Most of us, in our quest to find God, look within our own personal lives. Things happen to us, our family, or friends and we jump to attribute these events to God’s direct involvement. It is always good for us to examine our actions to see if they are appropriate and deserving of reward. Yet we are also taught from examining the life of Yaakov, that we can never assume such a close and personal relationship with God. Even he prepared for war with his brother not certain of God’s intervention on his behalf.
None the less there is a definite way to find God. This way, however, challenges us to look beyond and outside the self. When we do, what we discover is a truly sublime idea. At first we are struck by a very abstract idea of God, distant from the personal God we are looking for. Yet this approach, strange at it may seem, is also the path to better understanding God in our personal life as well.
The role model and trailblazer for this path is none other than our forefather, Avraham Aveinu. In the Laws of Idol Worship, the Rambam describes Avhraham’s personal journey to discover the truth behind the reality we see. Never did Avraham base his conviction in God on some personal experience. Nothing unique or special happened to him or his family from which he concluded God exists. Rather his pursuit was long and arduous. Rambam writes, “Avraham thought day and night, how did the stars and planets move? He had no one to teach him. The entire society was steeped and immersed in the idolatrous culture of Ur Kasdim [Avraham’s birthplace].” Avraham first had to work out “the way to truth,” how to think clearly, removing any preconceived notions of how he would like reality to work. Then, he needed the courage to follow what his mind showed him to be true.
What Avraham discovered is that God exists and the nature of His existence is qualitatively different from every other existence. This week’s parsha,לך-לך (go forth; leave), tells us Avraham’s description of his discovery. When Avraham saves the King of Sodom by defeating the warring nations that had attacked him and kidnapped his nephew Lot, he expresses his gratitude to “Hashem, the Most High, Maker of heaven and earth.” Through his study of science and natural law, Avraham came to the correct conclusion. There is a uniquely different, non-physical existence, God, who is the Creator of the universe.
Interestingly, Albert Einstein in his collection of essays called, “The World As I See It,” comes to a similar conclusion. When addressing the religious feeling of a scientist, he says, “His feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all systematic thinking of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection. This is the guiding principle of his life and work. It is closely akin to that which has possessed the religious geniuses of the ages.”
This is the concept of God that Avraham related to, not the common notion of a personal God who directs every action in his life. Avraham was 40 years old, according to the Rambam, when he fully made this intellectual breakthrough. 35 more years of personal development and study were needed before God communicated directly with him.
The search for God is a challenge we must all take up. We can find Him if we go about the search in the right way. It isn’t enough just to accept the idea on blind faith. The universe was constructed in a way that when it is understood properly, it automatically leads a person to the recognition its creator, God. Our rabbis of the Talmud refer to the universe as the first Holy Temple. They understood that by studying the natural world we will find God. Then we can begin our relationship with Him on a mature level.
The first blessing recited before reading the Shema twice a day is praise to God for the structure of the natural world. It is through analysis of the natural world that is the first vehicle by which we come to know God. Study of the natural world and the universal laws by which it operates reflects the wisdom of “Hashem, Most High, Maker of heavens and earth.” Only then do we recite the second blessing whereby we acknowledge that ” the Maker of the heavens and earth,” also relates directly to the nation of Israel as a whole as well as to meritorious individuals.
Just as we can come to see God’s wisdom displayed in the universe by the study of science, so too we can come to see the same wisdom displayed in the system of Judaism. All we need do is to follow the example of Avraham Avinu applying our minds in the search.
Rabbi Robert Kaplan