Emotion or Reason?

Rabbi Reuven Mann

Bereishit, describes the creation of the world with particular emphasis on man and the “human condition.” The difference between man and the animals becomes quite clear. Animals are fundamentally and exclusively instinctual creatures. Man, however, while possessing instinct, is unique. For Hashem said, “Let us make Man in Our image, after Our likeness. They shall rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and over the animal, the whole earth, and every creepy thing that creeps upon the earth. So G-d Created Man in His image, in the image of G-d He Created him; male and female He Created them”(Bereishis 1:26-27).

The “Image of G-d” refers to man’s special soul which enables him to think, reason and comprehend the universe. Man also possesses an instinctual makeup which is basically no different from the animals. Commenting on why the Torah prohibits killing an animal with its young on the same day, the Rambam states: 

“it is also prohibited to kill an animal with its young on the same day (Vayikra 22:28), in order that people should be restrained and prevented from killing the two together in such a manner that the young is slain in the sight of the mother; for the pain of the animals under such circumstances is very great. There is no difference in this case between the pain of man and the pain of other living beings; since the love and tenderness of the mother for her young ones is not produced by reasoning, but by the imaginative faculty which is found in most animals, just like it is found in man.”

This would seem to run contrary to those who regard emotion as the highest expression of the human spirit. Man’s feelings often derive from his instincts, which are not a part of the Tzelem Elokim (Image of G-d). This is not to say that there is no relationship between reason and emotion, but we should ask, are they two entirely different and separate institutions or are they designed to function together in harmony?

This would seem to be the case, but if so, what is the nature of the relationship? Are the feelings in command, and must employ the intellect to secure their objectives, or is it the other way around? The former arrangement is peculiar to animals who utilize what intelligence they have in the process of securing their needs, especially food. When those wants are satisfied, no further “thinking” takes place. The same is true for many people. Their decisions are based on feeling, not reasoning. Their intelligence is brought into play only to obtain what their hearts desire.

But it does not need to be that way. Man differs from animals in another significant way. Animals can’t say “No” to their own desires. Wants must be immediately and automatically gratified. There is no internal mechanism to cause it to say, “I don’t think I’ll eat that tasty morsel in front of me because it may not be good for my health.” But humans have the capacity to hold their desires in abeyance and decide when, how and if they should be fulfilled. This is why animals don’t possess free-will. But humans do.

This means that we should not just be slaves to our instincts and pursue whatever they demand. Rather, the human mind should be in the driver’s seat. The thinking part of man should, on the basis of careful reasoning, make the decisions concerning the major issues of life.

This is not to say that the emotions don’t have a crucial role to play in human life. Man must not be content with abstract understanding unrelated to his complete psyche. The knowledge one obtains should not remain external, but should be fully internalized into one’s personality so that all of his doings are based on wisdom.

Man must work hard to train his emotions to be in line with objective truth. Rabbi Israel Chait once referred to this process as that of “educating the emotions.” The Torah is not only concerned with our speech and action, but with our thoughts and feelings as well. We are commanded to hate Amalek and love the Ger (convert) among us, as well as all fellow Jews. But that is not how I feel, you might say. But the Torah believes that we can educate our emotions and train them to be in line with its exalted ideals. May we succeed in this endeavor.

Shabbat Shalom 

Dear Friends,

My newest book, Eternally Yours: G-d’s Greatest Gift To Mankind on VaYikra was recently published, and is now available at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09SHRXS3Q

I hope that my essays will enhance your reading and study of the Book of VaYikra and would greatly appreciate a brief review on Amazon.com.

Additionally, for those in Eretz Yisrael, my books are available at David Linden’s bookstore located at Emek Refaim Street 21, Jerusalem and at Pomeranz Book store, Be’eri 5 Jerusalem. They are very nice stores to visit and browse.

—Rabbi Reuven Mann