It is always important to reinforce our commitment to the journey of faith. There is no greater act of emunah than living a spiritual, holistic life in an often chaotic, fragmented world. The famous words, “K’doshim tih’yu – You shall be holy,” are not a call to be transcendent, angelic beings, lofty and perfect, completely beyond the struggle innate to 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 is not transcendence or escapism; it is the meeting between the transcendent and the immanent. This is the journey of faith, where each individual must embark on a quest for internal and objective truth, where we must leave the comfort of the known and travel toward the infinite, toward the future we know we are destined for, toward our own personal and collective purpose. There are five stages in this journey of faith:
- Emunah P’shutah
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 he’ll point at the grass and shout, “Look at that!”
He doesn’t yet have a categorized mind, so he doesn’t give names to anything; he simply sees reality as it is. At this stage, we experience life with no questions, and no options – everything is simply pure, true, and beautiful.
- Blind Faith
Then, we learn how to speak, and the world suddenly becomes a mystery. We walk around in wonder and confusion; we have questions and we’re learning to communicate. If we’re taught to believe in Hashem, we do. Not because we have any reason to, but because our parents or teachers tell us that Hashem loves us, that He created us, that He cares about us, and that “He gave us this delicious cookie as a present.”
As we grow older, we are taught increasingly complex ideas: Hashem sees everything we do; Hashem can forgive, Hashem gives us challenges. However, we are still at an age where we accept these facts at face value, believing them because that’s what people tell us is true. At this stage, belief is obedience, not something we’ve discovered.
- Experiential Faith
However, when we reach a certain age, we begin to want more. We want to meet Hashem and to talk to Him. We want to genuinely, deeply believe in Him, but we struggle, as it’s hard. If only we could see Him, touch Him, or even hear Him, then we’d believe! We just want some indication that He’s here, watching and caring, just as we were told growing up.
Every once in a while, a “coincidental” encounter with Hashem, the sublime, occurs. Maybe our life was saved, maybe we just made our flight, or just missed it – and later heard it crashed. Maybe we found our soul mate, did well on our test, or got our dream job. Maybe we had our first child, our illness was cured, or we won against all odds. Maybe we were just in the exact right place at the exact right time.
Suddenly, we believe. It’s real, at least to us. We’re convinced; we walk around floating on cloud nine. Life is good – pure, true, and beautiful. Here, faith becomes personal, not just something imposed upon us by others.
However, our faith at this stage is simplistic in some ways, and at some point, this is no longer enough. We want more; we need more. Rational, logical, and philosophical questions come up. “If G-d exists, then why…,” and “How can G-d exist if…,” or “Why would G-d do….” Maybe our life falls apart and we cry out, “How can this be happening to me?!”
- Rational Knowledge
The fourth stage is the rational stage. We need rational proofs: logic, philosophy, science, math, and intellect. So, we begin to collect proofs.
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 matter that made up the Big Bang.
The world is so sophisticated and organized that it is impossible for something of such complexity to have just randomly come about. It must have been created and ordered this way by something higher.
Einstein proved that time and space is relative, meaning 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! (Additionally, quantum physics reveals the likelihood that the world is an expression of a supreme consciousness, so Hashem must be the neshamah (the “self”/consciousness) of the world.)
This fourth stage is tremendously more developed than the two before it. At this stage, our faith is something we have worked toward rationally, intellectually, and developmentally – something that we have devoted thought and research toward. But, in truth, this stage is limited, as well. We may have proven that Hashem exists, but it ends there. Knowing that Hashem exists does not mean that we have a relationship with Him. It does not help us truly know Him or connect to Him on the deepest of levels.
The Ramchal explains that rational proofs may reveal Hashem’s existence, but they do not allow for a deeper understanding and knowledge of Hashem (Daas Tevunos 146). We may know that God exists, but what does that mean experientially? How does this manifest in our actual experience of life? While many people stop at rational knowledge, the fourth stage, we must push ourselves farther. This is where the fifth level begins.
- Experiential Knowledge: Truly Experiencing and Knowing Hashem
There are certain things that cannot be explained rationally. They transcend logical explanation; they can only be experienced. These phenomena are not irrational; they are post-rational. Reason and logic lead you to them, but only experience can verify them. If you have experienced something in this realm, you cannot prove its existence to others, for they must experience it themselves in order to truly know it, as well. For example, if someone has never eaten chocolate before, it is impossible to explain to him or her what it tastes like. They need to taste it and experience it themselves. The same is true for spiritual wisdom.
Love cannot be explained, only experienced. The physiological effects of love on our bodies and minds can be observed, but the power and experience of love cannot be rationally explained.
Although it is impossible to logically and rationally prove the existence of free will, you experience it every time you face a moral dilemma. The genuine pull toward evil, and the rich satisfaction when we triumph, is inherent to human decision-making, and yet it is impossible to scientifically pin down the origins of decision-making in our brains.
True goodness cannot be explained, only experienced. If you ask someone to explain the nature and meaning of what is good and right, he 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.
The fact that life has meaning and purpose is intrinsic to the human experience, and yet impossible to prove.
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.[//bl]
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, and 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 becomes an epic and cosmic circle. You lost that transcendent connection to oneness so that you could journey through life to rebuild it! This time, however, it’s real, it’s earned, and therefore it’s yours; you chose it, you built it, and now you get to experience it. Now comes the most challenging stage of all: living by the emes that you so deeply know and experience, turning the cerebral light of truth into a life eternally guided by that truth.
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 and take the next leap in your journey of faith!
Rabbi Shmuel Reichman is the author of the bestselling book, The Journey to Your Ultimate Self, which serves as an inspiring gateway into deeper Jewish thought. He is an international speaker, educator, and the CEO of Self-Mastery Academy. After obtaining his BA from Yeshiva University, he received s’micha from RIETS, a master’s degree in education, a master’s degree in Jewish Thought, and then spent a year studying at Harvard. He is currently pursuing a PhD at UChicago. To invite Rabbi Reichman to speak in your community or to enjoy more of his deep and inspiring content, visit his website: www.ShmuelReichman.com.