First on the Rambam’s list of the 13 principles of Judaism is to know there is a G-d. You might think to yourself, that is no different from Christianity – but you would be wrong.
Christians have faith that there is a G-d. Faith is not ‘a firm and certain knowledge.’ Thomas Aquinas, a 13th century Christian, opined that faith is ‘the theoretical conviction that G-d exists’. Theory. Hope. Belief based on no real proof. Faith over reason. . .
Many Christians believe in G-d with a “blind faith.” The definition of blind faith is “belief without true understanding, perception, or discrimination.” Most Christians are taught to just believe because you just believe. No logic. No facts. No proof. Asking questions about G-d’s existence is considered a lack of faith. Many Christians are discouraged from asking too many questions – just “believe”. . .
“We walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7)
This is not a principle of Judaism.
The Rambam and the Torah do not say that Jews have faith that there is a G-d.
No, he said Jews KNOW there is a G-d.
Knowledge, not faith.
Blind leaps of faith have nothing to do with knowledge. Blind faith is hoping for what you want and wish to be true, not what is in fact necessarily true.
The first of the ten utterances (called the ten commandments by many) is "I am the L-rd your G-d who brought you out of Egypt". I am God your Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, from the place of slavery. Do not represent [such] gods by any carved statue or picture of anything in the heaven above, on the earth below, or in the water below the land. Do not bow down to [such gods] or worship them. I am God your Lord, a God who demands exclusive worship. Where My enemies are concerned, I keep in mind the sin of the fathers for [their] descendants, to the third and fourth [generation]. But for those who love Me and keep My commandments, I show love for thousands [of generations]." (Sh’mot / Exodus 20:2-6). This is the source for the mitzvah (and the Rambam’s statement) to know there is a G-d.
G-d Himself spoke those words to the entire Jewish nation at Sinai – some 3 million people. He did not reveal Himself to only Moses, or only Abraham, or only Isaac, or only Jacob, or even only to the various prophets. He revealed Himself to every Jew alive. Everyone at Sinai heard Him speak.
Knowledge, not blind faith.
Why does the Torah (and the Rambam) tell us we must know there is a G-d?
Because it is the opposite of the Christian blind faith in G-d. We should not believe in G-d "on faith" alone. Investigate the evidence. Get knowledge. Research. Study. Analyze. It is a fundamental principle of Judaism: You have to know, not just believe.
"You shall know this day, and understand it in your heart, that the Almighty is G-d" (D’varim / Deuteronomy 4:39).
There is a word in Hebrew אֱמוּנָה / emunah -- a feminine noun (nouns in Hebrew are feminine or masculine, there is no "gender neutral"). אֱמוּנָה / emunah is often translated as “faith” – but this is a poor translation. In reality אֱמוּנָה / emunah more closely translates to trust and loyalty in G-d’s relationship with us (not in His existence which is not in question). Thus in B’reshit / Genesis when we are told that Abraham had emunah in G-d (B’reshit / Genesis 15:6) it doesn’t mean that he believed in G-d’s existence. After all Abraham spoke with G-d regularly, he knew that G-d existed. When Abraham says he has emunah in HaShem it means that he trusted in G-d’s nature.
Knowing in our minds that our Creator is there is the first step. However, in time and with repeated practice, אֱמוּנָה / emunah (trust in G-d) can melt into the heart. This is why it is so important to live a Jewish life. Judaism isn’t just a religion, it is literally a way of life. By following the mitzvot, by keeping Shabbat, kashrut and the rest the “doing’ imbues us with the love of G-d.
'We will do and we will hear.' Sh’mot / Exodus 24:7 is what our ancestors swore in the Sinai desert as we agreed to our contract with G-d. The statement "we will do, and we will hear," means that we agreed to the covenant (the contract) before even knowing what was required. We trusted in G-d.
Because we knew G-d. He was not only the G-d of our ancestors, each of whom knew Him (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob). No, he was also the G-d who had freed us from Egypt. He was the G-d who accompanied us daily in the desert. He was the G-d who spoke to us, every single one of us, at Sinai. We knew G-d, and we agreed to trust Him..
Most religions are based upon a man having a revelation. Paul had a fit on a road to Damascus. Jesus was said to have had 12 apostles and crowds who followed him (and believed in him) -- but the truth is that no one alive today can point back 2000 years and say that their great-grandfather witnessed it. It is an anonymous story and could be fiction as well as fact (or fact heavily embelished with fiction). Mohamad, Joseph Smith -- the list gets longer and longer, but someone says they had a religious experience and they convince others to believe them. Faith -- that blind faith spoken of earlier in this post -- is the basis for all religions in the world.
One religion witnessed G-d for themselves.
A nation of 3 million heard Him speak. They were freed from slavery by Him, and witnessed His plagues upon Egypt. He fed them for forty years in the desert. That generation told their children, who told their children, who told their children down to this very day.
