Home April 2014 Why does he not know how to ask?

Why does he not know how to ask?

Nothing tops a child who does not know how to ask, according to my teacher, Rabbi Lior Engelman. This is the easiest kid in the world: he sticks to the tried and true, he does not question or challenge, he does not cause trouble and he is not chutzpadik. A child made to order. He is far from the wicked son who scornfully asks “what is this worship of yours?” Unlike the simple son, he does not even ask “what is this?” He is just a shy, good boy blessed with good manners. Not for nothing is he beloved of parents and teachers.
How pleasant to raise a child like this; how easy it is to bask in the illusion that his lack of questions means that there are no problems. How tempting to become a parent who does not know how to ask, who does not stir up trouble by wondering why the child does not ask any questions.
It can be frightening to ask! A child might think: “Maybe if I do get up the courage to ask questions that are really bothering me, it will become apparent that there are no answers, and I will be condemned to live with doubts all my life.” Fear of the absence of an answer can silence the need to ask. We are not speaking of one who does not ask because his path is clear to him. On the contrary: this is a child who has no true belief that he will receive a proper answer to his questions. He has no faith in answers that the Torah might provide, he does not trust his parents or teachers and he does not believe in himself. He chooses to float in calm, question-less waters — not because he does not have what to ask, but because he does not have hope for answers.
Not infrequently a child who does not know how to ask is the product of surroundings that do not really provide a place to question. Any time the child asked, he was put off or silenced, or his teachers frantically hurried to come up with an immediate, shallow answer. The child learned that there are questions that one does not ask and there are thoughts that one does not think. Eventually, he silenced his questions — for what good can be found in raising questions in a world without answers?
There is a different type of child who does not ask. This one does not fear the absence of answers; rather, he is bothered by the consequences. He knows that the courage to ask will yield answers that will make demands upon him. He is threatened by the significance of these answers, and thus he chooses to hide behind the mask of “everything is fine.” This child is not necessarily one who finds it difficult to ask questions of others. We are speaking about someone who does not know how to ask questions about himself, about his life, about his path. He has questions and is certain that there are answers, but he feels that they are liable to shake him to his core. The fear of the meaning of the answers causes him to neglect the questions. It is easier for him to assume a calm expression and simply not to know how to ask.
It is pleasant to raise a child who accepts everything as given, who does not force us to struggle with questions that we ourselves did not dare to ask. Pleasant but not right. How wonderful to live within a family that does question, that believes in a child’s ability not to fall to pieces in light of his questions. Such a family believes in the power of a question to open up new vistas and to be rewarded with grand answers. “And the one who does not know how to ask — open for him.” Open for him an opening for belief in his ability to ask big questions and to discover worlds.
This child, the one who does not know how to ask could be my son, my daughter, my brother or my student, and sometimes, this child could simply be me.

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