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A Kabbalistic Approach to Spiritual Growth: Part 43 – Rectified Binah as an Educational Tool

Communication is the most essential tool of an educator’s trade. Expertise in this area will enable him to serve his students most effectively. When he can make himself felt and understood, he can bring them into ever deepening levels of understanding, thus fostering their growth and learning.

It follows therefore that this prerequisite of learning to communicate with utmost sensitivity to the needs, interests, and abilities of the student, while remaining totally faithful to the material itself, is a function of the sefirah of binah (“understanding”). We see the relationship between the sefirah of binah and the prerequisite of effective communication as follows:

Binah comes from the root b-n, which can also spell bein meaning “between,” implying discernment between two things. Effective communication requires clear perceptions of the listener’s verbal and non-verbal signals, as well as a very rigorous and particularized knowledge of the material itself. All this must be combined with the further discernment of how to match the two together.

The skill of effective communication requires the teacher to guard himself from impatience and keep himself from lapsing into a harsh style of teaching, which brings immediate and dramatic results, but which leaves no lasting positive impression on the student’s soul. This ability to guard oneself from harmful expression is also a quality of binah, for it is the sefirah which guards good and negates all which opposes Godliness. Kabbalah calls this ability to guard (shamor) the feminine  [see footnote #1 below] polarity of form‑building and discerning between holy and profane. It corresponds with binah. [see footnote #2 below]

Severity in its negative form derives from the external and “backside” dimension of binah. In other words, binah is the root of severity, but this is only its superficial and impure expression. The “frontside” and innermost expression of binah is the teacher’s ability to sweeten all harshness with an overpowering and loving desire to care for the student’s ultimate good. The teacher must constantly challenge himself to sweeten his judgment, to transform his emotional or intellectual tendencies from harsh impatience to gentle loving-kindness, by correcting his binah, i.e. his assessment of the situation.

Binah is related to meditation (hitbonenut) for in Hebrew they come from the same root. Meditation in Kabbalah corresponds to wine, for each brings about a change in consciousness. Therefore an analogy from the Torah for this process of sweetening judgment is to turn bad wine (representing the distorted misconceptions that severity is good) into happy wine (the true awareness that lasting positive change is only possible through loving-kindness.)


[Footnote #1]
The Talmud teaches that women have an additional increment of binah, and one of the ways that this expresses itself is in their generally greater sensitivity to the subtleties of communication. Scientific studies verify that women as a group test higher than men in verbal abilities. Torah would attribute this phenomenon to their “additional” binah

[Footnote #2]
In the commandment to observe Shabbat, the Talmud teaches that the positive and negative obligations were spoken simultaneously: shamor v’zahor–guard against doing forbidden work and remember to do certain positive acts of proclaiming the day’s holiness. While binah and shamor refer to the feminine, chochmah and zachor (which means “remember” but shares a root with zacharmeaning “male”) refer to the masculine.

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