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Getting Comfortable with G-d

Monday, 23 December, 2013 - 10:30 am

G-d is not the cause of our young people's disaffection from Judaism, and dumping Him is most certainly not the solution. I would argue that our young people are not opting out of Judaism because we're talking to them about G-d too much, but because we're not doing it nearly enough.

Too often, our best and brightest are so painfully uninformed of the most rudimentary teachings and beliefs of Judaism that, not surprisingly, it holds little meaning or relevance for them. The universal man-made morals and ethics which are often repackaged as ‘Jewish values' are apparently leaving them disinterested. Might they perhaps be hinting to us that they're hungry for the real deal - G-d and all?

Parenthetically, we should point out that one of the most intriguing Jewish ideas - and one which we would do well to highlight - is that unlike other religions, Judaism places the greatest import on our practical behavior over and above our religious beliefs. Judaism is, of course, fundamentally rooted in monotheism, which is its sine qua non. Our forefather Abraham, the first Jew, propagated the belief in one G-d. But it is noteworthy that Judaism does not expect that a Jew hold or profess a commitment to its Principles of Faith as a prerequisite to claiming one's Jewish identity or for one's mitzvot to be religiously valuable.

The appropriate response to G-d's reputed decline in popularity among young Jews is clearly not to reinvent Judaism as a G-dless religion (G-d forbid!), as has been astoundingly suggested by some, but quite to the contrary. The sensible imperative is to actively seek ways to reintroduce G-d into our Jewish discourse and into our communal consciousness. What we need to do as Jews, is to think and talk more about G-d, not less.

Faith in an omniscient G-d - "the eye that sees and the ear that hears" - is a crucial underpinning of a wholesome, moral upbringing. It needs to be instilled and nurtured from an early age. As parents we need to be proactive about this. We would never consider being neutral about such values as honesty, integrity, respect for others, etc. - expecting our children to somehow discover them on their own one bright sunny day. We invest a lot of sweat and tears (and money!) to impress these foundational values upon our offspring, and then we hope and pray that their appreciation for them will grow as they mature into independent thinking adults. Belief in G-d should be no different.

To be sure, they will have their struggles with issues of faith, just as they will undoubtedly deal with moral and ethical challenges during life. What else is new? Hopefully -- and with our encouragement -- they will come to understand that faith and doubt are not mutually exclusive, but that they can coexist simultaneously. To offer a rather simple example: We have faith that the airplane will transport us safely to our destination, but are we without doubt? Belief in G-d, like any conviction, is often a matter of degree. Our religious belief may have their ups and downs, not unlike our emotions, our mental acuity or physical ability. So having doubt about G-d does not make us into non-believers. We can believe even as we have questions.

There are many ways for us to increase the presence of G-d in our lives. I humbly suggest a few possibilities: How about starting our day with modeh ani, the one-line prayer in which we thank G-d for giving us a new day, or ending the day at bedtime with saying the shma, as we declare His oneness? Or reading stories to our children and grandchildren about the patriarchs, prophets and sages of the Jewish people and their interactions with G-d? You may be pleasantly surprised, even inspired, by the eagerness and purity with which they will embrace these practices.

Our community leaders, both rabbinic and lay, would do well to invoke G-d more often and more clearly when speaking publicly. It is confusing for young people when we ‘beat around the bush' when discussing G-d. Let's also get into the habit of saying "thank G-d", "with G-d's help" and so on. Those seemingly small things make a difference. Needless to say, teachers in Jewish schools should themselves be comfortable with their faith, and should be open and encouraging when talking about G-d with their students.

We all need to get more comfortable with the notion of G-d as a meaningful part of our Jewishness. After all, Judaism is a religion, isn't it?

 

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