When we were kids, a friend took it upon himself to be sure that no one believed in God. He printed fliers, posted them around school, talked to anyone who was willing to listen.
Slowly, he saw signs of success. I was one of his prized accomplishments.
“Do you believe in God?” he asked me, mockingly.
“Of course,” I answered, naively.
“You are an idiot,” he said, triumphantly, and went about trying to prove it. Pretty soon, I was convinced.
“I guess I am an atheist too,” I said.
“Good,” he said.
“It really doesn’t make sense,” I said.
“At least now you won’t be deluding yourself,” he said.
For a long time, I believed in nothing. Except, perhaps, in having a good time, being a good person. For a long time, that was enough. I scoffed at the self-righteous, in their black coats and expressions of certainty. I felt embarrassed by them. Sorry for them. How good it was to be enlightened, to know that there really was nothing, to wear short sleeves, to go to college.
And one day, I needed more. More than just party for party’s sake. More than the bitter fight against futility. More than what was convenient, what was disloyal, what was easy. The darkness was bearable, only when inside I knew there was no light. The minute my heart became full of longing, my mind ached with love and fear, I knew I needed to know how to express them. I became sick, when I understood what health might be. I felt in the immediate familiarity of my suffering, God’s hand holding mine, God’s eyes looking, expecting, no longer allowing me to run and hide.
What was good in atheism was the doing what is right for its own sake, not because of any expectation of reward. What was missing was the truth of relationship with HaShem, like your hand no longer believing in your arm, going solo, detached, ridiculous.
What is good in belief is the calm, the joy, the deep inner knowledge, the privilege of serving Him. What is missing is bringing that belief into every part of my body, to remember HaShem when I am hungry, or frustrated, to know that He is creating me in each moment, with every breath, with every movement.
Rav Kook ztz”l says that until we make teshuva we are like a ship tossed at sea, with no safe port, no moment of rest. The tempest on the sea may seem quiet, natural, the inner noise we have gotten used to. But in truth it is only because we cannot rest, our pride does not allow us.
There is such a storm in our blessed land now. A sound and a fury. It reminds me of my friend, rushing around class, screaming at the top of his lungs, “You idiots! Do you really believe in God? Stone agers! Neanderthals!”
It has taken me some time, but I’d like now to respond.
Yes, I believe in God. I know Him with all of my being. He speaks to me through the gift of life He has given me. He speaks to all of us, if we are sensitive enough to listen. Yes, I believe in His Torah. Its holiness and depth are unfathomable, its sweetness sustains me. I believe that there is right and wrong. To speak badly about others is wrong. To turn Israel into America is wrong. To pretend like nothing matters is wrong. And yet I believe that I am not the source nor the arbiter of morality. I must submit myself to HaShem’s will, as He expresses it to us through His Torah. This requires humility and it requires simplicity. Both of which bring great happiness, strength, purpose.
I believe, and in believing I have come home.
What is home?
The only place you can be entirely who you were created to be.