The Torah of the Heart (2018)

ושמתם את־דברי אלה על־לבבכם ועל־נפשכם

“Therefore you shall lay up these words
 in your heart and in your soul.” [1]

   The ‘heart’ is our intuitive intellect. The ‘soul’ is our very life-force. The Torah of the Heart is eternally given and when we receive it intentionally, it produces a connecting link between our intellect and our life-force. Our tangible experiences and our spiritual perceptions are thus bound up with our essential soul root, and from there, bound up with our G-d. When we open up this channel we deepen our relationship with the Supernal Torah, because our obedience to the commands of the Torah would be incomplete if love and true internalisation were absent.

    G-d speaks to all of us via the Torah She-bi’chtav (Written Torah) and the Torah She-ba’al Peh (Oral Torah). He also speaks to us in our own prayers and in our own private meditation. When we read the scriptures with pauses for meditation or when we meditate in silent prayer, we are hoping to access the Torah of the Heart. 

   We know how and when we are called to action as a nation and as individuals through the words of the written and oral Torah—but we each receive that Torah according to our own abilities and character, and for this reason we also need to receive and digest those ‘words’ personally in the Cave of the Heart, alone with our G-d.

   The Kotzker Rebbe [2] tells us that the words of the Shema are ‘laid on the surface of the heart’ so that they may sink into those hearts which are truly receptive later on:

‘And these words which I command thee this day,shall be upon thy heart.’ The verse does not say: ‘in thy heart.’ For there are times when the heart is shut. But the words lie upon the heart, and when the heart opens in holy hours, they sink deep down into it.”[3]

   This implies that the ‘words’ are only received when they are reflected upon and internalised personally—we may observe the ‘letter’ of the Law, but we have not received it until we go beyond that letter to access its ‘Soul’. This is done most especially in silent contemplative prayer.

   I am reminded of a parallel example of this pre-condition for authenticity in the tale of the Baal Shem Tov’s encounter with the righteous and learned Rabbi Dov Baer of Mezeritch. After asking the latter to recite holy words of Torah, the Baal Shem Tov declared Dov Baer’s recitation to be ‘correct’ but without ‘true knowledge’ because there was ‘no soul’ in what he knew.[4]

   I can remember when reel to reel tape-recorders and cassette players were a miraculous novelty. I can remember the invention of the internet and the shock of realising (so comparatively recently) that we have wireless and satellite infotech connections of such power and speed that the entire Tanach, Talmud Bavli, and Shulchan Aruch can be transferred onto disk and printed or viewed in any synagogue or home with sufficient resources. Only a few years ago, our world did not have the wonderful treasury of, an ever growing (and free) online resource of Torah texts for all.

   We can watch and listen in amazement as many centuries of Torah commentary and study can be transferred from PC to PC, from personal email to personal email, and from smartphone to pendrive—in seconds. And by the time you read this most of those miraculous inventions will almost certainly be superseded. Even as I write, there are forms of bio-implanted data being developed and I suspect it will be years rather than decades before this is commonplace.

   Living in such an era, the traditional Jewish concepts concerning the transmission and the receiving of the Torah do not seem at all fanciful. Living in these times, we can easily comprehend the possibility that Moshe Rabbeinu may have received the ‘entire’ Torah in several intense instalments,[5] or even in less than a second. How much he may have been conscious of, or how much of it he understood personally at the time of revelation is, I think, another matter. Consequently, I have no difficulty in imagining the truth concealed in the tale that we each knew that same Torah in the womb—and that an angel tapped us at birth so that we should forget its Light in order to spend all our lives looking for it. [6] I also have no difficulty in considering that it is possible that,in one moment,our G-d can infuse our brain or soul with his pure word in a way that is currently beyond our comprehension—But not beyond our receptive capability, and not beyond our experience.

   The Baal Shem Tov suggests that the Torah can be fractally or microcosmically presented,[7] and many sources emphasise that the Torah we see is not the whole story.[8] In Kedushas Levi, Rebbe Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev reminds us that:

“In fact, the entire Torah is G-d's name. It originally contained combinations of letters and secret mysteries that ‘no eye has uncovered’ (Yoav 28:7). In its descent to our lowly world, the Torah must become clothed in a material garment.”[9]

   The Zohar tells us that each one of souls of Kehal Yisroel has ‘their own letter’ in the Torah.[10] Interestingly, the Talmud Yerushalmi posits that this refers to letters in the primordial Torah written in black and white fire. [11] The Arizal concurs with this view and adds that by contemplative activity one can actually access the way one’s soul root is linked to that letter/spiritual particle in the Supernal Torah in order to set up a channel of blessing on all worlds. [12]

The Sfas Emes [13] writes:

“The essence of the Torah is G-d’s pure light shining to us through its Hebrew letters. They are spread throughout the universe, and the Jewish people are assigned to find them.” [14]

We all stood at Sinai. We all heard the Voice. The Words of the Living God have been laid upon our hearts, and they are a form of data which our intuitive hearts can access.

