God Left Me, So Now I’m Leaving Jewish Observance

Hi Jew in the City,

I grew up in a religious environment, but in the last few years I’ve pretty much left religion: I don’t daven (pray) at all (too lazy), Shabbat (what’s that ???), but still keep kosher [hmm…].  Although I still dress like a religious Jew, I don’t really practice much and the reason for that is [I think]: God left me.

However there’s a reason I’m contacting you, and you probably know the answer already. I’m planning to leave the community for a completely non-Jewish one…so what’s your advice…

Toda (thanks) in advance,

Sorry I’ve gotta leave my name out

Dear Sorry I’ve gotta leave my name out,

I don’t know what you’ve been through, but I’m sure it was something very painful since, although you believe that there’s a God in the Universe, it feels as though He has abandoned you.

What’s interesting about your struggle, and obviously a testament to your faith, is that whatever happened hasn’t led you to believe that there simply is no God or that our laws and traditions are invalid. So since you’re still working within the system, at least intellectually, I will respond to you within the system.

It seems that in order to rebuild your relationship with God, we need to deal with both your feelings of abandonment and some practical steps to start bringing Hashem back into your life. When attempting to connect with the Almighty, the best way to do so is to look to relationships that we have in this world, and as you probably know, the connection we have with God is likened to that of a parent and child and a husband and wife.

Sometimes parents do things for their child’s benefit which the child isn’t able to understand. The mind of a child simply can’t comprehend everything the mind of an adult can. How much greater is the discrepancy between the thoughts a human being and the thoughts of the Master of the Universe?!

I’ll give you a couple examples of a child not understanding the reasoning behind his parents’ seemingly cruel actions. The first is one of “abandonment.” When my babies are several months old, as advised by my doctor, I let them “cry it out” so that they can learn to put themselves back to sleep in the middle of the night when they awaken. I’ve been told that it’s important for children to learn to self-soothe and that it ultimately leads to all of us sleeping and feeling better. But I’m sure that my babies, in their baby brains, are thinking, “Mommy! Where are you? Don’t you hear me? Why aren’t you coming? Why have you left me?” The truth is I haven’t left them – I’m right outside their room listening to every whimper and even crying myself!

The second example I’ll give is one of a parent causing her child pain in order to help him and it happened recently to my friend when she discovered a tick on her son’s ear. She tried to pull it off gently, but it wasn’t budging as it had already burrowed deep into the skin, so she and her husband literally had to pin the child down and rip the tick out until the he bled. My friend was VERY traumatized by this experience, but she did it because she knew that leaving the tick there was not safe and it was due to her great love for her son that she acted in this way.

We can see from these two examples that sometimes parents have to do things that make their children feel alone or in pain and while the parents don’t enjoy watching their children suffer, they cause the suffering not despite loving their children but rather because they love them. Think of whatever pain you experienced (or are experiencing now) and visualize God “crying” as you cried (or are crying). All throughout the Talmud, and even in Tanach (the Jewish Bible) we see examples of Hashem “crying” as He watches His children suffering in exile. This is a major idea in Jewish theology. Our pain is God’s pain, so don’t for a minute think that you suffer alone.

Unfortunately, your feelings of abandonment pushed you further from observance, but the truth is that when one feels far from God, the best way to connect to Him is by performing His commandments. Let’s move on now to how our relationship with God is like that of a husband and wife. In a relationship like marriage (and in probably all relationships) there are ups and downs. There are times when the couple feels more connected and in tune with each other and times when there’s more of a distance. The key to a great marriage and a great relationship with God is to a) recognize and be OK with the natural ebb and flow of the relationshp and b) to constantly be working to make the relationship better. You mentioned not praying due to the fact that you are “lazy,” but a relationship can only be as good as the work you put into it.

You stated that you still dress like a religious Jew and keep kosher, and while these are important mitzvos, practices such as these seem to be the spiritual equivalent of  wearing a wedding band and not cheating on one’s spouse (respectively). While these are important things to do and are symbolic of an outward committment, they’re not proactive enough.

