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A Brainless Ruler

Written by Rabbi Yehoshua Alt, 27/6/2020

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A Brainless Ruler

A person is comprised of three parts—מח, intellect, לב, emotions (includes desires and urges)[1] and כָּבֵד, physical material.[2] The Chassam Sofer[3] (1762–1839) illustrates it in this way: A wagon is comprised of a driver, horse, and wagon. The driver, in this case, represents the מח, as he is the brains behind it. He tells the horse when and where to go. The horse characterizes theלב  since animals follow their instincts. Finally, the wagon signifies the material aspect, כבד. The wagon follows the horse.   


Concerning Tzadikim, theמח  rules and theלב  follows followed by the כבד. Regarding the wicked, it is the opposite just as the horse that takes his owner to a ditch when the horse is in control. In relation to Paroh, it says כבד לב פרעה[4] as his heart was run by his כבד, his material aspect. 


A true king is one who is king over himself, in control of himself.[5] Examples include not overeating, not oversleeping, being in control of what his eyes see, utilizing his time properly and the like. This is someone who is led through his intellect, not his emotions and impulses. Just as in the parable mentioned above, for the wagon to function properly the driver (מח) must be in control, the same applies to a person. His intellect needs to be in control.[6] This is hinted to in the word מלך  as it is an acronym for מח, לב, כבד.[7] It is precisely in this sequence since the intellect should lead the emotion which is then followed by the material aspect.[8] In this way, we can understand why rabbis are called kings—רבנן איקרו מלכים.[9]


                In this light, we can comprehend what it says regarding the laws of a king, שום תשים עליך מלך[10]—set over yourself a king—that we should be in control. The next Pasuk there says not to return to Mitzrayim. This can be understood to mean don’t return to our own Mitzrayim, referring to our own constraints.[11] If we revert back to our negative traits such as anger, jealousy and the like then we are not in control of ourselves. Following this, it says a king shall have the Torah with him and he should read from it in order that he learn to fear Hashem…[12] Another interpretation is that a true king should always carry a Sefer Torah with him because through learning it and inculcating its teachings, it makes him aמלך  over himself as it says בראתי יצר הרע ובראתי לו תורה תבלין, I have created the evil inclination and the Torah as its antidote.[13]


There were Tzadikim that when breaking their fast after Yom Kippur would eat food that contained bones since this would give them control over their desire to eat after such a long fast.


A Nazir is one who is in control of his desires since he doesn’t drink wine.[14] Therefore, the wordנזיר  is rooted in נזר, crown,[15] just as a king wears a crown. Moreover, a crown rests above the head indicating that he transcended the physical by not being governed by his urges.


We find that Tzadikim are in control of theirלב  whereas the wicked are controlled by their לב.[16] In reference to the wicked, the Pesukim sayויאמר עשו בלבו, ויאמר ירבעם בלבו, ויאמר המן בלבו, אמר נבל בלבו.[17] In contrast, in regard to a Tzadik such as Dovid Hamelech it says ויאמר דוד אל לבו.[18] Dovid was saying a message to his heart whereas the wicked were dominated by means of their heart. בלבו means with his heart meaning his reason is controlled by his passions. אל לבו, to his heart means his reason controlling his passions. Another instance of this is at Matan Torah where it was כאיש אחד בלב אחד, as one man with one heart—starting from the איש, intellect.[19] In comparison to Mitzrayim the phrasing used is בלב אחד כאיש אחד, with one heart as one man,[20] as their starting point is the לב


We are told Bilaam could have cursed us in the moment (רגע) that Hashem gets angry, with the word כלם, destroy them.[21] However, Hashem reversed it into the wordמלך  as it says ותרועת מלך בו, the friendship of the King is in him.[22] In this way, the Daas Zekanim explains ויהפך ה' אלה-יך לך את הקללה לברכה, Hashem reversed the curse (Bilaam’s) to a blessing for you,[23] asכלם  in reverse spells מלך. Analyzing the word כלם, we notice it forms an acronym for כבד, לב, מח, the reverse order of the letters of מלך.

Rabbi Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander Ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. Rabbi Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications and is the author of the Sefer, Fascinating Insights: Torah Perspectives On Unique Topics. His writings inspire people across the spectrum of Jewish observance to live with the vibrancy and beauty of Torah. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

[1] See Tanya, chapter 9.

[2]כבד  means liver as well as heavy since the liver is the heaviest organ in the body. For this reason,כבד  refers to materialism.

[3] See Toras Moshe, Bo, s.v. והנה.

[4] Shemos 7:14. 

[5] See Ibn Ezra to Bamidbar 6:7. In fact, the Pasuk says טוב ארך אפים מגבור..., he who is slow to anger is better than a strong man and a master of his passions is better than a conqueror of a city (Mishlei 16:32).

[6] The head of a person is on the top of his body since that is what should be in control (intellect). This is in contrast to an animal where the heart and mind are horizontal to each other.

[7] See Zohar, 2, 153a and Nitzotzai Zohar there. See Toras Moshe, Bo, s.v. ובאולי.

[8] It comes as no surprise that the letters ofמלך  are in descending numerical value order (מ is 40,ל  is 30 andכ  is 20). It represents one who is in control of his intellect since there is an order. 

[9] Gittin 62a. 

[10] Devarim 17:15.

[11] Just as there is a land Mitzrayim there is also one in our personal lives (see Tanya, chapter 47). Each one of us has our own constrictions (see Tehillim 118:5. מצרים  is related to מצר, strait). Likewise, just as there is a Geula physically there is also a personal Geula as it says (Tehillim 69:19) קרבה אל נפשי גאלה, draw near to my soul, redeem it (Toldos Yaakov Yosef, Shemini, s.v. פן. Also Toldos Yaakov Yosef in Devarim, Shomer Emunim in Pischu Shearim, 19. See Teshuos Chein, Vaeira).

[12] Devarim 17:19.

[13] Kidushin 30b.

[14] See Bamidbar 6:3,4.

[15] As we say in the Zemer ברוך א-ל עליוןנזר על ראשו, crown on his head. נזיר  also means separation since he separates himself from desire (See Bamidbar 6:2, Rashi).    

[16] Breishis Rabba 67:8.

[17] Breishis 27:41, Melachim 1 12:26, Esther 6:6, Tehillim 14:1, 53:2.

[18] Shmuel 1, 27:1.

[19] Shemos 19:2 Rashi. The wordאיש  are the first letters for אדם ירא שמים.

[20] Shemos 14:10, Rashi.

[21] In fact, when Hashem threatened to destroy us after the rebellion of Korach, He said to Moshe ואכלה אתם כרגע, I will destroy them in a moment (Bamidbar 16:21). We see destruction (ואכלה) within the span of a moment (רגע).

[22] Avoda Zara 4b, Tosafos s.v. רגע. Bamidbar 23:21.

[23] Devarim 23:6. Daas Zekanim, Balak, 23:8.

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