Our society is moving towards respecting feelings more than facts and placing emotions above the rule of law. That road to disaster is blatantly evident in the battle for civilization going on in Washington, D.C. right now. It is clearly time for us all to relearn the following lesson from ancient Jewish wisdom.
Both individuals and societies can allow emotions to dominate us. We then invariably use our heads to rationalize the bad decisions we’ve just made. Alternatively, we can carefully make decisions and then invite our hearts on board to provide needed excitement and enthusiasm. The two ways we can choose to go lead to strikingly different places.
When I look backwards at a depressingly long list of mistakes and bad decisions, almost without exception, each one resulted when I rationalized something to which I already felt emotionally attracted. I allowed my head to collaborate with my heart and once those two ganged up in cahoots, my fate was sealed.
Many people make bad investment decisions though they are warned against them by a wise advisor. Their hearts are seduced by promises and their heads go along for the ride.
Many men and women make terrible marriage decisions, both in whom they marry and in how they set up the relationships. They ‘fall in love’ and their heads only belatedly get involved.
Communities and nations as well follow alluring images of utopia or conversely have their emotions roiled by angry exhortations. It is so much easier than studying history and facing reality. Invariably, years of suffering follow.
There is obviously a role for our hearts. Otherwise, God would hardly have implanted emotions inside us. A person incapable of being powerfully stirred by emotion is not a complete person. But a man, woman or nation whose emotions chiefly guide their decisions will frequently make bad choices.
Scripture doesn’t employ the common English usage, “Tom said to himself…” Instead, we encounter phrases like the one in the following verse:
And if you say in your heart, ‘Why have these things happened to me…?’
In the Lord’s language, there is meticulous specificity about prepositions. Which is to say that in the Hebrew text some instances read, “_____said IN his or her heart” while others read, “_____said TO or AT his or her heart.”
What is the difference?
IN one’s heart means that your head has descended into your heart and your brain has surrendered to your feelings.
TO one’s heart means that your head exerts control, addressing the heart from a strong and independent position.
Notably, the Torah hints at this vital tool for complete comprehension quite early in Genesis.
….And God said TO His heart, ‘I will no longer continue to curse the earth…’
God is giving us a guideline to emulate. We should choose to be like Him and those who follow His path.
With mind-boggling consistency, each time we read, “And _____ said IN his heart,” a Biblical figure is about to make a life-harming mistake. Each time we read, “And _____said TO his heart,” we see someone making a wise move.
Sadly, most English translations fail to make this vital distinction, often translating the Hebrew ‘EL’ meaning TO and also the Hebrew ‘B’ meaning IN, identically.
Here are two examples of men who had potential for greatness but headed in the wrong direction:
And Esau hated Jacob…and Esau said IN his heart… ‘I will kill Jacob my brother…’
Jeroboam said IN his heart, ‘Now the monarchy will
return to the house of David.’
(I Kings 12:26)
Not surprisingly, Psalms 14:1 declares:
A depraved person says IN his heart, ‘There is no God.’
By contrast, enjoy these examples of people heading in the right direction.
And Hannah was speaking AT her heart…
(I Samuel 1:13)
And David said TO his heart
(I Samuel 27:1)
Scripture is empowering us with a subtle but powerful message. At all times our emotions should follow understanding, wisdom and discernment. When our hearts lead, we cleverly convince ourselves that we are acting correctly, even as we behave in ways that are foolish and damaging.