Larchmont Temple Chevra Torah

Questioning faith in the parsha



Larchmont Temple—Har Chayim

The F*-WORD…[F _ _ _ _]…Questions, Conflicts & Connection of FAITH



B’shalach—Exodus 14:19-15:1



WHAT is the function & foundation of Israel’s faith?

HOW does ISRAEL manifest its faith…?  HOW do WE?




v.21   Then Moses held out his hand over the sea and the Lord drove back the sea with a strong east wind all night long, turning the sea into dry ground

RASHI…This is the wind with which the Holy One punishes the wicked, as it is said: “Like the east wind

I will scatter them before the enemy.” [Jer 18:17]

RAMBAN…The intention of the Blessed One was to make it look as if the east wind were drying out the sea.  Pharaoh’s horsemen looked and thought it might be the wind—not God—splitting the sea…Yet how could a wind suddenly split the sea into a series of dry channels just right for Israel to pass?  But the Egyptians didn’t think of that.

MECHILTA…  “Moses stretched forth his hand…”  Immediately the sea saw and began to withstand him.  Moses

ordered it in the Name of the Holy One, but the sea would not submit.  Moses then showed it the staff, on which is God’s Name, but still it refused to yield….Not until the Holy One in God’s Glory manifested over the sea did the sea divide, as it says: “The sea saw [it/Him] and it fled.” [Ps 114:3]

v.26-27      Then the Lord said to Moses: Held out your arm over the sea that the waters may come back upon the Egyptians…

And at daybreak, the sea returned to its normal state…

MECHILTA… Let the wheel [of fortune] turn against them and bring back upon them their own violence.  For with the same device that they planned to destroy Israel shall I punish them.  They planned to throw the firstborn into the waters, so shall they die by water, as it says: “He digs a pit, digs it deep, only to fall into his own trap.” [Psalms 7:16]

MUNK… The Israelites witnessed the act of Moses stretching forth his hand—that is the hand of justice, and they eventually realized that God was prepared to overturn the order of Creation to ensure its triumph.  At the same time they became aware of their special mission to establish justice on earth…

v.28-29     The waters turned back and covered the chariots and the horsemen…not one of them remained, but the Children of Israel marched through the sea on dry ground

S’FORNO…The vavU-Vnai Yisrael, is a reciprocal vav, as if to imply: At the same moment that the Egyptians were drowning, the Children of Israel were walking through water on dry ground.

v.30               Thus the Lord delivered Israel that day from the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the shore of the sea

RASHI…For the sea dumped them back on the shore so that Israel would not think, ‘Those Egyptians got out—just as we did—and are still chasing us!’

IBN EZRA…Up until that day, they were still afraid of Pharaoh, but when Israel saw the great blow inflicted on the Egyptians, they feared God, just as did King David when God struck down Uzzah when he touched the Holy Ark [II Sam 6:1ff]


v.31               And when Israel saw the wondrous power which the Lord had wielded against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord.

They had faith in the Lord, and in His servant Moses.

RASHI…Israel saw “HaYad H’g’dolah—the mighty hand”—that is, they saw the great might exercised by the Hand of God.

ABARBANEL…They saw it only as one “sees” a foot by its imprint in the snow or the mud. Such is the seeing of believing.

                  MECHILTA …If you say they believed in Moses, is it not implied by the principle of “kal va-Chomer,” that they believed in God?  Thus this is to teach you that having faith in the shepherd of Israel is the same as having faith in

“He who spoke and the world came into being.”  In like manner you must interpret, “And the people spoke out against God, and against Moses.” [Num 21:5]  If you say they spoke against God, is it not implied that they likewise spoke against Moses? 

                        SARNA“they had faith”…Emunah—Faith in the Hebrew Bible is not belief in a doctrine or subscription to a creed.  Rather it refers to trust and loyalty that find expression in obedience and commitment.

IBN EZRA… “they had faith”…That is, they finally believed that He was real.

KaK’TAV v’HaKABALAH…The type of faith which is written, using the preposition B’, is the confidence that the One in whom one puts this faith can do whatever He sets his mind to.  When the same term appears next to the preposition L’, it only conveys that pertaining to the matter under discussion…

ALTER“they trusted in the Lord and in Moses, His servant”… The whole story had begun with Moses’ understandable doubt as to whether the people would believe him.  Now all doubt is banished—for the moment—in the great triumph of the Sea of Reeds.

15:1  Then Moses and the Children of Israel sang this song to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously…

RASHI… “Then”—when Moses saw the miracle—the feeling welled up in his heart that he should sing…

RALBAG… It should be written “I will sing of the Lord,” because we cannot speak of God’s essence, as the song starts “I will glorify Him,” as if the poet is apologizing in advance for human imagery he’s about to ascribe to God.


