The Engine and the Steering Wheel

Friday, 27 May, 2016 - 10:57 am

The Engine and the Steering Wheel

Much of the struggle and tension within the human being could be boiled down to the natural tension between the mind and the heart. Between that which the mind knows to be right and that which the heart desires.

The mind and the heart have trouble communicating simply because they don’t speak the same language, and they don’t respond to the same stimuli.

The job of the heart is to answer a simple question: “is this good for me?”. The heart does not respond to objective truths. The heart in not concerned about the greater good. The heart’s job is to be subjective, to make sure that the self is happy and pampered. On the other hand, when functioning properly, the mind, is supposed to be objective. The mind is the tool which allows the human being to transcend the self. The mind has the ability to ponder the abstract, to ask, not, “is this good for me”, but rather, “is this good”. The healthy objective mind will be attracted to that which it understands to be objectively good, while the heart will reject it if it is inconsistent with what it perceives to be good for itself. 

With the mind and the heart pulling in different directions, which one should the person follow? Which one should rule the person?

Western society is unequivocal: “follow your heart”. Parents and teachers, songwriters and poets, keep reminding us to “follow your heart, it knows best”.  

It does not take much thought to see the flaw in the “follow the heart” formula. What if one wakes up in the morning and his heart tells him to rob a bank. Should he do what his mother always taught him to do and follow his heart?

Both the emotion and intellect are critical to a healthy life. Both are necessary. On the journey we call life, the heart is the engine and the mind is the steering wheel. A person without emotion is a person without an engine, without passion, without the strength to smash through the obstacles and achieve, without the fire to overcome rivers of separation and connect to another. But an engine without a steering wheel will end up in the ditch stuck on the side of the road.   

The heart is the stuff of life, but when the mind turns on the “check engine” light then we must stop, lift up the hood, and examine the emotions.

In fact, we “check the engine” every year during the forty nine days between the holidays of Passover and Shavuos. The Kabbalah teaches that there are seven emotions, each emotion includes all seven. On each day of the forty nine days, we examine one of our emotions. We scrutinize the emotion and direct it to the proper road.

We cannot live a healthy life without love, awe, compassion, and commitment. But we must ensure that our emotions are guided by our objective mind to lead us to healthy relationships. Unrefined emotion can lead a person to self centered, destructive, narcissistic behavior.     

This is the symbolism of the Commandment of the Jubilee which we read in this week’s Parsha:

And you shall count for yourself seven sabbatical years, seven years seven times. And the days of these seven sabbatical years shall amount to forty nine years for you… And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim freedom [for slaves] throughout the land for all who live on it. It shall be a Jubilee for you, and you shall return, each man to his property, and you shall return, each man to his family.[1]

We count seven years seven times. Each of the forty nine years represents the refinement of one character trait. On the fiftieth year, we “proclaim freedom throughout the land”. On the fifteenth year we are refined, free of the negative impulses of the emotions. On the fiftieth year we are free to enjoy freedom of objectivity. The freedom to realize the perspective of our loved ones. The freedom to unshackle ourselves from the grasp of our ego. The freedom to apologize. The freedom to improve. 

The freedom to use our inner engine, not to self destruct, but to imbue us with the drive and passion to achieve that which we know we want to achieve.


[1] Leviticus 25:8-10. 

Comments on: The Engine and the Steering Wheel

Alex Troy wrote...

You make a great point: western society and particularly the US, prescribe following one's heart.
And look where it's gotten us.