Doubts: I’m Not So Sure About That
There is no greater joy than the resolution of doubt
A number of years back, when I used to listen to NPR, there was a story about a group of young women who had chosen to become nuns. While most of us associate nuns as elderly grey-haired women, this story highlighted the fact that the average age of the new entrants to The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville Tennessee was just 23.
Towards the end of the story, the interviewer asks one of the novice nuns if she has any doubts about her choice and foresees any regrets in it. She was very poised, and referring to what she believes as her savior, answered that “I met the person for me; I’ve been known by him forever. And I’ve known him more or less throughout my life. And now I know that this is where I’m called to.”
While I was impressed that the young woman was not thrown off by the not-so-subtle challenge to her faith, something bothered me about the question in the first place. And then it hit me: If this were an interview with a young man who wanted to be a football player, or a young woman who wanted to be a lawyer or doctor, would a similar type of question be asked? “So tell me Le’Veon, do you have any doubts about your dream of playing in the NFL?” How about, “Magen, are you sure you wish to pursue such a demanding career in law or medicine? Might you not regret this choice sometime later on in life?”
The fact that these women chose religion prompted the reporter to challenge them with the potential issues of doubt and uncertainty, as if to imply that such feelings are less tolerated in their vocation. But the notion that doubt and religion are incompatible is complete nonsense. As we shall soon see, even the great Moshe had his doubts and reservations.
When making significant decisions in life, when are we ever 100% certain about the correct choice and path of these decisions? Be it whom we choose to marry, which school to attend or even which car to buy, every significant – and even many not so significant choices have some ambiguity inherent in them.
The notion of doubt arises for everyone and anyone. The greatest of the greatest second-guess choices, decisions or their worthiness of a task or position.
In this week’s Torah portion we see that even Moshe had many misgivings about his abilities when God told him to go to Pharaoh to redeem the Israelites. He asks whether he is the person most fitting to do the job. He is unsure of what to answer the Jewish people should they ask of the nature of God’s name. He is doubtful that the people will listen to him once he approaches them with God’s plan for them. And finally he is unsure of his rhetorical abilities, finding himself in a predicament akin to King George IV during WWII – a stutterer who cannot summon the verbal prowess to confront the powerful Pharaoh.
And talk about a religious calling – you cannot have one clearer and more obvious than Moshe being summoned by God Himself who practically guarantees his success. And through it all, he still has some very serious doubts about his mission and abilities. But God understands the doubts in the heart of even the greatest of men and patiently answers his queries and indulges Moshe’s misgivings.
There is nothing wrong with having a degree of uncertainty to our choices in life. It is perfectly normal and illustrative of a healthy and serious person to intellectually scrutinize their resolutions. Moreso to even revisit those selfsame choices over and over as new facts come to light. We all do this as we get older and wiser, and have new and different perspectives when looking at life.
In fact, it’s those who are never in doubt about their ideas, intuitions, choices and viewpoints that we ought to be worried about. Especially when they hold high positions of power and have the ability to affect the lives of countless millions. It’s not surprising that such leaders create a revolving door of aids and assistants since they cannot tolerate any dissenting opinions to their own views. (It’s one of the main reasons Turkey is in such a mess right now.)
On the other hand, while a good dose of doubt is healthy, we should never allow it to paralyze us and leave us floating along in limbo for endless stretches of time. Because the worst thing one can do is not decide at all. Better to make a bad decision than no decision.
All we have is our ability to seek the truth in any given situation through our intellect, through the wisdom of our Torah, through feedback from friends and family and through the intuitive wisdom that the Almighty put in our soul. And then we hope and pray that we make the right decision. With God’s help and guidance, and through these avenues of friends, family, wisdom, head and heart – there is a very good likelihood that He will guide us down the right path. And just like Moshe, before we know it, we will confidently be creating our own Redemption.
Then I saw her face
Now I’m a believer
Not a trace
Of doubt in my mind
I’m in love
I’m a believer
I couldn’t leave her if I tried