Contact Us

Is G-d Religious?

Is G-d Religious?


The polls are mixed on that count. Recent surveys show that as much as 80-90% of Americans will say that they believe in G‑d, but 40-50% will say they do not practice a religion.

Indeed, if G‑d is all-powerful and infinite, and religion is a set of laws and rituals and a list of things that one must or must not do, it would seem that G‑d could hardly be described as "religious." Nor would it seem that being religious will bring a person closer to G‑d. If G‑d transcends all limitation and definition, why would the way to relate to G‑d be to impose further restriction and definition on our already finite and constricted lives?

Yet this paradox is not confined to the religious-spiritual aspect of the human experience. Throughout the ages, whenever man has endeavored to escape the bounds of the mundane and the everyday, he did so by submitting to a structured, even rigid, code of behavior.

My favorite example for this is the discipline of music. There are just so many musical notes on the scale, and no one--not even the greatest musician--can create additional notes or subtract any. Anyone who wishes to play or compose music must conform to this absolute, immutable system.

And yet, by submitting to this framework, the musician will create a piece of music that touches the deepest place in a person's heart---a place that cannot be described, much less the defined. By using this very precise, mathematical formula, the musician will create something that transports the listener to a place high above the confines and fetters of everyday life, high above the strictures of physics and mathematics.

Imagine, then, a musical discipline whose laws are dictated by the inventor and creator of life---by the one who has intimate knowledge of life's every strength and every vulnerability, of its every potential and its every sensitivity.

The only question remaining is: but why so many laws? Why must this discipline dictate how we are to wake and how we are to sleep, and virtually everything in between?

Because life itself, in all its infinite complexity, is our instrument of connection with G‑d. Every "scale" on its "range" must be exploited to achieve the optimum connection.

Music being our metaphor, we cannot but quote the famous anecdote in which Archduke Ferdinand of Austria reputedly says to Mozart, "Beautiful music, but far too many notes." To which the composer replied, "Yes, your majesty, but not one more than necessary."

© The Meaningful Life Center. Rabbi Simon Jacobson is the author of the best-selling Toward a Meaningful Life: The Wisdom of the Rebbe (William Morrow, 1995), and the founder and director of the Meaningful Life Center.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with's copyright policy.
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
1000 characters remaining
. sorry to bug but it's necessary to ba accurate February 1, 2015

Hashem follows the Torah 1. Hassidic tradition says Hashem follows the Torah.
2. music is not limited to 12 notes of the western scale. in Indian, African and other musics, there are different esthetics, skills and structures for music.
3. why do people always use western european classical music as the standard? since when does a bunch of white people reading music off paper equal excellence?
so much of that music is purely cerebral; and, the culture that produced that music slaughtered its Jews.

Does Hashem use limitations? Yes, that is what tzimtzum is about; that is what the Creation is about. Reply

Anonymous London, Ont/Can via December 4, 2014

Is G-d Religious? I think G-d has a lot of rules for us because he has a lot of love for us. He wants to keep us safe, he wants to keep us healthy etc. "Food laws" why else would you tell a person not to eat something, only if it was bad for you obviously. He doesn't restrict someone from eating clean foods. Right. Think about it. Why do you make rules for your kids, It's because you love them and know what's best for them , after there an adult, you trust them to keep the rules for themselves. Reply

Bernice Needham London, Ont/Can via December 3, 2014

Is G-d Religious Is walking down the road religious "Abraham walked with G-d". G-d walked with Adam in the cool of the day". I guess anytime we connect with G-d no matter what we're doing, we're being religious. However I think G-d is just being himself. Maybe we need to just be our self while we're being religious. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma January 21, 2011

practicing love itself perfect us First I want to "note" that music has a "Key Signature", and I do believe metaphoric connects with music deeply define our relationship to what is, Divine. The treble clef den NOTES the Key Signature of a piece of music, and clef itself means KEY in French.

I do believe love breaks all the rules, and that the most significant breakthroughs in all areas of life, are made from people who do think "outside the box". But knowledge also builds, on what has gone before.

Flexibility is the KEY, and I wonder at those who are stuck in the rigidity of ways of thinking, being, believing. Those who are this way, who follow "rules" too stringently, lack the strings that do move us all towards feeling a love that is inchoate, and often moves us to tears, which is, deeply, about, The Music, how we do vibrate to those chords. Sometimes it's accord and other times it's discord. It's what we do, in also creating harmonics together. Reply

Dale Gaithersburg January 19, 2011

Missed the relevant music metaphor To mention music as an example of needing to operate under a strict set of rules in order to acheive freedom or enlightenment is absolutely correct. However, has been noted in many comments here -- focusing on the 13 semi-tones of an octave as immutable is wrong and obscures another very relevant point.

The relevant point about freedom and enlightenment coming from strict rules is the need to study and practice for numerous hours before being able to freely make music. It is said -- and often verified -- that a virtuoso pianist needs to spend 10,000 hours practicing before becoming a virtuoso. That's more than a year practicing 24 hours a day, seven days a week (which of course is absurd and unobtainable because your brain and muscles need to process that practice during rest times). A more reasonable goal would be 10 years at 3 hours a day every day.

