I have been taking a class on Jewish mysticism, taught by a brilliant man named Robert Micha’el Esformes. He mentioned recently that Hebrew had two words for “why,” one for how things came to be, and the other for what is their reason or purpose. I was so struck by this that I wrote the following short essay.

Thoughts on “Why”
Rachel Pollack

Those of us of a certain age may remember the old-time comic, “Professor” Irwin Corey. Corey would come onstage wearing a shabby, ill-fitting tuxedo and high-top basketball shoes. Then he would spout pompous nonsense.

When he appeared on television, such as the Tonight Show, where he could sit down with the host, they would go through a set routine. Johnny Carson would ask “Why do you wear sneakers?’ The professor would draw himself up and proclaim, “You pose a two-part question! ‘Why?’ has plagued philosophers and scientists throughout the ages. Far be it for me—in the short time allotted to me—to attempt to answer the eternal question, Why?”

Then he would pause a beat, and say, in a calm voice, “Do I wear sneakers? Yes.”

I thought of Irwin Corey when Reb Micah’el told us that Hebrew has two words for Why. Language shapes our thoughts far more than we realize. Having two words for why allows us to view existence itself in a new way, what we might call origin and purpose.

Why does the Sun exist? Because pieces of previously exploded stars came together and forged a new blazing body of heat and light.

Why does the Sun exist? In order to make life, and ultimately consciousness, possible.

There’s a famous question in philosophy and science, “Why is there something instead of nothing?” With only one word for “Why” we tend to focus only on origins. Indeed, many will dismiss the idea of purpose, or what we might call destination, as a kind of mistake in how we think, even a sentimental distraction.

But having two words for why allows us to ponder both sides, or both ends, of the mystery of existence.

I am certainly no expert on Lurianic Kabbalah, but it seems to me that the teachings of Isaac Luria are deeply ingrained in the double meanings of why.

Why do we exist? Because the primordial being, the hermaphroditic Adam Kadmon, separated into two, the male Adam (whose name means clay, or dirt) and the female Hava, or Eve (whose name means life).

Why do we exist? Because a world of broken vessels needs us to repair it—tikkun olam—and in so doing, re-unite the two parts of the Divine that separated when the world broke, the male Holy One, or King, who dwells On High, and the female Shekinah, or Presence, who dwells in exile with humanity.

It is partly through our human contemplation of Why, both the origin and purpose, that we can help restore the separated parts of God.

Published in: on May 31, 2018 at 12:46 am  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. So perfect😻

    C Lehman iPhone

  2. Thanks, Connie!

  3. I guess the first “why” would be “why we are” and the second “why” would be “why we exist”?

  4. Reblogged this on Trivium Blog.

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