The Power of “I Don’t Know”

Rashi teaches us to rely on our own learning of Torah.
Rabbi Fred Elias

Near the end of this week’s Parasha, God reaffirms the blessing that he had previously offered Jacob. “Your name shall not longer be called Jacob, but Israel should be your name.”  He also reminds Jacob of the commandment to be fruitful and multiply and that God will provide he and his offspring the land as God had promised Abraham and Isaac before him. 

The passage concludes with the following verse:

וַיַּ֥עַל מֵעָלָ֖יו אֱלֹ–הִ֑ים בַּמָּק֖וֹם אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֥ר אִתּֽוֹ׃

Then God ascended from upon him in the place where God had spoken with him (Bereishit 35:13). Often of course, if we are looking for additional interpretation or understanding of verse, we classically turn to Rashi.  Except in this case, Rashi says the following:

איני יודע מה מלמדנו
“I do not know what this teaches us.”

The common sense thinker among us would say, “If [Rashi] doesn’t know, why would he bother saying the comment, Rashi doesn’t comment on every single verse in the Torah.”

Even when, Rashi is seemingly not teaching us something, he is actually teaching us something very important.  Rashi teaches us that the understanding of this verse is left to us to figure out for after all, if we only used Rashi to understand the Torah, then it is Rashi’s Torah we learned, not our Torah.

A recent article entitled, “The Power of I Don’t Know,” says that “‘I don’t know” isn’t just a starting point for finding an answer, or a ready-made template for some academic essential question. Rather, it returns the learning to the student, and restores the scale of understanding to a universe of knowledge.”

From this Rashi, we learn two important lessons for our personal growth and development as a community.

First, it’s actually okay to answer a question with “I don’t know.”  It is okay if we don’t know everything; and

Second, our learning cannot depend on one person; we must depend on our individual thinking and the community of learners to which we belong.

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