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L’chvod Rav Avi, Rabbi Lopatin, Rabbi Linzer, Rabbi Love, Rav Katz and the rest of the faculty and staff, Obviously, we are grateful that you have created a holy place of learning for both Chai and Tzachi. But do you realize the profound influence you have had and continue to have in our lives? Thank you for helping us to create an open orthodox home where Torah is observed consciously. Thank you for modeling for us how to live the Torah that we learn. Thank you for helping us to raise our children with the knowledge that they could question anything that did not make sense to them, and that that is a proper and healthy attitude to apply to all aspects of Torah living. It brings us tremendous comfort and gives us strength knowing that Yeshivat Chovevei Torah is here to inspire and guide all of us.

With heartfelt thanks,
Estelle and Harvey Posner
Parents of Chai Posner (YCT ’10) and Tzachi Posner (YCT ’17)

What Communities Are Saying About YCT Rabbis

Eytan Yammer has provided remarkable leadership in the synagogue and the community. Rabbi Yammer’s sensitivity and learning have been a great gift for the congregation, which is made up of members with extremely diverse backgrounds and practices. And Rabbi Yammer carries his deep knowledge with humility… He and Marisa are respected and loved in the community.

Daniel J. Siegel

Knesseth Israel Congregation

Birmingham, Alabama

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Parshat Yitro PDF Print E-mail
Written by Rabbi Avi Weiss   
Thursday, 20 January 2011

Jewish History As a Vehicle Toward Belief

January 21-22, 2011/ 17 Shevat 5771

By Rabbi Avi Weiss

Right at the outset of the Aseret Hadibrot, the ten declarations (commonly translated as the Ten Commandments), God declares "I am the Lord your God who took you out of the Land of Egypt." (Exodus 20:2) One can't help but note that this statement is written unlike all the others. Each of the other declarations are written as commandments, i.e. "Honor your father and mother," (Exodus 20:12) or "Thou shalt not steal." (Exodus 20:13) In contrast, the first statement is not written as a commandment.  One wonders, is belief in God a mitzvah?

Rambam argues, indeed, that belief is a commandment. For Rambam, the verb “to be” is often read into the text. Thus, "I am the Lord your God," really means "I am to be the Lord Your God." In other words, we are commanded to believe.

Commentators like Rashi (quoting the Midrash) disagree. After all, belief is a feeling, and feelings are neither right nor wrong, they just are. For Rashi, "I am the Lord your God," is not a commandment, rather it provides a formula through which one can come to believe.

The formula is first mentioned when Moshe (Moses) meets God at the sneh (burning bush). There, God tells Moshe that His name is Ehyeh asher Ehyeh, literally “I will be that which I will be.” (Exodus 3:14)  Through this name, Rashi insists, God is teaching how the Jews can come to believe in Him. Tell them, God says: "I will be with you in this time of distress, even as I will be with you in other times of distress."

In a similar fashion, Rashi explains, "I am the Lord your God who took you out of Egypt," tells us that “I, the God who took you out of the Egyptian exile now continue the redemption process by giving you the Torah.”  Here again, God says, that through this experience, the Jews will come to know Him.

In this sense, belief in God is similar to knowing you are in love. Just as you cannot prove you're in love, it can only be experienced, so can one come to believe in God by experiencing Him.

Perhaps the most powerful experience of God emerges when assessing how against all odds, we as a people have endured. Historian Arnold Toynbee once remarked that a rational assessment of the forces of history would lead to the conclusion that Judaism today should be fossil. We would respond that Jewish history is not logical or rational. Indeed, the scope and unique nature of Jewish history points to the existence of God.

The Egypt experience can serve as a prototype of our entire history. After all, Mitzrayim doesn't only mean Egypt. Coming as it does from the root tzara (suffering), or tzar (distress), it suggests that there would be other Egypts in history (inquisitions, pogroms and more) that we would miraculously survive.

Jewish ritual can be seen as a re-enactment of Jewish history. On Passover for example we do not only recall the Exodus, we simulate and re-enact the event. The truth is that a mitzvah may not be the result of one's belief but rather the means to come to believe. So, too, Jewish history can be a vehicle that inspires belief in God.

Years ago, Menahem Begin, then Prime Minister of Israel, addressed a large assembly of Holocaust survivors. Looking out at the thousands who had emerged from the camps, he emphatically and emotionally declared, "Mir zinnem da-we are here." This is yet another, and arguably one of the greatest manifestations of God, the God of our history, "the Lord who took us out of Egypt."



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