For the week of September 27, 2008 / 27 Elul 5768
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 29:9 - 30:20
Haftarah: Isaiah 61:10 - 63:9

Good Question

Why has the LORD done thus to this land? What caused the heat of this great anger? (Devarim / Deuteronomy 29:24; ESV)

One of the delightful things about young children is observing their intellectual development. It takes a considerable amount of time for human beings to correctly associate terms and phrases with their respective concepts. For example, years ago one of our sons asked my wife in the early morning, "When will it become pitch white?" thinking that pitch white was the opposite of the pitch black of nighttime.

An example from my own childhood was when I asked my older cousin a particular question. I cannot remember what my question was, but I do remember his answer. He said to me, "That is a good question." At first I was so excited that my cousin would compliment me on my question, that it was of such extraordinary quality. And then, I waited for the good answer. I didn't know that a good question was one to which there was no answer, which disappointed me.

Perhaps that was a defining moment in my life, because since then I have been asking "good questions". I continue to ask questions to which people either don't know the answer or they don't want to answer.

This week's Torah portion includes such a question. Not long before his death, Moses was telling the people that the children of a future generation may ask the following good question due to their observation of the desolation of the Promised Land: "Why has the LORD done thus to this land? What caused the heat of this great anger?" (Devarim / Deuteronomy 29:24; ESV). In this case Moses does provide an answer:

Then people will say, "It is because they abandoned the covenant of the LORD, the God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them out of the land of Egypt, and went and served other gods and worshiped them, gods whom they had not known and whom he had not allotted to them. Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against this land, bringing upon it all the curses written in this book, and the LORD uprooted them from their land in anger and fury and great wrath, and cast them into another land, as they are this day" (Devarim / Deuteronomy 29:25-28).

You may be wondering why I refer to this as a good question if a good question is one to which we don't have an answer. While Moses and the future generation to which he was referring knew the answer and was willing to give it, I wonder if our generation is as knowledgeable and willing. I wonder if someone would ask the same kind of question today, could we and would we give such an answer or would we respond with "good question" just like my cousin did.

The current situation in the Land of Israel is a complex one. Certainly it is better than it has been for much of the past two thousand years. Still, it is not all that God intended. Are we willing to answer the question, "Why is the Land of Israel in the state it is in?" How about the state of the world? Or the state of our congregations? Or our families? Or our individual lives? Are we willing to answer the question, "Why are we in the state we are in?" Or are we going to say, "Good question"?

One of the problems with telling a child "Good question", meaning "I don't know", "I don't want to say", or "I don't want to think about it" is that they learn to stop asking such questions. I fear that this is where many of us are at today. Not only are we not getting the most important questions answered, we are not even asking the questions.

Why not?

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