Emunah – an Introduction – Part Two by Rabbi Chaim Jachter



In last week’s issue, we introduced a wide variety of sources which can help us identify the role Hashem plays in our lives. We continue that discussion in this issue.

Simanim to Bolster the Tevi’at Ayin

It is very gratifying to hear from many believing Jews, even many practicing rabbis, who very much enjoy our writings on Emunah. They felt that the writings strengthened their faith in Hashem and Torah, as they added to their Tevi’at Ayin recognition of Hashem. Adding Simanim to their basis of Tevi’at Ayin based Emunah enriched their faith.

An example from our writings will help illustrate this point. God-conscious individuals find it intuitive that God’s hand was involved in Israel’s establishment, the Six Day War and the Entebbe Raid. One need not have a thorough knowledge of these events to arrive at these conclusions. However, a careful examination of these events, to which we have devoted a number of Kol Torah articles, strengthens and confirms the Tevi’at Ayin recognition of the miracle.

Why Some Do Not Believe – Noise Drowning Out the Kol Demamah Dakkah

Every human being is naturally inclined to believe in God. Hashem has opened the door and given the capacity[1] for everyone to believe in Him. Rav Soloveitchik (Abraham’s Journey p.31) expresses the point eloquently: How does one recognize the Almighty? At times we meet Him on the street. He greets us first, as is written, “Peace, peace to him that is far off and to him that is near, says the Lord” (Yeshayahu 57:19).

The Meshech Chochmah[2] (commentary on Shemot 19:17) adds that “the Jewish soul is naturally inclined with an intense desire to fulfill God’s will.” If that is the case, then why do some who were raised in observant families and provided with a reasonable level of Jewish education choose to discard belief and Torah observance?

I gained insight into this phenomenon during an inspection of the Scarsdale Eiruv in 2015. We were walking on a busy and loud street and my cell phone rang repeatedly. I failed to hear the ring since the ring of my mobile telephone is subtle.

Hashem, in Melachim I Perek 19, presents Himself to Eliyahu HaNavi as a “Kol Demamah Dakkah,” a subtle and still voice. Hashem tells this to Eliyahu HaNavi after the latter demanded that Hashem reveal Himself in an absolute and indisputable manner at Har HaCarmel to motivate the Jews of Northern Israel to return to His service. Eliyahu HaNavi even goes so far as to blame Hashem for these Jews’ lack of faith, due to His failure to provide sufficient evidence of His presence (Melachim I 18:37)[3].

Hashem responded and proved His existence beyond a shadow of a doubt, and the Northern Jews responded “Hashem Hu HaElokim, Hashem Hu HaElokim[4]” (18:39). However, these Jews’ newly acquired faith quickly dissipated (see Malbim to Melachim I 19:2), and Eliyahu HaNavi ran away to Sinai in deep despair. Hashem then encountered Eliyahu and told him that Hashem is not made apparent through a fire, earthquake or hurricane; rather, Hashem appears through a subtle and quiet voice.

When Hashem appears in an obvious manner that does not involve any human effort , the impact is fleeting. As the Mishnah (Avot 5:21) teaches, “LeFum Tza’ara Agra,” “the reward is commensurate with the effort invested.” Therefore, Hashem explains to Eliyahu, He interacts with the world in a subtle manner in order to require that an effort be made to discover Him. When people invest in the quest for the divine, the impact has the potential to last. Hashem told Eliyahu that the way to bring people closer to God is not by performing overt miracles, but rather by training people to appreciate the Kol Demamah Dakkah of Hashem.

Although parents and teachers may have invested themselves in a student in an effort to teach him to discern and respond to Hashem’s Kol Demamah Dakkah, such efforts do not automatically bear fruit. Sometimes, various noises drown out the Kol Demamah Dakkah, just as my cellular phone’s soft ringtone was drowned by the noise on a busy Scarsdale street. The noises that drown out the Kol Demamah Dakkah may be external negative influences such as a spiritually impoverished environment that is deaf to the call of the Almighty, or it might be internal noise pollution which overshadows the subtle and still voice of Hashem. These may include unrestrained passions, desire for (a misleading) independence from the Halachic discipline and God, or lingering and unresolved psychological tension created by a variety of traumatic situations.

