From recent studies in Positive Psychology, we now know that curiosity is essential for human flourishing. Sakranut (Curiosity) is not listed as a middah in mussar (Jewish ethics) literature per se, however, it is a key trait in many of our foundational stories such Moshe turning to see the phenomenon of the burning bush, king David meditating upon the vastness of the sky, or the incredible adventures of Talmudic sage Rabbah bar bar Hannah (no, that isn’t a typo) as he explored the world, for example:
“Rabbah b. Bar Hana stated: Once we were travelling on board a ship and saw a fish whose back was covered with sand out of which grew grass. Thinking it was dry land we went up and baked, and cooked, upon its back. When, however, its back was heated it turned, and had not the ship been nearby we should have been drowned…
Rabbah b. Bar Hana further stated: I saw a frog the size of the Fort of Hagronia. (What is the size of the Fort of Hagronia? — Sixty houses.) There came a snake and swallowed the frog. Then came a raven and swallowed the snake, and perched on a tree. Imagine how strong was the tree. R. Papa b. Samuel said: Had I not been there I would not have believed it.” (Bava Batra 73a-b)
What does this have to do with us? This period of time is the counting of the ‘Omer, a forty nine day count between Pesach and Shavuot. One of the things that it allows us to do is to be curious about each day, what it holds for us to learn from and how it will influence us moving forward. In this tradition, the mystics assigned each day an aspect of God’s presence in the world such as compassion, truth or beauty. These weeks are an important chance to step away from our days that have been programmed to limit our experiences to our established interests and instead to be open to the unknown world that is always present. We don’t need to travel like Rabbah bar bar Hana, we just need to open our eyes in new ways, to be a bit more curious about this world and the people in it that surround. There are wonders awaiting.
Each day this week, at least once when we feel the impulse to reach for our phone or computer to check our email again, let’s look around and notice something interesting like something positive going on on campus or a natural sight that you haven’t noticed before. Just be with that experience for a full minute and then resume.
מחשבה/ Think about it
Ask someone about their hobby that you haven’t previously felt interest in. Inquire about its details. What does the other person enjoy about it and how do they discovered it?