At first, everything went smoothly, as planned. The many
rehearsals justified themselves and the players remembered
their parts well. The audience sat spellbound and seemed very
pleased with the performance. The producer, who stood in the
wings, was also very satisfied with what she saw, until,
suddenly, there was a mishap.
Shoshi, one of the actresses, passed by the bench which was
part of the props, stumbled over it and fell. The producer
sucked in her breath and bit her lips. How unpleasant! But
before her friends had a chance to react from the initial
shock and help her, Shoshi rose to her feet and displayed
tremendous resourcefulness. She shook herself off and ad-
libbed two or three lines with a healthy humor that
incorporated the incident into the script, as if it had been
planned, without the audience even being aware that something
unusual had occurred.
If I Had a Hammer...
Had anyone been standing that day behind the door of the Levi
family, they would have unanimously declared that Danny had
declared war. And if they had had to award some mother with a
prize for her patience and cool, it would have undoubtedly
gone to Mrs. Levi, who had to call upon hidden reserves of
emotional stamina not to lose her wits.
Danny screamed, kicked, wept and raised a ruckus for over two
hours. He wanted to go to a friend whom his parents did not
allow to visit. But Mrs. Levi did not lose her cool and
explained to him, over and over, in a very calm manner and a
firm tone, that she was determined not to let him play with
that particular boy.
Danny retained his high decibel trantrum until finally,
waving clenched fists, he threatened, "I'm going to break the
Mrs. Levi, nonplussed, went over to the tool cabinet, took
out a hammer, and handed it to him, saying, "Help yourself.
Here's a hammer."
Danny looked at it in amazement, looked up at his mother, and
after the initial shock, suddenly burst into smiles...
What's the Wonder?
After Leah retired, she was replaced by Ruth, a young,
energetic woman. "She's still bursting with youthful energy,"
thought Gila, the senior co-worker. "Wait till she sees how
difficult and complex the work is. She'll see how indifferent
the other workers are, how irresponsible and how they prefer
to complain rather than do the work. That should take some of
the wind out of her sails. She'll surely lose her enthusiasm
and settle down to mediocre work. She'll see it's simply not
worth the effort."
To Gila's surprise, it was not like that at all. Ruth proved
herself capable and willing, undaunted by anything. In fact,
her energy was contagious, and soon the others were working
harder, with greater zest, and productivity rose
considerably. The business was doing much better than ever
A year later, Leah popped in for a visit at her old place of
work, curious to see how things were going. She was amazed at
the change she saw and tried to put her finger on it. What
was the magic formula? Had many of the lazy workers been
replaced by new staff?
It was nothing of the sort. Nothing had changed as far as the
work setup. But Ruth had effected the change all by herself,
by her positive example. She had taken things in hand,
reorganized the weak spots and taken initiative in certain
areas without really changing anything basic. With the
selfsame ingredients, she had `baked' an excellent cake.
So Simple, Yet So Brilliant
In order to effect a positive change, a solution to problems,
an upgrading of performance and a higher degree of
efficiency, one does not always have to invest in massive or
grandiose changes. One need not call in professional experts
or expensive consultants. Many innovations are simply an
improvement on the existing situation, rather than an
upheaval or total overhaul. A new application to something
that is already in effect, a more creative way of doing the
same thing while achieving better results. But when these
original ideas are implemented successfully, they seem to be
so obvious and elementary that one wonders why no one thought
of them before.
Let us imagine a closed door before which is standing a group
of people, at a loss. Each person in turn attempts to unlock
it with the keys in his key ring but none of them seem to
fit. Suddenly, along comes a little boy, walks up to the door
and turns the knob. And lo! It swings open. It hadn't even
Ingenuity or resourcefulness is not necessarily brilliance,
something that only one in a thousand can come up with. But
it can be dazzling in its simplicity, in its innovativeness,
in the way it bursts through conventional or square-headed
thinking. It can even be a bright idea at a very juvenile
level, but because it does not run the usual channel, it is
uniquely fitting to the particular problem or occasion.
People are often locked in their own problems and affairs and
refuse, or are unable, to see beyond their narrow confines.
