Strengthening Our Belief in Hashem and His Beautiful Torah – Part Seven: Emunah Peshutah by Rabbi Chaim Jachter


In this concluding essay in our series of discussions about Emunah, we discuss whether it is indeed worthwhile to engage in these discussions to strengthen our Emunah.

A Reverse Tinok SheNishbah?

We should note at the outset a distinct advantage of making the effort to strengthen our faith.  The Rambam (Hilchot Mamrim 3:3) speaks of those raised in heretical environments as equivalent to a Tinok SheNishbah, one who was captured and raised in a Nochri environment. Such an individual is regarded in some manner as being coerced to live in the fashion in which he was raised; thus we do not harshly condemn someone raised in such circumstances for his failure to believe in traditional Jewish belief.  A TABC student once remarked that if we do not take the time to deepen our belief in Hashem and the divine origin of the Torah, and we believe only because our parents and community believe, then in a certain regard, we are similar to a Tinok SheNishbah. Just as the sins of a Tinok SheNishbah among heretical Jews is not viewed as severe, so too, one could argue that the Mitzvot of one believes simply because he follows the prevailing belief in his social circle are not viewed as having great meaning. Thus, it is highly worth investing the time to enhance and deepen one’s Emunah.  There are many portals and paths to Emunah.  We outlined some of these approaches in this series and each of us can find Rebbeim and Sefarim that will lead us to other opportunities and paths to be able to declare that one believes BeEmunah Sheleimah, in full faith.

Emunah Peshutah

Nonetheless, one who finds belief in Hashem and other traditional Torah beliefs to be intuitive and obvious (Emunah Peshutah) is not a reverse Tinok SheNishbah.  Such an individual does not necessarily need to delve into the issues and arguments we have raised.  These people readily and intuitively perceive the light of Torah which draws us near Hashem (as expressed in the Yerushalmi Chagigah 1:10). For such a person, every Tefillah and every encounter with Torah further deepens his or her faith without the need for the discussions in this series of essays.

For example, from a young age, I found it intuitive that the Torah is a divine document and that our history is so unusual that it was obvious to me that it was guided by God’s hand.  For example, as a junior in high school, I studied two Shakespearean plays, Hamlet and Macbeth. I found these two plays enthralling, magnificent and far superior to any other secular literature I had ever encountered.  However, I recognized even as a youngster, that while these were outstanding works, they paled in comparison to the Torah in its depth, manifold interpretations, and continued relevance.  I recognized that Shakespeare represents the pinnacle of human achievement, but yet  that Torah is “in another league,” being that it is the product of a divine author.

Many Torah educators historically have not taught Emunah to their Talmidim and Talmidot.  Perhaps they feel that through the study of Torah, the students will be exposed to the majesty of Torah and inevitably arrive by themselves to the conclusion that the Torah is a divine document.  The Rambam (Hilchot Issurei Biah 22:32) might be expressing this idea by teaching that a Torah scholar “recognizes the crown of Torah.”

Strengthening Emunah

However, an insight from Rav Elchanan Wasserman might support delving into matters of Emunah. He notes that the Torah records (Shemot 14:31) that after Keriat Yam Suf, we believed in Hashem and Moshe.  However, it is clear that we believed in Hashem even prior to the splitting of the Yam Suf, as the Torah explicitly states that we believed in Hashem and Moshe Rabbeinu much earlier in the Exodus process (Shemot 4:31).  Rav Elchanan explains that Shemot 14:31 does not mean that only after Keriyat Yam Suf we believed in Hashem; rather, it means that our faith was enhanced and deepened as a result of that intense experience. Perhaps one of the reasons we recite this Pasuk on a daily basis to remind us that even one with Emunah can enrich his faith and thereby deepen his commitment to meticulous Torah observance.

A Remedy for Shallow Emunah

Rashi (to BeReishit 7:7) surprisingly describes Noach’s Emunah as shallow.  He observes that even Noach did not enter the Teivah until the flood waters overwhelmed him.  The Steipler Rav (Birkat Peretz to Parashat Noach) explains that although Noach believed in Hashem, he did not believe in the truth of Hashem’s word on the same level as he believed in the reality of the mundane world.  Proper belief is one in which one believes in Hashem and His Torah on the same level as he believes, for example, that the sun and the moon exist.

