Reasonable Doubts Blog

A Lesson in Faith from the Writer of “Friends”

Posted in Defining faith by Cheryl Berman on the July 9th, 2010

About a year ago my family went to my parent’s apartment in Jerusalem for Shabbat. They had two guests for lunch – one was a pediatric surgeon and the other a Hollywood script writer. I’ll never forget my sister-in-law’s remark to me as we all sat drinking in every comment the script writer made. She pointed out how interesting it was that one man saved the lives of children, the other wrote for shows like Friends and we are all in awe of the one that worked with Joey and Monica. At the time I laughed at the irony.

You can imagine my surprise at finding an article about this script writer in Jewish Action one year later. Apparently there was a reason to be in awe of him, but it had nothing to do with Joey or Monica.  Michael Borkow had a lot to teach us about faith.

Borkow grew up in a secular home, and was first introduced to Judaism in a class his friend urged him to take. That class coupled with a week long trip to Israel convinced him that it was time to look further into Judaism. He organized a Saturday “Jewish Book Club” in which Jews of every variety came together to discuss the weekly parsha. Eventually Borkow decided to keep Shabbat.

When it was time to take a break from script writing (he had just come off the sitcom Joey) he decided to study in Israel. He focused on Talmud study, but at some point it was time to face a dilemma that had plagued him from the start. He didn’t understand how anybody could be certain there was a God. Clearly we can’t see, hear, or feel God. He thought agnosticism was the best position, but it was difficult to remain an agnostic in Yeshiva. He explained that in a secular environment truth was considered to be relative. But this did not coincide with the world of religious Judaism that asserts the existence of a God and the validity of the Torah.

But he explains, “Through my study of Chazal on this topic I learned a believer isn’t necessarily someone who is 100 percent certain there is a God. He can be someone who strives for the courage to act and think faithfully despite living in a world that doesn’t offer absolute scientific proof.”

Borkow continues to explain that the fact that God cannot be proved scientifically is not a “glitch in God’s plan.” “It isn’t a challenge to faith; it’s the essential starting point for faith. If one is having doubts, that can, in fact, be a reason to practice faith. It doesn’t make sense to say ‘I’m not going to pray because I am not sure there is a God,’ just as it wouldn’t make sense to say ‘I’m not going to the gym because I’m out of shape’ The same way the gym is designed to get you into shape – prayer and mitzvot are tools for strengthening one’s belief.”

I think Borkow makes two very important points about faith. Firstly, many faith crisis sufferers spend their time looking for scientific proof for the existence of God. They feel that a life of belief is predicated on the absolute knowledge that God exists. But Borkow has pointed out that the life of a believer is much more complex and dynamic. It is not predicated on absolute knowledge of anything. It is predicated on a commitment to a life of faith. Belief is essentially the journey in which one strives to fulfill his commitment to a life of faith.

Borkow’s second point is equally important, and one that I have pointed out in previous posts. If someone finds himself entangled in a crisis of faith the worst thing he can do is to stop praying and keeping mitzvot. Prayer can be used as the forum for his doubts. A person can pray to God that he has lost the ability to pray. Just keep the dialogue alive. Religion is about a relationship and once you stop speaking to your partner you have severed that relationship. Some of my most powerful religious experiences have come within a prayer to the God I wasn’t sure existed. I have learned that if you keep speaking to Him, you will become religiously sensitive enough to hear Him speaking back to you.

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