Posts Tagged 'Emunah'

Blessing of Emunah: Reflections of Faith, Fidelity, & Trust for Emunah’s Bat Mitzvah

Over the years people have asked me what we named our eldest daughter. After they hear the name, Emunah, they usually ask me what that means. I know the simple answer would be ‘faith’, but that does not exactly speak to our intention. While I am a Rabbi, faith has not been something that comes easily to me and not a name that I not necessarily wish upon our daughter. I found this quote by Martin Buber in his book Two Types of Faith that seems to get a little closer. Buber writes:

This ‘existential’ characteristic of Emunah is not sufficiently expressed in the translation ‘faith’, although the verb often does mean to believe לְהַאֲמִין (to believe someone, to believe a thing). It must further be noticed that the conception includes the two aspects of a reciprocity of permanence: the active, ‘fidelity’, and the receptive, ’trust’. If we wish to do justice to the intention of the spirit of the language which is so expressed, then we ought not to understand ’trust’ merely in a psychical [soulful] sense, as we do not with ’fidelity’. The soul is as fundamentally concerned in the one as in the other, but is decisive for both that the disposition of the soul should become an attitude of life. Both, fidelity and trust, exist in the actual realm of relationship between two persons. Only in the full actuality of such a relationship can one be both loyal and trusting.

(Two Types of Faith 28-29)

In this way, Emunah is less theological, philosophical, or axiomatic and more relational. 

Seeing that my name is Avram, I always yearned for that “Hey” of God to complete me. Belief might not come naturally,  but I feel that Buber’s ‘relational faith’ is one that I can strive for and work on. In so many ways, you,  Emunah, are my “Hey”. Thank you Emunah. Thank you for the person you are, the person you are becoming, and the person you make me want to be. 

In our founding Emunah narrative, God took Avram outside in the dessert and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them”, “So shall your offspring be.” By design this is an impossible task. No one could count all of those starts. But Avram did it anyway:

וְהֶאֱמִ֖ן And he put his trust in God,who reckoned it to his merit.

(Genesis 15:5-6)

Emunah- While we still hope that you continue to develop a deep relationship with God, we are more interested in your deeds than your creed. 

In the spirit of Buber, your Mami and I strive to model for you healthy and open relationships with each other, our family, our community, and the world. We love you and bless you with all of these deep relationships in your life. You are emerging as someone who is thoughtful, caring, and “both loyal and trusting”. May you be blessed like Avraham Avinu in being worthy of trust. There is nothing you cannot accomplish when you step out and cast your eyes to heaven. This will be reckoned to you for merit. We expect great things from you.

Mazel Tov – Emunah

Other posts I have written about Emi over the years:

  1. Dear Child to Me: On Emunah and this Blog
  2. Little Birdy: Emunah and Protecting Our Children
  3. 7 Years of Emunah: Reflections on Faith and Fidelity
  4. Emunah Second Birthday
  5. Our Type of Emunah
  6. Our Blessing for Emunah
  7. Fearless: On Emunah’s Bat Mitvah and being a Nazir

What the Eye Sees: Manoah, Noah, and Emunah

In Parshat Naso we learn about the case of the Nazir, and I am excited to learn more about that from Emunah. In the Haftarah we learn about Shimshon, who was a warrior leader, a biblical Judge Dredd, and apropos our Torah portion a nazir. He is a bit of a tragic superhero with extraordinary strength and a sad ending. It seems fitting that the haftarah is told like a classic Marvel origin story.

Here we are introduced to Manoah and his wife (sadly unnamed in the text). They were childless, but an angel appeared to Manoah’s wife and told her that she would give birth to a son. The child was to be dedicated from the womb as a Nazir, which entailed restrictions on drinking alcohol, coming into contact with the dead, and not cutting his hair. The woman told her husband, “A man of God came to me”. Manoah was incredulous, prayed and the angel returned to instruct the both of them that their son would be a nazir and they named him Shimshon.

