William Hamilton


We all know the advantage of wheels. Automobiles and bicycles take us much farther than we can get on foot. Nobody can walk from Chicago to Denver. But the whole world isn’t paved. Can you imagine a wheeled antelope trying to elude its predator? 

This observation, made by Gary Morson and Morton Schapiro, points to how easy it is to overlook a key factor when drawing a conclusion. We do it all the time. We assume we’ve considered all the relevant data. The voter’s interests, worries, and priorities. 

This point also offers a telling lesson in how to live with uncertainty. The notion that you may be overlooking a key factor, urges you to stay humble. The notion that you don’t have any idea what it is, urges you to stay curious. 

The biblical life of Abraham offers an ongoing workshop in uncertainty training. This week’s portion of Torah includes the ultimate trial in how to manage uncertainty. God asks him to bring Isaac up to a mountaintop as an offering, the very son who is essential to the fulfillment of God’s promised covenant. What factor do most of us overlook? If you’re like me, you barely notice the two lads that join them on the journey (Gen. 22:3,5). What’s their purpose in the story? Maybe it’s to make it clear that Abraham is not going to delegate or outsource his role. He himself will rise early and saddle the donkey. He himself will carry the wood and knife. The actual function of the accompanying lads remains unaddressed.  

I suppose it’s ok not to know for sure. And this lack of clarity doesn’t keep us from wondering. 

This week I was thrilled to return to my alma mater, Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. I spent the day with my favorite professor, Robert Fuller. I was able to share with him and the gifted successors he’s brought to teach Religious Studies, what I learned there. Namely, how to look up to people, how to take them seriously. How to look not only at what’s wrong with them, but also at what’s right about them. Forty years ago, they did as much for me. 

What might you be overlooking in your conclusions about events? About specific people? About your neighbor’s needs? Even about your own needs? May you stay curious and, in so doing, may you recognize that uncertainty can be more than frightful. It can also surprise you for the better.

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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