As we depart from Pesach, the holiday of faith, we must reinforce our commitment to embarking on the journey of faith. There is no greater embodiment of emunah than living a spiritual, holistic life in an often torn and chaotic world. As we read Parshas K’doshim, the words “K’doshim tihyu–You shall be holy,” ring in our ears. This is not a call to be transcendent, angelic beings, lofty and perfect, beyond the struggle innate within the human condition. This is not permission to deny our humanity and restrict our sense of self. This is a calling to be human, to be the ultimate human, to bring transcendence and spirituality into this world. We don’t aim to escape this world, we aim to transform it. K’dushah in not transcendence or escapism, it’s marrying transcendence with the imminent. This is the journey of faith, whereby each individual must embark on a quest for internal and objective truth, where we must leave the comfort of the known and travel towards the infinite, towards the future we know we are destined for, towards our own personal and collective purpose. There are five stages in this journey of faith:
1– Emunah P’shutah – Simple Faith
The first stage that we experience in life is emunah p’shutah – simple faith. If you take a two-year-old child on a walk in the park, all he experiences is life itself. He’ll point at the birds and the trees and exclaim: “whoah!” or point at something and shout, “this!”
He doesn’t yet have a categorized mind, so he doesn’t give names to anything; he simply sees reality as it is. As this child, you experience life with no questions, and no options – everything is simply pure, true, and beautiful.
2– Blind Faith
Then, you learn how to speak: The world suddenly becomes a mystery. You walk around in wonder and confusion; you have questions and you’re learning to communicate. If you’re taught to believe in Hashem, you do. Not because you have any reason to, but because your parents or teachers tell you that Hashem loves you, that He created you, that He cares about you, and that “He gave you this delicious cookie as a present.”
As you develop through these years, the things you are taught and told become increasingly complex: Hashem can see everything that you do, Hashem can forgive, and He gives you challenges. However you are still at an age where you accept these facts at face value, adopting them because that’s what people tell you is truth. At this stage, belief is obedience, not something you’ve discovered.
3– Experiential Faith
However, as you get older, you want more. You want to meet Hashem, to talk to Him. You want to genuinely, deeply believe in Him, but you struggle; it’s hard. If only you could see Him, touch Him, or even hear Him, then you’d believe! You just want some indication that He’s here – watching and caring – just as you were told growing up.
Every once in a while, a “coincidental” encounter with Hashem, the sublime, occurs. Maybe your life was saved, maybe you just made your flight, or just missed it – and later heard it crashed. Maybe you found your soulmate, did well on your test, or got the job. Maybe you had your first child, your illness was cured, or you won against all odds. Maybe you were just in the exactly right place, at the exactly right time.
Suddenly, you believe. It’s real, at least to you. You’re convinced; you walk around floating on cloud nine. Life is good, pure, true, and beautiful. Here, faith becomes personal, not just something foisted upon you by others.
However, your faith at this stage is simplistic. Somewhere along the line, this is no longer enough. You want more; you need more. Rational, logical, and philosophical questions come up. “If God exists, then…” and “How can God exist if…” or “Why would God do…” Maybe your life falls apart and you cry out, “How can this be happening to me?!”
4– Rational Knowledge
The fourth stage is the rational stage. You need rational proofs: logic, philosophy, science, math, algorithms, and intellect. So you begin to collect proofs.
A– The Big Bang may explain how the world came about, but where did the Big Bang come from? Something higher must have set it into action; there must be a source of the very matter that made up the Big Bang.
B– The world is so sophisticated and organized to an extent that is impossible to have randomly come about. It must have been created and ordered this way by something higher.
C- Quantum physics shows that the world is an expression of a supreme consciousness, so Hashem must be the neshamah – the consciousness – of the world.
D- Einstein proved that time and space is relative, in that each human being experiences a present in relation to himself. Objectively, though, there is a dimension that transcends time and space. Hashem must be that which transcends time and space!
This fourth stage is tremendously more developed than the two before it. At this stage, your faith is something you have worked towards intellectually and developmentally, something that you have devoted thought and research towards. However, in truth, this stage is limited, as well. You may have proven that Hashem exists, but it ends there. Knowing that Hashem exists does not mean that you have a relationship with Him. It does not help you truly know Him, to connect on the deepest of levels.
The Ramchal – Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto – explains in his sefer Daas T’vunos – The Knowing Heart – that rational proofs may reveal Hashem’s existence, but they do not allow for a deeper understanding and knowledge of Hashem. You may know that God exists, but what does that mean experientially? How does this manifest in your actual experience of life? You know that G-d exists, but there is more. While many people stop here, we are enjoined to push ourselves farther. This is why we need the fifth level.
5– Experiential Knowledge – Truly Experiencing and Knowing Hashem
There are certain things that cannot be explained rationally. They transcend logical and rational explanations; they can only be experienced. These phenomena are not irrational; they are post-rational. Reason and logic lead you to them, but only experience itself can verify them. If you have experienced something from this realm, you cannot simply prove its existence to someone else, for one must experience it himself in order to truly know it. For example, if someone has never eaten chocolate before, it is impossible to explain to him what it tastes like. He needs to taste it and experience it himself. The same is true for spiritual wisdom:
A- Love cannot be explained, only experienced. The physiological effects of love on our bodies and minds can be observed, but the power and driving force behind love cannot be rationally explained.
B- Although it is impossible to logically and rationally prove the existence of free will, the fact that you possess free will is experienced every time you face a moral dilemma. The genuine pull towards evil and the rich satisfaction when we triumph are inherent to human decision-making, and yet it is impossible to scientifically pin down the origins of decision-making in our brains.
C- True goodness cannot be explained, only experienced. If you ask someone to explain the nature and meaning of what is good and right, he or she may be able to give you examples, but the truth of what is good lies beyond the realm of logic; it is something we know deeply within ourselves.
D- The fact that life has meaning and purpose is intrinsic to the human experience, and yet impossible to prove.
E- You know deep down that you are unique, that you were created for a reason, and that you have a unique mission in this world; yet again, it is impossible to prove.
The above phenomena defy logical and rational explanations. They are experienced deep within our consciousness, deep within our existential experience of reality.
Deeper Torah knowledge, as well, requires this post-rational experience, weaving your way into the inner dimensions of Torah consciousness. At this stage, you see reality as it is. No questions, no options, everything is just pure, true, beautiful.
But then you notice something grand, euphoric, and unexplainable: This was the exact experience you had during the first stage! Your journey through life was actually the creation of an epic and cosmic circle. You lost that transcendent connection to oneness, so that you could journey through life to rebuild it! Except this time, it’s real, it’s earned, and therefore it’s yours; you chose it, you built it, and now you get to experience it!
Life is full of ups and downs, light and darkness, clarity and faith. Belief is not static; it’s a process – something you must constantly build, mold, and develop.
When in the midst of struggle and darkness, remember how far you’ve come, remember why you’re here, remember your why in life, and then push forward, push forward, and take the next leap forward in your journey of faith!