This got me thinking about this guy Manoah. Who is this character? What is his significance in this story? It also got me looking at the connection between Manoah and Noah. Manoah was the father of the judge, general, leader, and savior of his generation. Noah saved the world by building an ark to perpetuate life through the flood. Linguistically their names are connected:

  • Manoah (מנוח) is “a place of rest”
  • Noah (נוח) is “ being comfortable”

Their two names comes together with the story of Noah and the dove:

וְלֹֽא־מָצְאָה֩ הַיּוֹנָ֨ה מָנ֜וֹחַ לְכַף־רַגְלָ֗הּ וַתָּ֤שׇׁב אֵלָיו֙ אֶל־הַתֵּבָ֔ה כִּי־מַ֖יִם עַל־פְּנֵ֣י כׇל־הָאָ֑רֶץ וַיִּשְׁלַ֤ח יָדוֹ֙ וַיִּקָּחֶ֔הָ וַיָּבֵ֥א אֹתָ֛הּ אֵלָ֖יו אֶל־הַתֵּבָֽה׃

But the dove could not find מָנ֜וֹחַ- a resting place for its foot, and returned to him to the ark, for there was water over all the earth. So putting out his hand, he [Noah] took it into the ark with him. (Genesis 8:9)

Their names are linked but not the same. It is interesting here that Noah, the man of rest could not find Manoah, a place to rest. This place of rest eluded him. And later even when the dove finds a place to rest and brings back an olive branch, Noah stays in the ark. Even when presented with evidence that the coast is literally clear his place of rest is still hidden from him. Noah needed to be told to leave the ark.


צֵ֖א מִן־הַתֵּבָ֑ה אַתָּ֕ה וְאִשְׁתְּךָ֛ וּבָנֶ֥יךָ וּנְשֵֽׁי־בָנֶ֖יךָ אִתָּֽךְ׃

God said- “Come out of the ark, together with your wife, your sons, and your sons’ wives.”

While for some, faith could be that much needed resting spot amidst a storm, to others faith can blind us to the opportunities which are right in front of us. Like Noah, Manoah did not believe his wife when she told him that they were going to have a child. He did not believe the blessing the angel brought her. Harry Houdini said, “What the eyes see and the ears hear, the mind believes.” But in the cases of Manoah, Noah, and many of us “The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.” Why are we limited to see what we expect to see?

I would like to take the liberty of illustrating this point with a special story about our child, Emunah:

It was Passover Yom Tov and we were at the Olsons. Emunah was 2 years old. She was a big girl and wanted to wear big girl underpants like her big brothers. We were mortified when she peed all over their floor. But Adina and I are experienced parents at this point. This is our 3rd kid. We’ve got this. So we clean her up, clean the floor, and put another pair of underpants on her. And you can see this one coming in slow motion….yes #2.

So now we are in it. There is a reason that diapers open up the way they do as a clam. Seeing that it is Yom Tov there is no way to cut off her soiled underpants. There is just no easy war to get them off of her and we do not know what to do. Adina whisks her off to the bathroom and we are screaming. Get this, get that, we are so sorry, etc.

You’ve got to see the scene. I come into their bathroom wielding wipes. Adina is trying to get her underpants off and contain the mess. Emi is contorted head down and with a leg in the air or on the edge of the toilet. We are screaming at each other and Emi says “ Mami… And we both go silent.

We have all been there. There is that moment when the child absorbs all of the energy around them and just channels it back at you. In that moment Adina and I looked at each other and braced ourselves for Emi to start to cry uncontrollably. A hot mess. This is what we expected to see.

There is our Emunah… “Look Mami- I am doing Yoga

Shanti- Ah serenity. It would have been understandable or even expected for her to cry in fear, embarrassment, or just matching our energy, but there you were Emunah at 2 years old doing Downward Dog. You pushed and continue to push us to see the world from different perspectives.

