Kenneth Cohen

Subconscious Motivation

Rabbi Twerski spoke of a term called, “subconscious motivation.” He connected it with the commandment of שכחה, leaving part of the harvest that was forgotten, for the poor.

If one is subconsciously motivated, he will not pay attention to the fact that there was an area he neglected to harvest. In his subconscious, he really wanted to help the needy, which was the cause of his forgetfulness.

This is also connected to the question as to how we define one who transgressed בשוגג, inadvertently. There is a significant difference between one who never knew that a particular commandment ever existed, and one who knew about that Mitzva, but momentarily, this prohibition slipped his mind.

In the latter case, he is more accountable, because his subconscious motivation, should have prevented him from violating a Torah law.

This distinction is taken into account regarding the Shabbat laws. One who never knew the law ever existed, is referred to as a תינוק שנשבה, a baby taken captive, who never even knew that he was Jewish. He is treated more leniently than the one who was educated but had a memory lapse. The תינוק שנשבה had no subconscious motivation, while the regular שוגג did.

It is amazing how if one delves deeply into Jewish Law, he will be in awe of the depth of understanding of our great sages.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at