“The foundation of all foundations and the pillar of wisdom is to know that there is a Primary Being who brought all existence into being. “
—Rambam, opening line of his exhaustive work, the Mishneh Torah.
As much as I write on this blog and as much as I enjoy Jewish learning, I don’t consider myself the biggest “believer” in God. I resolved near the beginning of this journey to “try on the lenses” of someone who did believe in God and I have to admit, when I’m real with that perspective, I do see miracles. But that doesn’t mean I don’t run from it. Never-the-less, here are some insights I have learned on the subject of belief. According to the Rambam (above) a Jew is commanded to know that God exists. Not believe, not have faith, KNOW. What’s the difference?
Knowledge – The ability to determine if a claim is true or false beyond a reasonable doubt.
You’re never going to know if something is true 100%. That’s a given. We could all be living in the Matrix. Can we be 100% sure we’re not? Of course not. But no sane person is jumping off buildings expecting the ground to turn to rubber. In short, we’re not making decisions in our life based on 100% certainty.
Let me put it another way. You need to get picked up at the airport. You asked your friend, Steve, to pick you up. Now Steve lives by his schedule book. You can’t make plans without him texting you for confirmation. You land, turn on your phone, and you see you have a text from Steve “I see your plane is on time. I’m on my way. See you outside terminal 6.” At this point, it is beyond a reasonable doubt Steve is going to be there waiting for you. Could there be an accident on the way? Sure. But for our purposes, I’m going to say you know he’s going to be there to pick you up.
Belief – The ability to say determine if a claim is true or false but with a reasonable doubt.
When it comes to God, most people fall into this category. Some compelling evidence has been presented to you, but there is plenty of room for doubt. Let’s go back to the airplane example. And instead of asking Steve, you asked Matt. Now Matt’s a good guy. But he’s late sometimes, every once in a while he flakes on you. But more often than not if you make plans, he’s there. You turn on your phone after the plane lands and you text Matt, “Hey, I just landed.” You don’t get a text back, but before you left, he said “I’m going to pick you up, you have my word.” At this point, if you think Matt is going to be at the terminal, you believe he’s going to pick you up.
Faith – The ability to say whether something is true or false based on personal desire.
Faith flies in the face of all reason and evidence. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing and sometimes is all you have. It’s just not the ideal way to be making decisions. Back to the airport. You couldn’t get Steve or Matt to pick you, so you go with Richard. Richard likes to party. Every night. It’s rare to see Richard not drunk or not hung over. You have never seen him on time to anything. And he sold his car last month. You get off the plane and you call Richard to which you hear “The number you’ve dialed has been disconnected…” If you are under the impression that Richard will be waiting for you at the terminal, it is purely coming from faith.
Jews are commanded to know beyond a reasonable doubt that God exists. How are we to achieve such a lofty expectation? That’s a discussion for another… well I was going to say post, but the truth is it’s a life time of research, education, observation, and wisdom to get to that point. And it is what is known as a constant mitzvah, meaning you always have to work on it to fulfill it. Also, there’s no single event, no smoking gun which irrefutably removes doubt. But I will say that given the extraordinary history of the Jews, the mesorah, the irrational nature of anti-semitism, the extraordinary depth in the Torah, and a few other reasons, I do believe that knowledge of God is possible. What an ironic sentence given the definitions of this post!