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Virtual Talmud

Maimonides once explained that we can only know God by what God is not: God is not limited. God has no end and no beginning. God has no corporeal form and therefore no gender (which is why I use only gender-neutral language to refer to God).

However, we also have certain positivist beliefs about God. God is all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing, which leads us into a variety of dilemmas about why bad things happen to good people (for which I most appreciate Rabbi Harold Kushner’s answer in When Bad Things Happen to Good People).

God is indivisible, one unity, though God has different qualities or attributes, such as mercy, kindness, truth, forgiveness, graciousness, etc. (Exodus 34:6-7). We are to emulate God’s qualities in the world: as God is gracious, so are we to be gracious to others; as God shows kindness, so too are we to show kindness to others.

God works through history. The continued existence of the State of Israel is modern evidence of God’s hand, even as the experience of the Holocaust reminds us that humanity can collectively fail God’s expectations of us. (As a famous Holocaust survivor once quipped, do not ask where God was in the Holocaust, ask where man was.) God has a special relationship with the Jewish People, but maintains a love for and relationship with all God’s children, not just the Jews.

God is beyond our comprehension, which is why there are so many different Jewish understandings of God, and each only captures an infinitesimal aspect of who God is.

To the scientist, the complexities and elegance of life are evidence of God as the Creator. To the humanist, God is the Judge and Ultimate Moral Arbiter, therefore there are some moral absolutes, for example that murder, stealing, and unequal laws for stranger and neighbor, rich and poor are wrong. To the mystic, God is the Source for All, caring for human beings on a small and grand scale, intimately involved in our lives as the source of all abundance, strength, and support, and concerned for the fate of the world, working behind the scenes if no longer in front of it. Every act we do can bring God’s blessings further in to the world or push them away from the world.

What is great about Jewish theology is that there are many different ways of thinking about, relating to, and connecting to God: God as transcendent Creative Force; God as immanent companion; God as Pedagogue, leading humanity to self-actualization.

As Jews, we can praise God, we can be angry with God. We do not even technically have to believe in God to be considered Jewish. However, according to Hasidic teaching, we are not supposed to ignore God.

What does God mean to you?

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