I love a good question. It challenges the mind, it stimulates sensitivity, it opens the doors of perception. A fine question is always better than a mediocre answer.
The Yiddish expression puts it that you don’t die from questions. Now while that is true in a civil and peaceful society, questioning authority and power can be extremely dangerous in some situations. Think Russia, China, North Korea or Myanmar…
Jewish tradition has always savoured the quality of a challenging question. In fact, the Hebrew word for wisdom – Chochma is a play on the words koach mah which means the power of what and why. Jewish people love to question and challenge; this has shaped the Jewish intellectual pursuit and our contribution to civilisation. We have never been afraid to question even God Himself. Of course, when taken to the extreme and when not expressed respectfully, it can be offensive and misunderstood. The challenge of authority and speaking truth to power has won the Jewish people many friends and a good number of enemies.
We are currently entering the Jewish season of questioning. Tonight is the beginning of the Hebrew month of Nissan in which the Passover or Pesach festival will fall. During this month we ask ourselves many questions about how we can best be prepared for the spring time festival (in Israel and the Northern Hemisphere), how we can prepare our homes and selves properly for the eight-day celebration.
It is an incredibly busy time for the Jewish Life staff at Jewish Care especially in preparing of our kitchens and residential facilities for Pesach.
On the first night of the festival we sit around the table with our families and enjoy not only a sumptuous meal but also a stupendous discussion. Questions are integral to the evening – we encourage children as well as adults to participate in this. There is indeed the famous section for kids in the Haggadah or book of the evening called Mah Nishtana, how and why is this night different from all others?
These four questions for the children are some of the set ones for the evening but they are only a springboard for the unexpected and contemporaneous ways we should be interrogating the text and each other.
Thinking of questions, this year these are some of the questions I will be asking:
Why is freedom not just another word?
What’s the point of ritual in a riotous world?
Are women stronger than male tyrants?
How can we make this evening and our lives more inclusive of the other especially our LGBTI+community, those with disability, refugees and migrants?
How was Jewish social consciousness born in Gizah?
What’s the point of Pesach in the face of Putin?
What have the ten plagues got to do with climate change?
Why does Pesach still inform Jewishness today?
Most of these questions are relevant not only for Jewish people but for all of us as children of humanity. Curiosity should lead us to compassion; questioning can and should direct us to positive action.
Albert Einstein who possessed one of the most open and exciting minds is reputed to have said: “The most important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence.”
So in this season of seeking, let’s be sure to dig deep into our hearts and probe meaningfully into our heads so that we continue to find and formulate the best questions for the future of our troubled planet.