God's Existence: Belief or Proof?
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
Unfortunately there exists a poor outlook, which is damaging the souls of many Jews. I refer to the Christian ethic of "blind faith". Or as Jews have adopted and refer to as "emuna pshuta".
Yes, Judaism believes in emuna - faith - but that is limited to the fact that God keeps His word. But emuna is not what is requested of us to determine God's very existence. His Existence must be arrived at by proof. This is what the Torah commands in so many places, and precisely why we are creatures endowed with an intellect.
Too many unlearned educators are destroying the potential of fine, Jewish souls through their ignorant teachings. Perhaps their approach secures them to have an "out", as one might feel if he searches and finds a proof for God's existence, then he must keep all His commands with no justification for his occasional defiance. Perhaps that heavenly yoke, that type of vice grip on his actions is intolerable.
There are many emotions which contribute to the proliferation of this blind faith acceptance, but Judaism contains no support. The community leaders who promulgate this disease do so based on other uninformed leaders, not Torah texts. Based on the sources quoted here, and their reasoning, one realizes that "blind faith" is contrary to Judaism and God's goal in designing man with an intellect. Are we to say that in the most essential area of man's life - knowledge of God - man is to abandon his highest element of intelligence and simply believe? In business and other matters, man uses his mind as far as he can to secure his great wealth. But in knowledge of the Almighty, he wrongly assumes he fulfills his purpose with faith. How far from the truth and from the accepted opinions of all our great teachers this is.
It is much easier to shelter one's ignorance behind a claim that belief is superior to knowledge. This obviates the need to exert oneself and break his teeth on a Tosafos. But knowledge comes only to those who yearn for it and toil in study, "in accordance with the pain is the reward", "in accordance with the knowledge is the love of God". It is inexcusable that educators have not read the words of Moshe Rabbeinu, Rav Hai Gaon, Ramban, Maimonides, Ibn Ezra, Chovas Halevavos, Kuzari, the Vilna Gaon, Saadia Gaon, and even King Solomon's own words. "Wisdom laughs at the fall of the simpletons, scorners and fools"(Proverbs 1:26).
Some claim that proof is of no need, and that proof is only needed for the physical world, but not the "unlimited" world of knowledge and God. In other worldly matters, these same individuals engage reason, but not in their religion. Their actions contradict them. "Do they not see there is fallacy in their right hand?"
Man cannot escape the function of reason, nor a world which functions by reason. Even the metaphysical world was created by the infinitely wise God. It too abides by systems of knowledge, as opposed to the wrongly professed assumptions where everyone conjures up his own view of how God manages the world. They have no concern for rational explanation. The self-aggrandizement achieved by discussing "lofty" subjects, and the emotional attraction to so-called "mystical" topics has deterred many unsuspecting Jews from the Talmudic study essential for clear thinking.
This type of "emuna pshuta" is contrary to mans' design, it is the opposite of God's goal for man, and is against how the universe functions. It destroys the critical thinking of man responsible for all the great achievements of these great men listed here. Thiss faulty approach also deters the uninitiated from experiencing the true beauty of learning, with all of its consistent philosophy, halachik formulae, and perfectly structured verses.
Preaching fantastic, emotionally stimulating notions, many of today’s leaders present Judaism as a mystical, unintelligible collection of miraculous rabbi stories. Their inconsistency with the methodology seen in the writings of the men noted at right is apparent, and should awaken any intelligent person to the reality that they are not teaching Torah, as these men have taught.
Instead of opening myself to be accused of misinterpretations, I will let these Torah giants' words be a testament of their understanding and convictions of the Torah, they are quoted at right.
None of these or any other of the Baalei Hamesora, the masters of Torah tradition, says that we are to simply have faith. This is Christianity. Don't be swayed by the large numbers of Jews who hold onto faith, for numbers is no argument for truth. We are taught to be convinced by reason, as these rabbis stressed.
If you feel you must follow your peers and not these rabbis, then you must work on your independence of thought, and you must study these areas of knowledge of God slowly and carefully, confirming to yourself with 100% conviction in each idea as you progress.
Knowledge is unshakeable, belief sways.
Strive to comprehend what your mind tells you as truth. This is why we have been created by God with an intellect, to engage its use in the most essential of areas, knowledge of God.
Click here to read an article on the proof of God derived from the Sinaic revelation which was organized by God to function as proof of His existence.
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Quotes from the Avos and Rishonim
(Taken from Maimonides' Mishneh Torah, section on Idolatry, Chap.1:3)
"Once the mighty ancient (Avraham) was weaned, he began to ponder in his mind, and he was still a child, and he began to consider day and night, and he was amazed that there could be this sphere operating regularly without a guide, one who causes it to rotate, as it is impossible that it should rotate itself. And he (Avraham) had no teacher nor informant, rather, he was entrenched in Ur Casdim amongst the foolish idolaters, and his father and mother and all the people worshiped the stars, and he (Avraham) worshiped with them, but his heart stirred and he understood until he reached the truth and understood the line of truth from his own proper understanding. And he knew there was One God Who guided the sphere and created everything and that there was no other god to be found besides Him. And he knew the entire world was mistaken and the matter which caused them to make this error was that they served the stars and (physical) formations until they lost the truth from their minds. And at 40 years of age, Avraham recognized his Creator. Once he recognized and knew, he began responding on the inhabitants of Ur Casdim and calling them to court saying this is not the way of truth which you follow, and he broke the idols, and he began to inform the people that it is not fitting to worship (anyone) except for the God of the world, and it is fitting that one sacrifice and pour libations to Him so other generations will recognize Him. And it is fitting to destroy and break all the (idolatrous) formations so the whole people won't be led astray, like these who think there is no God, only these (idols). Once (Avraham) succeeded over them with proofs the king sought to kill him, and there was done for him a miracle and he went to Charan. And he began to stand and call in a great voice and made known to the whole world there is One God to the whole world and unto Him one should worship."
Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses)
(Deut. 4:9): "Guard yourselves and guard your souls exceedingly, lest you forget the things your eyes saw...",
(Deut. 4:34)"all the signs and wonders which God has performed for you in Egypt as your eyes have seen".
(Deut. 4:35) "You have been demonstrated to know that God is Elokim, there is no other besides Him".
(Deut. 4:36) "From the heavens He made heard His voice to prove you, and on land He showed you His great fire and His words you heard from amidst the fire".
Was Moses lying to the people? Would the Jews have proliferated Moses' words had they not been convinced themselves? One need not be told what he has seen with his own eyes. The Jews knew they witnessed proof of God's existence. They therefore passed it on to their children as it was undeniable proof. If one today says we have no proof of God, that person denies not only Moses, but also God, as God instructed Moses to teach these words as part of the Torah.
(Commencing remarks from his work "Emunas v'Daos")
"Blessed be God, the God of Israel, Who is alone deserving of being regarded as the Evident Truth, Who verifies with certainty unto rational beings, the existence of their souls, by means of which they access accurately what they perceive with their senses and apprehend correctly the objects of their knowledge. Uncertainties are thereby removed from them and proofs become clear. May He be lauded then above the highest commendation and praise".
(His commentary on the last three words of Haftoras Bamidbar - Hosea 2:22)
"You should know God, that He revealed His signs and wonders and the dwelling of His shechina among you, until you would know God with clear knowledge as something perceived by the senses, (in order that) you should no longer require belief. Because belief is something which has no clear knowledge, (it is) simply acceptance, but they have to them knowledge to know God, which is greater than belief".
(Deut. 4:9) "For if the words of the Torah had come to us only through the mouth of Moses, even though his prophecy was verified with signs and wonders, yet 'if there were to arise in the midst of us a prophet or a dreamer of dreams' and he were to command us to do the opposite of what the Torah commanded us, 'and he [were to] give us a sign or wonder' then a doubt would enter the people's hearts. But since the Torah reaches us from the mouth of the Almighty to our ears, and our eyes behold that there is no intermediary, we will reject anyone who differs and who casts doubt [upon the words of the Torah] and will declare him to be false."
Ramban is certain of the event at Sinai, but only due to the fact that the story of Sinai must be provable. Otherwise, a false prophet will have an equal argument that we follow him, as he has signs too. But since we have proof, "....reaches us from the mouth of the Almighty to our ears" we do not follow him.
R. Bachaya ben Josef ibn Paquda (Author of "Duties of the Heart", or "Chovas Halevavos")
Excerpts from his introduction: "Whoever has the intellectual capacity to verify what he receives from tradition, and yet is prevented from doing so by his own laziness, or because he takes lightly G-d's commandments and Torah, he will be punished for this and held accountable for negligence."
"If, however, you possess intelligence and insight, and through these faculties you are capable of verifying the fundamentals of the religion and the foundations of the commandments which you have received from the sages in the name of the prophets, then it is your duty to use these faculties until you understand the subject, so that you are certain of it - both by tradition and by force of reason. If you disregard and neglect this duty, you fall short in the fulfillment of what you owe your Creator."
Devarim 17:8-10 states: "If a case should prove too difficult for you in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, between (leprous) mark and mark, or other matters of dispute in your courts, ....you must act in accordance with what they tell you."
Regarding this passage, Rabbi Bachya states: "the verse does not say,.....simply accept them on the authority of Torah sages,...and rely exclusively on their tradition. Rather, (Scripture) says that you should reflect on your own mind, and use your intellect in these matters. First learn them from tradition - which covers all the commandments in the Torah, their principles and details - and then examine them with your own mind, understanding, and judgment, until the truth become clear to you, and falsehood rejected, as it is written: "Understand today and reflect on it in your heart, Hashem is the G-d in the heavens above, and on the Earth below, there is no other". (Ibid, 4:39)
Additionally in his entire Gate of Unity, R. Bachaya uses numerous proofs demonstrating the existence of a Creator and His Unity. The rabbi does not engage in mere belief. One proof I will list here:
"Chap. 1: What is the definition of the wholehearted acknowledgement of God's Unity? The accord of heart and tongue in acknowledging the unity of the Creator, after arriving at verification - through argument - of His existence and absolute oneness, by way of analysis."
Rav Hai Gaon (Academy head at Pumbedisa in Babylon)
Recorded in Ramban's "Letter to the French Rabbis", 18 stanzas from the end: "However, those who devote themselves to the Torah and the fear of heaven are free from such [detrimental effects] for they undoubtedly lead the masses to a good future, and they have no dilemma about [their belief in] the Holy One, blessed be He".
His first principle of the 13 Principles: "To know the existence of the Creator".
His first statements in the Mishneh Torah: "The foundation of all foundations and the pillar of wisdom is to know that there is a First Cause. And He is the cause for all existences. And all that is found from the heavens and earth and what is between them do not exist except for the reality of His existence."
Rabbi Judah HaLevi (The Kuzari)
Paragraph 67: "Heaven forbid that there should be anything in the Bible to contradict that which is manifest or proved!"
The entire sefer the Kuzari unfolds as and endless series of proofs presented by Judah HaLevi. He uses proofs to demonstrate to the King that God exists and how He functions with man.