Soul Searching Belief

It would be about twenty years ago now. I can’t believe how much time has passed but there it is. I was in an Orthodox seminary for Jewish women. It was a large campus that housed a whole host of programs for Jewish women. Some of the programs catered to women who grew up religious and some other programs catering to those who came from secular backgrounds. On occasion, joint evening activities would be planned to give women from different religious backgrounds a chance to come together and get to know each other. It was at one of these planned evenings that I had an experience that profoundly shaped my spiritual trajectory.

It was a game night. At some point in the evening, we were grouped together into mixed teams and given a question to answer together. We were asked if we could only choose one thing to survive off of, what would it be? Various choices were thrown at us on cue cards. Somehow, we had to narrow down the key to survival into a singular concept. Needless to say, it was challenging.

I, who came from a secular background, scrambled around for the perfect scientific solution. What was that one size fits all that would take care of all eventualities? I don’t recall exactly what card I threw into the ring. I do remember thinking that the basics ran through my mind such as water, money, heat, and so on. In direct contrast to my practical attitude, a young religious from birth student picked a completely different card. Her choice at the time was astonishing to me.

She took a bit of time deciding but once she did there was no turning back. Her resolve was firm. There was no changing her mind. Bitachon (faith), she said. You have nothing unless you have bitachon. How could she say that? What does a girl of merely eighteen or nineteen know about life? I had been out there. I had lived. I had had to pay rent and bills and deal with the big, bad world. What did this little pipsqueak know about survival?

I would love to say that the penny or as they say in Israel, the Asimon, dropped for me then and there. Sadly, it did not. Rather the thought of it haunted me for years. Her young, pretty, sincere, and resolute expression stayed with me like a mildly irritating puzzle. It is apparent that some seeds that are planted take a lot of water and time before they grow. In fact, despite being religious myself at that point, it took a good ten years before I really understood her youthful but ancient wisdom.

For me, the word bitachon, aka faith, is lacking something in English. It sounds so googly-eyed and naive. I was raised on a background of logic and reason. Relying on the nonempirical was simple and foolish. I did not want to be seen as small-minded. I rarely used the word unless in jest.

It was one thing to make an external change of lifestyle when I became religious. It was something else to shed the inner garment that was chaining me to my past. When I finally did shed this metaphorical coat, I finally made genuine room for a vastly more expansive life perspective.

In my opinion, it is so easy to misuse this phrase, “You have to have faith”. When we are the outside observers of a tragedy, we feel like we need to say something. We are desperate to fix the unfixable. When people are grieving a loss of a loved one close to them, we are inclined to tell them to hang on; to just have faith. We want to tell them that everything that happens to us is a part of a divine plan and is therefore for the best even if we cannot see it. Though these above statements are true, it is not for us to say at these moments. People need to process things. They need to come to their own understanding. Faith isn’t a button you turn on. It is something you grow to comprehend over time.

It is because of my unidimensional experience of the word faith that I have titled this blog entry Belief. Belief is the work you do to get to a place of faith. It is opening your eyes to the world around you. In my humble opinion, belief is our sixth sense. It is an unused muscle if you will. If you have trouble conceptualizing this, then watch a small child. They smell, taste, touch, see and feel everything so intensely. It is the sense that enhances all our senses and brings them back to life. Belief is also that truthful part of us. It is a part of us that can see things for what they are. It holds no partiality. What is good and right is simply as it is. It does not take political sides.

Dear readers, if you have not already done so, I encourage you to flex your “belief” muscles. For the Jewish soul searchers, I encourage you to explore your traditional Jewish roots. Reach out to your local orthodox leader or, if that seems too daunting at the moment, there is a lot of great Torah-based online reading and many books you can order. For all the other wonderful soul seekers, I recommend that you explore what kind of faith-based resources are available in your surroundings. Lastly, for you all, I encourage you to explore the reality that we are not alone in the multiverse. We are all a part of G-d’s world. Within the Creator’s world, we are all an essential component of a bigger plan that is vastly greater than ourselves.

I believe that we ought to do all that we can in our limited capacity to improve the world around us. However, while we are on our quest for improvement, it is also important to recognize that we are not in control of the greater picture here. If we begin to understand this, then we avoid trying to play the dangerous game of deifying ourselves.

When we deify ourselves, we start to think that we know better than others what is best for humanity. In fact, I believe we are witnessing this now in real-time. We see others who have inordinate amounts of power, money, and influence and take it upon themselves to manipulate the direction of entire nations and beyond.

It is my opinion that this modern form of self-deification is at the heart of what is wrong with our world today. If we start to understand that there is a Creator that runs the world, then we stop trying to run a show that we are not in a position to run. When we give up the role of self-deification, we start to contribute to our surroundings in a positive manner. Instead of trying to run the world, we direct our energies, in our limited capacity, toward making meaningful contributions to those around us.

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