   The ‘data’ which forms the ‘daat’ I am referring to here is a bit like having the Talmud and the Tanach on our soul’s hard drive. There may be thousands of ‘words’ we have yet to read, or yet to understand—but they are there—and we can choose to ‘click on’ them to open their ‘folders’ if we want to.

   One might even say that just knowing that they are there inside us is an act of ‘spiritual knowledge’ even though we may not realise it on an explicitly conscious level. The Torah which we had seen and known in the womb (and before) was not erased. It remains in our soul’s storage system for us to discover anew—letter by letter, word by word, line by line.

   We may be the type of people who need to discuss our lives with G-d frequently as though He were at our side. We may be the type of people who prefer to use the texts of prayers written by other people when we want to get closer to Him. We may be the kind of people who prefer to discuss His Words in the company of other humans. Or we may be the kind of people who can’t bear to do much of any of these activities, yet find we meet Him most intimately in acts of compassion and charity, in the ordinary events of an apparently ‘secular’ life. All of these can be the way one hears and reads the Torah of the Heart.

But for the Contemplative?

Well, we are those who need, more than anything, simply to turn the receiver on and let G-d broadcast to us. We may not hear what He is saying in a way that is clear, but we can sense that, by being thoroughly attentive, we are doing what we were created to do. Standing or sitting or walking in contemplative prayer; praying the liturgy; performing ritual mitzvos—in our small way, we are attempting to both study and practice the Torah of the Heart. When we lay tefillin and bind the written texts of the Torah on our head and arm we make a highly symbolic statement to underline this process:

“Therefore you shall lay up these words in your heart and in your soul and you shall bind them for a sign on your hand and as frontlets before your eyes.” [15]

   When we lay tefillin, the Pure Words of the Supernal Torah are transmuted, laid-up, and stored in the file-system of our ‘heart and soul’. The ritual is like a daily program update that renews and refreshes our communication with our G-d. Perhaps as ‘signs’, tefillin can speak to us more clearly than words. Perhaps these ‘signs’ are closer to the ‘Pure Words’ of G-d Himself than we realise. Perhaps they are laid-up (stored) in the file-system of our ‘heart and soul’ because it is only there that we can ‘hold’ all of His Torah.

   The Torah of the Heart is the medium whereby the Supernal Torah is revealed to the individual soul. The task of the contemplative is to make this explicit by intentionally running to receive it daily.

©Nachman Davies
     3rd June 2018

(An extract from the first draft of a new book: “The Cave of The Heart” which Nachman Davies is preparing for publication.)


[1] Devarim 11:18

[2] Rebbe Menachem Mendel Of Kotzk (1787-1859)

[3] ‘Tales of the Hasidim’ vol 2,page 278;; Martin Buber; trans. Olga Marx; Schocken Books Inc; New York, 1949

[4] See ‘Tales of the Hasidim’ vol 1,page 99; Martin Buber; trans. Olga Marx; Schocken Books Inc; New York, 1949

[5] Gittin 60a-b. see also Berachos 21b

[6] In the Midrash Nidda 30b

[7] Ben Poras Yosef 23b states that the entire Torah is included in every single word. Other sources cite the Baal Shem as saying that the entire Torah is present in a single one of its letters.

[8] Notably Tikkunei Zohar 21b. Rabbi Chaim Vital (1543-1620) conceptualises the facets of the Torah as “PaRDeS” (pshat-remez-drush-sod).

[9] In Kedushas Levi: Parashas Beshallach. The idea is also to be found in the Zohar at ZoharII:87a, and III:98b as well as in the Ramban’s “Introduction” to his Torah Commentary.

[10] Zohar Chadash, Shir HaShirim 74d

[11] Talmud Yerushalmi, Shekalim 6:1, Midrash Tanchuma (Bereishis 1)

[12] This idea is expounded at length by the Shelah (Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz 1555-1630) in Shnei Luchos HaBris.

[13] Rebbe Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter of Ger (1847-1905)

[14] Translated by Moshe A.Braun in ‘The Sfas Emes’, p70; Jason Aronson inc; Northvale (1998)

[15] Devarim 11:18