Emunah- It is wonderful to pause at this moment and see how much you have grown over the last decade. Unlike Manoah and Noah you are restless without a resting place. Emunah, you have never been about blind faith. Emunah, you have a gift to see what others do not. Emunah, you see things in your own way. Emunah, your creativity abounds- your mind is prepared to comprehend anything.

I am always reminded that no matter how bad things ever get, even if we feel that our lives are a hot mess, if we are not complacent, do not “rest”, we can shift our perspective, “do some yoga”, and things will start to look up.

Thank you Emunah. Shabbat Shalom. Namaste

Cheers to the Memories: Emunah’s Bat Mitzvah Speech

Shabbat Shalom

Here’s to the ones that we got
Cheers to the wish you were here, but you’re not
‘Cause the drinks bring back all the memories
Of everything we’ve been through
Toast to the ones here today
Toast to the ones that we lost on the way
‘Cause the drinks bring back all the memories
And the memories bring back, memories bring back you

Memories

“Cause the drinks bring back all the memories
And the memories bring back, memories bring back you”

Not the Levine you thought I would quote in my Bat Mitzvah speech, but Maroon 5’s lyrics gives us a deep question to consider, “Why do “drinks bring back” memories?

This question brings us to the Gemara in Sotah regarding my Torah Reading. There we learn:

Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi said “ Why are the parshiot of Nazir and Sotah right next to each other?

What is the connection between the case of the Nazir, who has sworn off wine and getting their haircut, and the case of the man who accused his wife of cheating on him and the ordeal that followed in the Temple?

Rebbe goes on to answer his question- if you saw the case of Sotah in her disgrace you too would swear yourself off of wine.

( Sotah 2a)

And why does Rebbe only identify the Nazir by their abstaining from drinking and the prohabition of coming into contact with the dead or hair cutting? Why does the case of the Sotah lead to the case of the Nazir?

In preparation for this talk my dad made me watch a bunch of videos. In one of them, Dr. Brené Brown talks about the difference between Empathy & Sympathy.

In her description, Sympathy is when we acknowledge someone’s situation. As compared to Empathy, being when we put ourselves into another person’s shoes. Sympathy might be easier but it drives disconnection. Empathy is hard work, but it fuels connection

Brown quotes the research of Theresa Wiseman who outlined the 4 critical elements of Empathy:
1- Perspective Taking: the ability to take the perspective of the other person
2- Staying out of Judgment-This is hard for many of us
3- Recognizing Emotion in other people
4- Communicating what those emotions are

Using Brené Brown’s framework of thinking, I reread my parsha. One question I had was how people show sympathy to the Sotah? People show Sympathy to the Sotah by recognizing what has happened between her and her husband.

Another recurring question I had was, how people show empathy to the Sotah? What would it mean to put yourself in the shoes of the Sotah? Going back to the teaching of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, it seems clear that becoming a Nazir is an act of empathy.

How does the Nazir show Empathy to the Sotah? According to the Rebbe, the Nazir shows empathy by not drinking wine. What does this mean?

What do you say when you see this?

  • The Optimist says: The glass is half full
  • The Pessimist says: The glass is half empty
  • The Realist says: The glass is too big
  • The Nazir says: I am done with drinking

According to Maroon 5, “the drinks bring back all the memories”. By giving up alcohol the Nazir is also giving up the memories of connection. It is sympathy to see the Sotah and her husband quarrel and have distrust. It is empathy to take upon yourself the life of a nazir and also give up the capacity to make connections. In this way according to Rebbe, if you saw them disconnecting, you too would feel compelled to disconnect. Just as the Sotah is suffering from disgrace, indignity, isolation, and disconnection from her husband, community, and God, the Nazir shows empathy by disconnecting from society and memories of connecting

I could imagine if I were living at the time of the Temple when they were doing a Sotah case I too would reflect on Theresa Wiseman’s 4 points on empathy:

  1. I think about how this couple is feeling. How might they both be holding some truth in their own perspective?
  2. As hard as it might be, I would stay out of judgment. In all cases of couples, there is always her perspective, his perspective, and the ever elusive truth.
  3. I would recognize the deep shame, distrust, anxiety they both experience in having their dirty laundry aired in public
  4. How would I communicate what those emotions are? It seems that the logical choice is to become a Nazir.

