Yakov Saacks

The 7 things humans do not know #4 – What is in a person’s mind

In my previous writings, we dissected the first three items that were withheld by God that we are not made privy to. The basic reason is that if this information were available, it could create havoc and cause the world to be in total chaos and disarray.



The first item we discussed was death. We are not told the day we are going to die, as this would lead to us taking advantage of this knowledge and abusing it. A person could do bad all his life and then repent a day before his demise, and dodge the bullet. The only ones who definitely do know the day, hour and minute, are the ones who are on death row, and even then the Governor could suspend or postpone the execution.

The second was grief. We discussed that the reason for denying us the knowledge of when our particular grief will end is because God wants us to work on our grief. We need to muddle through it and come out of it with a new perspective on life. If grief were to magically disappear, it would stunt our growth.

The third was how the inner workings of divine judgement operate. We have no clue as to how God views things. Is it the quality of the good deed or quantity? Since God is the sole judge, this should prevent us from judging others, as we simply have no clue.


There is no way to truly know what a person is thinking. We can guess, predict and presume, but ultimately it is completely hidden from us. Even though there are no mind readers to be found, there are people who have an uncanny skill in being able to size up a person’s character in literally minutes. I am not talking about the easy-to-read people like the auto warranty telemarketers as even my phone tells me it is a scam. I am referring to a consummate con man. Most of us have unfortunately been duped more than once. However, there are people who literally have a sixth sense, and masterfully avoid bad people.


The Talmud’s comment that we have no clue as to what is in someone’s mind has a number of commentaries postulating differing reasons as to why knowing what is in someone’s mind is impossible.


One commentary posits as follows, if we could read someone’s mind, we could then insert ourselves into their lives where we clearly do not belong and ruin someone’s design. We have been given a gift of free will, meaning that we are the ones who decide what we should do in any given situation. We are free and clear to make our own decisions and not because someone is nudging you to do it, or not do it for that matter. This gift, by the way, was not imparted to animals, fauna or cherubs, seraphim or any other type of angel. It is only human beings who have the ability to choose to do something, even against its very nature. Therefore, someone knowing our inner thoughts and directions can disturb our free choice, and cause a disruption in the master plan. On a side note, the free will element is why prison is so fearsome. In addition to being surrounded by unsavory people, your free will has somewhat been marginalized.


Another commentary focuses less on knowing someone’s plans and designs and rather focuses on motivation. What is the motivation of the person you are interacting with? If someone does you a favor, you may ask yourself is the courtesy wholly altruistic or do they expect reciprocity of some kind, a quid pro quo? The fact that we do not know the motivation behind the favor is very human and allows us to act as a human. If we knew a person’s motivation, it could, and most likely would, lead to excessive friction and major dysfunction.

In fact, as far as motivation goes, it is pretty low on the totem pole. You see, a major principle in Judaism is that we stress the deed way more than the creed. In other words, it is less important what one thinks or believes, and it is far more significant what one does. It also does not matter what your motivations are, as long as you act properly you are in good shape. As an example; it is really of no consequence whether you believe in keeping kosher, and likewise it does not matter that you struggle with the reasons behind keeping Kosher. The main thing is that you keep kosher. The bottom line is this. Someone did you a solid. Therefore, regardless of the reason, just say thank you and mean it. They did you the kindness, so they deserve the gratitude.


Another problem with reading someone else’s mind is that it is an invasion of privacy. This is another fundamental principle. I cannot begin to explain the great lengths Jewish law goes into respecting someone’s privacy. Did you know that according to rabbinic law, by simply opening another person’s mail one can be severely punished by excommunication as it is considered a vile invasion of privacy? Likewise, when a woman makes an appointment to go to the Mikvah (ritual bath after menses), no one else is privy to the name and time except for the Mikvah attendant. Privacy is a virtue to be pursued.

If you want to know what I am thinking, give me a shout at Otherwise, you will never know.

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About the Author
Rabbi Yakov Saacks is the founder and director of The Chai Center, Dix Hills, NY. The Chai Center has been nicknamed by some as New York's most Unorthodox Orthodox Center.