Let My People Know

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “The Torah’s questions are “how” questions.”

All of Jewish life is built on the existence of finely delineated laws and instructions and with few clearly articulated lofty goals.

The Torah repeatedly uses specific examples to emphasize the right thing to do in various situations, rarely including broad explanations of the theory behind the laws – those can be left for another time.

As the Talmud says, ‘“This day [you are] to do them’ (Deut. 7:11), but only tomorrow will you receive their reward” (Eiruvin 22a).

If a person wants to know why a law is a certain way, he will have to wait.

He may have to wait 120 years, or perhaps 6,000 years – it does not matter, because that is not what the Torah and Jewish life are about.

Put differently, the Torah’s questions are “how” questions:

How should one act in such a case?

How does one fulfill this law?

In contrast, questions of “why?” or “what for?” are not emphasized in the Torah and appear only rarely.

The Torah deals with the method – the technique and the details by which things are done – but not nearly as much with the larger, teleological questions.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz