The Torah of Questions
What makes a book sacred? History and longevity? Content? Mystical power?
Each of these possibilities, and any others we discover, must include a group of people who determine the book is important. Without a community of people to validate the sanctity of a work of literature, the book is swallowed up by the millions of other books on the shelf. The Bible (not necessarily to Torah) is still by far the most published book of all time, but each year its readership dwindles. Is the Bible any less sacred as a result?
What if a book is made sacred by the questions it asks? By asking good questions, we
embrace curiosity, confront uncertainty and doubt, and form deeply faithful relationships with ourselves, others, and even God. The questions a book asks teaches us as much, if not more, about its sacred message than even the fiery clouds above a mountain with a commanding voice guiding us toward ethical perfection. So, let us discover the torah of questions together.
Upon first examination, the first question asked in the Torah is neither proffered by the human being nor by God. Instead, the first question comes from the snake who proposes to Eve that she eats the fruit from the tree of knowledge. It asks, "Did God really say: You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?" The question is a delicious enticement, a seduction of curiosity, begging the interpretations of many as to the real intention of the snake's expression. First and foremost, we learn here that the act of questioning introduces a fundamental religious dilemma; that of doubt. We may not know what the voice of God in the Universe really intended by any instruction given to the human being. If we read the verse for its simple meaning here, God plainly instructed the human being not to eat the fruit. The human ambivalence by such rigid instruction is what prompts her curiosity. Still, it will be the deviousness of the snake's inquiry and human choice which sets the tone for the remainder of the book.
The traditional interpretation even comes along to point out that the narrative of the serpent isn't even necessary in the development of the grand story of humanity outlined in the Bible. One could read the concluding verse of chapter 2, 'and they were naked' (2:25) and resume the narrative in the middle of Chapter 3, where it states “and the man called his wife, Eve, and God made garments of skins for them.” (3:20-21) The entire episode is predicated on the interrogative as if to introduce the deceptive course questions can take upon us. (Genesis Rabbah 85:2) Expulsion from Eden, then, is the consequence of nakedness. Perhaps this is the greatest challenge to the God of All. There is doubt with which we must contend. Doubt in the face of faith is like standing naked in an unfamiliar place.
I find that the introduction of this doubt is validated throughout the Torah. It is doubt which proves that our devotion. Allegiance to God does not come from a correction or reconciliation or by denying the existence of uncertainty. Rather, we are taught through this example how we must carefully and properly address our doubting conscience. Perhaps questions expand our consciousness and help us become more divine ourselves? Or, perhaps the questions are deceptions of a truth originally intended for acceptance?
"Did God really say: You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?," being the first question of the Torah, of the Bible, also suggests that the entire purpose of the book is to grapple with this question alone, or at best the implication of this question. Even the construction of the question deviously undermines the statement that God does actually make, “Of every tree in the garden you are free to eat, but as for the tree of knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat it; for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die.” (Gen. 2:16-17)