Point of View
Gertrude Stein, the famous expatriate poetess, lay on her deathbed. Alice B. Toklas, turned to her and said, “So, Gertrude, what’s the answer?” Miss Stein looked at her friends and responded, “So, Alice, what’s the question?”
In this simple story we find an important thought; that it is in asking rather than in the answering that we find the truly creative act. Only a human being asks. Animal life responds to stimuli, but doesn’t question. Computers answer but cannot ask. To question is to be human, to be a thinking human.
To ask is also uniquely Jewish, so much so that an entire festive evening, the Passover Seder night, is devoted to questioning. All the rituals seem to have been designed to stimulate the curiosity of the young child whom we start off with four basic questions known as the Ma Nishtanah.
`Qualitative asking is even more than just a human act, it determines the very essence of an individual or nation. In the Passover Haggadah questions are posed by four sons.
The wicked son asks why all of this “mumbo-jumbo” is necessary. But the wise son asks for information as to his duties and responsibilities. Abraham’s question, by which he confronts God, in the Biblical story of the destruction of Sodom, is of the highest caliber – “Shall the Judge of all the earth not be justly?” Job courageously challenges God with deep probing questions of faith, while Rabbi Levi of Berdichev thrusts searing questions at his Maker.
It is only when we do not ask that we are in trouble. A politician cynically said, “I would rather be hated than ignored.” Indifference is the deepest hurt that can be inflicted upon him. He can live with controversy and dissension, but to be ignored is to be forgotten and consequently finished.
Today the weak link in people is their docile refusal to ask and to challenge. Of the four sons recounted by the Passover Haggadah, the son who “asks nothing” poses a great threat to our survival.
The Health Care Bill so hotly contested and divisive which rocked the nation and the congress speaks not to the weakness of our nation, but to its strength and its enduring democratic spirit. Whatever may be our personal opinions, all these demonstrations, protest meetings, harsh words, show that representative government and individual freedom was at work. That’s the gift of being an American – a nation of questioning people.
As a Rabbi I have never feared the questions of our young people, though they go to the very core of time-hallowed beliefs and customs. In their questioning there is always the hope that a spark will be kindled and a small undiscovered corner of their Jewishness will be reignited.
Judaism is a “questioning” religion and the rocky road to Jewish belief is often a quest, many times a groping, and hopefully ends in a grasping.
“What doth the Lord require of you?” is a question posed by one of our great prophets. When it is on the lips of people everywhere, we may be assured that its response will also be in their hearts: “To do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God and with man.”
Join Us in Paying Tribute To The Six Million Jewish Martyrs
67th Year since Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
April 11, 2010 - 7:00 PM
Beth-El Main Sanctuary
Participants: Rabbi Allan Blaine - Moderator, Cantor Dennis Waldman,
Stuart Rauch, Organist and the Children’s Choir,
Guest Speaker: Estelle Locklin
Candle Lighting Procession
Second - Third Generation Participation and
The Bernard H. Weiner Post - Jewish War Veterans
This monthly column continues with thanks to an anonymous donor.