How would a couple feeling distant from one another attempt to repair the relationship? First, they’d be told to think back to the last time that they felt good about each other. You must do the same  in regards to your relationship with the Almighty. Think back to a time when you were inspired. Was there a certain piece of Torah that you learned that touched you? A special Shabbos experience that sticks out in your mind? A time when you were praying and felt close to God? A person you met who truly embodied Jewish values and was an inspiration to watch? We all must do our best to collect these points of inspiration throughout our lives and leave them on file, as it were, to draw from when we’re feeling spiritually distant. If you have anyway of recreating one of these moments, that’s even better.

Once the couple spends some time remembering why they initially fell in love, they’d then be advised to carve out quality time to spend together regularly and to open the gates of communication with one another. The spiritual equivalents to these concepts are Shabbos – which you can look at as a weekly “date” with God, and prayer, which although it is admittedly a one sided conversation, should not just be words that you recite out of a prayer book at proscribed times, but should also be personal prayers that you utter to the Almighty throughout the day. I presume that you’re not married, so it’s probably best to think of a good friend when it comes to this analogy. Regularly updating a friend about your life via text messages or phone calls would keep him in the loop. Even if you feel that God doesn’t care – give Him the updates anyways!

In terms of Shabbos – since it’s been so long since you’ve gone on your weekly “date” with the Holy One, Blessed Be He, I’d recommend “going all out,” like a couple might try to make the first few date nights extra special to get things started on the right foot. If there are any places you’ve been for Shabbos in the past which were particurly inspiring, I’d suggest starting off with those families, but if you don’t have any place particularly inspiring to spend Shabbos and you live in the New York area, it would be our pleasure to host you in our home and also connect you with families who inspire us. (If you feel that God has abandoned you, you should remember that He got you to JewintheCity.com through Divine Providence and you are now being cared about by a fellow Jew who will fight for you, which is ultimately God fighting for you, by way of a shaliach (messenger).)

Another point about prayer. I’m sure you already know the verse from tehillim (psalms), but remember that we are told “Hashem is close to all who call out to Him sincerely” so you must call out to Him with everything you’ve got! I don’t know if you feel up to saying a whole prayer service three times a day, every day at this point, but I’d recommend starting to put on tefillin daily, saying Shema, and, as it also says in tehillim, “pour out your heart to God, like water.” I’m sure you’ve heard of hisbodedus, which is informal prayer where one moves ones lips and just tells God what’s on his mind. I HIGHLY recommend doing this every day. Ask God to return to you, to give you clarity, to help you feel close, to give you strength to continue, to help you find happiness. As the verse says, “Return to us, God, and we’ll return to you. Restore our days like they used to be.”

I believe that ultimately you don’t want to leave the observant Jewish world, because if you did, you wouldn’t have asked me for advice beforehand, you would have just left. As a person who went in the other direction, from non-observance to observance, I can tell you from experience that while you may find happiness in a life without God (I was quite happy both in the emotional and physical sense before I came to a Torah life) I don’t believe that you will be spiritually fulfilled.

I had everything in life that was supposed to make me happy, but I longed for something transcedant, because even as a child I knew that this world is fleeting and would be gone in the blink of an eye. As a Torah believing Jew, you are aware of the concept, “Ain od milvado” – “There is nothing outside of God.” As Hashem literally emanates throughout all time and space, to turn your back on Him and His commandments will leave you with very little to hold on to and very few excuses when you meet your Maker at the end of your life.

I know it’s been rough, but please don’t give up. Hashem is testing you as we are all tested in life, and you have the ability to pass this test, whether or not you know it yet. Your ancestors (and mine) literally gave up their lives through- out history so that you’d be able to stand here today and observe. Don’t let the chain of Torah living end with you. Don’t let their brave sacrifices be for naught. (And please let me know if you want to come to us for Shabbos.)

Wishing you overflowing blessing and closeness to Hashem,

Allison

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Allison is the Founder and Director of Jew in the City. Please find her full bio here.

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  1. Dear Sorry I’ve gotta leave my name out,
    I hope that Hashem guides you in the right path of a Jew and Good luck in your endeavors.

    Allison,
    That was a great response and you always know what to say and how to say it.