The return of those who have strayed depends primarily on them. Hashem reaches out, but people sometimes ignore Him. However, as we say in Ashrei thrice a day, “Karov Hashem LeChol Kore’av LeChol Asher Yikra’uhu VeEmet,” which teaches that Hashem is close to those who sincerely reach out to Him (Tehillim 145:18). Hashem will respond to man, but only if man takes the first step: “Hashem is good to those who yearn for Him, to the soul that seeks Him” (Eichah 3:25). Hashem says to us, “Open for Me an opening as narrow as the eye of the needle and I will open for you gates as wide as the entrances of palaces” (Midrash Rabbah Shir HaShirim 5:2). All the articles and arguments in the world will not convince someone to connect to Hashem and Torah unless he is willing to take the first step and eliminate the noise which creates a barrier between him and the Kol Demamah Dakkah.

A comparison may be made to physical exercise. Those of us who make time to exercise know that once one makes a commitment, momentum will cause one to naturally be drawn to exercise and embrace the experience. Hashem has created within us the ability to love exercise due to His concern and love for us. He wants us to take care of our bodies so He made it enjoyable to do so. However, one has to take the first step and make that effort.

Rav Lichtenstein (“The Source of Faith is Faith Itself”) writes that “The motto I inscribed in my college notebook was David’s plea: Tuv ta’am vada’at lamdeni key b’mitzvotecha he’emanti [“Teach me good discernment and knowledge, for I have believed in Your commandments,” Tehillim 119:66]. Answers, I of course continued –and continue – to seek, and have found many.” Rav Lichtenstein took the first step and constructively dealt with his questions and concerns about Torah.

Everyone else can make the same choice. Everyone can experience and encounter God as did Rav Lichtenstein. But it remains one’s choice to filter out the noise and be receptive to the Kol Demamah Dakkah[5].

Is Emunah More Difficult in the Contemporary Era?

Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky (Emet LeYa’akov to Shemot 7:22) brilliantly resolves the contradiction between Rambam (Peirush HaMishnayot to Avodah Zarah Perek 4), who rejects belief in Sheidim (demons), and the Gemara, which makes fairly frequent mention of Sheidim with the assumption that they exist. Rav Kamenetsky cites Kohelet (7:14), which teaches that “Zeh LeUmat Zeh Asah HaElokim,” meaning that Hashem creates a level playing field for Emunah.

Therefore, at a time when His presence is quite apparent, he must make a counterpart in order that we have a choice to believe[6]. Hence, during the time of the Gemara, when Hashem revealed Himself with a Bat Kol (heavenly voice) and other miracles recorded in the Gemara, Hashem introduced a spiritual counterweight of Sheidim to challenge us. However, in the time of Rambam, when such miracles ceased, there was no need for Hashem to introduce counterbalances such as Sheidim[7].

Undoubtedly, it was easier to feel God’s presence in pre-modern times. Rabbi Dr. Haym Soloveitchik eloquently describes this phenomenon in his widely read essay “Rupture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy” (Tradition 28:4):

“God's palpable presence and direct, natural involvement in daily life—and I emphasize both ‘direct’ and ‘daily’—, His immediate responsibility for everyday events, was a fact of life in the East European shtetl, so late as several generations ago. Let us remember Tevye's conversations with God portrayed by Sholom Aleichem…..

The world to which the uprooted [from the European shtetls] came, and in which their children were raised, was that of modern science, which had reduced nature to "an irreversible series of equations," to an immutable nexus of cause and effect, which suffices on its own to explain the workings of the world. Not that most, or even any, had so much as a glimmer of these equations, but the formulas of the "new country" had created a technology which they saw, with their own eyes, transforming their lives beyond all dreams. And it is hard to deny the reality of the hand that brings new gifts with startling regularity.

