Permission to Ask
"And here the son asks" (Passover Hagaddah)
Why do we begin the night of the Sedar with the questions: Why is this night different from all other nights? I once spoke in a secular high school in Argentina and afterwards, the principal asked me, "Does Judaism allow questions? Can religious Jews question their faith, or are they compelled to blindly believe?" Besides this inquiry, he also commented that secular Jews do not observe mitzvohs because they view themselves as "enlightened" and refuse to do anything without a logical reason. In fact, he said, they have many questions that have no answer.
I answered, "It is certainly permitted to ask. You may ask whatever is on your mind. Indeed, G-d wants us to ask questions and to understand the reasons, and not to merely resort to faith, as scripture states, 'Know the G-d of your father and serve him.'"
The ultimate goal is to know G-d. It is only at the beginning of our religious journey that we serve solely with faith. This is akin to asking a doctor for a remedy. At first we follow the doctor's instructions blindly, and only afterwards, when all is well, do we ask for an explanation.
Toward this end, G-d gave us the holiday of Passover, in which we perform all manner of odd behaviors in order to prompt our children to ask questions. This is specifically to teach them to ask, as well as to give us opportunities to provide answers for everything. It is incumbent upon us to answer and teach every child: the wise child, the wicked child, the simpleton, and even the one who does not know how to ask. All of this at the outset of a holiday that celebrates our becoming the nation of G-d. This demonstrates that it is essential for Jews to always ask and seek answers.
Naturally, for every question, there are many solutions and reasons, as our holy Torah is broader than the seven seas. No single individual knows everything. When a doctor doesn't know something, he must ask a greater doctor; so too, one must seek answers from someone with greater knowledge.
This principal also posed a question regarding G-d's justice during the Holocaust. I offered him the following analogy: An elderly man once sired an only child in his old age. His love for this child was boundless and he cautioned his young son to refrain from eating foods or engaging in activities that might endanger his life. But the child ignored his father's warnings. As a result, the child took ill and the doctors advised the father that the child must undergo a painful operation lest he die. Understandably, the father was greatly distressed. The child protested that he was fine; he even claimed that his father must hate him to subject him to so painful an operation. Nevertheless, the father understood what was at stake; that the operation must be performed in order to save the child's life.
So, too, our merciful Father in Heaven, whose love for us knows no bounds, instructed us through his holy Torah to observe His mitzvots for our own benefit. If we don't, G-d forbid, then terrible retribution will be exacted in order to purify our souls, which is the reason for man's creation in G-d's view (the body is of secondary importance). And yet scripture tells us, "In all of their pain, He is pained" and "I am with him [the Jewish people] in his pain."
And so even as G-d is pained, He nevertheless desires to save His children.
In fact, this is precisely what happened when Moshe Rabbainu (Moses) first went to Pharaoh in the name of G-d demanding that he free the Jewish people. Pharaoh reacted by increasing their workload and intensifying their servitude. Moshe questioned G-d: "From the time that I came to speak to Pharaoh he has further burdened the people, and You have not saved Your nation."
G-d answered, "Now you will see what I shall do to Pharaoh, for with a strong hand he shall chase them out from his land." Our rabbis explain that the seemingly harsh intensification of the Hebrew's workload actually served to hasten the time for their redemption by 190 years. Whereas G-d originally told Abraham our father that his progeny would be enslaved in a foreign land for 400 years, due to their severe oppression under the Egyptians, they were only required to remain in servitude for 210 years. Ultimately, their harsh ordeal was for their own benefit. Such are the mysterious ways of the Al-mighty.
May we merit that G-d hasten our redemption and show us, once again, His great deeds as he showers us with his Divine beneficence.