Rabbi Irwin Wiener, D.D.
Over time, I hear different attitudes and concepts regarding faith and observances. Most will tell me all that is needed is to believe. “I believe in God, what more is needed?” “I am a good person, isn’t that enough?” Both questions are certainly logical but are difficult to answer. We observe different customs because of backgrounds or locations and then change them as time moves on. Some enhance these traditions with strict observance, and some declare that they are old fashioned and hold no relevance in today’s world.
When listening to these and other comments regarding religion and faith, I am reminded of a man who lived in the 12th century. I am referring to a scholar, physician, rabbi, and acknowledged expert in the field of religious understanding, Maimonides. His feats were many, primarily in the field of medicine and faith. In fact, some of his medical pronouncements are still used today. He promoted and developed philosophical traditions of Aristotle. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas were among the notables of Western readers of Maimonides. There were equal legions of Scripture scholars who embraced his writings and interpretations.
Because of his worldly appeal and his love of philosophy, he was criticized by his peers and even threatened with ex-communication. He sat down, and among his most notable writings we find the Thirteen Principles of Faith. It is a digest of all religious laws and their significance to human values and our relationship to God.
There are many who will dispute some of these beliefs, because they seem strange in our modern concepts of God. As time progresses, so does our thinking and our understanding of life and its origins as well as its finality. Thoughts and philosophies always change with time, and faith is no exception.
Each generation goes through its battles with beliefs. Each generation has its standards of these beliefs. Each generation goes through adjustments of thought. And each generation proclaims its commitment in ways that may seem strange to generations past and maybe even stranger to the generations that will follow.
This does not mean that each is right or wrong. What it does mean is that just as we have alternative concepts of God, we adjust our traditions to fit these notions. God gave us the ability to think and choose. That is why change is not a repudiation of the past but, rather, an enhancement. We could not have modern ideas if they were not preceded by ancient heritages.
So, saying, “I believe in God” is not as bad as it sounds, as long as it is accompanied by further clarification through word and deed. We all can’t be as firm in our faith as Maimonides, and we all can’t sit down and write thirteen principles of faith. It is important to remember that we come together as we do for prayer and meditation to proclaim some belief because we know that without faith, there can be no future.
Faith is just not belief in God. Faith is also confidence in ourselves. Faith is loyalty to family. Faith is the ability to love. Faith is all these things and more. We round it out with an expectation of benevolence.
Faith is trust, and it allows us to imagine, because we can never really know God. This is the beauty of faith: The imagination of magnificence.
Maimonides searched for this reality and came to his conclusions after a lifetime of learning and teaching and applying his God-given craft. We may not be as extensive in our search, but we know that each of us can reach heights that seem unreachable because of two simple words: “I believe.”
At this time in our lives, going through ordeals unimagined before should give us the ability to understand the value of faith and believing. Hopefully, it will get us through these times of sorrow and upheaval.