"I Don't Know" - Thursday, June 7

Thu, 06/07/2018 - 1:31pm -- Rabbi Shalom Lewis

Rabbi Shalom LewisIn the parsha this week, a man is discovered gathering wood on Shabbos. He is brought to Moses for adjudication, but something unexpected happens. Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses our great teacher, the author of the Torah, the 40-day Sinai dweller, shrugs his shoulders and admits that he is clueless. He needs to check with the Big Boss. Soon after his divine consult, Moses returns and tells the folks what to do with the Sabbath violator. What is remarkable about this little episode, and often overlooked, is that Moses was not embarrassed to say, ‘I don’t know’. His reticence to pass any immediate judgement was not in the privacy of his tent, but in the midst of the camp. His puzzlement was a public event and yet Moses admitted ignorance of the law. What a powerful message to those of us who feel compelled to always supply an answer to a question, even if we don’t know what we’re talking about. Though I possess no statistics, I’d venture to say that most folks find saying ‘I don’t know’ a near impossible task. Somehow it is perceived as a sign of incompetence or diminishment. And yet, when we label someone a ‘Know it all’ it is far from a compliment. Even when we call someone ‘All knowing’, it is more sarcastic mockery then praise. Perhaps there is an unspoken notion that having every answer is a form of arrogance. That being the fount of all knowledge is unseemly. Tucked into our culture I sense that humanity demands a bit of ignorance. That imperfection is indeed commendable, our respect extended not to the chattering Brainiac, but to the head scratcher who confesses to not knowing. Moses serves as a remarkable exemplar of modesty when we are tempted to respond to every inquiry, to pompously intrude into every discussion, to confidently profess expertise in every arena. But to be honest, this entire discussion has been rendered moot by technology. Moses turned to God, we turn to Google. ‘I don’t know’ is a phrase that has been rendered meaningless and obsolete. Today we are all scholars with the utterance, ‘Google it up’. God has some stiff competiton.

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