Emunah – An Introduction – Part One by Rabbi Chaim Jachter


Emunah, belief in Hashem and the divine origin of the Torah, is rather straightforward and can be explained in five minutes or less. In fact, Charlie Harary does a fine job setting forth this belief in a five minute video available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dv2PgYw2W7g. Let us briefly set forth his points.

The Truth of Hashem and Torah – Basic Arguments

Our connection with Hashem is compared in Shir HaShirim (as understood by Chazal; see, for example, Rashi’s commentary to Shir HaShirim) to a groom and bride[1]. Charlie Harary builds on this idea and notes the obvious point that a relationship is possible only if the parties choose to be in the relationship. Since Hashem desires a relationship with us, He affords us the choice to enter a relationship with Him.

For this reason, Hashem cannot make His presence blatant and obvious, since this would not leave us the choice as to whether to enter the relationship or not. If Hashem would announce to us one morning, “hello, here I am,” we would be left with no choice other than to acknowledge Him[2]. Therefore Hashem chooses to hide and challenges us to discover him and pronounce “Hinei Zeh Omeid Achar Kotleinu Mashgiach Min HaChalonot Meitzitz Min HaCharakim,” “Here He is, standing behind our wall, peering through the lattice work” (Shir HaShirim 2:9).

On the other hand, Hashem must make it possible for us to discover Him in order for there to be a relationship between us and Hashem. Thus, Hashem hides Himself, but not to the extent that we are unable to find Him. In Parashat Ha’azinu (Devarim 32:11) Hashem is described as being “KeNesher Ya’ir Kino Al Gozalav Yerachef,” like an eagle arousing its nest, hovering over its young. Rashi (ad. loc.) explains that Hashem is “Nogei’a VeEino Nogei’a,” He touches but does not touch. Hashem hovers above us making Himself known in a subtle and less than obvious manner. However, His presence is able to be discerned by all if even just a minimal amount of thought is devoted to the matter.

Charlie Harary notes three portals through which we can recognize Hashem. The first is through nature. Mr. Harary expresses the point very well – we know how the body works but we are challenged to ask why it works so well. There are millions of parts of the body and they are all “in synch.” Could this just be a matter of chance, he asks? We should ask the same with the entire world. Why do all the billions and billions of parts all work together? Is this a product of chance as well?

The same, he notes, can and should be said regarding the history of the Jewish People. How could such a relentlessly persecuted people not only survive but even thrive? How could the state of Israel survive living among a sea of hostile neighbors bent on its destruction? It is an ongoing sixty-eight year Chanukah miracle of the many in the hands of the few, right before our eyes[3]!

Finally, Hashem revealed Himself not to an individual but to an entire nation of our ancestors. This stands in stark contrast to every other belief-system in the world.

Recognizing Hashem - Tevi’at Ayin vs. Simanim

Thus, if belief in Hashem and His Torah is so obvious, why then is there a need for an extended discussion of Emunah in Kol Torah? In order to answer this question, we cite Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik’s analysis presented in his magnificent work Abraham’s Journey, pages 29-31. Rav Soloveitchik notes that anyone who studied the second chapter of Bava Metzia (Eilu Metzi’ot) knows that there are two means of identifying an object. One is to describe the item by signs or marks, known as Simanim. The other means of identification of an object is from a general impression of its form without knowing its marks. This type of recognition, called Tevi’at Ayin, is triggered by the apprehension of the configuration or of the whole item as such.

Rav Soloveitchik also notes the following:

“Halacha considers general recognition to be far superior to identification by naming marks. Configurative recognition is solid, a certainty….Identification by Simanim is not instantaneous; it consists in an act of inferring: the object belongs to me because I know the mark that is characteristic of this object. If it were not mine how would I know this mark? Of course, there are two possibilities: either I saw the object before, or there are two objects with the identical characteristics. The decision by the court to accept the sign as a piece of evidence is based on probability and statistics. However, identification based upon a general impression of the configuration or the whole is spontaneous, instantaneous.”

Rav Soloveitchik concludes: “Recognition of God is an art in itself. It is a double one: by Simanim and by Tevi’at Ayin[4].”

Many of us come to recognize Hashem through Tevi’at Ayin. It can come through the venues presented by Charlie Harary. It can also come from recognizing the grandeur of Torah[5] by recognizing that the profundity of Torah is compared to all other disciplines. For example, anyone who had the pleasure of hearing a Shiur Kelali (lecture on a broad topic) delivered by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein or by his student Rav Michael Rosensweig recognizes the greatness of Torah. In the words of my Torah Academy of Bergen County colleague Rav Raphi Mandelstam, a devoted student of Rav Rosensweig, “Hearing Rav Rosensweig delivering an extended in-depth Shiur in which he ties together all the various and nuanced aspects of a Sugya (Talmudic topic) is like experiencing the revelation of Torah at Har Sinai.” Anyone who studies Rav Soloveitchik’s majestic Shiurim LeZeicher Abba Mori Z”l can relive the Ma’amad Har Sinai experience that attendees of his great Yahrtzeit Shiurim felt.