The Steipler Rav (ibid.) explains that this is the essential lesson of the deathbed advice offered by Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai that “One’s fear of Hashem should be the same as his fear of Man.”  The existence of Hashem and the truth of His Torah should be just as obvious as the existence of other people.  Otherwise the Emunah is shallow, and the resulting level of commitment to completely and properly observe the Torah is limited.  The Rambam (Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 1:1) writes that the Mitzvah is to “know” that God exists.  One can know that God exists and that the Torah is a divine document based on rational arguments such as those we have put forth in this series. One does not require a “leap of faith” to believe in Torah. Exceedingly reasonable arguments can lead one to know that Hashem revealed the Torah to our ancestors at Sinai in an identical manner that we know Abraham Lincoln served as president of the United States and not merely believe that he was the chief executive. 

Engaging Talmidim in discussions in Emunah has the potential to transform shallow Emunah to a deep-rooted belief, which yields a firm life-long commitment to Torah observance.  Christian Anfinsen, a 1972 winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, converted to Orthodox Judaism and retained it for the rest of his life. In Anfinsen’s writing, his feeling was that the history, practice and intensity of Judaism were an extremely interesting philosophical package.  Anfinsen is not alone in highly intelligent and educated non-Jews converting to Orthodox Judaism.  If those who are raised outside the Jewish community recognize the compelling truth of Orthodox Judaism, certainly those raised within the Orthodox community should readily grasp and internalize the rational bases for our beliefs.  Rav Moshe Wolfson of Brooklyn famously remarked that Jews have Emunah etched into their DNA just as a beaver’s ability to make a dam is embedded in its DNA, and a bird’s ability to make a nest is a part of its genetic makeup.  Thus, presenting healthy minded Jews the rational basis of Judaism can serve to deepen Emunah and solve the problem of “Noachs” in our community.

Bava Batra 89b - Oy Li Im Omeir Oy Li Im Lo Omeir

Some will argue that it is better not to examine issues of Emunah with students and youngsters because it may cause those who already believe to question those beliefs.  This concern is reminiscent of a dilemma of Chazal recorded in Bava Batra 89b.  Honesty in weights and measures is forcefully commanded by the Torah and should be strictly enforced by the authorities in a Torah community.  Chazal were aware of all the tricks which a swindling merchant might do to deceive his customers - from using metal weights which wore out with use, to employing heavy sticks to smooth out measured flour to the disadvantage of the buyer. Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai thus expressed his dilemma in regard to making public this awareness: “Oy Li Im Omeir Oy Li Im Lo Omeir,” "Woe to me if I speak, woe to me if I do not speak."

Should he speak and reveal these strategies there was a danger that swindlers might learn from him how to better deceive their unknowing customers. Should he not speak, his silence might be interpreted by the swindlers as an indication that the sages were unaware of their tricks.  Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai finally resolved his dilemma on the basis of Hoshea 14:10: "The ways of Hashem are straight. The righteous walk safely upon them and the sinners stumble." The ways of Hashem must be made known to all, decided Raban Yochanan ben Zakkai, and it was the free will of man to utilize the information for good or evil.

Will there be those who will react to discussions of Emunah with contrived and unreasonable responses that employ tortured logic? Unfortunately, the answer might be yes. Strategies should be taken to manage this concern properly and sometimes a frontal approach to large groups to presenting issues of Emunah might be unwise.  Caution should be exercise but this concern should not deprive the vast majority of Orthodox Jews who will spiritually prosper from an effective and well-presented rational explanation for Torah livng .

Conclusion – Mainstream Orthodox Education for Emunah

Discussions of the rational basis belief in Hashem and the divine origin of the Torah have, generally speaking, been confined to Jews who engage in outreach to non-observant Jews .  However, it may be appropriate for rabbis, educators and parents throughout the Orthodox community to occasionally discuss these matters .  The risk of not addressing the rational basis of our faith and hoping that it will somehow be inculcated naturally is readily apparent.  Shallow commitment and instances of lapsed commitment are, regrettably, not rare occurrences in all segments of the Orthodox community. The phenomenon of texting on Shabbat is a manifestation of this problem .  Since the evidence of Hashem and the divine origin of the Torah are so accessible and readily understood, it behooves any Jew who is concerned about preserving the Jewish legacy to devote some time to strengthen one’s own Emunah and the Emunah of his fellow Jews .  We prefer to engage in substantive Torah study and not engage in mere discussion about the Torah.  However, some time must be devoted to discussing the fundamentals of our faith.


It is important to stress something at this series’ conclusion, which we noted at its beginning .  There are many portals to Emunah and the arguments and sources which satisfy this author, but may not necessarily satisfy others.  One who is not satisfied with the arguments we presented should consult other Rabbanim, teachers and texts which can provide alternative directions (such as a more Chassidic approach) .

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