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In this week's parsha, Moshe accuses the nation of Israel of not having faith. What? The people know firsthand about all the miracles God has done for them, how could they not have faith? Drawing on the Maharal, Rabbi Fohrman gives us a novel approach to faith, and challenges us to rise to this level of intimacy with God and with each other.
Hi, this is Rabbi David Fohrman and you are watching AlephBeta. Welcome to Parshat Devarim.
One of the great challenges of any religion is faith. Often we think that the central challenge of faith as belief in God, believing that God exists, that he is around and yet the Torah uses the word [Hebrew 00:19] in a way that which almost certainly does not mean that. After the splitting of the sea, [Hebrew 00:23] ‘The people had faith in God’, was that the first time they believed that God existed? They went through ten plagues and still didn’t believe that God existed?
In this week’s Parshat, Moshe castigates the people for lack of faith, in the sin of despise. Does Moshe seriously mean to say that the Jews did not believe in God? They doubted his existence? They got man up from heaven, experienced revelation at Sinai, saw the ten plagues, saw the sea split and these guys didn’t believe that God was around? We might consider faith as the last thing that the Jews of the desert would have struggled with and yet, according to Moshe this is the people’s crime and the wake of the report of despise.
The Torah isn’t taking about faith in terms of belief that God exists. The Israelites in the desert knew God exist. So what the Torah is really telling you is that the real journey of faith begins then. Believing that God existed, that’s the little leagues. What happens after you believe that, there is the real journey of faith and that’s the big leagues.
Today, I want to talk to you about that journey, that journey towards something else. After we believe that God exists, what is that something else and whatever it is what are the milestones that we pass in getting there? How do we achieve this thing called faith? I will try to define the terms.
It turns out that the word [Hebrew 01:52] is not used to describe human feelings, it is actually used to describe something that seems to have very little to do with faith at all. Moshe’s arms in the battle against [Hebrew 02:01]. The Jews prevailed in that battle only so long as Moshe’s arms were raised. His arms were tired, so [Hebrew 02:09] held his arms up, [Hebrew 02:12] and his arms were [Hebrew 02:15], they were steadfast until the sunset. Faith over [Hebrew 02:20] I think is identified with that idea of steadfastness, when you take it out of the realm of inanimate objects like arms and you take it in to the realm of human relationships, it’s kind of steadfast quality in my relationship with you, a kind of unflinching willingness to trust you even as I confront my deepest fears. That’s the sense which Moshe uses in this week’s Parshat.
The Jews were afraid, they were afraid of conquering the land. They looked at the inhabitants of the land and they seemed like giants. Moshe accuses them of a lack of faith at that moment, [Hebrew 02:57]. In this you didn’t have faith, you didn’t have trust, you weren’t steadfast with God. You shrunk away from God even as God lovingly was telling you to trust him.
It is very interesting I think, the one Moshe makes his accusation. He doesn’t say that you failed to blindly have faith in God, he actually appeals to a kind of rational basis for that faith to their experience. He said, look at your experience. [Hebrew 03:26], ‘The God, your God, who walks before you, here in the desert’, [Hebrew 03:33], ‘He is the one going to fight for you’, [Hebrew 03:35], ‘He is going to do for you just as he did against Egypt before your very eyes’, [Hebrew 03:41], ‘and this desert you have seen’, [Hebrew 03:44], ‘God has carried you’, [Hebrew 03:47] ‘like a man would carry his child’, he is appealing to their experience. You have grounds for faith, [Hebrew 03:54] but you in this thing have failed, you haven’t had faith in God.
In Moshe’s world faith doesn’t come from nothing, it comes from observing things from your beloved that makes them trustworthy. [Hebrew 04:10] identifies 3 milestones and correlates them with the three times the word [Hebrew 04:19] first appears in the Torah in the story of the exodus. [Hebrew 04:26] suggest that the people experienced three things that gave them rational grounds for faith.
The first thing they experienced, the first time the word faith is used in the story of the exodus. When Moshe came to the elders of Israel and said God came to me and here is the sign that God came to me, [Hebrew 04:44] the Israelites understood that God saw their sufferings. The first thing that [Hebrew 04:53] says that I need to know that you care for me, that you have empathy for me and that you see my suffering. But if all I know is that it is still not rational for me to place my faith in you, I need to know more. The next time the word faith appears in the exodus story is at the splitting of the sea. [Hebrew 05:12] the people believed in God and Moshe as his servant, what they saw then, they saw an incredible display of the power of the master of the universe. In order to really have faith in you, it’s not enough for you to have empathy, you also have to have the power to help me but even if I know that you have the power to help me and even if I know that you care and have empathy, I still need to know one more thing and that brings us to the third instance of faith recorded in the Torah. It happens in the Sinai. God said, I will come to you Moshe and I will speak to you in a way that the people would be able to hear me speaking to you. [Hebrew 05:50], ‘So that they should have faith in you and in the communication between me and you forever’. If I know that you have power and I know that you care for me but I do not know that you understand me. If I suspect that perhaps that you are so raped up in your own world that you cannot really get what it is that I need, I still cannot place myself in your hands. When the Jewish people saw God who was so different from them. A being that you cannot touch, you cannot feel, that you cannot see actually successfully communicate with Moshe, they became convinced that God understood Moshe and Moshe understood god. Then the final ingredient for faith existed, if I know that you love me, that you feel empathy towards me, if I know that you have the power to help and I know that you really get what it is that I need then I can trust you. There are grounds for me to place my faith in you and then, the real challenge occurs. My faith at that moment is still a product of an act of will, of sheer power on my part, to confront my fears and to take that leap. Trust is always hard, to steadfastly, place yourself in the arms of your beloved even as you beloved reassures you that they will take care of you through the darkest night, through the greatest terrors, it is a tough thing.
