July 20th marks the 44th anniversary of man’s first step on the moon. Imagine if you had been part of Neil Armstrong’s crew, heard him say the famous words, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” What if, when you stepped off Apollo 11, you beheld an unbelievable sight: there, sitting on the surface of the moon, was a tan-colored leather sofa! The first thought to cross your mind would probably be, “Where did this come from? Who made this?” After all, you know for a fact that you are the first ones to set foot on the moon! You come to the unbelievable conclusion that there must be life on the moon. What brought you to this conclusion? Simple logic: if there is a creation, there must be a creator.

This week’s Torah portion, Ve’eschanan, continues cataloging the Torah’s laws that Moses reviewed with the Jews before his passing. Among the laws mentioned in this week’s portion are the Ten Commandments, the first of which is “I am Hashem your G-d.” (Deuteronomy 5:6) Maimonides (1135-1204), in his book Sefer HaMitzvot, The Book of the Commandments, enumerates the 613 commandments. Commandment number one on his list, citing the first of the Ten Commandments, is belief in the existence of G-d and acknowledgement that He is the Creator of all that exists around us.

Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman (1875-1941), may G-d avenge his death [1], asked a very simple question on this fundamental mitzva: How is it possible to command someone to believe in something? We understand how the Torah can command someone to do an action, but to believe in something? Either you do or you don’t! No matter how many times you tell someone “believe in this or else,” it won’t make a difference, because ultimately it depends on each person’s unique mindset.

Rabbi Wasserman explained that to really believe in G-d’s existence and that He is the Ultimate Creator is not that difficult. Our opening scenario about the moon landing illustrates that upon beholding a perfectly crafted item and not knowing its source, a person would instinctively say to him/herself, “Who made this?” So too, when we take a look at the world around us and all its myriad parts, and the new discoveries that are still being made thousands of years after its creation, it should prompt us to say to ourselves, “Who made this? There must be a G-d, an Ultimate Creator.”

Taking this logic one step further, if there is indeed a Creator, then He must have had a purpose for His creation. We know that no one spends time crafting things for no purpose at all. How much more so should that reasoning apply to the Creator of the entire universe. Indeed, he didn’t leave us without insight into His purpose. He gave us an instruction manual called the Torah. In it, He tells us why He created the world, why we were created, and what we have to do in order to fulfill that purpose.

One can look at the Torah with the attitude “what kind of restricted lifestyle is this? I am being told what to do and what not to do, rather than being allowed to live my life as I wish!” [2] The temptations of the world around us stand in stark contrast to the moral and ethical standards of the Torah and can easily blind a person from perceiving and accepting the obvious sovereignty of the Creator. It can go so far as to cause a person to say that there is no G-d, there is no Higher Authority guiding me to live my life to its fullest.

Concludes Rabbi Wasserman, the commandment to believe in G-d is to distance oneself from any of the elements that can blind a person from this belief, to stay away from that which is contrary to the Torah’s ideals of how one should properly live his/her life. In doing so, one can avoid falling into the trap of the non-believer.

Rabbi Mayer Erps

1. Rabbi Wasserman was one of the greatest Torah scholars of pre-war Europe. He authored several monumental works that are studied by Torah scholars throughout the world today. He was mercilessly killed by the Nazis, may their names be erased, on July 8, 1941, in the Kovno Ghetto.
2. The restrictions of the Torah are there only for our own benefit. A complete discussion of this topic is in order; however, it is beyond the purview of this article.

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