Office of the Chief Rabbi

Thought for the Day: Why is this night…

Ahead of Passover the Chief Rabbi celebrates the inquisitive mind, tying it in with Jewish tradition – which customarily encourages people to ask questions – and highlighting the vital role of children at the Seder table. 

“A Rabbi was once asked: Why do Jews answer a question with a question? He replied: Well, why not?

Maieutics is the name given to learning through asking challenging questions. The term comes from the Greek meaning midwife. Socrates argued that inquiry is the greatest tool we have to give birth to knowledge.

The bestselling author, Warren Berger, in his latest book, A More Beautiful Ques-tion: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, demonstrates that the most creative and successful people tend to be expert questioners. By mastering the art of inquiry, they raise the questions no one else is asking, and find the answers everyone else is seeking.

“The Passover story is retold in response to the questions we encourage our children to ask”

Next week, Jewish families around the world will be celebrating the festival of Passover at home, sitting around the dining table at a wonderful service called the Seder, where we recount our miraculous exodus from slavery in Egypt some 3,500 years ago.

The key participants at our Seder tables will be the children. The Passover story is retold in response to the questions we encourage our children to ask. As a result, Passover could be dubbed The festival of questions.

Our tradition considers it a sacred task to inspire children to ask, probe and explore. We take their questions seriously. We respond by drawing upon the healthy debates of our sages over many centuries; vibrant arguments that continue to challenge our intellect.

To question is not a rejection; rather it is seen by our intensely discursive tradition as a way of refining our understanding of the truth, and of the part we must play in the universe.

Successful entrepreneurs will tell you that companies, like people, start out, in their infancy, asking lots of questions. Unfortunately they ask fewer and fewer questions as time goes on. To succeed we must keep thinking in an inquisitive and challenging way.

“If you understand how to ask the right question you’re more than half way to the answer”

Through continuously seeing the everyday world around us with fresh eyes and curious minds, our questions can challenge assumptions and become the starting point of breath-taking innovation.

Asking the right question can produce a life-changing moment. For example, instead of asking a demoralising question such as “Why does this always happen to me?” one can ask an empowering question such as “How can I use this experience to contribute to the lives of others?”

Insightful questions motivate us more than resolutions. If you understand how to ask the right question you’re more than half way to the answer.”

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