  2. Allison, how lovely of you. Kol HaKavod, truly.
    Perfectly executed, and with an invitation to boot. That is true kindness, and inspirational. There in a nutshell is why I subscribe to your emails, and blog.
    Wishing you a very bright and peaceful Shabbat.
    With Prayers,
    Barri

  3. Stunningly beautiful and generous. Thank you, Allison.

  4. Wonderful article. Made me cry imagining Hashem crying. Thank you Alison.

  5. Dear Sorry I’ve gotta leave my name out,
    Just remember that H-Shem really loves you. Speak to Him in your own words and let Him know that you are hurting. Ask Him to help, with all things, big and small.
    Of course, we all have crazy, difficult times… No one promised us that life would be easy. But that’s how one grows. Kind of like growing pains.
    I sometimes think about those amazing Jews that kept their belief in G-d during the holocaust. I’m not minimizing your pain, but showing you that it can be done – you can make it, especially because:
    H-Shem loves you. Don’t forget that!
    Linda in Jerusalem

  6. Allison : I just saw this article [04/14/2013] and I feel u responded beautifully.

    p.s. What u said about the Tick worried me. From what I understand when one gets a Tick one should go to the doctor and the doctor cuts it out! NEVER just pull it off. pulling it off doesn’t help, the Tick is still alive ad stays there and gets into the body and it could be very dangerous. please let ur friend know.

  7. Freethinking Jew says:

    But if that loving parent was the kind who sickened his children with thousands of different crippling or deadly diseases and stood by while some of his children were being tortured to death and others were starving to death, because “it’s all for the best” and “it’s all part of his plan,” at some point, no matter how emotionally committed you are to that parent, you’d probably conclude that parent wouldn’t be of the sort you should be loving and worshipping.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Your analogy isn’t fair because it assumes that we have the same level of understanding as God does. We couldn’t conceive how disease or hunger would be good for us, but with the examples I gave, we CAN understand that crying it out seems mean to a baby but is good from an adult’s perspective. Same thing with an inoculation. If you assume you can understand everything like God does, then God is no longer God.

      • According to your reasoning, if you had the most brilliant man in the world who was twice as brilliant as the next smartest person, so his understanding was on a higher level than anyone else’s, and he killed some of his kids with malaria, some of them with leukemia, some of them he stood by while someone shot them to death, and some of them he starved to death, you would have to say, “I can’t conceive how torturing your kids to death like that could be good for them, but I can’t say for sure that what he did was wrong. Since my understanding isn’t on the same level as that man’s, it’s possible that what he did was good for his kids.”

        No?

        • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

          It’s not simply about being “smarter” it’s about seeing things from another vantage point. In our world, from our vantage point, there is no way to explain, justify or spin the murder of innocents – no matter how smart you are.

          The God analogy is different – it goes like this: If I told you I was about to start drilling into your head does that sound like a good thing or a bad thing.

          If you’re a normal person, you’ll tell me it’s a very bad thing.

          So then I tell you I’m still drilling but I’ll give you more information about the reason I’m drilling. You have a brain tumor and I’m the world’s best brain surgeon. Now tell me – is drilling your head a good thing or a bad thing?

          This time you tell me it’s good. This time, with more information, you understand the drilling I’m doing is saving your life.

          As I human I CANNOT explain how the Holocaust or babies dying or child abuse looks from God’s perspective. All I can see is pain and evil and tremendous sadness. That’s all I’m supposed to see as a human being. That’s all any of us – even the very smartest of us could ever see.

          But I can fathom a God, a Supreme Being, Whose perspective is in no way like mine, and Who has more information about these situations than I do. I will never have that perspective, but having faith means believing that that perspective could exist. Otherwise – if there IS no other explanation. If there IS no rhyme and reason to any of the immense pain in this world, then this is just a horrible, horrible world!

          • Freethinking Jew says:

            Ahhhhhhh, I think those last two sentences were the most important of all. The reason you believe that somehow kids starving to death is really all for the best is because “Otherwise – if there IS no other explanation. If there IS no rhyme and reason to any of the immense pain in this world, then this is just a horrible, horrible world!”

            I have no doubt that an intelligent person like you knows that “I believe this to be true, because if it’s not true, this world would be horrible” is NOT at all a valid reason for believing something is true. It could be there is IS no rhyme or reason for the immense pain in this world and this world IS just a horrible, horrible world, no matter how unpleasant that may be to accept.

