Klutz (rhymes with “what’s”) is Yiddish for “piece of wood,” and refers to a person who is clumsy. Beyond lack of physical dexterity, it can also refer to a fool.

In its English adaptation, but not in the original Yiddish, klutzy can be used as an adjective, so you can say, “that klutz was so klutzy.” (Even though you can say that, you obviously should not if it will be hurtful or constitute lashon hara, forbidden “evil speech.”)

The connection between a block of wood and blockheadedness is not unique to Yiddish. In Russian too, dubina (“block of wood” or “club”) can be used similarly.

Klutz Kasheh: In Yiddish, a question that is somewhat simplistic can be referred to as a klutz kasheh (kasheh is Hebrew/Yiddish for “question”).

Now, whenever you are considering asking a question and are afraid that someone might consider it a klutz kasheh, and even see you as a klutz, remember that what appears to be a klutz kasheh can sometimes be the most difficult question to answer. (Think “Daddy, why is the sky blue?”)

This sentiment was expressed by the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. A young student by the name of Leibel Bistritzky wrote the Rebbe a letter in which he asked a number of questions about chassidic philosophy. The Rebbe replied (translated from Hebrew):

Those questions that you asked are not—as you referred to them—“klutz kashehs.” To the contrary, they touch on the most fundamental issues. It’s only because we have become so accustomed to them that we don’t pay attention to their inner depth. The very fact that [the terms] are so often used makes it seem that they are completely understood. However, even after study, it is clear that most of them remain too difficult to grasp.

And so it is with every wisdom or science. The part that needs the most study and research is the one that contains its most basic elements.

In the years to come, the “klutz kasheh” would become the cornerstone of the Rebbe’s signature analysis of Rashi’s commentary on the weekly Torah portion. Time and time again, the Rebbe would begin by asking the questions that are so simple they are hidden in plain sight, using them as a springboard for an in-depth analysis of Rashi’s deceptively pithy explanations.

This predilection toward asking questions runs deep in Jewish tradition, where questioning is strongly encouraged—starting with the four questions that kick off the Passover Seder. Indeed, the sages of the Mishnah say that “the bashful one never learns.”1