5767 - #30


Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 8:1 states that the Jewish People, in the desert, did not trust Moshe Rabbeinu and believe his prophecies because of the many miracles he performed on their behalf. Rather, they believed him because they experienced Revelation at Sinai and, with their own eyes saw, and their own ears heard, the unique event of God conversing with Moshe. Rambam continues that it was for this reason that the nation believed Moshe without any doubt and why it was not necessary for Moshe to perform any further miracles to establish and maintain his status as the prophet of God. True, in the beginning of his mission, Moshe had to sway the nation with miracles but, even though necessary, such faith or trust, built upon the experiencing of miracles, inherently must include doubt. Only after Sinai, did the nation have no doubt in the truth of Moshe’s prophecy and mission.  

             The story of Korach and his rebellion1 would seem to dispute this assertion. In challenging Moshe’s presentation of the structure of leadership within the nation, it would seem that the people had some doubt in Moshe. Rambam seems to address this problem by stating that the miracles performed in response to Korach’s rebellion were intended solely to defeat the rebellion, not to further secure faith in Moshe’s prophecy. Bamidbar 16:5, however, seems to indicate otherwise; Moshe states that through the events of the next day the nation will know who God has chosen. We may also wonder, in response to Rambam’s assertion, why it would be necessary to defeat the rebellion in such a manner if this was the sole purpose of the earth swallowing Korach’s assembly. Rambam’s words, more importantly, do not seem to address the full extent of the problem with Korach’s rebellion. In keeping with his theory about Revelation, Rambam is attempting to explain that the miracles that occurred in response to Korach had nothing to do with further establishing the acceptance of Moshe’s prophecy. There is, though, a greater problem. Rabbi Yaacov Weinberg,2 questioned, according to Rambam, how the rebellion could even have occurred. If Sinai clearly established the authenticity of Moshe’s prophecy, how could a challenge to Moshe’s status even have arisen?

             In describing how the truth of an assertion is established, Rambam makes a most interesting statement. He does not just state that an event such as Sinai is the best way to establish the absolute truth of a matter. He states that it is the only way. Trust based upon miracles is not only a weaker proof, it is inherently lacking. Rambam states that one who believes because of miracles inherently has doubt. Is this true? Belief based on miracles is open to challenge but does someone who believes because of miracles inherently also maintain some doubt in his/her belief. I would venture to say that many people who believe because of a perception of a miracle also would state that they do not have any doubt. In fact, the miracle is perceived to be the strongest form of proof and is deemed to vanquish any doubt. Rambam, I would venture to say, is not just describing the reality of people in their evaluation of trust, faith and how one knows truth. Rambam is stating how the rational mind, the individual who wishes to truly investigate truth, should operate. Miracles should raise some doubts. If they do not, that reflects a weakness in the individual in his/her pursuit of truth. As such, Rambam is not saying that it was absolutely impossible for someone to have questioned Moshe’s prophecy. He is saying that it was impossible for someone who was rationally exploring truth, who understood the honest pursuit of truth, to have doubted Moshe. Individuals, who have adopted another process by which to define truth, could have made a mistake. This was Korach and his assembly.

             We look upon doubt in such negative terms. Rambam, however, presents the great value that is inherent in proper doubt.2 Doubt is often understood to reflect a negative statement about God. If someone has doubt, this person is often deemed to have a moral weakness. In fact, doubt is inherent to the human condition. It says nothing about the Divine; it simply describes the human condition. Human beings inherently are imperfect and, as such, do not have perfect knowledge or even the ability to gain perfect knowledge. When we doubt, we are inherently recognizing our weaknesses. Is the information that we have gathered correct or did we misread our senses? Is our analysis of this evidence correct or did we make a mistake? Rambam is informing us that the process by which we make a decision based on miracles must be recognized as inherently flawed as the human being is flawed. We should have doubt. We should have doubt in ourselves.

             The information that Sinai provided overcame this doubt. The evidence and the only possible conclusion were clear, but they were only clear to someone who understood the process of knowledge and the correct place of doubt in this process. One with a different process could still reject this truth. Such a person would doubt when there really was no reason to doubt and, significantly, not doubt when there was reason to doubt. It was not simply that Korach’s rebellion questioned Moshe. They also were ready to risk their lives on the belief that they were right and Moshe wrong. Warned by Moshe that they would die in a different manner if they continued, Korach’s assembly continued. If they had doubt in Moshe, should they not have had some doubt, in Korach and in themselves, that maybe Moshe was right. The problem was not doubt. The problem was that they had a different theory on how one knows the truth.4 This was the essence of their rebellion, it attacked the whole structure of Torah and truth. There are still parameters. There are still leaders. A challenge that the entire nation is holy and thus able to make decisions is an inherent challenge to the very concept of parameters and leadership. It ignores the reality of individual distinction and the need to recognize the inherent authority of another. If knowledge is dependent upon thought, the one who has a greater intellectual ability has a greater say in the world of knowledge. If knowledge is based upon some intuition, who says your intuition is better than mine? How does one even evaluate that?

             This is perhaps Rambam’s point. They didn’t question Moshe’s prophecy. They rebelled against it, against the true process by which one knows truth. Moshe has to quash the rebellion, to teach us all that inherent to the process of truth must be doubt, the questioning of self. Only with that recognition will someone be able to discern the truth.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail


1 Bamidbar, Chapter 16.

2 As reported orally. Rabbi Weinberg, of course, was the previous Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Israel, Baltimore.

3 Further on the value of doubt, see Rabbi Norman Lamm, Faith and Doubt.

4 Further on this topic, see my The Slifkin Affair Revisited, Part 4 available on the Nishma website



Nishma, 2007

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