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Believing is Seeing

It’s easy to believe something we’ve seen with our own eyes. Difficult to believe something we haven’t seen firsthand. But the hardest is to believe something when we have seen the very opposite.

It is told that Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev, known as the “advocate of Israel,” once “told off” the Almighty regarding the lack of fairness in the universe. How could Jews be blamed for sinning, when all the pleasures of the world are placed in front of their eyes, while the ethical teachings are found only in books. If it would be reversed, he argued – if the ethical teachings would be found out on the streets and the worldly pleasures could only be accessed through books – nobody would sin at all.

It is human nature that vision is the sense that we find most immediate, most real. It is very hard for us to relate to a reality that we read about in a book but can never experience directly, such as the existence of G-d, or concepts such as heaven or hell.

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However, believing in something that we have only heard about but have not seen is not the greatest challenge to faith. The hardest of all, as mentioned, is when the evidence of our eyes directly contradicts our belief.

This is one reason, for example, that so many Jews lost their faith after the Holocaust. After all the horrors they experienced in the flesh, how could they go on believing in a G-d Who was good, Who watched over His people, Who directs all world events with His personal divine providence? But there were those who did maintain their faith – those who found, indeed, that they could not have survived without it; it was the sole scrap of sanity and hope that they could cling to in the midst of those horrors.

Another example can be found in the Torah portion of this week, Vayechi. We read about the last moments in the life of our forefather, Jacob, when he summoned all his children to his bedside and blessed them. After his death, thousands escorted him to his burial place in the Cave of Machpela in Hebron.

Nevertheless, our sages say, “Jacob our forefather did not die.” What is the meaning of this statement? Does not the Torah describe his death in detail? Wasn’t he embalmed, eulogized, buried? Our sages explain that the Torah does not use the term “death” on Jacob, so while his physical body might have died, he is still with us: “Just as his children are alive, so is he alive.” Hard to believe? The reality says otherwise? But this is the belief ingrained in us by our sages. What appears to be death is not death, while what appears to be alive might not be truly alive either.

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A more modern example is the faith that many chassidim have in the ongoing life of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, King Moshiach. About 20 years ago, during one of the last talks that we heard from the Rebbe, he said that since we are already in the era of Moshiach his life will continue on uninterrupted until the final Redemption and the resurrection of the dead. Many, perhaps, have trouble with this statement and struggle with how to interpret it in the light of reality. However, there are many more dimensions to reality than what our eyes can see. Just as our forefather Jacob never died, as chassidim we believe that the Rebbe lives on and will soon lead us to Redemption.

 

 


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