Shabbat Parashat Beha'alotcha| 5763
Even Moshe Rabbenu Had to AskHarav Moshe Zvi Polin
There is a Yiddish expression to the effect that if one asks a question of Kashrut, it [the food] is trefah. Unlike most Yiddish expression, this one is neither rational nor accurate. Why bother to ask if the answer is presumably known? Moreover, for over 1500 years Jews have asked something like 350,000 questions that have been recorded in our Responsa (She'eilot u'Teshuvot) literature.
In fact, the Responsa provide insight into the conditions of Jewish life throughout the ages. More importantly, the Responsa is the process by which the Torahs relevance for every age and place is revealed. Nothing is more intrinsically Jewish, therefore, than asking questions.
Parashat Behaalotekha contains an example of a question that was posed to Moshe--which he could not answer! "There were some men who were tame by reason of [contact with] a corpse and could not offer the Pesah sacrifice on [the proper] day. Appearing before Moshe and Aharon, they said: '...Why should we be debarred from presenting the Lord's offering at its set time with the rest of the Israelites?' Moshe said to them, 'Stand by, and let me hear what instructions the Lord gives about you'" (Bamidbar 9:6-9).
Rashi notes, based upon the Sifre, that these men were "committed to observing mitzvot" and had in fact come with a proposed solution to resolve their disqualification.
This was one of four instances when Moshe could not answer a question and had to turn to Hashem for an answer. The others were the respective punishments for the blasphemer (Vayyikra 24:10-14) and the Shabbat violator (Bemidbar 15:32-36) and inheritance by daughters (Bemidbar 27:1-11).
If Moshe Rabbenu was not ashamed to admit that he didn't know the answers, no Jew should ever be ashamed to ask questions. One should not assume that he knows the law; he should ask. The question need not be earth shattering, and it should be asked primarily for reasons of learning and doing rather than idle curiosity. Finally, one should know that rabbis do not treat questions lightly.
"The question of the wise is already half the answer" (Migdal Oz to Rambam, Hilkhot Teshuvah). One becomes wise by asking questions, and the wise continue to ask.
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