Ask a Good Question
April Dixon | January 19, 2020
“In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.’” — Exodus 13:14
As we begin a new year and a new decade, let the pursuit of wisdom be one of our top goals. Enjoy this collection of devotions on wisdom throughout the month from Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein’s timeless teachings.
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One Jewish man once asked another, “Hey, why is it that we Jews ask so many questions?” The other Jewish man answered, “Why not?”
Jews are well-known for asking questions!
It’s been said that Eskimos have around 50 words for what we call “snow.” This attests to the centrality of snow in the life of an Eskimo. It makes sense then that Jews have around 20 terms for what we call a “question,” because questions are central to living a biblically inspired life.
The roots of the value placed on asking questions can be found in this week’s Torah portion. We read, “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt . . .’” Notice that the Bible doesn’t command us to lecture our children about the story of the Exodus. Rather, we are to train our children to ask questions – and when they do, we are to answer them accordingly.
Why is it so important to ask rather than to be told?
Isidor (Israel) Rabi, a Jewish physicist who won the Nobel Prize, was once asked what made him become a scientist. He answered, “My mother made me a scientist. When other children came home from school their mothers would ask, ‘what did you learn today?’ but my mother would say, ‘Izzy, did you ask a good question today?’ Learning to ask questions is what made me a scientist.”
When we ask questions, we are more open to learning. When we ask, we are admitting that we don’t know something. There is a space inside of us that wants to be filled with something that we don’t have. We are ready to receive something new, something meaningful, and something significant in our lives.
The Hebrew word for “knowledge” is chochma. Broken down, that word becomes coach mah, which translates as “the power of asking what.” The more powerful our questions, the greater our wisdom. We must teach our children and ourselves to ask questions. It’s the only way to arrive at the most powerful and life-changing knowledge. When he was 89, Isidor had an MRI done, a lifesaving procedure made possible by one of his inventions — an invention that was the result of all his questioning.
What good question can you ask today? “How can I make the world a better place?” “Do things always have to be as they are?” “What would I try if I wasn’t afraid to fail?” Or simply, “Can I be a better person today than I was yesterday?”
The more we ask, the more we’ll know, and the better the questions, the greater the wisdom to follow.
Download your complimentary copy of our booklet, On the Frontlines of Faith, which explores the historic and spiritual bond between the African-American and Jewish communities during the civil rights movement.