            Look, I’m also a human being, and it is perfectly understandable, for sure, why the belief that a child who dies of leukemia is going to a better place would have come about. It’s BRUTAL to accept that that child is really really dead and it’s really completely over. And I would never judge people who just couldn’t cope any other way than to say it must be for the good in the end. But that’s just not a good reason for believing that it’s true.

            Truth is, though, non-theists do find ways to cope with such tragedies.

          • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

            Wait one second – I didn’t say that because it’s a nicer idea it makes it true. I have had moments where I am SO certain that I’m feeling God’s presence in my life. That things too weird and too inexplicable happened to just be a coincidence – like THIS http://jewinthecity.com/2009/05/mayim-bialik-to-guest-star-on-a-very-special-jew-in-the-city/ (and many other things) happened. But I’m aware that at the end of the day, I can’t prove it. I can’t prove that God’s there and you can’t prove that God’s not.

            And so I believe that faith is ultimately a choice http://jewinthecity.com/2013/04/you-gotta-have-faith-faith-faith/

            I don’t think that believing in God is a “weakness.” I think that it actually pushes me to be a better, more striving person. My goal is not to change your beliefs – what you believe is up to you. But like Rabbi Jack and I both said – your analogy does not hold up.

            And wanting to have a God doesn’t create a God, but things like this http://jewinthecity.com/2012/05/finding-faith-in-a-world-overshadowed-with-doubt/ give me faith and things like this http://jewinthecity.com/2013/04/if-harmony-and-kindness-in-the-world-make-you-believe-in-god-shouldnt-disunity-and-evil-make-you-not-believe/ keep me holding onto faith.

          • Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says:

            Freethinking Jew:

            Allison is correct: if G-d is infinitely wise and we, by definition, have limited intelligence, then we’re never going to be able to understand everything in the world. For the world to make sense to us, there would have to be NO illness and NO death! Over the years, I’ve heard many teens complain that G-d “let” elderly grandparents die. It never makes sense to the mourner, regardless of the age of the one who has passed away!

            As far as your example of the world’s smartest man killing his kids with malaria, etc., it’s not a valid comparison. The world’s smartest human is still of limited intelligence and still prone to faulty morality. G-d told us not to murder. Humans must comply with that no matter how smart we think we are. But that doesn’t mean that G-d is obligated to grant us immortality.

            Finally, as far as action, we agree on that point. That’s the definition of emunah (faith). A person without emunah says, “Oh, no! Why did this happen?” while a person with emunah says “Okay, this happened. Now what am I going to do about it.” Believing that G-d runs the world and that things have reasons does not mean sitting back passively. It means exerting our best efforts towards improving the world.

  8. Allison, if you weren’t saying that because it’s a nicer idea it makes it true, then when you said, “Otherwise – if there IS no other explanation. If there IS no rhyme and reason to any of the immense pain in this world, then this is just a horrible, horrible world!” what was your point, if not that! Well, either way, looks like you fortunately have stepped back from that argument, and I’m glad to see that.

    Rabbi Abramowitz, something sounding nice doesn’t turn it into something that’s true. There is no scholar, religious or not, living in any generation in the history of mankind with even a basic Biblical Hebrew knowledge, who would say that the definition of “emunah” is “action.”

    To correct your complete misrepresentation of those with and without emunah, those WITHOUT emunah would be inclined to say, “We (e.g. Bill& Melinda Gates, Doctors Without Borders, etc) had better roll up our sleeves and do something about sickness and starvation, because these kids are NOT going to a better place and because nobody else but humans are capable of doing anything about this.” Whereas someone WITH emunah, if he’s being completely logical, says, “Let’s daven and say Tehillim, because Hashem is the only one who can help. But ultimately, if the kids keep dying, it’s for the best. They’re going to a better place.” Fortunately, many religious people, perhaps including you, overcome this logical outgrowth of their worldview and do go out and act. But to argue that HAVING emunah is the worldview that would motivate someone to action is simply contrary to both logic and fact.

