Belief in G-d is basic, and we can all subscribe to it. But
there are different levels of belief. Many people profess a belief in G-d. In
Judaism we strive to make that belief a reality.
The story is told of an atheist falling off a cliff. And by
some miracle, he succeeds in grabbing hold of a branch as he goes down. Now he’s
holding on for dear life, and he hears the branch beginning to crack. There is
nothing between him and certain death if the branch fails.
So he looks up to heaven and says, “Is there anybody up
A voice responds from above, “Yes, I’m here.”
So the atheist says, “Listen, G-d, if You save my life this
time, I promise I’ll believe in You for the rest of my life.”
The voice responds, “Okay, first, let go of the branch.”
The atheist thinks it over for a moment, looks up again, and
says, “Is there anybody else up there?”
A person came to a rebbe for a brocho. The
rebbe told him, “Don’t worry, within a month, you’ll have parnassah,
a chest full of money.”
As soon as he left, he went and bought a big box to throw his
money in. A month later, the guy had a tremendous amount of money, and he filled
the box with it.
So the rebbe’s shammosh went to the rebbe
and said, “I’ve been asking you for parnassah for years, and I haven’t
gotten any. How come the brocho works for this guy, but it doesn’t work
“Did you ever go out and buy a box?” asked the rebbe.
The Sefer Haikarim says that since we live in a
physical world, we are influenced and inspired by physical things. That is what
is real to us. If it is not apprehended by the senses, it is not fully real. He
points out that even though HaShem had told Moshe that the Jewish people
were worshipping the Golden Calf and described in detail what was occurring down
below, Moshe did not break the luchos until after he descended Sinai.
Not that Moshe doubted HaShem, but until he saw it for
himself he was not moved to act.
We all know this. If you see a sign on a bench that says “Wet
Paint,” and the surface of the bench is glistening, the natural first impulse is
to touch the bench to see if it’s really wet. You only really know it when you
see the paint on your fingers. You didn’t think the sign was a hoax, but it’s
not the same as when you touch it.
There are many illustrations of this principle in the Torah.
G-d took Avraham him outside and told him that his children would be as numerous
as the stars. He showed Avraham the stars and asked him, “Can you count them?
That’s how your children are going to be!” It couldn’t have been an indoor
prophecy? Avraham didn’t remember how many stars there were outside? No, it’s
because there’s a tremendous difference between being reminded of their number
and seeing a night sky full of stars on the spot.
We find the same thing when HaShem commanded the
sanctification of the new moon. He had to show Moshe how the moon would appear
in its first phase in order to sanctify the new moon. Why couldn’t HaShem
just describe it to him? Or show him a picture? Because nothing can be clearer
to a human being than the experience of his senses.
Furthermore, not only does sensory impression confirm
abstract knowledge, sometimes it will even supersede it. For example, sunrise
and sunset. We all know that the sun is not rising and the sun is not setting;
rather, the earth is turning. Nevertheless, we relate to sunrise and sunset,
because that is how we experience it. It is meaningful to speak, therefore, of a
beautiful sunset; to speak of a beautiful rotation would be obtuse.
Rabbeinu Yona says that we make Kiddush Levana every
month because of the renewal of the moon. By noticing that the moon disappeared
and then returned, we make ourselves aware of HaShem’s power to renew
things that seemingly passed out of existence. Likewise, the Jewish people:
though the darkness of golus may sometimes seem to envelope them
completely, they too can be renewed and given new existence.
Of course, everybody knows that the moon doesn’t disappear,
except from our view. So who are we fooling? Nevertheless, seeing it return to
the field of visibility makes an impression that is greater than our
intellectual knowledge of what is “really” happening. And more significant, too.