When you steadfastly place your faith in the hands of someone who loves you, when you abandon yourself to them, you achieve a dizzying kind of intimacy with them. That intimacy as rewarding as it is, is also scary. It is a kind of leaving yourself behind, a kind of merging unabashedly with another. There is no more hiding, what of my sense of self, am I losing it all to you?
Loss of control involves a loss of self and loss of self is always scary and if you are the entire Israelite people, it is scary with God. It is easier to just shrunk back and say, ‘God I am just not going to do this. I rather go back to Egypt’ and it is here that you get the great consequences of failing to have faith. Because listen carefully to the bone chilling words that the people say when they shrunk away from God in the sin of despise. They don’t just say we couldn’t do this, they say, [Hebrew 08:16], ‘it was in God’s hatred of us that took us out of Egypt’, it sounds like insanity, how could you say that? The God hated us and that is why he took us out of Egypt, how could you say that? That is what lack of faith will do to you.
If I have grounds to place my faith in you, if I know that you love me, if I know that you have the power to help me, I know you understand me and I bock at my willingness to seed control to you, I have to explain that failure to myself. What will I tell myself, will I be honest that I just didn’t have the courage to place myself in your hands? Or will I lie to myself and to you and compromise one of those three pillars? The case of the Jews, the pillar they compromised was love. They found a way to look back on their experience and say our experience teaches us that God doesn’t love us, he hates us. As crazy as it is, it is the only way that they could come to rationalize their unwillingness to place their faith in God and this is why the challenge of faith is such a challenge because when faith is wanted, when our experience gives us reasons to extend ourselves and trust but we fail to take that leap, that leap which has an element of blindness, the willingness to just let go and let our beloved lead us through our darkest fears. Once we reach that point our relationship would never be the same. If we do it successfully, we would achieve the most dizzying kind of intimacy with our beloved but if we fail, everything could come crumbling down when we tell ourselves that really there was never any love there at all and we are not to blame. May we arise to this challenge when it is past of us and in all of our relationships, with God, with our wives, with our husbands, with our children, with our parents.
It is a supreme test, one we dare not fail.
1. V'Zot Habracha: Looking Towards the Future - Part 3/3
2. Ha'azinu: A Unique Nation - Part 2/3
3. Nitzavim-Vayeilech: Where's the Happy Ending? - Part 1/3
4. Ki Tavo: Answer
5. Ki Tavo: Question
6. Ki Teitzei: Answer
7. Ki Teitzei: Question
8. Shoftim: Epilogue 2
9. Shoftim: Epilogue 1
10. Shoftim: The Line Between Murder And Apathy
11. Re'eh: Jewish Slavery
12. Part II: Eikev: What Does It Mean To Be A Good Person?
13. Part I: Eikev: What Does It Mean To Be A Good Person?
14. Va'etchanan: Seeing Layers in the Ten Commandments
15. Devarim: What Does It Mean To Have Faith?
16. Masei: Why Is The End of Bamidbar So Anticlimactic? II
17. Matot: Why Is The End of Bamidbar So Anticlimactic?
18. Pinchas: What Does It Mean To Be Zealous For God?
19. Balak: Balaam, Prophet For Hire?
20. Chukat: Was Hitting the Rock So Horrible?
21. Korach: Can We Influence God?
22. Shelach: Is Hope Irrational?
23. Behaalotecha: A Guide For...Parenting? Part II
24. Naso: A Guide For...Parenting?
25. Bamidbar: Who Cares About Genealogy?
26. Bechukotai: Why Would God Curse His People?
27. Behar: Why Does Land Have To Rest?
28. Emor: Is There A Shabbat In Other Realms?
29. Kedoshim: How Can I Achieve True Love?
30. Acharei Mot: The (Surprising) Purpose of Yom Kippur
31. Shemini: Why Did God Reject Nadav and Avihu?
32. Tzav: What Does It Mean To Survive?
33. Vayikra: Can Leaders Make Mistakes?
34. Pekudei: A Giant Chiasm In Sefer Shmot
35. Vayakhel: What Does It Mean To Be Tzelem Elokim?
36. Ki Tisa: Moshe's Benevolent Chutzpah
37. Tetzaveh: Where Is God In a Physical World?
38. Terumah: Is There a Face Hiding in the Tabernacle?
39. Mishpatim: Female Servitude...Wait, What?
40. Yitro: The Marriage of God and Israel
41. Beshalach: What Does It Mean to Have Faith?
42. Bo: Did God Really Need Ten Plagues?
43. Va'era: Did God Take Away Pharaoh's Free Will?
44. Shmot: If Midrash is Real, Why Isn't It Peshat?
45. Vayechi: Who is Joseph's Real Father?
46. Vayigash: The Epic Confrontation Between Judah and Joseph
47. Miketz: Why Didn't Joseph Write Home?
48. Vayeishev: Who Really Sold Joseph?
49. Vayishlach: Becoming a Person of Integrity
50. Vayeitzei: Consequences of Yaakov's Deceit
51. Toldot: A Conversation For the Ages
52. Chayei Sarah: What Makes For A Successful Life?
53. Vayeira: Abraham's Struggle With Loyalty
54. Lech Lecha: Covenant With God
55. Bereishit: Does Man 'Acquire' Woman?
56. Noach: Why Did God Destroy the World?
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