In describing the sources of his faith, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, (“The Source of Faith is Faith Itself”) beautifully writes of his Tevi’at Ayin experience:

“The greatest source of faith, however, has been the Ribbono Shel Olam Himself….Existentially, nothing has been more authentic than the encounter with Avinu Malkeinu, the source and ground of all being. Nothing more sustaining, nothing more strengthening, nothing more vivifying. The encounter, of course, has been varied. In part it has been channeled – primarily through Talmud Torah (this is no doubt an aspect of the ‘Ma’or Shebah,’ the light within it, of which Chazal[6] spoke) but also through Tefilah and the performance of Mitzvot; or if you will, by the halakhic regimen in its totality. In part, it has been random – moments of illumination while getting on a crowded bus or watching children play in a park at twilight. Obviously, it has been greatly varied in intensity. In its totality, however, whatever the form and content, it has been the ultimate basis of spiritual life[7].”

Nonetheless, despite the superiority of a Tevi’at Ayin type of recognition of Hashem and His Torah, the Gemara (Chullin 60b) presents an example of identification by Simanim. The Gemara presents this point as a response to those who deny the divine origin of the Torah. However, such Simanim may also deepen and broaden the belief of those who already intuitively recognize Hashem and the divine origin of the Torah.


We will, God willing, outline the various Simanim which can help us strengthen our relationship with Hashem in next week’s issue.

[1] The relationship between Hashem and the Jewish People is a recurring theme in Torah literature. Hoshei’a Perek 2 is an excellent example.

[2] Meshech Chochmah (to Shemot 19:17) thus explains Chazal’s assertion (Shabbat 88a) that we were coerced to receive the Torah at Sinai. This is a difficult statement in light of the fact that Sefer Shemot (Perakim 19 and 24) record that we chose to accept the Torah. Rather, Meshech Chochmah explains, the fact that Hashem revealed Himself so starkly at Sinai rendered choice impossible and it was as if we were coerced to receive the Torah at Sinai. The Gemara continues and explains that we later accepted the Torah out of choice during the time of Achashveirosh. This certainly fits with Meshech Chochmah’s idea. Only when Hashem reveals Himself in a subtle manner, as exemplified by Megillat Esther, do we enter into an authentic relationship with Hashem.

[3] When asked why, for all his skepticism, he still believed in God, Voltaire (cited in Rav Dr. Walter Wurzburger’s God is Proof Enough, p. 62) replied: “Had it not been for the miracle of the survival of the Jewish People, I would have given up this proof as well.”

[4] A full, eloquent and moving articulation of recognition of Hashem by Tevi’at Ayin is presented by Rav Dr. Walter Wurburger, a leading student of Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, in his work God is Proof Enough. A more brief but very compelling presentation of Emunah generated by Tevi’at Ayin is Rav Aharon Lichtenstein’s beautiful essay “The Source of Faith is Faith Itself” printed in Jewish Action 53:1 (Fall 1992) and Tradition 47:4 (Winter 2014). Rav Lichtenstein is the leading student of Rav Soloveitchik.

[5] Referred to by Rambam (Hilchot Isurei Biah 21:32) as the recognition of the crown of Torah. The ignorant Jew, writes Rambam, is not acquainted with the crown of Torah. One of the most important, if not the most important, goals of Jewish educators is for their students to acquire the appreciation of the crown of Torah.

[6] Eichah Rabbah, Petichta 2.

[7] In this essay, Rav Lichtenstein writes that his Rebbei’im serve as great sources of inspiration to him in his belief in Hashem and Torah. As a Talmid of Rav Lichtenstein, it is difficult to express the depth of the impact he has had on me and thousands of others in bolstering our faith. Rav Lichtenstein was a role model and pillar of faith for those who had the privilege to, to use a Biblical phrase, sit in his shadow. Rav Lichtenstein’s depth of commitment and spirituality was breathtaking. His deep devotion to Torah was simply incredible. Most of all, the fact that this great man had emerged as a superstar from Harvard University and was totally devoted to Torah serves as an inspiration for anyone who has any doubts about Hashem and our Torah. Since Rav Lichtenstein believed, it must be true. Since a man with such brilliance, vast Torah and secular knowledge, integrity, dignity, kindness and morality believed, it must be true.

Emunah – an Introduction – Part Two by Rabbi Chaim Jachter

Yosef, Divine Intervention and Gaza Rockets by Rabbi Chaim Jachter