Posts on the topic of "God"
This year, I got a shock right before Rosh Hashanah.
My bike was stolen.
About a year ago I received a bicycle as a birthday gift. (My first one since elementary school!) It quickly became my main mode of transportation, as well as my primary source of exercise. I took it everywhere and loved it.
Last week I rode it to a meeting in Jerusalem, near the Old City. The meeting lasted only two hours, but when I came out my bike was totally gone – no helmet, no lock, no trace remaining.
It was a real shock and, after filing a police report, I had a long walk home to think about why this might have happened to me.
I realized that I'd been feeling a bit self-inflated about my bike. It just had a tune-up and I was feeling really great about it. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that – the Almighty wants us to be energized and productive.
But I was harboring a bit of self-pride about the whole thing. You know, "Aren't I so cool." And this was getting in the way of my building a relationship with God.
You see, a relationship with God starts with the recognition of His profound greatness. The more we see the unparalleled power of God, the more we put our human-ness into perspective. Arrogance gets in the way of that; humility enables it to happen.
Unfortunately humility has gotten a bad rap. Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less. Humility is the recognition of our own place in the universe. By not letting our ego – our sense of "self" – get in the way, we can tap into our near-infinite Divine potential. As "the most humble of all men" (Numbers 12:3), that humility is precisely what made Moses the greatest of all time.
As Rabbi Noah Weinberg writes, the Talmud likens arrogance to idol worship: both push away the presence of God.
Rosh Hashanah is the key day of the year to forge a connection with God. So it seems that going into Rosh Hashanah, having my bike taken away was the dose of humility necessary to knock me down a notch… and make that deep "High Holiday" connection with God.
And there's more good news: My homeowner's insurance pays for a replacement.
Visitor Comments: 2
One of the most difficult aspects of our efforts to comprehend God is that by essence He is “infinite and transcendent” – i.e. not bound by time or space. We humans, however, view time as a linear progression and space as three dimensions. (See an explanation of this quandary in Aish’s Ask the Rabbi.)
Aish.com reader Jacob Stark shared the following insight: The numerical value of Pi is essentially infinite, in that no repeating pattern occurs or truncates at some point. In fact, computers are known to have calculated Pi to millions of decimal places – with still no pattern in sight.
Now here’s the dichotomy: Although this number is infinite – i.e. “out of our realm” – it remains a feature of our everyday lives. Anyone who has taken basic geometry knows that we use Pi in all sorts of measurements – the area of a circle, the volume of a sphere, etc. In higher mathematics as well, Pi is used in the measurement of angles and other applications where it is seemingly irrelevant. This oddball number is not so odd after all; it impacts so much of the world around us – the cars we drive, the computers we work on, the clothes we wear.
Perhaps this idea brings us just a drop closer to understanding the nature of God. Although He is infinite and may seem far away, He is always right by us in everyday life. Like Pi, which is found in many places not directly related to circumferences and diameters, God interfaces beyond the synagogue, even in the mundane aspects of our life – breathing, thinking, loving.
(For a fascinating biblical source of the value of Pi, see here.)
Visitor Comments: 1
Many people have a goal of being close to God, but aren't quite sure how to get there.
Maimonides (Yesodei HaTorah, ch. 2) explains that one way to achieve love of God is by contemplating the wonders of Creation. By appreciating the awesome power and intricate beauty of God's handiwork, the more knowledge of God one experiences, and the closer to Him one feels.
Personally, I've always been fascinated by the Bombardier Beetle. This small bug comes equipped with a chamber of hydroquinone, and a second one of hydrogen peroxide. When combined, these two chemicals are highly explosive. A mechanism inside the beetle keeps them separate.
Now here's the cool part: When provoked by an enemy, the beetle heats the chemicals to the boiling point (100 °C) and squeezes them into a reaction chamber where they combust, like igniting a rocket engine.
Then the explosive material streams out of the beetle at a rate of 500 pulses per second. (Pulses, rather than a continuous stream, give the beetle a chance to cool.) The poisonous fuel is expelled through a nozzle which, much like the turret of a tank, can rotate in any direction, under the legs or over the back. The enemy is poisoned, the beetle is saved!
The other day I heard about another amazing creature ― the "Pistol Shrimp" ― which emits an underwater shock wave that actually knocks out its prey. No mess, just a sonic boom.
I love God for that one. Simply amazing.
Visitor Comments: 1
Richard Dawkins, the worldwide Dean of Atheists and author of The God Delusion, is not sure about all this.
Last week in a public debate at Oxford University, Dawkins clarified that he prefers to call himself agnostic rather than atheist – i.e. he lacks total certainty over whether or not there is a creator.