    Despite your and Allison’s assertions, according to your defense of G-d, if a human being who was twice as intelligent as any other human killed his children with malaria, starvation, and physical torture, you would NOT be able to determine whether he is doing something evil because a) humans do bad things, or b) he, in fact, has a good justification for what he did, since he knows more than you do and since his perspective is different from yours. Yet, I would hope that you would realize that, even when done by someone who knows more than you and has a different perspective, THERE IS NO POSSIBLE JUSTIFICATION FOR TORTURING A CHILD TO DEATH AND SO IT DOESN’T MATTER WHO IS DOING IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    (I can’t believe we’re still having this conversation in 2013.)

    Finally, if you don’t see the difference between a being who allows people to live a certain amount of time on this world and die peacefully – such as in your teens’ grandparents example – and a being who tortures children to death, the way your god allegedly does, I don’t think there’s anything I can say to enlighten you.

    All the best.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      what was my point? rebbetzin faige twersky (who i had the privilege of meeting earlier this year) told me a story. an athiest and a believer sat down together on a plane and started talking about God. the atheist said “I can’t believe in a God who allows such suffering in the world.” The believer responded, “I can’t believe in a world in where there’s no God to explain the suffering in some way.”

      I’m not saying that this PROVES God, more just that this world doesn’t seem to have much of a purpose and doesn’t seem to be worth living in if what you see is what you get – if all we are is just one big accident and that horrible things that can ravage us and our loved ones can come at any moment.

      In terms of the shorest of emunah – I have a different take on it http://jewinthecity.com/2013/04/you-gotta-have-faith-faith-faith/

      • Allison, I have no clue how anyone can say that belief in God explains suffering in any way.

        But of course if you ask a rebbetzin whether atheists and agnostics have a sense of purpose or meaning, that’s the kind of stuff you’ll hear. But perhaps if you ask the atheists and agnostics and whether/how atheists and agnostics find meaning and purpose in their lives, you’ll discover they actually do so quite well.

        You probably would agree that it would be silly if I cite an airplane story made up by an atheist to explain what theists are thinking, rather than letting the theists tell me themselves. I’ve never heard any atheist say, “I can’t believe in a God who….” That’s not a particularly rational way of thinking; either we have good reasons to believe in such a God or we don’t. What I have heard some atheists say is, “Suffering in the world is strong evidence that no all-good, all-powerful being exists.”

        • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

          Belief in God explains suffering because it’s a belief that what we see in this world is not the ultimate reality. It’s not a “silly story.” The atheist rejects God because he can’t believe in a God who would allow suffering – isn’t that the VERY thing you keep repeating? That is the basic thing that keeps the atheist from believing.

          The believer’s response – that he can’t believe in a world where there’s no other explanation for why there is such suffering does not make God suddenly exist. But (have you read this yet) as I wrote here http://jewinthecity.com/2013/04/you-gotta-have-faith-faith-faith/ I believe that you can argue reasons to believe and reasons not to believe and that faith is ultimately a choice and the believer chooses to not believe in a world where suffering has no explanation.

          • Freethinking Jew says:

            Allison, sorry for the delay. I guess we could go on forever with this. If you want to continue this, feel free to send me an E-mail.
            I realize I’m not going to persuade you to stop spreading unsupported or disproven claims about the universe, its origin, the evidence for an invisible being’s overseeing it, etc. But if I could persuade you to make one change, I’ll ask you again: Please stop speaking on behalf of atheists, and please stop making it as if all the millions of atheists across the globe think exactly the same way. (I guess that’s two requests.) When you say, “THE ATHEIST rejects God because…,” you sound like Reggie White when he said, “THE ASIAN is very gifted in creation, creativity and inventions.” As I said before, if you actually want to know what atheists think, instead of just making claims on your blog that fit into your stereotype of them, GO ASK THEM. A lot of them.
            I am just one person, and therefore I too do not speak on behalf of all atheists and agnostics.

