Faith: Is it Contrary to Reason?
Rabbi Reuven Mann
This week's parsha, Yitro, describes the greatest event in history, the Revelation of G-d at Mt. Sinai and His proclamation of the Aseret Hadiberot (Ten "Commandments") before a gathering of the entire nation. What was the purpose of this event? Clearly it was the will of Hashem to communicate His Torah to His chosen people. However that was accomplished through the agency of Moshe. Moshe was the most unique person in history, a special creation of Hashem who reached a level of prophecy in which he communicated "face to face", at will, with G-d. The Torah itself testifies that there never was, nor ever will be, another prophet like Moshe, with regard to the level of Divine knowledge he attained and the magnitude of the miracles he performed. G-d had chosen Moshe to be his emissary to the Jews and to Pharaoh. Moshe in his great humbleness initially refused the assignment on the grounds that he was unqualified for such an exalted mission. He pleaded with Hashem to relieve him of this task and to confer it on someone more capable. There is much we can learn from this. We need to emulate Moshe and cultivate the virtue of humbleness. The Rambam says it is the quality which is most consequential to human perfection. This does not mean that we should foster a false sense of inadequacy. We should develop our skills and constantly seek to improve ourselves. However we should also have a realistic sense of our limitations and refrain from pushing ourselves into positions for which we are not qualified. True humility enables us to acknowledge our flaws and seek to correct them. It relieves us of the need to maintain a public image which not is in line with reality. A truly humble person is at peace with himself, not envious of others and appreciates all the blessings in his life, without feeling disappointed that he doesn't get what he deserves. Moshe Rabbenu was truly humble and did not desire any of the honor associated with positions of authority. Hashem, however, insisted that he was the one who He wanted to lead the Jews out of Egypt. Moshe was left with no choice but to reluctantly accept. It would appear that Moshe's concerns about his inadequacies were not bourn out. The verse states "The man Moshe was extremely great in the land of Egypt, in the eyes of Pharaoh's servants and in the eyes of the nation." There are those who say that the nation referred to here is the Jews. They accepted him as their leader and as a genuine prophet who communicated the word of G-d. Thus they fulfilled the command to offer the Passover sacrifice in Egypt and to request gifts of the Egyptians. They followed Moshe into the wilderness and obeyed the instructions he issued. Following the destruction of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea the verse states "and they believed in Hashem and in His servant Moshe." Why then, was it necessary for Hashem to make an appearance before the entire nation? Why could He not continue with the plan of communicating His will through Moshe.
The Jewish notion of faith is different than that of any other religion. Religious people are proud of the fact that they have faith in G-d even though they cannot claim knowledge of His existence. They think it is a virtue to "believe" even though they have no certitude. Judaism is totally opposed to this. It does not value blind faith and exhorts man to obtain the highest level of knowledge of which he is capable. True faith is that which emerges from the rational part of man who obtains a conviction of the existence of G-d through contemplation of His great works which display His infinite wisdom. Moshe prayed to Hashem to "teach me thy ways so that I may know you in order to find favor in Your Eyes." G-d finds favor with those who strive to know Him and in the words of Rambam, one's love of G-d is proportional to one's knowledge, the more one knows Him, the more one loves Him. In our religion ignorance is an obstacle to our wholehearted service of Hashem. That is why Hashem was not content to reveal Himself only through the agency of Moshe. True, Moshe performed the most wondrous and impressive miracles. However, says the Rambam, one who believes because of miracles always retains some doubt and suspicion. Miracles are not entirely satisfying to man's intellect. Hashem wanted to eliminate all doubt and make His existence and will known in a direct manner which would satisfy the minds of the Jews. He convened the entire people, allowing them to witness supernatural phenomena and hear a voice from Heaven speaking directly to them, proclaiming the Ten Commandments. Thus when Moshe exhorted the Jews to observe the Torah he did not call on them to have faith. Rather he said, "You have been shown to know that Hashem, He is our G-d, there is no other." An entire nation witnessed with its own eyes the existence of G-d and the proclamation of His Torah. No other religion would dare to make such a claim. All other religions are based on blind faith, without a shred of evidence to substantiate their claims. Only Judaism elevates the mind of man and extols knowledge as the most significant factor in the authentic service of Hashem. That is why the very first request we make in our weekday prayers, is for wisdom and discernment. May we merit to achieve them and constantly grow in our knowledge and love of Hashem.