Rabbi Irving Greenberg authored a striking essay included in Eva Fleischner’s remarkable anthology, Auschwitz: Beginning of a New Era. Greenberg posits the view that neither the simple reaffirmation of God nor the radical denial of God can stand as a legitimate response to the Holocaust. He writes that: “…[f]aith is a life response of the whole person to the Presence in life and history. Like life, the response ebbs and flows.” Then Greenberg adds a piercingly brilliant bromide: “The difference between the skeptic and the believer is frequency of faith, and not certitude of position.”
Rabbi Neil Gillman explains and expands: “The tension between atheism and affirmation remains within each of us at all times. Faith is never something we ‘have’ totally and thoroughly…We are all, rather, perpetually in process, on the move, between the polarities of affirmation and denial…The life of faith at its most authentic necessarily includes both moments of belief and unbelief.”
This observation is confirmed by the scriptural narrative that describes Abraham’s reaction to God’s promise of posterity as numerous as the stars in heaven (Genesis 15:6). It is then that Abraham is said to have “believed in the Lord,” despite the fact that God had made him a similar promise several times earlier. In Genesis 12:7 God promises to give Abraham’s territory to his descendants. In Genesis 13:15-16 God promises to give that land to Abraham’s descendants who shall be as numerous as the dust of the earth. But it is only when Abraham sees the star that he truly believed. This does not mean that Abraham was any less worthy or laudable. It means that Abraham was very much human. He had his moments of doubt (Genesis 15:3) and his moments of faith. Because his moments of faith were more powerful, if not more frequent, Abraham becomes the paradigm of the man of faith.
Absolute faith is elusive, perhaps unattainable. But moments of certitude are within the realm of possibility. The striving for those precious moments becomes the holy task of humanity.