Towards the Yamim Ha-Nora’im (The High Holydays), we review the foundations of emunah (faith) and the ways of developing it. Consequently, I thought to publish excerpts from the book I am working on, concerning matters of emunah, and the negation of avodah zara (idolatry).
It is a mitzvah for a person to establish emunah in his consciousness, emotions, and all of his life.
In consciousness, namely, in the study of emunah and its meaning, as written in the Torah:
“Realize it today and ponder it in your heart: God is the Supreme Being in heaven above and on the earth beneath – there is no other” (Deuteronomy 4:39); also: “I am God your Lord” (Exodus 20: 2); moreover: “Listen, Israel, God is our Lord, God is One” (Deuteronomy 6: 4); and: “Acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought” (Chronicles 28: 9).
In emotions, namely, in the mitzvah to love God, as written:
“Love God your Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6: 5), and in the mitzvah to fear the great and awesome God, as written: “Remain in awe of God” (Deuteronomy 10:20).
In all of one’s life, by studying Torah and fulfilling its mitzvot, as written: “In all your ways acknowledge him” (Proverbs 3: 6).
By way of three central foundations, emunah is established in consciousness, emotion, and in all of life:
1) The revelation of God through Am Yisrael;
2) Observation of creation in all wonders, and in man, created in the image of God;
3) In the revealing of each individual’s talents, and implementing them in accordance to Torah guidance.
The First Foundation: The Revelation through Am Yisrael
The first foundation for establishing emunah through the revelation of God to the world through Am Yisrael, began with the revelation to our forefather, Avraham Avinu, in the command to immigrate to the Land of Israel, in order to establish a great and blessed people who will reveal His Word to the world, and bring blessing to all nations, as written:
“God said to Abram, ‘Go away from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you great. You shall become a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and he who curses you, I will curse. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you’ (Genesis 12: 1-3).
And further revelations were to our forefathers Yitzchak Avinu and Yaakov Avinu, the bondage of Egypt and the exodus to freedom, until the climax of the Giving of the Torah, and from there, entry into the Land, settling it, the construction of the Temple, and all the prophetic revelations that accompanied it. The entire history of Israel from then until today, in exile and in redemption, are a testimony to God’s governance of his world, as written: “You are my witnesses, says the Lord” (Isaiah 43:10).
In order to understand this foundation in all its breadth and profoundness, we were commanded to study Torah, while observing its divine revelations, and the entire history of Am Yisrael, which begins with the Tanakh, and continues with the words of our Sages until today. To this end, we were also commanded to recount the Exodus from Egypt on the Seder night at great length; commanded to remember the Exodus on all Sabbaths and holidays, and to remember the Exodus as part of our daily prayer.
Moreover, we were commanded to remember the Giving of the Torah and the revelation on Mount Sinai on the Festival of Shavuot, and on the Festival of Sukkot, to remember all of God’s providence over us. Also, on Purim and Chanukah, to remember the providence of God, and his salvation during the reign of Persia and Greece.
From this deep basic understanding which deals with the connection between God and Israel his people, it is possible to learn and establish the connection between God and man, and to all of humanity.
The Second Foundation: Observing Creation
This entails observing the wonderful divine wisdom revealed in all creation – in the vastness of space and galaxies, and in the miniscule cell and atomic particles, in oceans and continents, in vegetation and in life, and to be filled with emunah and thanksgiving to God.
“Praise the Lord, my soul. Lord my God, you are very great…How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom, you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number— living things both large and small” (Psalm 104: 1; 24-25).
To see the deeds of God through observing the wonder, the sublimity, the power and the beauty of creation.
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:2).
This observation also intensifies love and fear of God, and as Rambam (Maimonides) wrote:
“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 God’s great Name, as David stated: “My soul thirsts for the Lord, for the living God” (Psalms 42:3). When he continues to reflect on these same matters, he will immediately recoil in awe and fear, appreciating how he is a tiny, lowly, and dark creature, standing with his flimsy, limited, wisdom before He who is of perfect knowledge, as David stated: “When I see Your heavens, the work of Your fingers… I wonder what is man that You should recall Him” (Psalms 8:4-5) (Yesodei Ha-Torah 2:2). To accomplish this, one must study the natural sciences.
Moreover, one must look at the crown of creation, at man, created in the image of God, by whom the Divine Will is revealed. In man, with all the variety of his marvelous talents and achievements throughout history, which include science, research, literature and art, and above all, ideal morals and aspirations. Through man’s enterprise, the Divine Will is revealed.
The Prayers and Blessings that Express this Foundation
In order to establish this foundation in our lives, our Sages determined that in the framework of prayer, hymns of thanksgiving and praise to God for the miracle of creation and all the good in life be said, for example, the verses of Pesukei de’Zimra, and the first blessing in the blessings of Kriyat Shma, specifically, the blessing over the luminaries of day and night. They also determined that every person should bless God for all the good things he receives enjoyment from, from the pleasure of food one eats, to the enjoyment of smell. In addition, one should recite the blessings of praise to God when he sees the wonders of creation, such as oceans, rivers, and extraordinary landscapes.
