Up till now, Purim was for me no more than a nice children’s holiday. The holiday when all efforts go into making it fun for my son as we sew/build/create his costume. When I take heaps of photos of our school kids and wipe a tear of wonder for their creativeness.
I am not the most knowledgeable person where it comes to Judaism. My education on this subject is sorely lacking, for not only was I not brought up in Jewish tradition, but my mother (blessed be her memory) was an aggressive atheist. Her religion was that insane Soviet invention called “Scientific atheism”. I was also raised by an agnostic father who, on the one hand, grew up in the same Soviet insanity, but on the other remembered well his Jewish father and how they went together to the Synagogue.
Purim and Yom Kippur
Last Friday, the end of this Purim, after a long period (since Yom Kippur) that for various reasons I could not go to our wonderful synagogue of the conservative community Minyan Mishpachti Masorti in Kfar Vradim, and finally I went to Shabbat prayers.
Between prayers, our Rabbi Nathalie Lestreger has spoken of something that was new and enlightening for me. Perhaps to you, it will be nothing new, but I could see a connection to my own beliefs and practices, which I teach myself on Quality Assurance. The Rabbi’s words have touched upon a connection between Purim and Yom Kippur, the Atonement day, which, as said the Sages, shall be the only two holidays left in the days of Enlightenment to come. The two most important holidays in Judaism, it appears. I shall bring here my own interpretation and understanding of this idea.
Naturally, I never questioned the utmost importance of Yom Kippur. But Purim? One of the two most important holidays in Judaism? Even though it is a much later holiday and isn’t even mentioned in the Torah?
It appears that the two holidays are, at first glance, a mirror image of each other, but on a closer look it is clear they complement each other to make a whole.
Yom Kippur is a holiday for sober contemplation, for soul-searching, for reflection. It is a day when we abstain from everything material and physically enjoyable and for the highest possible focus on our soul. A day for us to surrender all that we are and await the sentence from above. A day we confess and own our transgressions and shortcomings and strive to leave behind all our failures from the past year in order to improve in the next. A day when we long for enlightenment.
While Purim is a holiday of one big joyous festival, merriment and laughter. It is a day when we are required to forget our troubles, to shamelessly delight in our victories. Not only do we not contemplate our imperfections but we are to forget who we are, to assume a different identity by wearing a carnival costume. Not only do we not give up material things – we are to revel in dancing, good and sweet foods and wine. Not only do we not engage in soul-searching – we are to drink “until we don’t know”.
What does that mean: “until we don’t know”?
Until now, not really investing much time in thinking about it, I have simply accepted the traditional interpretation: get free and relinquish control, until you know not the difference between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai”, analyze and control social situations etc. Or the popular understanding that we are to drink until we’re drunk, when we know not what’s left and what’s right, know not ourselves, know not good and evil. As I said, I grew up in the USSR, I have close and personal experience of drunken “not knowing”. If there is anything I truly dislike, it’s this drunkenness, and the thought of connecting it to a Jewish holiday really bothered me ever since I have learned of it.
But now, this Shabbat following Purim in the Jewish year 5778, when I thought our Rabbi’s words through, I realized that the interpretation was erroneous, and the misunderstanding stems from a misinterpretation of the word “know”. And to convey its meaning properly I need to clarify a couple of concepts.
The mind and the spirit
There is no Hebrew word for “mind”. It is not intellect, awareness, wisdom, although “intellect” seems closest. It is the place where thoughts appear and develop. It is the learning, analyzing, contemplating place. It’s what we mean by seeing “in our mind’s eye”. There dwell the logic, analytical thinking, studying which brings us the scientific “knowledge”. I shall call it henceforth the intellectual side, for simplicity.
We know today that there is a part in our brains directly connected to analytical thinking and scientific approach, and there is a part connected to creativity, imagination, and intuition. The Western world of today places too much emphasis on this logical scientific thinking part and too little on creativity, developing imagination, intuitive and compassionate communication between people, what we may call the “spirit”, not to confuse with the soul, I’ll touch on that later. I shall call it the spiritual side.
One direct result of these emphases of our time is that highly intellectual-minded people dismiss the highly spiritual-minded ones, for not being “logical”; whereas the highly spiritual-minded ones dismiss the intellectual-minded, for missing the true meaning of our existence in this world. The reason for this is the completely opposite ways intellectual and the spiritual sides work, and we must learn to operate both these mechanisms. If we only learned to operate in the intellectual way – we cannot understand the spiritual one and vice versa.
The intellectual, scientific, logical side receives information in the following way: “When you prove to me this is true – I shall accept it”. Therefore, scientific thinking requires proof first. This is the reason for the now popular statement that the burden of proof lies on the one bringing a new idea. It is a completely scientific and academic statement.
The spiritual, emotional, intuitive side receives information in the very opposite manner: “I shall accept it – and then see that it is true”. If you will, the best reflection of this mechanism can be witnessed in the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai in the book of Exodus 24:7: “And they said: all that the Lord hath spoken will we do and hear”. This confused tribe of people who have only just come out of Egypt where they lived for over 400 years; who can barely remember the God of their fathers; who was surrounded by Egyptian idols for 16 generations; who knows not what is to become of them and is afraid for their lives; who have walked for two months through wilderness in the desert and had all sorts of traumatic experiences; who has built the Golden idol the minute they were unsure of Moses’ return; but who still witnessed all the miracles their God has done during their exodus – they do not doubt, do not say: ”Prove to us it’s worth it”. They say, instead: ”We will do and hear”, meaning first we accept what you said, and then we shall see the benefit, the truth of what you said.
