Osher Chaim Levene
"I’ve got a question for you," someone in my office began. A slight pause, "Er... It’s a religious question mind you." Smiling, I nodded for the person to fire away. "What exactly is the purpose to your Jewish head covering?"
"What purpose do you think it serves?" I asked.
"Oh well, I suppose the skullcap on your head is a receptor of sort... perhaps some type of inverted satellite device. But if so, does it matter what color it is?"
I had been prepared to launch into an explanation of how this covering serves as man’s constant reminder of His Creator Above; the Omnipotent to Whom every action and thought are accountable for. But I was unprepared for this curious response!
But then, I started thinking: if adjusted to the correct frequency, the head and its covering do make for an excellent receptor to receive, process and act upon those transmitted spiritual signals emanating from Above. Is this not the secret of the Yiddishe Kopp, the Jewish head and mind, which should always be operational, forever tuned onto the right wavelength?
The Jew has indeed been graced with a Yiddishe Kopp. And what a Kopp! As a proportion of the leading countries receiving Nobel prizes between 1901 and 1994, 35.2% of US winners were Jewish; of Russian winners, the percentage was 23.5%, of UK winners this figure was 8.8% and of German winners it was 12.5% (Source: Jewish Mind by R.Patai). Thriving on Torah study throughout the centuries, the Jew is generally a thinker par excellence. He revels in rigorous Talmudic analysis where explanations are mercilessly scrutinized and subjected to intense cross-examination and questions. His intellectual prowess has meant that his mind has contributed significantly to the world. It is the head that has clearly differentiated him from the animal kingdom.
The majority of animals walk on all fours, such that their head is level with their body. This depicts their self-contained existence, conditioned and focused on the ground and earth below. Man differs. He walks upright, his head rising above his body, and as seen from his posture, this enables him to look upwards, to see beyond. Importantly, the prominence of the head can look upwards. It is crowned with the yarmulkah or skullcap. There is the recognition of G-d Above that impacts our behavior. There is the internalized knowledge that the Creator registers our every movement, thought and action. It is the satellite that enables man to fully tune in to the spiritual wavelength.
A thinking creature, man is able and expected - to contemplate his existence and grapple with the divine, something that no chimpanzee, however cute and cuddly, can ever do. For man is not satisfied being confined to merely an earthly existence; he wants more. He has that unique ability to transcend, to look up and reach the Infinity of G-d.
The principle tool to study and recognize G-d’s Will, as embodied in the Torah and mitzvos, lies through using our mind. The head is designed to enable man to think, to fathom the Torah depths, to understand the significance of Judaism. The head covering symbolizes the Jew tuning in and making contact. But it does not end there.
Judaism is importantly a world of action and not mere declarations of belief. Yes, of course it is intellectually stimulating, but incorporating its inner beauty into practice is the key goal. Intellect alone does not make someone a better person. It depends on what he does with it. Knowledge doesn't necessarily translate into action. A person can know all the statistics as to how harmful a food is to his cholesterol level... and yet his appetite will persist and get the better of him. Philosophers and thinkers do not necessarily or readily convert into more G-dly, observant Jews.
G-d is Unknowable, Whose Essence and comprehension is inscrutable and unfathomable. Man cannot fully rely or worship his mind. Rational and human logic is not absolute. Scientists are beginning to concede that the size of the brain with its cubic dimensions of 1.4 liters just isn't enough with which to contemplate infinity, inadequate to grapple with the divine. And man simply lacks the capacity to understand His ways due to the limitations of his mind. When human logic fails (which it must), human action continues unperturbed and unabated. Action in the performance of mitzvos supersedes thought.
The worth of intellect, then, is only where it compliments and animates our actions, in the striving to serve G-d. Whilst not everybody is able to become giants of the intellect, each one of us can nevertheless become giants of humanity. Man is a thinking creature who can direct his gaze Above. The Jew should tune in to use thought and action, head and body, in serving his Creator Above. This is the secret of the Yiddishe Kopp.