Today, while we do not have a Temple (or a shul) or the institution of Nazirut, we still have deep discord between partners. So how might we show couples empathy? How might we communicate to the couple what those emotions are?

I would say to them, ” I see that you tried to build a life together, and it seems that it did not work out. Communication is hard for you two. I can see that you have a lot of frustration and distrust. I can only imagine that you have a lot of dreams that did not come to fruition. I want to be here for you and with you.”

In the end we should all strive to show up, to show empathy, and to connect with those we care about. Thank you all.

Fearless: On Emunah’s Bat Mitvah and being a Nazir

In memory of our friend Sheryl Grossman z”l and in preparation for Emunah’s Bat Mitzvah I learned the mishnayot of Sotah and Nazir. It seemed fitting as they both appear prominently in Naso, Emunah’s Torah portion. There in Nazir we conclude the mishna with an interesting and unusual aggadic statement about the nazir. There we learn:

Samuel the prophet was a nazir, in accordance with the statement of Rabbi Nehorai, as it was stated that when Hannah, his mother, prayed for a son, she vowed: “And no mora shall come upon his head” (I Samuel 1:11). How is it derived that mora is an expression of being a nazir? It is stated with regard to Samson: “And no razor [mora] shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a nazir to God” (Judges 13:5), and it is stated: “And no mora,” with regard to Samuel. Just as the term mora” that is stated with regard to Samson means that he was a nazir, so too the term mora” that is stated with regard to Samuel indicates that he was a nazir. Rabbi Yosei said: But doesn’t the word mora mean nothing other than the fear of flesh and blood? The word should be read as though it were written with an alef, and not a heh, so that it means fear. Rabbi Nehorai said to him: But isn’t it already stated: “And Samuel said: How can I go; if Saul hears it he will kill me” (I Samuel 16:2). This verse indicates that there was fear of flesh and blood upon Samuel. Consequently, the term mora must be understood in accordance with its plain meaning of a razor. If so, Samuel was indeed a nazir.

Mishnah Nazir 9:5

When we read about the nazir, it seems like a theoretical construct, but was this ever something that people did IRL? When we think about person who was actually a nazir most of us jump to Shimshon, about whom we read about in the Haftarah, or Rav David Cohen, known as “Rav Ha-Nazir,” a disciple of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. But, few jump to Samuel. But when we stop to think about them both, it makes sense. The parallels in their origin stories are striking. Both Manoah’s wife and Hannah had difficulty conceiving children. When each of them found that they would be blessed with a child they learned that this child would be a leader and live a life apart from the community. For Samuel in the Temple. And for Shimshon and, according to Rabbi Nehorai, also Samuel as a nazir, not drinking alcohol, not coming into contact with the dead, and not cutting their hair.

This mishna is also interesting in that the distinguishing feature of being a nazir is their hair and not their not drinking or coming into contact with the dead. It is telling in that we associate people less with their experience, how they identify, or even their behavior, and more so with how they are identifiable. Their hair is the signature element of being a nazir.

When I think about this mishnah in the context of Emunah’s becoming a Bat Mitzvah, three things come to mind. The first is how central hair is to the idealities of the Emunah and the nazir. Here is a picture of her from when our little angel was just one with her golden locks:

The second is how Rabbi Yosei’s opinion hangs on a misreading of the word mora. He claims that the word should be read as though it were written with an alef, and not a heh, so that it means fear. Even if it is ultimately rejected, it is seriously entertained. Emunah and I share a bond in that we both have dyslexia. While it can be challenging, I believe that if it is treated seriously this creative reading will open up a worlds of creativity.