15:1  Then Moses and the Children of Israel sang this song to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously…

R’ Eli MUNK…

“and they had faith in the Lord” What, then, was the great quality of their faith that prompted the Torah to make special mention of it by saying: “He-Eminu B’Adonai…”   Who, under similar circumstances, would not have had the same reaction?  Perhaps this very question inspired the Sages to note that in the next verse, introducing the Song, the verb “YaShir” is future tense. “They will sing,” comment the Sages, even in the World to Come, demonstrating that at the Sea the Israelites came to have faith, not only in the power of God that they saw, but even in His power yet to come—that is, Resurrection of the Dead. [Sanhedrin 91b] Their faith was so profound at the time of their deliverance from Egypt that they came to believe in the most miraculous act of all.  Indeed, their own survival at the shores of the Sea was seen as just that—a resurrection from death and slavery to a life of nationhood and freedom.




Prof Samuel Hugo BERGMAN…

[Prof of Philosophy, Dean of Faculty of Humanities,, Hebrew University, Jerusalem; 1955]

Martin BUBER has described the attitude of modern man towards belief as the “Eclipse of God.”  Modern man finds it difficult even to understand what faith means, let alone to acquire it.  The chief obstacle is doubtless that the great experience of faith can only come when man has learned to listen.  Not without deep reason does the watchword of Judaism begin “Shema Yisrael—Hear, O Israel”…Modern man has forgotten how to hear.  He is forever intricated either in his so called work or in the so called “recreation” he derives from amusement and pleasure.  He lacks the peace in which alone the still, small voice of faith can speak.  Faith means that in some way the Divine Power takes the place of the Ego and directs man’s actions.  This requires a receptive silence of the mind…extremely difficult, especially for Western man…

Apart from this obstacle which we may call “existential,” there is another of an intellectual nature, popularly known as the problem of faith & reason…Are the truths of faith in principle inaccessible to reason, or will reason at one time be able to understand and prove them?  Do the truths of faith and reason contradict one another?  Are there multiple truths?

Yet if we are to understand the true nature of faith, at least Biblical faith, we must grasp the fundamental fact that this whole interpretation of faith is in principle mistaken.  Faith is not a special source of truths, superadded to reason.  The word for faith in the Bible—emunah—designates an attitude of trust prevailing between man and God.  To have emunah is not to believe this or that to be true; it is to entrust oneself, and to feel safe in that trust. 

As BUBER writes: “Biblical man is never in doubt as to the existence of God.  In confessing his faith, his emunah, he merely confesses his trust that the living God is near, and like Abraham, he entrusts himself to Him.”  Such immediate certainty is not limited to the realm of religion.  Each of us, in everyday life, is immediately certain of the existence of his fellow man…I do not exist alone…Whenever I clasp the hand of a friend and say “thou” to him, I step outside objective philosophic argumenation and into the realm of immediate encounter, immediate trust, immediate faith…Faith is an immediate relation, analogous to that between an I and a Thou.  The believer encounters God.  He knows His hand to be stretched forth to him.  He speaks to and is addressed by Him…He needs no proof of this supreme certainty present in his soul…

We now come to a problem whose significance has been exaggerated: miracles….Belief leans on miracles; science cannot admit them.  What can be said for them?  First, that the believer is in no need of miracles, even as he needs no proof for his belief.  Not the believer, but the unbeliever demands miracles.  The believer knows that everything is a miracle…In the prayer-book we find: “You perform miracles for us every day.”  The order in the world; the rule of law, life itself is the greatest miracle.  For the believer, everything is a miracle; for the doubter, nothing…

As early a thinker as MAIMONIDES characterized correctly our religious experience: At times the truth shines so brilliantly that we perceive it clear as day…And other times we are like those who, though beholding frequent flashes of lightning, still find themselves in the thick darkness of night…” In other words, the life of faith is intermittent.  It consists of more or less numerous intense experiences, and the gaps between them can be bridged…by the role played through The Book.  While it cannot of itself be the Source of faith, the Bible reports and testifies to the faith experience of others…We may not fully understand or relate to the Bible unless we have had some religious encounter—no matter how confused or weak.  Then its message can help in strengthening and clarifying those beginnings, which come from our own hearts.  Thus the objective possession of all mankind—entrusted to Israel, may assist and enhance, though not create, the subjective and personal faith that derives from within…

                                                                              [Aspects of Progressive Jewish Thought, “Faith & Reason, Bergman, pgs 142-148]






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