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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Prayer of an Atheist

Prayer of an Atheist

I enjoy being Jewish, but I have trouble connecting with God. I just don't see Him in my life, and I am suspecting that He does not exist. I don't really have a question for the rabbi, just wanted to share my thoughts.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

A basic tenet of Judaism is that since it is impossible to prove that God does "not" exist, therefore atheism is built on blind faith.

I would like to share with you a true story about an atheist:

Many people who visit Jerusalem are tourists who come to get a sense of Jewish culture and history. One day, a young tourist named Jeff was brought in to meet Rabbi Noah Weinberg at Aish HaTorah.

"What are you doing?" Rabbi Weinberg asked him.

"I'm working for my MBA at Harvard University. And I'm an atheist."

"Fantastic! A real atheist! Whoever was able to convince an atheist like you to speak to a rabbi like me deserves a medal."

"Nah," Jeff says, "he doesn't deserve anything. I'll tell you how I came..."

Jeff had been in Norway, visiting his Norwegian fiancée. And he decided it was now or never: either he is going to come to Israel or he'll never make it.

So he headed for Jerusalem and the Western Wall. He figured he would stop by the Wall to see some old stones. Yet upon his arrival he was amazed. He felt something heavy. He was moved.

Jeff stood before the Wall, and made up an atheist's prayer. He looked at the stones and said:

"God, I don't believe in You. As far as I know, You don't exist. But I do feel something. So if I'm making a mistake, I want You to know, God, I have no quarrel against You. It's just that I don't know that You exist. But God, just in case You're really there and I'm making a mistake, get me an introduction."

Jeff finished his prayer, and one of the yeshiva students who happened to be at the Wall, saw Jeff and thought, "Perhaps he'd be interested in learning some Torah."

He tapped Jeff on the shoulder, startling him so much that he jumped three feet in the air. Jeff whirled around and shouted,

"What in the blankety-blank-dash-bang do you want?!"

"I'm sorry. I just want to know if you'd like to learn about God."

That question hit Jeff like a 2-by-4 right between the eyes. He had just finished asking God for an introduction, and immediately someone was offering to introduce him to God.

Jeff learned at Aish HaTorah for the next six weeks. He was a very serious student, and went back to the States with a commitment to continue learning. A year later, Jeff came back to Israel and told Rabbi Weinberg the end of his story.

During that previous summer he had been meandering through the cobblestone alleyways of the Old City when he saw a pretty, sweet, religious girl walk by. He said to himself, "Look at the charm of this Jewish woman. May the Almighty help me meet someone like this."

One Shabbos morning during the next year, Jeff entered a synagogue in Boston for prayer services. Standing there was the same young woman he had seen in the Old City. He made his way over to her and said:

"Excuse me, but I believe I saw you last summer in Jerusalem."

She answered, "You're right. I saw you, too."

They are now married and living in New Jersey.

Remember Jeff's prayer. Because when you are sincere with God, your prayers are answered.

To learn more about the Jewish concept of prayer, go to: www.aish.com/sp/pr/

Convert's Mother-in-Law

My husband is a convert and I'm studying for conversion, too. When I told my parents I was converting my mother's response was joyful – she feels that the one thing she regrets in her life was that she did not find a community of faith that she could feel comfortable in. My parents know very little about Judaism, but their general impression is good and welcoming.

The most difficult concept in Judaism for my mother is Shabbat. She loves her work and has said she can't imagine a day without it. My parents try to respect our need to keep Shabbat even when we visit them, but it has proved challenging. Twice we have tried to solve the problem of trying to keep them entertained during Shabbat by driving to the beach where at least there's no money exchanged. My husband has felt bad about driving on Shabbat and has decided not to do it again.