The third issue that is compelling regarding the mishna is how we prove Rabbi Yosei wrong. It turns out that Samuel had fear of King Saul who would be upset with him looking for a new king in David. With this Rabbi Nehorai proves that Samuel was actually a nazir. From the earliest age Emunah has been fearless. I recall when they were younger they went to the doctor for some medication. There only had two nasal doses and the rest were shots. Without hesitation Emunah rolled up her sleeve to take the shot, while her older brothers squirmed.

My blessing for Emunah is that she continue to read creatively like Rabbi Yosei, argue respectfully like Rabbi Nehorai, and unlike Samuel continue to be fearless. Emunah is no nazir, but on this occasion of her becoming a Bat Mitzah she is on her way to becoming a wonderful woman.

Mazel Tov- Emunah

Other posts I have written about Emi over the years:

  1. Dear Child to Me: On Emunah and this Blog
  2. Little Birdy: Emunah and Protecting Our Children
  3. 7 Years of Emunah: Reflections on Faith and Fidelity
  4. Emunah Second Birthday
  5. Our Type of Emunah
  6. Our Blessing for Emunah

Dear Child to Me: On Emunah and this Blog

I remind each of my children all of the time, ” I love them the most of all…just like their three siblings.” This year as I have been feebly trying to prepare for the High Holidays during Elul. One thing that had helped is that I have found myself singing again and again to different covers of Deveykus‘s Haben Yakir Li. The lyrics are taken from a section of Jeremiah that we read on the second day of Rosh HaShanah. There we read:

Truly, Efraim is a dear child to Me,
A child  in whom I delight!
Whenever I speak of him,
My thoughts would dwell on him still.
That is why My heart yearns for him;
I will receive him back in love
—declares the LORD.

Jeremiah 31:20

For me it expresses an extraordinary expression of God’s anthropopathic love of Israel. Here is one version with some nice violin:

There is some ambiguity about the text when it says ” Whenever I speak of him“. Is it when I speak to him, about him, or even against him? Rashi explores the meaning of “whenever I speak of him” and comments:

Every time that I speak of him. And the Midrash Leviticus Rabbah (2:3) explains: It is enough My speech (דַּי דִבּוּרִי) with which I endowed him, that I taught him My Torah, for Me to have mercy on him.

Rashi on Jeremiah 31:20

This is an interesting thought. It is as if God recalls learning with Efraim and that reminds God how much God loves him.

This parental love through learning reminded me of a Rashi from Parshat Vayigash. Yosef, Efraim’s father, reveals his identity to his brothers. Finding out that their father is still alive he sends agalot– wagons to bring Yaakov to Egypt. There Rashi comments:

By sending the wagons (agalot), Yosef sent him a sign. What was the (topic) they had studied before he (Yosef) left? The topic of the egla arufa -beheaded heifer (see Shoftim). Thus the text states, “when he saw the agalot which Yosef sent,” and not which Pharoh sent.

Rashi on Bereishit 45:27

There is something deep about parent’s love of a child. Even though he was told that Yosef died years earlier, once he saw these agalot Yaakov just knew that Yosef was alive due to the learning that they shared before Yosef’s abduction. This love gets even deeper when it comes in the context of their learning Torah together. This is a love that never could believe that Yosef is truly dead. This is also a love that wants to allow Efraim’s return regardless of his misdeeds.

I was thinking about this parental love in the context of learning while studying with Emunah in preparation for Bat Mitzah this coming spring. It feels special, just like the learning I do with her three siblings. They are all dear to me.

On another level I was thinking about Emunah when sharing this Torah thought with you through this blog. I started this practice of writing a weekly blog when she was born. Emunah and this blog* recently turned 12.

*For those following along at home this is my 756th blog post.

