‘What am I missing?’

Any questions? This is how presenters often conclude presentations. Typically it’s when some of the most interesting learning happens.

Yet some questions remain unasked. They can be simple operational inquiries “How does this work?” Or they can be burning questions.  In the wake of upending loss we cry, “Why did this happen?” 

Judaism specializes in addressing unasked questions.  Not with certain answers.  Not with overconfidence.  But by provoking and activating learning.  Judaism’s questions invite quests.

Our People’s founding, launched by the Exodus from Egypt, occurs in this week’s portion of Torah.  Ever since, humanity has sought to re-enact transitions from tight, harmful, inhibiting settings toward liberating, expansive, hopeful ones.  Questions accompany our march toward freedom.  Indeed, three times the Torah mentions questions that are not merely childish (Ex. 12:26, 13:14, Deut. 6:20). 

What about the Passover Seder’s ‘child who does not ask?’  Traditionally, the unasked question is derived from the verse “And you shall tell your child on that day, “It is because of this that God acted for me when I left Egypt” (Ex. 13:8).  This is because such an essential and important verse, referenced on four different occasions in the Hagaddah (perhaps alluding to the four questions regarding types of bread, vegetables, mixing, and posture), is not triggered by any particular question. 

The missing fourth question from the text of the Torah can offer a telling reminder – focusing on what’s missing can open us and awaken our curiosity. 

Next time you find yourself stuck in a disagreement.  Gifted educator Sheila Heens advice is compelling.  Describe how you see things – your data and reasoning.  Share what’s at the heart of the matter for you.  Then ask, “What am I missing? to demonstrate openness and to invite progress.

May your experiences with ‘q and a’ make for you and those around you a more spacious and hopeful world.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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