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A Frequent Question

Once, when manning one of the outreach trailers known as “mitzvah tanks,” I asked a passerby if he would like to put on tefillin.

“No, I don’t want to be hypocritical,” he replied. He explained that he did not believe in G‑d and therefore did not want to observe His commandments. When his mother had been sick he had prayed, perhaps the first sincere prayer he had offered in years, and yet his prayer was not answered. His mother had passed away.

“From that time onward,” he concluded, “I do not believe in G‑d.”

Ultimately, he put on tefillin. There is no need to elaborate on the arguments I used to persuade him to do so, because what he really needed was some warm concern, not theological debate. But his statements are worthy of analysis, for they reflect many common misconceptions about faith.

Saying What You Really Mean

Why had he prayed? Because in every individual’s heart there is a spark of G‑dliness. At the core of our being, we possess a soul which is “an actual part of G‑d.”1 On the other hand, our conscious minds are often controlled by what Chassidus describes as the animal soul. We are not speaking about “an Evil Inclination,”2 for an animal is not necessarily bad. But an animal thinks almost entirely about satisfying its instinctual drives. It has no thought about anything above its immediate physical environment. When a person follows the dictates of his animal soul, he acts in a similar way. Again, this does not necessarily mean that he is a bad person. He may not harm anyone else and may be pleasant company. He is, however, concerned primarily with himself and with life’s material dimensions.

As long as a person lives in this manner, he will not think often about G‑d. He is simply too busy with other things. When, however, he feels that his peace of mind is threatened, he is likely to turn to G‑d with a prayer.

Is that prayer sincere? On the one hand, it is quite obvious that he is thinking of G‑d only inasmuch as G‑d can help him. He is concerned with his own desires what he wants, not necessarily what G‑d wants.

On the other hand, our Sages state:3 “When a person gives a copper coin to charity so that his son will live, he is completely righteous.” They are not only saying that he has performed a righteous act: they are saying that he is righteous.

Why is he righteous? Because he possesses a G‑dly soul and at this time, the G‑dly soul is revealed. He may think and on a conscious level, it may be true that he is giving the money only for his son’s sake. But inside, at a level of motivation of which he may not even be aware, there is something impelling him to make the gift generously, in response to G‑d’s desire that he be charitable. The adverse circumstances in which he finds himself merely serve to peel away his self-concern and enable his inner G‑dly core to surface.

A Halachic Parallel

We find a parallel concept in Torah law. In certain circumstances a man is legally obligated to divorce his wife and thereby enable her to remarry. Now, under Torah law, the husband must be the one who initiates the divorce and he must do so willingly. What happens when a man is required to divorce his wife, but refuses to do so? Our Sages rule that he should be coerced until he acquiesces.

The Rambam asks: How can this divorce be considered voluntary? After all, this husband has declared that he does not want to free his wife. In resolution, the Rambam explains:4

He wants to be part of the Jewish people and he wants to perform all the mitzvos and distance himself from all the transgressions; it is only his [Evil] Inclination that is compelling him [not to do so]. Therefore when he is coerced until his [Evil] Inclination is weakened and he consents [to the divorce], he is considered to have given it willingly.

So, we may ask, when is a person being hypocritical when he puts on tefillin, or when he does not?

And the answer: When he does not express his innate faith, he is not being his true self.

Bringing the Inside Out

Nevertheless, since this inborn faith lies dormant at the core of our beings, it is often not revealed, for it is our animal souls that largely govern the way we live our daily lives. Hence, if this faith is to surface, it has to be nurtured.

How is faith nurtured? First of all, through inspiration. Each of us recalls individuals and influences that were able to spur our belief in G‑d. One of the important elements of the nurturing process is to maintain frequent contact with such influences.

Beyond that, faith can be studied. For the animal soul has an intellectual element and when it understands the truth of the axioms of faith, it can integrate these concepts into the way it confronts experience.

Historically, both of these thrusts were activated by the leaders of the chassidic movement. The Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chassidism, fanned the spark of faith that lives in the heart of every Jew. The Alter Rebbe, R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of the Chabad- Lubavitch branch of the chassidic movement, provided a conceptual framework that enables us to take hold of that flame, control its light, and turn it outward. Thus it becomes a torch to illumine those corners of the world and of our personalities that are yet to be permeated with G‑d’s light.

In Response to Many Requests

For years, people have asked for a handbook that will probe the core of some of the essential issues of Jewish faith and provide explanations based on the mystic understanding taught by R. Shneur Zalman and his spiritual heirs, the Rebbeim of Chabad- Lubavitch. For although many primary texts are available, a reader unfamiliar with their style may find difficulty in grasping their concepts, even in translation.

For this reason, these essays are original expositions, not translations or adaptations of the works of the Rebbeim. On the other hand, what is original is merely the structure of the essays, as insights from several sources have been interpreted and interwoven into single essays. The ideas themselves are rooted in the teachings of the Rebbeim. In particular, the insights of the Rebbe are highlighted, for his teachings enable us to appreciate the light and power of faith in terms that we can easily relate to and understand.

