We will now im yirtzeh Hashem finish the series on emunah which we started back in the week of Parshas Shemos. Indeed, these parshiyos (from Shemos to Yisro) are the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim (and thus contain the yesodos of our emunah); indeed, it would be quite beneficial to save these five weeks’ worth of columns and review them when celebrating the Yom Tov of Pesach. Yes, these yesodos may seem or feel rather simple and plain, but as the Sefer Hachinuch says in the mitzvos spanning the korban Pesach, chometz, matzoh, and sipur Yetzias Mitzrayim, these mitzvos serve as a constant reminder of the fundamentals of emunah which were brought out and manifested at Yetzias Mitzrayim. Thus, the first of the Ten Commandments, which states our very obligation to believe in Hashem, makes mention that He is the G-d who has taken us out of Egypt!
As we saw two weeks ago, Maharal categorizes the makkos into three groups, containing three basic principles: The first group of three was to show the existence of Hashem; the second group was to show his hashgachah in this world; and the last ones showed Hashem’s omnipotence, and that there is no other power besides Him.
Although I am quite sure that you are all doubtless convinced that you subscribe to these tenets, our daily lives all too rarely reflect that we do. Perhaps we do what we have to in terms of fulfilling commandments, the ritualistic part of Judaism; but do our other actions — the way we conduct our lives, the way we relate to parnassah, competition, setbacks in life, mesirus nefesh, and nisyonos — show that we are aware of an omniscient, omnipotent G-d?
(The following paragraphs are bound to raise some hackles — nevertheless, it brings out the point so clearly that I will run that risk.)
There is a fellow who plays major league football in the US, on a team called the Denver Broncos. His name is Tim Tebow, and he is their starting quarterback. Problem is that by all accounts he is a sub-par quarterback with an inaccurate throwing arm. He is scorned by all the football experts; one sports columnist even went so far as to call him the “worst quarterback in football.”
Yet the strangest things occur to our Mr. Tim: he wins week after week, fashioning unreasonable come-from-behind fourth-quarter victories. In a miraculous, inexplicable, incredible, way.
So far so good; interesting, but not especially startling. Certainly no apparent reason for me to write about him — at least, not in this column.
What makes Mr. Tebow extremely controversial is that he is an outspoken adherent of that “other” religion (and I don’t mean that he is a Muslim). He prays before and during games. He wears his faith on his sleeve, literally; in fact, he used to wear it painted in black, on a patch by his eyes. He kneels openly, on the field, actually giving rise to a verb describing his type of kneeling: ‘tebowing.’
And in this crazy world of ours, this has all erupted in a major controversy — in my opinion, way beyond any reasonable objection. “How dare he display his religion, [read: his belief in G-d] so openly and publicly?! Does ‘religion’ have a place in sports?” And when he threw two touchdown passes in an unbelievable upset of the Oakland raiders, all… well, let’s just say that all heaven broke loose! It got nastier and nastier, very intense and personal. Opponents mocked him, while supporters reacted to the criticisms as an attack on religion. Commentators talked about the “Tebow Derangement Syndrome” — the onset of mockery and verbal hatred in otherwise normal people to the football player — indeed, to the very existence of — Tim Tebow.
Reaction, in short, is polarized between those who lionized him for tapping into a higher power, and those who resented that very idea.
Here is my opinion: “The valley of Sodom was full of bitumen wells, and the Kings of Sodom… fled and fell into them…” (Bereishis 14:10). This is part of the story of the War of the Five Kings versus The Four, with Avraham Avinu rescuing Lot and winning the war. Rashi brings a Medrash that the King of Sodom miraculously walked out of the pit he had fallen into, rather than drowning in the mortar and other toxic building materials which filled the pits. Rashi remarks,“[Why did this miracle occur?] For there were those who mocked and scoffed and denied that Avraham Avinu had escaped for the furnace which Nimrod had thrown him into… and now that the King of Sodom escaped miraculously, they believed the Avraham story retroactively.”
Isn’t that strange? Wouldn’t we think that the opposite is true? That if a worshipper of avodah zarah such as the King of Sodom would be saved from the pit in a miraculous way, that would tend to negate the lessons and education which Avraham Avinu was trying to demonstrate and implant in the world’s consciousness? How in the world would it reinforce belief in Hashem?
I submit — and perhaps this is a huge chiddush, perhaps not — that the major and dominant stumbling block to everyday emunah is our inability to go beyond what our physical senses see, feel, smell, hear, and touch. The transcendence of a G-d, the reality of a Creator who created all, controls all, and is responsible for everything going on in our lives, from parnassah to shidduchim to the milk being in the makolet, to my child getting into the school, to my ability to digest food, to who will win the football game — that is the essential, crucial, vital aspect of our emunah. The battle is in the main, as is made clear in Ramban and countless other sources, against what we would call atheism — or even the idea that chas v’shalom there are independent forces in the world, no matter how basic they seem to be (e.g,time ). (Even the Ramban, whose life was totally transformed and overturned by being forced to “debate” with proponents of that “other” religion, who was banished and exiled from his country when he won the debate, never refers to “other religions” in his lengthy expositions on our yesodos emunah in Parshas Bo and in other places in the Chumash. This should not, chalilah v’chas and chas v’shalom and perish the thought, be seen as an excuse to minimize at all the absolute issur and evil of avodah zarah, no matter what its form! It is attempt to explain, as I believe is the explanation of Chazal vis-a-vis the King of Sodom, that our main yetzer hora is the trap of living our lives as if we are living in a world of “natural” cause-and-effect, to deny that there is a higher Power in the world, to deny that He is responsible for all, that it is always His will which is what is transpiring, and that He has the power and ability to have His will carried out under any circumstance and in any situation.
And THAT is the meaning of true emunah.