Parashat Naso- Emuna First
The beginning of Parashat Naso continues the census taken of the Leviyim. After we read in the previous Parasha, Parashat Bamidbar, of the counting of the Kehat family – one of the three families of Leviyim – we now read in the beginning of Parashat Naso that the family of Gershon was likewise counted. G-d commanded Moshe, "Naso Et Rosh Beneh Gershon…Le’bet Abotam" – "Take a headcount of the people of Gershon…according to their paternal homes…"
A deeper reading of this verse was offered by Rav Meir Yechiel of Ostrovtza (1852-1928), in his work Meir Eneh Hachamim. He notes the Midrash’s perplexing remark that when Yitro invited Moshe into his home and gave him his daughter as a wife, he made Moshe promise that he would raise his first child as a pagan. Yitro was a pagan priest who, already before Moshe’s arrival, recognized the mistake of paganism and embraced the belief in the one, true G-d. Why, then, would he insist that Moshe raise his first son as a pagan? The Rebbe of Ostrovtza explained that Yitro wanted his first grandson to arrive at the belief in G-d the way he did – through study and inquiry. He obviously didn’t want his grandson to be a pagan – he wanted that the child will grow to embrace monotheism on his own, and not because this was what he was taught.
For this reason, Moshe named his first child Gershom, a derivative of the word "Ger" – "convert." A convert is somebody who arrives at Jewish faith independently, without having been raised and educated along this path. Moshe’s second son, by contrast, was named Eliezer, expressing that, as Moshe proclaimed, "Elokeh Abi Be’ezri" – "My G-d’s father helped me" (Shemot 18:4). This child was taught about Hashem; he believed in G-d not through independent study and inquiry, but rather because this is how he was raised. And so his name alludes to the "G-d of my father," emphasizing that he believed in Hashem because his father believed in Hashem and educated him along this belief.
The Rebbe of Ostrovtza explained that the process of study and inquiry may be undertaken only after one has first firmly established his firm, unconditional faith. "Emuna Peshuta" – simple faith, accepting the truth about Hashem and the Torah simply because one has been taught this belief – must take precedence to any sort of philosophical inquiry. Otherwise, the process of inquiry might steer a person off-course, and he will be led to reject Jewish faith, Heaven forbid.
This concept, the Rebbe of Ostrovtza said, is alluded to right at the beginning of Parashat Naso. The Torah commands, "Naso Et Rosh Beneh Gershon" – that the "head" of "Gershon" – meaning, the intellectual process of independent inquiry – must be "lifted," and give way to "Bet Abotam" – fealty to tradition. Before one embarks on the process of "Gershon," of understanding the proofs to the belief in Hashem and Torah, he must commit himself unwaveringly to "Bet Abotam," to the faith that we have received from previous generations.
Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski (1930-2021) explained this concept by drawing an analogy to explorers who would excavate caves. As they could easily get lost inside the caves, the explorers would tie a rope to the entrance of the cave and keep the rope with them as they excavated, thereby ensuring that they would be able to find their way out. Similarly, those who engage in philosophical questioning, inquiry and analysis could "lose their way." In their effort to understand more about Hashem, the Torah and the Misvot, they might take a wrong turn, and begin entertaining doubts. Before embarking on this process, then, they need a "rope" to ensure they remain tethered to our tradition. This rope is "Emuna Peshuta," unwavering and unconditional acceptance of the fundamental principles of Judaism.
The first step in education must be the basics of Emuna. While there is value in a more sophisticated understanding of Torah, the learning process must begin with the fundamentals of Jewish faith, which we must accept wholeheartedly and unquestioningly. This foundation is the "rope" that ensures that we do not get "lost" as we continue our lifelong process of learning.