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Yishar Koach

August 2012

[I participated in the TRT Yishar Koach program this year. This program allows congregants to celebrate the anniversary of their Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and use the opportunity to re-examine how their Jewish identity has changed since then. The following words are from min-sermon I delivered during the service.]

I remember, like it was yesterday, being a teenager and, with total certainty, knowing that I knew it all. And I remember my parents telling me “you have so much more to learn.” But of course, given that I already thought I knew everything, I figured that they were wrong about this also. Now, on my anniversary of being 13 again, I have to admit – I was wrong. If I knew everything then, how could I possibly explain everything that I have learned since then?

Among the countless things I’ve learned since then, I’d like to share just one item, about my life and Judaism. What I want to talk about is this: It’s okay to question your belief in God.

I’ve always struggled with the idea of God. And when I was young, I extended that to questioning my faith in Judaism. I knew that I found comfort and happiness in Jewish practices. But if I wasn’t sure I believed in God, was I being insincere?

It was actually in my first adult ed class that Rabbi Weber taught us about Jacob’s dream. In this dream, Jacob wrestles with an angel. Some interpretations say that angel was actually God. And the following morning, now injured permanently with a torn leg muscle, Jacob is renamed Israel, which means “wrestles with God”. It doesn’t take much poetic license to view this struggle as all of us wrestling with God. How can God allow bad things to happen to good people? How can God exist and yet allow so much evil in the world? Why would God remain silent while so many people lose faith, when only a few words, or one minor miracle, would instantly restore people’s belief? I don’t know. And that raises my doubts. But then come times when I feel God in my life. I talked earlier about saying Thank You to a God I’m struggling to believe in. Yet, when I sing Modeh Ani, I feel a magical sense of comfort.

I’ve had many experiences where I just knew that there is something magical happening – something spiritual. At those times, I know with total certainty, that our lives have purpose and there is something larger involved here. Perhaps it’s all some psychological trick that my mind plays on my body. But do I really care? At those moments, I experience a spiritual peace that I can scarcely describe.
So I wrestle with my belief in God. I don’t really think I could be comfortable with my belief if I didn’t. I know all the logical contradictions. How could I have absolute faith when faced with alternate theories and seemingly questionable data? It’s hard to make a rationale argument that God exists. My strongest evidence is simply how I feel at those key moments when I just know.

So do I believe in God? I’m not sure. But as I’ve come to say, I certainly hope in God. I hope in a larger purpose for my life and for all of us. I hope in the undeniable goodness of loving others.

It has taken me many years to get comfortable with loving being Jewish, yet questioning my belief in God. But I’ve finally learned – that’s okay. In fact, it’s almost encouraged. We are the children of Israel – we wrestle with God.

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