Purim 2018 – mind vs spirit, logical and creative thinking
6 בMarch 2018
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, sewing/building/creating his costume. When I take heaps of photos of school kids and wipe a tear of wonder for their creativity.
I am not the most knowledgeable person where it comes to Judaism. My education on this subject is sorely lacking. I was not brought up in Jewish tradition, growing up in USSR. Moreover, my mother (blessed be her memory) was an aggressive atheist. Her religion was that insane Soviet invention called “Scientific atheism”. My father was an agnostic. On the one hand, he grew up in the same Soviet insanity. On the other, he remembered well his Jewish father and how they went together to the Synagogue.
Study and new insights
Every holiday I endeavor to learn something new (for myself) about it. To somewhat widen the limits of what is familiar and reasonable. It may be the Hidabroot channel or a study session miraculously set at an hour I do not work. Or, perhaps, a conversation with a knowledgeable person or an Internet podcast by an American Jew… God works in mysterious ways.
Last Friday, the end of this Purim, I went to Shabbat prayers. It been a long time (since Yom Kippur) that for various reasons I could not go to our wonderful synagogue. The synagogue of the conservative community. The Minyan Mishpachti Masorti in Kfar Vradim (I identify with the Conservative Judaism movement).
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 in Quality Assurance.
The Rabbi’s words have touched upon a connection between Purim and Yom Kippur, the Atonement day. The Sages said, they shall be the only holidays left in the days of Enlightenment to come. The two most important holidays in Judaism, it appears. I shall bring here my own insights and interpretation of this idea.
Purim and Yom Kippur
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? Not the Exodus or receiving of the Torah… – but Purim?
It appears that the two holidays are, at first glance, a mirror image of each other. But upon a closer examination – they complement each other to make a whole.
Yom Kippur is a holiday for sober contemplation, soul-searching, reflection. A day we abstain from everything material and physically enjoyable 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. We no not just contemplate our imperfections. We are to forget who we are, to assume a different identity by wearing a carnival costume. We do not just give up material things. We are to revel in dancing, good and sweet foods and wine. We do not engage in soul-searching. We are to drink “until we don’t know”.
“Until we don’t know”?
Until now, I never really invested much thought into the meaning of “until we don’t know”. I have simply accepted the traditional interpretation. Relax, relinquish control, until you know not the difference between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai”. Don’t 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”, and it isn’t nice. If there is anything I truly dislike, it’s this drunkenness. 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, for the first time, I have really considered the words. I realized that the interpretation was completely erroneous. The misunderstanding stems from a misinterpretation of the word “know”. To convey the 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, study which brings us scientific “knowledge”. I shall call it henceforth the intellectual side, for simplicity.
As we know today, a part of our brains is directly connected to analytical thinking and scientific approach. And a part is connected to creativity, imagination, and intuition. Today’s Western world places too much emphasis on this logical scientific thinking part. While too little is given to 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 highly spiritual-minded ones, for not being “logical”. Whereas the highly spiritual-minded dismiss 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. 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 side
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.
Knowledge is based on facts. Facts are absolute.
I must, however, clarify that the above doesn’t mean that scientific theories are factual. They are based on facts, but by means of some sort of interpretation. These depend on the interpreter’s life experience, world view, opinions, scope of knowledge. A different interpretation or a new fact conflicting with former interpretation will immediately challenge the theory.
The spiritual side
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 at the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Exodus 24:7: “And they said: all that the Lord hath spoken will we do and hear”.
Think on it, 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 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. They were taught that the importance of the intellectual side is greater than that of the spiritual side. They do not use this side and so they miss its significance.
Faith is based on trust, the meaning of faith is that I do not doubt because I put my trust in one. This is why it work in completely opposite way to scientific knowledge. It says: I doubt everything until it is proven.
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. Our spiritual side gives us these abilities. One of the reasons divorce is so common nowadays is the inability to trust, to not doubt. It is the result of an underdeveloped spiritual side or an 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. No be in balance, to be whole.
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. Try to concentrate on studying for an important exam in the first stages of a relationship, or after a painful breakup.
On the other hand, on Purim, we are to dance, be merry, forget who we are, drink wine. Drink “until we don’t know”. Now that we understand the nature of the two sides in us, we may better understand it. These words do not 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. Rather to make noise, dance, drink, 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.
Two paths - one destination
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 but rather above both. Which strives to raise itself and be closer to God from whom it comes. As it is so beautifully described in the creation of Man. 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.
Thus said the Sages.
Quotes by people worth heeding:
Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
So what does Quality Assurance have to do with it?
Now, after this interpretation of the Purim holiday, I would like to make the connection I mentioned to Quality Assurance. As I make a point to do for each holiday.
As I said earlier, most of us are 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.
Albert Einstein was one of the best physicists of all times. A Nobel Prize for Physics laureate. A man whose very name has become synonymous to genius. This is what he said about imagination:
“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”.
Imagination is more important than knowledge
At first glance, it appears to contradict the fact that Albert Einstein was a scientist, and a great one. 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. It 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.
Say, you wish to solve a problem or perform a significant improvement, even a breakthrough. You cannot be satisfied with fine-tuning of the same things you have already thought of before. Or be content with just discovering some factor you forgot to include.
Albert Einstein also said:
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”.
Combining the two ways of thinking
The truly great breakthroughs come when we successfully fully disengage from our “normal” thinking process. When we think in a completely different way. In other words, “creative thinking”. For the meaning of the word “creative” is simply unlike anyone else, unlike ever before.
This means we need to combine the two ways of thinking: the intellectual and the spiritual.
But wait, I said that their mechanisms operate in completely opposite ways. 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, put aside the intellectual thinking. Switch to the spiritual, creative thinking. Only upon completion of that stage should we go back to the intellectual methodology, for 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.
Top picture: Grogger (noise maker), c. 1985. By the artist Michael Ende. Image from the Arts Mia collection website.
The thinking man by Rodin.
A beautiful depiction of Purim by the famous Jewish American artist, Arthur Szyk (1894-1951). Original image from an article on unusual Jewish art at the Jewish Press website.
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