            The hypothesis that a god exists is a factual claim, and as such, language such as “I choose to believe that God exists” or “I can’t believe in a world that” or “I can’t believe in a God that” have no place, any more than saying, “I choose to believe that aliens exist” makes sense. Either we (“we” meaning those who study these matters for a living – not just anyone with an opinion) have found good reasons to believe that a god or aliens exist or we haven”t. (I know I said this in my previous comment, and you ignored it, but I’m hoping maybe you won’t this time.)
            Since the vast majority of people who study the evidence for god for a living have concluded that the evidence is AGAINST this hypothesis, as I showed in my post “Two more ways the Talmud made me an atheist,” you may want to ask yourself why you “choose to believe” something is true when the evidence is against it.
            I realize you are under the impression you could argue reasons to believe and reasons not to, but a) the vast majority of people who study this stuff for a living disagree with you, and b) if that’s really the case, why don’t you just say, “The evidence is inconclusive either way, so let me remain agnostic until we have better evidence?” Clearly by having this forum, where you’re spreading your belief in God to the masses, you have not taken that more humble approach of “We simply do not know yet.” You may ask yourself why.
            Finally, re: what you wrote “Belief in God explains suffering because it’s a belief that what we see in this world is not the ultimate reality. It’s not a ‘silly story.'” The only thing that changes by saying that a God oversees suffering is that you’ve inserted a sadistic being who stands by and allows suffering – not much of an explanation. Further, even if you could somehow figure out a way that “Poof! I believe in God, and now all suffering makes sense!” I could also come up with other explanations that would explain suffering – e.g. “Whenever I see someone suffer, I’m really just having a nightmare,” or any other explanation that seems to work. The problem is if there’s no good reason to believe that explanation is TRUE (again, by “good reason” I mean a reason, an argument, that has been peer-reviewed and accepted by the consensus of experts in the relevant field – not what you or I think is a “good reason”), it doesn’t matter whether it explains anything or not.
            Thank you for the forum and the conversation. Have a meaningful Tisha B’Av, and if you’re fasting, a problem-free fast.

          • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

            I don’t need to “ask all the athiests or agnostics” because I used to be one! Most of my friends and family were athiests or agnostics growing up. And I get why atheists and agnostics don’t believe or doubt. I spent half of my life seeing the world that way. And there’s no such thing as “disproving God’s existence” just like there’s no such thing as proving God’s existence. I have listed numerous reasons why I think that my belief comes out of conviction, not blind faith, but this is a pointless conversation because neither of us will convince the other one and frankly my goal isn’t to “convince” anyone.

            It’s to show where my emunah comes from and why I find living a life connected to God meaningful, and why I’m passing that philosophy onto my children. You are not the first Jew in the history of the Jewish people to lose your faith and you certainly won’t be the last. You have free will and you can use it how you’d like, but I’ve lived life without God in it and I lived life with God in it. And I will choose faith over skepticism every time.

  9. Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says:

    “The Hebrew root aman means firm, something that is supported or secure. This word is used in Isaiah 22:23 for a nail that is fastened to a “secure” place. Derived from this root is the word emun meaning a craftsman. A craftsman is one who is firm and secure in his talent. Also derived from aman is the word emunah meaning firmness, something or someone that is firm in their actions. When the Hebrew word emunah is translated as faith misconceptions of its meaning occur. Faith is usually perceived as a knowing while the Hebrew emunah is a firm action. To have faith in God is not knowing that God exists or knowing that he will act, rather it is that the one with emunah will act with firmness toward God’s will. “

    • Freethinking Jew says:

      That’s why I said that no “scholar” would say the definition of “emunah” is “action,” as opposed to anyone with a website who admits in his profile that he has no education in Biblical Hebrew.

      Saying that “emunah” means “action” because “aman” means “craftsman” and “ne’eman” means “firm” is more far-fetched (and, frankly, more bizarre) than saying Adam must have been red, because the word “edom” means “red” or that Eve must have been brought as a sacrifice, because the word “isha (woman)” is similar to “isheh (an offering of fire).”

      If you really want to know what the word “emunah” means, the best way to do that is to see what “emunah” means – not to see what other words that happen to have the same three-letter root mean. If you do that, you’ll see there’s no possible way to translate “emunah” as “action.”

  10. Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says:

    You know, I chose to give you that source instead of a rabbinic source – which, by the way, I was paraphrasing in the first place – because I thought you would be more amenable to it. The reality is that many people understand emunah the way I described it. If you choose not to be among them, such is your prerogative, but please don’t presume that there are not those of us who do understand it that way. If that goes counter to your experience, fine. Surely there are those who sit on their hands and say, “It’s up to G-d” but that is not universal and, obviously, I disagree with that approach. The idea that “G-d helps those who help themselves” is certainly authentic in Judaism (albeit in other words).

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