Sara Debbie Gutfreund

Chanukah Inspiration

The Curiosity Challenge
Four Questions to Turn Zeroes into Infinite Light

“Grace is an illusion and beauty is worth nothing.” (Mishlei 31:30) What does this mean? Why would God give us grace and beauty if they are of no value? Rav Pam ztz”l explained that beauty is like a zero. (A special thank you to Andrew Wigod who shared this Torah thought at his engagement party last week- mazel tov Andrew and Kira!) Without anything in front of it, like kindness, courage, and goodness, it is worthless. But combined with the right traits, beauty becomes transformed and expands what precedes it like a zero adding to the numbers before it. But the zero can’t come first; physicality cannot be an end in itself. This month of Kislev, we struggle against this Greek philosophy that puts the zero first. Beauty for beauty’s sake. Art for art’s sake. Sports as in end in itself. These are all zeroes without a spiritual purpose in front of them. Finding that purpose, cultivating the traits that turn the physical into exponential light, is the challenge of this month.
Where do we begin? We begin with the desire to search. One of the most crucial yet often overlooked traits for success is curiosity. Successful, growing individuals frequently share this trait. They are constantly studying their environments and the people around them. They want to know how things work. They want to know why. They search for the deeper reasons behind experiences. They want to learn more. Know more. See below the surface. When we are curious, we are fascinated by the world and its mysteries. We ask questions even if we don’t know how we will find the answers. Here are four questions for this month that will help us turn fleeting flickers into infinite lights.
1. Why Do I Have This? Why did God give me this house, this car, this body? What does God expect me to use it for? And on a deeper level, why is this person in my life right now? Why do I have this friend, this colleague, this spouse? What kind of connection does God expect me to create with the people He places in my life? Why did He give me these children, these students, these clients? What am I meant to learn from them? What am I expected to give, to teach, to accomplish?

2. What is the Lesson? Einstein once said that everything is a miracle. Rav Dessler ztz”l says something similar: nature is an illusion, every single object that we see is being moved and created by Hashem’s power. No two snowflakes are exactly alike because God causes each of them to travel in its own unique path. And nothing in this world is here for no reason. There is a lesson in every creation, every person, every experience. What is the lesson? I run. There are freezing cold, dark mornings when I ask myself : Why am I running? Is it for the trophy? The fitness? The pleasure of speed? No. All of that is nice, but it doesn’t get me beyond mile 20 in subzero temps on a Sunday morning. What pushes me beyond my limits is the constant question I ask myself in every race, every workout, every step: what is the lesson in my running? Where is it taking me? Is it teaching me how to bear discomfort in life to reach important goals? How to breathe hope in the darkness? How to see the rising sun and the beauty in every step? Everything that we do and every thing that we see has a lesson embedded within it. Search for it.

3. How Does This Work? The simplest things in our lives have intricate paths behind them. Most of us turn on our lights without thinking about exactly how electricity works. We turn on our car engines without knowing specifically the chain of reactions that propel us forward. But sometimes we wonder: how does this work? Or a child asks us to explain how a plane stays up in the air and suddenly, we really want to know too. We google it on our phones or ask Siri and suddenly we have access to a whole new level of existence. The next time we turn on a light or go on an airplane, we will think about it differently because we have new knowledge. We will start to realize that there are often many levels to how things work in our lives. We will begin to train ourselves to look below the surface.

4. How Can I Learn More? What books can I read? What classes can I take? Which mentors can I seek out to learn more than I know now? How can I learn how to infuse the physical parts of my life with spiritual significance? How can I find the critical numbers to put in front of the zeroes in my life to make them exponentially meaningful? What can I do today, right now to learn something new that will help me grow? I want to know why. I want to know how. I want to know more. I want to see the gift of the infinite miracle that is right in front of us, waiting to be found. I want to turn the fleeting flickers into lasting light.

About the Author
Sara Debbie Gutfreund holds a BA in English from the University of Pennsylvania and a MA in Family Therapy from the University of North Texas. She has run parenting groups, worked in pre-marital counseling and led self-growth seminars. Sara Debbie writes regularly for both Jewish and secular publications. She resides in Connecticut with her husband and five children.
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