Being curious is better than being smart

“I merely took the energy it takes to pout and wrote some blues.” Duke Ellington makes it sound so simple. He is, of course, being exceedingly humble. Repurposing pain into productivity demands herculean exertion.

Moses’s song in this week’s portion of Torah sings like the blues. It’s filled with melancholy emotion. It predicts how the people will go astray. Two things fascinate me this year. First, there is no mention of the people’s repenting. Odd, for a Sabbath whose identity is synonymous with repentance. Second, as Moses prepares for this death, he is explicitly reminded of his misdeed in striking the rock. Why? Perhaps simply to underscore his imperfection. As ideal a prophet as Moses becomes, still some aspects of his parting song hit close to home. Sometimes vocabulary cannot bear the weight of reality.

I’m not entirely satisfied with these answers. Curiosity lingers. Particularly in this season when the ‘repair’ that is supposed to be front and center feels more like it’s socially and emotionally distancing.

Yet curiosity can become an important on-ramp.

Habit-formation guru James Clear tells us that being curious is better than being smart because curiosity leads to action. “It is desire, not intelligence, that prompts behavior.” In other words, motivation leads to mobilization.

This may be why we entreat ‘God’s desire’ with our prayers. And perhaps the best divine action comes to us in the form of an inspiration for us, likewise, to be stirred by activating desire.

May the harmonica so prominent in the music of the blues, harmonize divine and human desire to enact a healthier and more hopeful year ahead.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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