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My First Encounter

Friday, 7 June, 2019 - 12:08 pm

It was July 1972. I was visiting Seattle for the first time with my very close Chaver (friend), Rabbi Shlomo Zarchi. It was a “scouting” expedition to get a feel for the Pacific Northwest. The blessing and guidance from the Holy Rebbe, OBM, had been given - that my wife and I should assume the position of regional directors of the Chabad Lubavitch movement.

I had just received my driver’s license and was a novice at directions (my Chaver, Rabbi Zarchi, today a Senior Provost of the Central Chabad Lubavitch Yeshiva in New York to the best of my knowledge still does not have a driver’s license).

Driving down Seward Park Avenue, we got lost. We noticed a young man and woman down the road on bicycles. We drove up to them and asked them for directions. Their response, “We are from Back East. We bicycled all through the states – going up to Canada. Sorry we can’t help you.” I asked his name, and asked if he happened to be Jewish.

I remember vividly his response – “I was born a Jew, but I do not now believe.” Then he said about the young woman, “she comes from a more traditional background than I. We are both from Philadelphia.”

Well, of course, we parked our car.  I engaged in a conversation with the young man and my Chaver spoke with the young lady. His name was Joe, he was my age, and he was angry young man. He had marched in the South for Civil Rights, he had marched against the Vietnam War, and what I sensed was really upsetting him was that his friends were beginning to “sell out”.

We went back and forth for at least an hour about G-d, Creation, the purpose of Creation, etc, and I did not feel I was making headway with him. Finally, I took the approach of the RamBam, Chapter 2, Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah:

1. It is a mitzvah to love and fear this glorious and awesome G-d, as (Deuteronomy 6:5) states: “And you shall love G-d, your Lord” and, as (Deuteronomy 6:13) states: “Fear God, your Lord.”

2. What is the path (to attain) love and fear of Him? When a person contemplates His wondrous and great deeds and creations and appreciates His infinite wisdom that surpasses all comparison, he will immediately love, praise, and glorify Him, yearning with tremendous desire to know (G-d’s) great name, as David stated: “My soul thirsts for the Lord, for the living G-d” (Psalms 42:3).

I elaborated. I said, “Joe, you just traveled through our beautiful country. You saw its beauty. Two spades of grass don’t grow together; millions of unique animals and vegetation, constellations, stars, planets, etc… are you trying to tell me this just happened on its own? You have a problem with the term G-d? You have issues with all the pain, suffering, poverty, and inequality that you know of and see? I also have issues with all of the above! But it didn’t just all happen.”

After a passionate presentation, he became calmer and looked at me and said, “Sholom, I see your point, but I still don’t believe.”

Shavous – Reaffirming the Covenant

I would like to share with you the Introduction of the RamBam (Maimonities): Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah – The Laws (which are) the Foundations of the Torah.

They contain ten mitzvot: six positive commandments and four negative commandments. They are:
1. To know that there is a G-d
2. Not to consider the thought that there is another divinity aside from G-d
3. To unify Him
4. To love Him
5. To fear Him
6. To sanctify His name
7. Not to profane G-d’s name
8. Not to destroy those things associated with His name
9. To listen to a prophet who speaks in (G-d’s) name
10. Not to test G-d

Chapter One, Halacha 1-6

  1. The foundation of all foundations and the pillar of wisdom is to know that there is a Primary Being who brought into being all existence. All the beings of the heavens, the earth, and what is between them came into existence only from the truth of His being.
  2. If one would imagine that He does not exist, no other being could possibly exist.
  3. If one would imagine that none of the entities aside from Him exist, He alone would continue to exist, and the nullification of their (existence) would not nullify His existence, because all the (other) entities require Him and He, blessed be He, does not require them or any of them. Therefore, the truth of His (being) does not resemble the truth of any of their (beings).
  4. This is implied by the prophet’s statement (Jeremiah 10:10): “And God, your Lord, is true” – i.e., He alone is true and no other entity possesses truth that compares to His truth. This is what (is meant by) the Torah’s statement (Deuteronomy 4:35): “There is nothing else aside from Him” – i.e., aside from Him, there is no true existence like His.
  5. This entity is the G-d of the world and the Lord of the entire earth. He controls the sphere with infinite and unbounded power. This power (continues) without interruption, because the sphere is constantly revolving, and it is impossible for it to revolve without someone causing it to revolve. (That one is) He, blessed be He, who causes it to revolve without a hand or any (other) corporeal dimension.
  6. The knowledge of this concept is a positive commandment, as (implied by Exodus 20:2): “I am G-d, your Lord…” Anyone who presumes that there is another g-d transgresses a negative commandment, as (Exodus 20:3) states: “You shall have no other g-ds before Me” and denies a fundamental principle (of faith), because this is a great principle (of faith) upon which all depends.

In preparing for Shavous, commemorating and reliving the revelation at Sinai, it would be proper to reflect on all of the above and more.

I urge you all to attend your synagogues this coming Sunday to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments, the embodiment of our tradition, and reaffirm our commitment.

Have a good Shabbos and a Joyous Chag.
Rabbi Levitin

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