by HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Nasi HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh
At the beginning of his mission to Bnei Yisrael, Moshe argues: "But they will not believe me." (Shemot 4:1) Hashem responds: "My children are believers, sons of believers," as it says: "The people believed, and they heard that Hashem had remembered Bnei Yisrael and that He saw their affliction, and they bowed their heads and prostrated themselves." (Shemot 4:31) Am Yisrael's faith repeats itself on the shores of the Red Sea: "They believed in Hashem and in Moshe, His servant." Their belief appears again a third time at the time of Matan Torah: "Behold! I come to you in thickness of the cloud so that the people will hear as I speak to you, and they will also believe in you forever." (Shemot 19:9)
Why was there a need for belief at Mt. Sinai after the Torah already states that Bnei Yisrael believed in Egypt and at the Red Sea? The Rambam (Hil. Yesodei HaTorah 8:1) writes that the initial belief was not absolute because it was based only on the miracles that occurred in Egypt and at the Red Sea:
Someone who believes because of miracles, there is doubt in his heart ... When did they believe in Him? At the Revelation at Sinai, where our own eyes saw, and our own ears heard ...From where do we know that the Revelation at Sinai is the only proof that [Moshe's] prophecy is true, that it holds no doubt? Because it says: "Behold! I come to you in the thickness of the cloud, so that the people will hear as I speak to you, and they will also believe in you forever." This implies that before this they did not believe in him with a trust that could last forever, but a trust that leaves room for consideration and thought.
The Maharal, on the other hand, writes (Gevurot Hashem ch. 47) that these events are not different levels of belief; they are three foundations of belief:
1. The belief in Providence, as opposed to the denial that argues: "High above all nations is Hashem, above the heavens is His glory" (Tehillim 113:4), that Hashem does not know and is not interested in what occurs on the earth below.
2. The belief in Hashem's existence, that not only does he exist, but also that he is the Creator and Omnipotent, and that there is no existence without Him. He is not dependent on anything, whereas everything else cannot exist on it's own and is dependent upon Him.
3. The belief in G-d's connection with man, that He spoke to him and gave him the Torah.
In Egypt Bnei Yisrael believed in Providence after they realized that Hashem saw their misery and remembered them. At the Red Sea they believed in Hashem's existence after He changed the sea to land, and they realized that the entire existence is dependent upon Him, and that He changes creation as he wishes. Rachav said: "For we have heard how Hashem dried up the waters of the Sea of Reeds ... For Hashem, your G-d, He is G-d in the heavens above and in the earth below." (Yehoshua 2:10-11) During Matan Torah they saw the voices and believed in prophecy and Matan Torah, as they said: "This day we saw that Hashem will speak to a person and he can live." (Devarim 5:21)
This is symbolized by the holidays, the three regalim (lit., feet). They are called regalim because "They are the feet of the religion, upon which the religion stands." Pesach indicates Hashem's ultimate existence and His ability to change the laws of nature. Shavuot corresponds, obviously, to the belief in Matan Torah. Succot, meanwhile, teaches about Divine Providence, as a reminder that Bnei Yisrael dwelled under the clouds of glory while Hashem guarded over them.
According to Sefer Ha'ikarim, Judaism is built on these three foundations, as opposed to the Rambam who mentions thirteen principles. Sefer Ha'ikarim writes:
What seems to me the correct path in counting the principles, which are the roots and foundations of the Divine Torah, is that the crucial and encompassing principles to the divine faith are three, and they are: Hashem's existence, Providence regarding reward and punishment, and that the Torah is from Heaven. These three are fathers to all the other principles of the Divine teachings.