Questioning Certainty (Vayera)
It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question. -Eugene Ionesco
God commands Abraham to circumcise himself. There is a Midrash that recounts how Abraham asked his friends, Eshkol, Aner and Mamre for their opinion on the matter. Without getting into what their answers were, the Bat Ayin on Genesis 20:1 wonders as to the question itself.
Abraham had received a direct command from God. We have seen, both before this command and after it, that Abraham performed all of God’s commands without question or hesitation. Whether it was to leave his homeland and his family, or to sacrifice his son Isaac, Abraham is the model of enthusiastic and unquestioning divine obedience. So why does Abraham ask the opinion of his friends regarding this command?
The Bat Ayin answers that Abraham had no doubts regarding performing this command. His intention was to fully and immediately fulfill God’s command. However, there’s an added benefit of asking others, even when there is no question or doubt as to what the answer is. The Bat Ayin explains that by asking others a question, even if the answer is clear and obvious, Abraham is involving them in the process and in the answer. By inquiring of others what one should do regarding performing God’s will, one is thereby also involving them in God’s will. They need to pause and think about it. They must consider what it means to be involved in that divine connection. Though the answer may be clear, there’s value in giving it further consideration, of spending more time on thoughts of the divine.
Abraham could have just gone ahead and performed the circumcision without discussing or consulting with anyone. By asking his friends, he involved them in the divine service. He brought them closer to God and to God’s way of thinking; all of that with a simple, obvious question.
May we learn to use questions in our divine service, whether we know the answers or not.
To the Beit Yosef community of Las Vegas.