Parshas Beshalach; Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

After HaShem drowns the Egyptians in the sea, we sing the famous shira, from which our Shabbes gets its name. This shira is privy to an interesting introduction. The pasuk preceding the shira notes that Bnei Yisrael saw what HaShem had done to the Egyptians, 'and they believed in HaShem and Moshe his servant (14:31).' The question that many deal with is why the pasuk reports that suddenly Bnei Yisrael believed in HaShem; did they not believe in HaShem throughout the ten plagues? And the general answer is that at the Red Sea, Bnei Yisrael reached a new level of belief in HaShem (see the Or HaChaim and Rabeinu Chananel, for example). We shall deal with a different question; a question attributed to the Steipler

, and a question which the Rishonim on our pasuk clearly address too. The answer that we shall provide might go some way to answering the first question we cited. Our question is this: why does the pasuk insinuate that Bnei Yisrael only believed in Moshe after the splitting of the sea; surely the Torah reports that already in parshas Shemos (4:31) 'the people believed' in Moshe and his prophetic message? And though approaches to this question can be found in the Targum and Ibn Ezra, we are going to cite an approach attributed to the Steipler due to its practical relevance and fundamental nature.

The Steipler[1] reveals an extremely important principle. There are two types of emunah; emunah sichlit (intellectual emunah), and emunah chushit (emunah which is sensual). This goes for knowledge too, and is easily explained. One can have an intellectual awareness that something is true, but one has not internalised this knowledge to make it 'a part of them.' For example, many smokers know that smoking damages health and can kill, but they smoke anyway, because that intellectual knowledge has not become internalised to be sensual; it is sichlit but not chushit. And the same goes for the masses of people who openly admit belief in HaShem and Torah, yet do not practice religion; on a basic level, they have not turned their emunah sichlit into emunah chushit. Emunah sichlit is an intellectual faith and knowledge of truth. But emunah chushit is a higher level; it entails thoroughly hammering home this intellectual knowledge so that it enters one's conscience - it becomes sensual. These stages are present in the pasuk[2] we repeat thrice daily in Aleinu 'veyadata hayom vehashevosa el levavecha;' the 'knowing' refers to the intellectual emunah, and 'you shall put it into your heart' refers to the sensual, internalised emunah.

The Steipler uses this distinction to answer a difficult Rashi.[3] Rashi comments that Noach had little emunah; he 'believed and did not believe that the flood would come, and so did not enter the ark until he was forced to do so by the water.' How could Noach have a lack of belief in HaShem/His promise if HaShem Himself had told Noach that there was going to be a flood? The answer, says the Steipler, is that Noach certainly lacked no intellectual emunah on this issue; he had experienced it firsthand. However, Noach had a certain lack of emunah chushit; he had not internalised the prophecy enough to make it become so much a part of his conscience as to be sensual. This principle also explains a difficulty in our sedra. After the people complain to Moshe and Aharon about a shortage of food, they respond that 'in the evening, you will know that HaShem took you out of Egypt (16:6).' Rashi explains that the people had said (16:3) that it was Moshe and Aharon who took Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt, and not HaShem. The difficulty is blinding here. How in the world could Bnei Yisrael really believe that any humans could have brought them out of Egypt, given that they themselves had witnessed miracles clearly orchestrated by HaShem? Again, the answer is that any shortfall here was on the chushit level. Of course Bnei Yisrael intellectually knew that HaShem had taken them out of Egypt. They just had not internalised this information to make it sufficiently part of their conscience. Vitally, this distinction answers our issue as well. We asked 'did the people not believe in Moshe and his prophecy until the sea split?' The answer is that it was now a different form of belief. At the start of parshas Shemos, Bnei Yisrael believed in Moshe and his prophecy on an intellectual level (emunah sichlit), but now having witnessed all the miracles and how the prophecies had come true, Bnei Yisrael now reached a higher level of internalised emunah in Moshe; emunah chushit.

