Please provide some Torah-based perspectives on the topic of how appropriate and/or advisable it is for a regular Jew in this day and age to listen to his instincts, e.g. about practical matters involving the future. I am talking about something like a חוּשׁ, sense of feeling that something is going to happen, or someone is going to behave in a certain way. How much should one listen to it, and how much should one adjust one's plans and actions in response?

Imagine the person's חושים have been reliable in the past. Imagine there are some facts to support the חוש, but also perhaps some to support the contrary -- that is, it is not really known.

How would one be able to determine whether one's חוש is Ruach haKodesh; a result of the brain's independent organization of unconscious observations; or G-d forbid, an occasion of nonsensical compulsion or something spiritually undesirable?

Related. When Gut feeling and supposed Knowledge conflict

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    There is no ruah hakodesh today: judaism.stackexchange.com/a/68034/8775. – mevaqesh Dec 22 '17 at 19:24
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    The Gemara (BM 83b) records R’ Elazar son of R’ Shimon, addressing his gut, as saying that “if your doubts are [this accurate], your certainties all the more so!” (Emphasis mine.) So we see that even the Gemara he relied on his - quite literal - gut instinct. Given that we don’t actually pasken like R’ Elazar in that Gemara, I wonder how much you can read into that. – DonielF Dec 24 '17 at 4:46
  • @mevaqesh I think a lot of chasidim would disagree with you. I was taught (Lubavitch) that every Jew today has Ruach HaKodesh. This comes through, for one, at the moment of naming children. – SAH Dec 27 '17 at 6:44
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    @SAH I found the stories in the above link and printed them out to show him, the stories are 1. With he himself asking the Rebbe after a few dates if he should "close the shidduch" (agree to marry) the Rebbe told him ... only your heart can help you with that 2. Same thing by someone else with the previous Rebbe, the previous Rebbe asked him is his heart is pulled towards it, he said he is not sure, then he told told him to find a different shidduch, since for a shidduch your need the pulling of the heart – hazoriz Jan 2 '18 at 13:12
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    @SAH (using my intuition) I take it for what it is, 1 that it is true to a certain extent, 2 that it was advice to individual chassidim, 3 that I can learn from it, for me personally. (I do not use this as a fact for advice for others: I will not tell someone to drop a sidduch if he is not sure of his heart being pulled) – hazoriz Jan 7 '18 at 8:54

The Ramchal (in Mesilat Yesharim, especially chapters 2-3) has a more negative view of following intuition. However, after working on character, it can be possible to follow your intuition more.

His chapter about "watchfulness" (זהירות) compares someone who follows his habit (הרגל), without checking if his actions are good or bad, to a blind person walking alongside a river, who can easily fall. He interprets the instruction of the Talmud (Eruvin 13b) to "examine (יפשפש) one's deeds" and "feel (ימשמש) one's deeds" to require even checking the motives of his good actions in case there is even a small part of the action that isn't good. This world is compared to darkness (Bava Metsi'a 83b), and someone who doesn't check his actions won't see things as they truly are.

The Ramchal instead trusts the intellect (שכל). The difference is, I think, that trusting intuition is to trust yourself before you think about something, while trusting your intellect is to trust yourself after you think about it.

While the level of ruach hakodesh is at the end of the "path" that the Mesilat Yesharim follows, the Ramchal devotes to it only a few sentences in the last chapter. But chapter 10, on cleanliness (נקיות), is about making your nature "clean" of impure motivations. I think it might be better to describe his opinion on following intuition to be that it's a process: Only after reaching a level where your motivations are pure can you begin to trust your intuition. However, he doesn't expand on this last idea very much.

(A similar idea can be found in the note appended to Tomer Devora (written anonymously, but attributed to Rabbi Simcha Zisel Ziv in the book תנועת המוסר vol. 2). The Talmud (Berachot 33b) asks if fear of heaven is such an easy thing that Moses can say, "What does God want from you but fear of heaven..?" The Talmud answers that yes, for Moses it is an easy thing. This provokes the question about how this is relevant to anyone but Moses. His answer is that anyone can gain fear of heaven through thought and effort, and then it would be easy for him just like it was for Moses. And indeed, in his yeshiva in Kelm, the approach to self-improvement emphasized working on their character traits by slowly improving habits.)

Rabbi Avraham Eliyahu Kaplan, in "שתי דרכים" in the book בעקבות היראה (Hebrew, English translation) contrasts the approach of self-doubt in musar with self-trust in chasidut.

Rabbi Kaplan (a student of Slabodka, and clearly leaning towards the side of musar in this difference) describes the thought: "Maybe I'm fooling myself." This is clearly not coming from a point of view that values following one's intuition.

To quote a telling story from the English translation:

To illustrate with a story: Chassidim tell over about an encounter between Rav Shmuel of Lubavitch and Rav Yisrael Salanter in the days of summer, at a lodge in Germany.8 Every day they would need to draw water from the well located outside of the lodge. Rav Shmuel would travel with a large group and in a carriage, and Rav Yisrael would go alone, by foot. This gave rise to astonishment among the chassidim. A rumor emerged that Rav Yisrael was not pleased with the Rebbe’s carriage. People began searching for the reason, looking for some prohibition that might be involved in riding in the carriage. They assumed Rav Yisrael might suspect the presence of shatnez (a mixture of wool and linen) in the upholstery. One brazen chassid told this to the Rebbe. Rav Shmuel, in amazement, replied that the Shevus Yakov had declared this permissible. Subsequently when driving to the spa the Rebbe encountered Rav Yisrael going on foot in the same direction. He told the wagon driver to stop, and invited Rav Yisrael to enter the carriage. Jokingly he exclaimed, “It’s better to ride on the Shevus Yakov than to walk by foot!”


However, it had never even occurred to any of Rav Shmuel’s chassidim that Rav Yisrael was not concerned with possible shatnez in his carriage, but was instead concerned with the question of pride and arrogance.

He says that the early chasidim knew this, and even spoke about it (he quotes the book Keter Shem Tov for this), but this type of thought slowly left chasidut. It would be interesting to see an answer that spoke about intuition from the other perspective, but I'm not familiar enough with that literature to be able to include that aspect.

  • It should be noted that Ramhal himself believed himself the recipient of divine knowledge and discusses elsewhere how to know one is having a divine revelation (don't remember where) – mevaqesh Dec 27 '17 at 15:47
  • @mevaqesh PLEASE let me know if you ever find this. Thank you so much – SAH Dec 31 '17 at 18:21
  • @SAH Alright. I will let you know. – mevaqesh Dec 31 '17 at 18:59
  • @ba Thanks for this great answer. By the way. Did you include the Shevus Yakov story to show that Rav Yisrael trusted his intuition about the carriage, or something else? – SAH Jan 2 '18 at 11:56
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    @SAH (1) The story itself doesn't say, but the author brings this as an example of questioning your own motives, and the thought "maybe I'm fooling myself" ("יתכן שאני משלה את עצמי" - p. 6 on the Hebrew pdf; these words seem to have been omitted in the English translation, but come before "have I veered from the straight path?" in the translation). The point is that an average chasid (according to Rabbi Kaplan) wouldn't even consider that he is fooling himself. (2) Yes, but I didn't quote any source from within chasidut; my information on it came from Rabbi Kaplan's critique of it. – b a Jan 2 '18 at 12:43

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