Sunday, April 20, 2014

In Judaism - What Does Belief Really Entail?*

We are about to enter the 7th day of Pesach. This is the date in history when our ancestors, the Bnei Yisroel, crossed the Red (Reed) Sea. The Torah tells us the Red Sea split, our ancestors walked on dry land between two standing walls of water. And the Egyptian soldiers and all their chariots drowned as they pursued them down that same path. The chariots got stuck in the mud and when the last Jew finished his trek through the sea, the two walls poured down on the Egyptians and drowned them all.

After this great miracle was witnessed, our ancestors sang the Shira (Oz Yoshir). The Shira was an expression of mixed feelings: Horror, triumph, and gratitude which overcame the Bnei Yisroel. They watched the fate of a powerful enemy as it was utterly destroyed which at one point they feared might be their own fate.

The question arises… why did the Bnei Yisroel wait until after the crossing of the Red Sea before reciting the Shira? It is of course appropriate if not required to give thanks to the Creator after experiencing such miraculous events. But why did they wait until then to do it? Did they not witness all the miracles in Egypt that led to their freedom? Why didn’t they sing the Shira upon their exit?

Additionally, Rashi in his commentary on the verse in the Shira of Zeh Keli V’Anveihu (This is my God and I will beautify Him - Shemos 15:2) – says that this is a reference to God’s appearance in  His full glory so that the people could actually point to Him with their fingers. That is followed by the following verse: ‘And Israel saw the great work which God wrought upon Egypt and the nation feared God VaYaminu (and they believed) in God and in His servant Moshe.’ (Shemos 14:31).

Why did they wait until now to believe in God. Did they not witness the 10 palgues? Furthermore there is the following.

Belief in anything is only required when something cannot experienced with any of the 5 physical senses. If the Bnei Yisroel actually beheld the Divinity, what was their need for belief?  

To answer these questions a basic distinction must be made between the miracles in Egypt and the miracle of the Red Sea. There are two Hebrew terms for salvation: Hatzalah and Yeshuah. Hatzalah refers to a passive act of salvation. The miracles of Egypt proper were a Hatzalah. The Bnei Yisroal remained completely passive as God did all the work.

At the miracle at the Red Sea on the other hand  was a Yeshuah. The Midrash tells us that the sea did not split until the Bnei Yisroel entered the water up to their nostrils. ‘And the Bnei Yisroel went into the sea upon dry land’ (Shemos 14:22). Only when our ancestors experienced the wionders of the Red Sea did they become active participants in the miracle. And thus only then could they sing Shira. Shira is appropriate only when one attains a victory. And to be a victor one must actively participate in the struggle.invloved not only an action alone – but a resulting commitment to the One who wrought the miracles!

The Jewish people became totally involved in the experience. Belief in that which one sees implies action – accepting belief, acting upon it, and being devoted to its implications and consequences.

The word ‘VaYaminu’ (and they believed) is grammatically the causative of the word ‘Uman’ – rearing. The Hebrew word for cfatsman also derives from this root. Thus the Jewish people did not merely believe, but they disciplined themselves causing themselves to become craftsmen in a spiritual sense.

Based on this understanding we can resolve an apparent contradiction with respect to God’s covenant with Abraham. ‘And he believed in God and He (God) counted it for him as righteousness.’ In other words God chose Abraham because of his belief in Him (Bereishis 15:6). And yet we find in another verse that God chose Abraham because ‘he commands of the next generation to walk in the path of God doing charity and justice in order that God might bring upon Abraham that which He had spoken to him (Beresishis 19:18).  As explained belief implies there is no contradiction. Belief is not merely accepting something as truth. It implies actively following it up with action as Abraham did by transmitting it to others.

The Gemarah in Avodah Zara (3b) tells us that in the days of Moshiach the nations of thw world will not be permitted to convert for their own convenience but that those who desire to do so will ‘put Tefillin on their heads and Tefillin on their arms’. The obvious discrepancy is that one generally puts on the the arm first and then the Tefillin of the head. But herein lies the tragedy that has overcome mankind.

The Tefillin of the head correspond to the mind. The Tefillin of the arm are worn opposite the heart and represent the sublimation of man’s base instincts to God’s will. In other religions and among the nations of the world – belief precedes consecration. A person must rectify thought before he can practice faith.

Not so in Judaism. King David wrote in Psalm 24:3-4 ‘Who may ascend the mountain of God and who may stay stand in his place of sanctity?’ He who is clean of hands and pure of heart.’  In Judaism one must first purify his deeds and his heart – and only then can he climb to the heights of understanding God – the apex of spiritual salvation. Thus belief implies not only intellectual recognition of certain fundamental notions, but a commitment to and involvement with that which one believes.

Chag Sameach

*Taken from The Warmth and the Light by Rav Ahron Soloveichik