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Two Keys for Unlocking Faith
by Dr. Arnie Gotfryd

True, every one of Israel believes in G-d with a simple faith, and his heart is whole with G-d; still it is the duty of the mind and intellect to bring this faith to a level of knowledge and comprehension.

The Rebbe, HaYom Yom, 19 Shvat.

Readers Write


Two views on confronting a crisis of faith. One says shout down heretical thoughts. The other says atheists deserve to be taught.



Two Keys For Unlocking Faith


two keysDear Dr. Gotfryd,


I usually enjoy your articles but I have to object to your recent emphasis on responding to doubts with rational arguments. I believe it is not in line with the approach of Chabad, and hence I don't think it is helpful to those who are struggling - and worse, could very well be harmful.


Just recently, in our daily Tanya (Chapter 29), we learned that when the spies sent by Moshe had a "crisis of faith," Moshe told them that Hashem was angry with them and had sworn not to allow them to enter the Land. What value did this Divine anger have, asks the Alter Rebbe, if they did not believe in G-d's ability to subdue the 31 kings?


The answer the Alter Rebbe gives us is, "Jews are believers, children of believers. It was only because the sitra achra clothed in their body had risen against the light of the holiness of the divine soul with its impudent arrogance and haughtiness, without sense or reason. So as soon as Hashem became angry with them ... their heart was humbled and broken within them ... but Yisroel had believed in Hashem all along.


"From this, every person in whose mind there occur doubts concerning faith in G-d can learn that these doubts are nothing but the empty words of the sitra achra which raises itself against his divine soul. But Yisroel are believers..."


So the response to the unfortunate Lubavitcher bachur (issue 774) who started questioning his faith and is now only religious on the outside is not to get into discussions about Faith and Reason and quote mathematicians and discoveries in physics. We got pages of this in "Beis Moshiach" instead of the view of Chabad and the Rebbe! Shmuel Klatzkin told us that the Rebbe wrote to him, "You came to Torah because you knew there was something your grandparents had that you wanted and needed and that is why you will stay." Klatzkin had questions about the authorship of Torah and evolution and the Rebbe did not address them at all!


There are stories about Chasidim who had crises of faith and the Rebbeim did not engage in philosophical discussions with them because their crisis was seen as a "takeover" by the Yetzer HaRa whether because of eating things that are metamtem ha'lev v'ha'moach (spiritually contaminate the heart and mind) or just because the Yetzer Hara impudently and arrogantly gains a foothold and isn't chased out!


A young man went to the Tzemach Tzedek with doubts in emuna. The Tzemach Tzedek's response was, "So what?" The man was shocked and said, "But I can't live this way" (the Lubavitcher bachur echoes his complaint), to which the Tzemach Tzedek said that the fact that you care so deeply demonstrates that you have deep faith.


Today's mindset is such that we feel that the proper approach is to validate everybody's feelings and thoughts and then to analyze and explain everything. With this in mind, our rewrite of the story in Chumash would have Moshe saying to the people, "I hear you. You're afraid to enter the Land because you think Hashem won't be able to conquer the 31 kings. I understand. It's scary to think of facing those powerful rulers." Is that what Moshe says? No! He blasts them, saying G-d is angry with you and okay, you don't want to go, so you won't!" And their reaction is to immediately back down, whimper, and say, we want to go!


We readers don't know the bachur, his background, and what made him begin doubting a few years ago. What we do know is we don't need to explore "basics such as, is there a G-d and how do we know (issue 778)." Leave that for Arachim and Discovery, whose programs are about proving the truth of Torah etc. In Chabad, we operate based on the truth that Jews are "believers, children of believers" who have a Divine soul which is veritable part of G-d above, and we expose Jews to p'nimius ha'Torah and nigleh of Torah, to Tanya and Halacha, and the light and holiness of Torah pushes away the doubts raised by the sitra achra.


"Beis Moshiach" Magazine is not the place to recreate Avrohom Avinu's experiment in trying to figure things out. He wasn't a "believer, a child of believers." We are. In "Beis Moshiach" we should be reading about the Alter Rebbe's advice in chapters 27-29 about how to rage at the animal soul, how to be glad we can fulfill the mitzva of "not straying after our hearts and eyes" etc. About how the Rebbe advised people to be mei'siach daas (divert their minds) from their worries and troubling thoughts, and about the power of simcha to get us out of negative states. Please rethink the upcoming articles.


Y. Rothstein


*  *  *  *  *


Dear Rabbi Rothstein,


On the surface of things, you and I are in a conflict over how to speak (or write) to a Lubavitcher bochur who has a crisis in faith. I'd like to summarize the issue in Yiddish. In a nutshell, your suggested response to heretical musings is "Feh!" (to castigate) whereas mine, could be summed up as "Nu?" (implying to educate).


I wouldn't say you are wrong. My point is that you need to educate before you start to castigate.


Let me explain with a parable. At Chassidic farbrengens you can sometimes hear the main speaker tell of a bluebird slowly freezing to death on the forest floor in February. Too weak to even shiver, the miserable little bird is about to expire in its last puff of frosty breath.


Just then, as if to add the ultimate insult to the ultimate injury, a cow walks by and relieves itself right on top of the hapless creature. You would think that would be it - a terrible end to a lousy story, but no. The heat from his new surroundings thaws him out and warms him up to the point that he pulls himself out of the dirt, hops on top of the patty, and full of joy starts singing away at the top of his little lungs.


