Belief in God
By Avi Lazerson
How often have you heard people state that they believe in G-d? What does this statement really mean? Often people who believe in G-d are categorized as being religious and some as very religious. Of these many even read books concerning belief in G-d and few even become 'experts' in this matter. But is this really belief in G-d? What does the Mishnah have to say as to what constitutes belief in G-d?
The Talmud (Sotah 48a) states that when the holy temple in Jerusalem was destroyed people who had belief (Hebrew: emunah) in G-d disappeared. Who were those who had belief in G-d? The Talmud explains (Sotah 48b): "Rabbi Yitzhak said that these were the people who had trust in G-d as Rabbi Eliezer the Great taught: any one who has a loaf of bread in their basket and says what will I eat tomorrow is from the lower levels of believers."
Rashi explains that having belief in G-d is expressed by relinquishing or giving up their money to charitable causes or for doing mitzvoth in a more beautiful manner than normal or spending money freely on the Shabbat and Yom Tov observance.
From this small piece in the Talmud we are able to see the difference between real belief in G-d and what often passes today for belief in G-d. In the times of the holy temple in Jerusalem, belief in G-d was not an intellectual exercise or mental 'understanding' that there is a Creator of the world. It meant living a life in accordance to the realization that G-d had an active hand in the everyday workings of the world, both in the general world around us and in our own private daily life and in trusting that knowledge to act upon it.
There is little that we can do to bring back this feeling of total trust in G-d, since most of the props that gave us that total sensation of living together with G-d are gone: the temple, the daily sacrifices, living on our own land as individual land owners whose deed to the land was irrevocable (and not as purchasers of an apartment). All of these and more were necessary to develop and sustain this belief. Remember, that those who lived in the land of ancient Israel lived there some thousand years in one land and that gave them a feeling of being connected to the land which generated a feeling of security which we sorely lack in our post holocaust generation. Plus the Torah law returned land which had been sold to the original owner each fifty year Yuval.
We do not have the assurances that our Israeli government acts in the best interests of its citizens. Owning an apartment or land today gives no security. Witness the horrific and traumatic expulsions of the people who had lived many long years in Gush Katif. With a government such as that, can a people develop a feeling of security?
In addition, we Jews have been wandering from nation to nation, exiled from our native home for the sins that were committed two thousand years ago. After being thrown out of almost every country in Europe in one period or another and make to be second class citizens in both the Arab and Christian lands, how can we possibly have this highest level of faith in G-d?
Never the less, and in spite of all of our lackings in this matter, we must work on ourselves to learn to trust G-d. Times are changing; G-d is bringing slowly back to our ancestor's lands. Even though we no longer have merit, even though we have no real long standing connection to our land, we must begin to develop this belief that G-d does help and will help. We must reflect on the good that G-d has done for us even though we have gone out from one of the bloodiest holocausts in recent times; still we must thank G-d for the good that we have today.
Even though it appears from the Mishnah that there are only two different levels of belief in G-d; one of intellectual comprehension and the second of living life by trusting in accordance to that understanding. There is no clear dividing line between these two levels of belief but rather there are really a multitude of levels of belief. Each level is almost imperceptibly separate from the next. We can 'improve' our level of belief in G-d by doing the following exercises:
We must begin to introspect and examine our personal lives to see how the 'hand of G-d' is actively present in our daily life. The more that we contemplate the goodness of G-d in our life, the more we will be able to raise up our level of belief in G-d. Each time we take the time to sit and think about how G-d has helped us in our personal life, each time we realize that our successes are really only due to G-d's help, when we can truly bring it home to our heart that G-d runs the world, not the leaders, not the politicians, and that He does it for our best. The more we re-think our lives including in it G-d's help, the more we are firming our belief in G-d.
We probably will never reach the level of true belief that the Talmud tells us about; for the Talmud itself says such levels exist no more, but we can realize that our level of belief can be changed. Our level of belief can be upgraded and we are the only ones that can do it. It only requires a few minutes several times a day and in a short time you will see a wonderful change come about in your life.
Try it! Think about how G-d has helped you in your life. Each time that you do it, add more examples and I promise you that you will come to a much loftier level of belief that you believed was possible. Each time you contemplate on G-d's manifest goodness and hand in your life, your life will be more rewarding and happier. Try it, I guarantee it.
from the June 2009 Edition of the Jewish Magazine