DAY 1031: The Meaning of Lev — Heart and Mind

April 27, 2015
By bethmordecai
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DAY 1031: The Meaning of Lev — Heart and Mind

Dear Hevreh,

One reason I love Hebrew is because its words can have very different, if not opposing, meanings. One example is the term “lev” (לב) which is often translated as “heart” in verses like Deuteronomy 6:5 (“You shall love your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might”). But as some scholars explain, the term “lev” should not be translated as heart but rather as “mind” or “consciousness.” For instance, Proverbs 14:10 is often translated as “the heart (“lev”) knows its own bitterness.” But how can the heart — the seat of emotion and passion — be self aware enough to understand itself? Rather, it makes more sense to understand “lev” in this context as “mind” or “consciousness” which can become aware of itself.

More important though than resolving this debate as to whether or not “lev” should be translated as either “heart” or “mind” is the existence of this debate in the first place. For some, there are certain issues that rile up their passions and emotions (the “heart”) whereas for others those same issues are examined by way of reason (the “mind”). Neither path — of the “heart” or of the “mind” — is wrong, rather they reflect the various ways in which we react to certain subjects. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we’d probably see that in most cases we react with a mixture of “heart” and of “mind.”

This week we have two major events that seemingly speak to the separate definitions of “lev.” Our Jewish-Muslim Relations lecture on Wednesday night at 7:30 pm is an opportunity to engage in a reasonable conversation (i.e. the “mind”) about one of the most important issues facing the Jewish community, and our Shabbat by the Sea service (with potluck) on Friday night at 6:30 pm is a chance for us to sing, dance, and pray (i.e. the “heart”) in a beautiful setting. Yet, while these separate programs are directed to different parts of our collective “lev,” they will resonate for us in different ways. For some it will be one or the other and for others it will be a mixture of both our hearts and minds. And hopefully out of our collective experiences we will feel as if our “lev” is fuller with a stronger connection to our people, our tradition, and our faith.

Kol Tuv,

Rabbi Ari Saks

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