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Faith and Knowledge

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At that point, says Abarbanel (Chap.11), “the shape of faith which follows these inquires will be drawn in the heart of man and within his soul, for he then will believe perforce in the conclusion resulting from these inquiries and this knowledge, and that kind of (intense) faith will come suddenly without his choice or will” – somewhat of a clinching process.

However, there is a slight problem with this exposition of the Rambam’s view in terms of the wording Rambam uses to define this mitzvah. He does not state that the mitzvah is to believe but rather to know (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 1:1). According to Abarbanel, the knowledge, seemingly, is that which precedes the mitzvah, while the mitzvah itself (of faith and belief) is to believe in that which transcends intellect and understanding.

The Rambam’s wording, therefore, implies that the mitzvah of faith and belief is not totally bereft of the intellectual process but actually incorporates it. It does involve the intellectual process even when dealing with the transcendent realm of faith and belief, of emunah, and facilitates its internalization. The pasuk extolling the wonders of the era of Mashiach also attests to this: “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of God” (Yeshayahu 11:9). And so does our daily recitation of the Aleinu prayer: “All inhabitants of the world shall recognize and know…”

Thus, the mitzvah of emunah remains applicable (even after the “clinching” process) in terms of its having to be nurtured through study of appropriate Torah topics and reflection. Were the mitzvah to entail only faith and belief, we indeed would be hard put to keep observing it once we reached the clinching point of fully and firmly believing – as faith and belief don’t just dissipate. Emunah does incorporate knowledge also, as there are many progressively higher levels of revelation and recognition of the all-encompassing dimension of God. We are commanded to strive to attain these higher states of recognition by engaging in a reflective process during prayer.

“A mitzvah without kavanah is like a body without a soul” (Shelah HaKadosh, vol. 1, p.249b). Many of our children have not been sufficiently exposed to the inner soul-dimension of the Torah and thus can fall prey to the many negative attitudes abounding today. Yeshiva education ought to develop in our children a strong personal emunah and knowledge that will have them stand on their own terra firma and, as a result, not be swayed by any transient cultural winds.

Until educators realize the importance of these matters and implement changes in yeshiva curricula, parents should find time to read and study with their children appropriate texts and passages dealing with these fundamental elements and use them as a springboard for discussions. Questions on the minds of our children, which they may be ambivalent or even fearful about asking, should be welcomed and elicited.

The yearly experience of the question-and-answer process of the Haggadah, instituted by our sages as an educational tool to ingrain emunah, should spread throughout the rest of the year at the Shabbos and Yom Tov table.

About the Author: Rabbi Yeheskel Lebovic is the spiritual leader of Cong. Ahavath Zion of Maplewood, New Jersey. His articles on Jewish philosophy and chassidus have appeared in various publications. Comments from readers can be e-mailed to ylebovic@gmail.com.


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