A couple of weeks ago after our Havdalah service, I asked folks to respond to a question. I inquired, “What habit or project have you begun during the quarantine?”
Everyone had something interesting to share. Some have taken up regularly playing online games with family and friends. Others spoke about projects such as improvements in the backyard or digitizing thousands of photos that have been in boxes in the garage.
As for me, the new habit I’ve begun is doing crossword puzzles. And I have to tell you, it’s been a humbling experience!
I naively thought that I should not have much trouble solving a word puzzle. I presumed that being an avid reader would be to my advantage.
However, weeks ago when I sat down to do my first crossword, I was dismayed that I barely could fill in 20% of the spaces. Even three-word answers would often stump me!
I turned for help from my in-house puzzle master, Eve, who has been solving crosswords for years. The primary lesson I learned from her is to think about word usage more creatively. I need to be less literal and more associative. An answer to a question may be straightforward OR it may involve thinking more freely about different possibilities.
Solving a crossword puzzles is akin to a Midrashic way of thinking. In Midrash, one has to see multiple possibilities in interpreting a text.
Slowly, over time I am getting better at solving a crossword puzzle. This process has taught me humility, along with the reminder that it is always valuable to seek guidance. As Rabban Gamliel instructed two thousand years ago, “A timid person cannot learn” (Avot 2.5).