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

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

FNQ – thought for the week - Jewish Questioning

Questions can be divided into two basic categories. There are questions whose purpose is to obtain information that one is lacking. This is the most basic form of a question. This is the kind of question one asks when they want to know what time it is, or what's for dinner. Then there is a second type of question. This type of question is asked when you have a basic level of knowledge of the subject but use an inquiry to delve deeper. Both questions are valid and essential elements of learning.

What makes Jewish questioning unique is that for a Jew there are certain questions that the secular world would categorize as type one, whereas a Jew unquestionably considers them to be type two.
For example a secular philosopher may ask the question “Is there a G-d?” For him, this question is a genuine type one question. He wants to know does G-d exist. A Jewish philosopher will also ask this question; however, for him it is a type two question. A Jew is expected to believe that G-d exists. He inquires about the existence of G-d not to determine G-d's existence, rather in an attempt to better understand it.

I heard a related thought of Rav Yisrael Salanter from Rabbi Shalom Rosner. Rav Salanter asked why is it that in the prayer Ein K'Elokeinu we first proclaim “there is none like our G-d” (ein k'Elokeinu) and only afterwards do we ask, “who is like our G-d?” (mi k'Elokeinu). He answered that as a Jew we can only begin to ask about the nature of G-d after declaring that He exists and is all powerful. To add to this thought, perhaps this prayer is reminding us that once we have declared G-d's greatness it is imperative to ask what the nature of His greatness is for only than can we really hope to gain some level of understanding.

I believe that it is essential for a Jew to ask. However, it is also critical that he realize that there are givens he must accept as true. Concerning these truths we ask only to gain deeper understanding.

What do you think?

Binyamin – Always looking for a good question

1 comment:

  1. I like your categorization of questions into type one -informational- and type two -genuine inquiry (?). Do you think there is also a third type of question, one that perhaps is used often by Jews and non Jews alike, the category of question which is asked by the "Rasha" in the Hagaddah? That question, while having all of the technical requirements to be a "question" is really more of a statement then a question (we can call it an insincere inquiry). Perhaps that is why we respond immediately to him with a "teeth whack" before we even proceed with an answer. Would you agree that there are some questions that in even in Judaism I would not say we "fear" but rather that we "write off as irrelevant or unworthy of receiving a response?"