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Emunah - Faith in God: A Perspective

Emunah - Faith in God: A Perspective Herschel

Loosely translated as faith in God, emuna is considered the cornerstone of Jewish belief and practice. In the Greek, it is pistis. What does the term emuna mean?


The first point is that emuna does not imply blind faith. In the Aleinu l’shabeich prayer, 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.

Emuna involves both the mind and the heart. On the one hand, it can begin 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 the vital part of our life and never leaves, we can work on developing loyalty to God with that knowledge. Rather than remaining only a pure intellectual belief, emuna should be defined as the act of being faithful or loyal to HaShem, as one pleads allegiance to a king. And, Yeshua, the King of Kings, is worthy of our allegiance, our loyalty and our fidelity, because we are commanded to love and serve Him (avodah) with all our heart, soul and strength! It is the basic requirement of any healthy intimate relationship with Yeshua and demands constant reinforcement.

On the other hand, emunah can also be internally grasped in an act of divine grace. It happened to me. In a moment, I believed. I wasn’t entirely sure of exactly what I believed at that moment, but without a shadow of doubt I believed that Yeshua was my Jewish Messiah! That’s emuna! It took me four months to get my mind sufficiently renewed to grasp the foundational principles of our faith in Messiah. Nevertheless, in that initial moment of revelation, HaShem gripped my heart and it has remained with me ever since. That’s emuna!

I believe that both the internal and the external work together to produce emuna which grows and matures throughout a lifetime and needs to be repeatedly contemplated but also practiced. Because as Ya’akov articulated, ‘faith (emuna; pisits) without works is dead’ (James 2:17).

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 it is especially during these painful episodes, that we 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 people – 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 gladly acknowledges that we cannot comprehend the totality of God’s wisdom but recognizes and accepts that everything serves a purpose despite this. As Rav Sha’ul wrote in Rom 8:28: “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose”.

Once we know logically that God is always with us, we can now engage in everyday life with complete trust in Him. This feeling of trust gives us a gift of security knowing that we are in His perfect and capable hands.

Therefore, we can have great confidence that we are not alone and that we are not facing life’s storms on our own. Yeshua said in John 16:32 that ‘He is not alone because the Father is with Him’. Similarly, He has promised us that “I will never leave you nor forsake you. So we may boldly say: "The LORD is my helper;

I will not fear. What can man do to me?" ( Heb 13:5-6; quoting Deut 31:6)

Or as Richurd Wurbrand wrote in his book, ‘Christ on the Jewish Road’:

“I do not understand everything that has happened to me, but I believe that my whole life, and the lives of all G-d’s children, have been planned down to the smallest detail. Our lives are planned in eternity. Our lives serve G-d’s purposes. I can be confidant of this even when I understand nothing! “

Emuna is enhanced with practice in real life situations. Utilizing life’s encounters increases our awareness of His constant presence. We can therefore embrace challenges as catalysts that enable us to draw closer to our Creator since we extract meaning and grow from the experience.

Emuna is looking beyond our inability to fully grasp HaShem’s ways and to come to a place where we simply trust that only God really knows what is best for us. That’s emuna. Nonetheless, we also have faith that one day, in Olam Haba (the world to come), we too will understand. The veil will be lifted and we will know!

We see emunah in action toward the end of the book of Genesis. The Torah focusses on the bones of Joseph, our ancestor. Our Scriptures mention Joseph's bones in three places: Genesis 50; Exodus 13, and Joshua 24.

Genesis 50:25 - " And Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath and said, 'God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry up my bones from this place." Exodus 13:19 - "Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear an oath. ‘

Joshua 24:32 "And Joseph's bones, which the Israelites had brought up from the land of Egypt, were buried in Shechem in the tract of land that Jacob bought for a hundred pieces of silver from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem..." One of the common denominators in these accounts is faith and faithfulness, which in both Hebrew and Greek are expressed with one word [emuna in Hebrew, pistis in Greek]. When Joseph makes his descendants in Egypt swear that they will not bury him there but will carry his bones around until they get to the Promised Land, how was he demonstrating faith or faithfulness? When Moses and the children of Israel took his bones with them out of Egypt on their way toward the Promised Land, how were they expressing faith or faithfulness? When, some eighty years later, Joshua buries the bones of Joseph in the burial plot of his father in the Promised Land, how was he expressing faith or faithfulness?

Just as they carried around the bones of their own fathers and mothers -- the heritage passed on to them by previous generations – so too, are we as a faithful people, to honour the G-d of our ancestors and our ancestors themselves by carrying with us what they stood for and lived for i.e what they valued. And by passing that legacy on to our own children, we carry that legacy with us. "These words which I command you this day shall be in your heart, and you shall teach them diligently to your children." Moses expressed for us the balance between our personal experience in the here and now, and the heritage we have inherited from our ancestors. In Parashat Beshalach, in Exodus 15:3, we read, "zeh Eli v'anvehu; elohei avi v'aromenhu." This is my God and I will praise him, My father's God and I will exalt him." He is not the God of my ancestors, he is also mine, and my way of life is not simply what "meets my needs," for we are irrevocably connected to the previous generations who like us were entrusted with a legacy which we are meant in turn to as encouragement especially in times of need, but also, as an opportunity to exercise emuna. And, this is part of the legacy we impart to our children, and our children’s children.

