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There Is No Such Thing As Atheism

By Rabbi Evan / August 19, 2013

My teenage students often ask me why we need religion. We don’t need it answer questions about why it rains or why the sun shines. Science gives better answers to those. We don’t need it to explain human behavior or relationships. Psychology gives better answers to those. What, then, is religion for? Continue reading

Three Questions You Need to Ask Yourself

By Rabbi Evan / August 16, 2013

2,000 years ago a great rabbi urged each of us to ask ourselves three questions. Doing so can change our lives. 1. “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” In other words, if what I do does not come from my heart, why am I doing it? We can be very good and successful at something, yet still find it lacks meaning. Even further, we may not be giving the world our best. Continue reading

Can You Pray What You Do Not Believe?

By Rabbi Evan / August 8, 2013
A famous philosopher once visited a church to give a lecture entitled “A Critique of the Existence of God.” His lecture took place in the church’s fellowship hall. It was very well attended, with over one thousand people. Yet, after a while, the professor noted that the audience was beginning to leave. Finally, when only a few people were left, the professor asked the group if he had been talking too long. One man answered, “No, your lecture is not too long. And you have proved to almost everyone’s satisfaction that God does not exist. But it’s almost time for our prayer service. And, God forbid, we wouldn’t want to be late.” Huh?  This perplexing story challenges us to think about the meaning of prayer. Do we always agree with the words we say? In Judaism, we say a prayer asking God to revive the dead. Do we think God can and will do so? We ask God to water the plants of the field. Do we believe God makes it rain? Continue reading

Can Science Prove God?

By Rabbi Evan / July 19, 2013

Can science prove God? For the last several centuries this question would have seemed absurd. Galileo was forced to recant his discoveries before the Pope. Darwin faced vociferous opposition from religious quarters. Today, however, a new way of thinking has found expression among devout scientists. Perhaps its most articulate representative is Frances Collins, the former head of the Human Genome Project and an evangelical Christian. Dr. Collins wrote an astounding book about DNA called The Language of God. Among his arguments is the case for what he calls “theistic evolution.” It sees evolution as the Divine mode of creation. Divine Evolution According to this framework, biology does not undermine God. It illustrates God’s creative powers because it shows God implanted within nature a way to evolve. In other words, faith and science are not at odds. They depend on one another. Each reveals the other’s power. Of course some scientists would argue against this view. How can one prove a supernatural creator implanted the ability to evolve within organisms? Yet, they would have great difficulty finding a counter-argument to it. The beginnings of life remain shrouded in mystery, and will remain so. As Max Planck, one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated scientists put it, “Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature.  And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are part of nature and therefore part of the mystery that we are trying to solve.” What we don’t know pales in comparison to what we do know. The ultimate mystery at the heart of the universe lies beyond our grasp, and even if they do not call it God, many thoughtful scientists appreciate that mystery. Divine Unity As scientists have learned more about evolution, they have also recognized a truth the Bible described long ago. Creation is vast and almost infinitely diverse. Consider, for example, that earth contains 40,000 types of beetles! The Bible celebrates this diversity in the Book of Psalms, where we read,

How manifold are your works, O God. You have made them all in wisdom. The earth is full of your creatures. There is the sea, vast and wide. There the creeping things beyond count, Living things great and small.” (104:24-45)

As we learn more about the world, we are uncovering the vastness God implanted within it. Even more astonishing, this diversity shares a common source. Every organism shares the same genetic code. To use a literary metaphor, we are all part of one dictionary.

As science writer Matt Ridley put it, “Wherever you go in the world, whatever animal, plant, bug or blob you look at, if it is alive, it will use the same dictionary and know the same code. All life is one…This means – and religious people might find this a useful argument – that there was only one creation, one single event when life was born.” Divine Language The final area of convergence is language. Language is not simply the words we speak. It is a series of symbols used to structure reality. Recall how Dr. Collins entitled his book The Language of God. That language, in Collins metaphor, is DNA. DNA are strings of letters array in different orders. The arrangement of the letters creates life. Is it coincidental that God’s creation of the world begins with the words, “God said ‘Let there be light, and there was light?” To continue this metaphor, we can understand creation as a result of different permutations of letters. We call these letters DNA, and they are really the building blocks of life. Science may not prove God to everybody. Yet, the more we learn, the more we grow in our awe and amazement at the beauty of God’s creation.

