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‘I Don’t Know’
Tue, 03/11/2014 - 20:00
Special To The Jewish Week
Rabbi David Wolpe
Rabbi David Wolpe

The human mind inclines toward certainty. Having been involved in my share of arguments, beginning with the childhood dinner table (an excellent place to learn both the skills of debate and the fine art of going only slightly too far), I know that arguing is mostly a process of persuading oneself that one was right in the first place. Who has not heard scientists extol the certainties of scientific knowledge, religious people astonishingly secure in their understanding of God, and all of us pronounce others “simply wrong” with no more prompting or expertise than the skill of thumping a fist and nodding a head?

The Talmud advises we teach our tongues to say, “I don’t know.” But in a world in which knowledge proliferates at an astonishing pace, we are always claiming to know things we really don’t. We offer each other diet tips, medical remedies, consumer advice, spiritual guidance, and sagely nod our heads about the foolish choices of others.

Next time you are very sure of your position, try to argue the other side (a useful exercise), remember that there are always many more ways of being wrong than right, and spend at least a moment in the difficult but enlightening place of self-doubt. It will be illuminating. I’m certain of it.

Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe.

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To some people, having a Halachic Orthodox practice presented as the correct way to proceed, is repulsive. If someone expresses that a Halachic Orthodox tradition prevail, that alone is considered provocation!

Why don't all the doubters acknowledge that not everyone can be a leader of the generation. Let those who are doubting teachers show some humility, and resist the fervent cries from the less than educated mobs. Popularity gained by abandoning Torah guidelines is not favored in Heaven.

Educating fellow Jews our brothers and sisters, our own flesh and blood truly should not be labeled as "hate" for on the contrary those who teach true Halachic Orthodoxy are more than doctors saving lives, they are human "angels" Why would someone persist, in the face of humiliating rejection, to teach the correct path, if not for love of G-D and of fellow Jews? Love is the only reason, not hate.

Nice! God bless Rabbi David Wolpe.

Although I am a Christian, I always share your pearls of wisdom on FB with my friends. You are incredibly intuitive and a wise Rabbi. Thanksabunch from me, your Christian bud!

We often ignore the limits of our knowledge -- whether in religion, science, or society. Each of us has experiences and psychology that shape his or her viewpoint, and our own viewpoints seem so luminously obvious that we can't imagine anyone else thinking differently. Others think the same about us.

At least half of what we think we know is probably wrong. Some of the rest is misinterpreted or incomplete. At the end, we are left with a golden sliver of real truth that, G-d willing, helps us move forward and correct our errors.

But we can't correct our errors if we don't believe we've made any. Humility is another aspect of honesty.

A wonderful suggestion. Our dinner table was similar, mine as a child and then that of mine as a parent. My children tell me now how useful those debates were. My wife didn't always get it.

On another point entirely, have you seen the recent article in the South Florida SunSentinel regarding the edjewcation station bus, the traveling Hebrew School classroom? Worth looking at.

The left brain hemisphere, which controls much of our language function in right-handed people, "likes" certainty and mutually exclusive dichotomous positions (black vs. white, male vs. female, up vs. down). It also can try to take over, pushing the more inclusive and ambiguity-tolerant right hemisphere out of the way. For a fascinating discussion of this, check out the work of Dr. Iain McGilchrist. He has a TED talk on YouTube and a wonderful book called "Master and Emissary." It will give you a whole new take on how we see and interact with the world and one another.