Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Va'etchanan
To dedicate this lesson

In Mind and Heart


Rabbi Chanan Morrison

The Alenu prayer, recited at the conclusion of every prayer service, contains the following verse:

"Know it today and ponder it in your heart: God is the Supreme Being in heaven above and on the earth below — there is no other." (Deut. 4:39)

What is the difference between 'knowing it' and 'pondering it in the heart'?

Two Stages of Acceptance
Sometimes, people admit that there is a gap between what they know intellectually and what they are ready for emotionally. They will say, 'Yes, this makes sense. This is a better way, a healthier way, a truer way. Still, it's not for me. It's too hard; I cannot do it.'

Therefore, the Torah emphasizes the importance of two steps. First, we need to recognize the truth. This is the intellectual stage of "know it today." This stage is critical, but it is still only on a theoretical level. It must be followed by the second step: to internalize that which the mind comprehends. We need to accept emotionally the ramifications of this understanding, and be willing to act upon it. This is the second stage, to "ponder it in your heart."

The second stage of practical acceptance should nevertheless be rooted in the initial step of intellectual comprehension. As the Sages taught (Berachot 13a), 'First accept the kingdom of Heaven, and then the yoke of [practical] mitzvot.'

Above and Below
The verse continues by stating that God is supreme in both "the heaven above and on the earth below." What does this mean?
This does not refer to God's unity in the universe, but to our own inner unity when we accept His reign. 'Heaven' and 'earth' are metaphors for our two major faculties, the mind and the heart. We need to be consistent so that how we act is not detached from what we believe.
In summary, we should accept God's kingship on both levels:

To understand intellectually — in the "heaven above" — using our minds, in cognitive thought and belief.
And to act upon that wisdom on a practical level — "on the earth below" — with our hearts and will, by implementing our understanding in the realm of deed and action.

Rabbi Chanan Morrison of Mitzpeh Yericho runs, a website dedicated to presenting the Torah commentary of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, first Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael, to the English-speaking community.

Gold from the Land of Israel pp. 299-300. Adapted from Olat Re'iyah vol. I, pp. 324-5)
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