Does Religion Require God?

            May 2013    
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Is Finding Religion Necessarily Finding God?

By Larry Fine

I want to relate to you something very interesting that I heard. It was at an event where the speaker was a very distinguished scholar, rabbi and a really great speaker. He told us a highly charged and interesting story and then asked an even more poignant question. Let us see what you think.


The story, he said, was true and we had no reason to doubt this. He told us that in his yeshiva, came a boy from a wealthy Russian Jewish background who at an early age decided to look around the world to see what life style gives the most benefits and enjoyment. He had no religious training from his home and felt that he would try out the many modes of life that are available around the globe. He decided that he would chose one based on his actually living such a way and adapt such a life style to be his own. He traveled to many places and lived many different life styles before coming to the conclusion that the ultra Orthodox life style was the best.

He reasoned that in such a life style gives the most personal pleasure, comfort and security. It does not involve a need for much money since everyone lives within a small frugal budget. It is family centered and (generally) the children love and respect their parents. The husband and wife are faithful and the divorce rate is relatively low compared to other life styles and although divorce is an option most are happy with their chosen spouses. There is much community support for the individual, both financial in personal contacts. Friendship, integrity and trust are important facets in the community.

This man, the rabbi said, is married and sends his children to the local Orthodox 'cheder' (religious school for boys) and he himself spends his time in a yeshiva for married men learning the Talmud. He is very satisfied with this intellectual aspect of life and puts his whole heart into the learning.


After we, the audience, took in the story of this man's embrace of the ultra religious mode of life, the rabbi asked us a question: "Do you think that this man qualifies to be called a 'ba'al t'shuvah' (a repentant, one who returns to G-d)?

The audience was puzzled. What kind of question was this? The man's intent was obvious; he was living the religious lifestyle. What could be lacking?

So the rabbi continued, what was lacking was simple. There was no mention or concept of G-d! This man decided that living in the religious environment was the best thing for him and his family. His purpose was to enjoy life to the fullest. But G-d is totally absent from this man's decision to life such a life. Can a person be considered a 'ba'al t'shuva' if G-d is not part of his life?

The audience and I pondered this point carefully for a few moments before some people began to give their opinions.

Some began to reject him from being a ba'al t'shuva' since there was no place in his life for G-d. Others disagreed, that yes he was living the religious lifestyle, it was impossible to be totally ignorant of G-d; he performed his mitzvoth and did his daily prayers.


After hearing our various pros and cons, the rabbi began again to speak. He described the man as someone who built a beautiful and tall building with out having put in a foundation. True, he was missing the most important point of Judaism: G-d, and with out this nothing can exist. Yet he felt that the man needed some extra coaching (which he told us he did provide) to bring the man up to date.

The Rambam tells us that a parent should encourage their children to learn by giving them candies when they are young. As they grow older the parents should give more substantial presents to the child. Even as the child matures into young adulthood he should be encouraged to continue to study by emphasizing that if he becomes a rabbi he will get much honor. Only later when a person is much matured can he begin to serve G-d with the love and fear upon which true service is based.

Are we much different from this man, the rabbi asked? Who amongst us has reached the pinnacle of service to G-d? Who can say that his service to G-d can not be improved upon?


from the May 2013 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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