(Some of the thoughts in the post can be found in other of my posts, too. But the theme is always on my mind).
“Faith” has multiple meanings.
The Rambam, “Yigdal,” “v’Chol Ma’aminim” and other teachings depict for us what a uniquely “Jewish” faith might mean. But all people, in all places, times and traditions, can have faith. Historical and cultural details might vary or differ (even within a given tradition), but the cognitive process will be very much the same.
“Having faith” is a skill. Like any skill, it can be learned, however gradually. Some will master it more quickly and fully; some less so. But all can make progress in developing it.
It helps to have a clear definition of the skill we’re trying to master. We know what “piano playing” is. If we want to develop that skill, we know — at least in a general way — what to do: get a piano and start exercising our fingers! “Faith” isn’t a physical object like a piano, but it has a definable content. What is “having faith”?
Faith, according to Rabbi Lichtenstein, is the “whole hearted realization of the Divine Presence, along with the conviction of His Goodness.”
Both parts — “realization” and “conviction” — refer to our thinking; to something we do. The practice, then, begins with choosing our thoughts. “Choosing” thoughts means giving more attention to some than to others.
We might begin by developing the realization of the presence of G-d (even if not whole-hearted at first). There are many paths to this. There are many teachers, each of whom goes about this in different — but no less valid — ways. Many begin by giving us Divine qualities to “consider” (which, in its deeper phases, means “contemplate”): Rabbi Lichtenstein, for example, gives us Unity, Omnipresence, Goodness, Creativity, Responsiveness to Prayer. Bachya gives us others; the poem/hymn “Adon Olam” gives others, still; etc. When we’ve learned to “consider” any one list, we’ll find that “considering” any other, additional list comes all the more easily. But a fundamental idea that underlies them all is that there is no power and no presence separate from or other than G-d, as Rabbi Lichtenstein wrote elsewhere, “There is no presence without His presence…no life without His life. There is no Substance without His Substance; there is no particle without Him at its very core.” The belief in any other power or presence is itself the error by which we hide G-d from ourselves.
How do we change that error?
Strangely, we can’t force ourselves to think differently.
Rather, we introduce an idea into our thinking — “Unity,” for example. We try to understand uncritically, but with gradually increasing clarity, what Rabbi Lichtenstein means by it. We might re-read it each day, or every now and then. We might review or repeat it in our minds; keep it fresh in our thinking. We need not expend any more conscious effort than is comfortable for us. Somewhere in the process, though, something surprising happens: our viewpoint suddenly changes. At first, it might be an “ah ha” moment — a sudden sense of new understanding or insight into what the idea has to do with us individually and personally. It’s not an “intellectual” realization; better, it’s not an “intellectualized” one. It’s a shift in our thinking. “ChaBaD” describes the same process: “Chochmah” is the introduction of the broad concept; “Binah” is the working out of the details in our thinking; “Da’at” is that moment where it changes us spontaneously and forever. Our “consideration” will be made up of many such moments which, cumulatively, develop our “faith.” Sometimes, these moments will even be accompanied by a simultaneous and equally spontaneous burst of joy within us.
But even an “ah-ha” moment isn’t essential.
“Intellectualizing” can be useful, if it gives us a clearer and/or deeper involvement in the concept. But if it unnecessarily complicates, obscures, negates or otherwise interferes with the process, it’s of no use to us (at that particular point). “Scholars” of spiritual literature can remain emotionally unaffected and unchanged by what they read.
That isn’t our goal.
Having “faith” means going beyond the “rational,” even if that’s where you start. “Rational” here means what’s confirmed (only) by the senses or by logic.
We might have a very well-developed argument for believing in G-d, yet find ourselves nervous, worried, etc., when difficulties arise.
At that moment, we must go to that level of “Faith” that involves “trust.”
We might know all the scientific reasons why we can float in a pool of water, yet — if we’ve never done it — be fearful and over-anxious. Flailing about in the water, we disallow ourselves to float. When we relax and let water do what it can do — we float.
We might believe that G-d is good with logic based on our studies of traditional teachers. But we must be willing to go beyond belief alone, to trust: to accept that G-d’s goodness is in all things that happen to us — even, perhaps especially, the negative events — in order to feel the peace that real faith promises. When we accept the reality of G-d’s Goodness, even for a moment, we “let go.” Spontaneously “letting go” could even be called a “sign” of our acceptance of G-d’s Goodness.
Further, we can stop asking “Why?” and accept that G-d and G-d’s Goodness are present in ways that we might never comprehend. I’m talking about activating a mental process that takes us beyond the level of our mind that worries or fears, to the level that is always in perfect peace.
Really, this can only be understood when you’ve experienced what faith can give you.