Questions vs. Answers: Life Outside the Box – by Dolores Jones

What is the nature of God? Does He have a form? If He does, what does He look like? Does He speak to us in an audible voice? If He does, what does His voice sound like? Why does God … (fill in the blank)? Questions without answers. But, is that a bad thing? In Jewish thought, it is actually a very good thing!  And in fact, it is not the answer that is important at all, but the question. Some questions will not be answered on this side of eternity and we need to appreciate it rather than allow it to be disconcerting. The secrets of the Torah are not to be found only in the answers but in the questions!  Why? Well that is a question our Sages have many answers for. 

If we have the answers to every question we ask, then the Sages tell us it is only evidence that we have not asked the questions thoroughly enough. In 1Kings 10:1 the Bible describes the occasion when the Queen of Sheba, who heard of Solomon’s great wisdom, came to him with ‘hard questions’;  “Now when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the LORD, she came to test him with hard questions.” In v. 3, it says that Solomon answered all her questions, but did he? In v. 7, Sheba says to Solomon, “… half was not told to me.” And in v. 8, “Happy are those who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom.”  In Ecclesiastes Rabbah, the Sages take up this thread of continued inquiry: “And all the kings of the earth sought Solomon (II Chron. IX, 23). AND THE PROVINCES (MEDINOTH): this alludes to the Queen of Sheba how came and contested (medayyeneth) with him with her wisdom and questions but was unable to conquer him; as it is said, She came to prove him with hard questions ... and Solomon told her all the questions (I Kings X, 1 ff.)”  So according to the Sages, Solomon’s answers to Sheba‘s hard questions was to tell her all of the questions she might also have asked him.

In our Passover Seder, the order of service begins with a child who asks the “Four Questions.” The first question is; “Why is this night different from all other nights?” The entire service is a response to these 4 questions. Young Jewish children in Cheders (Jewish day schools) learn the art of asking good questions. Even when they find an answer, they learn to re-form and re-articulate their inquiries. The Torah was designed to be plumbed not put on some theological shelf. God tells us in Isaiah 1:18; “Come let us reason together.” You can almost hear Him say, “Think man!” When we get an answer or receive inspired clarity, then this should light a spark in us to dig a little deeper. In Western culture, it is the answer that is valued—but (metaphorically), we often put those answers into little “boxes” complete with a nice little bow and then set them aside. We admire our treasury of knowledge but rarely do we open those boxes and explore further. To most Westerners this is a comfort. But to a Jewish thinker, answers are only a temporary resting place. They serve only to provide a foothold or a springboard to further inquiry. Unanswered questions to a “Greek mind” are troubling. But to a Jewish mind they are like a nice ripe carrot to a hungry garden rabbit. Answers are indeed a treasure, but like the gold vein under a mountain, there is still more in the ground. We need to think outside of the little theological boxes we create. Rather than boxes, we should have shovels—there is much more life “outside the box.”

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