0 Posted by - November 6, 2014 - Breishit, Parsha


Parashat Vayera

did you do when your teacher or Rabbi asked you, in grade school, to “put on your thinking caps?” What does a thinking cap look like, anyway? After reading this, you will know the dimensions of the thinking cap and will be familiar with its instruction manual.

The first person to have a thinking cap was none other than your great grandfather, Avraham Avinu. The Sefer Yetzirah (6;7) writes that when Avraham came into the world, הביט , וראה וחקר והבין וחצב וחקק ועלתה בידו להבין הבריאה וכו’   He gazed , and saw, and examined, and he understood , … and he grasped the Creation. Born to Terah, who was an idol manufacturer and a top-ranking officer in Nimrod’s pagan kingdom,  there was no way that Avraham could have known that G-d exists. He would have to draw that conclusion and recognize His existence on his own. He needed to “invent” a religion. There was no Aish website, Chabbad, outreach, birthright fellowship, or Shabbaton. Avraham had to figure it all out himself. He needed to think. And the Sefer Yetzirah tells us exactly how he did that. Six elements to the thinking cap:

הביט  means to gaze. You cannot make any observations until you choose a subject to focus on, and then study it. If you need to think about something, make sure that you can “gaze”, or focus, at its properties, to the best of your ability. If you have a riddle you need to crack, if you need a solution to a life problem, put it all down on paper, in its finest detail, in its rawest detail. If you need to focus on what someone is saying and give him carefully considered feedback, write down notes on the conversation. Only then can you gaze at the matter or concept and an intelligent remark may just occur to you. Only if you put down the questions on paper, can you begin to think. The motor that gets thought moving, that brings about focus, is the art of asking the right question.  Avraham asked a few questions, Who created the world? Who was first in the world? Who is the strongest in the world? Why is there a world? That’s how  he arrived at the first step of the thinking process, enabling him to  come up with the true answer.

וראה and he saw. You can understand something only when you translate it into your own words. “In other words, …”. We all share the same world, but each person has a different perspective from which he views it.  Avraham did not just ask a question or look deeply into something. He came up with an explanation of Creation, the only one that can be true. Part of the thinking process is noticing what is important and significant to you, and how you see and interpret things. One needs to be ready to fail in his first perception, in order to go on to step three…

וחקר and he examined. After you take your stand, forming your view and perspective, you need to examine it. Is there another way to look at this? Which explanation do I feel is the truest?

והבין and he understood, he comprehended. He was able to understand it at a level from which he could make deductions . מבין דבר מתוך דבר. Allow me to explain, with an example.

Let us take flight, for instance. One of my favorite museums is the Smithsonian Air and Space museum in Washington, D.C.  Aviation pioneers pondered for generations how to make the first form of flight. Birds fly, but till the Wright brothers came around, people believed that the unique element necessary for aviary flight was flapping wings. Once humans discovered that the decisive element of flight is air pressure, the gentle curve of the top of the wing that matters – that the air traveling faster over that curved top creates lift- they revealed the real essence of flight. Now, all we need is a propeller and wings, and up we go! We can leave the flapping to the birds, who never discovered engines. It took us humans many years till we comprehended the essence of flight, i.e. aerodynamics , and disregarded the flapping of the wings.

So , הביט  would mean – How can we fly? וראה  would mean – I see that birds can fly. I assume that it is because they can flap wings, and I can’t. וחקר- would mean to examine the essence of flight- Is it the flapping wings or the aerodynamics? והבין – would mean to try the aerodynamics without the flapping wings and see what happens.

Whenever we come across a “blank wall” in life, in any area, life issues, learning blocks, lack of creativity, it is because we are not going through these steps properly. We are either not asking the right question, not taking a perspective but just saying “I have no idea”, not examining our perspective and beliefs, or not understanding the essence of what is bothering us. Once we figure out the essence of what we need to think about and discover, once we have one part of the solution, we are ready for stages five and six…

וחצב- similar to the word stonecutting, and חקק  to inscribe in stone. There is no better way for you to comprehend something than by writing it down. Arranging your thoughts, your conclusions, provides you with a deeper understanding than you have when your ideas are in disarray, floating around in your head. Writing is also a form of passing on the information to others. If you want to know something well, teach it.

What does it matter if we use our thinking caps or not? One of the proofs brought in the Hovot Halevavot that we are the Chosen Nation is that the average Jew is always more successful than the average gentile. The percentage of Jews who won the Nobel Peace Prize is much higher than the percentage of Jews in the world.   Gentiles wonder why such a small percentage of Jews, out of the world’s population, have been responsible for a disproportionately large number of inventions. I believe that G-d allows His People to be more successful within the laws of nature, in line with the aforementioned elements of the thinking caps.

Have you ever noticed that a Jew always answers a question with a question? Jews love questions, and questions are the springboard for thinking. It could be that Jews adapted this style of thinking from the way of the Talmud, which is in question-answer format. South Koreans teach Talmud to their students to demonstrate this way of thinking, for they believe that this method is our secret to making inventions and thinking effectively, our secret to success.  עדות ×”’ נאמנה מחכימת פתי . The Torah is truthful, enlightening the simpleton. In fact,  the six elements of the Jewish thinking caps forms the essence of Talmudic back and forth discussion.   What could be a better inheritance than a great grandfather’s thinking cap?



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