided by one’s emotions, it seems, is less desirable than setting them aside.
However, the Torah encourages us to open our hearts. We are told to love God with all our hearts. What is love without the heart? Love cannot be understood as something devoid of emotion. A calculated relationship, no matter how cleverly crafted, is not the same as love. Love is submitting to something much greater than an intellectual calculation. It is a higher level of relationship. At the end of the Torah, we are instructed to “circumcise” our hearts, to open them up so that we can feel the presence of the Divine and also of each other. If we block our hearts and deny our emotions, we cannot fulfill our potential as creations “in the image of God.” God loves, God is full of compassion, God exemplifies the full range of emotions and our emotions are imitations of the Divine.
Of course, untethered emotions are as dangerous as a complete denial of feelings. Jewish traditions says that the heart is not only the seat of love; it is also the seat of wisdom. The Book of Proverbs speaks of a wise heart and a discerning heart. We are told to refine our heart and open it to wisdom. Once true wisdom enters our heart, we act with righteousness.
Emotions and wisdom go hand-in-hand.
To be fully human is to take advantage of the intellect we have been given and to use it to refine our hearts. We are not allowed to act out of impetuousness, even if the driving force is love or compassion. However, we must be loving and compassionate.
The weekly Torah reading opens when Moses is instructed, “Tell the Israelites to take an offering for Me; take My offering from all whose heart moves them to give … And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst.”
In order for God to live in our midst, we need to be moved by our hearts. We are told that all the Children of Israel contributed to building the mishkan but we soon see that not all were beneficiaries of spiritual enlightenment. The stories of our wanderings in the desert do not reflect a truly spiritually inspired people. In order for God to penetrate and enter our lives, we needed to be emotionally ready.
The Kotzker Rebbe was once asked: “Where does God dwell?” to which he replied, “Wherever you let Him in.” Having God in our lives requires a submission to our hearts.
This week is also Shabbat Zachor, when we are told to remember what Amalek did to us as we left Egypt. We cannot understand this as a requirement to learn and remember the details of an historical incident, as one might remember the names and dates that enable us to succeed in trivia quizzes. “Remembering” here means something much more profound. The commandment is for us to internalize the threat, however we interpret it, and through our vicarious experience to be prepared to fight the battle against Amalek in every generation. It is not about “knowledge” of Amalek. It is about developing a sensitivity to Amalek — a sensitivity that resides in our heart.
We can let our circumcised and refined hearts guide us in love and we can let them guide us in caution. This is not weakness. It is a higher form of wisdom.