Light Calling to Light

Faith is fundamental in the present era, ikvesa diMeshicha.5 Although this is an age when Mashiach’s approaching footsteps can be heard, G‑dliness is not readily evident and our lives often focus on material concerns. When there is little light from above, our Divine service must be illuminated by light from within, the fire of faith each one of us possesses in his heart.

May these essays help such lights be kindled and fanned. And may the kindling of these inner lights create a setting for the revelation of the ultimate light the dawning of the age when “One person will no longer teach his colleague…, because they will all know Me.”6

Rabbi Eliyahu Touger,
Jerusalem, 15 Sivan


Edited by Rabbi Yonah Avtzon and Rochel Chana Schilder
layout and typography by Yosef Yitzchok Turner
cover by Avrohom Weg
references and sources by Rabbi Aharon Leib Raskin<</p>

Tanya, ch. 2.
Although the yetzer hara (“Evil Inclination”) becomes active when a person indulges his “animal soul,” the two terms are not synonymous, as is explained above.
Pesachim 8a-b.
Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Geirushin 2:20.
Lit., “the footsteps of Mashiach”; cf. Sotah 9:15, and Rashi there.
Yirmeyahu 31:33.
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eileen ravert birdsboro, pa November 18, 2011

G_D HE is certainly there! I know because he has patienty been with me and my search for other religions to catch me when I fall, in my search for the truth. Testing me to see if I will cleave to him only Reply

Quintin randolph April 24, 2011

beliefs What are main diffrences in Judism and Christianity Reply

Tana Goodwin Las Vegas, Nevada January 24, 2011

returning to my roots I fell away from my faith many, many years ago. Now, in my old age, I feel the need to return and I don't know where to start. is for me a beginning. I am so grateful that this site exists. Reply

Anthony Rego Park, NY October 14, 2009

..Got Up and Went For practical reasons I can't. I have a family, am not physically up to it, and am wedded for better or worse to my own particular spot on His map.

Which is exactly my point--I agree there are no atheists in foxholes, but does that mean that only in foxholes is faith to be found? What about those who do not have the opportunity to go to war, and are cursed by peace? (So to speak, of course). I have a million problems right where I am, where I suppose is where G-d wants me to be.

Not only are there no atheists in foxholes, it's also very easy not to be one under those circumstances. Reply

sean glenrothes, scotland October 14, 2009

Get up and Go Someone once said 'there are no atheists in foxholes'.

Therefore, I'd like to offer a suggestion to readers like Rego above, who are struggling to find faith.

Why not take some time out from the daily grind and go help some humanitarian service that is working in a war or disaster zone?

It will certainly be less of a grind and, as well as making the world a better place, being in the midst of all that activity may awaken a new zest for finding faith? Reply

Anthony Rego Park, NY October 13, 2009

Too tired for faith It's not the wars, the disaters, the famines, the injustices--the tidal waves, the tsunamis-- that wear me down. It's the day-to-day drop-by-drop grind that mostly does it. I could live with the wars and disaters and pain and suffering, really I could... Reply

Sean Glenrothes, Scotland September 2, 2007

Faith 'IN' G-d? I once believed G-d would like me, if he existed, before I knew He was real/ there.

However, I then had an experience that proved to me He was real/ there and all of my cosy ideas were shattered in about 30 seconds. I was in shock, because I now knew He was real/ there.

But, 19 years later, I still know how hard it is to have 'faith' 'IN' Him- that He is leading/ guiding us in some planned life that will bring us what we want/ need. There are plenty of famines, wars, murders, injustices and natural disasters to give us food for thought on that subject.

Also, after studying faith, I would say that most of what I read about 'Faith' is really just people putting their trust in others ideas about what G-d is and wants, and ignores 'scriptural' faith which seems to ask that we 'faithfully' follow His law/ word/ light.

Returning to my skin cell analogy above- many of mine will die this week while I work, their screams/ pain will be ignored- will they have faith in me and my work? Reply

Felice Debra Eliscu Platteville, WI August 31, 2007

G-d You would have to experince the Almighty G-d for yourself. That is how I know. Reply

Angelo A. D'Agostino Sussex, New Jersey via July 25, 2007

Faith I am roman catholic and you are probably asking what I am doing at this site. I am a person filled with faith and hope, but struggling with my religion. I am venturing out past the borders of the catholic faith; being called to christianity, but I have always kept an open mind to other religions, and that is why I am here. I have always said, espicially with non-belivers, if they just acknowledge God, they have that little piece of faith tucked away in their soul that you speak of. No human being with even the littlest bit of intellegence could say that everything we live, see and breath today was by accident; that we are here taking up space. We have a purpose; God's purpose; his plan and faith in his plan helps us to grow spiritually. If you life is not what you expected or is not working out as you planned, have faith and let God lead, and you will know there is truly a God. Reply

