Faith in God: A Jewish Perspective.
It starts with the intellect and slowly enters the heart.
Loosely translated as faith in God, emuna is considered the cornerstone of Jewish belief and practice. What does the term emuna mean? How does this affect my life? When are we as Jews required to have or practice this emuna?
Unfortunately, many people assume that emuna refers to blind faith. However, this is not the case. In the Aleinu prayer recited at or near the end of every prayer service, we proclaim: “And you shall know today, and take to heart, that God is the only God…” We are instructed to ‘know’ that God exists. Blind leaps of faith have nothing to do with knowledge; they are expressions of what one wishes to be true, not what is in fact necessarily true.
Emuna begins in the mind as intellectual Emuna, formed after hard rational work and inquiry. Ultimate contemplation of the world and how it could not be created other than by an infinite Being will help us achieve this intellectual faith.
Knowing in our minds that our Creator is there is the first step. However, in time and with repeated practice, emuna can melt into the heart. After we readily acknowledge that God is part of our life and never leaves, we can work on developing loyalty to God with that knowledge and slowly begin to feel it internally. Rather than pure intellectual belief, emuna should be defined as the act of being faithful or loyal. It is the basic requirement of any healthy relationship and demands constant reinforcement.
With time and dedication we can strive toward living a life permeated by emuna. Emuna is developed throughout a lifetime and needs to be repeatedly contemplated. Loyalty to God becomes essential when life throws us a sharp curve ball which may cause us to lose balance and doubt that things truly are for the best.
Yet at these painful times, it is also more difficult to exercise our emuna muscles. It becomes most challenging when reality presents hardships that conflict with our ability to intellectually understand. The loss of harmony between that which we know in our minds to be true – God is taking care of us as part of His nation – yet do not enjoy or cannot see the logic in, is what provides us with our free will.
Through the means of free will, we choose whether to remain loyal to the word of God in spite of the pain, or to shun the word of God because of its seeming illogicality. Emuna is understanding that we cannot understand the totality of God’s knowledge, but recognizing and accepting that everything serves a purpose despite this.
Once we know logically that God is always with us, and we have started practicing this loyalty regularly, we can now engage in everyday life with trust in Him. This feeling of trust gives us a gift of security knowing that we are in perfect hands as we are being individually directed and handled by God Himself. Therefore, we can enjoy the feeling that we are being led through life by means of a personal guide, and that there is meaning and purpose to every event that occurs.
Emuna comes with practice of the mind and action. Utilizing life’s encounters as a prospect to seeing God in my life increases our awareness of His constant presence. We can use challenges as catalysts to come closer to our Creator since we extract meaning and grow from the experience.
For example, when traveling by bus to Jerusalem we can sit back, relax and enjoy the view. We can be free from worry, knowing that the driver is professional and knows how and where to drive. If we did not trust the driver’s skill, or we thought we could drive a bus better than him,, we may sit on edge the entire ride, questioning his navigation skills and driving abilities. In contrast, with emuna we can calmly sit on the bus, enjoy the scenery and await our final destination.
Sitting in bumper to bumper car traffic is boot camp for strengthening our emuna muscles. Some thoughts to ponder might include:
- I must be delayed for a good reason;
- maybe it is slippery ahead and needed to slow down or possibly;
- I need time to recollect my thoughts before continuing to drive.
The bottom line – there is purpose to my slowing down and it is all good for me even if I cannot readily see it.
Having someone cut the line while waiting for a cashier is another opportunity to exercise my emuna muscles. Perhaps this is a chance to refine my personality by allowing the other person to go in front without feeling bitter?
Emuna is looking beyond the limited now and knowing that we may not fully grasp the meaning of what is happening. We think we know what is best for us, but emuna means have faith that only God really knows. Nonetheless, we also have faith that one day we too will know.