Random Musing before Shabbat-Vayishlakh 5769 – A Fish Called Wonder

Eight years ago, I wrote about how this quote from A. J. Heschel’s "Man Is Not Alone" can be somewhat helpful to me when I’m trying to deal with the many difficult passages in the Torah (not to mention all of life’s difficult passages)

"Wonder, rather than doubt, is the root of knowledge."

This quote seems to

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have worked its way deep into my psyche. I find it cropping up often in my own thoughts, and also quite often I share the quote with others in a discussion. It happened again just the other day. I was involved in a discussion about being in a place of not knowing, of being unsure. It seems only natural for us to be fearful of "not knowing."

"Not knowing" isn’t always the same as having doubt. Doubt, perhaps, can be thought of as "not knowing" if you are certain about something. One can have doubt about something whether or not they actually know of or about that something.

In 5761 I wrote that I first came upon this quote from "Man Is Not Alone" while searching for ways to deal with my troubled feelings regarding the horrible acts committed by Shimon and Levi in this week’s Torah portion. My though process led me to see that while doubt is a negative, wonder is a positive. So, in examining such difficult passages such as the rape of Dinah, subsequent mass murder by two of her brothers, and Yaakov’s indifference to all but his reputation, I began asking more "why did…" rather than "why didn’t…" questions.

Looking back, I recognize this can be naught but a semantic exercise. What really is the difference between asking "why did x do y?" and "why didn’t x do z instead?" Both are speculative. Why would one be a superior approach to the other? However, when it comes to "y" we know that "x" did it. When it comes to "z" we have no evidence-we have *only* speculation. In the former case, we have both knowledge *and* speculation. So perhaps it isn’t just a matter of semantics. Working from a fact and speculation is surely better than simply working from speculation, isn’t it? Or perhaps you *doubt* that? Maybe you should trying *wondering* about it instead.

Eight years ago I wrote: "This scientific age of reason that we live in seems to predispose us to be doubters. Yet, when one examines the works of the truly great scientists, one realizes that their motivation for seeking knowledge is indeed wonder. Much of what we do in this modern age has been corrupted into matters of hubris. Of proving we can do things (like send people to the moon.) This is a response to doubt. As sure as someone doubts a thing can be done, someone will accept the challenge. Should one climb Everest or K2 to prove it can be done, or because of the wonderment inherent in what you encounter on the way up and down, and at the top? (Or, apropos to my last musing, perhaps I should say ups and downs?)

Consider the difference in these statements:

I have doubts about the existence of G"d.

I wonder if G"d exists?

The former might result in you or someone trying to prove or disprove G"d’s existence – something that science simply cannot do. The latter leaves you open to a realm of possibilities. Doubt creates only uncertainties. Wonder creates possibilities.

Appropriately enough, the film version of John Patrick Shanley’s play "Doubt." opens today. In the stage version, which Shanley deftly subtitled "A Parable," there’s a wonderful line delivered by one of the main characters, Sister Aloysius in responding to a complaint from one of the other nuns who has been having trouble sleeping: "Maybe we’re not supposed to sleep well," she says.

While I think the character of Sister Aloysius has a point – one that I often make myself in referencing all of the apparent inconsistencies and troubling texts in the Torah – I think what it is that is keeping you up at night matters. I think I’d much prefer to lose sleep from being in an state of awe and wonder than from being in a state of doubt or uncertainty.

Of course, Merriam-Webster proceeds to blow my whole approach out of the water, as if defines the verb form of wonder thus:

1 a: to be in a state of wonder b: to feel surprise 2: to feel curiosity or doubt <wondering about the future>

So now I’m beginning to doubt that whole wonder thing. (Or am I wondering about it?)

The whole story of the rape of Dinah is in the Torah for some purpose. Perhaps that purpose is to simply discomfort us, to cause us to lose sleep, to doubt about the certainty of our moral choices. There’s no *doubt* I’m going to be *wondering* about that this Shabbat. I hope you will too.

Shabbat Shalom, Adrian

P.S. – My apologies for the awful pun in titling this musing. I just couldn’t resist.

©2008 by Adrian A. Durlester

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About migdalorguy

Jewish Educator & Musician, Technology Nerd and all around nice Renaissance guy
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