The Missing Preface To My Previous Article

I should have prefaced my previous article, You Choose, to avoid misunderstanding. While I left a lengthy comment, those are rarely read. Here is a slightly revised version of that comment, followed by the original article–RHZ

One of my recurrent themes is that I deplore the endless reruns of Judaism 101 which dominate most venues, regardless of denomination (of course, each denomination presents their own version of Judaism 101, but each rarely provides their people with more sophisticated lessons). Although I support efforts to encourage Jews who are not yet engaged withTorah and Mitzvot to enter this world and for 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, magically turn into “good people”. Rather, I was addressing the problem of becoming too focused on the abstract or too focused on the details. It’s a trap that I also, all too often, fall into, distancing myself from the reality of God because I’m too taken with either the tiniest distinctions or with 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”.

You Choose: We Each Have Exactly Two Choices

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 The Missing Preface To My Previous Article

  1. Mr. Cohen says:

    ONLY JUDAISM began when MILLIONS of people personally witnessed:

    [1] the Ten Plagues in Egypt

    [2] the splitting of the Red Sea

    [3] G_D speaking at Mount Sinai

    [4] 40 years of miracles in the Sinai wilderness:
    the Clouds of Glory, the mann they ate for 40 years, the Well of Miriam.

    All other faiths began when ONE MAN claimed a revelation and later gradually gained followers.

    For example, Islam began when Mohammed went into a cave, all alone by himself, and allegedly heard Allah speak to him. This alleged Divine relevation was not witnessed by even one person, other than Mohammed himself. I believe that Mormonism began the same way.

    Which is more likely to be true:
    The revelation of Mohammed in the cave, which was witnessed by ZERO people other than Mohammed?
    Or the revelation of Moses at Mount Sinai, which was witnessed by at least five million people, other than Moses?

    • This is something both the Maharal and the Kuzari emphasize.
      I think it greatly strengthens Emunah, but it remains, for me at least, knowledge from the “Belief Channel” since God Himself transcends our senses and our intellectual tools. That isn’t to say that the knowledge is at all inferior to empirical knowledge and may well be superior, but it is different.
      Kol HaKavod.

      • Mr. Cohen says:

        Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan ZTL ZYA often emphasized this point in his numerous Torah writings, and he was one of the greatest in reaching baalei teshuvah and the not-yet-observant Jews.

      • Thank you. I do feel unworthy to be mentioned in the same breath as Rabbi Kaplan zt”l. One of the great rabbaim of the 20th century, important to so many Jews.

  2. Jacques Ruda says:

    Whether you believe in God or not,if people behaved as if there were a God it would make the world a better place.

  3. Judith Stoloff says:

    Since believing carried me through my childhood into the age of responsibility, I feel it only loyal/reasonable? to continue to believe.

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