Thou Shalt Believe

Question

Dear Rabbi, I was wondering if there’s an actual commandment to believe in God. I don’t see it in the Ten Commandments and don’t remember seeing it in the weekly Shabbat Torah readings. Thanks!

, 3 months

Answers

  1. Yes, there is a command to believe in God. However, there is an interesting question about “commanding belief” that I’ve often been asked, and will briefly explain it after citing the source for the basic command to believe.

    Maimonides writes: “The first mitzvah is His command to us to believe in the Divinity. That is, that there is a transcendent essence which is the cause of everything that exists. “I am the Lord your God (Shemot 20:2)” is a statement of this command.” Although there are other early commentaries who do not count this mitzvah as one of the 613 commandments, there is total agreement about belief being a mitzvah. The only disagreement is whether “I am the Lord your God” is to be included in the counting of the 613 commandments, or whether it is the principle upon which all of the 613 are founded. Everyone agrees, however, that we are commanded by God to believe in Him.

    And now for the “interesting question” that I promised you. One might wonder: “What is the point of such a commandment? Either you believe or you don’t. If you believe, then everything else will follow; but if you don’t, then Who is commanding you to believe?” Furthermore, how can God command the average person to believe something that a genius the likes of Aristotle chose not to believe?

    In his response to these questions, Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman points to an intriguing expression in the Torah:

    “Do not follow the desires of your heart (Bamidbar 15:39)”.

    Our Sages comment that this verse warns us not to stray from our belief in God. Reb Elchonon asks: Why the heart? Why not the mind? Why don’t our Sages tell us not to make the intellectual mistake of heresy? What does the heart have to do with not believing?

    Reb Elchonon answers that belief in God is Mankind’s “natural condition.” In lieu of external influences, every person would cling to his faith, and heresy would not exist. However, there are countless distractions and provocative challenges to our moral integrity. These opportunities for forbidden pleasures act as a bribe to our intellect. Suddenly our judgement becomes blurred, and we find ourselves looking to justify the illicit behavior. Not far down that path is the porthole to disbelief. The Torah’s command not to follow the desires of our heart is a warning to not take the bribe offered by temptation, because its end is in apostasy.

    Conversely, when the Torah commands us to believe in God, it is commanding us to nurture our natural sense of the Divine — to bolster the foundation of our relationship with God.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team