My brother, the leading Rabbi in Wichita, Kansas, posted a problem on Facebook. It began with the word להסתכל, ‘to look at…’
He noted that the root of this word meaning “to see,”להסתכל isסכל , which means “confused or stupid.” He pointed out that perhaps שכל should be the root rather than סכל for a word that would mean “to see.” While שכל and סכל are homonyms, their meanings are opposite. The word שכל, means “intelligent” (I would add that it refers to common sense or ‘street smarts’). Whereas סכל ,means “stupid or confused.”
How then does סכל, meaning “confused,”
fit into the word להסתכל meaning
When I began to consider ways of understanding the conundrum, a memory bubbled up. A Junior High school teacher of mine, a Mr. Gaucho would often exclaim: “out of confusion comes wisdom.“Thanks Mr. Gaucho, I think I get it. My brother’s challenge lights up the issue. סכל/confusion is the source of sight. Seeing, eyes open, is the beginning of wisdom.
להסתכל, meaning “confusing sight,” is preliminary to a process that may lead to wisdom. But our first sight can be very סכל/confusing. After that confusing ‘first sight‘ we have choices: We can remain in our confusion, ignoring the process to which that ‘first sight’ points…….OR……. We can delve deeper with a little שכל/wisdom as our goal. The play on סכל/שכל provides a process.
When we take a first look at our world, it is confusing…..
The ‘dysfunctionality’ of our government is confusing…
The enmity in the Middle East between peoples who should be able to relate to each other is confusing…
The movement by people from faith to faith with no core faith practice to ground them is confusing…
The way we are destroying our planet is confusing…..
When I להסתכל, take my first look, I am סכל /confused.
So, confusion as part of first sight makes sense.
But that is not enough.
So, I went back and I looked deeper at the root, סכל,
and found that it has another translation;
“Bright” has many meanings but there is always an allusion to light. On the simple level it makes sense. In order to see, we need light and it needs to be bright. But on a deeper level, in order to see deeper, we ourselves need to become bright. We need to become our own source of bright light. We need to light up and lighten up; we need to be bright enough to look beneath the surface in a joyous and gentle exploration.
And this leads us to another clue. That clue comes from grammar. The Hebrew word להסתכל is the intensive reflexive form of the word. In a sense, the word could mean “to look intently on the confusion and the brightness that is within us. ” We need to look deeper. We need to involve ourselves in the challenges working from the inside out.
Beneath the surface we discover some good questions such as,
How can we become more involved in the life of our country?
What can I do to make a difference?
How can we brighten the path to a more caring country?
How can I reach in and then reach out to others?
How did hatred come about?
What is my role in lessening the harsh glare of hatred?
What are the ways to soften the glare of hurt and anger?
How can we shed a soft light on hatred, brighten our future as the human race?
How can we help each other, not only to observe what is happening to our planet, but also to observe certain simple rituals that will turn the tide of planetary self-destruction?
The questions seem simple.
What is my role in the dark negativity and what can I do share light in this world?
The first step is to shine a light on our own soul and ask the questions. Then we have to leave the comfortable darkness of apathy, of saying, I do enough. We have to shine our light and help others ask their own questions.
We cannot find the answers unless we ask the questions.
When we look out and look in with intensity and reflection
we begin to see real meaning;
when we look into the confusion with good questions of light,
we can להסתכל,
“to look brightly;”
we can brighten the confusing path to wisdom.