“Know clearly what to answer the scoffer.” This axiom from Pirkei Avot is important for every Jew to bear in mind. One who observes the commandments and is a living symbol of Judaism stands every day as a representatives of our faith who may be called upon to defend a cardinal point of belief or to explain the reason for certain traditions or customs. If he fails to do so properly or if he fumbles and hesitates, he not only fails to satisfy his questioner but he convinces him that the observant Jew follows his traditions blindly and illogically.
Certainly, the Jewish leader, even more than the layman, must have his answers and explanations ready at all times. One of the most famous of all Jewish leaders who was consistently called upon to explain a point, both to friendly and unfriendly critics, was Rabban Gamliel.
As head of the Sanhedrin, people expected him to have ready explanations and the Talmud records many such questions and debates in which he participated.
Why Not The Idols?
Once a pagan philosopher encountered Rabban Gamliel and engaged him in a discussion concerning religion. The philosopher asked:
“In the Bible it states that the Lord is a consuming fire who takes revenges upon those who worship idols. Why does your G-d grow angry at the idolators? Is it not more logical for Him to pour out His wrath upon the idols themselves? Certainly if there were no idols in existence, the people would have nothing to worship beside Him?”
Rabban Gamliel looked at the philosopher and answered: “You ask a very intelligent question and I will attempt to answer it by means of a parable.
“Once there lived a king who had a very dear son. The boy had a dog that he loved very much. He raised it from a puppy, fed it from the food that he ate, gave it to drink from his water and slept with it in his bed.
“Not content with this, however, he also began to call the dog by his father’s name, saying: ‘I swear by the name of my dog whose name is the same as my father that I shall do this and this…’
“When the father heard of this, he naturally grew quite angry and he determined to put a stop to it.
“Now I ask you, my friend,” concluded Rabban Gamliel, “at whom should the king have been angry? Should he have been angry at the poor, dumb animal who was called a king or at his son who gave him the name?”
The Philosopher Continues
The philosopher responded:
“Let us assume that what you say is correct and that the idols are powerless and helpless. Still, would it not be better to have them erased and done away with so that they cease being an obstacle to people?”
Rabban Gamliel shook his head and replied:
“No, my friend. Were the Almighty to do as you say, He would have to destroy the sun and the moon and the stars; He would have to wipe out the mountains and the animals and the trees, for these too are considered to be gods by many people.
“The fact is that people create idols out of many things and it is literally impossible to destroy them without destroying the whole world. The world will continue as it is; man has free will to worship or not to worship foolishness and the fools will pay for their sins in the World to Come.”
The Creation Of Woman
One day a scoffer was engaged in discussion with Rabban Gamliel and a group of intellectuals and noblemen. He began to choose parts of the Torah and question them.