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Is G-d Religious?

Is G-d Religious?

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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.
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Discussion (18)
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.
ruth housman
marshfield hills, ma
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!
Dale
Gaithersburg
January 18, 2011
Faith / La Chaim
Please !
Take a deep breath....now exhale......
You have just confirmed your connection
to G-d.
Terry Markovits
Texas USA.
January 18, 2011
What a great parallel, the key being the optimum connection with G-d
Isroel
Brooklyn, NY
January 18, 2011
Faith or Religion
Without Breath words cannot be formed...
Without Mercy...life is but an illusion !
Terry Markovits
USA
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!
ruth housman
marshfield hills, ma
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.
john smith
fort lauderdale, fl
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.
Devorah Segall
NY, NY
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.
4 Amos
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.
Rob Costin
San Francisco, CA
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