Let My People Know

"When faced with danger and real fear almost everybody prays"

Rabbi Steinsaltz was asked, “How do you keep your faith during times of war?”

He replied:

A time of war is – by definition – hectic, dangerous and, in most occasions, tinged with tragedy.

These very elements of war that are, almost by definition, distracting, are usually the times when faith becomes more, and not less, apparent. Imminent danger always has the ability to stir within people lost and forsaken belief.

Experience shows that, when faced with danger and real fear, almost everybody, in one way or another, prays.

Practically, what has been said – there are no atheists in foxholes – is true as well for a paratrooper jumping from the plane, or a person caught in an earthquake.

The danger, coupled with intrinsic uncertainty, leads nearly everyone to search for higher, more powerful, and more stable sources of trust.

A writing desk or a stroll in the field may allow a person to indulge in doubt, but war does not give enough space for intellectual doubt. Whatever the intellectual attitude of a person may be, intense fear and hope move deeper, sometimes unconscious sources to appear.

Unfortunately, the soaring faith, which grows almost proportionally to one’s closeness to the line of war, is not permanent.

In many cases, the fact that this type of faith is emotional and not a part of everyday life means that it may dwindle as fast as it grew.

Pain and destruction may occasionally uplift people, but because they are not built in any systematic way, they won’t endure.

War may be a reminder of the depths that are within people: cruelty and carelessness on the one hand; courage, mutual aid and faith on the other.

When there is stability, we live far more on the surface, and it is better that at least our good qualities should emerge even to these levels.

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “On Faith: A Conversation about Religion with Jon Meacham and Sally Quinn”