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Logic Versus Faith

Re'eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17 )

by Yehuda Appel

Many people are curious as to how Jewish tradition foresees "the end of days" -- the coming of the Messiah. While there are many descriptions offered in the rabbinic sources, we are nevertheless cautioned against speculating much on this subject. Why? Because Jewish tradition says if we're focused too much on the future, we'll miss out living in the present!

It is worthwhile to note one striking Midrash, which describes the "awesome fear" that will prevail at the end of days. The Midrash says that a competition will be held between Jews and other religions, to determine who is really carrying out the Almighty's will. The Midrash says that initially it will be other religions, not the Jews, who will be answered by God. This shocking response will cause "awesome fear" in the minds of the Israelites and will be for them a time of great trial and tribulation.

Ultimately, Israel will be vindicated, but those early moments will be a time of great terror and self-doubt. The entire scenario, the Midrash explains, is a grand, final test of the Jews' loyalty to God and His Torah.

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A similar idea is found in this week's parsha, Re'eh. The Israelites are warned against falling prey to"miracles" performed by false prophets. Says the Torah (Deut. 13:2-4)

"If there should rise up among you a prophet or dreamer of dreams and offer a sign or a miracle. And the (predicted) sign or miracle should then occur of which he has told you, and he says to you, 'Let us go after other gods whom you do not know and worship them.'

Do not listen to the words of this prophet or dreamer of dreams because it is God who is testing you to know if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul."

The Torah is warning us: Despite the seeming evidence that a magician may offer, if they contradict the Torah, then their ministrations are to be ignored. One who is loyal and whole with God will not be swayed by demonstrations that are contrary to God's commands.

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This brings us to the millennia-old theological debate of whether "faith" or "reason" should be the foundation of a person's belief system. Is it enough to have faith in our forefather's traditions, or do we need concrete, rational evidence to support these claims?

Many Jewish approaches have been offered on this issue. They range from Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi's brilliant philosophical proofs, to Rebbe Nachman of Breslov's inspiring discourses on faith.

In today's generation, the approach of "reason" clearly rules the day. Ours is a world of science and computers, and thus we tend to view life as rationalists.

Is there a rational basis for belief in Judaism? Of course! Whether it is Torah prophecies which have come true (e.g. the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel), or the stunning Bible Codes (presented in Aish HaTorah's Discovery Seminar), or archeological evidence. Belief in Judaism is by no means a "leap of faith!"

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The Torah itself, at the beginning of this week's portion, weighs in with a powerful voice on the issue.

"Behold! I place before you today the blessing and the curse. The blessing that you listen to the mitzvot of the Lord your God which I command you today."

A careful reading of this passage suggests that this "reward" is not some additional gift that will come a person's way through observing the mitzvahs. Rather, proper observance brings its own rewards: a corresponding awareness of the Almighty's nearness and the validity of Torah. The mitzvot themselves have the power to bring one into God's presence, which can be seen as the greatest of blessings. A Shabbat dinner or a trip to Israel can touch a person so deeply that the presence of God becomes clear and obvious.

As Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, a contemporary Chassidic master, said to his students:"Have you not felt, have you not seen, how your soul is certain that it sees God?"


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