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How Do I Know That I Really Believe?

How Do I Know That I Really Believe?

Maybe G‑d is just a comforting thought?

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Question:

Lately I've have been struggling with the concept of G‑d, existence, and my own death one day. I realize that I don't like this idea of one day not being here anymore.

What bothers me is that perhaps G‑d and the eternity of life are just constructs of our mind to protect itself from that which it can't handle. I want to believe, but that is exactly what worries me. How do I distinguish between what's truly true and what's just a comforting thought?

Answer:

I realize that I don’t like this idea of one day not being here anymore. Perhaps G‑d and the eternity of life are just constructs of our mind to protect itself from that which it can’t handle?

I have two conflicting things to say. But then, truth is generally very conflicting.

One is that there is nothing more real than the emotions inside of us. You know the chair you are sitting on because you feel it there; the floor, because you walk on it; the computer display, because you see it there. All these you know through external sensations. But your emotions, those are the reality within you.

That is one half of truth. The other half is that Truth is something larger than either of us. It is not a feeling inside us, rather we walk around inside it and it surprises us at every turn. Truth is found by leaving our subjective confines to see a larger whole.

Before you decide that I'm being thoroughly contradictory and nonsensical, I would like to point out that this truth that is built of two opposite truths was the first truth the first human being stumbled across. As the Midrash describes, when Adam was created and he looked upon the creation around him, he concluded, "All of them are only created to serve me,"—meaning that Truth lies within me—"..and I was only created to serve my Creator"—meaning that truth lies beyond me.

The theme repeats itself in the act of a mitzvah. In every mitzvah lie two opposites: I do it because I am obligated to do so, whether I feel like it or not. That is the translation of the word "mitzvah"—a command.

And when I do it, I do it with all my heart, mind and soul. I take ownership. It is my mitzvah.

The theme, you will find, expresses itself in every facet of Judaism, in the way we pray, in the way we study Torah, in every thought is this same paradox.

Because if a person grasps only one end of the stick or the other, Truth slips from his hands. Truth lies only in the impossible fusion of both.

Grasp just one end of the stick or the other, Truth slips from your hands. Truth lies only in the impossible fusion of both In practical terms, applied to your quandary: As long as your faith and your application of your faith is convenient to you and serves you well, you cannot know whether you have the G‑d of Truth or that you have a self-serving idol. Only when you accept upon yourself mitzvahs that do not suit your liking and are not convenient to your lifestyle, then there is a possibility that you are touching truth.

Like Abraham, who was tested ten times in his life, asked to do things that were entirely contrary to his nature. Like Jews throughout the ages who hung on to their Judaism despite the fact that it was not particularly comfortable throughout most of history to be a Jew. In fact, a large number fell away. But those who seeked truth held on. Like the Jew today who after 3,300 years of trying still cannot explain why he does the things he does—and yet knows that he must do these things because they are beyond him, they work, because Truth is larger than my peewee brain.

My suggestion: Get the most mind-twisting of mitzvahs twisted around your head and your arm. Buy a pair of tefillin and put on those black leather boxes with black leather straps every morning. You can try to make sense of it, but it will never really fit. Do something that takes you beyond the world as our neat little minds imagine it to be.

Please let me know if this helps.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
Artwork by David Brook. David lives in Sydney, Australia, and has been selling his art since he was in high school. He is currently painting and doing web illustrations.
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Benzion Waldman Millburn, NJ January 6, 2017

Ha'Shem is both Real and a Comforting Thought Rabbi:
As per usual, you have posed the tough question: This time, is G-d real or just a comforting thought? With the imminent arrival of Moschiach, you will see for certain that Ha'Shem is both Real and a comforting thought. Keep the Faith Reply

Marc Levene Sarasota March 11, 2016

Timing You couldn't have brought this at a better time, yet somewhere deep inside I know Hashem is there for me despite my health problems and legal battles my teachings were deeply ingrained when I was a child. I thank you, this is only more confirmation ! Reply

Rachel Philadelphia, PA December 26, 2015

Keeping Kosher and Jewish Identity I started keeping kosher when I was attending Gratz College because I felt it was an important part of my identity as a Jew. As I've grown older and my finances have changed drastically, it crossed my mind a few times that not keeping kosher would be less of a burden. Certainly it would be make food shopping less of a burden since my local supermarket has an extremely limited stock of meat. Yet as quickly as the thought crosses myind, that quickly it's gone. I just can't "unkasher" my home. I now eat a lot of plant-based protein (fake meat) because I've crossed the line into kashrut and I just can't go back. Keeping kosher is an important part of my Jewish identity. Reply

Anonymous Nepean February 13, 2015

The absolute understanding that existence can only be possible through a creative act is essential and our belief that, in human understanding, there must be a reason for such an act is the next requirement. What then?

