As an educator with background and training in both science and religion, I am often struck by the fact that so many people can’t wrap their heads around how these two domains connect and intersect. The general impression I get is that most folks believe that science and religion are diametrically opposed, and that if you believe in one, you can’t believe in the other. I couldn’t disagree more.
That said, I understand how it would be challenging to reconcile a literal belief in the timing of the creation story with the scientific concept of the origin of the universe and the evolution of life on our planet. I believe 100% in the scientific description, but I also believe in the deep power and wisdom found in the first chapters of the Torah – I just don’t see it as an accurate historical record.
I also believe, however, that science and western medicine are just beginning to ask questions that the practices and rituals in our tradition have been addressing for thousands of years. For example, science has long understood the brain to be the seat of rational thinking, relegating the heart and other organs to supporting roles serving the mechanical requirements of our bodies. Only in the past 20 years have we begun to understand that our emotions are processed in our brains AND throughout our bodies, and that, for example, our gustatory system has enough neurons to be considered a “second brain.”
Jewish rituals address this truth directly. For example, the Havdalah ritual, which is performed on Saturday evening to delineate between the holy time of Shabbat and the mundane time in the rest of the week, was crafted to engage every single one of our senses. It includes drink, fire, smell, song, and language that reminds us of the opportunity to bring the sense of holiness from Shabbat with us into the rest of the week.
This week’s Torah portion has one of my favorite phrases in the whole book, which is directly linked to the ideas I’ve been describing in this post: Chochmat Lev. It means wise-hearted. The first word is linked to intelligence, cognition, wisdom, and knowledge. The second means heart. Any good therapist will tell you that your brain is only one part of you that is required for your own wisdom and self-knowledge. If you want to engage those capacities completely, you have also have to look to your emotions, your body, and your heart.
This Shabbat, ask your loved ones what they think it means to be “wise-hearted.”