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Reflections on Deuteronomy 10:11.

An Extract from a Lecture by W. [Isaac M. Wise]

(Continued from p. 202.)

Proceeding to view the beneficial consequences of the fear of the lord, I must state that “A thorough and pure faith is the next consequence of the fear of the Lord;” and that a faith neither veiled and obscured by the dark mists of superstition and prejudice, nor poisoned by heart-wounding scepticism, is the certain consequence of that divine fear,—a faith which King David pictured so strongly and beautifully when he said, מי לי בשמים ועמך לא חפצתי בארץ “Whom do I have in Heaven? and with Thee I desire for none on earth.” I understand, under the term “faith,” the belief and confidence in God by his human creatures, and it is comprised in the words אמונה בטחון. Let us explain these two words according to our biblical views. אמונה cannot properly be translated “belief,” as this word signifies, in a theological  point of view, “a persuasion of the truth of a law, a doctrine or confession, because of the authority of its first originator, or of the teacher of whom we received it;” but the Hebrew language has no term to express this idea of belief, nor does the Holy Scripture command us—in any place—to, believe. אמונה however, is derived from אמן “it is true;” and is defined by Maimonides in the following words: כי האמונה היא האמנה במה שיצוייר שהוא חוץ לשכל כפי מה שיצוייר בשכל׃ מורה נבוכים חלק א׳ ג׳

“True belief is the conviction of the truth of that which is received in our mind, that, though it is itself beyond our reason, it is thereby rendered acceptable to us as those ideas which we picture to ourselves by the light of our reason.” (Maimonides Moreh, Part I. § 50.) There is a mysterious mirror in the rear of our soul, which reflects God and his everlasting laws;—as Moses says, כי ה׳ אלהיך בקרבך “for the Lord thy God is within thee.”

I cannot prove this proposition a priori; but experience instructs us, as I stated in my last essay, that the savage in Lap<<238>>land’s regions, as well as the cannibals of the forest, confess to the existence of a Supreme Being. Ancient history cannot show forth a nation entirely ignorant of this truth, and even the Greeks, in the midst of their idolatry, had erected an altar to worship the unknown God. Whatever atheists may teach and maintain of a self-existing nature, however arrogantly and firmly they may deny the existence of God: their own heart trembles in their very bosom whilst speaking the irrational words; their own conscience convicts them; they never firmly believe their own doctrine; because there is a mysterious mirror in the rear of every soul, which reflects God and his everlasting laws. But it is not every man who pays sufficient attention to his own mind, to the various scenery within himself; it is certainly the most difficult thing for man to direct the searching eye into his own bosom, to stand firmly and impartially before the mirror of his own soul, and read his own self; atheists, therefore, and infidels, and criminals of all kinds, are found mixed up among rational men. It is for this reason that Judaism teaches, as its first command, “Fear the Lord!” You find God’s omnipotence and wisdom revealed in nature, history, and the Bible;—fear Him, therefore; and if you fear Him, you will constantly seek Him, do less on the day of joy arid pleasure than in time of pain and distress; and the more you seek Him, the more readily will you find Him; for the Lord is found by all those who seek Him. “And if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find Him, if thou seek Him with all thy heart and with all thy soul:”— (Deut. 4:29.) And the more you seek Him without, the more readily will you find Him within you; for the way to arrive at an understanding of ourselves is through nature, history, and the Bible; and the purer you find God reflected within yourself, the more distinctly and correctly will you observe Him without you in his immense works. You will experience at last the truth of my proposition with all your heart; all your feelings will second it, that God and his eternal law are reflected in ourselves.

After having ascertained that God and his eternal laws are reflected within ourselves, we must assume either of the following propositions:—First, either God and his laws are comparatively the same as reflected within ourselves; and if this is the <<239>>case, we have arrived on the happy isle of “belief;” and if we have found this comparison to be true by beholding God’s works and words, then are we arrived at the holy mountain of the Lord which is called אמונה “true belief;” because we have ascertained its truth. “And thou wilt know this day, and thou wilt reflect in thine heart, that the Lord He is God, in heaven above and on earth beneath: there is none beside Him.”—(Deut. 4:39.) Or, secondly, God and his laws are comparatively not the same as reflected in our mind; and, if this is the case, our belief is untrue, and therefore no אמונה. If this be so, the reason of this incompatibility cannot be sought in God, for God is the real existence, and we carry in our heart only the idea of this existence; and it is as Maimonides states,אין המציאות נמשכת אחר הדיעות רק האמתיות נמשכות אחר המציאות׃ מורה נבוכים א׳ נ״א “The beings are derived, and take their form from ideas, but truths must be based upon, and are derived from beings.” God is an immutable being, because of his embracing the utmost perfection; He ought, therefore, to be perceived alike in all human souls; and if this is not the case, the fault is within ourselves. This fault cannot be originally in our spirit, because the soul is the image of God, as I have already stated in my last essay (p. 198); nor can the fault originally be in our body, since all the nations are of the same flesh and blood, and all of them knew and know now that there exists a Supreme Being. The fault can, therefore, only be sought for in the corruption of human nature; and we must search for the cause of this incompatibility in sin and vice, and there we shall surely find it. “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that He will not hear.” (Isaiah 59:2.)