This is the side which is responsible for faith. It is the reason faith does not require proof, for if you have proof then it becomes knowledge, so what is there to believe in? Please note, that the majority of atheists are intellectually-minded people or those who were taught that the importance of the intellectual side is greater than that of the spiritual side, and so they miss its significance. It is the side, which makes love possible, for unless we place our trust in our loved ones, love evaporates. We need to have faith, to not doubt, and our spiritual side gives us these abilities. Again, one of the reasons divorce is so common nowadays is the inability to trust, to not doubt, and that is the result of poorly developed spiritual side or overdeveloped intellectual side at its expense.
In fact, the world was created with balance in mind. To be whole, everything in it must be balanced, from the macro (the cycle of carbon dioxide on Earth, for example) to the micro (every cell, every atom in itself). And Man, too, needs to develop his intellectual and spiritual sides equally, to be in balance, to be whole.
Alright then, let’s go back to our two holidays: Yom Kippur and Purim.
The way we should conduct ourselves on Yom Kippur is, surprisingly for such a spiritual holiday, very intellectual-minded. We think, contemplate and analyze our motives, actions, and mistakes. We search for a way to make up for the wrongs we did unto others. We outline the things we can do better in future. All this engages solely the intellectual side.
Moreover, we refrain from anything physically pleasurable or dealing with the material realm, for that involves feelings, and they do not belong to the intellectual side. Feelings “disrupt” our intellectual processes. Anyone who ever tried to concentrate on studying for their final exams while in the first stages of a relationship with a new partner can easily comprehend that.
On the other hand, on Purim, we are to dance, be merry, forget who we are, drink wine. Drink “until we know not”. And now that we understand the nature of the two sides in us, we may see that “until we know not” does not necessarily mean get drunk till you are senseless. Quite the contrary. The requirement is to avoid doing anything intellectual that has to do with knowledge and thought. Not to analyze, not to ponder, not to reflect, not to contemplate – but rather to make noise, to dance, to drink, to be merry, for, after all, it isn’t us, it’s someone else. To allow our spiritual side to completely dominate, with zero intellectual interference.
But the most interesting thing is that either one of these ways allows us to reach spiritual enlightenment – not in the sense of “spiritual side” but in the sense of spirit=soul. This part of us which is neither the spiritual not the intellectual sides but rather above both of them, which strives to raise itself and be closer to God from whom it comes, as is so beautifully described in the creation of Man, in the book of Genesis 2:7: “And breathed into his nostrils the breath of life”.
Thus, next year I shall endeavor to look on Purim from this new perspective and enjoy it in a different way.
So what does Quality Assurance have to do with it?
And now, after this interpretation of the Purim holiday, I would ask you to recall the connection I mentioned to Quality Assurance, as I make a point to do for each holiday.
As I said earlier, most of us a raised today with an emphasis on the intellectual, analytical, thinking and weighing side, and a lot less with the spiritual, creative, imaginative one.
As Quality Assurance professionals, our top goal is searching for ways to improve: both constant improvement and breakthrough.
I talk a lot about cooperation, about problem-solving methodology and orderly investigation. However, beyond these, in order to solve and improve it is of topmost importance to keep developing creativity.
Here is what one of the best physicists of all times, Nobel Prize for Physics laureate, a man whose very name has become synonymous to genius, Albert Einstein, has said:
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand”.
“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere”.
At first glance, it appears that this contradicts the fact that Albert Einstein was a scientist, and a great one at that. For science belongs to the intellectual, analytical, proof-seeking side, and imagination belongs to the spiritual side. However, Einstein was never an only-intellectual-minded person, but a balanced one. This is the reason for his great genius. This is the reason the Universe rushed to reveal its secrets to him.
Most of the great people, inventors, and discoverers whose names we remember still were like that. People who developed both their intellectual and spiritual sides.
When you wish to solve a problem or perform a significant improvement, even hope for a breakthrough, you cannot be satisfied with a bit of fine-tuning of the same things you have already thought of before, or be content with just discovering some factor you forgot to include.
Einstein also said:
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”.
The truly great breakthroughs come when we successfully fully disengage from our “normal” thinking process and think in a completely different way. In other words, thinking creatively, for the meaning of the word “creative” is simply unlike anyone else, unlike ever before.
This means that we need to combine the two ways of thinking: the intellectual and the spiritual.
But wait, I said that the mechanisms they use are totally opposite. So how can we engage them both at the same time?
Well, we cannot.
What we can do, however, is work according to the methodology, using our intellectual side, and then, at the solution stage, push aside the intellectual thinking process and switch into the spiritual, creative thinking. And only after completion of that stage should we go back to the intellectual methodology, for the effectiveness testing etc.
So I hope you are all joyful in this month of Adar and that you would learn to kick in the creative powers in you to make progress and improve your organization and your life in general.
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