How Healing and Forgiveness Can Come in the Wake of Trayvon Martin

By Rabbi Evan / July 15, 2013
originally written for Beliefnet.com As President Obama said, the jury has spoken. The case has concluded. One side won, and another side lost. Yet, no one is happy. A 15-year-old boy is dead. Grieving parents will never be the same. What now? Some want to continue the conflict. Facebook and twitter are filled with words of vitriol and vengeance. Others, like Trayvon Martin’s parents, have conveyed their sadness and hope. They have turned to faith not in the name of anger. They have turned to God in the name of healing. This morning Trayvon Martin’s mom tweeted, Continue reading

Jewish Beliefs About Jesus

By Rabbi Evan / June 24, 2013

This article was originally on my blog at Beliefnet.
For every complex question, as H.L. Mencken once put, there is usually an answer that is “clear, simple and wrong.” His observation rings true when it comes to a question I get at least once a week. What do Jews believe about Jesus?Jews as a group rarely agree on matters of Jewish belief. How could we agree on the essence of another? Yet, we ignore the question at our own peril. Learning About Jesus Means Learning About Judaism Continue reading

Why Did I Become a Rabbi?

By Rabbi Evan / June 10, 2013

  Whenever I tell people I’m a rabbi, the first question they ask is, “Where’s your beard?” The next question is usually something like, “What kind of job is that for a nice Jewish boy?” Blessing a recent Bat Mitzah.   This question reflects a number of different cultural forces. The first is the largely secular identity of the American Jewish community. Jews express belief in God in significantly less proportions than other religious groups. They attend houses of worship less than other groups. While charitable giving to Jewish causes, commitment to education and liberal voting patterns continue to distinguish Jews as a group, religious practice and affiliation are irrelevant to a significant percentage of them. Continue reading

Who Else is Afraid of Public Speaking?

By Rabbi Evan / June 5, 2013

Some people would rather die than give a speech in public. I find this fact difficult to understand, yet numerous surveys attest to it. Since I speak for a living, I thought I had grown immune to the fear. Yesterday, however, it was palpable, as I presented a two-minute summary of my book to a group of distinguished authors and book fair organizers from across the country. The person to my left had been a senior editor at Newsweek. The author behind me was the Editor-in-Chief at Business Week. Three people in my row had New York Times bestsellers!  I felt like one of the people the Bible describes when it tells of the Israelites first entering the Promised Land: “Giants roamed the land…and we must have been like grasshoppers in their eyes.” What Are They Saying About Me?  When the emcee called my name, time stopped. I went up to the microphone, looked out and started talking. I looked for a friendly face. When I found one on the upper left hand corner, I relaxed. What felt like 20 minutes ended up lasting a minute and a half. When I sat down, I heard the customary applause, and then a murmur. I imagined they must have been whispering to each other, “Who invited this guy?” Speed-Dating The program continued for another hour. Afterward, all the authors and book-fair directors converged into a social hall for appetizers, drinks and discussions. The book-fair directors sought out the authors who interested them. It felt like a big unorganized speed dating exercise. I expected to sulk in a corner and maybe have one or two conversations. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised. Though I was not deluged with attention as some of the authors were, many people commented on my presentation and how interested they were in hearing about the book. A fellow author even asked for speaking tips. The entire experience taught me a few lessons. 1. The anticipation of an event generates much more fear than the event itself: When I was speaking, I focused on what I was saying. Before speaking, I focused on how nervous I was. We may not be able to avoid anticipatory fear, but if we recognize and call it out, we can see that it is more about ourselves than what we are about to do. 2. It’s okay to be nervous: It is a sign we are taking the event seriously. Why would we get anxious over something that was not important? When we care, when we have worked hard to get somewhere, we take it seriously. The key is not to let it push us offtrack. 3. Envy is deadly: There is a difference between ambition and envy. Ambition can drive us to innovate and move beyond our comfort zone. Ambition can lead us to work hard and achieve. Envy, however, can destroy us. C.S. Lewis pointed this truth out with characteristic eloquence. Envy, he said, is “the wish to be more conspicuous or more successful than someone else. It is this competitive element in it that is bad.” “It is perfectly reasonable to want to dance well or to look nice. But when the dominant wish is to dance better or look nicer than others – when you begin to feel that if the others danced as well as you or looked as nice as you, that it would take all the fun out of it – then you are going wrong.” Yesterday I learned, once again, God does not compare our lives with other peoples’. God calls us to find and live by the unique divine spark within ourselves.  