Though Dawkins may indeed be a long-time agnostic, that's not how the world views him. His recent statement created a big tumult and raises the question: What difference does it make whether someone is an agnostic or an atheist?
A big difference.
An agnostic remains open to the idea that God exists and is willing to pursue the evidence, wherever it may lead.
Indeed, there are very few atheists (is it possible to prove that God doesn't exist?). Those who call themselves agnostic should, by definition, be actively examining the evidence and weighing both sides of the debate. In the absence of this, “ignorant” is a more accurate term than "agnostic."
This all reminds me of the true story that Rabbi Noah Weinberg zt”l loved to tell about a self-described atheist named Jeff whom he met at Aish in the Old City of Jerusalem.
"Fantastic! A real atheist!” said Rabbi Weinberg. “Tell me – what are you doing here speaking to a rabbi?"
Jeff said he had been in Europe, visiting his Norwegian fiance. And he decided it was now or never: either he would come to Israel or he'll never make it.
So he headed for Jerusalem and figured he would stop by the Western 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: "What do you want?!"
"I'm sorry. I just want to know if you'd like to learn about God."
The 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 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 Shabbat morning during the next year, Jeff attended a synagogue in Boston. 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’re now married and living in New Jersey.
King David said: "The Almighty is near to all those who call unto Him, to all those who call unto Him in truth." (Psalms 145:18)
The power of sincerity is so overwhelming that even an atheist can get God's attention. If you're in a genuine search for truth, remember Jeff's prayer.
Visitor Comments: 35
A comprehensive survey of Israeli Jews shows that 80 percent believe in God – the highest figure since the founding of the State of Israel.
The survey, "Beliefs, Observance and Values among Israeli Jews" was conducted by the Guttman-Avi Chai Foundation.
The study also found that 65 percent of respondents believe that the Torah and mitzvot (commandments) are God-given.
These numbers are startling – even more so considering that one million Israelis are from the former Soviet Union, where Jewish religious practice laid dormant for 70 years, often on the pain of arrest and deportment to Siberia.
Unfortunately, not everyone welcomed the news. A piece in the Israeli daily Haaretz said the poll shows that Israeli society is “arrogant” and “primeval” – and how these beliefs are used to "justify all its iniquities." Another Haaretz piece said that the poll indicates that Israelis are “infantile,” “self-defeating” and “a nation in great pain.” In other words, belief in God and the destiny of the Jewish people represents everything wrong with Israeli society.
On the contrary, I would say this is precisely what is right with Israel society. After all, by what justification are we living in this land in the first place? Because we won the wars? Because the U.N. said so? Because we made the desert bloom?
Those may or may not be valid reasons, but they don't seem to be convincing the world of much.
Our real right is simply that God promised the Holy Land to the Jews as an everlasting possession. As it says: “He remembers His covenant forever, the word He commanded, for a thousand generations, the covenant He made with Abraham, the oath He swore to Isaac. He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree, to Israel as an everlasting covenant: ‘To you I will give the land of Canaan as the portion you will inherit.’” (Psalms 105:8-11, 1-Chronicles 16:15-18)
(If you need more convincing, see Genesis 13:15, 15:18, 17:8, 48:4; Exodus 6:4, 6:8, 12:25, 13:5, 13:11, 32:13, 33:1; Leviticus 14:34, 20:24; Numbers 11:12, 14:16, 14:23, 27:12, 32:7, 32:11, 33:53, 34:2; Deuteronomy 1:8, 1:21, 1:39, 2:29, 3:28, 4:1, 4:21, 4:37-38, 6:10, 6:18, 6:23, 7:13, 8:1, 9:5, 10:11, 11:9, 11:21, 11:31, 12:1, 12:10, 15:4, 17:14, 19:8, 19:10, 19:14, 25:19, 26:1, 26:15, 27:3, 28:11, 30:20, 31:7, 31:20, 34:4. Not to mention the biblical books of Joshua, Judges, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Psalms, Nehemiah and Chronicles.)
Even the staunch secularist David Ben-Gurion, in a speech to the United Nations' Peel Commission in 1936, invoked the Jewish Exodus from Egypt and it's biblical promise as the core of Israel's claim to the Land.
All this gives me cause for optimism, especially now with a very real threat looming from Iran.
With 80 percent of Israelis sharing the same basic belief in God, it appears that Israeli society is not as "fractured" as some in the media would lead us to believe.
A nice message of Jewish unity that fits nicely with Aish.com's new film, "We Gotta Live Together."