There are, understandably, few Tevyes today, even in haredi circles. To be sure, there are seasons of the year, moments of crest in the religious cycle, when God's guiding hand may be tangibly felt by some and invoked by many, and there are certainly occasions in the lives of most when the reversals are so sudden, or the stakes so high and the contingencies so many, that the unbeliever prays for luck, and the believer, more readily and more often, calls for His help. Such moments are only too real, but they are not the stuff of daily life. And while there are always those whose spirituality is one apart from that of their time, nevertheless I think it safe to say that the perception of God as a daily, natural force is no longer present to a significant degree in any sector of modern Jewry, even the most religious. Indeed, I would go so far as to suggest that individual Divine Providence, though passionately believed as a theological principle—and I do not for a moment question the depth of that conviction—is no longer experienced as a simple reality. With the shrinkage of God's palpable hand in human affairs has come a marked loss of His immediate presence, with its primal fear and nurturing comfort. With this distancing, the religious world has been irrevocably separated from the spirituality of its fathers, indeed, from the religious mood of intimate anthropomorphism that had cut across all the religious divides of the Old World[8].”


We will, God Willing, continue with an analysis of Rav Dr. Haym Soloveitchik’s insight. We will note how Hashem has created new and varied opportunities for Emunah to counterbalance the phenomena Rav Dr. Soloveitchik has outlined.

[1] However, Hashem does not coerce us to believe in Him, as that would ruin the legitimacy of His relationship with us.

[2] The Meshech Chochmah bases his assertion on the celebrated teaching of Rambam (Hilchot Geirushin 2:20) that every Jew fundamentally wishes to observe the Torah but is swayed from doing so only due to the influence of his Yeitzer HaRa (evil inclination). Rambam’s source appears to be the Gemara (Niddah 30b) which tells us that when a child is in the womb it is taught the entire Torah, and at birth it forgets it all. This Gemara teaches us that Hashem implants a natural love of and inclination to Torah into every Jew.

[3] See Berachot 31b for the Gemara’s criticism of Eliyahu HaNavi’s demand.

[4] We echo these statements on Yom Kippur, since one can reach the same level of certitude regarding Hashem’s existence through the intense religious experience of Yom Kippur even without witnessing a violation of the laws of nature such as those which occurred at Har HaCarmel.

[5] One of the most important lessons and precious gifts that a parent can give his children is to teach them to be open to experience and discern Hashem’s presence in our lives. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe Yoreh Dei’ah 3:76) writes that parents should teach their children about Emunah at a very young age. I vividly recall my mother’s telling me at a very young age that Hashem judges us on Rosh HaShanah. My mother believed this phenomenon to be as real as the walls in our house, and she succeeded in the transmission of this intense belief to her children.

[6] As we explained earlier, if there is no choice to believe, then we cannot have a two-way relationship with Hashem.

[7] This is also the deeper meaning behind the encounter between Rav Ashi and Menasheh (Sanhedrin 102b) in which Menasheh tells Rav Ashi that had Rav Ashi lived during his times, he would have run after idolatry. During an era when the presence of God was very intensely felt, the pull to Avodah Zarah was much greater, in order for service of Hashem to be challenging and therefore a choice.

[8] Rav Dr. Soloveitchik concludes his essay by observing the following:

“It is this rupture in the traditional religious sensibilities that underlies much of the transformation of contemporary Orthodoxy. Zealous to continue traditional Judaism unimpaired, religious Jews seek to ground their new emerging spirituality less on a now unattainable intimacy with Him, than on an intimacy with His Will, avidly eliciting Its intricate demands and saturating their daily lives with Its exactions. Having lost the touch of His presence, they seek now solace in the pressure of His yoke.”

Emunah – an Introduction – Part Three by Rabbi Chaim Jachter

Emunah – An Introduction – Part One by Rabbi Chaim Jachter