Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

Balancing Faith and Reason

The other day I was talking to someone about their marriage and they told me that for them it was “love at first sight.” Obviously, they didn’t just trust that instinct and get married the next day; they dated and debated whether or not to trust that first instinct, but in their heart, they just knew it. If you read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink, he talks about this concept of just knowing something, then questioning ourselves and doing all the research necessary, and then circling back to what we already knew.


The first time—that we know of—where this idea is mentioned, is in this week’s Torah portion. We learn about the Jews’ response to G-d when He asked them if they wanted to receive the Torah. The Jews’ response was “Na’ase V’nishma” meaning “we will do, and we will listen.” First, they accepted everything with complete faith. Then they went to learn and understand why. G-d did give them the Commandments, not only commandments that are based on faith alone, but commandments that are called Mishpatim, common-sense laws—ones that we can understand, ones that we can connect with.


You see, G-d wants us to base our relationship with Him on a concept like that of “love at first sight.”  A “faith-based” relationship. Just “trust in G-d” as it says on U.S. currency. However, in order to have a deeper and more meaningful relationship, we must nurture it. We must study it. We should want to delve into it by asking the difficult questions of what, why, and how. What is this G-d? What is it that makes up His world? How do things happen? Why does He want us to do this mitzvah but not perform other acts, etc. The more we understand, the closer we feel, just like in any relationship. Love at first sight is nice, but if you don’t date the person and get to know them, what does the love really mean?


Faith in G-d is only useful if we educate ourselves. However, education does not replace our faith, it strengthens it. The more we learn about G-d, the more we learn that there is more to learn. That is why even in this week’s Torah portion where the primary mitzvot are practical, reason-oriented mitzvot, we still have sprinkled throughout the portion mitzvot that are beyond logic, so that we are reminded that our relationship with G-d always needs faith at its base. 


Just as in any relationship, we try to understand and connect using logic, but beneath it all, we need a strong foundation of love, a love that is based not on logic alone, not on looks, but on a connection of two souls becoming one. When that happens, even when logic dictates otherwise, a couple can survive any storm.


Same with our relationship with G-d. Make it a meaningful one, an educated one. And at the same time always stand ready to say: Na’ase V’nishma, we do and we will listen.


Shabbat Shalom.



What did G-d stop doing?

It is well known that G-d stopped working on the seventh day and rested. That is why we have Shabbat. We, too, rest on this day. However, we should be asking ourselves, what exactly did He stop doing? Did He stop working? Did He stop talking or even thinking about creating? After all, it says in the Torah that G-d said “Let there be light,” “Let this come to be,” and “Let that happen,” and so on and so forth, so G-d didn’t really do any work with his hands, per se. It was more of a thought, a speaking vs. doing. Yet, we are told that we can’t do any labor. 


Why the discrepancy?


It is clear that G-d created the world in six days. How He did it is less important than the fact that the world was created. That is why, in the Ten Commandments—which we read in this week’s Torah portion—G-d says we should rest. However, when it comes to speech, we are not G-d. Yes, He can just speak, and His words turn into action, but what about us? What happens when we speak? What happens to our words? Do our words have any meaning? Are they effective?


If they have no meaning and are not effective at all, then why do people use social media? What do we mean when we say “hate speech” or in the positive, a “motivational speaker?” Clearly then, speech carries a lot of weight but since speech is not action, the Torah—biblically speaking—doesn’t prohibit it. However, our sages encouraged us to be careful on Shabbat and not talk about business matters on Shabbat. Why? To teach us the power of our words.


We might think that our words have no meaning. “I am not making a business deal,” we can tell ourselves, but the sages would say, “Who are you fooling?” If, when you give a compliment to a friend you are making them feel good, so too, when it is the reverse, so why might you think that words have no meaning? Of course, they do!


How about thought? G-d didn’t even think about creation on Shabbat. Can we? Well, you tell me. Is it OK to think ill about someone else? What do those thoughts do to us—let alone to the other person? Even the sages didn’t want to weigh in when it came to this subject. This is something that each individual has to work on in themselves to achieve perfection. It is a personal journey. To become more “G-d-like” is to clear our heads of worldly affairs—or to put it in other words: to stay clear of other’s affairs is a G-d like behavior. True, it’s not an easy task, but a Shabbat-like life to live. 


One lesson we can take from Shabbat observance, every day of the week, is to put all our energy in making our actions count. Our words should be meaningful and our thoughts, positive.

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