The mitzvah of Shabbat also roots this foundation in our lives, for on Shabbat we remember God who created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day, and out of pleasure and rest, we study Torah.
The Third Foundation: Walking in the Ways of God
The third foundation extends over all areas of life, in other words, that in all of one’s paths, he walks in the ways of God, and thereby establishes emunah in all his own ways, reveals the image of God within him, adds goodness and blessing to the world, and is partner with God in the world’s advancement and development.
As the Torah says: “Follow God your Lord…cling to Him” (Deuteronomy 13: 5).
Our Sages asked: But is it actually possible for a person to follow the Divine Presence? Hasn’t it already been stated: “For the Lord your God is a devouring fire!” (Deuteronomy 4:24). Rather, the meaning is that one should follow the attributes of the Holy One, Blessed be He (Sotah 14a). He clothes the naked, so too, you should clothe the naked; He visits the sick, so too, you should visit the sick; He consoles mourners, so too, you should console mourners, etc.
Our Sages also said (Vayikra Rabbah 25:3), that the way to cling to God is by engaging in yishuvo shel olam (settlement of the world). Just as “the Holy One, blessed be He, from the very beginning of the creation of the world was before all, else occupied with planting… and so too, when you enter into the land, occupy yourselves first with nothing else but planting,” as written: “When you come to the promised land and plant any tree bearing edible fruit” (Leviticus 19:23).
Thus, every person should aspire in his work to add good and blessing in the world; if he is a builder – he should strive to build strong and good houses; if he is a farmer – grow healthy and tasty fruits; and if he manufactures furniture – produce good and comfortable fittings. Merchants, as well, should endeavor in their trade to add goodness and blessing and be careful not to cheat in negotiation, and by doing so, they cleave to the attributes of God, whose seal is truth (Shabbat 55a).
In addition, even with the money one earns in his work, he should add goodness and blessing, set aside ma’aser (tithes) for the observance of the Torah and its glorification, help the poor, support his family, and educate his children in Torah and derech eretz (good manners). And if he grows fruit, he should set aside from them terumot and ma’asrot (tithes) for the Kohanim, Levites, and the poor.
In the Family
In one’s marriage, as well, a person should strive to be loving and faithful, for by doing so he walks in the ways of God, because the idea of love and unity is drawn from the love that God has for his creatures, and from the singular root of all creatures. As our Sages said, that a husband and wife who are faithful and loving to each other – the Divine Presence rests between them (Sotah 17a).
In the birth of children, their education and livelihood, parents also cling to God and become partners with him in adding life to the world, as indeed, our Sages have said: “There are three partners in the forming of a person: The Holy One, Blessed be He, who provides the soul, and his father and his mother.
When a person honors his father and mother, the Holy One, Blessed be He, says: I ascribe credit to them as if I dwelt between them and they honor Me as well” (Kiddushin 30b). Subsequently, we learned that the commandment to honor parents is also related to the honor of Heaven. There are also laws, such as the prohibition against eating various foods, such as unclean animals or meat in milk, and by keeping them, we cleave to God in our eating as well.
In order for us to be able to cling to God in all our ways, God has given us His Torah and commandments, and by persistence and deepening in Torah study and diligence in keeping the commandments, we are able to establish emuna in our lives, cling to God, and work to rectify the world.
This is the meaning of the verse: “In all your ways know him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3: 6). Our Sages said: “This is a brief passage upon which all fundamental principles of Torah are dependent” (Berachot 63a).
Wealth from Monetary Tithes
Q: Our Sages said: “A tithe shall you tithe [te’aser]” – so that you will become wealthy [titasher]” (Ta’anit 9a), and it is even permissible to test God in this, namely, that a person can set aside ma’aser, and see for himself that he will get rich. What is this guaranteed wealth?
A: This does not mean a person will become one of the wealthiest people in the world, for indeed, great wealth is a difficult test, because, as we have seen, many of the truly wealthy suffer from personal and family tensions and fail in educating their children. In addition, many also falter in pride and lust because of their wealth, and fail to give charity properly. Thus, instead of meriting doing good deeds with their money, they inherit hell.
Rather, the blessing is that a person will have a respectable livelihood, according to time and place. A nice apartment, nice furniture, good clothes, and be able to pay for all his health needs, and have savings for times of need. And no less important – that he is also happy with what he has.
A person who has earned great wealth should know that he is facing an enormous test, and if he is privileged to continually contribute ma’aser,chomesh and even more, he will be counted among the righteous, and add blessing to himself, and to the world.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.