Do We Know How to Ask?

Remember the fourth son at the Passover seder? He doesn’t know how to ask. The holy Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev said, “That’s me.”

In the science fiction work “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” the supercomputer Deep Thought is asked “the question of life, the universe and everything.” After 7½ billion years of computation, the answer that came up was disappointing: “42”. But there was a good deal of wisdom in Deep Thought’s explanation of the failure to get a good answer. He said: “Perhaps you don’t really know what the question is.”

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Covid-19 has many physical ramifications, but it also has stirred a great many people to question “why”. Why has the entire world suddenly changed? What does it mean? What do we need to learn?

The written answers that I’ve collected include:

Prayer does not work.
God wants us to pray.
Only God is in control.
We need to prepare in order to be in control.
This is a challenge for Trump to meet and gain support.
This is a nullification of Trump’s successes so he can lose support.
The closure of entertainment venues shows their lack of worth.
The closure of places of worship shows their lack of worth.

Notice anything? The meaning we find often reflects our values and commitments. We aren’t prepared to hear a new message. In that sense, we don’t really know how to ask.

Is it at all possible to ask without a prejudiced framework? Remember the fourth son at the Passover seder? He doesn’t know how to ask. The holy Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev said, “That’s me.”

It seems that we will always be a limited framework for our quest for meaning. We are all blinded by addiction to some form of self-gratification, however subtle and indirect it may be.

The first step in learning how to ask is to recognize the narrow perspective within which we seek an answer. We are confined by our ego’s interests. Perhaps that is at least one hint we can take from the physical isolation due to the pandemic.

The path to freedom from spiritual confinement is a gradual process of self-transformation. Instead of always asking “what’s in it for me,” we must acquire the habit of asking “what can I do for you.”

As we learn the art of giving to others, we learn the art of asking for meaning to be revealed.

About the Author
Aryeh Siegel is a Diplomate in Logotherapy (Viktor Frankl Institute of Logotherapy) with a Ph.D. in philosophy of logic and metaphysics (M.I.T.). Having studied for over 20 years the Kabbalah of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag (Baal Hasulam) from Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Gottlieb, he publishes articles and delivers lectures on the philosophy of Kabbalah and Logotherapy. As translator and editor, he has published the book "Giving - The Essential Teaching of the Kabbalah" (Urim Publications, 2020), which includes essays by Baal Hasulam with Rabbi Gottlieb's commentary.
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