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>