ANSWERS AND QUESTIONS BY MORAH RUZ GULKO
I chose to use this piece as it has a direct bearing on much of my teaching for Rosh HaShanah.
Looking so forward to meeting everyone!
My 85-year-old mother adores the TV show Jeopardy. You get answers in different categories, and you have to guess what the questions were. It’s on from 7 – 7:30 every weekday evening, and anyone who calls during this time is treated to a hasty apology and a promise to call back. She is one smart cookie, and loves guessing the correct questions before the contestants can. And yeah, she is right about 98 % of the time!
Everyone has heard that old joke: “Why does a Jew answer a question with a question?” Answer: “Why not?” As silly as this may seem, I think we can look at it as an expression of Jewish non-binary thinking, combined with irony. After all, what do we really know? Our awareness and perceptions are clearly almost completely subjective, as has been demonstrated many times over in well-grounded scientific work. The Jewish response to this problem of knowing is to ask many questions, from different angles and approaches, turning it over and over until understanding, comprehension, and wisdom are achieved. That is why questions – sheh-eh-loht – are a critically important part of Jewish study, and, can often be more important than the answers.
Now, here’s an interesting fact: there is only one word each in Hebrew for What, When, Where, etc. But when we come to the question Why, we learn that there are two separate words: maDU-ah, and LAmah. MaDU-ah means, literally, “What is known?” Basic facts are needed. LAmah means “For what?” That’s the big existential WHY. Why do good people suffer? Why do people do terrible things? WHY ME? Obviously, the LAmah is the much harder question to answer.
Why do we need to ask so many questions? Which why?!