I cannot feel God in my heart. Sometimes the atheists seem logical and that scares me. Please help me connect with the Almighty.
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
To connect with God, there are two aspects: Your head and your heart. Both need to be operating in tandem for the right connection to occur.
From the intellectual standpoint, there are many rational "proofs" of God's existence. For this I recommend an excellent book called "Permission to Believe" by Lawrence Keleman (feldheim.com). It contains straight-forward arguments for the existence of God, and includes a section on Torah and Science.
You would also benefit from attending a Discovery seminar. It's an excellent presentation of God's ongoing interconnectedness with Jewish history and philosophy. Discovery is given in hundreds of cities throughout the world; a current schedule is at http://www.aish.com/dis/
But what about the emotional aspect of connecting with God?
Deuteronomy 4:39 says: "You shall KNOW this day, and understand it well in your HEART, that the Almighty is God, in the heaven above and the earth below, there is none other." (This verse also appears in the prayer, "Aleynu.")
This tells us that it is not enough to simply know God in your head, you must also understand it in your heart. In a sense, emotional knowledge is much more profound than intellectual knowledge, because this knowledge can infuse every moment with an awareness of God.
If you want to build a relationship with God, you need a proper framework. Friday evening is a good time to reduce the outside static and get in touch with your inner self. Don't watch any TV or listen to the radio. (And if you're really bold, unplug the phone.) You could invite some friends over, prepare a nice meal, light the Shabbat candles, and enjoy the solitude.
Any relationship is built on communication, and communication has to come from the heart. God yearns to give us the pleasure of connection. The Talmud says that God made Sarah, Rivka and Rachel barren, so that they would turn to Him in prayer. You can pray in any language. Aloud.
To help you start, here's an opening line:
Give me the courage to let go,
And let you in.
I know you love me.
And with your help,
I will find all the purpose, joy, and happiness
You want me to have.
I hope this helps. Please stay in touch and let us know how things develop.
I read an article online by cult-buster who claims that Aish HaTorah is a cult. I've even heard the term "I've been Aish'd." All the people I've met through Aish seem normal and balanced. How can I be sure that you guys aren’t just some Jewish version of Hare Krishna?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
People tend to label anything as a "cult" that challenges them to rethink their belief system.
But if that’s the case, then for a European Socialist, American democracy is a cult.
Of course that notion is absurd.
So let’s define our terms: What is a cult, and how does Aish HaTorah compare to that?
1) Cults always force you to cut off ties with your family. Ask any parents of Aish HaTorah students and they will tell you that they are recipients of more honor and respect from their children than ever before.
2) Cults indoctrinate you not to think for yourself. The very foundation of Aish HaTorah's philosophy is that a person has to think for themselves and work out rationally the key issues of life. The Torah emphasizes building a rational basis of belief, to engage one's intellect through questioning and debate. It does not endorse leaps of faith, all-or-nothing decisions or disengagement from the world. Jewish life requires both the mind and heart, but the mind must lead the heart. The Discovery Seminar is based on this, as are Rabbi Weinberg's 48 Ways to Wisdom classes.
Aish does not use hard-sell because it believes it has the most powerful "product" in the universe – the Torah. As the Almighty's instructions for living, Torah teaches us how to maximize our pleasure and potential in life. As such, it is the most revolutionary book in history.
Aish helps young Jews see Judaism as a basis to answer the most important questions: How can I live a meaningful life; build successful relationships; deal honestly in business; fulfill my personal potential; really make a difference in the world?
So what does it mean to be Aish'd? It means to become educated. To strengthen one's Jewish pride through knowledge and understanding. To grow Jewishly, one step at a time. To replace apathy with idealism. To defend Israel. To respect every Jew. To take responsibility for the world, using the Torah as our guide, to fulfill the mission of the Jewish people. And most of all, being Aish'd means to love being Jewish.
If Aish is a cult, then it is the same cult practiced by Abraham, Maimonides and our Bubbies in Europe!
If God is truly omniscient and omnipotent (knows the future), then how do I have free will? Everything we do God must want us to do - since He is omnipotent. If I pursue one path, then this is the path that God wants me to pursue.
Therefore how can man ever be punished? How can we be held responsible for our actions? And why bother changing?
I struggle with these philosophical issues constantly. Just for the record, I am a Jew exploring his Jewish roots, and am having seriously trouble reconciling many issues. Any information that you can provide would be greatly appreciated.
By the way, does God determine who will win the Super Bowl?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Often, a result is predetermined, but the path to get there is not. I like to think of it as a circle, with one point designated as the "finish line." You can enter the circle at any point - but whichever way you go, you'll always end up at the finish line.
For example, it may be predetermined that "Robert" will earn a million dollars this year. However, what is not predetermined is how Robert will get that money. For example, he could choose to work 60 hours every week, sacrificing his health and time with his family. Or he could spend all his time on the beach sipping iced teas, and buy a winning lottery ticket.
But if Robert were to go out and receive his million dollars by robbing a bank, he can't say, "It's not my fault! It was predetermined!" This is because we are still responsible for all our actions, and are subject to a reward and punishment for every choice we make.
Nevertheless, God not only knows every possible path, He also knows which path we will choose. And despite that, we still have free will.
Confused? There was a book written nearly 100 years ago by a British mathematician, "Flatland," that may help explain this idea.
Imagine a world which is only two-dimensional. That means everything is flat like a piece of paper. Everything that lives in this world is also flat. It might be a circle drawn on the paper - or a square or a triangle - but nothing in this flat world has any height whatsoever.
What do with these beings see when they look at each other? When the Triangle looks across the flat edge of the paper at the Square, he only sees a line. As the Triangle moves around the Flatland, the line he sees may change in length and texture, but a line is all he is able to distinguish.
Now let's imagine a human being comes along to visit this world, and sticks his finger through the piece of paper. What will those in Flatland see? They will see a flesh-colored line, bearing the texture of skin.
Now imagine that the finger begins to move up and down, through the piece of paper. What will those in Flatland see? They will see a series of flesh-colored lines. Will they be able to imagine what the finger looks like? No. They may be able to gain some sense of three-dimensional characteristics of the finger, but they will not be able to construct a total picture of the finger - because they have no frame of reference for anything bearing three dimensions. Although the finger (and the human being who owns the finger) surely exists, those living in Flatland hit a mental block when trying to imagine or describe that which they have glimpsed.
So too with us human beings in trying to imagine an infinite God, who exists in another dimension, outside the confines of time and space.
We take the concept of "time" for granted, but time is also a creation. It was created in such a way that one thing would happen after the next. Imagine if time was never created. One minute you would be writing an email, the next minute you would be born, after that you would marry your spouse, and then go through puberty. Life would be very confusing. So God created time in order that we should be able to understand the events of our life.
God, however, is above time. He can see the entire Master Plan, everything at once - birth, death, and everything in between. This is what the Sages expressed when they said, "Everything is foreseen, yet freedom is given to choose." (Talmud - Pirkei Avot 3:19)
Don't be dismayed if you don't understand how this is all possible. The fact that God knows the future yet we maintain free will at every moment is one of the great philosophical and theological mysteries of mankind. For so long as we live in the physical world, bound by the limits of time, we will not be able to understand this contradiction. The true answer of how this works, as Maimonides writes, is unknowable to the human mind. We simply do not possess the tools to imagine the infinite realm of God's existence.
As for the Super Bowl, it seems that God has already determined who will win the game. Nevertheless, how it is played remains to be seen.
(sources: Talmud - Sanhedrin 90b, Maimonides - Teshuva 5:5; Way of God 2:6:3)