The Why Guy| August 3, 2021
I’ve come to the realization that there’s no good answer to the why; there’s only the question.
“Behold, I am giving before you today a blessing and a curse.”
his pasuk clearly states that the stakes are high. The righteous will be rewarded, the wicked punished.
Is there no middle ground? Can’t we just be average? But no, the Torah’s message is that we shouldn’t live our lives in neutral. “See!” the Torah demands of us. Pay attention! Live life with focus. Even when doing average, mundane activities, do them in a way that sanctifies Hashem’s name. (Rabbi Mordechai Rhine)
Everything I need to know I’ve learned in Mommy School. Or so I tell my kids. They picture a huge institution full of august professors (all mommies, of course) passing down age-old wisdom that makes their mommy one of the wisest women in the world. At least I hope that’s what they picture.
But there’s one course that’s missing from the curriculum of Mommy School, and personally, I think it’s one of the most critical. I need a course on “The Wiles of Why 101.” Course syllabus: 101 ways to answer why.
Shloime, my youngest, is going through his why stage. Why can’t I have chocolate for breakfast? Why do I need to wear shoes when cats don’t ? Why do I need sleep? Why is today Tuesday?
The last has me stumped. Because yesterday was Monday? Honestly, I don’t know why today is Tuesday; it just is! The questions run the gamut of philosophy (why was Yitzi born before me?) to technology (why can’t a computer think by itself?).
It doesn’t even matter what my answer is. Professional mommy that I am, I’ve come to the realization that there’s no good answer to the why; there’s only the question.
On a recent summer vacation, my wife and I were walking pleasantly on a river dock where we met a gentleman fishing, named Gary. We exchanged pleasantries and small talk about the weather. As the breeze rustled the leaves, I said to him, “You must enjoy fishing.”
He nodded. “Very much,” he said. Then he added, “You’re probably wondering why I’m not catching any fish.” Before I could reply, he showed me his supply box. All his hooks had been straightened and blunted. “I go fishing to relax,” he explained. “The last thing that I want to do is catch a fish. Then I’d have to clean it and cook it. When I’m on vacation I like to eat out. So, I straighten the hooks before I set them in the water.”
Yesterday was particularly frustrating. All the kids had jumped on Shloime’s bandwagon and the questions came fast and furious.
Why can’t we go to the pool today? Why do I dream? Why does summer have to end? Why can’t I stay up past midnight? Why do I have to take out the garbage? Why do I have two eyes if I can only see one thing ? Why can’t I cross my ears like I can cross my eyes? Why can’t I eat grass like cows? Why are cows fleishig but their milk isn’t? Why can’t we all fly to America? Why can’t you just print more money on your printer?
Gary’s insightful comment stayed with me. He wasn’t fishing to catch fish but to relax. This week’s parshah demands — “see!” — pay attention to why we do things.
Let’s give some examples. Why do people work? To make money, of course. Then why work even when you have enough money? Or after retirement? Why volunteer? Obviously for many, a job isn’t just a means of making money; it gives a sense of purpose, an opportunity to make a difference.
Consider prayer as another example. Why do we pray? Some would answer, “To get what you need.” Yet the Jewish response is that prayer isn’t about getting what we want, but about communication with Hashem.
This parshah is exhorting us to pay attention to the why. The obvious reason isn’t necessarily the real reason at all. Some people don’t go fishing to catch fish.
I struggled to answer each one. I’m an imaginative, educated, creative person. Surely, I could provide answers that’ll satisfy these junior philosophers.
Yet no matter what I responded, a new why sprung into place. Now Shloime wanted to know, Why is Mommy shorter than Tatty?
Finally, in desperation, I flipped the question on him. “Why do you think Mommy’s shorter than Tatty?”
Shloime blinked. “Because.”
Why didn’t I think of that one?
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 754)
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