When God appeared to our Teacher Moses, and commanded him to address the people and to bring them the message, Moses replied that he might first be asked to prove the existence of God in the Universe, and that only after doing so he would be able to announce to them that God had sent him. For all men, with few exceptions, were ignorant of the existence of God; their highest thoughts did not extend beyond the heavenly sphere, its forms or its influences. They could not yet emancipate themselves from sensation, and had not yet attained to any intellectual perfection. Then God taught Moses how to teach them, and how to establish amongst them the belief in the existence of Himself…
Ehyeh asher Ehyeh, a name derived from the verb hayah in the sense of “existing,” for the verb hayah denotes “to be,” and in Hebrew no difference is made between the verbs “to be” and “to exist.” …This is, therefore, the expression of the idea that God exists, but not in the ordinary sense of the term; or, in other words, He is “the existing Being which is the existing Being,” that is to say, the Being whose existence is absolute.
from The Guide for the Perplexed
by Moses Maimonides
translated by M. Friedlander (1903)
This blog continues my series based on the JLI course book for Toward a Meaningful Life. If you haven’t done so yet, please review the previous blog, A Knock on the Door, and then return here and keep reading.
I don’t doubt the actual existence of God and haven’t for quite some time. Too much has happened to me that can’t be explained any other way but that God, the God of the Bible, must exist and be active in the world. It’s comprehending God and particularly, what He wants from a relationship with me that has me “perplexed”. Understanding God is no small matter and I don’t believe it’s possible for any human being to comprehend God, though that hasn’t stopped me from trying to grasp Him on some miniscule scale.
A few days ago, I wrote a blog saying, in part, that God is the only being who truly stands alone and without peer. God is a unique and radical One and there is no other like Him.
G-d replied that His name is “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh.” That is to say: the Being Whose existence depends on nothing but Himself…. “I exist because I exist, not because of another existence. Unlike other beings, My existence and power is not dependent on anything.”
This name does not apply to any other being. They cannot say, “I exist because I exist.” They are only able to say…”I exist because another being exists,” that is, the First Cause upon which all beings depend.
But G-d depends on Himself, not on any other cause….Therefore, His existence is a true existence because He does not need any other being.
Rabbi Yosef Albo
Sefer Ha’ikarim 2:27
This, as much as anything, is what makes God so incomprehensible. As people, we like to think we’re self-sufficient and independent, but even on a human scale, we must admit that our existence is dependent on our parents. On a cosmic scale, all that lives and all that exists depends on God for our very being and purpose. That is a daunting and humbling thought, and if you are a secular humanist, you will reject the concept out of hand. People don’t like to think that we aren’t in control our lives. In fact, we do control what we do with our lives, we just don’t determine why we were created in the first place, and we often don’t have a clue as to which “destiny” or purpose we are best suited. That is up to God, not a blind and random meeting between your father’s and mother’s genetic material, and not by any other set of arbitrary probabilities.
We are dependent on so much. Only God is alone.
Rabbi Albo also wrote, in Sefer Ha’ikarim 2:30:
It is impossible for anyone outside of G-d to grasp His essence. Like the answer given by the wise man upon being asked if he knows the essence of G-d – “If I knew Him I would be Him.” In other words, there is no one who can grasp G-d’s essence except God….The ultimate we can grasp about G-d is that we cannot grasp Him. As the wise man said, “The ultimate knowing of You is knowing that I cannot know You.”
Admitting all of that, where does that leave humans in relation to God? We can’t know Him, at least not in the sense of His most complete essence. And yet, we are commanded to “love the Lord, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your means.” (Deuteronomy 6:5). Jesus taught these very words (Matthew 22:37) so I feel confident that they apply to Jews and to everyone else. We are also taught to fear God (Deuteronomy 6:13) with (my interpretation) a fearful awesomeness. But how do we connect to God when He is so infinite and we are so…not?
An article written by Rabbi Aaron Moss is included in the JLI course material for Toward a Meaningful Life and is crafted in the form of an “Ask the Rabbi” column:
Question: Rabbi, I am uninspired, I used to pray to G-d and study Torah, but I’ve lost the spark. I feel flat and empty and I haven’t done anything spiritual in ages. What should I do to find my soul again?
I won’t attempt to replicate the Rabbi’s rather lengthy answer, but at the core, he says that if you wait for a feeling to inspire you to start praying, studying and rekindling your relationship with God, you’ll wait forever. It’s like an out-of-shape person saying that they can’t go to the gym to get back in shape until they start getting more strength and stamina. They are too out-of-shape to be able to work out in order to get back into shape. I’m sure you can see the “Catch-22” involved here.
Stephen Covey, in his bestselling book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, relates an encounter he had with a fellow after a speaking engagement. The man told Covey that he hadn’t loved his wife for many years and no matter what he tried, he couldn’t resurrect his emotional connection with her. He pleaded with Covey to give him some advice or insight as to how he could start loving his wife again.
Covey’s only answer was, “Just love her”.
If you wait for a feeling before you start treating someone as if you love them, you’ll be waiting forever. This is as true of a relationship with God as with a spouse. To love God, don’t wait for a feeling. Start praying. Start reading the Bible. Start allowing God to just be with you. By the by, you will start “feeling” the love returning.
Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in his article Each of Us Has a Personal Relationship with God says in part:
I also believe that God supervises the smallest details and every single individual….Thus, God has a plan for each and every human being and every single creature. But I cannot know what His plan is for me. Every now and then I ask Him (and sometimes receive an answer…). What am I supposed to do now according to the plan? Have I done what You wanted me to do, or have I erred and misunderstood you?
That is why prayer, no matter the form, is so important. Prayer is always a conversation with God. It is the way we relate feelings, fears or aspirations, or make requests…Human beings have the right (perhaps also the duty) to converse with God, to ask things from Him and also to complain to Him…
Probably the capstone of today’s missive was written by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his article When People Lose Faith in God, They Lose Faith in Humanity Also:
We are small but capable of greatness, selfish but often selfless, dust of the earth but also the image of god. When I have faith in God I find that I recover my faith in humanity as well.
Expressing faith through prayer and study, even when the heart seems empty is like coaxing a small, tender shoot to begin to bud in the desert. With persistence, care, and patience, it can grow into a forest.
“But words and music can never
touch the beauty that I’ve seen
looking into you
and that’s true”
from his song “Looking Into You”
This series of blogs based on the JLI course Toward a Meaningful Life will conclude on Sunday’s “morning meditation” when I look at whether or not its reasonable or fair to apply a series of lessons written specifically for a Jewish audience to Christians and the world at large.
Later today, I’ll post my commentary for this week’s Torah Portion, Re’eh: When Did We Feed You?