Little Birdy: Emunah and Protecting Our Children

Today in the 13th of Elul. It is the Hebrew birthday of our daughter Emunah. Today she is 10 years old. I marvel to see the young woman that is growing up in front of our eyes. We were particularly moved to see how much she changed after a month at camp this summer. Emunah is becoming a better little sister to her two brothers and a nurturing big sister to Libi. She is curious, caring, loving,and resilient.  Here is a picture of her from when our little angel was just one:

Her birthday marks my writing this blog for 10 years. I take pause today to think ahead to what the next stage of parenting Emunah will look like for us.

In thinking about this I think about Ki Tetzei , this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

If, along the road, you chance upon a bird’s nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs and the mother sitting over the fledglings or on the eggs, do not take the mother together with her young. Let the mother go, and take only the young, in order that you may fare well and have a long life. When you build a new house, make a fence around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof. (Deuteronomy 22:6-8

First there is a law about sending away the mother bird from her nest before taking her eggs. Then we are mandated to build a fence around the roof of our houses. This juxtaposition brings interesting things to light. We see the mother bird defending her nest and then we are instructed to be like the bird and make a safer nest on our roofs to defend our young.

Once we make that connection and empathize with the mother bird, we are left asking ourselves a number of questions. How could we ever take the egg or young from the mother bird in the first place? What does it mean for us as parents toward our children?  Are we the problem or the solution to the child’s development? Are we the aggressor who is taking the eggs or the builder of fences there to protect our child? If we externalized the aggressor and focus on the risks in the world, how do we best prepare the child for this dangerous world? Are we victims to the whim of men our children might meet on the path or are we builder of fences to keep them locked up and safe? Of is there another model? One thing is clear that parenting is filled with many questions and not that many answers.

Happy Birthday Emunah. Thank you Adina for bringing this miracle into the world and partnering in parenting her. We will do what we can to raise our little birdy.  And here is to another 10 years of writing.

7 Years of Emunah: Reflections on Faith and Fidelity

While her secular birthday was on September 2nd, Emunah’s Hebrew birthday is today. It is crazy to realize that today she is 7 years old. It is also crazy for me to pause to recognize that I have been writing this blog for 7 years. This blog started with her birth and I has grown along with her for the years. Every year around this time I reflect on Emunah, the name, person, and concept. I feel blessed to have them Emunah in my life.

As I have quoted before Martin Buber writes:

This ‘existential’ characteristic of Emunah is not sufficiently expressed in the translation ‘faith’, although the verb often does mean to believe (to believe someone, to believe a thing). It must further be noticed that the conception includes the two aspects of a reciprocity of permanence: the active, ‘fidelity’, and the receptive, ’trust’. If we wish to do justice to the intention of the spirit of the language which is so expressed, then we ought not to understand ’trust’ merely in a psychical sense, as we do not with ’fidelity’. The soul is as fundamentally concerned in the one as in the other, but is decisive for both that the disposition of the soul should become an attitude of life. Both, fidelity and trust, exist in the actual realm of relationship between two persons. Only in the full actuality of such a relationship can one be both loyal and trusting. (Two Types of Faith 28-29)

This year I take pause to thing about what it might mean to falter in one’s Emunah. The paradigm of this in the Talmud is the life of Elisha ben Abuyah a rabbi born in Jerusalem sometime before 70 CE who adopted a worldview considered heretical by his community. So why did he lose his Emunah? We learn in the Talmud:

‘How did this happen to him? He [Elisha] once saw a man climb to the top of a palm-tree on the Sabbath, take the mother-bird with the young, and descend in safety. At the termination of the Sabbath he saw a man climb to the top of a palm-tree and take the young but let the mother bird go free, and as he descended a snake bit him and he died. Elisha exclaimed, ‘It is written, “Send away the mother bird, but the young you may take for yourself; that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days (Deuteronomy 22:7).” Where is the well-being of this man, and where is the prolonging of his days!’ He was unaware how Rabbi Akiva explained it, ‘That it may be well with you in the World [to Come] which is wholly good,’ And that you may prolong your days’ in the world which is unending. ( Hagigah 15b)