Anonymous Saint Petersburg, Florida March 1, 2007

Empirical knowledge versus G d You want empirical knowledge for having belief that G d exists. I am a Registered Nurse...studied science, cell structure, chemistry, etc. Albert Einstein, who was much more qualified than I in all scientific matters, stated unequivocally, that God does exist and only God could have created this earth, universe, and all contained within,
And so you want '"empirical proof" of His existence. You are way too smart not to know that what you are asking for is impossible to provide and therefore you can rest on your attitude of: "Prove it" I say to you, "prove that he does not exist"!
If Einstein cannot reach you with his brilliance, then are not all the rest of us challenged by your attitude.
Have you ever given thought to "faith" defined in Websters New World Compact Dictionary, as..1."."unquestioning belief, esp. in god, religion, etc. 2 a particular religion 3. complete trust or reliance 4. loyalty--good ( or bad) Faith(in) sincerity or dishonesty.
I know that G d exists! Reply

Sean Grieve glenrothes, Scotland February 22, 2007

Who gives? Someone wrote: Was it put there by G-d?

I would say: depends on what it's in. Reply

Anonymous Saint Petersburg, Florida February 22, 2007

Who can explain 'faith"? And if it can be explain The question: " Do you have empirical basis for your faith?"

The answer: " It would not be faith then."

I am a gentile who reads your articles, challenging topics, and meaningful, necesssary questions about life and faith.
I cannot explain my faith or why it exists strongly and deeply within my "mind" and soul. Was it put there by G-d?/ Reply

Sean Grieve scotland January 13, 2007

Thinking about it. Thank G-d for people like Yoni, who are not convinced- they make us 'think' a little more about our faith (hopefully). Thinking about biology, in relation to G-d, I wonder if our bodies cells believe in us? What emperical evidence could one cell present to another? And, considering their lives and rights, do 'we' have the right to ignore the screams as we sacrifice thousands of cells to save something 'we' value from a fire? Of course, it could be argued that cells cannot think and are only 'flesh'. But then, I wonder if an 8 month old fetus believes in his father? Like Yoni, it has seen no indication that one exists. So, I wonder if our thoughts, perhaps, are not G-ds thoughts- perhaps our minds of 'flesh' are not really capable of 'thinking' about Him, or putting Him on the empirical scales? Perhaps we need a little faith to grow? Like, imagine the first biologist, after his first discovery, thinking there was no need to study any science any more- what would you say about his faith? Reply

Anonymous Flint, TX/USA October 9, 2006

Righteous persons I am a gentile who listened to a Dallas rabbi for at least 16 years during my childhood. This made such a strong impression on me that I consider myself "theologically Jewish" although it is not possible for me to convert any time soon. Even as a small child, I asked, "Why Christianity was the only true religion, and all other were either false or ancient myths?"
Many years ago, I read the whole Bible: the Tanakh, and Pauline Christianity are glaring opposites. I decided to let all "differences" between the two faiths to be decided in favor of Judaism: the Torah. The other had too many changes.
I have admired your group for many years although you would have grave problems accepting me, I suppose. I have decided that G-d requires only one thing of me and that is to be righteous and obey the Torah. I plan to visit this site to learn how to be righteous and to obey the laws that I can.
I take my Jewish Study Bible to an evangelical church when they study the old testament. Reply

Anonymous June 29, 2006

To believe despite lack of evidence or proof is trust, to trust is to have faith. Right now (and I believe it will always be so) it is impossible to PROVE G-d's existence here on Earth. It is impossible to know anything for certain. Impossible to know whether G-d exists or not, impossible to know others completely or impossible to know ourselves completely. The only one who knows completely is G-d Himself. The only step we can take to create a more complete knowledge is to try and know "from the inside". Experience yields the ultimate knowledge. Until you experience G-d you will not truly know Him or believe in his existence. I pray that all may experience Him and acknowledge His existence. Reply

Chaim Garcia April 28, 2006

Emprical Evidence? "do you have empirical basis for your belief?"

It wouldn't be faith then. Reply

Yoni Maslan Bellingham, WA via March 3, 2006

I'm not convinced This analysis of why people believe in G-d is predicated on a faith that is guided by dramatic events in peoples' live -- death of a loved one, etc. I am personally disatisfied with this outlook, as I see no way to correlate the existence of G-d with what happens in our own lives with, nor should anyone else. There is no way to say that the 6 million who died in the holocaust died because of something they did, or because they didn't pray enough. Irrespective of whether G-d exists or not, there will be bad things in the world. I would posit that a belief in G-d should instead be based on an empirical analysis of what we know about the universe, biochemistry, the interactions of species and the likelihood that there are species in existence elsewhere in the universe. I am a fervent agnostic because, from my studies in biology primarily, I see no indication that a Creator exists or doesn't. There's simply no way to assert either position. Do you have an empirical basis for your belief? Reply

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