Faith –emuna/pisits - is not expressed and practiced in a vacuum. It has a context! Emuna is the never-diminishing thread that connects us to the past and that enables us to live in the present so that we can sow into the future and thereby, leave a legacy for the next generation! We are not our own! At a time when the children of Israel were gathering the riches of Egypt in fulfilment of HaShem’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 15, preparing to leave the land in haste, Moses remembered that he had a responsibility to honour the oath which Joseph had enforced upon Israel. Joseph cared enough about the ways of God to enforce an oath on his descendants that they carry his bones with them when God fulfilled his promise and brought them up out of the land of Egypt in their journey toward the Promised Land, that he be might be buried there. Moses cared enough about the heritage he had received to go looking for the bones of Joseph and Jacob. Later, they were carried to the Promised Land (see The Two Promises by Rabbi Jill Hammer below). This entire exercise might seem pointless in today’s modern world but it does reveal something of what emuna entails. It reveals the connection to our ancestry that goes back thousands of years.

Isa 51:1-2

1 " Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, Who seek the LORD: Look to the rock from which you were hewn And to the quarry from which you were dug.

2 "Look to Abraham your father’.

We are not free-floating individual islands for we are irrevocably connected to a legacy that possesses intrinsic value and is one that is imbued with life and light. And we have the privilege of building on this foundation so as to leave and even greater legacy to future generations.

This is also why, for example, we cannot ignore thousands of years of halachic interpretation and simply make up our own. In doing so, we separate ourselves from the quarry and the rock that preceded us and we ignore that legacy.

This is why a knowledge steeped in Torah is so crucial. An old adage says that ‘the old is in the new concealed; the new is in the old revealed’. To understand the Master’s or Paul’s words, you need to know Torah. Their words can only be accurately interpreted in the context of the legacy they inherited. We have to read, interpret and understand the Gospels and the Apostolic s through the Jewish worldview of that period.

Which begs the question: what do you or I really care about? I suggest we should care not only about ourselves and our families daily needs, but also, the needs of others, as well as preserving and honouring the legacy left us by our ancestors in custody for our children and the generations to come. Indeed, as one author has put it, "Unless some things are carried from the past into the future, there will be no future worth having."

Rav Sha’ul understood and appreciated his heritage (see Rom 11:1; Phil 3:4-6) and his letters only can be accurately understood if interpreted on this foundation. To separate him from his Jewish upbringing and training is to violently tear him away from the bedrock of who he is and his trusting faithfulness in the risen Messiah. To do so, can only result in misinterpreting his thoughts with the consequential danger that another Gospel might be preached.

As our Master Himself articulated in John 8:14 – ‘I know where I came from and where I am going’. That’s emuna! That’s faith. And, faith is not subjective; it has an object! In Mark 11:22, Yeshua said ‘have faith in G-d’!

Emuna is connected to the past, is sourced in G-d and is a work in progress that will build upon and add value to following generations of believers.

Heb 12:1-3

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses , let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

2 Let us fix our eyes on Messiah, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the execution stake, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

That’s emuna! To run the race and not grow weary! To press ahead with full

assurance of faith that HaShem is faithful and utterly in control.

But, notice that Hebrews 12 commences with a ‘therefore’ and having learned from Dr Derek Prince, that when you see a ‘therefore’, you must ask what is it ‘there for’? In other what is the context, for Hebrews 12 verse 1 builds on the previous verses in Hebrews 11. Therefore, we need to briefly examine Hebrews, chapter 11.

Hebrews 11:1 gives the definition of emuna (pistis in the Greek). For me, the KJV translation provides a profound insight: ‘Now faith is the SUBSTANCE (of things hoped for), [and faith is] the EVIDENCE (of things not seen’).

Note that many persons read the same verse as faith being things hoped for or things not seen (i.e. looking forwards), but this is not what the verse teaches. Faith (emuna, pistis) relates to substance and evidence (i.e. looking backwards!).

Even in the rest of the chapter (Hebrews 11) the author makes us look back at Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, etc. Only after looking back would one be able to look forwards in faith (for things hoped for and things not seen). By this very concept and definition faith is not contrary to the scientific method, but indeed exactly the same. In science, we observe things that happen and based on these observances of things that happened in the past (the "evidence"), we predict future behaviour - e.g. if a medication works well for a number of individuals during a trial, we "have faith" that it should work for others also, and hence we prescribe it to others in future. If any patient asks me whether a tablet would work for him or her I always refer BACK to a study that had been done before. Then they have FAITH!!

In matters of religion it is thus the same. We need to observe and take note of the "evidence" of the past. This "evidence" could then be extrapolated into the future (to things not seen) and we can literally say: "Because G-d has acted like such and such in the past, we can have faith that he would act like this in future also". Then our faith is substantive (as mentioned in Heb 11:1), and we can place our hope in something solid.

I am willing to suggest that people without faith are also people without past personal experiences... people without substance... people without evidence.

The first step in getting faith is thus an intellectual decision to take G-d on his word and take the "leap of faith" and start collecting the evidence personally. This is indeed what faith is. This is how I came to faith and further experiences resulted in a growing faith.

Yet, it is never either/or but rather, both/and. For Dr Meintjes, his approach was first intellectual. For me, it was the other way around. G-d gripped my heart with the revelation that Yeshua was indeed my Jewish Messiah and as a new-ager and a Jew, it was a highly embarrassing moment. Yet, after four months of study, I was persuaded and have never looked back. I believed in that moment and have continued to believe to this day.

HaShem is drawing us near. This is the story of the bible. That from the

beginning of time, He is drawing us into His Kingdom and there, we will reign with

Him until the end of the age!

Ps 89:35-37

36 For I have sworn to David (and a holy God can never lie) that his dynasty will go on forever, and his throne will continue to the end of time .

37 It shall be eternal as the moon, my faithful witness in the sky!"

That’s emuna! That’s why I believe in Yeshua!


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