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Shabbat Parashat Re'eh| 5766
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - Inter-Generational Tradition on the Principles of Faith - From Perakim B’Machshsevet Yisrael, pp. 37-38
The feeling of belief in the principles of our faith must be worked on carefully in its early stages so that it will be well rooted in the cognitive part of a person’s mind. In addition, this feeling must be checked so that it should not be a case of a “fool will believe anything.” It is important that there be a guarantee that the natural inclination toward belief is substantiated in a serious manner. In order to do so, the ongoing tradition of generation to generation of believing Jews is of great use. This tradition is also related to trust (which shares a Hebrew root and much content with belief). Specifically, it is built on the trust in one’s parents and the forefathers of the nation as a whole.
We are not the first ones to believe in Hashem and His Torah. We have many generations of predecessors in this regard. Each member in the chain of believers saw himself as a continuation, who, through his example, illustrated that that which was passed on to him was something that his forebears believed in. Each link in the chain testifies, in effect, that it has confidence in the words of the previous one, knowing that they passed on only that which they knew is true. Why should one question the veracity of such a tradition? One can also extend the concept of forefathers to the spiritual realm to refer to the great men of each generation, who are included in the pasuk, “Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders and they will say to you” (Devarim 32:7). Is it possible that such great men would believe one thing and say another?
The chain of tradition takes us back to the early days of the nation’s history, to the exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. The vivid traditions make it as if we saw the events with our own eyes. Which of these miraculous events is the main one in this regard? The “Kuzari” says that it was the miracles at the exodus.
The non-believers say that the accounts of miracles of one religion undermine those of other religions. They explain away the accounts either as planned deception or as fertile imagination of those predisposed to belief in miracles. However, the Kuzari points out that in this regard, Judaism is different from every other religion. We do not believe because of the beliefs of a handful of people led blindly, but because of the testimony of great masses. The very beginning of the nation as a nation was focused around a miracle of unprecedented proportions that all saw and could not be explained in any other way than Divine Omnipotence and Providence. The miracles enabled a pack of slaves to be freed from the grips of a great world power. Such historic events could not be explained as a passing curiosity. This is a historical fact. Therefore, all of the mitzvot that revolve around the exodus should be whole-heartedly accepted.
The Rambam, on the other hand, stresses the centrality of the events at Mt. Sinai as the pillar around which belief revolves. This is in accordance with his view that one should not depend on the miraculous as the determining factor of one’s religious frame of mind. That which was special about Mt. Sinai was that it turned everyone into a participant in the experience of revelation, in which case one does not need to rely on another. Rather everyone is a witness himself, along with the myriads of other witnesses. This experience is transferred as a birthright and is reinvigorated by an education that relives the palpable greatness revealed at that time. This must have an influence on a person and whoever remains unmoved must not be the offspring of the people who were there.
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