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Why you should avoid asking why

“When you ask children a question, don’t ask them questions that begin with ‘why.'”

Earlier this week, I was listening to a lecture by a child psychologist. It was a fascinating lecture, but she made this statement that caught my attention. Why shouldn’t I ask questions that begin with why? (oops, I just did!)

The psychologist explained that even if we don’t mean it, questions that begin with ‘why’ might be understood by the child as if we have a hidden agenda.

Now, I am not sure we should always avoid these why questions – mind you, in about 4 weeks’ time, we will all be asking, “why is this night different”… – but I can see her point.

“Why did you leave school early”? (Left unsaid: you should have stayed there longer).

“Why are you afraid of darkness?” (Left unsaid: grow up already and stop being scared of everything).

The more I thought of it, the more I realized it’s not only about a conversation with children.

When we ask questions, our purpose should be fostering greater understanding and better relationships. So we need to choose our words wisely.

Questions that begin with ‘why’ are tainted with a particular color. When we ask why, the person on the other end must respond to the question. This is not an open invitation to share whatever is in their heart.

When we take the ‘why’ out, we create more space. It allows us to have a better, deeper conversation that will lead to a deeper relationship.

This is also true regarding our relationship with G-d.

Here is a curious fact: while the Torah is the most incredible body of knowledge given to humankind, it also contains intentionally left unexplained sections.

We will be reading one of these sections this week. “Parshat Parah” speaks about the Parah Adumah, the process of using a red cow to spiritually cleanse people who came in contact with death. This Mitzvah is so mysterious that even the wisest of all people cannot fully grasp its meaning.

Why would G-d give us a Mitzvah we can’t understand?

Because G-d wanted us to enjoy a deeper relationship with him, he provided a few “conversations” where there is no space for ‘why.’

We know that we don’t know; now, we can enjoy an infinite relationship that is not confined by our understanding.

And it’s not a one-way street type of thing.

The Parsha of Parah is always read in the weeks preceding Passover. During Passover, G-d chose us as a nation. As we will read in the Haggadah, at the time, we were “naked and bare,” on the lowest spiritual level.

It was love at first sight. Despite the many obstacles, despite all possible questions, G-d made the first move and embraced us wholeheartedly.

And we should do just the same.

About the Author
Rabbi Mendy Kaminker is the Chabad Rabbi of Hackensack, and an editorial member of Chabad.org.
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