“The only stupid question is the one not asked.”
This is a famous quote I am sure we have all heard, and one I am sure many teachers start their school year off with.
But there is more to it than just the obvious. The first thing is to realize that asking questions is imperative to gaining knowledge. But… “There is a difference between asking a question to understand and asking a question to undermine.” Thanks to Rabbi Shlomo Seidenfeld for that notion!
A sincere question, with the intent to learn and grow should NEVER be brushed off, and yet… how many of us grew up in schools (Hebrew or otherwise) where the main response to our quest for an answer and some insight was… “That’s just the way it is,” or “Because it says so.” Hardly satisfying and not the best way to keep students inspired and enthralled. In fact, I would say that these kinds of answers push many Jews away. I know it never did and never does make me happy, and I stay away from those who answer my earnest questions with that kind of brush off.
That answer also gives fuel to the fires and debate of atheists, who already question so many religions as being fantastical and unwilling to discuss and answer the most difficult of topics.
Judaism is NOT easy, even for those with the most strong and devoted faith, but it is also not dismissive, at least when you find the right teacher or teachers… and I have been so lucky to find many incredible mentors. I list them from time to time and will do so again… Rabbi Shlomo Seidenfeld, Rabbi Avi Rabin, Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky, Rabbi Moshe Bryski, Howard Witkin, Jason Katz, Saul Blinkoff and a variety of books and audio classes from Rabbi Noah Weinberg, Rabbi David Aaron, Rabbi Shalom Denbo, David Sacks, Rabbi David Wolpe (Lots of Davids!!!), Aish.com, and Chabad.org!
These studies are deep and open… We do not shy away from anything, and this is the way it should be. We dig in, we discuss, we debate, we “argue” and we question.
So it makes perfect sense that Shlomo talked about how wrestling literally and metaphorically defines us… defines Jews… defines Israel.
Jacob was given a blessing after he wrestled with an Angel… and his name was changed to Israel. This is a huge insight into what Hashem wants and expects of all of us. Hashem WANTS us to question and discuss and debate… Just took at the Talmud and the debates of scholar after scholar, Yeshiva after Yeshiva.
Hashem WANTS us to hold him accountable. He often involves us directly, as he did with Moses and Abraham. Shlomo referenced the discussion Abraham had with Hashem about Sodom and Gomorrah.
Abraham asked if he would spare the city if 50 righteous people were found. Hashem agreed, but then Abraham asked for mercy for lower numbers… 45, 40, 30, 20, and finally 10. We all know what happened to those cities, and it is one of the events that have people questioning the wrath of G-d… and whether G-d is angry and violent… but the point is that Abraham and G-d discussed the matter.
Okay, so… do we get to have the same conversations? Seemingly no. But we do get to pray and ask Hashem questions. We do get to plea and speak with passion and fire. We can express confusion and pain, yell and shout.
If you are a regular reader you know I have been dealing with a lot… and maintaining my full faith has been a challenge, especially in the face of so much adversity I see for me and my family and friends… And yet… here I am. I continue to pray and write and study… and THAT is why Judaism means so much to me.
For anyone who says we are blind followers… lemmings… puppets, etc. let them sit in at a Yeshiva… or Shabbat dinner table… or class… or wherever Jews gather. We debate and argue and discuss and question… and it makes us stronger!
The goal is to go from Faith to Emunah to Bitachon… to fully knowing that there is a G-d and that Hashem is One. But that will never mean that we do not wrestle and ask questions, for that is the very base that Judaism is built on. So raise those hands high… and ask your deepest, most heartfelt questions.