The Importance of Faith at Mount Sinai
Commenting on the verse, “The L-RD said to Moses, ‘Behold! I come to you in the thickness of the cloud, so that the people will hear as I speak to you, and they will also believe in you le’olam [forever]’ ” (Exodus 19:9), the author or Reshith Da’at asks how that faith, brought about by the giving of the Torah, differed from the faith already shown by the Children of Israel during the exodus from Egypt and the passage through the Sea of Reeds. Concerning the latter it is said: “Israel saw the great hand that the L-RD inflicted upon Egypt; and the people revered the L-RD, and they had faith in the L-RD and in Moses His servant” (Exodus 14:31).
The difference lies in the fact that without Torah, we can witness all kinds of miracles without being influence by them. This is what is happening in our generation: Divine wonders abound, yet people do not change their ways as they continually “dance between two opinions” (I Kings 18:21). They purchase the highest priced candles in memory of great Tzaddikim that they so revere, yet they commit sins in front of their very portraits! How can a person transgress G-d’s commandments while “the whole world is filled with His glory” (Isaiah 6:3)? Does G-d not “fill the heaven and the earth” (Jeremiah 23:24)?
The study of Torah, which is eternal, instills the fear of G-d in a person and discourages him from sinning. It helps him fight the evil inclination and conquer it. Torah study also helps a person carry out all the mitzvot, as it is written: “If you follow My decrees” (Leviticus 26:3). In other words, “If you seriously engage in Torah study” (Torat Kohanim ibid.), then you will “observe My commandments.” If we “taste and see that the L-RD is good” (Psalms 34:9), then we will see His providence everywhere and refrain from sinning. On the other hand, the one who does not engage in Torah study will not feel gratitude for G-d. Not tasting the flavor, he will forgo instilling himself with Divine love, and all the miracles that he witnesses will not affect him in the least. We may very well be believers, however if we do not diligently study Torah we will not sense G-d’s hand in any aspect of our lives, and we may easily come to sin.
All the misfortunes that come upon a person, even if he is honest and upright, stem exclusively from the fact that he neglects Torah study. We can save ourselves from these misfortunes by doing some soul-searching, particularly if we correct our negative traits. The evil inclination never lets go of a person for even a second; it constantly deceives him, and he must exert a tremendous effort to uproot it. This is possible through the regular and diligent study of Torah, as well as by rectifying negative character traits.
We personally know many people who did Teshuvah after having witnessed miracles. Nevertheless, some time afterwards they went back to their old ways. Why did this happen? It is because they did not correct their negative traits and engage in Torah study.
At their departure from Egypt, the Children of Israel surely believed in Hashem and Moses His servant. However since they had not yet received the Torah, their faith wavered despite all the miracles they had witnessed (Mechilta Beshalach 2). Nevertheless after the giving of the Torah, which confirmed the existence of the Creator as well as the prophesy of Moses, the Children of Israel did believe in Him and in His servant le’olam (forever).
Thus we see that as long as we do not study Torah, or if we study it with selfish intentions and not with a love for His Name (Zohar III:85b), we are likely to stray from the good path and ignore all the miracles we may witness. Only Torah study distances a person from evil and leads him to the good (Psalms 34:15), for idleness leads to foolishness (Ketubot 59a), which in turn brings about perversion and murder. The one who studies Torah for the love of G-d will quickly understand the meaning of everything that he has witnessed, and his faith in G-d will increase. The Torah is, in the final analysis, the most definitive proof of G-d’s existence and the righteousness of the Tzaddikim.
The Tablets of the Law are also called the Tablets of the Testimony (Exodus 31:18). The Torah is light and it revitalizes like water, as the Talmud teaches on the verse, “Ho, everyone who is thirsty, go to the water” (Isaiah 55:1): “Water refers to Torah” (Bava Kama 17a). The one who engages in Torah study thus rids himself of evil forces and senses a holy energy penetrating his body. This testifies to the complete truthfulness of the Holy One, blessed be He, and His Tzaddikim.
Thus the faith of the Children of Israel was unsteady before the giving of the Torah, but the Torah strengthened it to a tremendous degree. Torah study and the performance of mitzvot lead to the conclusion that Moses is truth and his Torah is truth (Bava Batra 74a).