Rabbi Benjamin Yudin
Rabbi Benjamin Yudin

Naaseh v'Nishmah: Faith and Intellect

Our nationhood and redemption started with emunah - faith, it progressed with faith and is perpetuated by faith. When Moshe acquiesced and accepted the mantle of leadership to be the spokesman of Hashem to His enslaved nation, the Torah (Shemos 4:31) informs us that the people believed Moshe, that he was the messenger to lead their emancipation. The Medrash (Shemos Rabbah 5:13) comments on this verse that it was not the signs and wonders that Moshe performed that won them over, rather the faith that the one who brought the message of "pakod yifkod - Hashem will redeem you" is the true representative of Hashem.

Regarding the Jews at Yam Suf we are told, "and they had faith in Hashem and in Moshe, His servant" (Shemos 14:31.) Finally, at Sinai "Hashem said to Moshe, Behold! I come to you in the thickness of the cloud, so that the people will hear as I speak to you, and they will believe in you forever"(Shemos 19:9.) Thus, the revelation at Sinai was predicated on faith and maintains that faith.

The Talmud (Shabbos 88B) relates the Rava was questioned, how could the Jewish nation at Sinai not question Hashem as to the content of His Torah prior to accepting it? Unlike all other nations that asked, "What is written in it?", "What are its laws?", "Let us see if we can comply with it?" (Sifrei 343), the Jewish nation responded "Naaseh v'nishmah - we will do and we will obey" (Shemos 24:7.) Rava answered by citing the verse from Proverbs (11:3), "tumas yesharim tancheim - the perfect faith of the upright shall lead them". Rashi understands this to mean we trusted Hashem out of love, and relied on Him that He would not burden us with something we could not do. Kabolas haTorah was based on the pure faith of our ancestors, that not only could we observe and follow His Torah but that this is the best possible life for us.

The Talmud (Nidah 70b) asks what should a person do to become rich? Rebe Yehoshua answered that (1) he should invest time in his business, (2) he should conduct his business affairs with integrity and (3) he should pray to Hashem, the source of all wealth. The above is understandable, as the Kli Yakor (Vayikra 25:36) explains the prohibition of charging interest to a Jew is based upon the reality that for all business transactions one needs Divine assistance. Will they be successful, will they and their merchandise find favor in the eyes of the next one? Willy-nilly, the merchant looks heavenward, prays for success in his endeavors. Not so the one who lends on interest, he has taken care of matters himself. He is ensured of his success and profit by stipulating in advance the interest he will take. Such an individual has removed Hashem from the equation. The Torah therefore prohibits lending with interest, to bolster and maintain the faith of the businessman.

What is fascinating however, is the earlier question posed in the above gemara. What should a person do to become a scholar? Rebe Yehosua answered that he should spend more time studying in the Yeshiva, spend less time in business, and pray to Hashem for wisdom, as He is the source of all wisdom. Regarding wealth it is understandable that one is to pray, as this reinforces the faith and recognition that ultimately it all comes from On High. What role does prayer play with Torah knowledge?

Every morning we are privileged to recite two blessings prior to the recitation of the Shema. The first speaks of Hashem as the Creator, and His daily renewal of nature. In the second blessing we thank Him for the gift of Torah. In fact, if one is late in coming to Synagogue and did not yet recite birkas haTorah, the daily blessings in honor of a Torah, one can satisfy their obligation with this second beracha of Ahava Rabbah (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 46.) Note, in it we not only ask Hashem for Divine assistance "to instill in our hearts the desire to understand and discern, to listen learn and teach, to observe perform and fulfill all the teachings of Your Torah in love". We also ask Hashem in the merit of our ancestors who trusted in You and to whom You taught the laws of life, be gracious also to us and teach us). As the original kabolas haTorah was predicated on emunah, so too our personal and communal kabolas haTorah is only meaningful if it is coupled with faith. Specifically, we have faith that the Torah speaks to our generation and provides meaning and purpose for life as it did for the generation at Sinai and to all subsequent generation. We Pray to Him daily that we remain steadfast in our faith.

Perhaps this is why we most always read Parshas Bamidbar on the Shabbos prior to Shavuos. While there are no specific mitzvos found in this parsha, the setting of the desert, and as our Rabbis (Mechilta) inform us "The Torah was only given to those who ate and were nourished by the mun - the daily ration of manna that descended from heaven". Hashem, who could have provided them with their gift of mun annually, chose to do so daily to bolster their emunah. We, their proud descents, are the beneficiaries of their basic training in emunah, enabling us to take Hashem's Torah and "transform wastelands into Eden" (Yeshaya 51:3.)

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