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GOOD MORNING! Recently a friend of mine asked me, "Do you really believe in God?" When I answered "for sure" his response was "really?" Personally, I don't find it particularly hard to believe that a rabbi believes in God. However, he seemed to be amazed that anyone believes in God.
In our experience at Aish HaTorah (a major international Jewish educational outreach organization), if you ask the young people who come through the doors of our world center in Jerusalem if they believe in God, four out of five will say "no." What's fascinating is that if you don't ask the question directly, it's possible to demonstrate to them that they do believe in God. Why? They are influenced by the society, the educational system and their friends to think that they don't believe in God.
Do you want to demonstrate to someone that deep down he not only believes in God, but that he believes that God loves him? Here are the questions to ask:
- Did you ever pray? (Do not be snotty and ask "to whom?")
- Were your prayers ever answered? (Most everybody says "yes.")
- What did you do to "bribe" God to answer your prayer? (In truth, one can't bribe God with anything; God has no needs. He doesn't need our prayers or our praises. Actually, prayer is to change us, not Him - but that's another fax...)
- If you didn't do anything to "bribe" God, then God did it just for you - does that mean that God loves you? Most people are able to appreciate the concept and accept it.
What does it mean to believe in God? All good discussions must start with a definition or one ends up going in circles. Belief is a point on a continuum of knowledge from no knowledge to absolute knowledge. The more evidence that you have, the stronger the belief. (This is in opposition to "faith," which is an emotional leap to a conclusion). The Torah concept of God is that of Creator, Sustainer and Supervisor of the universe and all that is within it. We believe that God is all-knowing, all-good, all-powerful. He has a personal relationship with every human being; he loves us and wants only good for us.
Why do people not believe in God?
- Because there is evil in the world; bad things happen to good people. ("Where was God during the Holocaust?" ... By the way, "Where was man during the Holocaust?")
- They look at belief in God as a crutch for losers who can't make it on their own.
- If there is a God, it implies that there is purpose to creation, values to live by and ultimately restrictions. People do not like restrictions in their lives.
It is my experience that the third reason is the real reason - people do not want restrictions on their desires. Think about it - the existence of God is independent of our approval or disapproval of the way He runs the world (or what part he leaves to our free will) - or whether people use God as an excuse or a crutch.
When a person says he's an atheist, you can point out to him that an atheist is one who has evidence that there is no God. Then you can ask, "What is your evidence?" Most people will back off and say, "Really, I am an agnostic." Then you can clarify that an agnostic is one who has evidence that a person cannot know if there is a God. You may then ask him, "What is your evidence that you cannot know?" By the way, to prove that God does not exist, one would need to know all things that do exist and be able to search out the whole universe and all dimensions. It's impossible.
The truth? Many, if not most, of us have never thought that deeply or systematically about the topic. However, it is probably the most important question of our lives. If there truly is a God who created life with a purpose, doesn't it make sense to find out why and what He wants for us and from us?
So, how can one intelligently deal with the question of the existence of God? Purchase the 4 cassette tape set "Evidence of God's Existence" by Rav Noah Weinberg (the founder and head of Aish HaTorah and my teacher) from 800-864-2373. Also, I highly recommend Permission to Believe by Lawrence Kelemen, available at your local Jewish bookstore, at judaicaenterprises.com or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242.
Torah Portion of the Week
This week we conclude the ten plagues with the plagues of locusts, darkness and the death of the first-born. The laws of Passover are presented, followed by the commandment to wear tefillin, consecrate the first-born animal and redeem one's first born son. The Torah tells us that at some time in the future your son will ask you about these commandments and you will answer:
"With a show of power, God brought us out of Egypt, the place of slavery. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us leave, God killed all the first-born in Egypt, man and beast alike. I, therefore, offer to God all male first-born (animals) and redeem all the first-born of sons. And it shall be a sign upon your arm, and an ornament between your eyes (tefillin), for with a strong hand the Almighty removed us from Egypt." (Ex. 13:15)
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah states:
"And the locusts came up on the entire land of Egypt and they rested within the entire boundary of Egypt - it was very severe; before this there were never as many locusts and afterwards there will never again be as much." (Exodus 10:14)
Rashi brings to light a challenging question: How does one rectify this verse in light of the verse in the book of the prophet Joel that there was such a strong plague of locusts in his day that there were never as many locusts (Joel 2:2)?
The Chasam Sofer answers: It is true that in the days of Joel there were more locusts than there were in Egypt. However, that is only in actual numbers of locusts. In Egypt, the relative damage done by the locusts after the devastation by other plagues (like the hail) that destroyed much of the vegetation was greater than any other time.
The underlying idea expressed by the Chasam Sofer gives us some insight into understanding the difficulties that others are suffering. Better yet, it shows us how we can never completely understand the suffering of another person. When someone suffers because of some event, the actual pain is subjective rather than objective. This means that the pain suffered because of anything that happens is proportionate to what the situation means to the person who is suffering.
When someone reacts to a situation with more suffering than you think is justified, there is always the possibility that this situation represents for that person "the straw that breaks the camel's back" - because of previous experiences. When someone reacts very strongly to some matter, ask the person, "What does this mean to you?" This empathetic question will help you understand that person better and possibly enable you to help him.
A story to illustrate: Once when Rabbi Dovid of Lelov was walking in the street, a woman mistook him for her husband who had abandoned her, and started to beat him. As soon as she calmed down, she realized her mistake and apologized profusely.
"I made a mistake out of my deep sorrow and suffering," she cried out. "How will I ever be forgiven for having been violent to a righteous person?"
"Please calm yourself," the Rabbi replied. "You didn't really hit me, but rather your husband and that is understandable under the unfortunate circumstances."
CANDLE LIGHTING - January 14:
(or go to http://www.aish.com/candlelighting)
Guatemala 5:33 Hong Kong 5:41 Honolulu 5:50
J'Burg 6:47 London 4:01 Los Angeles 4:47
Melbourne 7:22 Mexico City 6:03 Miami 5:33
Moscow 4:11 New York 4:35 Singapore 6:58
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
He who fears he will suffer,
already suffers because of his fear.
-- -- Michel de Montaigne
With Deep Appreciation to