Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Walk Article



Rabbi David Walk


            There was a TV show in the late 1950's called Who Do You Trust?  This was the vehicle for launching the careers of Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon.  There was always a little controversy about the name.  There were grammatical purists who insisted that the title should be Whom Do You Trust?  Over time they were dismissed just like the complainers about the old commercials that Winstons taste good like a cigarette should, which, of course, should have read as a cigarette should.  Thank God, now we know that cigarettes shouldn't and don't taste good.   However, the real issue on this game show was:  Do you trust your partner to answer the question or are you more confident doing it yourself?  Especially for married couples that's always going to be a loaded question, but in real life where do we place our trust and faith?  That's complicated.  We should have confidence in ourselves and some trust in those closest to us, but ultimate faith should be in God.  In last week's Haftorah we read:  Blessed is the person who trusts in God (Jeremiah 17:7, and that verse has found its way into our prayers).  What are the boundaries for faith in God and self reliance?  What are the areas in which we believe that we must rely on God?  What do we believe about God?

            I think that the answer to these questions can be found in the redemptive experience of the Jews in the period from the appearance of Moshe as God's agent through the revelation at Mt. Sinai.  During this period, which comprised about nine months, the verses testify to the nation's belief in God three times.  These three episodes represent, I believe, three levels or stages in our belief system, and result in our requirement to believe three basic tenets.

            The first incident takes place immediately upon Moshe's return to Egypt for the first time in many years (according to the Midrash sixty years).  Moshe and Aharon gather the nation's elders together with the rest of the nation, and inform them of their mission to free the Jews from Egyptian slavery.   Then the verse records:  And the people believed, and they heard that the Lord had remembered the children of Israel, and they kneeled and prostrated themselves (Exodus 4:31).

            The second episode is the most famous.  When the Jews go through the miraculously split Yam Suf, the verse states:  And Israel saw the great hand, which the Lord had used upon the Egyptians, and the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in Moshe, His servant (14:31).  This citation, of course, is just before Moshe and the nation broke into the great Song of the Sea. 

            The final occurrence is connected to the events leading up to the revelation at Mt. Sinai, which we annually commemorate on Shavuot.  The verses recount the events leading up to the nation standing at the foot of the mountain.  God assures Moshe that the future of the nation will be glorious; the attachment to God will be eternal.  When Moshe relays all this to the Jews they respond that they will do all that God commands.  At that point the verse declares:  And the Lord said to Moshe, "Behold, I am coming to you in the thickness of the cloud, in order that the people hear when I speak to you, and they will also believe in you forever." And Moshe relayed the words of the people to the Lord (19:9). 

            So there you have the three occasions when the Jews are reported to have had faith in God.  We can, therefore, assume that there are three aspects of belief being discussed.  But what are they?  Initially, they are expressing their belief in the One God as worshipped by their ancestor Avraham.  Sadly, this faith was the most fragile, because they soon recanted, because of the continued and intensified servitude to Egypt.  Next, at the shores of the Sea, they conveyed total faith in God and through Moshe their faith that God acts in history to keep promises and punish the evil.  Finally, they state their faith that God communicates the Law through Moshe.  According to Reb Yosef Albo (1380-1444), these are the three fundamental principles (Ikkarim) which every Jew must believe, namely belief in the existence of the Creator, belief in a God who acts upon the behavior of humankind throughout history, and belief in the revelation. 

            Perhaps there is another way to view this triple belief structure.  Rabbi Joseph D. Soloveitchik discussed a Jewish view of reality based upon the three tenses, past, present, and future.  We express this vision of a belief in a God Who was, Who is and Who will be in the song Adon Olam.  We also connect to this idea in our three festivals.  Pesach, and its seder, is about reliving and recreating our past.  Sukkot, and its seventy sacrifices for the nations of the world, is based upon our firm faith in a future in which all peoples will embrace our ethical monotheism (read the Haftorah for the first day of Sukkot, Zecharia 14:1-21).

            That leaves Shavuot and its relationship to the revelation.  Unlike the exodus and the future redemption, revelation is not a discrete event.  Torah is revealed over time.  On Shavuot, we received the Ten Commandments.  Moshe received the basics of the system during his forty days on Mount Sinai, and then conveyed it to the rest of the nation over the forty years in the desert.  It took another eight hundred years for the rest of the Written Torah to unfold.  The Oral Torah is still being developed. 

            So, Pesach is about our relationship with the past, Sukkot is about our expectations for the future, and Shavuot is about our coping and interacting with the ever evolving present.  On Pesach we say that those events happened to us; on Shavuot we declare that the revelation is happening to us.  Every Shavuot we must recharge and re-energize our enthusiasm for this ongoing effort, because the Torah is about how to deal with the vicissitudes of life.  And that's something to put your Trust in.              

You can subscribe to Rabbi Walk's weekly articles at WalkThroughTheParsha-subscribe@egroups.com