Now that's some serious dedication! But, what musical freedom and enlightenment one can achieve on that path! Reply

Terry Markovits Texas USA. January 18, 2011

Faith / La Chaim Please !
Take a deep exhale......
You have just confirmed your connection
to G-d. Reply

Isroel Brooklyn, NY January 18, 2011

What a great parallel, the key being the optimum connection with G-d Reply

Terry Markovits USA January 18, 2011

Faith or Religion Without Breath words cannot be formed...
Without is but an illusion ! Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma January 18, 2011

the Muse in Music! Yes, there is a profound metaphor here. The rules of the road. Wherever we look there are rules that do define conduct, too, that are about not harming others, not running into them in our cars, the red light, the green light, the yellow, for caution. All the road signs are deeply about our own lives, our own journeys through, and for me, the deepest is, Share The Road.

There are many whose creativity is in breaking the rules, in doing something daring, something different, something that makes us sit up and, Think! But you are right, there are only so many notes, and we can for sure, divide them, and keep dividing, for halfs and semi notes, and discord too. But what is given is the clay we all work with, and that is a Divine gift.

There are deep metaphoric connects running up and down all of Nature. Why then, keep referring as so many do, in a derogatory way, to an animal soul, when what animates us all, is SOUL itself, all beating hearts! Reply

john smith fort lauderdale, fl January 18, 2011

music they say music cures the animal soul. when one practices music they are trying to perform or to create something from nothing or a creation from the abyss. everyone else are merely listeners and are of their own interpretations of that divine inspiration and creation. Reply

Devorah Segall NY, NY February 26, 2009

Is G-d Jewish? Thank you so much Rabbi Jacobson.

Being a musician, I always resonate with what you write about music and connecting it to understanding the meaning of our lives - our souls.

The title (Is G-d Religious?) and content of your article here brings me to this question which I hope you will answer.
I've been wanting to ask you this for a long time(!)
Is G-d Jewish?
I look forward to your response. Reply

4 Amos August 17, 2008

Re: Sonia's Aggada on Tefillin In other words, the faith / religion of Israel is based on the honor of G-d (the Infinite) in the finite world, and the faith / religion of G-d is based on the honor of Israel / Yeshurun (the finite) in the Infinite. Reply

Rob Costin San Francisco, CA December 12, 2007

music, continued By which I mean to say, the 613 mitzvot are not immutable and fixed. If they were, we would have no need for commentary or explanation. Everyone would know the rules and that would be the end of it. The rabbi would bake bread or make shoes for a living. But the 613 mitzvot are constantly drifting away from us on the current of language. Out of necessity, we reconstruct them based on a fading memory; our great-grandchildren will reconstruct them again, and their great-grandchildren will reconstruct them again. If devotion is analogous to music, g-d seems to enjoy the sound of improvisation. Reply

Rob Costin San Francisco, USA December 12, 2007

music The anonymous poster who explains that the musical scale has evolved and varies from culture to culture is correct. In American music, the bending or 'blue' note is especially significant; the bending of notes away from standard pitch gives the blues its unique sound. The musical scale, therefore, is subject to improvisation, development, and habituation. (As is all language - and consequently our ability to contemplate the meaning of scripture - which accounts for the renewed need of every generation for explanation and interpretation.) Reply

Sonia February 8, 2007

Good point - just as the Doctor doesn't need to take the medicine himself, so does G-d. Although the tradition is that for example G-d so to speak does wear teffilin, with the verses of Israel's praise inside. Reply

Anonymous New York February 7, 2007

music The analogy of music is not a good one. It is not necessarily true that the musical scale is defined to the say 7 tones or 12 semi-tones most people use. The ancient Greeks discovered the ratios between notes that would sound most harmonic to the human ear. Yet that tuning is not the one to which most modern instruments are tuned due to logistical reasons. Throughout history, the frequency (which is analogous to the tone we hear) to which instruments such as pianos were tuned has changed. And finally, it is possible to divide the musical octave into more than 12 notes if desired. Scales of 19 notes have existed and others. Therefore, it is not necessarily true that the current musical scale in use is absolute and unchangeable. Reply

Natana Kulakofski Worcester, MA February 7, 2007

What a Beautiful Way to Explain the What a beautiful way to explain the "why" of the 613 mitzvot! I have never heard it explained so poetically yet so sensibly!
Indeed, to take the music metaphor one step further, when G-d hears us praying, he doesn't hear just words, but rather music, and the more kavannah (sincerity or devotion) with which we pray, the more beautiful the music.
I will print out this article and use it to answer the very same question the article addresses, why so many rules? Why so many "restrictions"? Reply

marianne vancouver, canada February 7, 2007

response i loved this story. very inspiring. makes me want to be able to understand music, in the context of being able to play an instrument or write music or in the final analysis understand math! G-d exists in all aspects of my life. i have learned to accept my journey as one of a choice made through the hardest school of all, "the school of hard knocks" this peice of writing is very moving. restorative.thank you... Reply

Anonymous Novi, MI November 2, 2006

Name of article Answering question: "I fail to see from the content of the article how the question in the heading "Is G-d religious" was answered?"

I think the author implies "does G-D want us to follow a set of rules or he simply wants sincerety of heart and good deeds?"

Here is my answer: is a good doctor the one that smiles at you and maintains a nice conversation, or the one that gives you a specific medicine for your specific problem? Reply

anonymous ny, ny February 16, 2006

Question I fail to see from the content of the article how the question in the heading "Is G-d religious" was answered?! Reply

Related Topics