Rabbi Mayer Twersky
Rabbi Mayer Twersky

Attaining Faith

"And the people feared Hashem, and they believed in Hashem and Moshe his servant"(1)

The Torah clearly and emphatically describes that Benei Yisroel attained emunah in the aftermath of kerias Yam Suf. The Midrash reinforces this point by commenting,

"And why is it necessary to mention kerias Yam Suf in emes v'yatsiv? Because once Hashem split the sea for them, they believed in Him, and in the merit of their belief they merited to say shirah and the shekhinah rested upon them"(2)

This, however, is puzzling. The entire process of redemption from Mitzrayim was an odyssey of emunah. When Moshe Rabbeinu first came to Bnei Yisroel, they responded with faith - "and the people believed"(3). They demonstrated profound emunah in reversing directions and heading back towards the onrushing Egyptian army. They did not question Moshe Rabbeinu, and, without provisions, simply followed him and Aharon into the vast desert wasteland. According to Chazal, the miracle of kerias Yam Suf happened in the merit of these remarkable manifestations of faith. "Hakadosh Baruch Hu said 'by virtue of the faith they have displayed in me, they are worthy that I should split the sea for them'"(4). Clearly Bnei Yisroel possessed and displayed emunah throughout. What dimension or level of emunah was attained only after kerias Yam Suf?

There are two levels of emunah. Fundamental emunah, itself deep and profound, entails belief in Hakadosh Baruch Hu as creator of the world and giver of the Torah. This belief may be fostered by parents and/or teachers, or perhaps may be the result of one's own intellectual quest. Moreover, such emunah must be manifest through kabolas ol malchus Shomayim and ol mitzvos. The Rambam identifies belief in yichud Hashem with the practical commitment of kabolas ol malchus Shamayim (5).

Such emunah, albeit eminently laudable, is lacking. It is an impersonal emunah. The higher level of faith is personal. It involves experiencing Hashem - not only believing in Him, but feeling His presence. At this level, emunah is not merely intellectual, but experiential as well.

This personal, experiential level of faith was attained after kerias Yam Suf. Chazal express this idea inter alia in their comment that, "everyone ascending from the sea pointed with his finger and said 'this is my God and I shall glorify Him"(6). In parshas Shemos, Moshe Rabbeinu was instructed to inform Bnei Yisroel that, "Hashem the God of your ancestors appeared to me, the God of Avaraham, Yitzchok and Ya'akov" (7). After kerias Yam Suf, the Jews pointed and said, "this is my God". The higher level of emunah had been attained.

The pasuk and medrash point to two corrolaries of this singular attainment. Bnei Yisroel were now able to say shirah because while praise may be recited in an indirect, impersonal manner, shirah necessitates immediacy and intimacy. Moreover, having themselves experienced Hakadosh Baruch Hu, Bnei Yisroel now appreciated the uniqueness of Moshe Rabbeinu's ongoing intense and intimate relationship with Hashem. Hence, "they believed in Hashem and Moshe his servant".

In our personal lives we must strive to travel this same trail of faith culminating in experiencing Hashem. To achieve this goal we must be mevakshei Hashem in every aspect of our lives. Inter alia this entails studying Torah and observing mitzvos not only to fulfill Hashem's commandments, but also as instruments of achieving deveikus(8). Moreover, we have to be sensitive to the hashgachah pratis which permeates our lives. Such commitment and sensitivity will d.v. allow us to become ba'alei emunah.

(1) Shemos 14:31

(2) Shemos Raba 22:3

(3) Shemos 4:31. According to one opinion in the Medrash (Shemos Raba 23:1), Bnei Yisroel regressed after their initial demonstration of faith, and at Yam Suf they regained their faith. Even according to this view, however, it's absolutely clear that their regained emunah which encompassed Moshe Rabbeinu as well was qualitatively different.

(4) Shemos Raba 21:8, Mechilta parshas Beshalach 3

(5) Sefer Hamitzvos mitsvas aseh 2

(6) Shemos Raba 23:15

(7) Shemos 3:16

(8) The text of elokai netzor as it appears in our text in maseches Berachos (17a) is u-ve-mitzvosecha tirdof nafshi. The prepositional letter be (or ve) signifies the instrument, not the object of pursuit. Hence the correct understanding is may my soul pursue You, Hakadosh Baruch Hu, through observance of your mitsvos.

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