Rabbi David Walk
Maimonides opens his greatest work, the Mishneh Torah, with the words: The foundation of all foundations and the pillar of all wisdom is to know that there is a Primary Being who brought into being all existence. All the beings of the heavens, the earth, and what is between them came into existence only from the truth of His being (Laws of the Fundamentals of Torah, 1:1). Oh, really? Notice that Maimonides doesn't say 'believe.' He says 'know' (Hebrew: leida). What does it mean to know something? And, how many things do we really 'know'? If I only believe in God, am I somehow less good than those who know God? In the Talmud Rabbi Nachman bar Yitzchak informs us that there is only one fundamental principal of Torah and it's taught by the prophet Chabakuk: The righteous will live by their faith (2:4, Makot 24a). This is all very confusing, and this issue is presented in this week's Parsha.
All the trouble begins with Pharaoh. He says: 'Who is the Lord that I should heed His voice to let
So, now we have two problems. Must we actually know about God or is belief enough and what are all the miracles and wonders about? Let's begin with the second issue. The verses which describe the need for the plagues are basically aimed at Pharaoh and
Now the thornier problem. There are verses which seem to demand knowledge of God, for example: Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians (Exodus 6:7). But there are other famous and powerful verses which seem to dictate that the requirement is belief. The most prominent of which is 'And Israel saw the great hand, which the Lord had used upon the Egyptians, and the people revered the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in Moses, His servant (Exodus 14:31).' Maimonides seems clear that we must achieve an actual knowledge of God, and belief is not enough. I quoted from the Mishneh Torah at the beginning of this article and he is just as powerful on the topic in his Thirteen Principles. However this position is harder to defend in the modern world where philosophical proofs for the existence of God are generally frowned upon, even by philosophers of religion. Today most Jewish thinkers talk about belief in God rather than systematic proofs which achieve knowledge.
Ultimately I don't think that it makes much difference. Emotionally I feel connected to the idea from the Talmud when quoting Chabakuk. But I believe that the crucial idea is emphasized in the prayer U'va L'tziyon Goel (And a Redeemer will come to
The authors of this prayer are reminding us before we go out into the world that we will be judged by both God and man by our behavior. We trust in God so that we are honest and upright at all times. The motivation for our connection to God isn't such a big deal. We left