Passover holds many fundamental elements of faith and belief. This is reflected in the mention of the Exodus in the Shema prayer. Yalkut Shimoni (Hosheya Remez 519) comments: “In the merit of emunah [faith] were our ancestors redeemed from Egypt.”
By definition, emunah is required at the point that intellectual grasp stops. How much is the human mind able to grasp of the Divine? One of the principal intellectual proofs for the existence of an Entity beyond the parameters of the universe as we know it is the axiom that “no entity can make itself” (bring itself into a state of existence), the conclusion being that Someone beyond the realm of the universe brought the universe into existence.
This, however, only “proves” His existence but offers no clue as to what He is really about (essential knowledge vs. existential knowledge). All we are doing is extrapolating from the universe, positing that God transcends it but not knowing the nature of His transcendence.
True, we acknowledge that the ability to create ex nihilo can only come from God who has no beginning and no preceding cause. Only He, therefore, can bring about the creation of entities that also have no preceding cause and “potential form” from which they might develop gradually; rather, they radically emerge out of “nothing,” save for the Power bringing them into existence.
Nonetheless, the creative ability is only one of Hashem’s powers. The only access we have to the Creator’s essential transcendence is due to His kindness in activating a process of revelation. The main stage of such Divine revelation took place at Sinai at the giving of the Torah, and subsequently through the prophets of later generations.
This is why we read that “God descended upon the mountain” (Shemos 19:20), indicating that these are reaches unattainable through man’s ascent but only through Divine descent and revelation.
Where does emunah come in? As much as there is a process of revelation, it is still limited to the limited parameters of human intellect and emotions. To go beyond those parameters, one has to rely on emunah, faith and belief in divine axioms that transcend human intellect. Some examples: God’s Unity, His Perfection, and His Incorporating of Opposites (such as infinity and finity).
These matters of belief are spelled out as mitzvot of the Torah, and Jews have explicit emunah and belief in them. However, is it true that a Jew will believe merely because he is commanded to in the mitzvot? Is it fair to blame those who don’t believe, despite having been so commanded?
The answer is that Jews are endowed to naturally believe in these truths. In addition, they have inherited this faith from their ancestors Avraham (known as the rosh, the head, of believers), Yitzchak and Yaakov.
Those who profess not to have this faith suffer from temporary obstacles blocking their access (faith can often be obscured by layers of intellectual trappings). When such Jews are confronted by situations threatening their intrinsic connection to God, this faith will come to the fore in order to overcome such obstacles.
The Exodus was a prelude to the Sinaic Revelation. However, it was for the merit of the intrinsic faith Jews possessed all along during their slavery in Egypt. For God knows the pitfalls of intellect, even when confronted by open, undeniable miracles changing the course of nature. To this day you will find explanations of “natural phenomena” that are thought to have activated the splitting of the Red Sea. Hashem desired that Revelation be coupled with strong, unshakable emunah, which Jews possessed all along, and in that merit they were redeemed.
Once emunah is firmly entrenched, all natural phenomena are viewed differently. Divine providence and intervention, sometimes openly miraculous and many times not, are then perceived and felt in all natural events. All these phases are reactivated every Pesach and our emunah is strengthened anew. May we thereby also soon merit the Geulah Sheleimah through Mashiach.