When earthly desire, brutal passions, have overwhelmed our soul, so that we think it the highest good to gratify our gross passions, to live in the midst of superfluous luxury, and to fill our houses with the gold of Ophir; when we have degraded ourselves so low as to prefer riches to virtue, enjoyment to morality, gain to piety; then the mirror, the heavenly inheritance of our soul, is covered with a dense mist; the veil of darkness is spread over it, and our soul reflects obscure phantoms, accompanied by the spectres of the midnight hour—superstition, prejudice, vain fear and scepticism; we then tremble and shudder whilst com<<240>>paring our acts with our duties; we then are sorely afraid to stand before the mirror of our soul; for the God who is reflected there is an all-just Judge, and we try to deny his existence, or at least to think Him as weak and unjust as we lind ourselves to be.

Our religion, therefore, kind reader, requires, in the first place, that thou shouldst “fear the Lord thy God;” for he who fears God will fear vice and immorality, and preserve in himself his natural strength of soul, develop his spirit, govern and moderate his passions; he will carefully explore his own mind, and, as the mirror is pure, he will find reflected in himself God and his divine law, revealed as God reveals himself in the pure heart, in the spotless soul. If the soul is purified, and the passions are governed and subdued, our reason cannot be engaged in realizing only the demands of the brutal instinct; it is liberated from the iron bands of earthly desires, and it looks attentively around itself; it contemplates and searches in nature, history, and the Bible, for that which is reflected within itself, and God is revealed there as here; everywhere his unlimited power, his infinite wisdom and unbounded love, are displayed and affirmed; and it is thus that the pious man finds that the God who is reflected in his mind, is exactly the same as He is revealed without his mind, and he is arrived on the holy mountain אמונה “of confiding faith.” He has a true knowledge of the only true God; and it is this knowledge which is the foundation, the basis of our religion in a practical point of view; and this enlightened reasoning believing alone must become the stimulus to all kinds of religious acts; since sound commonsense is entirely averse to the idea of a mere believing or supposing certain alleged facts; because God has endowed us with the faculty to think and to reflect, and to act according to the dictates of reason. And thus teaches the Zohar, page 6,

אמר דוד לשלמה בנו דע את אלהי אביך ועבדהו דאי בר נש לא אשתמודע ההוא דיהיב ליה אורייתא ומני ליה לנטרא לה איך דחיל מיניה ועביד פקידיהו׃

“David said to his son Solomon: Know the God of thy father, and thou wilt serve Him. If the son of man does not know Him who gave him a law and appointed him to keep it, how can he truly worship Him, and practise his commandments?

This is the true Jewish principle, besides which it is also perfectly consonant with reason; and our immortal teacher ex<<241>>pressed it in the sublime words of his prayer: “And now, if I have found grace in thy sight, let me know, I beseech thee, thy ways, and I will know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight.” (Exod. 33:13.) With these words he removed from the faith of Israel every belief or supposition contrary to reason; and these words elevated our faith above all absurdities. “Know the God of thy father,” that is אמונה for to fear the Lord is the best means to arrive at אמונה, the confiding faith and trust based upon knowledge.

As regards the second part of the term faith, which I styled בטחון confidence, we only need few remarks. To have a full confidence in God, to trust in Him under whatever circumstances we are placed in, is to be always convinced that it is true what Rabbi Akiba said, כל מה דעביד רחמנא לטב עביד “Whatever God does is for our welfare;” hence we should receive, with equal gratefulness, joy and grief, sunshine and darkness from the hand of Providence, and thank God prayerfully for the evil no less than the good; as the Mishna declares it as our duty חייב אדם לברך על הרעה כשם שמברך על הטובה that “a man is obliged to praise God for the evil as well as for the good which he receives.” This is the בטחון the confidence of a Jew. If now the first part of our faith is a mere belief, or acquiescence in certain suppositious truths, then must our confidence based upon it be constantly shaken, and not seldom dashed in pieces, with the first storm which assails it; for the pillars are too feeble to bear the building, and unhappy is that man who has lost his confidence in God. But if our confidence is based upon אמונה upon conviction and evidence, upon the pure and sure knowledge of God and his attributes, then do we know God’s unlimited power, who alone can help and assist us, and without whose will nothing can be done; then shall we also know God as the infinite Wisdom, who alone knows what is the best for us, what ought to be given to, and what withdrawn from us; then shall we know God’s loving kindness, by which we are assured that whatever God does is for our welfare; and happy will be that man who has such a strong confidence in his Maker; for he will surely be just and upright in all his dealings, pious and virtuous in his conduct, moderate and reasonable in the time of happiness, intrepid and fearless in the time of distress; and he will be like to a fruitful tree in the <<242>>well-watered plain; he will be like the primeval mountain covered with the olive and vine, that heeds not the terrific thunder, and like the granite rock in the midst of the ocean, which stands unshaken whilst frightful hurricanes cause the mighty water to swell and heave in foaming billows; and “blessed is the man who trusteth in the Lord; for the Lord will be his protection.”

This is the faith of a Jew, composed of אמונה and בטחון which latter is the consequence of the former, and both of them spring from יראת חטא “the fear to commit sin,” and this again fromיראת ה׳ the fear of the Lord; wherefore our immortal teacher said our religion requires, in the very first place, nothing “but to fear the Lord thy God.”

(To be continued.)