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The commandment to believe in G-d

The Color of HeavenArtscroll
Topic: Belief, G-D

Jonathan from Northwestern asks,

Dear Rabbi,

In the Tanach are there any citations that command one to believe in G-d? I have found citations (obvious ones) that state that there is one G-d, and that one should not believe in other gods.


Dear Jonathan,

Maimonides in his Book of the Mitzvot writes:

"The first Mitzvah is His command to us to believe in the Divinity. That is, that there is a transcendent essence which is the cause of everything that exists. "I am the L-rd your G-d (Shemot 20:2)" is a statement of this command...".

There are some early commentaries who do not count the Mitzvah of belief in G-d as one of the 613 commandments. Nachmanides in his glosses on Maimonides' Book of the Mitzvot explains this opinion as follows:

"It would appear that the The Ba'al HaHalachot includes only those decrees that He [G-d] commanded us to do or not to do; but faith in His being that He made known to us through signs and wonders and with revelation of His divine presence before our eyes, is a foundation, and the root from which all of the commandments came into being, and is therefore not counted in the the number of Mitzvot...' Once you have accepted my kingship, accept my decrees'."

The disagreement is therefore whether "I am the L-rd your G-d" is to be included in the counting of the 613 commandments, or whether it is the principle upon which all of the 613 are founded. Everyone agrees, however, that we are commanded by G-d to believe.

One might wonder: "What is the point of such a commandment? Either you believe or you don't. If you do believe, then everything else will follow; but if you don't, who is commanding you to believe?" Furthermore, how can G-d command the average person to believe something that a genius the likes of Aristotle chose not to believe?

In his response to these questions, Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman points to an intriguing expression in the Torah:

"Do not follow the desires of your heart (Bamidbar 15:39)".

Our sages comment that this verse warns us not to stray from our belief in G-d. Reb Elchonon asks: Why the heart? Why not the mind? Why don't our Sages tell us not to make the intellectual mistake of heresy. What does the heart have to do with not believing?

Reb Elchonon answers that belief in G-d is Mankind's "natural condition." In lieu of external influences, every person would cling to his faith, and heresy would not exist. However, there are countless distractions and provocative challenges to our moral integrity. These opportunities for forbidden pleasures act as a bribe to our intellect. Suddenly our judgement becomes blurred, and we find ourselves looking to justify the illicit behavior. Not far down that path is the porthole to disbelief. The Torah's command not to follow the desires of our heart is a warning to not take thebribe offered by temptation, because its end is in apostasy.

Conversely, when the Torah commands us to believe in G-d, it is commanding us to nurture our natural sense of the Divine -- to bolster the foundation of our relationship with G-d.

Sources:

  • Maimonides, The Book of Mitzvot, Mitzvah aleph.
  • Nachmanides, Glosses on the Book of Mitzvot, ibid.
  • Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman - Kovetz Ma'amarim, pp. 11-14.

 
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