The Spiritual Value Of Asking 'But Why Not?': A 'Jewel Of Elul' By Jeremy Ben-Ami

08/13/2010 07:50 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • The Huffington Post

Editor's note: There is a great Jewish tradition to dedicate the 29 days in the month of Elul to study and prepare for the coming high holy days. The time is supposed to challenge us to use each day as an opportunity for growth and discovery. On each of the 29 days of Elul, performer Craig Taubman posts a "jewel," or story, from some of today's most celebrated visionaries. Past contributors include President Barack Obama, Desmond Tutu, Sarah Lefton, Eli Wiesel, Deepak Chopra, Ruth Messinger, and Jeffrey Katzenberg -- among many others. Today's reflection comes from Jeremy Ben-Ami:

The world is a little too full of "can't" -- and there's not enough "why not?" What's more frustrating than to be told a problem isn't solvable or a goal unattainable?

My law school professors rewarded me for spotting issues and problems -- but why not for coming up with solutions? A good friend of mine pitched dozens of companies 15 years ago with the design of a slim machine on which you could read books without paper. They laughed.

Trying and failing is no excuse for not trying again. Coming up with reasons not to take chances, passing the buck, pinning the blame on someone else, saying you can't -- that's all easy. We tell our children to get back in the saddle when they fall off a bike, to get back in the batter's box when they swing and miss. Why accept anything less as adults -- in matters as important as life and death, war and peace?

Sure, we've all heard why Middle East peace can't happen. How there are no partners. How everything was tried ten years ago and it failed. We've been told that those of us who believe are few and far between, and that our limited power can't have an impact.

But why not? Beginning anew means refusing to accept things as they are. It means believing that, with effort, the power of good can and will overcome the daunting power of the status quo. New beginnings demand that we dream a better future and relentlessly ask "why not?"

Jeremy Ben-Ami is the President and founder of J Street (

If Question: If you had to count the number of times you "got back in the saddle again" this year after a fall, how many times would it be? Is it harder or easier the more times you do it?