It now appears that our G-d then presents to us our world and the ongoing acts of man through the Torah, and other words and works of man.. These, in fact , present the hell that man creates for himself and the heaven that would exist if we would but follow His ways. These understandings are quite incredible and to believe in and seek out this creator is our fundamental responsibility..

We know the each of us is a cognitive being, one different from the other. I believe that G-d gave us all of the tools to find Him and to individually talk to him as He did with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all of the real followers throughout the ages. And He gave us a community to live in that can understand and learn from each other the wonders that are His to offer. Reply

Anonymous Pittsburgh January 8, 2015

"they work" Our Rabbi answer the question asked, like so: How do I know that my concept of G-d isn't just a doubt-resolving thought? Break that resolution. If you fear you're just drawn to -- let's say the alcohol -- then your choice of a hypothetical religion requiring complete abstinence from alcohol starts looking strange.

This doesn't work. Our sense that something is helping us achieve a goal can be deceptive, sadly. A vivid example would be an addict who moves quickly into drug resistance and withdrawal, and he keeps taking the drug.

If you want to test the purity of your motivations, it might not even make perfect sense to just see what happens when the undesired motivators are removed. Our hypothetical follower might say "I don't drink here, so I can have beer in Heaven."

If you want to aim for truth, you want evidence that truth is where you're going, not just to do stuff that tastes like truth. How on earth do we get THAT evidence??

We see if "they work". Work in what way?

? Reply

Tzvi Freeman July 10, 2014

Re: Destruction versus Un-Creation Perhaps your question can be answered by asking a better question: Why not create a perfect world to begin with—one in which nobody would imagine doing something destructive?

Basically, uncreating past evil deeds amounts to the same thing. Reply

Anonymous USA July 10, 2014

Destruction versus Un-Creation I believe, with certainty, that G-d created the heavens and the Earth and all that exists. My question is about G-d's destruction of badly behaving creatures, such as the Great Flood (of Noah's time) and Sodom and Gemorah. Why did He destroy using water and fire? Why did He not simply "un-create" them? (Poof, you never existed). Is it because the Creator cannot un-create or because once something has been brought into existence, it cannot be removed from "time"?

Some may think this is a silly question, but I'm sure I'm not the first to ask it. Does anyone know what the great Rabbim have to say about this? Reply

Anonymous March 14, 2014

Response to Rabbi Freeman's second comment Putting on tefillin can be convenient, because it means you are becoming part of the Jewish community (or at least closer to it), rather than being an outcast with your own beliefs. Just like when you move to a new neighborhood, it is convenient to follow their customs, even if you don't agree with them. How can I know that it is something about the tefillin itself which is appealing to me? If I (hypothetically) was a Jew who was born in a strange country and never told about the existence of Torah or Jews, would putting on tefillin still appeal to me? Reply

Jonathan Levy Johannesburg October 11, 2013

RUDOLF STEINER Rudolf Steiner was an amazingly spiritual person. He was also a totally logical man who developed a method of meditation that, if practised sufficiently, would allow one to "know" things that we ordinary mortals do not know. I met a follower of his many years ago - this man had the ability to "see" the true spirit in people - this went way beyond anything that you or I may be able to see in people. I don't want to call him "psychic" - it went beyond this. He had developed his abilities over many many years - he was not born with them. This kind of "knowing/believing" can be attained by any person if he/she is prepared to put in the dedication that it demands. We read and see (on TV etc.) the powers of truly spiritual people in India who have devoted their lives to attaining the ability to "believe." We "mere mortals" can say that we believe - but is there never an inkling of a thought that our "belief" may not be that strong? Never a doubt? Is that not "blind faith?" Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA February 20, 2012

By Rabbi Tzvi's answer, I assume The questioner is a man and not a woman. I once won a debate on this topic; well, somewhat on topic. The question was, "Did G-d create man, or did man create G-d?" I won the debate. While others took one side or another, my answer was simple. Who cares who created whom; there is a G-d and it doesn't really matter. In fact, we are wasting time debating when we should be out doing work for G-d in healing the world and doing good deeds. The judges were representative of each of the major faiths. The reason I believe I won that contest was that there was no way to prove points taken on either side. You can't prove such a thing. In fact, you say you love your wife or child. you can't prove that. Can you prove that love exists? Yet, that love will transcend death. When I was in Emergency, on the table, I whispered, "If I live it's for G-d and if I die, it's for Go-d, so whatever happens, it's for G-d", and I bravely faced a possible death from stroke and the drug they offered. :) True. Reply

