10 November 2019 | Judaism is an unusual, subtle, profoundly humane faith that challenges the conventional wisdom of the ages. Faith is the courage Avraham and Sarah showed when they heard the call of G-d and left behind all they had known to travel to an unknown destination. Faith led more than a hundred generations of our ancestors to continue that journey, knowing all the risks yet believing that there is no greater privilege than to be part of it. Faith is the voice that says, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for You are with me.”
Faith sustained Jews in the dark days of persecution. It led them never to give up hope that one day they would to return to Israel, to Jerusalem and to freedom. Jews kept faith alive, and faith kept the Jewsih people alive.
Faith is not certainty. It is the courage to live with uncertainty. It is not knowing all the answers. It is often the strength to live with the questions. It is not a sense of invulnerability. It is the knowledge that we are utterly vulnerable, but that it is precisely in our vulnerability that we reach out to G-d, and through this learn to reach out to do others, able to understand their fears and doubts. We learn to share, and in sharing discover the road to freedom. It is only because we are not g-ds that we are able to discover G-d.
G-d is the personal dimension of existence, the “Thou’ beneath the ‘It’ the ‘Ought’ beyond the ‘Is’, the Self that speaks to self in moments of total disclosure. Opening ourselves to the universe we find G-d reaching out to us. At that moment we make the life-changing discovery that though we seem utterly insignificant, we are utterly significant, a fragment of G0d’s presence in the world. Eternity preceded us, infinity will come after us, yet we know that this day, this moment, this place, this circumstance, is full of the light of infinite radiance, whose proof is the mere fact that we are here to experience it.
Faith is where G-d and human beings touch across the abyss of infinity. Emunah means faithfulness, love-as-loyalty. The closest analogue is marriage: a mutual commitment, entered into in love, binding the partners together in fidelity and trust. G-d chose us – we chose G-d, and though our relationship has sometimes been tense and troubled, the bond between us is unbreakable.
Knowing, we are known. Feeling, we are felt. Acting, we are acted upon. Living, we are lived. And if we make ourselves transparent to existence, then our lives too radiate that Divine presence which, celebrating life, give life to those whose lives we touch.
Faith is the space we create for G-d.
Did You Ask Good Question Today? (Jonathan Sacks, Celebrating Life, pp.79-81)
Isidore Rabi, winner of a Nobel Prize in physics, was once asked why he became a scientist. He replied, ‘My mother made me a scientist without ever knowing it. Every other child would come back from school and be asked, “What did you learn today?” But my mother used to ask a different question “Izzy,” she always used to say, “Did you ask a good question today?” That made a difference. Asking good questions made me a scientist.’
Judaism is a religion of questions. The greatest prophets asked questions of G-d. The Book of Iyov, the most searching of all explorations of human suffering, is a book of questions asked by man, to which G-d replies with a string of questions of His own. The seder service on Peasch begins with four questions asked by a child
When I first went to study at a yeshivah I was struck by the way the teacher’s face would light up when we asked a question. Du fregst a gutte kasha, ‘You raise a good objection,’ was his highest form of praise. Abraham Tweski, an American psychiatrist, tells of how, when he was young, his instructor would relish challenges to his arguments In his broken English he would say, ‘You right! You a hundred prozent right! Now I show you where you wrong.’
Religious faith, in Judaism, is not naïve or blind. Every question asked in reverence is the start of a journey towards G-d. When faith suppresses questions, it dies. When it accepts superficial answers, it begins to wither. Faith is not opposed to doubt. What it is opposed to is the shallow certainty that what we understand is all there is.
Where We Let Him In (Adapted from a well-known Chassidic tale)
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (1787-1859) was one of the most remarkable figures of the Jewish mystical movement known as Chassidism. Angular, unconventional, passionate in his search for truth, he spent his life ‘wrestling with G-d and with men.’
On one occasion, at the third Shabbat meal, when the atmosphere of holy day is at its most intense, the Rebbe turned to his disciples and asked, ‘Where does G-d live?’
They were stunned by the strangeness of the question. ‘What does the Rebbe mean, “Where does G-d live? Where does G-d not live? Surely we are taught that there is no place devoid of His presence. He fills the heavens and the earth.’
‘No,’ said the Rebbe. ‘You have not understood. G-d lives where we let Him in.’
G-d is always here, but we sense Him only when we search. He teaches, but only when we are ready to learn. He speaks, but only when we listen. The question is never, Where is G-d. It is always, Where are we? The problem of faith is not G-d but humankind. The task of faith is to create an openness in the soul through which the Divine presence can enter. G-d lives where we let Him in.