You had a Question? By Rabbi Baruch Cohon
Many doctrines don’t want to be challenged. Whether religious, political or psychological, their protagonists fully expect to proclaim these doctrines – to teach them – without ever having to defend them.
A reminiscence of my father’s illustrates that fact on a quite elementary level. In his youth in Czarist Russia, my father of blessed memory learned Torah in a Yeshiva. When an idea in the lesson challenged him, he asked the teacher about it. The teacher, thoroughly grounded in tradition, had a habit of answering with a quick reprimand: Sheygetz, freg keyn kashes nit! – “Little Gentile, don’t ask questions!” Developing into a rabbi and teacher of rabbis in the United States, the former yeshiva boy welcomed questions, from his students and from the lay people he led.
Indeed he impressed on me, and hopefully on many of them, the blessed fact that Judaism draws wisdom – even inspiration – from the research and discussion that a constructive question stimulates. Just consider the questions raised by scholars in the Talmud. Find a Biblical quote to answer a question by Hillel – and you can fully expect Shammai to find a corresponding possuk to contradict it! And maybe the Halacha (the rabbinic ruling) follows still another answer. Debates like these fill many pages of the Gemara text, and explain all kinds of Jewish practice.
No doubt about it. Questions asked in search of truth have built a way of life that can, and should, motivate us all in a positive, even a sacred, direction.
Ask your way to truth, little Sheygetz!