The Talmud depicts that Elisha lost his faith when he saw injustice in the world. As we see in Ki Tetzei, this week’s Torah portion, there is supposed to be a reward of life for sending away the mother bird before taking her eggs. In comparison Rabbi Akiva kept his faith because of his belief in a world to come where the perceived God’s injustice would be made right. In either of their cases it is about having or not having faith or belief. What about Buber’s idea of having fidelity and relationship?

It is said, “Mr Goldfarb goes to synagogue to be in relationship with God. I go to synagogue to be in relationship with Mr. Goldfarb”. It is interesting the Talmud does not say that Elisa did not believe Rabbi Akiva, but that he was unaware of his teaching. Is the assumption that if he was aware Elisha would have believed Rabbi Akiva? Maybe if Elisha was aware of Rabbi Akiva’s teaching he would have known that the system works for someone in his community and he would have stayed in relationship with Rabbi Akiva and his community.

Seven years later while Emunah my daughter might be a struggle times, my relationship with her is steadfast and unshakable, even if my relationship with faith is often a still struggle. Regardless I am still in dynamic relationship with my Emunah and look forward its development for many years to come.

 

 

Integral Belief

What does it mean to believe in something? It is hard to read VaYera, this weeks Torah portion, without confronting this issue of belief. In it we read God commanding Avraham to sacrifice his son Yitzhak. What would it mean to believe that God told you to kill your child? (This is especially crazy if you have met our four children.) While many interpreters have dealt with the faith of Avraham throughout history, I am less interested in the answer than the question of faith.

To a scientist, the prospect of faith is a puzzle. How could any rational person believe in something that has no data to back it up? The world can only be fairly judged on what everyone can perceive. Nevertheless, the scientists are left with the problem that so many people on this planet of ours do profess some sort of faith. To the faithful, they are left trying to figure out the existence of atheists or agnostics. They experience such a preponderance of evidence to the existence of a god, how could anyone choose to ignore that “fact”?If nothing else, we can appreciate the symmetry in the universe of the argument between these two camps.

Before the birth of our children, I could honestly say that I am not sure that I am a person of faith. But one way or another I know that I have Emunah in my life now. But still I have to ask myself, what is the fine line between faith and intellectual laziness? How often do I say that I believe in something when in fact I mean I have yet to think about it fully? How often do I take something that I have thought about exhaustively and instead of going with the evidence, choose to follow my faith? If I were confronted by a new perception of the world, would I be willing to sacrifice my way of life? I strive to be emotionally honest with the world and myself. I am not suggesting that we risk sacrificing our children like Avraham the innovator of our faith, rather I am asking that we  not risk sacrificing our integrity.

Between Faith and Honesty

Recently I had the pleasure of reading a Canadian Indian version of the classic Cinderella Tale. In this version of the Cinderella cycle, a father in a village has three daughters whose mother has been dead a long time. The youngest of the three is much younger than the other two, has a wonderful personality, and is loved by her community. The wicked older sisters hate her and made her dress in rags, puts cinders in her hair (hence the cinder for her being Cinderella) and burned her face and body with hot coals in effort to have people think that she is ugly.

Just outside of the village there lived a warrior whose name was Strong Wind. Strong Wind has been good to the god Glooskap and has been granted the power of invisibility which has made him a formidable hunter. Resolving to get married he has to determine who to marry of the many women who seek his hand in marriage. With the help of his sister Strong Wind devises a test for all of these fair maidens. His sister is the only one who can see him when he appeared invisible to others. Each evening when the sun was about to set, his sister takes a would be bride down to the shoreline and asks them if they can see Strong Wind. When they responded yes, as they always do, his sister asks “With what does he draw his sled?” Responding incorrectly they are all dismissed. One day our Cinderella goes to seek Strong Wind’s hand in marriage. When his sister took her to the bay and asked the first question, the ash girl said that she does not seen him. Upon hearing her honest response Strong Wind reveals himself to her. Then Cinderella is asked “With what does he draw his sled?” The girl is very afraid and answers, “With the Rainbow”. And when she is asked further, “Of what is his bowstring?” the girl answers, “His bowstring is the Milky Way.” Telling the truth Cinderella passes the test and marries Strong Wind.

