Out of sheer kindness you sometimes ask a friend, “How are you?” and the answer is, “You shouldn’t ask… my head hurts, my back hurts, my legs hurt; I’m going to the doctor, the physiotherapist, the acupuncturist, the psychiatrist, all the ‘ists you can think of. How am I? You shouldn’t ask!”
In Judaism, the rule is quite different. On Pesach, for example, you should, you must ask. Without the questions there would be no Seder. Questions are part of every aspect of Jewish life. The questions are sometimes for rabbis; on religious and ethical issues, one must use the rabbi for information and guidance. Sometimes our questions are for God; one that Moses addressed to the Almighty echoes through the ages – “Why do You deal harshly with Your people?” Sometimes the questions are for ourselves; at the very beginning of history God asks Adam, “Where are you?”
The one thing that a Jew should not do is to imagine that M’darf nicht fregen – “one shouldn’t ask questions”. Nor should one say, Az m’fregt a sha’olah, iz treif – ”if you ask a question, the answer is always no!”
Abraham, Moses, Job, Rabbi Akiva… all asked God difficult questions about how He ran the universe, and God did not remove them from Jewish history. God gave us minds and expects us to use them. So what if the questions we ask of other people, God, or ourselves are difficult? It is said that a chief rabbi of London, Hirschel Levin, was asked why he was leaving and he answered, “Because that’s the first question anyone has asked me!”
In today’s world so much is happening, and we dare not squash or suppress our curiosity. In Jewish life likewise. The Midrash says that when a child asks, “What is Judaism?” it is a bad sign because there is ignorance; but a good sign, because there is interest.
Where do you find answers? Buy books and read them. Attend courses and classes, and get your mind working. Find a mentor, and ask questions. Use the electronic media; the Internet is a remarkable source of stimulation. Above all, never pretend that you know enough and are comfortable with the sort of Jew you are. The best Jew is the one who every day is trying to become a better Jew.