“If your child asks you tomorrow… you shall say to your child ” Deuteronomy 6:20-21
IF the verses above are familiar, you have done well. They are read every year in the passage on the Four Sons at Seder. If thoughts of Pesach panic you, stay calm and keep reading. Judaism’s grandeur is reflected in its ability to deal and actively encourage questions. As an educator, I am always amazed by the depth and honesty in the questions that I am asked by my high school students.
However, this is not always the case. A study of Israeli youth who had defected from Orthodoxy revealed that many had left not because they were bothered by doctrine or the desire for “freedom”, but because they had stopped asking, or were not encouraged to ask, questions. Greater still is the damage done by some educators who label their students’ questions klotzkashas, “foolish questions”. Teachers hide behind a veneer of religious devotion when instead it is ignorance or their own limitations that stop them encouraging their students to question.
This is a serious error, which has led to the loss from the Orthodox world of many sincere and potentially brilliant minds. There are no foolish questions. The magic of a good teacher is to transform a simple question into a lesson, to enable the student to feel that they have furthered the learning. Not all questions can be answered and sometimes “God said so” might be the answer; but such statements end questions and for some end their Jewish journeys altogether. Sometimes the best answer is to admit that the question remains or as expressed by the Yiddish witticism, “One does not die from a question”.
As we move towards Rosh Hashanah, I would encourage everyone to make a New Year resolution to ask as many questions as possible.