Da’as – Power For Change

Zev Weinstein, Brooklyn, NY
Essays 2018

MyLife Essay Contest 2018

The question is; Why is it that there are so many things that we know, especially things that can and definitely will make our lives easier, happier, and more productive, and yet we just can’t bring ourselves to do them?  Take a moment now and just imagine that everything you ever learned and still remember. Whether it might be from your parents, grandparents, teachers, self-help books, therapists, whomever. Everything you now know in order to live a happy, moral, and productive life you just did. How would your relationships be? How about your productivity at work? How would your conscience be treating you?

Chassidus can provide the tools necessary to improving this crucial aspect of our lives.

First we must understand why we have the problem in the first place.

Our knowledge is stored in our brain. Among its many other tremendous abilities our brain has the ability to absorb information (chochma), the ability to dissect that information in many different ways and on many different levels, and to form conclusions based on that information (binah). What our brain does NOT have the ability to do is to have emotion. So for example: When your brain grasps the information that your boss is telling you that you are now fired, it doesn’t feel sad, anxious, or even nervous. It doesn’t feel anything. The same would be if the information is that you got a massive raise, the brain would neither be excited, happy, or even relieved. In both cases however, the brain would receive the new information, process it, and figure out the likely outcomes.

Now we go south to the heart. The heart is brimming over with emotion. It is full of intense feelings. Happiness, sadness, anger, frustration, excitement, anticipation, fright, confidence, you name it. Whatever is or is not happening to the person is being felt emotionally in the heart. The thing is; there is absolutely no intelligence to be found. What that means is that all the emotion comes from instinct.The emotion comes spontaneously and leaves spontaneously depending on the experience of the person at the moment. Even feelings of love and fear are purely instinctive devoid of any intellect whatsoever.

One of the wonderful things that makes us human is the ability to connect our faculty of intelligence, which as previously stated is found in the brain, with our faculty of emotion which is found in the heart. Thereby filling our emotions with understanding and filling our understanding with emotion.

The question now becomes: Which of these faculties should be dominant? Should my intellect be used to fulfill my emotional wants and needs or should my emotions be used to follow the guidance of my intellect? Or maybe each way is appropriate depending on the situation?

Although there might be merit to either way of thinking and I am sure many a philosopher has debated the subject, the Torah unequivocally states   ולא תתורו אחרי לבבכם…אשר אתם זונים אחריהם. “Do not follow your hearts so that you do not stray after them”. One of the reasons for this commandment is due to the fact that the heart and its emotions do not and cannot have a moral compass. The brain and the intellect can and must be a moral compass through understanding the directives of the G-d given Torah. The heart with its emotions must follow the intellect.

Which now brings us to the question: Can the emotion be compelled to follow the intellect? Being that they come from two different sources, what if the brain understands that a certain course of action is warranted but the heart doesn’t feel like doing it? If the answer is yes, that brings us back to our question in the beginning of the lesson. Why do we all have that frustrating experience at one time or another of knowing that something needs to get done and even wanting to do it but because we don’t feel like it, it doesn’t get done?

In short the answer is yes. It can be done. However it takes work. In order for work to be done, proper tools are needed. Chassidus reveals for us the tools we innately have and how to use them.

Chassidus teaches us that the physical world that we all experience reflects the spirituality that preceded it and is now hidden. And so it is with the human body. The head reflects the capacity for intelligence and the heart the capacity for emotion. Being that in a human being the head is the highest part of the body, that reflects the fact that a persons intelligence is the most important part of him and his intelligence should be leading him throughout his life. Being that the brain, within the head, through the nerves controls the rest of the body. That reflects how a persons intellect should direct his body throughout his life. Now this is all well and good until we get to the emotions of the heart.

We all know that emotions are an extremely powerful part of our psyche. Try reasoning with someone who’s in a bad mood. Not happening. Try reasoning with yourself, for that matter, when something’s bothering you.Very difficult.

Add to our swirling emotions one more part of our make-up, and that is the infamous yetzer hara. The yetzer hara is put inside of us to find all different ways to make it difficult for us to do our mission on this world, to serve G-d. Many of the ways the yetzer hara uses are symbolized by various villains that have troubled the Jewish people throughout the generations. The yetzer hara tries his best to stop our intelligence from travelling from our brain, to clothe itself within our emotions. And it uses the methods of Pharaoh.

Pharaoh, in no uncertain terms made it clear to the Jews that he would definitely not let the Jews leave Egypt to go on to their destiny of becoming G-ds nation by receiving the Torah and entering the promised land. No! They would stay in evil Egypt as a group of families in slavery building pyramids on quicksand forever.

