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God Believes in Us

Ha’azinu is Moses’s final song, written immediately before his death. To distinguish it from prose, it is written in two columns. Moses composed this song and gave it to Israel with the instruction that they teach it to their children and “place it in their mouths” (Deut 31:19), to be familiar with it. It is full of beautiful messages of love and trust of God.

The song’s fourth verse (Deut 32:4) is one with which we rabbis are reluctantly familiar. “The Rock, perfect is God’s work, for all God’s paths are just; God of faith without iniquity, righteous and fair is God.” This verse opens the traditional funeral text known as Tzidduk HaDin, “Acceptance of Judgment”, recited immediately after closing a grave. God is called “the Rock” indicating both God’s strength and dependability. In Tzidduk HaDin, we affirm our acceptance of God as ultimate judge, despite our inadequacy in understanding the reasons behind so many of God’s judgments.

The second half of that verse is remarkable. “God of faith without iniquity.” When we hear of a “person of faith” we think of someone who has faith in God. What would a “God of faith” mean – faith in God’s self? Conversely, how would we imagine a god lacking faith?

According to the ancient Midrash known as the Sifre(pre- or early-Talmudic period), God’s faith mirrors ours: “God of faith – indicating that God had faith in the world and therefore created it.” The Midrash continues: “without iniquity – indicating that human beings were not created evil, but righteous, as it says (Ecclesiastes 7:29) ‘that God created the human honest, but they began hatching plans.’”

Faith is in fact reciprocal. Our tradition wants us to have faith in God, but we are not expected to find that faith alone. God also has faith – in our world, and in us.

The concept of God is difficult for many modern people. Some cite a lack of evidence and claim it contradicts logic or science. But the Jewish God is not some omnipotent invisible man in the sky benevolently pouring down abundance or vengefully shooting down lightning bolts. We understand God as the very life-force of the whole universe and the silent voice in our minds urging us to be good people. Belief in God who believes in us actually means belief in ourselves and in our ability to do good. And we can do good.