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Fostering Belief in Hashem - Parashat Mishpatim 5780, February 21, 2020

The set of parshiyot that we are currently in the middle of present the development of b’nei yisrael as a nation. Beginning with their experience as bystanders to the plagues and through the salvation at the Red Sea and the revelation at Har Sinai, b’nei yisrael were exposed to a clear perception of the existence of Hashem and of His relationship with the Jewish People. However, we will soon be exposed to a crisis in the relationship between bnei yisrael and Hashem in the experience at the Golden Calf.

One of my teachers, Rav Yitzchak Mirsky, he should live and be well, asks: How could 
bnei yisrael see all of the miracles of Hashem with their own eyes and not believe in Hashem?

In truth, we do see another case in Tanach of people seeing Hashem’s miracles and not believing in Hashem.

In the time of Eliyahu haNavi, the Jewish people were split into two political entities, two kingdoms – the kingdom of Judah which was comprised of the tribes of Yehudah and Binyamin and the kingdom of Israel which was comprised of the other 10 tribes. The worship of the idol 
ba’al was prevalent in this time and was promoted by the monarchy of the kingdom of the 10 tribes.

Eliyahu proposed a test between the worshippers of 
ba’al and himself – a worshipper of Hashem at Har Carmel - Mount Carmel. The Jewish people – who were noticeably uncommitted one way or the other – were onlookers to this test.

The test that Eliyahu set up was for each side to offer a sacrifice and to see whether or not it was accepted by their respective G-d. First the priests of ba’al offered a sacrifice. Nothing happened. Eliyahu jeered them to try harder. Nothing happened. Eliyahu continued to jeer them. Nothing happened. Then it was Eliyahu’s turn to offer a sacrifice to Hashem. Eliyahu said, “Answer us (
anenu), Hashem, answer us.”

The Talmud asks why Eliyahu repeated his plea for Hashem to answer twice. The Talmud explains that Eliyahu was praying for two things – one was for fire to descend from heaven and to consume the sacrifice – showing that it had been accepted. The Talmud says that Eliyahu’s second “answer us” was a plea that the onlookers should not say that the acceptance of the sacrifice was an act of magic.

In other words, the same word 
anenu – answer us – that Eliyahu used to pray for the miracle itself is the identical word that Eliyahu used to pray that the people should recognize the miracle. From this story we see that it is possible to witness a miracle and not be led to believing in Hashem.

How strong was the belief of the generation that saw the miracles in Egypt, at the Sea and at Har Sinai?

At the moment of 
keriat Yam Suf – the splitting of the Red Sea – bnei yisrael were ma’aminim, believers. However, at the sin of the golden calf and during the sin of the spies it appears that at those moments bnei yisrael were aino ma’aminim – non-believers. Clearly, emunah – belief in Hashem can be transient.

How do we build and sustain 

This week’s parasha, Mishpatim, focuses mainly on civil law – for example, damages, judicial process and fines. Contained within the presentation of these laws are two mitzvot that are fundamental to building and sustaining 
emunah – the mitzvot of honoring one’s parents and keeping Shabbat. In fact, these two mitzvot are restatements of two of the Ten Commandments presented in last week’s parasha.

parashat Beshalach, Moshe Rabbenu led b'nei yisrael from the Red Sea and they traveled three days in the desert without finding water. They came to a place named Marah where the water was undrinkable. The people complained to Moshe and Moshe cried out to Hashem. Hashem miraculously made the water sweet by putting a tree branch into it. The Torah says that there Hashem gave the people a chok u’mishpat – a law and a judgment.

One opinion in the Midrash – the opinion of Rabbi Yehoshua – maintains that Hashem gave the people two 
mitzvot at Marah – Shabbat and honoring one’s parents.

Why these two mitzvot?

Emunah – belief in Hashem – begins with knowing that G-d exists and that He manages the world’s affairs.

There is one idea that significantly undermines belief in Hashem – the idea that I am the sole cause of my own existence. This self-centeredness is part of the human condition. Belief in a Creator Who maintains a relationship with world carries responsibilities. Our egotism tends to push us to throw off that yoke.

Kibud av v’em – honoring one’s parents – reminds us that we are not the cause of our own existence. We honor them to testify that there were three partners in our creation – our mother, father and Hashem. When we honor our parents, take care of their needs, respect their honored places, we reinforce the notion that we are not the cause of our own respective existences and that Hashem with assistance from our parents are the most proximal cause.

Shabbat is a reminder that Hashem created the world and maintains a providential role in its affairs. We testify to this idea verbally by making Kiddush and saying 
tefila. We testify to this idea in action by refraining from creative labor and spending time individually and with our families learning Torah. Shabbat packs a particularly powerful punch because it occurs weekly. Before we have the opportunity to delude ourselves into believing that the world’s affairs are completely left to chance, Shabbat returns and we renew our belief in Hashem and His omnipotence.

By committing ourselves to these two 
mitzvot – honoring our Parents and Shabbat, specifically – and all of the mitzvot in general, we regularly review the truth of G-d’s existence intellectually and impact our whole personality with this truth.


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