"We are closer to G-d when we are asking the questions, than when we think we have the answers" Heschel

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Questioning – A dialectic tension of the Jewish Persona

On the one hand a Jew is characterized by being a ביישן, which can be translated as one who has the trait of shame. On the other hand the Mishna, Avot 2:5, teaches that one who is a ביישן, (feels shame, embarrassment or timidness) will not excel in learning. Are we to conclude from this very obvious contradiction that a Jew is defined as one who does not excel in learning. It is clear that this is not the proper solution. Jews have always valued learning and the search for knowledge. In fact, the study of Torah is a commandment of unparalleled significance. Therefore, resolving this apparent contradiction demands a qualification of the character trait of shame.

It would seem that shame or timidness is a defining trait for a Jew under all circumstances except when he is learning. The moment one walks through the doors of a study hall the bashful Jew takes on an entirely different persona. The pursuit of knowledge must be tenacious and the, usually positive, trait of busha has no place. We enter the halls of Torah armed with the most powerful weapon known to man, our minds, and are prepared to shoot down those who get in our way as we climb towards knowledge of G-d and His Torah.

I will share a story to illustrate the point that I heard from my rebbe, Rav Hershel Shachter. It is said, that as the students from the Mirrer Yeshiva traveled, by train, to Japan fleeing the horrors of WWII they would spend the long hours studying. One of the onlookers on the train was befuddled as he watched the sight of them learning. He couldn't understand what could possibly be in the books that caused all of these sweet young men to lose their minds and become mad with rage towards each other when opened. We must study as foes and live as friends.

One who is too shy to ask what something means, or why the halacha follows one opinion and not the other will find that their learning will be stifled. Such an individual will never reach their potential in the area of Torah study. While not probing and challenging in some cases reflects shyness or embarrassment more often it reflects lack of interest in the subject matter. Many don't bother coming up with question because they simply don't care. If we feel that the study of Torah is of unequaled stature than we must never allow our personal embarrassment or apathy to get in the way of arriving at truth. We must fight to understand until we have conquered the mountain of Torah.

To Ponder:

1.Do you find you don't ask your question for fear of looking stupid?
2.Do you think it is better to be stupid than to not look stupid?
3.When you don't ask a question is that an expression of deep faith and religious commitment or is that you really don't care enough to bother asking?

What do you think?

Binyamin – Always looking for a good question

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