Finding Faith

Friday, 19 May, 2023 - 12:27 pm

The Jews are gathered around Mount Sinai, ready to hear G-d issue the Ten Commandments. G-d begins: “I am the Lord, your G-d, who took you out of Egypt…”

While this appears to be an introductory sentence, Maimonides, one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars of the Middle Ages, sees it as an actual directive: The mitzvah to believe in G-d.

This raises a few questions:

Why would he see it as a commandment? And, once he counts it as a commandment, what does that precisely mean? We can be commanded to behave in a certain way, or perform a certain action, but we can’t realistically be commanded to believe something. Faith is a deep psycho-spiritual dynamic. If someone doesn’t feel it, what will the command accomplish? Can an external command, even a Divine one, change someone’s inner emotional posture?

The idea of G-d commanding belief in Himself seems circular. If someone believes in the idea of Divine Directives, then the objective of believing in ‘G-d the Commander’ has been accomplished before the command is issued. And without that fundamental faith, what value will the person see in a commandment?

Let’s explain this by taking a quick detour to a different Mitzvah: The mitzvah to love G-d. How can G-d command an emotion?

Maimonides explains that in commanding us to love Him, G-d is actually directing us to engage in guided contemplation if ideas that would bring us to love. The Mitzvah is to deeply consider concepts that will conceivably trigger internal feelings of connection with G-d. For example, if I - quietly and profoundly - contemplate the majesty of nature, the gift of life, and the blessings I personally experience, I will probably feel a palpable gratitude to G-d. Because our emotions often follow our thoughts. 

The Mitzvah isn’t simply about loving, believing, or having faith in G-d, as much as it is about thinking the kinds of thoughts that bring us to that place. To focus and put one’s mind in the right place.

G-d opens the Ten Commandments, His Divine address at Mount Sinai, with guidance for the ages: It is your responsibility, G-d told us, to explore, study, and soak in the wisdom of your ancestors. Being a Jew means being faithful to the goal of experiencing faith, even if you’re not there yet (and even if you are).

Apply yourself to the exercise, G-d tells us, and see where it takes you.

Next Friday is the Holiday of Shavuos, and we’ll be reading the Ten Commandments at Chabad.

Join us and recommit yourself to finding [deeper] faith.

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