In the same way, the yetzer hara insists that he will not let us go on to our destiny as Jews by having our intellect flow through to our emotions so that we can passionately  and enthusiastically live a holy and G-dly life as best we know how. He will block, subvert, and reroute the intellect so that it stays far away from the emotions. Like this the emotions will run wild, getting caught up in all sorts of worldly passions, vices, and destructive behaviors. And that  is why so often, we find it so difficult to do what we know is right especially when we just don’t feel like it.

So what’s the answer?

In short. By using our G-d given faculty called da’as.

What is da’as? Da’as is the ability of a person to learn something new in such a way so as to experience it and thereby be a changed person because of it.

To illustrate: Let’s take a little girl who has been told many times by her parents, and knows and understands very well, not to play with fire because it is dangerous. Problem is, her mind knows but her emotions don’t. So when our little girl finds herself alone in the kitchen with a box of matches, it’s very likely that her emotion of curiosity will overpower her knowledge, and before she knows it she has created a flame. Which is quite fascinating until it reaches her finger and she experiences the pain of a burn. That experience has changed that girl. Bets are, that next time she finds herself alone with matches, her knowledge will overpower her curiosity to see if she can do it again. This is the power of da’as.

Now, let’s all take moment or two to think back in our own lives of when knowledge was translated into experience, changing us going forward. It could be as trivial as the first time you tasted the sensation of delicious mouth-watering chocolate (if you consider that trivial). Or as profound as the experience of entering an intimate relationship. In fact, when the Torah mention intimacy for the first time (between Adam and Chava) it uses an expression of da’as.

Now this is all fine and good for things that we have already experienced. But what about concepts that we know are right and good, however we cannot experience them being that they are abstract? For example: A life of goodness and kindness. We can’t experience that until the end of our life. Or how about concepts that we know are good and proper in theory, but as of now we don’t even have the slightest inclination to experience them?  Or things that we have been taught are important but we have no interest in them whatsoever? Last but definitely not least, things we usually do but sometimes we are just not in the mood to do them?

Chassiddus teaches us that we also have a yetzer tov that empowers us with the strength and tools necessary to overcome the yetzer hara and to serve G-d as we should. Chassiddus uses the term “Nefesh Elokis”- “Divine soul” for the yetzer tov. Our divine soul has the faculty of da’as and being that it is divine it automatically experiences G-dliness, goodness, holiness etc. Just as the yetzer hara uses ways that are symbolized by the villains of our history, all the faculties of our divine soul are given strength and power from the Biblical leaders of the Jewish people.

Moshe strengthened and revealed the Jewish peoples da’as. He came down to Egypt and proclaimed to first the Jews and then to Pharaoh. “The Jewish people have a divine soul, and as a result are G-ds chosen nation! Their destiny is not to be slaves to Pharaoh or anyone or anything else for that matter! Their destiny is to serve G-d for now and forever!” And then Moshe, as G-ds messenger, proceeded to give the Jews the experience that would change them as a nation forever. The ten plagues, the Exodus, the splitting of the sea, the giving of the Torah, and the forty years of miracles in the desert. These experiences ingrained into the souls of all Jews for all generations the awareness that we have the power to overcome any obstacles in our service of G-d.

So, here are the tools we need, to reveal our faculty of da’as, to do things we should be doing.

1) We need to be conscious of the fact that we have a divine soul with the faculty of da’as which is strengthened by Moshe that gives us the power to live G-dly productive lives.

2) We need to grab any opportunity we have to act in a way that we know we should, even if it’s very difficult, or we are not in the mood, and then reflect on the experience. How good it felt to control our emotions. How each good act is precious to G-d. How we actually benefitted from it. How every good deed strengthens our character etc. In other words becoming more aware of  our accomplishments.

3) For ideas that are abstract we need find small concrete things we can do that will bring us closer to the concept that we are striving for and appreciate how they are helping us achieve our goal. Ie: I can’t have a life of goodness and kindness right now, but I can have a day or an hour. And that will bring me closer to my goal.

4) For things that we have no inclination for, or when we are just not in the mood. Just force yourself to do even a little and build on that.

Wishing everyone success with the holy task of integrating more da’as into our lives.


1) Tanya Perek Gimmel (pg. 14)

2) HaYom Yom -Yud Beis Shvat  (pg. 19)

3) Torah Ohr Parshas Va’Aira (pg. 115)

4) Tanya Perek Mem Beis (pg. 117-118)

4) Sefer HaMaamorim Melukat (Vol. 6 pg. 133)