Wordless Wisdom | Chaim Moshe Steinmetz, LISW

There’s a well known Midrash that states that before a baby is born, a Malach teaches the baby the entire Torah. Before the baby is born, the Malach taps the baby on the lip, causing him to forget everything.

I saw the following question and answer in the book “Seeing God” by Rabbi David Aaron. Why would the malach tap the baby on the lip to forget? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to tap the baby on the head, the seat of knowledge, to cause him to forget?

In the 1970’s there was research done on the best approaches to education. It was discovered that there were significant differences between children taught the traditional methods of multiplication and addition and children that were not. When presented with a page full of dots, the children who were taught traditional math counted the dots or multiplied the vertical lines of dots with the horizontal lines of dots to conclude the total number of dots. However, the children that weren’t taught math didn’t need to count the dots. By looking at the paper, they were able to know how many dots were on it by seeing the big picture.

Much like the two ways of counting the dots, there are 2 ways of perceiving something. One is holistically, or experientially which does not require words. This perspective takes in the entirety of something, the full picture, the details are viewed through the lens of its entirety. The other perspective is through words which convey the details of the idea, and we construct the full picture through the words that communicate its details.

For example, the awe and wonder of a beautiful sunset is something that is beyond words. Trying to convey the fullness of that experience in words diminishes it.

Words allow us to communicate, but words also hide the fullness of what we are conveying. Words obscure the big picture, birds eye view perspective.

רוחניות is a connection to something that is beyond words. The Malach taught the baby the entire Torah, but then it’s time for the baby to forget it. The Malach taps the baby on the lips, the seat of speech and words. Along with the power of speech, the baby forgets the wisdom of רוחניות, the wisdom that words obscure. It’s the work of a lifetime to be able to live in the world of words and details, yet hold on to the bigger picture perspective that is beyond words.

Within each of us lies these 2 perspectives, the holistic, big picture perspective, and the perspective of words and details, which both reveal but also hide the truth.

Many of the struggles in our lives come from using the perspective of words and details and forgetting the big picture. When we do something we regret, the self criticism we subject ourselves to causes us to see ourselves through the lens of words, we begin to believe that our mistakes are who we are. We forget the big picture of how many times we’ve overcome our flaws, how far we’ve come and our inherent worth regardless of our mistakes.

In our relationships too, we sometimes get lost in the perspective of words; we get bogged down by the small disagreements and hurts and begin viewing our loved ones through the lens of words. We can choose to remind ourselves of the other, holistic perspective; that ultimately our loved ones too are so much more than the details of the hurt they caused. That in the big picture we value the relationship more than setting the record straight. When we develop and strengthen this perspective, we tap into the wordless wisdom that the Malach taught us.


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