This week we celebrated Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day. It’s a day that marks a culminating moment after centuries of Jews from around the world challenged authority and asked the question: Isn’t it time the Jews had their own homeland? A place to rescue their exiles and protect themselves after millennia of displacement, harassment, second-class status, and worse? Yom Ha’Atzmaut showed definitively that we must continue to ask tough questions and challenge authority.
It’s a very Jewish characteristic to ask questions. We are taught from a young age the importance of challenging what others tell us. From Abraham challenging God when God threatens to wipe out Sodom (Genesis 18:23-33), to Zelophehad’s daughters questioning Moses on the right of women to inherit land (Numbers 27:1-11), to the entirety of the Talmud, which has rabbis and students questioning each other back and forth on just about every legal issue – there is a strong tradition of questioning authority among the Jews. (Which doesn’t always make us very well-liked by the ruling powers, by the way, but I would suggest that not going along blindly is one of the reasons the Jews have survived.) In fact, when counting by words, the exact middle of the Hebrew Bible is the phrase “darosh darosh” (Leviticus 10:16), which means “inquire persistently.” Commentators say this is because the entirety of the Torah, of Jewish tradition, revolves around asking questions, challenging the status quo and finding out what is possible.
During COVID, it became clear that we all need to ask questions. We learned to continually search for more information until we found what was scientifically validated and socially tenable (like Zoom celebrations, for instance). Sometimes the facts became subjective and the news became fake, but we continued asking until the answers made sense to us. And that is the crucial lesson here: ask questions and challenge authority. In the words of the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “To ask is to believe that somewhere there is an answer … we ask not because we doubt but because we believe.” (Jonathan Sacks Haggadah, p. 106, Harper Collins)