Sinai & Shavuos: God Desires Conviction – Not Faith


Moshe Ben-Chaim



“Guide for the Perplexed” Maimonides (final chapter):

“A person that has a true knowledge of the whole Law is called wise in a double sense: he is wise because the Law instructs him in the highest truths, and secondly, because it teaches him good morals. But as the truths contained in the Law are taught by way of tradition, not by a philosophical method, the knowledge of the Law, and the acquisition of true wisdom, are treated in the books of the Prophets and in the words of our Sages as two different things; real wisdom demonstrates by proof those truths which Scripture teaches us by way of tradition. It is to this kind of wisdom, which proves the truth of the Law, that Scripture refers when it extols wisdom, and speaks of the high value of this perfection, and of the consequent paucity of men capable of acquiring it, in sayings like these: “Not many are wise”(job xxxii. 9):” But where shall wisdom be found” (ibid. xxviii.12)? In the writings of our Sages we notice likewise many passages in which distinction is made between knowledge of the Law and wisdom. They say of Moses, our Teacher, that he was Father in the knowledge of the Law, in wisdom and in prophecy. When Scripture says of Solomon,” And he was wiser than all men” (I Kings v. 11), our Sages add, “but not greater than Moses”: and the phrase,” than all men,” is explained to mean,” than all men of his generation”: for this reason [only] “Heman, Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol” the renowned wise men of that time, are named. Our Sages further say, that man has first to render account concerning his knowledge of the Law, then concerning the acquisition of wisdom, and at last concerning the lessons derived by logical conclusions from the Law, i.e., the lessons concerning his actions. This is also the right order: we must first learn the truths by tradition, after this we must be taught how to prove them, and then investigate the actions that help to improve man’s ways. The idea that man will have to render account concerning these three things in the order described, is expressed by our Sages in the following passage:” When man comes to the trial, he is first asked, ‘Hast thou fixed certain seasons for the study of the Law? Hast thou been engaged in the acquisition of wisdom? Hast thou derived from one thing another thing?”‘ This proves that our Sages distinguished between the knowledge of the Law on the one hand, and wisdom on the other, as the means of proving the lessons taught in the Law by correct reasoning.”




“Duties of the Heart” R. Bachaya ben Josef ibn Paquda (Excerpts from the author’s introduction)  

“Whoever has the intellectual capacity to verify what he receives from tradition, and yet is prevented from doing so by his own laziness, or because he takes lightly G-d’s commandments and Torah, he will be punished for this and held accountable for negligence.”


“If, however, you possess intelligence and insight, and through these faculties you are capable of verifying the fundamentals of the religion and the foundations of the commandments which you have received from the sages in the name of the prophets, then it is your duty to use these faculties until you understand the subject, so that you are certain of it - both by tradition and by force of reason. If you disregard and neglect this duty, you fall short in the fulfillment of what you owe your Creator.”



This ends my quotes of these great minds. Both of these thinkers concluded that our obligation ends not with understanding Torah based on learned traditions, but on proofs, using our own reasoning. But let us understand how they arrived at their singular position.


God created the unduplicated Revelation at Sinai for this very reason. God orchestrated undeniable miracles witnessed by millions. This would certainly survive all generations as incontrovertible proof of His existence and will, that man follow His Torah.


Why did God create man? Why did He create a being that possesses the unique faculty of reason? He did so; for He wills it that man use this faculty. No other creation possesses reason. It is God’s plan that man immerses himself in study, arriving at clear, indisputable proofs for his findings. Had God desired man to live by simple faith, all required would be the faculty of memory, and not deductive and inductive reasoning. We all know we possess the ability to “prove” something. We all know that proof is unshakable, while faith may be swayed by newer, more appealing ideas.


Even those claiming faith as better than proof use “arguments” to defend their positions. But with this mode of defense, they contradict themselves: they use the “method” of reasoning, and not faith, to defend themselves. Had they truly felt faith surpassed reason and proof, why do they use “reasoning”? Why do they resort to argumentation? However, argumentation and reasoning are used only to arrive at a proof. While arriving at faith, requires no mental activity. Their use of reasoning is a confession that proof is superior: for if this reasoning can “prove” their point, then they will use such reasoning. But then, their contradiction is clear.


One selects a faith based on the only other part of his makeup: his emotions. And with emotional attachment, comes the possibility of detachment when stronger emotions swell inside. Additionally, it is of no value to a person to claim a faith in something, if it is not something he selects using his mind, so it is baseless. For when man selects a faith based on anything but his mind, he is functioning by feelings, and not intellect. Man has no other mode of selection. And feelings are no barometer at all of objective reality. They are completely useless for gauging what is true. Therefore, one who lives by faith testifies thereby, that he has no desire to live in accord with what is proven to be true. But God’s gift of one Torah teaches that God desires a specific lifestyle for man, and not that any man can faithfully follow whatever appeals to his emotions.


This being the case, that one’s faith is selected by emotions, his faith is then subject to deviation. He may defect from Judaism. He must also agree that any other faith is acceptable, including Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, et al, because he feels one has the right to select whatever “appeals” to him. Since the faithful choose religions not based on proof, they take the position that proof is not the means by which one determines which religion is proper. Therefore, they cannot argue against other religions that are also equally “faithful”. Thus, these faithful Jews must thereby accept their child’s wish to convert to Christianity. However, this is not God’s desire.


Just as no appeal may sway us from realizing that we exist, God also desires that we use this ultimate level of conviction – reason and proof – when realizing His existence, and all the truths which surround Him. These are the words of the Rabbis quoted above. For with this absolute conviction, we live in line with the very faculty God desired we possess, granted to no other creation.


Shavuos is the holiday, which celebrates “proof”. It is much like Shabbos, when we celebrate creation. Our very act of rest on Shabbos is a weekly, public confirmation of God’s existence and role as exclusive Creator, who rested on day seven. Where else would we derive the idea of resting on every seventh day, were it not borrowed from an original model: from God’s act of rest on the very first “7th Day”? We realize there is no need to labor, as he created everything on this day, including His system of providence over man, and reward and punishment. We are convinced of the Torah, which guarantees our monetary needs are provided when we abide by His laws. We feel no sense of loss when not working on Shabbos, Holidays, and Shmita. This conviction in the Torah is based on Shavuos; on the undeniable event of Revelation at Sinai. Nothing biological can create a voice, which emanates from fire, and lives. That which is not subject to natural law generates such a voice. That can only be the Creator of natural law: God.


Shavuos is a yearly testament to God’s primary directive for mankind, Jew and Gentile alike, and it is this: the Torah lifestyle demands we arrive at truths and moral principles using our minds, not merely relying on traditions.