This image of the Milky Way stuck in my head as I read Lech Lecha, this week’s Torah portion. Here we see Avraham come into his own as a (or even the) person of Emunah- faith. There we read:

5 And God brought him out, and said: ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars, if you are able to count them’; and God said unto him: ‘So shall be your seed.’  6 And he believed in the Lord; and God counted it to him for righteousness.  (Genesis 15:5-6)

How is it possible that Avraham was able to count the stars in the Milky Way? We often talk about the fact that as a man of Emunah– he believed that he could. But as I have discussed in the past Emunah does not translate to English as faith, but rather being trustworthy. All too often in our society we tell people who are in positions of authority over us what we think they want to hear. It is possible that he believed that he could count them. It is also possible that despite the pressure Avraham felt to say yes he could count them, this man of Emunah  told the truth that he could not count them. It takes a certain kind of bravery, self-assurance, and faith to just tell the truth to an authority, especially one we hope to please . Like this Cinderella being lead out to see the invisible Strong Wind it took a unique sense of sense of self to be strong enough to be honest.  In light of this Canadian Indian Cinderella story might we translate Emunah  as being trusted to tell the truth.

Count On It

In Lech Lecha, this week’s Torah portion, we see Avraham come into his own as a (or even the) person of faith. There we read:

5 And God brought him out, and said: ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars, if you are able to count them’; and God said unto him: ‘So shall be your seed.’  6 And he believed in the Lord; and God counted it to him for righteousness.  (Genesis 15:5-6)

While it is hard to see in modern city living, we have all been out in nature and looked up and saw the majestic night sky. We have all been humbled by the image of the vast universe with it countless stars.

Similarly, Avram was  brought out of the tent to count the stars. What made him think, feel, or believe that he could count these stars? Even today with all of our amazing technology this is still not possible. Clearly Avram was a man of faith. For most of my life I assumed that his emunah was tremendous and frankly out of reach. How could I ever achieve that level of faith?

Later in the same chapter we learn about the Covenant Between The Parts. It is dramatic scene in which Avram sacrifices a number of animals, we are told of a covenant between God and the decedents of Avram, and a flame comes down and goes in between the parts. There we read:

12 And it came to pass, that, when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Avram; and, a dread, even a great darkness, fell upon him. 13 And God said to Avram: ‘Know of a surety that your seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; 14 and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge; and afterward shall they come out with great substance. 15 But you shall go to their fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And in the fourth generation they shall come back from there; for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet full.’ 17 And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and there was thick darkness, behold a smoking furnace, and a flaming torch that passed between these pieces. (Genesis 15:12-17)

This darkness clearly sets up the theatrical moment for the fire passing between the parts. It also has profound implications as for the nature of faith.

If  the sun goes down during the Covenant Between the Parts, it implies that it was up for Avram’s moment of faith. What if was not our image of the starry night? What might it have meant for Avram to be lead out of his tent in the middle of the day to look up to the sky and count the stars in heaven?

I might not believe that I could count the stars in the universe, but I do believe that the stars will be out tonight. I do have faith that certain things exist even when I do not see them. Maybe God is just asking Avram (and us for that matter) to believe in God even when we cannot see God.  Faith need not be infinitely complex.  We can trust and believe with our eyes wide open. Maybe faith can be this simple without being simplistic. This is a faith that is within reach and one you can count on in our modern lives.


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