Learn Emunah:
Section One, Lesson One:
The Importance of Emunah

By Rabbi Shlomo Nachman © October 11, 2018

I believe with perfect emunah
    that the Creator, blessed be His Name...

Each of Rambam's Thirteen Principles of Judaism begins with the words: אֲנִי מַאֲמִין בֶּאֱמוּנָה, "I believe with perfect emunah..." Emunah, which I usually translate as "active faith" rather than the customary word "faith" alone, is the heart of all true spiritual attainment. By perfecting our emunah we draw ever closer to HaShem.

Jews are often referred to as the "People of the Book." Certainly Torah (our "Book") is of fundamental importance. After all it is through the Torah that we gain knowledge of the Truth leading to perfect emunah. Without emunah however there would be no Torah. It was the unshakable emunah of Avraham, Yitzchak, Ya'akov and Moshe Rabbeinu that resulted in the revelation of Torah. It is due to the emunah of Jews throughout the bitter ages that the Torah survived and that its purity remains intact. Emunah is therefore the key to everything else. Without emunah why would anyone study and observe the Torah? At the same time, without the unshakable Truth of Torah emunah would not have developed nor sustained us to the present day. Both are essential.

"The world regards emunah as something minor, but I consider it as being of the greatest importance. The way to emunah is through simplicity, without sophistry or philosophy" (Sichot Haran #33.
Emunah is the key to everything! How emunah is developed is vitally important.
"The only way to attain emunah is through truth. Emunah is only applicable in the case of something which cannot be understood rationally. Where one can understand something rationally there is no question [need] of emunah being involved at all. But there are certain things which can never be understood rationally. How can one come to have emunah in things one must believe in [without objective evidence]?

Emunah depends upon truth. If you will only search for the truth with complete honesty you will eventually realize that you must have emunah in G-d, in the true Tzadikim [ie our righteous teachers]and in the holy Torah. You will realize this in spite of the fact that such emunah is not something that is susceptible to our rational understanding, bound as our rational faculties are by the material nature of our existence. If you think about things with uncompromising honesty you will get a glimmer of understanding that this really is the truth. Reason will not help here. You need emunah that is strong and total. Understand this well" (Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, Likutey Moharan 7:2).
When learning emunah we begin at the beginning of all things. Our Torah begins with a statement that even today can neither be objectively proven or disproved. Emunah however confirms everything. "In the beginning of G-d's creation...." or as Genesis 1:1 is more commonly translated, "In the beginning G-d..." Upon this certainty all of Torah and our holy Way is established: G-d is.

One may believe in G-d's existence but this is not certainty. Such beliefs can change over time. Many people believe until they are tested, they believe while believing is easy, but their beliefs become impotent in times of difficulty. As Jews we are called upon to declare that we believe with perfect emunah. Upon what is our emunah based? G-d, our Creator.

"I believe with perfect emunah that the Creator, blessed be His Name, creates and rules all creatures and that He alone made, makes, and will make, all things."

Through learning emunah we come to unshakable faith based on inner certainty rather than passing beliefs and conventions. With perfect emunah we are empowered to stand against all odds. When such emunah is in our Creator alone nothing can shake our faith. With such emunah we are withstand all the attacks of our enemies and we bless our future generations.

With the advent of Haskalah (the so-called Jewish Enlightenment) and other forms of assimilation certainty in the Creator's existence and ongoing work was called into question. Many Jews began to imitate their European neighbors and abandon the unique ways of our people. The Russian Pogroms, the Shoah (the German Holocaust), and other modern assaults on the Jewish people led many others to abandon belief in the Holy One. The survivors of such assaults and their families sometimes lost emunah. How could it be that the Holy One would allow such things to happen to us? Many became cultural Jews only others completely abandoned Judaism. For far too many of our people emunah has become little more than a quaint concept of the past. Such Jews have become secularized and eschew emunah and Jewish Tradition.

Adding to this growing lack of emunah in the "personal G-d" of our ancestors we must include the rise and popularity of Jewish mysticism and its common bastardizations. Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism expand our conceptions of the Creator from an anthropomorphic bearded Zeus like figure seated on a heavenly throne to a more transcendent conception of Ain Soph, G-d beyond conception. While such realizations can be spiritually enlightening and intellectually intriguing, they must be properly understood. It is for this reason that our sages placed strict requirements on those wishing to enter into these teachings. Their protective laws sought to assure that students possessed the fundamental understandings that prevent them from falling into various heresies. One who has not yet attained Torah based emunah in HaShem should not study nor be taught these advanced learnings. Devoid of accurate knowledge Pseudo-Kabbalists inevitably fall into the traps of religious globalism. This is the belief that all religious systems are equally true and that the G-d of Israel is merely the Jewish conception of a cosmic impersonal "Force," a collective consciousness, etc. Such "New Age" beliefs arise from those of King Nimrod of Babel. Those who adopt such conceptions abandon emunah in HaShem, our Creator and Controller. Rather than drawing such people toward devekut (attachment to the Holy One) such studies further separate the person from HaShem as they reject the G-d of Israel as described in the Torah and Jewish Tradition.

The great Jewish mystic Rebbe Nachman of Breslov foresaw the near death of true emunah and warned us:

Great atheism is coming to the world as a test from on high. The world's many sins are causing a terrible lack of emunah. Happy is the person who stays firm in his faith in these times.

The fact that I am predicting this will not prevent the increase of Godlessness and confusion. Long ago Daniel and others made it known that this would happen in the days before the Mashiach. "Many will purify themselves and be refined, and make themselves shining white. But the wicked will do evil. and only the wise shall understand" (Daniel 12:10).

Knowing that this has already been foreseen, it would seem that it should not be such a great trial for people to remain strong and firm in their emunah. But the truth is that even though the prophets made this known long ago, it will still be a great trial. Many will fall by the way, and that is why it is written: "the wicked will do evil."

I am revealing this for the sake of the few pure souls who will remain firm in their emunah. They will certainly face great battles even in their own minds. But when they see that this has already been predicted, it will give them greater strength and encouragement (Sichot Haran #35).

Traditional religious Jews daily declare the Shema and place emunah in G-d alone:

Sh'ma Y'israel Adonai Elohaynu Adonai Echad

Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.

True emunah is in Adonai Elohaynu alone. It is with perfect emunah in the Holy One of Israel that Rambam declares these Thirteen Principles of Judaism.


Points to Consider:

Go to Lesson Two

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