Published June 2018
Ich Vays Nit
There is a splendid Yiddish phrase that is often delivered with a shrug, ich vays nit, which means “I don’t know.” The fact of the matter is that real knowledge begins with the admission of one’s lack of knowledge. If we know everything, then what is the point of learning and searching? It is interesting to contemplate that the world is filled with more recorded knowledge than ever, yet we realize more than ever that there is so much we don’t know.
We have learned not to trust anybody who says he or she has all the answers. This is such a great complex world and relating to human beings is so complicated that, except for God, no one can be absolutely certain of everything. I am always very suspicious of people who say, “Trust me.” “Follow me.” “Believe in me.” After all, they are only human beings and we know human beings are fallible. There once was a rabbi who studied all his life. A young pupil came to him and asked if he knew the Torah and the rabbi replied, “A little. That is all any of us can hope to know.”
So the words ich vays nit are only the beginning of wisdom, but a most honest statement. It is the right attitude with which we begin research, to study, to learn. It is the kind of humility that enables a person to grow in understanding.
Have a joyous and healthy summer!
Rabbi Alvin Kass
Chief Chaplain of the NYPD