But the story does not end here. This sichlit/chushit emunah distinction will help us understand a fundamental Rambam. The Rambam lists the 613 biblical commandments in his Sefer Hamitzvos. The first mitzvah he lists is emunah in HaShem; this seems understandable. However, the Ramban[4] quotes the Behag who disagrees, and indeed in the mitzvah-count of the Behag there is no individual mitzvah of emunah. In citing and explaining the Behag, the Ramban asks a penetrating question on the Rambam. He asks: surely emunah is not an individual mitzvah, but rather an introduction to all mitzvos (one must believe in HaShem to believe that mitzvos came from Him), and as such should not be counted in the 613. In fact, we have a precedent for this. Rav Chaim Vital writes that the reason why there is no mitzvah in the Torah to have good middos (character traits) is because they are an introduction to following Torah. So why does the Rambam count emunah as an individual mitzvah? In fact, the question can be strengthened even more. Non-Jews are expected to keep the Seven Noachide Laws, but, as the Rambam records,[5] they must keep them 'because HaShem commanded them in His Torah…' and not purely because they feel that these mitzvos are logical. Thus, a non-Jew is expected to believe in HaShem as a facilitator of his observing the Seven Noachide Laws. But emunah is not listed as one of the seven, for it is an introduction/basic underlying principle to the seven. So why for us Jews does the Rambam list emunah as one of the 613 mitzvos, but it is not listed as one of the seven for non-Jews? The Maharam Shik and the Kinas Sofrim[6] both answer along the lines of the Steipler's distinction between emunah sichlit and emunah chushit. True, the emunah sichlit is an introduction to mitzvos and as such should not be listed as part of the 613. But in his Sefer Hamitzvos, the Rambam is recording a deeper level of emunah which is expected of us; a fully internalised conscious emunah chushit. This also helps the distinction between our 613 and the other nations' 7 mitzvos vis-à-vis the inclusion of emunah in the lists. When HaShem commanded us in the first of the Ten Commandments to have emunah in Him, He was referring to this deeper-level emunah chushit. But for the other nations, emunah sichlit in HaShem suffices. And this emunah is an introduction/underlying basis to their seven mitzvos; hence its omission from being individually enumerated as one of the seven. We shall expand on this last point somewhat, before ending.

What is the source of our emunah? The Rambam[7] and Ramban[8] both say that the source of our emunah is our standing before HaShem at Har Sinai during Mattan Torah. This poses a problem. HaShem unequivocally says that the plagues were performed so that 'people should recognise that I am HaShem' (see Shemos 7:5, 7:17, 8:6, 8:18, 9:16, and 14:18). So why were the plagues good enough for the Egyptians to have emunah in/recognise HaShem, yet for us it is Har Sinai? And if Har Sinai is the only sufficient proof, then how can HaShem have expected the Egyptians to believe in Him 'merely' via the plagues? Rav Moshe Shapira explains[9] that certainly under the normal rules of logic and proof, the plagues were enough to expect any nation to believe in HaShem. However, there is a level higher than intellectual proof/knowledge, and that is experiencing the thing itself. For example, I know that I am alive not because I can sit down and prove it via calculations, but because I experience it. Similarly, one knows the closeness of a relationship not because of external proofs, but because they feel it personally; they are a part of it. One does not need external proofs for something one experiences or are a part of oneself. This is the emunah we were ingrained with on Har Sinai; it was not of the sichlit nature; rather, it was a full emunah chushit whereby we were planted with an innate internal connection to HaShem and His Torah which lives on inside of us, and it is for us to nurture and look after. This reflects our above distinction; other nations are expected to reach an intellectual level of emunah (Yetzias Mitzrayim), whilst Bnei Yisrael, HaShem's Chosen People, are expected to go further than that in turning their intellectual emunah into a sensual emunah chushit (Mattan Torah).

We'll close with a bit of advice as to how to go about achieving this emunah chushit. Rav Wolbe[10] stresses the importance of picturing Mattan Torah in one's mind every now and again, so one has a vivid and real lifelike connection to it. Similarly, the Chafetz Chaim writes[11] that one should recite the shiras hayam each morning with simcha, 'and picture in one's mind as if that day one had crossed through the sea, and one who says it with simcha will have his sins forgiven.' Picturing these events make them real and bring us closer to an emunah chushit past our intellectual recognition of HaShem and His Torah.

Have a great Shabbes

[1] In his sefer Birkas Peretz, parshas Noach. The Steipler is Rav Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky zt'l (1899-1985). [2] Devarim 4:39 [3] Rashi Bereishis 7:7 'mipnei' [4] Ramban in hasagos on Sefer Hamitzvos, mitzvas asei 1 [5] Rambam hilchos Melachim 8:11 [6] The Kinas Sofrim is printed most editions of the Rambam's Sefer Hamitzvos [7] Rambam hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 8:1 [8] Ramban Devarim 4:9 [9] See sefer Afikei Mayim, page 73 onwards [10] Alei Shur perek 19 (page 104) [11] Mishna Brura 51:17 (at the end)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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