You Choose: We Each Have Precisely Two Options

It’s impossible to “prove” that God exists because, at least as we define Him, He so greatly transcends our limited tools of logic and observation. Nonetheless, if we merely allow ourselves to, we can experience God. I think this is what Rambam had in mind when he placed God in a list of beliefs–rather than presenting an “acid-test” creed, as those looking for any excuse to reject traditional Judaism charge, he was simply telling us that there are some phenomenon which cannot be intellectually grasped and are knowable only via the “Belief Channel”.

The most primal of contests involves exactly two opponents. Perhaps that’s why boxing has remained such a popular sport through the ages. Stripped down to the essentials, without supporting team members, equipment advantages or any other distractions, when two primal opposites enter the ring only one can be victorious. As much as we might want to process opposing opinions as “both/and”, some concepts truly are mutually exclusive.

With this in mind, I propose that each of us, both now and throughout time, have exactly two choices as to how we’re going to live our lives. We can either live as if God exists, giving our lives concrete form, morality and some mandated behavior, or we can live in an “everything goes” mode, convinced there is no meaning to anything we do.

Or, as our tradition teaches, הכל בידי שמים חוץ מיראת שמים, Everything is in the hands of God except the recognition and acknowledgement(1) of God.

You choose.

(1)  יראת שמים (Yirat Shemayim) is often translated as “fear of heaven”. Taken literally, it is based on the root ראה which means to see. I’m translating the word שמים (Shemayim), heaven, as God.

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8 Responses to You Choose: We Each Have Precisely Two Options

  1. E Pearlman says:

    False choice. First of all, historically, I believe that “proving” the existence of God is a Christian preoccupation. As one scholar put it, you can paste over your wallpaper with proof after proof of why the roof of your house is not falling down. Or you can peel away the wallpaper to understand, define, and describe it at whatever level you need to. The fact that it’s not falling is not in question; the definition and description is.

    Second, your two choices are nothing other than Pascal’s Wager, which was formulated for his treatise on Christian apologetics. I’d rather go with Spinoza, the Talmudic scholar turned philosopher, who perceived God as existence itself.

  2. Well I was going to something along the lines of E Pearlman but there is no point in being redundant. I will add that there is nothing to support the argument that believing in God gives “our lives concrete form, morality or some mandated behavior”. Nor is it true that the opposite, not believing in God means one subscribes to an “everything goes” philosophy and that there is no meaning to anything we do. In fact, belief in God or in the non existence of God has little bearing on how one chooses to live his or her life.

    Howard

  3. Mr. Cohen says:

    QUESTION:
    How should we Jews translate Yirat Shamayim?

    ANSWER:
    Yirat Shamayim is often translated as “fear of Heaven.”
    This is indeed the most literal translation.

    However, in my own personal translations, I translate
    Yirat Shamayim as: “fear of [G_d Who dwells in] Heaven.”

    • In order to fear, we first must perceive and recognize. That in itself can be a challenge. That said, I don’t disagree with your clarification. Thank you for adding it.

  4. I should have included an introduction to this article, but that would have detracted from the impact of its briefness.
    One of my recurrent themes is complaining about endless reruns of Judaism 101. Although I support efforts to encourage Jews who are not yet engaged with Torah and Mitzvot to enter this world and to all of us to increase our involvement, I’m trying here to add depths and give insights to those who are already committed to this path.
    Thus, I wasn’t making a philosophical statement that atheists should all believe in God and thus, become “good people”. Rather, I was really addressing the problem of becoming too focused on the abstract or too focused on the details. It’s a trap that I also fall into from time to time, distancing myself from the reality of God because I’m too taken with either the details or the overriding logical/formal structures. Both in the realm of Halacha and Kabbalah, it’s all too easy to get lost in the fun of “solving the puzzles”. Our own egos can overshadow the central purpose of the entire project, just to devise a clever solution which makes us feel “so smart”. And makes it all meaningless.
    Rather, Torah study and Mitzva engagement has to potential to bring us closer into the orbit of The Creator, for His purposes rather than for our own.
    And this is what I mean when I say, “You choose”.
    I apologize for the confusion.

  5. Pingback: The Missing Preface To My Previous Article | Rabbi Zeitlin

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