Mrs. Beatriz Reis February 18, 2012

To Karen Bell Thank you.
I totally agree with your reasoning.
Wonderful job explaining your thoughts.
Loved it. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA June 29, 2011

So? What IF G-d is just a comforting thought. Who cares, since you can't prove scientifically that there is an invisible source guiding everything or who created everything or did anything at all. May G-d BE for you, for me, for all of us, a TRULY comforting (thought, being, an "it", a whatever). Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA June 28, 2011

To this question, I would answer... So what? Who is stopping you from believing? I don't believe putting anything on your arms, your forehead or any other part of your body will make you believe in G-d more than you do. That, to me, is plain silly. OK, if you want to see eternity in a different way, think of physics. One of the laws of physics says that energy never dies. It just changes form. Any way you look at it, the concept of what you've learned about an eternal soul or life is the same, but with other wording. So, is ANY of this "truth"? No, religion itself does not fall into the category of the word "truth" for this reason. The word "truth" is actually a scientific synonym for "fact". An idea does not become a fact until it has been given a hypothesis, and then tested, and it becomes a theory, and then a fact, and even then it is not accepted until OTHERS can re-create the experiment and come up with the same conclusions. This can't be done with G-d OR with religion or religious beliefs. So? Nu? Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA January 7, 2011

The question is multiple.. How do I KNOW I REALLY believe is much more than asking is there a G-d. The word REALLY is what I want to discuss, because if you take that word out, the question is only How do I know there is a G-d. I think we REALLY know that we are believing NOT in our religious actions and adherence to the 613 commandments, but in how we live our lives, handle difficulties, treat each other, and make choices. It has to do with inner character. When someone has it, is allowing it to grow and improve, that's how one REALLY knows he/she believes. Why? Because it is Go-d who is our inner strength. Reply

ed palo alto, ca January 5, 2011

Just wistle brother Every time the person struggles with faith, they say - put on a tallis and teffilin. This approach to faith is one big reason why more Jews are not practicing Judaism. Baal Shem Tov was right - just wistle brother. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA December 8, 2010

I like to believe that G-d IS A comforting thought. That's an awesome concept! Why not? He should be an UNcomforting thought? Reply

Anonymous Columbia, SC December 7, 2010

God is a real person. BE REASONABLE. Ask yourself: 'Am I just a comforting thought?' What's the answer? Remember Gen. 2:28 says that man was made in God's image. If you were merely a passing thought then do you exist? the ANSWER IS MOST OBVIOUS. The God who created you is certainly not just a passing thought. How can you reason more on God and creation. I was able to do so by a study of the Bible. Additionally, meditating on the creation has tremendously built my faith in the almighty Creator. Would you like to discuss this topic or any other topic on God, life etc? Contact me. Reply

Shirley Crump Columbia, SC December 7, 2010

EVIDENCE OF A CREATOR ALL AROUND US. Consider this scripture: Psalms 14:1-"The FOOL has said IN HIS HEART there is no God." On a bright starry night, look up as high in the sky and tell yourself, 'This came about by chance.' Would you be foolish? (Isa 26:40) Look at your own body? Tell yourself, "I was not designed right." Can you do it? Of certainty not! (Psalms 139:14).

True as it be, this awsome universe was created and so were we. But now ask yourself, "Why can't I enjoy life to the fullest?" The answer is in time we will. But first all wickedness must be removed. Would you like to know how this will be done? How do I know? I study the Bible. Contact me for details. Reply

Michael Logan, Utah July 30, 2010

In the spirit of Talmud... constructive debate, I disagree with Victoria. I believe knowledge, via Chumash and Talmud study and debate, is how we depart from the land of hope to a land of "wow, it's all real! It's really real! G-d, the law, everything unseen is real!" I love the the Gutnick Edition Chumash with it's commentaries and the Chabad.org videos Talmud for Beginners and highly recommend them both. Reply

Victoria St. Louis, MO March 25, 2010

To Rodrigo I agree. You either believe or you don't. No amount of knowledge can convince you. Faith is not logical; knowledge will not suddenly make it all make sense. It can give you greater depth and appreciation of faith, but knowledge can not create faith if it was not there to begin with. You can pretend you do not believe because you do not want to follow the rules that the faith requires, but that is up to the person to find that truth and integrity within himself. Reply

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