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Kabbalah of Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why” – Part Two

A look at the what, how and why levels of the brain, biologically and spiritually

We spent Part One explaining the Kabbalah behind the three questions we ask about the stuff around us: What is it?, How is it?, and Why is it? To reiterate, the question of “what” corresponds to the sefirah of chochmah (wisdom), “how” to binah (understanding), and “why” to da’at (knowledge).


Toward the end of Simon Sinek’s talk, he introduces the notion that his theory is well-grounded in the tenets of biology. To explain, he goes on to relate how each of these questions – what, how, and why – correspond to one of the three major components in the human brain.

Since it was mentioned in Simon’s talk, and since thus far his talk has paralleled the teachings of Kabbalah (thus explaining the inner reason for the attraction to the video), it’s an opportunity for us as well to explain the “what, how, and why” sections of the human brain.

While there is something there in what Simon says about the brain, this biology section of the talk is not as clear as the first part. For instance, whereas he states that the neocortex corresponds to the what-level, as we will explain, the what question is rooted in the right hemisphere, whereas the neocortex corresponds actually to the why and where-levels (a fourth level not mentioned in the talk).

The “What Level” of the Brain

According to Kabbalah, the right hemisphere of the cerebrum corresponds to the sefirah of chochmah (wisdom), which we attributed in Part One to the what-level. Biologically, the right hemisphere of the brain is linked to creative and artistic aptitude. Primarily “right hemisphere” people are more intuitive and fast to act on what first comes to mind. This relates to wisdom’s inner experience of selflessness that accompanies the flash of wisdom generated by a new insight.

In Kabbalah, the Hebrew word for wisdom – חָכְמָה – is often explained as the transposition of the two words כֹּחַ מַה (koach mah) meaning “the power of what [i.e. nothing];” As as in the verse where Moses nullifies himself before Israel: “Whatare we [Aaron and I] that you murmur against us!”

So then what “what” does wisdom see? The Divine source of the stuff before us. As mentioned last time, seeing the “spiritual what” corresponds to “the higher father;” the power to spontaneously extract flashes of insight from the super-conscious realm of keter (crown).

The “How Level” of the Brain

If there is a commonality between the biological part of Simon’s presentation and Kabbalah, it is at our present level of how.

The left hemisphere of the cerebrum corresponds to the sefirah of binah (understanding). Biologically, the left hemisphere is linked to mathematical and analytical aptitude. Primarily “left hemisphere” people are more rational and deliberate, and they tend to act on second thought. This relates to understanding’s inner experience of joy, i.e., the joy of conceiving an idea even after the result of much deliberation.

The “Why Level” of the Brain

Since we shuffled around things a bit, according to Kabbalah, the neocortex actually corresponds to the why-level, not the what-level presented in the talk.

The neocortex consists of the greymatter, or neuronal cell bodies, surrounding the deeper white matter (myelinatedaxons) in the cerebrum. Gray (which includes all shades of gray) is the color associated with the sefirah of da’at (knowledge), the sefirah which we corresponded in Part One to the why-level. White is the color of keter (crown), the super-conscious origin of knowledge. So we have white (crown) and grey (knowledge).

Since Simon didn’t present a fourth level in his talk, we can now call this the where-level. Where do creative, innovative thoughts come from? This is the implicit question running throughout his entire presentation.

For more on Kabbalah and biology, please visit TorahScience.org and download the preview PDF on the homepage.

Please also support my crowdfunding campaign “The Kabbalah of Business Book” with your donation of $18, 36, or greater.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

About the Author
Yonatan Gordon is a student of Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh, and co-founder of InwardNews.com.
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