Doubting to Believe

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about doubt.

I have long had doubts about whether or not Israel is “the beginning of the redemption,” feeling that is a question only time will answer. We have been exiled from the land of Israel twice. It could always happen again.

But I have not had doubts about Israel’s potential to change the course of Jewish history, as the first time in 2,000 years that we have sovereignty over our ancient homeland. It is a chance to build the society we wish to be, unimpeded by the constraints that come with being an (often persecuted) minority.

Doubt also plays a key role in how I think about being a religious Jew: For me, being a religious Jew is about seeking God even when you have doubts; it is about running towards God even when you don’t know where He is.

It means performing mitzvot even when you have doubts about the meaning behind them and questions about their form or content that do not always have satisfactory answers.

To me, faith does not mean a lack of doubt. It means choosing to work through your doubt by leading a life of mitzvot and of pursuing God, using that as the process to explore your questions and feelings, understanding that the doubt may always be there and the answers may never appear.

We all have doubts sometimes. It is how we deal with that doubt, and whether we choose to locate it in a relationship with God and with the Torah, and where in that relationship we choose to place it, that defines our religious lives.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, in his book “Letter in the Scroll,” brings the midrash of Abraham seeing a burning palace, and understanding the palace has a master. For Abraham, the ethical imperative to fix the world and faith in God were one.

That image has stuck with me, because I cannot help but imagine it as a profound experience of doubt: How can a house with a master go up in flames, with nobody but me to put out the fire? But it is a doubt that causes Abraham to seek and to go towards the palace. It is a doubt that came with a theology, and a theology that came with responsibility towards the world around him.

(Break. My husband comes in to ask me a question, because we are upgrading our locks because of the security situation, to feel like we are doing something to protect our children. Concentration lost. But husband also really encourages me to write.)

I think of it as a prime example of religious doubt as a religious faith, because the faith is the commitment to look for answers. It is the commitment to walk towards the palace.

In the past few days, I’ve also been thinking about this metaphor as it relates to Zionism.

My country is in flames. Houses were literally burned to the ground, as Hamas tried to smoke out innocent people who were hiding in their safe rooms. Babies were murdered in front of their parents, and innocent children were taken hostage.

As I write these words, I feel a change come through my body. This is my first war as a parent. Every time I see the image of a child missing, dead, or kidnapped, a physical shudder goes through me.

I think the most basic thing has been taken from me and from all Israeli parents: The feeling that I can protect my children from evil.

 When the news was first coming out, my first instinct was to flee. My grandfather’s survival story is realizing that once Jews were in the ghetto, things would only go from bad to worse -so he found a bicycle, kept pedaling, and wound up in Siberia.

I have been asking myself, in recent days: How did he have that moment of clarity?

The US is taking out citizens by air and by sea. Don’t I owe it to my children to escape?

But then, I ask myself: Will my children be safer if I abandon Israel?

How safe will they be in the Diaspora if Israel falls — and how can Israel stand if we do not all resolve to be here, together, even when faced with the most unspeakable tragedies?

With all the antisemitic and pro-Hamas (which in this case, are really one and the same) reactions to an act of genocide that killed multiple generations of Jewish families at the same time, it seems to me clearer than ever that the Jewish people need a state they can call their own, that they can flee to in times of distress.

I am also so inspired by all the acts of kindness and giving that Israelis are showing each other right now: From donating blood, to hosting displaced residents from the south, to organizing gifts for soldiers, to donating time and expertise to find out more about missing persons and share that information with the desperate families, to the men and women going to the front lines, willing to risk their lives to protect this country and its people,  Israelis are giving all the time. And all this giving reminds me of why I chose to live here and why I feel this is the country in which I want to raise my family.

But I don’t know if I’m making the right decision. I still have my doubts.

And I am happy that I have tickets booked soon enough, to go to America for a week to see my parents, who have been worried sick about me — and understandably so. I am excited to hug them again and have them hold me and tell me that everything is going to be fine. But I do have a return ticket. I do plan on coming back.

I think that what makes me a Zionist, for now, is that I choose to work through my doubts by trying to live in Israel and to raise my children in the Jewish state, even when I don’t have all the answers.

I have been trying to write this piece for an hour.

But every time I sit down to write it, I feel compelled to look through the increasing list of death notices coming in.

As more and more bodies are identified, more and more missing persons are confirmed as dead.

I feel compelled to read their stories, to honor their memory for a moment by learning about who they were and thinking about their friends and family.

I want to end my piece with a plea and a prayer.

A plea: Please commit to reading one story of one person who was killed and doing something to honor their memory in a way that is unique to them, whether it is sharing cake with a neighbor because they loved cake, or donating to a charity that helps youth-at-risk because they volunteered with youth-at-risk, etc.

A prayer: Please God, protect the people of Israel. Please protect our soldiers. Please protect our children. Just as on Purim, you turned our darkest moment to one of salvation and deep joy, so too, may you reverse this moment, so that our deepest sorrow becomes our greatest salvation.  “The Jews had light, happiness, joy, and worthiness -may it be so for us”. (Havdalah service, based on a verse in Megilat Esther)

About the Author
Shayna Abramson, a part-Brazilian native Manhattanite, studied History and Jewish Studies at Johns Hopkins University before moving to Jerusalem. She has also spent some time studying Torah at the Drisha Institute in Manhattan, and has a passion for soccer and poetry. She is currently pursuing an M.A. in Political Science from Hebrew University, and is a rabbinic fellow at Beit Midrash Har'el.
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