Three Festivals Three Fundamental Pronciples
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
The Hebrew word for “belief” or ”faith” is emuna. The Maharal points out that in the Book of Exodus, the Torah refers to the children of Israel having faith in three specific contexts. When Moses returns from Midian, he informs the Hebrew slaves that God sent him to redeem them from bondage in Egypt. The Torah records their response: “And the people believed, and they heard that the Lord had remembered the children of Israel and that He saw their affliction, and they kneeled and prostrated themselves.” (Exodus 4,31) The second reference is at the crossing of the Reed Sea, where the Torah states: “And they believed in God and in Moses His servant.” (Exodus 14,9) The third reference is at the giving of the Torah, where God tells Moses: “And also in you they will believe forever.” (Exodus 19,9)
The Maharal explains that the mention of emuna (belief) in these three specific contexts is not random. They refer to the three fundamental principles upon which religious belief is founded. The first reference refers to the belief in divine providence. Divine providence is the belief that God sees everything occurring throughout the universe, on both a national and individual level. Included in divine providence is not only the belief that God sees, but also the belief that God cares. This is characterized by the following: “And the people believed, and they heard that the Lord had remembered the children of Israel and that He saw their affliction, and they kneeled and prostrated themselves.” (Exodus 4,31)
The second fundamental belief is that there is no power, force, or aspect of the universe that has any control apart from God. God is the one and only omnipotent being. The Children of Israel realized this truth at the splitting of the Reed Sea. Hence, after the parting of the Reed Sea, the Torah testifies: “And they believed in God and in Moses His servant.” God is in control of both the sea and the dry land. No other force/god has any control/power over God. This is a fundamental belief, because an omnipresent God is somewhat meaningless if that God does not also have the power to intervene and assist.
The third belief is the belief that God gave the Torah through His servant, Moses, at Mt. Sinai. The entire Jewish nation only heard God giving the first two commandments directly. The rest of the Torah was dictated through Moses. The people did not need belief/faith concerning the first two commandments, because they heard them directly. The third belief is that the entire Torah we have was divinely dictated by Moses, the greatest prophet and God’s trusted servant. This is why God tells Moses: “And also in you they will believe forever.” (Exodus 19,9)
The three pilgrimage festivals correspond to these fundamental principles. Passover, with the culmination of the splitting of the Reed Sea, represents the principle of the existence of One, Omnipotent God, with absolute and complete control. Shavuot, of course, represents the belief that the Torah was given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Sukkot represents the clouds of glory that surrounded the Jewish people as they traveled through the desert. This represents the belief in divine providence, that God watches over, cares, and is involved in our world. Our task on these festivals is to deepen our faithfulness to the fundamental principle associated with that festival. May we grow in our faithfulness to these fundamental truths.