Answers to Questions of Spiritual Importance

Sent by Readers

Must I Believe?

Dear Reb Shohama,

I’ve finally found a synagogue where I feel joyful, peaceful, and at home. Problem is, the Rabbi really believes in God and I don’t. I feel like a fraud. What do you suggest? Sincerely, Louise

Dear Louise,

My guess is that many of the people in this synagogue feel just the same way that you do—they enjoy being there as part of the Jewish community, they feel it’s their home, but if you ask them about their belief in G!d they will say they aren’t sure what they believe.

It’s OK. It’s more than OK, and I feel confident that if you ask the rabbi, s/he will say the same thing. Judaism is a religion that encourages quests and questions. Even for those who do strongly believe in G!d, there are a multitude of ways in which this belief is understood and expresses itself.

We recently celebrated the holiday of Shavuot, the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. The Midrash, a collection of rabbinic legends, says that each of the 600,000 Jews who stood at Sinai heard G!d’s voice in a different way. I have found this to be true. Each Jew that I talk to has a slightly different way of understanding G!d’s presence and role in the universe and in their life.

For some, G!d manifests in a intense spiritual experience—they see a vision of light, or hear angelic music, or feel overwhelmed with love. For some, G!d is inferred through the path of history, through the miracle that after four thousand years, the Jewish people are still vital contributors to the betterment of the world. For most, G!d manifests through appreciation of the every day wonders of life—the smile of a child, the hug of a friend, the beauties of nature.

The important thing is to be part of a Jewish community that learns together and shares their spiritual struggles, their joys and their sorrows. Al tifrosh min ha tzibbur—don’t separate yourself from the community—is a basic principle of Judaism.

You say that you feel joy, peace and a sense of being at home in your synagogue. To me, this is a clear sign that you are feeling G!ds presence. We believe in an intangible G!d, Louise, and the way we know G!ds presence is by how it makes us feel and act.

I bless you to continue your search, and at the same, be open to the wonderful experiences you can have in your synagogue.

Reb Shohama