There is a Yiddish saying that is familiar to many: “One doesn’t die from asking a question.” This expression is a pithy way to explain to someone who has questions that having a question — or many — is no big deal.
As one gets older and wiser, he has a broader perspective and realizes that questions are a part of life and that we make choices despite questions all the time.
Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The Missing Husband”
I had coffee after work with a couple of guys yesterday. That’s actually kind of unusual for me since I don’t socialize very often, but this was a somewhat unusual situation. Those of you who have been following my blog for awhile know that one of my “issues” is my lack of fellowship with like-minded believers. You have probably read my discussion about why I don’t go to church. These two fellows are more or less in the same boat as I am. We are all believers, but through one process or another, we find ourselves without a congregation to which we can belong. Maybe we’re too independent or idiosyncratic or something.
So over coffee at Moxie Java, we discussed why we were meeting in the first place. We hadn’t brought our Bibles and we didn’t have a specific plan or agenda for our meeting. The most we had settled on before getting together yesterday was that we wanted to have a meeting and talk. But what about?
We came up with a number of reasons why we were more alike than unalike, and why we don’t seem to fit into a traditional church setting. One of the reasons was that we ask a lot of questions.
You might not think this is a big deal, but I know from my own experience that it’s not a good idea to ask a lot of questions in church, or at least, you shouldn’t ask questions that don’t have canned, pre-programmed, Christian answers. But we were discussing things like the Deity (or lack thereof) of Jesus and whether or not there really is a Trinity, and whether the third Temple would be a real, physical structure built by men (I think so, but someone else didn’t) or something more “spiritual.” These are questions that would probably raise a few eyebrows if you discussed them in adult Sunday school after services. They might even get you quickly escorted to the door by a couple of ushers with a strong “suggestion” never to return.
That’s the difference between how I see Christianity and Judaism. Christianity is about always having the right answers and only asking questions that map to those answers. Judaism is about always asking all kinds of questions and then struggling with the answers, maybe coming up with half a dozen possible responses, and then arguing all of them around back and forth. There’s no sin in wondering exactly what makes Jesus divine and what his relationship is with “God the Father,” but you might not get that feeling if you asked those kind of questions in a church.
But if you don’t ask questions, then you don’t learn. And if you don’t learn, then your relationship with God drops into a deadend rut and never goes anywhere for years and years.
The rebellious child who questions everything sits in a place beyond the one who has nothing to ask.
If the rebellious child questions, it is because it touches him, it says something to him. Perhaps it even bothers him.
But a perfectly capable human being who has no questions about Torah and G-d — he is stuck in his place. Perhaps he is a good religious Jew who does good deeds and never sins. But there is no sense of the spirit, of the meaning of life, of transcendence.
He is stuck in Egypt and knows of nothing higher.
—at the second Seder, 1965
Chronicled by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
I was discussing this matter with a Pastor on his blog the other day, and his response was that the issue wasn’t Christianity vs. Judaism, but west vs. east. He said that the eastern churches tended to very much encourage question asking and wrestling over difficult issues. The western church tends to be more “goal-oriented” and likes conclusions rather than conundrums. That may well be true. I don’t know. I do know that the traditional Yeshiva model of learning is to argue opposing positions and “posing problems that would cross a rabbi’s eyes.” (from the lyrics to If I Were a Rich Man)
So there we were, three guys sitting around drinking mediocre coffee and occasionally having our conversation being drowned out by the latte machine, asking questions, posing problems, and generally discussing matters that would “cross a Pastor’s eyes.”
But it felt good.
Part of getting close to God is meditating upon Him and His awesome, mighty works and wonders. Part of getting close to God is prayer. Part of getting close to God is reading the Bible and studying the Torah commentaries of the ancient Jewish sages.
And part of knowing God is getting together with a few other guys in a coffee shop in southwestern Idaho and talking about Him, asking all the questions we can’t ask other people, and hoping we get at a few answers, or better yet, a few more questions, that surprise and challenge us.
Because if we can’t find a way to get closer to Him, we’ll always be too far away.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works. –Psalm 73:25-28 (ESV)
We’ll get together again next Thursday after work and see how it goes. Maybe, I’ll have a good question to ask. I hope no one comes up with just one answer.