Is there a God – ask the rabbi

March 18, 2015 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Rabbi Raymond Apple is asked if can prove there is a God.

Q. How can you prove there is a God?

A. I have two quarrels with your question.

The first quarrel is with the delineation of what the real issue is.

What is the real issue? Whether there is God, not “a” (i.e. any) God. If there is “a” God there can equally be other gods, and if there are other gods there is no God.

Rabbi Raymond Apple

Rabbi Raymond Apple

The second question is with the word “prove”. There were medieval theologians who proposed rational proofs (cosmological, teleological, ontological) and indeed Maimonides insisted that it is logically impossible for God not to exist, to be one and unique, and to be eternal.

However, believers know God is there for reasons that are above and beyond conventional standards of proof. God is there not because of rational proofs but because we encounter and experience Him.

An attempt at an analogy: how do we know that love exists? Can we prove it in some scientific manner? We experience it (or its absence). We see what love does for people and what people do for love. How do we know God exists? We see what God does for people and what people do for God.

What does God do for people? The long and distinguished history of belief provides an answer. The sheer existence of the world provides an answer (don’t tell me about all that is wrong with the world: there is a God-given charge to man “l’takken olam”, to repair, to restore the world). The fact that we are alive is evidence that God does things for man and has faith  that man will be worthy of the privilege.

What does man do for God? Man can and should make himself into the response to the Divine command, “Be a blessing”.

RELEVANCY OF MARRIAGE

Q. Is marriage on the way out?

A. This was the question on everyone’s lips two or three decades ago. Other styles of relationship were becoming common and many people feared that the traditional institution of marriage was doomed. The fears have not come true, though the so-called alternative lifestyles have continued and divorce has become much more widespread.

Apparently marriage is strong enough to withstand the challenges. But these challenges are not merely pragmatic. There were ideological arguments put forward from about the late 1960s – for example, the claim that marriage is inward-looking, stifles the individual, and creates emotional stress.

At the time when that debate was at its most heated, I agreed that far from causing “narrow privacy”, marriage provided a secure base to enable outward-looking service to the wider community. I said that rather than stifling the individual, marriage released individual potential and facilitated creativity. I added that rather than leading to emotional stress, marriage provided emotional equilibrium. I still believe that marriage has much more going for it than any other type of relationship.

Within marriage, as the Jewish sages said nearly 2000 years ago, there is “joy, blessing, goodness, Torah, protection and peace” (Yevamot 62b).

Yes, marriage requires commitment, and some people are afraid to commit, but I have always applied to marriage the words of Rabindranath Tagore, who said something like this: “I have on my desk a violin string. It is not fixed into a violin. It is free to move. But it cannot make music. I fix it into my violin. Now it is no longer free to move. But for the first time it is free to make music.”

THE NAME “MA’ARIV”

Q. Why is the evening prayer called “Ma’ariv”?

A. “Erev” is evening, and God “ma’ariv aravim”, “brings on the evening”. (Sephardim call the evening service “Ar’vit”.) Why is evening erev? The root “e-r-v” means “to mingle”, and “erev” is the time of transition when light mingles with darkness and day leads into night.

Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.

Comments

One Response to “Is there a God – ask the rabbi”
  1. Rabbi Pinchos Woolstone says:

    I do not sense that Rabbi Apple has retired, I think he re-tyred, has moved forward and now gives us insightful Divrei Torah to apply in our daily lives.

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