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I Don't Know...

Posted on 04/12/2013 @ 08:11 PM

How comfortable are you saying that you don’t know?

At the very beginning of the Babylonian Talmud, it states: “Teach your tongue to say: ‘I don’t know’” (Berachot 4a). In today’s culture, this doesn’t feel natural. One can imagine several cases, especially at work, when saying “I don’t know” would be problematic. Your supervisors, your peers, or your communities might think you are incompetent or that you haven’t done enough research. To be sure, there are times when saying “I don’t know” is the wrong answer.

But education hinges on the premise that there are things that we do not yet know that we would like to learn. Learning is a lifelong pursuit, and it’s ok not to know the answer! It’s ok to say, “I’m not sure, and I’ll look into it and get back to you.” How can one learn if one already knows?

Rabbi Chaim Brovender, Rosh Yeshiva (head of school) and Torah Scholar, often used to answer questions that we asked him in class as follows: “I have two answers: #1 I don’t know #2” and then he would tell us the answer as he understood it.

A well-respected doctor once told me that after years of practicing medicine, he became a medical expert because he knew what he did not know.

Not knowing can be a strength when it is used correctly and paired with a commitment to learn and to grow.

In the next few weeks we will roll out the Jewish Enrichment Specialist Team (JEST), which will focus on training staff, advisors, and teen leaders on areas in which they would like to grow to improve the content quality and programming excellence in BBYO. There are many things that we are still learning, and this will be an opportunity to learn what we do not know, and to continue to develop our knowledge.

What is it that you do not know that will help you improve BBYO program content and quality? Please let me know what you don’t know at And then we can work on some answers together.

(1. I don’t know who wrote this Shabbat Message, 2. Ira J. Dounn, Director of Jewish Enrichment for the Northeast Hub, wrote this Shabbat Message.)

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