The Thing With Potato Knishes
The waiter puts my matzo balls soup bowl on the table. He adds a basket of challah slices and goes back behind the counter.
“Shabbat Shalom,” he says.
“Shabbat Shalom,” I reply.
The deli smells of kasha, chicken and pastrami. There are few people in the booths, all regulars and grey-haired.
“No amount of debate will prove the existence of God. No amount of belief either. Whether God exists or not is not important. The question just doesn’t matter. We have no answers. We can only assume,” says the rabbi in front of me, adjusting his glasses and biting in a potato kugel.
“It’s the faith that counts,” I say, smiling.
“Believing in God gives the Jewish laws, the Halakha, a place to start. But you have to admit that even if there is no God, the Halakha is still be a pretty good set of laws.”
“God is a part of these laws.”
“Yet the question of his existence is a non-sequitur. He is what he is. We will never rationally know or understand. He is the question. You cannot get away from it. You can simply chose to accept it and live your life in faith, or reject it and live your life as you will — but God will still be in the end.”
“But faith isn’t rational.”
“It’s not. You see, if God’s reality is a given, his existence as an almighty being is another thing. The existence of God is not compatible with the idea of God. That’s why Jews call him Adonai instead of, well, 'God.' To name him would be to acknowledge he is a substantial thing, like a human being or a soul.”
“So faith all comes down to commit to something we can’t figure.”
“That is the whole point.”
“That's a complex point.”
“Religious experience is a personal matter. Religion can help you understand things better or it can get you lost in inextricable situations. Most of the time it just happens. There is no explanation. There doesn't always have to be an explanation. Humanity is not rational.”
“Science can explain a lot.”
“It can. It does, yes. Neurology and psychiatry can explain many things. The way proteins stick on particular spots in our synapses. The way our brain works. Science will explain more and more as time goes by. But how do you explain that all those things were in the first place? How do you explain the series of potentialities that led to them? I call this God.”
“And still you don’t know what God is.”
“Because nobody does.”
The rabbi puts his fork down.
“Do you know how knishes are made?” he asks, not giving me the chance to reply. “You boil and mash the potatoes, you prepare the flour and knead the dough, and then you make a sautéed onions filling, you roll the dough and you put the filling in, and then you fold the dough and you brush it with beaten egg before baking the whole thing in the oven."
“I don’t get it.”
“Even if you don’t know how knishes are made, they are still delicious and you still love them.”
“And what if I know? What if I know how they're made?”
“Then does it really matter?”
I smile again.
The rabbi looks at me and smiles too with a helpless gesture of the hand. He takes a last bite of kugel.
“Answers usually don’t answer anything. A mentsh tracht und Gott lacht.”
“L’chaim, my friend,” he says, lifting his glass.