D’var Torah: Acharei Mot – Struggling with Belief in God

Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they drew too close to the presence of the Lord.” – Beginning of Acharei Mot.

Frankly, I can’t get past this verse. What kind of god would kill people for a ritual mistake? (You can read the story in Vayikra 10:1-2)

Many campers and staff members tell me that they have trouble believing in God. I think that the God they don’t believe in looks a lot like the God in the beginning of this week’s Torah portion.

I don’t believe in that God either.

I also don’t think that the Torah represents word for word something God said. I do believe that there is divine inspiration for the Torah and there is ongoing revelation that takes place through deep study and thought. I think it is unfair to expect that everything in the Torah that was written so long ago would clearly guide us on every moral practice today. Judaism is a living religion that evolves and needs constant interpretation.

But what about God?

When I was applying to rabbinical school, the dean asked me about my thoughts on God. I told him that I didn’t think about God often and that I saw Judaism as a great way of life and a way to bring meaning into our lives. In my mind, traditional Judaism was and is a pretty great recipe book for leading a fulfilling life.  He replied that I should think more about God.

I have. On a gut level I believe in God. I think God is good and compassionate. I don’t understand why God does or does not interact in history. I think God generally expects us to do the hard work of improving our world and lends support that is often not easily detectable.  There are probably rules that God has made that govern how God interacts with us.

I often connect my belief in God to the existence of an immortal soul. I think that God would not have created us to have our souls cease to exist with our human death. When I have more doubts about God, it causes me more unease about my own mortality.

I share these thoughts not to try to persuade others how to believe but rather to help people feel comfortable that it is ok to struggle with this. My thoughts on God have changed over time as they have on many subjects. I think my dean was right. We need to think and talk about God more.

I hope that this summer I will engage in lots of meaningful conversations about God and the role of Judaism in our lives. As always, I am eager to hear your thoughts.

Shabbat Shalom.

Categories: Director, Dvar Torah