A fox walking by in search of supper hears the call of the bluebird and comments, "Feigele, feigele, du ligst in ... vos zingst du? - Birdie, birdie, you're covered in manure; what are you singing about?"


Adjusting the parable mashal to our context, you could say - the bluebird is the bochur, his Yiddishkeit frozen over in golus. He warms himself with the manure of secular society: rationalist atheism, and now he's singing from atop his own little dung heap.


Here's the point: he doesn't see it as dung; he sees it as a new lease on life.


A story within a story. My great-aunt, a"h, once came to visit from abroad. We served her tea into which she dumped numerous spoons of sugar, so many that it looked more like sugar with tea than tea with sugar.


I told her, "So much sugar isn't good for you!"and she just laughed and laughed. She saw I was puzzled so she explained."When I was in the concentration camp with your mother, I was deathly ill for three weeks in the infirmary. I desperately needed sugar but the rations were very small. For those three weeks your mother and her cousin gave me their sugar rations, too and that's all I lived on for three weeks. Sugar saved my life. And now you want me to believe that it's bad? Never!" And she laughed again.


I could have told her, "Feh! It's bad!" from today 'til tomorrow - it wouldn't have helped. It saved her life. The fox could tell the bluebird, "Feh! It's manure!" It wouldn't help. It saved his life.


And what will happen to the bochur if I tell him, "Feh! Doubts are treif! Stop! Deep down you do believe"? Will it change anything?


He's a guy who went through our system. He has rabbinical ordination. He's an expert in our system. He read that Tanya you quoted about yelling at the evil inclination. He knows what happened after Moshe yelled at the Jews in the desert. These things don't reach him and don't teach him.


Why? Because his faith is behind a locked door and screaming is not his key. His key just might be reason.


You speak a lot about "the approach of Chabad" in matters of faith and reason. The Rebbe's ways are more rich and diverse than you portray. He is a faithful shepherd and a shepherd of faith. Like Moshe, he gives tender grass to the tender youth and tough grass to the tough elders. To the tough, one can say, "Feh!" But to the tender, better to ask "Nu?"


By "Nu?" I mean make him think. Put the ball in his court - put the burden of proof on the atheistically inclined and counter by showing how weak his "proofs" really are. When he sees how silly these arguments are, he will drop them of his own accord.


Have you never read the Rebbe's "Emuna U'Mada," "Mah Rabbu Maasecha Hashem," or "Mind over Matter"? So many letters there take the rationalist approach to negate secular worldview. This is what drew me to Chabad in the first place. This is what Avraham Avinu did. Andthis is why I use the Abraham Principle - to expose the logic of our first father Avraham, for it is his logic that actually encapsulates the common ground between modern science and traditional faith.



Aryeh Gotfryd.


PS There is much more to say about all this but I think the argument above is complete enough to draw sound conclusions. Here I would like to add just two example.


First is "Chovos Halevovos" by the Spanish rishon Rabbeinu Bachya, whom the Lubavitcher Rebbe loves to quote so frequently.


Right from the outset, he tells us how important it is for one to prove to oneself the existence of G-d, not just to believe in it. He, like the Rambam and the Rebbe, associate this with the mitzvah of wholehearted acceptance of G-d's Oneness, i.e. "...Hashem echod."


In Chapter 3, the "Chovos HaLevovos" establishes that we are obligated to investigate G-d's oneness logically. In Chapter 4, he gives us axioms and methods to do so. In Chapter 5, he gives three proofs of creation ex nihilo and then goes on to demonstrate how G-d must even now exist, and also how He is necessarily One. Later he establishes the obligation of reflecting on the wisdom inherent in nature and how we determine G-d's great goodness from that. Only after these basics does he get into service, trust, dedication, repentance, discipline and love.


Our Lubavitcher bochur needs to go back to basics such as these: Yes, I can ask about G-d's existence. Yes, I can use assumptions and rules to explore G-d's unity. Yes, I can consider logical proofs that G-d is One and He makes all our somethings from nothing. Yes I can look at nature and understand how G-d is good. Once that's in order then there is a basis for Boruch...Atoh...then I feel more secure that there is Someone to talk to, who does indeed care.


The second example is from the Rebbe himself and we will perhaps publish it here as a separate article. An English rendition appears at the beginning of Chapter 1 of "Mind over Matter: The Rebbe on Science." There the Rebbe responds to an observant Jew who asks for "convincing proof, palatable for a skeptic, that demonstrates conclusively that G-d exists."


In his reply the Rebbe does not use any harshness, issues no demands, refers to no Scriptural or Rabbinic references nor to any principles of faith. He just answers the question. He uses reason and science to prove G-d.


This too is the way of the Rebbe, the way of Chabad. And by the way, it is in the middle of that very letter where I first saw that philosophic gem which I refer to as the Abraham Principle. I realized that the concept is so subtle and so powerful that it deserves to be magnified and elaborated upon and hence I will resume in the next issue my series entitled "The Abraham Principle."

Dr. Aryeh (Arnie) Gotfryd, PhD is a chassid, environmental scientist, author and educator living near Toronto, Canada. To contact, read more or to book him for a talk, visit or call 416-858-9868



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