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Listen to your ‘second brain’ to find emotional intimacy

Dear Rabbi Bernath,

How do you know when it’s your gut telling you something, and when it’s just an upset stomach?

Personally, my natural inclination is to date someone until they end it. But sometimes, afterwards, I don’t feel regret, but rather relief, and at those times, in retrospect, I can see that “my gut” was telling me that things weren’t right. My question is: how do I tell beforehand?



Dear Sabrina,

Thank you for your question. It opens up the doors to some wonderfully interesting concepts about human physiology and an essential point about the nature of relationships.

If you do some mild sleuthing on the Internet, you’ll discover that the human digestive system is called the “second brain.” We have been talking about “gut feelings” for decades, but there is some fascinating recent science behind the term. The gut has an incredible network of neurons that communicates with the brain in ways that we are only beginning to understand.

Kabbalah anticipated this discovery with its analysis of the 10 divine sefirot, or channels, if you will. Since man was made “in God’s image,” both our bodies and our souls are made up of these 10 elements.

So, what does the gut correspond to? While the upper chest — the heart, lungs and respiratory system — are mainly associated with the three emotional sefirot (that’s why your heart rate and breath change with your feelings), everything under your diaphragm is connected with a different set of sefirot that doesn’t get discussed very much.

In Kabbalah, there is a set of sefirot that separates our emotions from our deeds and gives us the ability to measure and analyze what our next steps should be in overcoming an obstacle. It presents us with three options: netzach (victory) — to press forward and conquer our obstacles; hod (humility) — to retreat and focus inward; or yesod (foundation) — to ignore everything and stick to our principles.

In relationship terms, when there’s trouble, the three options play out like this: press forward and fix the problems; retreat and re-evaluate (perhaps break up); or stay committed and hope things change around you. For some reason, you tend towards door number 3.

But sometimes that’s the wrong move, and your gut, which is responsible for these decisions about dealing with obstacles, knows it. Maybe you should be trying to fix the problems, or perhaps leave on your own sometimes. It’s not just a stomach ache.

So, how can you tell when your gut is telling you something beforehand? In order to answer that, we need to figure out why you’re always going down the path of yesod (blind commitment) because for some reason, until it’s over, you’re wilfully blind to what your body is telling you.

Are you afraid to be alone? Do you have trauma from when you once said no? I can’t tell from here, but you’ll need to figure that out. A good friend or therapist should be able to help.

What I can do from here is to analyze something that seemed to be missing from your question.

What was missing? A goal. Why are you dating?

Relationships are supposed to lead to emotional intimacy, the ability to share your inner self with someone else without needing them to reciprocate.

Emotional intimacy is what makes us no longer alone in this world. When God created a mate for Adam, He justified it by saying “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).

That’s the goal of relationships, marriage and everything that comes along with it. But your dating comes across as aimless, to be honest.

When you’re dating, there should be one question on your mind: do I feel like I am moving towards emotional intimacy with this person? If the answer is yes, you know what to do. If the answer is no, then waiting for them to end it is not a healthy choice.

Rabbi Yisroel Bernath

Have an emotional intimacy question for Rabbi Bernath? Email him at

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