A child calls out to his mother from his room in the middle of the night. “Mommy, I can’t find my markers!” They had been right there next to him when he went to sleep. His mother hears from her room, hoping he will quiet down and go back to sleep. After awhile he stops calling her and begins to sob loudly.
Her first urge is to respond angrily with: “Why did you wake me up in the middle of the night?!” But wait! Other thoughts come to mind. “I love him so much. I don’t want him to have a negative experience where he will grow up and remember he was yelled at in the middle of the night. I want him to have a positive experience.”
She goes to him in his room, gently rubbing his back, comforting him. “Why did you think you couldn’t come to my room?” “Daddy doesn’t let.” “Sh…It’s okay. I know where your markers are… It’s upsetting to think you’ve lost your markers…You know, when you don’t find something, you can go to sleep and look for it in the morning.”
The word da’at in Hebrew is a special kind of knowing. It connotes at once ideas diverse as intimacy (Adam knew Hava his wife) and discriminating discernment (to distinguish between the holy and the profane…). It is a deep, intuitive knowing. Let us say the soul knows. This knowing is done with one’s whole being. It translates and transforms beliefs into actions.
Da’at is the kind of knowing portrayed in the above scenario.
The mother is in touch with and allowing herself to feel her emotions, while at the same time she controls and guides her emotions. She doesn’t let her emotions control her. She is there with her child, feeling his pain, yet she is also removed from it. She sees what he doesn’t see – that he can look for his markers in the morning.
With da’at there is complete synthesis of thought, emotion and action. Where da’at is employed all of the nagging “how” questions about how to navigate between the world of self and other fall away.
For example one question often asked is about how it’s possible to be in control of one’s emotions without rigidly controlling them. In the situation described emotions were felt, not pushed aside. Space was made for them. Anger was naturally present, only love conquered it. Irritation gently passed, making way for compassion and tenderness.
Another question commonly asked is how can a person have empathy for another without getting sucked into the others negativity. In the situation described above the mother sensed and cared about the child’s emotions. She was with him in that place. But she also saw something else and she brought that “something” in, creating positively charged energy.
The synthesis takes place both intra-personally and inter-personally. A good response will always be a way that is good for everyone involved.
It would not have been good for the mother to be rigidly controlling of her own emotions. It would have been good for neither the child nor the mother to lash out in anger.
Instead, the child was comforted and the mother didn’t lose her cool. We can know it’s the right thing to do when, on a deep level of knowing, it feels right.