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Faith Starts At The Point From Which The Intellect Cannot Comprehend Things On Its Ownויאמר ה' אל אברם לך לך.... (בראשית יב:א)
And God said to Avrom, "Go....." (Bereishis 12:1)
Thoughts from the Brisker Rav, cited in the Hagadah MiBeis HaLevi, and in the Hagadah Yalkut Lekach Tov.
"Originally our Forefathers were idolaters... and I took your forefather, Avraham, from across the river..." (Hagadah). Rebbi Yitzchak said, 'This is similar to someone traveling on a path. Suddenly he sees a brightly glowing palace, and asks himself, "Is it possible that this palace has no master!?" The master of the palace then peers out at him and says, "I am the master of this palace!" So too, Avraham Avinu said, "Is it possible to say that this world has no master running it!?" Therefore, the Almighty peered out and said, "I am the Master of the World!"' (Bereishis Raba 39:1)
The implication of this Midrash is that after Avraham attained his emunah, he then gained a greater level of belief as a result of the Almighty's appearance to him. However, upon examining this idea we are confronted with an obvious question. We know that a person cannot fathom concepts that exceed the grasp of human intelligence, as the verse states: "A person cannot see Me and live" (Shemos 33:20). If so, it would seem that whatever level of belief Avraham achieved on his own should have been the limit of his understanding. Any further perception - a strengthening or improvement in his belief that resulted from the revelation of the Almighty - should have been beyond his comprehension, and he should have been unable to understand or relate to it. If so, what reason was there for Hashem to personally appear before him; how did he gain in his emunah as a result?
Perhaps an explanation of the difference between knowledge and faith can help us understand this Midrash. Rav Chaim Brisker, zt"l, explains that knowledge refers to what a person is able to grasp with his own intelligence. On the other hand, faith is that which it is impossible to understand with one's intelligence. Faith starts at the point from which the intellect cannot comprehend things on its own.
Thus, the Midrash can be explained as follows: Avraham Avinu understood on his own that the world has a Ruler. However, this knowledge was an intellectual concept. Therefore, by definition it was limited, for it only encompassed that which is within the grasp of human intellect.1 In return for the personal effort Avraham engaged in to elevate himself, he was granted a reward: the "Master of the Palace" peered out to him and said, "I and the Ruler of the Universe." The word "peered" connotes God's personal revelation, by which Avraham was granted a type of faith surpassing human intellect and insight. 2
1There are things that we know to be true but do not necessarily understand which require a certain level of faith. For example, we take it on faith that the sun will rise tomorrow; that the world is round; and that metal tubes weighing uncounted tons are able fly though the air - even though we don't understand physics and aerodynamic theory. Nevertheless, we know that each of these are comprehendible after one becomes an expert in the respective scientific field. However, the world presents many contradictions which human intellect alone is totally unable to resolve - such as how can man have freewill in spite of Hashem's omniscience, why does evil exist, and why do the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper. 2In other words, he was elevated to a level where he transcended the paradoxes of the world and was no longer troubled by them. This does not mean to say that Avraham Avinu, the quintessential thinker and philosopher, was given the ability to ignore the questions and pretend that they didn't exist. Rather, he was either granted an ability to fathom these concepts on a plateau above human intellect, or at least was given the reassurance that there is a place where these contradictions are resolved, even though humans do not have access to it. On the other hand, a person without faith who is confronted with these paradoxes is liable to become a heretic.
Perhaps, continues the Brisker Rav, this is the intent of the Hagadah's statement: "and I took him." It is true that Avraham Avinu came to recognition of the Creator by his own efforts. However, the heights of emunah that he ultimately attained resulted from the Almighty "taking him." Hashem uplifted Avraham Avinu, His beloved one, and granted him the exalted gift of pure and true emunah.
There is a famous parable said over in the name of Rav Yisroel Salanter.
A king once sent one of his chief officers on a mission to the king of a neighboring kingdom. As he was leaving the king warned him, "Don't get involved with any of the officers of that kingdom. Do you hear me? Don't make any bets or deals with them at all!!"
When the messenger arrived at his destination in the neighboring capital city he entered the palace to make an appointment with the king. There were several officers of the king standing in the lobby. When they saw him they went over and greeted him warmly. The conversation started off cordially, but suddenly one of them looked at him an exclaimed, "Sir, you are a hunchback!"
"What are you talking about," replied the officer, "I've never had a hunched back in my life!"
"No, I'm sorry. You are definitely a hunch-back."
The argument continued for quite some time, with all of the officers putting in their two-cents. No matter how much the poor messenger tried to object, everyone standing there agreed that he was a hunchback. Finally, one of the other officers piped up, "I have a proposition which will end this argument once and for all. We are willing to bet one million dollars that you are a hunch-back. Show us we're wrong, and we'll give you $1,000,000!"
The officer immediately remembered his king's warning. But he thought to himself, "Look. I've got this deal in my back pocket. There's no way I can't win. Why shouldn't I take this bet. Look at how much money I'll make for the king's treasury." And so he immediately agreed to the bet. He then took off his clothes. When everyone saw that he wasn't hunch-backed, they immediately handed him $1,000,000 in cash!
After the mission was over the king's courtier returned to the palace. With great delight he handed the king the suitcase with the cash and related what had happened. As soon as he heard the story, the king let out a terrible shriek. "Oy Vey! What have you done? When I warned you, I knew exactly what I was talking about. The officers of that kingdom made a bet with me for one hundred million dollars that they could strip you naked. You may have won one million. But because of you I lost one hundred million!
We must have faith in Hashem's wisdom even when our common sense is diametrically opposed.
R. Chanina ben Dosa lived in abject poverty. He didn't have enough money even to bake bread for Shabbos. This caused his rebbetzen extreme embarrassment. All the neighbors' wives were baking for Shabbos and her oven was cold. In order to hide their predicament she used to put burn some grass in the oven on erev Shabbos in order that the neighbors would see the smoke and think she was baking. One of the neighbors, a malicious lady, got suspicious and challenged her. "Listen. I know there's nothing in your house. What's all that smoke about?!"
One erev Shabbos this lady came knocking on the door. She was determined to find out the truth. Beside herself from embarrassment, R. Chanina ben Dosa's wife ran to the back yard to hide. The neighbor entered and went straight to the oven to reveal the sham. She opened the oven and … it was full of Shabbos challohs!!! The kneading trough was also full of dough, waiting to be baked! "Rebbetzen! Rebbetzen!" she called out, "Come quickly. Get a spatula. Your challah is about to burn!" The rebbetzen peeked out of her hiding place and answered, "I'm coming. That's exactly what I just went to get." (Taanis 24b)
Rav Chaim Shmuelezitz, zt"l, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Mirrer Yeshiva in Yerushalayim (in Sichas Musar 5733), comments on this gemora, that this is an example of the most pure level of bitachon. It was the most natural thing for the rebbetzen to expect the oven to be full of Shabbos challohs, so her natural reflex was to run to get the spatula to take them out. This pinnacle of bitachon can never be the result of pure intellectual endeavor. The intellectual cognizance, no matter how strong it is, cannot be free from some pondering of doubt. The intellect alone can never reach the simplicity of emuna exhibited by this tzaddekes. Only one who feels his bitachon, who lives bitachon with every ounce of his strength and emotions, is able to attain this apex that his bitachon has absolutely no shadow of a doubt.
Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Yeshiva Gedolah Medrash Chaim
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop ? Lakewood). You can access Rav Parkoff's Chizuk Sheets online:
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