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To Prove It or Know It

To know it or to prove it, which is better? Most people would say that being able to prove something is better. Proof is the holy grail. If you have incontrovertible proof, you know it is true. If all you can say is, “I know it is true,” you may or may not be right. In this essay I will argue that to know offers a deeper connection to the truth than to prove.

Think of your parents. Can you prove that they are your parents? Have you ever felt the need to prove it, have you ever even considered your lack of proof? Some things don’t need to be proved because you know they are true. Finding documentation that proves them to be your parents, wouldn’t increase your certainty. You are already as certain as you can possibly be.

It goes without saying that it is nice to have proof, I mean why not? In fact, if a doubt were raised and you couldn’t prove it, it would be slightly uncomfortable. It wouldn’t make you question their parentage, but it is much nicer to know that you can respond to any counter claim. Nevertheless, the proof hardly legitimates your certainty that they are your parents. You know it in your guts, or as we say in Yiddish, in your kishkes.  You don’t need anyone to validate what you know.

You only need proof when you don’t know that it is true. When your starting point is zero, you rely on research, analyses, and theory. If you can produce evidentiary or logical proof, you accept it. But in that case, your certainty is much weaker than if you know in your gut that it is true.

Suppose you know something to be true and you try to convince your friends who don’t know it to be true. You would have no choice but to prove it with arguments, evidence, proofs, etc. Even if you convinced them, their certitude would be much weaker than yours. They would only know it because the arguments forced them to accept it. You would know it because it is absolutely true.

Another point: When you follow something because it was proven, you have no choice, no freedom; the arguments compel you to accept it. There is no joy, richness, or depth in the acceptance. When you accept it because you know it deep in your bones, in your guts, and in your soul, the knowledge is thrilling. Unfettered, unencumbered, and uncompelled, it is luxurious, deeply satisfying, and real.

You Stand Today
Every year before Rosh Hashanah, we read the Torah portion that begins with the words, “You stand firmly today before G-d your Lord.” To stand firmly means that no one can push us off our perch. We are permanently entrenched. Why are we so entrenched and firm before Rosh Hashanah?

Throughout the year, our souls are in the background, and we are driven by the interests and needs of our bodies. We earn a living and provide for our family’s needs. We focus on food, shelter, provisions, security, stability, etc. When someone asks us what role that G-d plays in all this, our response is that He orchestrates all our achievements. But we don’t live this truth. We merely accept it.

We take responsibility for ourselves and take charge of our problems. We have all kinds of reasons to believe in G-d as the orchestrator of our successes, but that is because we can rationalize and prove it, not because we know it. We know our work, responsibilities, successes, challenges, and failures. We know our lives, families, children, and needs. G-d is in the background. We are in the forefront.

Just before Rosh Hashanah, we begin to think about G-d in a much more personal way. We realize that the day of judgment is near, and G-d takes up more space in our minds and hearts. We become acutely aware of Him as our Creator. We think of Him, we are more conscious of Him, and we begin to breathe and know Him. We come to live G-d, not just ourselves.

We transition, so to speak, from proving G-d to knowing G-d. We no longer connect with G-d through logic, arguments, or evidence. We connect with Him from the soul. We know Him in our gut. He is deep in our bones. He is close to us.

He beats in our hearts, He pulses in our veins, He throbs in our chests, and He is present in our minds. And all because “He had us at hello.” Before the conversation even began, we knew that He is real. No one need prove it. We don’t question it; we know it. This is why we are present at the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We are present in His home because He is present in ours.

Aah, now we can return to the passage we mentioned earlier. But this time we won’t just read it. We will know it. We will experience it. We will feel it deep in our bones; in our souls. “You stand firmly today before G-d your Lord.”

When my connection with G-d is rooted in theory and logic, someone can come along and refute my logic. This could throw me right off my perch and I would suddenly be unsure about G-d. Even if no one refuted my logic, the very possibility reminds me that my position isn’t firm. It is subject to refutation.

But when I know it deep in my gut, when the truth need not be proved by something outside me because it shines deep inside me. Nothing can throw me off my perch. “I stand firmly before G-d my Lord.” No one and nothing can convince me otherwise. No one can throw me off my perch. G-d and I are tight.

The Mathematician
You know, every society has a few mathematicians—those lucky souls for whom numbers pop. When they are presented with a formula, they don’t need to run the numbers. They know the answer intuitively because math flows in their veins. Sure, they can sit down with you and go through all the numbers. If you are advanced enough, you might even be able to follow, but for them, the numbers aren’t necessary. They know the formulas and live the equations; they know it.

Numbers never lie. Numbers are always true. Numbers are perfect; they always match up. They are an exercise in the beauty of truth. That is for them. But for you, the ordinary person, numbers never pop. If anything, they crumble. They don’t add up more often than they do.

If that fortunate mathematician sat down with you and explained the numbers, you would see the truth. But it would take you hours to figure out what clicked for him or her in an instant. Plus, for you it would be murky and complicated, for them it would be bright, real, and pulsating with life. For you it would be a chore, for them it would be a joy. You could prove it; they would know it.

Throughout the year, we are like those ordinary people for whom numbers don’t crackle. Sure, we believe in G-d, pray to Him, and study His Torah. But to feel, to know, to sizzle with the absolute truth, with the bright joyful reality of G-d, we need to toil, and meditate for hours on end. We need to bring a lifeless theory to life, make a plain piece of logic pop in our hearts. It takes effort, and we don’t always succeed.

The High Holiday season is different: we are aglow with G-d’s light. It pops and sizzles for us. We are enchanted with His truth. It is vibrant, alive, and real. We know it. Our reverence is deep, our joy is profound, and our ecstasy is thrilling. We stand firmly before you O’ G-d.

About the Author
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a renowned lecturer, serves as Rabbi to Congregation Beth Tefilah in London Ontario. He is a member of the curriculum development team at Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and is the author of two books and nearly a thousand online essays. You can find his work at www.innerstream.org
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