Dear Rabbi Fried,
We are getting an assignment over the summer break from religious school to define our understanding of G-d. We haven’t found anything that clearly defines what Jews believe that G-d means, and we hope you can help us.
Chelsea K. and Taylor W.
Dear Chelsea and Taylor,
This is truly an important assignment. Most people go through life without ever stopping to think who G-d is, even if they believe in Him. In fact, you can have a room full of people that will all raise their hands when you ask who believes in G-d, but when you ask them to define what they mean by that, everyone in the room will have very different or even contradictory ideas.
In many religions, G-d is a philosophical concept, someone they believe in by looking around at the world and seeing there must be a Creator. Although Judaism has that as part of our belief, the source of our belief in G-d is different. We don’t “believe” in G-d, rather we “know” G-d exists by him revealing Himself openly to our entire people through the miracles He performed for us in Egypt, in the desert, and by speaking directly to us when He uttered the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai. That’s why G-d introduces Himself to us in the first of the Commandments as “I am the Lord your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt…” (Shemos/Exodus 20:2). He didn’t say “…who created the heavens and the earth,” because we didn’t see those things, and G-d wanted our belief to be based upon facts we experienced personally, and to extrapolate what we know to other things we believe.
Another thing we learn from Egypt is that G-d didn’t just create the world and leave it alone. He knows what is happening, cares about the world and interacts with it. He speaks to people through prophecy, as He spoke to Moses, and makes changes in the world when necessary for those He loves.
Maimonides, the classical 13th century Jewish philosopher, encoded 13 core principals of Jewish belief, the first five of which deal with our belief in G-d. These principals include that G-d is the source of all existence, doesn’t need anything else outside of Himself to exist, but everything else needs Him. Secondly, G-d is an absolute oneness; not only to say that no other gods exist, but that His oneness includes all that exists in the universe. Thirdly, G-d has no physical characteristics whatsoever, no front or back, arms or legs. The fourth point is that G-d is infinite, always existed and always will and is above time.
Lastly, only G-d is to be worshipped and prayed to and nothing else. This, at one level, means not to worship idols. More deeply, it means that we have a loving relationship with G-d. Serving Him is our opportunity to express our love and appreciation for all blessings He showers upon us continuously.
All of these points are discussed by Maimonides and other great Jewish philosophers, but in a nutshell, these are some of the key points of our belief in G-d. I wish you the best of luck in discussing and internalizing these ideas!
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at email@example.com.
Dear Rabbi Fried,