A young man, a congregant of our synagogue stood spellbound as he watched my brother-in-law Rabbi Shloime, of blessed memory, totally absorbed in and transported by the experience of prayer. At the conclusion of the services, he approached Rabbi Shloime and asked him how one can access the remarkable level of connection and faith that he had witnessed. Rabbi Shloime replied “with a lot of hard work.”
Most of us erroneously assume that the most important things in life such as spirituality, love, creative inspiration, etc., should be spontaneous — a flash, a gift, a bestowal. We are a culture that is paying dearly for the terribly misguided romantic notion that relationships can be engaged and based on the “love at first sight” premise. We believe that creative endeavor can be successfully negotiated by a mere flash of inspiration, without the requisite input of toil.
Determining the existence and nature of the Eternal Being, who is the source of our life and all life, requires time and effort to explore and learn. Moreover as intelligent people who pride ourselves in making responsible choices in life, we owe it to ourselves that our metaphysics be a product of an educated, well-informed decision. For starters, consider the following points:
1) The defining moment of Jewish history, the revelation of God at Mount Sinai when He chose us as His people, was a national experience. There is no other nation in the world that claims a prophetic experience witnessed by millions of people. All other religions are based on the testimony of a small group (or a single person) bearing a message to the masses. The Jewish people would never have accepted a God had it not been for the indisputable certainty of their personal prophetic experience.
2) The tradition has been transmitted from generation to generation. There is no way that generations of Jews who value their offspring more than their own lives would impose the concomitant burden of being different, discriminated against and persecuted if God’s existence was considered questionable. Despite personal doubts that invariably surface from time to time, the historical testimony transmitted from generation to generation is too powerful and compelling to break the chain of tradition.
3) Jews in all four corners of the world, whose paths have not crossed in centuries, share the same God concept and the same beliefs with only very slight variations in customs.
4) My husband has an impressive Jewish library. I often venture in to find him, sitting at his desk, surrounded by many treasures, the thousands of seforim (holy books) of Bible, Mishnah, Talmud, Midrash, Maimonides, Nachmanides, responsa and philosophic works, both ancient and current. I think of all the brilliant minds throughout the ages represented in these works who have laboriously tackled the intricacies of an infinite Torah wisdom, who were transformed by it and proceeded to elucidate its teachings and illuminate Jewish learning.
And when doubts arise, as they invariably do in most people’s lives, I think of our illustrious ancestors, the compilers of these magnificent works, of these minds that were far greater than my own. At given times, they too must have struggled with issues detracting from their faith, and yet their conclusions and resolutions laid all doubt to rest. When uncertainty takes hold, I defer to the wisdom of the ages that preceded me, and to the understanding of those whose connection and comprehension of the sublime far surpasses my own.
5) While very difficult, it is imperative to be intellectually honest. Maimonides (one of the greatest philosophers of all time) posits that idolatry, the rejecting of God and/or serving other deities, is not generally rooted in intellectual deliberation. It is emotionally driven. He explains that a person who wants relief from the confines of a disciplined life, or who desires to partake of pagan or secular practices, is loathe to admit these base desires. So the person will build an intellectual construct, an “ism” or belief system (or better said, “non-belief”) that not only permits but supports or mandates the given behavior. These are often sophisticated rationalizations for relieving oneself of “the stringencies of observance.”
Faith, by definition, precludes open, obvious, and clear manifestation. It speaks of hiddenness, searching deep, stripping the facade, and cutting away the layers that obstruct a clear view. One can only achieve this through learning Torah, God’s expressed will for us. The path to faith starts when we avail ourselves of classes, lectures, and behavioral experiences — i.e. observing Shabbos and holidays and networking with supportive communities of faith.
Look around, with mindfulness, at your blessings, your spouse, children, friends. Observe the magnificent beauty of nature — the sun, trees, flowers in bloom, lakes, rivers, oceans, etc. Ultimately, you will begin to discern the hand of the Almighty (veiled though it might be) in everything that surrounds you.