Judaism encourages us to think for ourselves and to question everything. We are not meant to blindly accept, but to explore, analyze, debate and conclude. True or false?

Two Names

Joseph had two sons. He named the first one, Manasseh because "Nashani Elokim," G‑d allowed me to forget my hardships and my father's home. He named the second son Ephraim, because, "Hifarni Elokim," G‑d made me prosperous in the land of my suffering.1

In his father's home, Joseph was hated by his brothers and was sold into slavery. In Egypt, he quarreled with his master's wife and was thrown into a dungeon. He was eventually liberated and was able to forget his troubles. Hence the name, Manasseh. In addition to finding peace he was appointed viceroy of Egypt. Hence the name, Ephraim.

Torah Study

Our sages offered a different interpretation. "Nashani Eolkimn," G‑d enabled me to forget, the Torah that I studied in my father's home. "Hifrani Elokim," G‑d made me prosperous, by restoring my Torah knowledge, in the land of my suffering.2

This interpretation is difficult to understand. We can appreciate Joseph's sentiments in naming Ephraim; he was grateful for his restored knowledge. But what motivated him to name his first son, Manasseh? Was he grateful to have forgotten the Torah he studied? We don't toil in pursuit of knowledge only to rejoice when we forget it!

Critical Thought

A teachers happiest moment is when the student challenges the material and demands a better explanation.

I know a professor who encourages his students to reject everything he teaches until they independently verify the information. These students will always closely examine the theories and materials they are taught and are not likely to be led astray.

So, too, Joseph wanted to learn how to research, analyze and understand the precepts of Torah for himself. He did not want to know them only because they were taught to him. Joseph wanted to sift through every piece of information and objectively determine its authenticity.

His studies with his father endowed him with the skills to do so, but those very studies also handicapped him. Joseph was incapable of objectivity with respect to the precepts he had learned from Jacob. Jacob was a Torah master par excellence and Joseph was inclined to believe that his father's teachings were valid. Yet, without the necessary objectivity, he was unable to independently determine the authenticity of those precepts.

It is for this reason that he prayed that he be granted amnesia with respect to the precepts his father had taught him. His selective amnesia provided him with a clean slate and he was able to begin anew. Unburdened by his inherent bias he could now devote himself to the analysis and corroboration of those precepts.

When he succeeded he was overjoyed and greatly relieved. Imagine his consternation if he were granted amnesia, but proved unable to reassemble the information. He would have been devastated. Surely this concern caused him no small measure of anxiety.

His immense relief is reflected in his second son's name. Ephraim, "who has made my studies prosper in my land of suffering." Reassembling the information was a time of anxiety and suffering. Succeeding in his endeavor and prospering in his studies provided immense relief.

Jacob's Choice

When Joseph asked his father to bless his sons, Jacob blessed Ephraim ahead of Manasseh. Joseph objected on account of Manasseh being the elder brother. Jacob replied that despite Manasseh's age, Ephraim's descendants would outshine those of Manasseh. Our sages taught that Jacob was speaking of Joshua, a descendant of Ephraim.3

Joshua was an incredible scholar in his own right. He was widely hailed as the greatest thinker of his time. His piety knew no bounds. He was a leader, a miracle worker and a prophet in his own right. Yet the Torah describes him as Moses' humble, self-effacing pupil. Moses. He drank in his master's every word and unquestioningly embraced the precepts that Moses taught.4

Jacob preferred Joshua's humble acceptance over Manasseh's objective thought. Joshua analyzed and debated every doctrine that Moses taught, but his ultimate reason for accepting the doctrines was not that he had understood them, but that Moses had taught them.

Before G‑d gave the Torah at Sinai, he offered it's wisdom to our ancestors. At that time, Joseph's approach was appropriate. But when G‑d gave the Torah to all of Israel at Sinai, he offered us its latent divinity and this required a new approach—that of receptiveness to the divine truth.

The Journey and the Destination

Does Judaism encourage critical thought? The answer is, absolutely yes. Critical thought is the precursor to wisdom. But critical thought alone is no longer enough because the Torah is no longer just a book of wisdom. It is now a book of divinity. And divinity is received through humility and acceptance.

Torah study is a journey of intellectual and spiritual inquiry. Questions and critical thought are the sign posts that direct our path. Humility and acceptance enable us to reach our destination.5