SPARK OF THE WEEK

5754 - #17

An investigation of the famous machloket Rishonim regarding the counting of emunah b'Hashem, "faith" in G-d, as one of the 613 mitzvot actually initiates an important study of this fundamental concept. Rambam, Sefer Hamitzvot, Aseh 1 (pursuant to the translation of Rabbi Moshe Ibn Tibbon) declares "Mitzvah rishon hu ha'tzivui asher tzivanu b'ha'amunat ha'elokut", the first command is emunah. Rabbi Chasdai Crescas, Or Hashem, chapter 1 asks the penetrating question that focuses the challenge on this inclusion: How can there be a mitzvah to believe in the Mitzaveh? How can there be a command to believe in the Commander; the very observance of the command already demonstrates the acceptance of the existence of the Commander? Underlying the debate lies two conceptual arguments. One concerns the nature and essential definition of a mitzvah. The second is the definition of emunah.

We generally translate the word emunah as faith - the acceptance of a reality based on belief. Whether emunah, in fact, is close to the concept represented by the English word "faith" or is closer to the word "knowledge" or represents some other status of understanding is actually a matter for a further investigation but the word would seem to indicate one's perception of reality. Ani ma'amin; I accept this as true. I have emunah in G-d . I accept as true the existence of Hashem.

Ibn Ezra, Shemot 14:31 clearly uses this word in this manner. V'yaminu b'Hashem - that He is true. The question arises, though, what does the latter part of the verse indicate: u'Moshe avdo, and Moshe His servant? This cannot simply mean that Bnei Yisrael believed in Moshe's existence. Ibn Ezra, in maintaining the view that emunah means acceptance as truth, understands the latter part of the phrase as meaning that Bnei Yisrael accepted the truth that Moshe was the servant of G-d. Up until this point there was still some doubt as to whether the actions, or some actions, of Moshe were undertaken by Moshe or whether he acted fully as a servant of G-d, i.e. totally under the direction of Hashem. At Yam Suf, Israel finally understood that Moshe was the eved Hashem and acted solely under His guidance. This comprehension of the phrase is shared by Malbim and Me'am Loez who refers to the acceptance of Moshe as a prophet. Rashbam states that they finally believed that they would not die of hunger in the desert. To these commentators, the word emunah means to accept as true; the difficulty in the verse is explained by identifying the object of knowledge. This definition of the word would also seem to be shared by Rabbi Chasdai Crescas thus leading to his famous question. Other commentators, though, recognize in this word more than passive perception but rather an active response to truth as well.

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, translates emunah as trust. The Jewish people trusted in Hashem and Moshe, His servant. Maharam Shick, Chiddushim Al HaTorah, B'Shalach ties emunah to the willingness to be moser nefesh, defining it as the commitment to follow G-d's Will even if it contravenes one's personal analysis of a situation. This understanding of the term emunah finds support from the use of that term in the narrative of akedat Yitzchak (Bereishit, chapter 22). To these two commentators emunah is more than simply a passive verb reflecting one's view of reality but is an active verb that calls for a response to reality. Hashem exists. Acceptance of that alone is not emunah. It is the response - trust or willingness to be moser nefesh - that involves this verb.

It is with similar perceptions of emunah, as an active verb describing a fundamental response to reality, that the commentators to Sefer HaMitzvot explain Rambam. In his comments on Rambam's count, Ramban, Sefer HaMitzvot, Lo Ta'aseh 1 agrees with the inclusion of emunah in the minyan hamitzvot, but throughout his discussion, Ramban associates emunah with kabbalat hamalchut.Emunah involves the response from the human being to accept G-d's Rule. In fact, Ramban's understanding for the non-inclusion of emunah in the count of Behag, as explained in Aseh 1, differs from the view of Rabbi Chasdai Crescas. The question was whether acceptance of Heavenly Rule which represents the very basis for commands can be counted as one of the commands. Even to Behag, though, emunah reflects a response by the human being, not simply a verb of perception. The differing opinions are, therefore, before us: is emunah a verb relating to perception of truth or response to truth?

A place of reconciliation between these two views may be found in Kinat Sefarim, Sefer HaMitzvot, Aseh 1. The command is to fully establish belief within our hearts and to teach this truth to our children. There are two levels of truth. One arises from the initial perception of reality. The other arises from the investigation of this reality to truly understand this truth. We are commanded to further our understanding of this truth, to continue in the realm of emunah. Or HaChaim, Shemot 14:31, in a similar vein, would seem to support a view of emunah as actually involving the active pursuit of developed truth rather than a passive acceptance of first truth. (For a further investigation of this idea, especially as it regards the distinction between emunah and da'at, knowledge, see Rabbi Chaim Heller's Edition of the Sefer HaMitzvot, Aseh 1 and, Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 1:1 with the commentators thereon.)

The above is but an opening venture into this all important realm. It may be that emunah ultimately reflects some unity of all these views; this is for further study. The simplicity of faith is actually most complex.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht


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2002 NISHMA