Our problem is this: My mother has decided that for her 70th birthday she would like to fly the entire family (children, spouses and grandchildren) to New York for a Broadway show. We asked her to get tickets on Saturday night or Sunday afternoon. She tried but was unable. She managed to get tickets for all 10 of us on Saturday afternoon. She is very excited and this is a big event for her. She cannot understand how going to a show can be a violation of Shabbat, if she is paying for the tickets, cabs, etc. When I told her we might not be able to go, she almost started crying.

My husband feels he cannot go on Shabbat afternoon and that the children should not go either, although he says that I should go because I need to honor my mother. I think it would be an empty gesture for me to go alone and it would ruin the weekend for her, cause a fissure between us and cause her to back away from her support of my conversion.

What do you say?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

You sound like a caring, sincere woman, and I am sure you will have success in handling this situation.

It appears clear that your husband should not go on Saturday. As you describe it, he is serious about observing the Torah, which instructs a Jew not to drive on Shabbat (see Exodus 35:3). There are other problems even with just being a passenger, handling tickets, etc.

I believe one of the foundations of marriage is that a husband and wife should always encourage each other in a direction of spiritual growth.

As for yourself, since you are not Jewish, you and your children can attend on Saturday, and have your husband join in for the rest of the weekend activities.

In terms of honoring your mother, here's what I suggest: I think your husband should think of a very special way to honor your mother on her birthday – for example organizing a tribute video, memory book, etc. Or buying her some especially meaningful gift that he gives her from himself, separate from whatever gift you all give her together. And he should write a note praising her and thanking her for being so wonderful and raising his beautiful wife.

The card can express how heart-broken he is not to be able to attend the show on Saturday, but how much he is looking forward to Sunday. And he hopes that she will understand and forgive him for any inconvenience he has caused to her celebration weekend, due to circumstances beyond his control.

And he should give her this a week or so beforehand, so she has time to absorb the message.

That's my suggestion. Please let me know how things turn out.

READER REPLY:

Your suggestion was a beautiful one and my husband has begun to collect photographs and other mementos for a tribute book for my mother. This whole problem has caused some friction between them and I think the book will bring them closer and, in the long run, will be something she treasures. Thank you again.

How God Created

I understand that God does not have a physical being, but only a spiritual being. What I don't understand is how any entity without any physical being can be responsible for the creation of the planet Earth, or any other physical entity for that matter. I'd appreciate your response.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

You've asked such a great question you've just thrown yourself into one of the deepest mysteries of the metaphysical world.

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan deals with this issue in his book, "The Infinite Light." Here is a segment to get you on your way:

The very word "create" implies creating something out of nothing. Otherwise, we use the word "make" or "form." When we say that God created the universe, we mean that He created it absolutely ex nihilo - out of nothing. This is alluded to in the verse, "He hangs the world upon nothingness." (Job 26:7)

The Midrash tells us that a philosopher once remarked to Rabban Gamliel, "Your God is a wonderful artist, but He had fine materials to work with. When He made the world, He fashioned it out of waste and desolation, darkness, wind, water and depths." Rabban Gamliel replied, "Your words are mere wind! All of these things were also created by God."

The act of creation involved absolutely no effort on the part of God. When the Torah says that he "rested" on the seventh day, it does not mean that He rested because He was weary or tired after six days of hard work. Rather, it means that God stopped creating after six days, since the world was completed with the creation of man. The act of creation, however, involved absolutely no effort on the part of God, as the prophet Isaiah taught, "Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord, the everlasting God, Creator of the wide world, grows neither weary nor faint." (Isaiah 40:28)

This is because God is absolutely infinite. To an infinite Being, the entire universe is like nothing, and therefore, its creation involves no effort. The Bible thus says, "Everything on earth is like nothing to Him, He does as He wills with the host of the heaven and the inhabitants of the earth." (Daniel 4:32) Every possible thing, even the creation of a universe, is infinitely easy for an infinite God.

To learn more read, "The Infinite Light," by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, or "The Aryeh Kaplan Anthology," both published by the National Conference of Synagogue Youth.