What My Dad Learned in Prison

By Rabbi Evan / May 9, 2013

A nineteenth century rabbi used to spend time each afternoon looking out of his window. Every day he saw a member of his synagogue rushing down the street. One day he stopped him and said, “Why are you always in a hurry?” The man replied, “I’m running to make a living.” The rabbi answered, “How do you know your living is not running after you. Perhaps all you need to do is pause, and let it catch up.” The rabbi’s insight applies not only to making a living. It teaches us how to make a life. It reminds us that we can become our own worst enemies. Perfection is the enemy of the good How often do we create a flawless vision of our future self: the perfect job, the perfect marriage, the perfect world? Rarely do these visions ever match reality. They often have the opposite of their intended effect. Rather than guide us, they handicap us. Rather than pull us toward the future, they trap us in the past. If we think only of tomorrow, we never discover hidden treasure within us today. When we avoid the challenges of today, we never become future person we are meant to be. “Today,” the psalmist wrote 2000 years ago, “is the day God has chosen. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” If we do so, we discover possibilities within ourselves that we never saw before. What My Dad Learned in Prison My dad taught me this lesson recently. A few years ago, the medical school where he works entered into an agreement with the Wisconsin state prison system. Coincidentally, a clinic he had been running was sold to a different hospital. The dean of the school asked if my dad could serve as a therapist at a medium security prison three times a week. My dad was in his early sixties imagining a nice, easy retirement with my mom. I think working in a prison was the last thing he imagined doing. On his visit to decide whether he was going to do this or not, the prison’s warden told him not to shake hands with the prisoners or wear a tie, lest someone try to strangle him. Yet, he accepted. Through the prison work, he has found a whole new meaning in his career. He has faced situations and behaviors that opened new channels of empathy. He has struggled with the reality of evil and apathy. He has encountered people that have changed his perspective after 35 years of practice. Quite often we find new meaning and strength where we least expect it. Quite often it lies waiting for us to discover. We simply have to look within ourselves. Where the treasure is buried One of my favorite stories in all of Jewish literature conveys this truth in dramatic fashion. It concerns a man named Reb Isaac of Krakow. Isaac had a dream one evening. He dreamed that a certain treasure was buried underneath a bridge in Prague. Eager to provide more for his family, he pooled his resources and traveled to Prague. When he got there, he found that the bridge to be guarded day and night. He waited patiently. After a while, the guard began to have sympathy on him. He went up and asked Reb Isaac what he was doing here. Reb Isaac told him about the dream of buried treasure that brought him to this bridge. The guard laughed. “You have faith in dreams, he said. That’s nonsense. If I believed in dreams, I would have gone to Cracow, because long ago I dreamt that under the stove of a man named Reb Isaac of Cracow, there lay buried a great treasure.” Reb Isaac understood the message. He returned to Cracow that same day. When he got back to his home, he discovered the treasure that lay inside it. To Receive a Free Book on Forgiveness, sign up for Rabbi Moffic’s weekly email list here.
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