In 1985, Guinness World Records accepted that a ten-year-old girl had answered every question correctly on an adult Stanford-Binet IQ test, a result that gave her a corresponding unearthly IQ of 228.  Marilyn Vos Savant became widely known as the smartest person alive.  Marilyn’s husband says Savant’s gift is to be able to approach questions dispassionately, without our usual fears or hopes for a particular answer. Given her talent, she is the author of the Ask Marilyn column of Parade Magazine for her 30 years, answering questions posed by readers.

There was a backlash to the Marilyn Vos Savant phenomenon.  People began to wonder why Savant has found no higher purpose beyond answering questions like “is a lark really happy?” and “will my wife go deaf from using a blow dryer every day?” Yes, those are actual questions.

We love testing for intelligence: IQ Tests, SAT tests, Jeopardy, and the like.  We even measure human value based upon our intelligence. Political Scientist Charles Murray argued that intelligence test scores were both a good indicator of social success and strongly determined by our genes. The implication? that an unequal society was inevitable and, according to Murray, fair. Murray co-authored the Bell Curve in 1994. His thesis warned that America’s fertility policy subsidizes births among poor women, who are also disproportionately at the low end of the intelligence distribution. He worried that a black, inner-city “cognitive underclass” was having too many children.  Murray’s work exposed a dark underbelly of focusing on intelligence as the factor in valuing our lives.

The late Rabbi Harold Shulweis wrote in the 1990s that IQ had become the holy divining rod. “Nothing is more fateful than that single number that ranks us, that holds in its hands the measure of our mental worth and holds the secret of our future. The IQ is our life’s verdict, our “unetaneh tokef.” Who will succeed and who will fail? Who will be enriched and who will be impoverished? Who will be elevated and who will be depressed? All of this is written and sealed in the numeric IQ decree.” From Rabbi Shulweis we learn that society’s focus on measuring intelligence is dehumanizing.u

Professor John Rust of the University of Cambridge said: “Tests of IQ have never simply been about our ability to solve problems,” “There has always been the idea that people with high IQs are actually more advanced, more evolved, closer to the human destiny, if you believe that sort of thing, closer to God. But in fact, all you have really got is answers to questions.” The IQ-SAT approach is the mismeasurement of our lives, a modern form of idolatry worshiping numbers. Your goal in life should not be that you want to be more like a computer. Rather, your goal should be that you want to be more like God.

No wonder that there is one question that has always haunted Marilyn Vos Savant: ‘what could she have done better with her life’ than answering questions in a Sunday newspaper magazine?

A new measure of human existence emerged in the 1980s – Emotional Intelligence.  What exactly is emotional intelligence? Emotional intelligence (otherwise known as emotional quotient or EQ) is the ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict.

A study, published in the Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, found that emotional intelligence was a stronger predictor of entrepreneurial success than general mental ability. General mental ability refers to the cognitive skills necessary for higher-order thinking, such as reasoning and problem-solving. Success in business, by contrast, requires the ability to recognize, understand, and effectively manage one’s emotions. Both mental ability and emotional intelligence were important but emotional intelligence was by far the most determinative factor.

In the 1990s Daniel Goleman wrote the book, Emotional Intelligence. Goleman was a science writer for the New York Times and a Harvard-trained psychologist where he studied how little intelligence tests told us about what it takes to be successful in life.

Goleman argued that it was not cognitive intelligence that guaranteed business success but emotional intelligence. He described emotionally intelligent people as those with these characteristics:

  1. They were good at understanding their own emotions (self-awareness)
  2. They were good at managing their emotions (self-management)
  3. They were empathetic to the emotional drives of other people (social awareness)
  4. They were good at handling other people’s emotions (social skills)
  5. They were passionate about work for internal reasons (internal motivation).

Hallmarks of emotional intelligence include a strong drive to achieve, optimism even in the face of failure and organizational commitment.

While the intelligence quotient and the emotional quotient had their turns as predictors of success, another measure of our lives emerged in the 1990s, Spiritual Intelligence. Emotional intelligence involves understanding one’s emotions and addressing them in a healthy way that honors all concerned. Spiritual intelligence lifts this awareness to a higher level, to a place where we can connect with our divine nature and the truth that unites us all.