"G-d your L-rd is a merciful Power, and He will not abandon you or destroy you; He will not forget the oath He made upholding your fathers' covenant. You might inquire about times long past, going back to the time that G-d created man on earth, [exploring] one end of the heavens to the other. See if anything as great as this has ever happened, or if the like has ever been heard. Has any nation ever heard G-d speaking out of fire, as you have, and still survived? Has G-d ever done miracles bringing one nation out of another nation with such tremendous miracles, signs, wonders, war, a mighty hand and outstretched arm, and terrifying phenomena, as G-d did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? You are the ones who have been shown, so that you will know that G-d is the Supreme Being, and there is none besides Him. From the heavens, He let you hear His voice admonishing you, and on earth He showed you His great fire, so that you heard His words from the fire. It was because He loved your fathers, and chose their children after them, that [G-d] Himself brought you out of Egypt with His great power." D'varim / Deuteronomy 4:31-37.
In closing, “to know there is a G-d” is a very different thing than to have blind faith in something someone else told you to believe. To know G-d does not mean to never ask questions (one must always ask questions). Each of us must come to realize and know G-d for ourselves. If the national revelation of G-d to the entire Jewish nation does not persuade you, then you must question and seek and learn for yourself -- based not on emotion alone, but based on knowledge and education.
"The fool believes everything, the wise man understands." Mishlei / Proverbs 14:15, Shlomo HaMelech (King Solomon).
The Torah commands us to (each of us) to come to know there is a G-d. Each of us must find for ourselves the rational basis of knowing Him. To have blind faith is the opposite of what Judaism requires – and what both the Torah and the Rambam mean when they say we must “know there is a G-d.” You must come to know there is a G-d based on the facts, based on compelling arguments that lead you to conclude that G-d actually exists. Use your mind, not your heart.
You may have questions and doubts. To know there is a G-d does not mean you never question – in fact the opposite is true. . . you must always question! The mitzvah “to know there is a G-d” is telling us don’t be content with your belief. Challenge your queries, gain clarity and strengthen your basis of belief by getting more information and facts. Know there is a G-d; don’t just blindly assume it.
It wasn’t that long ago that many scientists believed that the universe had always existed and that it was constant. Today we know that the universe had a beginning (the big bang theory of the creation of the universe). That theory was proved by a religious Jew who won the Nobel Prize for his work. You see, the Big Bang theory fits the story of creation in the Torah. Scientists maintain that the universe began with the appearance of an enormous ball of light - the explosion of which is known as the Big Bang - which slots together perfectly with the Torah version of events in which G-d said "let there be light." "The creation of the light was the creation of the universe.”
Arno Penzias (the Jew who won the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation, which supported the Big Bang theory of the creation of the Universe) once said “I think as (T’hillim) Psalm 19, ‘the heavens proclaim the glory of G-d,’ that is, G-d reveals Himself in all there is. All reality, to a greater or lesser extent, reveals the purpose of G-d. There is some connection to the purpose and order of the world in all aspects of human experience. . . (Sinai where G-d spoke to the entire Jewish nation) was a place where G-d chose the Jews, but the Jews also chose G-d. It was a historical moment in which a spiritual connection was made.”
In connection with the Big Bang theory and the issue of the origin of our highly ordered universe, Arno Penzias told the New York Times: “The best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted, had I had nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, the Bible as a whole.”
Arno Penzias, scientist and Jew, knew he would find proof of the Big Bang theory because that is where the Torah led him.
Principle number 1: “To Know there is a G-d.”
The Rambam actually says “to know there is a first being.” The distinction is not to just have "faith" alone, but to investigate and learn – question and explore. To know there is a G-d a person must research, study and analyze the evidence for G-d (Moreh Nevuchim 3:51; Chovot HaLevavot 1:3). A first being means an entity -- a first cause -- not some creation of man (an old man with a white beard sitting on a throne).
To know G-d is both an intellectual knowledge that G-d is in charge of everything, and an emotional knowledge, in our hearts. The Rambam said something very similar to the words of Arno Penzias. We “know there is a First Cause [Being],” when we see all creation and recognize that they did not make themselves, but that the Creator made them, the “First Cause.” Penzias’ ability to recognize that there had to be a “Big Bang” was based on his knowledge of Torah and of G-d.
The knowledge of G‑d means to know that there is a First Being who brought every existing thing into being ... His true existence.
The Rambam was saying that a general belief in G-d's existence is not enough. A person must come to a detailed knowledge of G-d (Laws of the Foundation of Torah 1:1). We must come to appreciate the nature of His existence. This means that we appreciate how G-d's existence takes expression through our existence. "everything that exits is by virtue of the truth of His existence."
The Rambam quotes the Prophet Yeshayah / Isaiah : “For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the L‑rd as the waters cover the sea” (Laws of Kings and Wars 12:5). The connection is clearly in the realm of knowledge. Knowledge. Not “faith.”