Straight Talk Parshat Yitro: Knowledge vs. Faith
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Yitro(Exodus 18-20)

Knowledge vs. Faith

The first of the Ten Commandments is, "I am the Lord your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt..." The Sages ask: What exactly is this commanding us to do? Surely, it is a statement, not a commandment.

As a result, some commentaries answer that there are in fact only nine commandments; but who ever said there were 10? The Hebrew is aseret hadibrot - the ten "statements," not "commandments."

Most commentators, however, do consider this first line to be a commandment. They say that it is an obligation to "know" that God exists.

The Malbim, a 19th century commentator asks a famous question on this. It is absolutely impossible that anyone should command you to know that they exist. Follow this reasoning: If you know that they exist already, then there is no need for a command. And if you do not know that they exist, then who is commanding you?! In other words, why should you take seriously the command of someone you don't think exists? And if you think he does exist, then the command to know that he exists becomes superfluous!

The Malbim answers very simply: Many people have faith that God exists. They feel it, but are unsure exactly why. The first of the Ten Commandments is to know that God exists - not to believe, to have faith, or to sort of "think it to be the case." The Torah says you must examine the evidence and come to a rational and logical conclusion. Now there's a religion with self-confidence. Don't have faith, says the first of the Ten Commandments. Rather, examine the evidence and decide for yourself. We're confident of the conclusion you will come to.

But why all the fuss? Whether a person with faith or one with knowledge, don't both equally accept the existence of God?

The difference is quite significant. Firstly, knowledge, by nature, is more reliable than faith. Faith is an emotion. When stronger emotions come along - such as love or pain - you might just change your mind about what you believe in.

But more importantly, faith and knowledge produce very different relationships. Knowledge means there is a God even when you don't feel like dealing with Him. Faith is much more flexible. It's as strong, or as weak, as you feel the need for it to be. Knowledge is God in control of the human being. Faith is the human being in control of God.

Published: February 7, 2009

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Visitor Comments: 8

(8) Joey, May 7, 2014 7:40 AM

Interesting insights. Thanks and God bless!

(7) David, January 17, 2014 4:40 AM

Knowledge and Torah

Today, Knowledge separates man from Gods creation.
The Torah shows us how to live by faith, so that we are not consumed by wrath.
Knowledge will lead men apart from the path God intended, because science couples wrath with faith.

(6) yisroel, January 17, 2014 3:07 AM

Faith ?? maybe faithfulnes

I like the explanation that emunah {faith} is faith in what you seem to know. I have faith that looking both ways before I cross the street will prolong my life here. Then once you internalize and act on what you know your one of the real faithful

(5) Emil Friedman, January 17, 2014 1:56 AM

This doesn't answer the question

There is not sufficient evidence to support "knowing" that G-d exists or knowing that He doesn't. That's why there are so many books seeking to prove it one way or another. So if I'm honest with myself I can never say I "know" until I reach Shamiyim, by which time the question is moot, or until "I" cease to exist by which time I won't even be able to address the question.

Meanwhile, the best I can do is a decision theory approach and simply behave as if G-d exists and the Torah (or whatever my religion) is true because of the magnitude of the ultimate reward or penalty. (Both Pascal and Rabbi ??? Gottlieb published that approach.)

(4) Anonymous, January 16, 2014 11:02 PM

Faith

The fact that we as a nation are still here, after all we have been through tells me "there is a g-d." We don't know why things happen as they do, because we are way to minute to comprehend; but he has shown and shows Himself every second of everyday. Someday all the world will know it too.

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