Instead of chalking up points for what we know or building financial capital as a measure of successful lives, begin with the true measure of happiness and fulfillment – your spiritual capital.

Spiritual intelligence transcends the false self (ego) by revealing the true self (soul). Spiritual intelligence is experiencing the qualities of the soul, in the form of peace, joy, love, and compassion. The spiritually intelligent person is skilled at witnessing and listening, ego-less perception, ego-less motives, wisdom, intuition, integrity, inherent self-esteem, and creativity. Sounds easy, no? These characteristics result in better life performance. Consequently, EQ combined with the SQ is more powerful than EQ on its own, in the absence of SQ. Thus the essential difference between EQ and SQ is the identity shift from ego to soul, which provides access not only to the qualities of the soul but also to the soul’s capabilities.

You may be wondering what this has to do with Judaism. From my perspective, Judaism has all along taught that Spiritual Intelligence is the building block of a satisfying and successful life.  It is a life where faith in a higher purpose motivates our actions.  It is a life where relationships are mutually satisfying and nurturing.  It is a life where we are eager to help the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and the ill.  Judaism asks you to focus first on your relationships with partners, family, and community seeing yourself as God’s agent, compelling you to do more.

I don’t expect you to absorb all of this today, so I promise to follow up in blog posts and classes on these essential elements of spiritual intelligence and their basis in Torah and Jewish thought.  If ever you needed a reason to delve into Judaism, I present this hypothesis to you.  Before there was IQ or EQ, there was Judaism, urging us toward the most important quality of our existence, Spiritual Intelligence. Our Torah is a source of spiritual intelligence that leads to winning ways of life.

These are challenging times.  Climate change, coronavirus, economic disruption – Did you dare read the Washington Post today?  It is hard to relax and get good rest when we are all under stress. However, we can’t best function to improve the world when we are both physically mentally, and spiritually exhausted!

I offer one critically important example of spiritual intelligence for you to try. Rest.

Rest is essential to your good health.  There are other forms of rest besides sleep.

In addition to sleep, there are spiritual practices like prayer, meditation or contemplative walks. These modalities of rest can be energizing. Prayer is not merely reciting rote statements of faith capped by blessings. Prayer can be what the Hasidim call “hitbodedut”, a walking conversation with God. You probably do this in a limited fashion already. Haven’t you talked to God when late to an appointment and looking for a parking spot? Or when a relative has been ill and you ask God for healing?

There is a long tradition of meditation in Judaism. In the Talmud, Tractate Brachot, we learn that the pious ones would get up early to meditate before beginning prayer. Torah beckons us to meditate on its words. Kabbalah asks us to meditate to deepen our relationship with God.

Torah also commands purposeful rest. This commandment is of great interest this year. Every seventh year the fields of the land of Israel are to lie fallow. This is known as the shmitah year and 5782 is such a year. Scientifically, a respite from farming is important to replenishing a field for future crops. Yet Torah offers another reason. In parshat Vayehlech, Deut. 31:10, Moses instructed the people that every seventh year. the year set for remission; the people are to gather so that the Torah can be read aloud to them. By this understanding, a reason to let the fields lie fallow is so that the people can reduce time devoted to work and make time for the study of the Torah.

As we don’t live in an agrarian society, the cycle of planting and lying fallow is unfamiliar to us. In our world workers spend more hours than ever at their employment.  During Covid times, the home has become a primary workplace for many. Vacations are a challenge to plan and execute. More workers are foregoing their vacation leave than ever before. We work to excess, and rest is too often a result of exhaustion.

Let’s be inspired in this shmitah year to build spiritual intelligence.  Let’s start by creating opportunities for meaningful rest. Learn to meditate or take time to simply be. Whether you walk in nature or relax without distractions, give yourself the gift of you. And make this shmitah year even more meaningful by adding Torah to your days. I’ll study with you if you want.  I love talking Torah. It is a blueprint to a better life and improving the world. We just have to commit to improving our spiritual intelligence. May you be strengthened this year and strengthen each other, as you improve your spiritual intelligence to create a better life for you and a better world for us all.

Rabbi Evan Krame