Bibl;ical word studies: Emunah

Emunah is not  simply belief. Emunah indicates of faithful belief. A belief that manifests itself in action. Abraham's life is the proof.

Moshe Kempinski

Judaism ייסורי גלות ואמונה
ייסורי גלות ואמונה
צילום: PR

The Biblical text says the following about Abraham;

“And he believed (He-Emeen) in Hashem, and He accounted it to him as righteousness”(Genesis 15:6)

Is that all there is to righteousness? Is the belief in G-d so sufficient and worthy that it is equated with righteousness? Is that all that one must do… “ to believe”?

It is worthwhile to explore what Belief / Faith (Emunah) truly means.

In the portion of Lech Lecha we read of Abraham’s journey.

"And Hashem said to Avram, "Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you.   And I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will aggrandize your name, and [you shall] be a blessing. And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse, and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you. (Genesis 12:1-3)"    .

That Journey is not an easy one and Abraham is not seemingly showered with instant blessings and good tidings. A famine forces him to depart for Egypt, where his wife Sarai is taken to Pharaoh’s palace. Through miraculous intervention they are sent back to Canaan laden with riches and livestock. He then must contend with the rivalry between his people and those of his nephew, Lot. They separate and Lot is then taken captive by the armies of Chedorlaomer  and his three allied Kings as they capture Sodom and the other four neighboring cities. Abram sets out with a small band of soldiers to battle the Kings and subsequently frees Lot from their clutches.

When Abraham returns he encounters Malchitzedek  "a priest of the All High G-d”, who Jewish tradition believes to be Shem the son of Noah.

“And Malchizedek the king of Salem brought out bread and  wine, and he was a priest to the Most High G-d. And he blessed him, and he said, "Blessed be Abram to the Most High G-d, Who  possesses heaven and earth (Genesis 14 :18-19)"


We know that others before Abraham had an awareness of the "All High G-d," but. they saw Him as a  Deity beyond comprehension and any relationship. It was a Deity to be feared. 

Malchitzedek senses something different about this man Abraham. This man was blessed "to the Most High G-d, Who possesses heaven and earth". Abraham was teaching the world about a G-d you can cry to, talk to and even argue with. This was an intimacy with the Divine that would shake up the world.

It was an intimacy that was enacted on one side by a mere mortal. It was a relationship experienced by a man with all the insecurities and apprehensions that come with mortality.

Hashem knows this about Abraham and we then read the following. “After these incidents, the word of Hashem came to Abram in a vision, saying, "Fear not, Abram; I am your Shield; your reward is exceedingly great" ( Genesis 15:1)

 Yet Abraham is concerned about who will inherit his blessings.

Hashem then comforts him with the following words ;

“And He took him outside, and He said, "Please look heavenward and count the stars, if you are able to count them." And He said to him, "So will be your seed” 


In the following verse we read;

"And he believed ( He-Emeen) in Hashem, and He accounted it to him as righteousness.".   

 Again we must ask is belief all that one needs to achieve righteousness?

What exactly did Avraham do? What were the events that brought about this very short, but dramatic, declaration? The impossible test with Isaac at Mount Moriah had not yet occurred. He had not yet been told to send off his son Yishmael, born to Hagar, into the wilderness. Avraham had not even been commanded to enact the ritual of circumcision at the age of ninety-nine.

Still,  we are told that Avraham he'emeen (believed) in Hashem.We are told this, though, after some other verses.

G-d tells Avraham to go out and count the stars “And He took him outside, and He said, 'Please look heavenward and count the stars, if you are able to count them.' And then He said to him, 'So will be your seed.'"(Genesis 15:5).

In the midst of that commandment Hashem says “if you are able to count them,” declaring essentially to Avraham that it is an impossible task.

Then the verse says."And then He said to him. (ibid)” Yet G-d was in the midst of talking to Avraham. Why do we need to know that," then He said”. Clearly there was a pause between the words “If you are able to count them “ and the words “and then He said"

The question to ask is what did Avraham do during that pause?

Clearly he went out and started counting the stars just as G-d had asked him to do.

At that point G-d declares "So will be your seed.". He is telling him that it is that characteristic of “faithfulness- EMUNAH”  that will exemplify his children. They will endeavor to do even the impossible because that is what their beloved G-d asked them to do, They will endeavor to be faithful at all costs.

That is the point! The root source of the Hebrew word he'emeen (believed) comes from Ne-eman (Faithfulness) .

We see this throughout the Biblical text:

"The deeds of the [Mighty] Rock are perfect, for all His ways are just; a faithful G-d (Kel Emunah), without injustice He is righteous and upright ( Deuteronomy 32:4)"

And again;  “Now Moses hands were heavy; so they took a stone and placed it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one from this [side], and one from that [side]; so he was with his hands in faithfully ( Emunah) until sunset “(Exodus 17:12)

Emunah is not  simply belief. Emunah indicates of faithful belief. A belief that manifests itself in action.  It was Avraham’s faithfulness that was counted as righteousness and not the fact that deep in his heart he believed in Hashem

Avraham, at the age of seventy-five, was told to go forth into a land that he did not know. More importantly, he was told to go forth "unto the land that I will show thee." He did not even know where in fact he was to go. That event would transform and fashion the very nature of his soul and the souls of all his descendants.

The strength of the people who would descend from Avraham would focus in their willingness to go forth into the unknown future simply because that was their Divine destiny. It was that walking forward under Divine direction that would repeatedly change their history and advance the history of the world

Lerefuat Kol HaPtzuim ve Hacholim
Lerefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved and Yehudit bat Chaya Esther