Answering In the Form of a Question

On Rosh Hashanah, I talked at length about questions. Specifically, I discussed that we stop asking them. The world goes by at a blistering speed, and we watch it all blur by. We spend an inordinate amount of time trying to focus on what it is we’re seeing, but by the time our eyes adjust, it’s all in the rearview mirror.

While there isn’t any sign of a change in the rapid pace of our lives, we can do something – several things – to offset the whirlwind. That is, we can live more mindfully. Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, instead of letting your life pass you by, you live in the moment and awaken to experience.There are so many means to that end. Yoga is a great practice for quieting the pace of one’s life. Meditation is another spiritual practice that can profoundly assist in feeling more centered.

Another way to achieve a measure of mindfulness is to ask questions. Not yes or no questions. Not what restaurant to go to, or where the best Chinese food is in Newton. I’m talking about substantive questions that force you to stop and ponder, questions that make you pull over and get out of the fast lane.

This essential value of asking questions is attested to in a story about the Nobel laureate in physics, Isador Rabi. His dear friend, Arthur Sackler, an American psychiatrist, entrepreneur and philanthropist, once asked his friend, ‘Why did you become a scientist, rather than a doctor or lawyer or businessman, like the other immigrant kids in your neighborhood?” Rabi’s answer? ”My mother made me a scientist without ever intending it. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: Nu? Did you learn anything today?’ But not my mother. ‘Izzy,’ she would say, ‘did you ask a good question today?’ That difference – asking good questions -made me become a scientist!”

I told that story on Rosh Hashanah, and I love it. It reminds me that the value of inquiry is priceless. It challenges me to frontload more on the question side. As Rabi attests, questions made him more mindful, more inwardly focused.

What follows here are some questions for you to ask over the next week or two. Pose them at the dinner table. Bring them up on the long ride to Sunday River. Ask anyone to join you: kids, partner, work people, parents: just ask questions!


  1. What is something you would love to learn more about? Why?
  2. What is a skill you do not possess, but wish that you did?
  3. Who were three great teachers in your life?
  4. What is the last book you read, from cover to cover? If you can’t remember, why don’t you read more?
  5. What’s the next book you plan to read?

Enjoy pondering these questions. Ask them and watch what happens! If you’d like to engage with me over these questions, by all means, email me and we can dialog in virtual time.

One last thing. If you like this format, share some of your questions; I’ll share them with the congregation.




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