They do not expand their horizons and look for other
directions. It seems more convenient for them to remain stuck
in their present rut rather than invest a little creative
thinking, broadening of their sights, small quantum leaps of
innovativeness and creative problem solving by looking at
things from a different angle. People are locked in their
standard lives, pegs in their square holes, stuck with the
conventions and norms of society, by the complacency and
security of their given situations. People are afraid to make
changes, afraid of "what will people say."
Many common riddles and jokes take advantage of this
squareness of thinking: people tend to solve
questions/problems through conventional ways without freeing
their intellects. They get stuck, locked within the normal
solutions when often enough, the answer to their problems can
be so elementary and simple, just a bit different from the
accepted way of thinking.
If people thought more originally, they would be able to save
a great deal of money that is being shelled out to
professional counselors and experts. In other words: the
livelihood of many professionals actually takes advantage of
that conventional, uninspired way of thinking of most people
which does not allow them access to their imagination, which
compresses them within narrow confines when they could
broaden their mental horizons by just a little exertion, by
leaving the normal parameters and looking at things from a
different vantage point, objectively plus creatively, and
having the courage to try new tacks.
Necessity and Pressure -- the Mother of Ingenuity
Someone once observed that pressure is the mother of
invention, perhaps more than just necessity, because in times
of stress and problems, one is challenged to find an
immediate solution, to come up with creative ways of
The Jewish people, beset throughout history by trouble and
difficulties, downtrodden and persecuted by its enemies, has
availed itself of innate resourcefulness and ingenuity as a
means of survival. This attribute has enabled them to find
solutions that are sometimes quite simple, though
unconventional and somewhat daring, in order to get
themselves out of their `pickles,' to surmount obstacles,
circumvent troubles, overcome harsh decrees.
They tell of an apostate priest who became a sworn anti-
Semite and sought to stage a public debate against any
representive which the Jewish community would select, to pit
Christianity against Judaism. The condition to be accepted
upon both participants was that if one side capitulated and
admitted that "he didn't know," it would automatically award
the debate to the other side, with the penalty being
The Jews had no choice but to choose their representative,
but they could find no volunteer willing to stand up against
the knowledgeable convert-priest. Finally, one simple tailor
agreed to represent the Jews in this debate. Having no
recourse, the community accepted his offer.
The day of the debate arrived and the priest strode up to the
platform erected in a public square, confident that he would
show everyone who was superior. He stabbed his simple
opponent with a supercilious look and allowed him the first
turn in the debate. The tailor was not fazed. He bravely
began the contest with the first question for the priest:
"What is the meaning of the words, `V'onochi lo
The priest smirked at this simple question and blurted out
confidently, "I don't know."
The tailor motioned to the judges to seize the priest and
behead him, as had been prearranged, and that was what
The Jews were stunned at the brilliance of this question and
asked him how he had come up with it. The tailor replied,
"It's really very simple. When I was a child in
cheder, I asked my rebbe what those words meant, and
he said to me, `I don't know.' I figured that if he didn't
know, and if the teitch-translation also didn't know,
it must be so difficult that even the priest wouldn't know."
The tailor's ingenuousness, rather than ingenuity, gave birth
to the simplistic solution and saved the Jewish community
from dire consequences. A true story.
They tell another story about a priest who concocted a blood
libel against the Jewish community. The rabbi's protests of
innocence fell upon the deaf ears of the local authorities
but he generously offered to stage a `trial by lots.' The
rabbi instinctively knew that the priest would write `guilty'
on both ballots, and so, when he was told to pick one slip,
he took it and swallowed it. "Open the other ballot and you
will know what I have swallowed, by default," he said.
Naturally, it bore the word `guilty,' and the community was
saved. [I think there is a version of this story involving R'
Yonosson Eibshitz, who, even as a child, was extremely
innovative in dealing with evil priests.]
Creativity and ingenuity is also behind Jewish humor, which
was also used as survival tactics of the first degree. It was
used to soften the hearts of many a poritz, or butter
up a king or nobleman by putting the situation in a different
and humorous light.
Another example, of many: A rabbi and a Catholic priest were
invited to a banquet hosted by the king. The rabbi made sure
that he would be served kosher food prepared especially for
him, and he ate his meal separately. The priest saw this as a
golden opportunity to denigrate him and declared aloud, "When
will we be fortunate to eat from the same platter?"
Replied the rabbi, "At your wedding, Father."
Between the Walls of the Home
How can we exercise creative, original thinking within the
home setting? Life carries on with a very steady, monotonous
routine. But precisely because of this, it is important to
introduce a fresh approach from time to time, to take stock
and make creative changes for the better. Even the skeptics
among us will agree that many ideas are `worth a try.'
Especially when there are pressing problems or difficult
situations that have not responded to the conventional
solutions. And often as not, it can be the children
themselves, whose minds do not yet run in the rutted channels
and who are sometimes exposed to the different ways in which
other families do things -- who will suggest those simple
solutions that will prove effective.
Let us offer some other examples from the home turf:
"I have a problem with my oldest child, four-year-old Yossi.
His newest mishugass is to get ahead of me, to always
be first. When we go anywhere together by bus, he insists on
getting off first. When someone knocks at the door, he
invariably rushes to open first and when the phone rings, he
also has to answer. If he is so assertive and aggressive at
this age, what will happen when he grows up?"
Chana's neighbor had a brilliant solution. "It might sound
strange to you, but I think you should give it a try. You
have nothing to lose. Why not take the initiative and tell
him to get off the bus first, tell him to answer the
door each time someone knocks and get the phone when it
It worked. This simple idea took all the wind out of Yossi's
sails and when he saw that this was expected of him each
time, he lost interest completely.
Another mother, a chronic worrier by nature, was afraid to
let her daughter go on class trips. She was torn between the
desire to let her participate in the event and fear of what
might happen. The solution struck her one day: To accompany
the class on the trip. And this is what she did.
Another mother had to deal with a daughter who was an
inveterate nosher, addicted to sweets. She tried various
methods of weaning her but nothing worked. One day she
decided to try the opposite tactic of allowing her as much as
she wanted; she even encouraged her to stuff herself with
more and more. At first, the girl was surprised but
enthusiastic. But very soon, she tired of the nosh and for a
long time afterwards, couldn't bear to look at junk food.
Then there was the mother-in-law who found her daughter-in-
law's house a mess whenever she came to visit -- even after
suitable advance notice! "I realize it's not easy to be a
mother of five little ones, but in my opinion, the disorder
went beyond the limits. I spoke to my son about it, but he
didn't seem to think it was terrible. He could live with it,
he said. His wife spent quality time with the children and
they both felt that was much more important than a tidy
home," she unburdened herself to a professional ear.
"I agree with this," she continued, "but nontheless, a home
must function in a normal fashion. I don't ask that the house
look like a museum, but meanwhile, to my regret, it is more
like a sheep pen. I've tried to offer her house help, to pay
for a cleaning lady, but she refuses even this. Every visit
to their home causes me deep frustration. I am torn between
my longings for the children and grandchildren and the
distress I have by seeing the state of the house. What shall
The counselor to whom she poured out her heart had a
brilliant if not simple solution. "How about meeting your
daughter-in-law and her family at some public park? Let that
be your venue." The woman was surprised at the idea, but very
enthusiastic. How come she hadn't thought of it herself?
It's Not in Heaven...
Changes, upgrading and efficiency, do not always require
drastic measures. One can take the very same factors, study
them and give them a fresh twist. Many things don't hurt to
People are different from one another and there is great
blessing in this variance. Every person has some originality
which s/he can contribute to the givens; what is needed
sometimes is merely the courage to suggest and implement them
without worrying about "what will people say."
The more a person activates his mind, the more creative he
can become. A simple experiment can prove this. Give a group
of people an opening sentence which they must complete, or a
doodle of meaningless lines to complete a picture. Every
person will produce a different thing and each one will think
that this was the most obvious completion.
So, the next time you're stuck with a problem, you needn't go
far in search of a solution. Brainstorm for a variety of
possible ways through creative thinking, original solutions.
Break away from conventional answers and unstandardize your
mind to study the factors from a different vantage point. You
will be amazed at the simple but brillinat ideas that can fit