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Monday, 18 January 2016

Remove your faith blindfold!

Daf Yomi Gittin 35

Our patriarch Avraham discovered Hashem when he was just three years old.  Back in his day, they would worship the sun.  But young Avram realized that each night the sun would disappear.  The moon couldn’t be god either, because it would disappear each morning.  And so, after eliminating the possibility of every worshipped entity of his day, Avraham concluded that there must be a G-d that is greater than everything else.

Does that mean that Avraham stopped questioning?  Not at all.  When Hashem sought to destroy Sodom, Avraham stood there debating G-d’s decision with Him.  And when Avraham was getting on in years and had not been blessed with a child, and Hashem finally promised that he would have offspring of his own, the Torah says, “And he believed in Hashem.”   Does that mean that until now he had been harboring doubts?
Mishnah: Originally, a widow could only collect her ketubah money from the orphans with an oath (that she had not yet received payment).  However, in later years, the courts were wary of making her swear.
Gemara: What was the reason for the reason for the court’s reluctance?
Rav Kahane related (some say it was Rav Yehuda quoting Rav): There was once a fellow who in a year of drought deposited a gold coin with a certain widow.  She placed it in the flour jar and ended up baking it into a loaf of bread.   She then unwittingly gave the loaf to a poor man. 

The coin owner subsequently returned and said, ‘Please give me back my coin.’
She responded, ‘May one of my children be poisoned if I derived any benefit from your coin!’
They say that a short while later, sure enough one of her children died.  

When the Sages heard, they said, ‘If such is the case when a person swears truthfully, can you imagine when one swears falsely?!’
The Gemara asks: If she swore truthfully, why was she punished?
The Gemara answers:  Because she actually did receive benefit, from the space taken up by the coin in the loaf for which she didn’t use her own flour, thus leaving more flour in her jar for future use.
The Gemara asks: If so, why did the Sages say that she swore truthfully?
The Gemara answers: It was as if she swore truthfully because she believed she did.

Sometimes we are so sure of something that nothing anyone can tell us will deter us from our thinking.   But like this widow who believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was right, from time to time we need to reassess and re-examine our beliefs.

Maybe you think you’re politically liberal or a dyed-in-the-wool conservative.  And there’s nothing in the world that could change that.  The problem with that line of thinking is that once you’ve boxed yourself into certain party-line biases, you’ve limited your ability to truly make intelligent decisions.  Never stop asking yourself if you truly agree with every position that deems itself right or left.  And you will find your views and perspectives on life richer for it. 

And yes, even with your religious beliefs.  You should go through life constantly asking yourself the big questions.  And making sure you are satisfied with the answers.    Otherwise you run the risk of being hit over the head with a major life challenge and lacking the adequate religious tools to deal with it.  Only those who continually ponder spirituality and theology are able to withstand the great tests when they arrive.  

That’s what the verse means when it says that Avraham believed in Hashem.  It wasn’t that until now he didn’t believe; rather, Hashem’s promise to him strengthened his faith even more.  Belief isn’t binary: meaning either you have it or you don’t.  No, belief is a continuum.  We spend our lifetime working on improving our faith, striving to get to the point where we are so given over to Heaven that we wouldn’t dream of doubting the Almighty’s ways.

And of course, life is not only about yourself.   If you don’t ponder, examine and re-examine the big questions, how will you be able to answer your children?  Your nephews and nieces?  Your colleagues at work?  You have so many people in your life who look to you as a spiritual beacon.  Don’t be dismissive of their queries – you may very well be their spiritual anchor. 

But to do so, you need to ask yourself why before they ask you.  And make sure you’re satisfied with the answers.  Once you are, ask yourself again from a different angle!  Until you have all the angles covered.  That constant questioning and reassessing lasts a lifetime!  But unless you’re on that journey, you’re not truly serving Hashem, you’re just going through the motions.  True service means doing it consciously and with purpose.

King Shlomo writes in Mishlei (Proverbs), “An unthinking person believes everything.”  It’s time to remove the blindfold.  Belief that is synonymous with foolish blind faith is not laudable.  May you merit a life of constant re-examination of your beliefs and improved faith so that you may build a solid foundation for your religious commitment!