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Asking the Right Question
The complexities of Pesach generate many questions, some of which can only be solved by asking one’s Rabbi.
A famous story is related concerning R’ Chaim Brisker who, hours before Pesach, received a knock at the door. Outside stood a poor villager.
“Rabbi, I need to ask you a question about Seder night. Is it permissible to drink milk for the four cups at the Seder?”
R’ Chaim asked his wife to bring five roubles, which he gave to the man and wished him a happy Pesach. When the man had departed, the Rabbi’s wife asked, “Why did you give him money?” The Rav explained. “If he is asking such a question, he must not have enough money to purchase wine.”
“So why did you give him so much money? One rouble would have been sufficient to buy wine for the whole of Pesach.”
R’ Chaim replied, “Since he was asking whether he could drink milk at the Seder, I deduced that he obviously could not afford meat either! The extra money was to purchase meat for the festival.” (ShortVort.com)
How a question is asked can influence the response received.
R’ Avrohom Juravel from the OU relates an incident when two people asked R’ Moshe Feinstein near identical questions regarding the use of mouthwash on Shabbos. In both cases the Rav asked the purpose of the mouthwash. The first replied ‘to freshen the mouth’. R’ Moshe allowed the mouthwash. The second (a Talmudic scholar!) responded that the mouthwash was for healing the mouth. R’ Moshe prohibited.
The same case elicited different responses.
In Israel, many people claim to have rulings from venerable Rabbis that vindicate their actions.
R’ Motti HaSofer from Rav Landa’s office in Bnei Brak observes,” In Israel it is known, that people say lots of things supposedly in the name of various Poskim. These things are not usually accepted, since they either are quoted out of context or untrue. What is accepted is when it is written and signed by the Posek himself.” I recall as a young man, seeking advice from the Lubavicher Rebbe. The Rebbe’s advice on the specific issue that I was asking about, was only provided when I gave the full context in the letter that I wrote to him.
The key, as Rabbi Juravel points out, is that if you seriously are after a proper answer to a halachic question, you need to provide the Rabbi who Is being asked with all the information and that the Rabbi fully understands the question being asked.