Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Ye of Little Faith

According to Rashi, Noach wasn't a complete believer. The Torah tells: "So Noach, with his sons, his wife, and his sons' wives, went into the ark because of the waters of the flood" (Gen. 7:7). Why did Noach go into the ark only "because of the waters of the flood"? According to Rashi: "Noach was also of those whose faith was weak (mi-ktanei amanah). He believed and did not believe that the Flood will come and did not enter the ark until he was forced by the waters."

Click here to read moreWhat does it mean to have weak faith and to believe and not believe? Some, particularly ba'alei mussar, suggest that there is a sliding scale of belief and our job is to strengthen our belief and rise on the scale. Since one of the leading ba'alei mussar, R. Yitzchak Blaser, has a different approach, I will take the liberty of also suggesting a different way of understanding this concept.

The Gemara (Pesachim 118b) says that during the Exodus, while crossing the Sea of Reeds, the Jews rebelled against God and had weak faith (mi-ktanei amanah). Why? While walking through the split sea, they thought that just like they would walk through safely, the Egyptians would also. They didn't have sufficient faith that God would not save them.

I suggest that there is a dichotomy of faith. God sometimes acts beyond nature and performs miracles that, when witnessed, all but demand acceptance and faith. This is belief in God's supernatural intervention. But there are also miracles that are within nature and a different kind of faith is required to see God's hand in the natural world. For many, believing in the supernatural is easy. Believing in nature being guided by God is harder. Having only the former faith and not the latter, I suggest, is what the Sages are calling having weak faith (mi-ktanei amanah).

Some commentators say that when God split the sea, He did it with supernatural miracles. However, others disagree and point to the Torah's words about the splitting of the sea: "And the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea into dry land, and the waters were divided" (Ex. 14:21). This seems to imply that the splitting of the sea was a miracle that was done through natural means (Rashbam; cf. Ramban and this post). When the Jews were waiting to be saved by God, they were looking for a supernatural miracle. When the wind split the sea, they failed to see God's hand in it and were worried that they would not be saved from the Egyptians. They did not recognize that God also performs miracles through nature. This, the Gemara says, is having weak faith.

So, too, Noach. God told him that there would be a flood and Noach spent years building an ark and waiting for the flood. What did he get? There was no massive dropping of water; no supernatural appearance of water. It was just rain. I'm sure that there were plenty of rainy days before that first day of the flood and Noach was probably thinking, "You call this a flood?" But the rain came down hard and kept coming down. It was God punishing the world through nature. And Noach's failure to expect a miracle through nature is what earned him the title of having weak faith.

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