I am sitting at a bagel place with Benno and Nikki.
“What is the thread that connects us?” Benno wants to know. I think he already knows, but he wants us to start thinking.
No. Faith isn’t what we have.
No. Belief doesn’t cover it either.
Finally, a little embarrassed, I suggest that what I have is Proof.
Benno’s eyes light up. Nikki says “Yes!”
The three of us are sitting together in a bagel place (where else?) Three people from different traditions, different cultures, at three very different stages in life. All of us sitting together in the bagel place and agreeing that we have no faith. No belief. Just Proof.
Faith is predicated upon some outside factor, like the system. You can’t have faith without something separate. Even having faith in yourself seems to look at the part of you in which to have faith as something separate from the part of you where doubt, heartbreak, and hopelessness live.
Belief is all about the individual. Believing in something means you hold it to be true.
For me, Proof is something else. Proof needs both. Proof wants us, forces us, to see the connection between those things outside of us and within us. Proof wants us to know there’s no real difference between those things. Proof is Proof. And sometimes Proof scares the crap out of us.
We don’t want to be connected. We want to be ourselves. We want our beliefs. We want that outside factor to rely on.
A person can’t just go around talking about being the same thing as the table or the cocker spaniel down the road, or the head of garlic he’s wearing on a string around his neck. That’s just weird.
But Proof is also comforting. So comforting. Because Proof never goes away. We might not notice it. We shouldn’t always notice it (please see, for example, the guy in the kaftan with the head of garlic on a string around his neck). But Proof is there.
Proof is the melody of זִמְרָת יָהּ (Zimrat Ya), the Divine Song. Proof is there when we are תָּמִים (tamim) present with an open heart. Proof is what stays our hand, or our tongue, when we are tempted to destroy hope. Proof is what causes us to fall in love, and to stay in love when the rules make no sense. Proof is calling to us every time we sound the shofar during the month of Elul.
Proof is at the bagel place and on the hiking trail. Proof is in the difficult conversation and in the uncontrollable laughter.
The last Shabbat in Elul has passed. We read parshat Nitzavim-Vayeilech (Devarim 29:9 – 31:30). And we learned exactly where Proof is: כִּי-קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר, מְאֹד: בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ, לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ. “Because it is very near to you, this [Proof]. In your mouth and in your heart so that you should enact it.”
Proof is there, not for the noticing, but for the acting.