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Leap of Faith?

Leap of Faith?

Why did the Jews at Sinai accept the Torah before understanding everything in it?

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At Mount Sinai, the Jewish people accepted the Torah with the words, na’aseh v’nishma – we will do, then we will understand (Exodus 24:7). Their commitment to keeping God’s Torah was not in any way contingent upon their understanding why they should do so. They were ready to do whatever God would command, irrespective of whether or not it made sense to them.

At first glance, this seems to fly in the face of all we know about Judaism. It is not a religion of blind faith. We define reality by using our mind. Our heart might tell us what “feels good,” but it doesn't tell us what is the truth. Our emotions often blind us from seeing reality. So how could the Jewish people, at this seminal moment of history, seemingly subjugate themselves to mindless faith? It goes against so much of what Judaism holds dear.

Most of us do not understand how a nuclear bomb works. It makes no sense. You take a tiny particle, invisible even to some of the most powerful microscopes, and you split it in half. And by doing so, you release enough energy to destroy a city.

An apple is made of billions of these particles. Cut one open and surely you will blast our whole solar system out of the Milky Way.

Without an understanding of the fundamentals of particle physics, it doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense.

And yet, if you were told they were dropping a nuclear missile five miles from here, you would run for your life. You wouldn’t worry about how it could possibly be. You’d just run.

We know that somehow, the atom bomb is based on sound principles. Bohr, Planck, Einstein and Oppenheimer understood the physical world in a much deeper way than you and me. We are willing to accept that somehow it works, even though we have no concept of how, because some very smart human beings have told us it is so. And they have proven it to the satisfaction of the entire world.

A metaphysical law like kashrut works the same way. If Einstein and Bohr and Planck had told you that pork particles were so dangerous that they would eventually cause cancer in anyone who ingested them, we would all keep very far away, even if we didn't understand the mechanics behind it.

If God told you that pork is spiritual poison, would you eat it?

So what about God? Let’s say God tells you that pork is spiritual poison. Kryptonite. You will see nothing, feel nothing – but it will slowly eat away at your soul. Would you eat the pork? You might want to understand the mechanics of why. But whatever the case, you wouldn’t eat it.

The Jewish people knew that the Torah was coming straight from the Creator of the Universe. When you have such clarity, it doesn’t require a leap of faith to say, “We will do, and then we will understand.” It merely requires sanity. Who would say anything different?

The Jews who stood at Sinai knew without a shadow of a doubt that there was a God; they experienced national revelation and heard God speak to them directly. They reasoned, quite logically, that if God is telling us an atom bomb is going to explode, we don’t need to understand how it works. We’ll run first and ask questions later.

All this is predicated on knowing there is a God who gave the Torah. For us today, we are bidden with the task of examining the question of God’s existence and the Divine origin of the Torah. Realizing the deep significance of the question, we delve into it with great openness and honesty.

And if we are convinced that the evidence – and there is plenty of it for those who wish to look – points to an infinite Creator, then Shavuot is the time for us to declare, na’aseh v’nishma. If God says that Shabbat guarantees a spiritual infusion into every week, then let’s embrace it. Even if we don’t yet understand how it works. And in the meantime, let's strive to learn and understand whatever we can.

Published: May 13, 2010


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Visitor Comments: 6

(5) Anonymous, March 29, 2011 4:38 AM

thank you

there are some things that do not need to be pictured conceptually or rationalized. Its just obvious. This article made me laugh because the concept you expounded upon never hit me with any force. Now it did G-D gave us the Torah. He is all knowing and all powerful. Who are we to not listen to him? Bohr, einstein, and others created theories. But who created them and who made it that E=mc2. Scientists expounded it but all knowing Hakodosh Boruch Hu made everything there is to be possible

(4) Avigayil S, May 27, 2010 12:58 PM

Well Written

this point was explained very well! thank you

(3) Kathy, May 18, 2010 7:56 PM

They had sight

After all that Jewish people SAW God do in Egypt and there in the wilderness, no wonder they would Torah as true. The thing that is mind boggling, is that after all they SAW, they didn't TRUST enough to follow through and OBEY. How long did it take before the golden calf was made and the Law disregarded, as well as the AUTHOR of Law?

Anonymous, March 29, 2011 6:30 PM

About the golden calf

Kathy, I tottaly agree - the golden calf incident dose seem strange looking at it in a less deep way how could they (some of the jews) have betrayd g-d right after experiancing his preasence ? a few weeks ago (before attending a class specifically on this subject ) this would arise a question in me too If you follow closly in the bible- you will find that the golden calf: was not made into one porpusly or as a leader instead of g-d but rather a leader in moshes place- and if you may ask why g-d let it work to begin with - well it was a challenge- and like any other challenge g-d sends one, it must be in perportion with ones spirituall level- and as we know- the spirituall level was extreamly hige and therfore it was quite a tricky challenge. i hope this was helpfull even though its only very little information- but you could allways turn to another sorce to deepen your knowlege on the subject.

(2) Judith, May 16, 2010 11:50 PM

Chronology

The order seems to be wrong. First the Jews said "naaseh v'nishma" and only after that did they experience the Revelation at Sinai.

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