Eikev – A Journey of Emunah

This week’s Parsha as all of Devarim is very much about Emunah. Therefore I felt it appropriate to write the following.

The Mitzvah of Emunah is the most basic of all Mitzvoth. The Rambam counts it as the first of the Mitzvoth[1]. It was the only Mitzvah which we received directly from HaShem at Har Sinai[2]. In the world that we live in now, everyone is obligated to work on Emunah- faith in HKB”H. It is impossible for one to claim that one has achieved a state of total Emunah. But our goal is to strive to be in a journey towards greater emunah. I would like to share some thoughts as I travel through my own personal journey.

Faith and Knowledge

Even though I began by calling Emunah faith there are two aspects of this Mitzvah. In some places the Rambam uses the word Emunah which is faith[3]. In other places he uses the term Da’at- which is knowledge. Rabbenu Sadia Gaon called his seminal work by both concepts, Emunoth V’Deiot. The Chinuch[4] also uses both terms.

Therefore it seems we are commanded in what seems to be two contradictory obligations. On the one hand, we are commanded to know HaShem, and on the other to have faith. Why are these contradictory? Because if I know something, I do not need faith. And if there is something I take on faith alone, that inherently precludes knowing. I know 1+1=2. That is knowledge not faith. But I have no mathematical proof that my spouse loves me. That is faith. Where can you both know something and have faith in it?

A beginning student once asked the following question,”I want to believe in the Torah, large parts make sense, and the system of life seems to work. But when I read Genesis, I find it hard to believe many parts of it. For example, I find it hard to believe that there were people who lived for over nine hundred years. How can I believe in the whole system when faced with such issues?”

One possible answer can best be explained by a parable. A husband and wife are married for many years, faithfully and completely true to one another through thick and thin. Every day the husband leaves to work the same time, and returns the same time. One day the wife is awaiting his return, and he does not come at the regular time. She calls and texts and there is no answer. Finally, a full hour late he comes back, and when she approaches him, he smells of perfume. You can imagine what questions go through her mind at that time! And then he takes out of his bag a beautifully wrapped present of perfume for her birthday. Obviously the smell of perfume was his trying out the different scents to find what was best for her.

Let us examine this woman’s thought process. If you would ask her before that day, “Do you know that your husband is faithful?”, she would definitely answer yes. She would say that is knowledge, not faith. But at that moment when her husband enters smelling of a different perfume, her knowledge is shaken. But when she understands why, her knowledge is restored.

Once again after that moment of doubt, if you would ask her whether she knows her husband is faithful or not, she would say, I know. But the next time she doubts her husband , would say: I might have a question but since the last time I had a question I found an answer, I have faith that to this question too there will be an answer.

Faith means that even if I have a question without an answer, all that it means is that I do not have an answer yet, but there is an answer. So to go back to the young woman who asked me about Genesis, the answer is the following: Were there parts of the Torah and Judaism that when you first began studying and practicing were difficult and even seemed wrong? Did further study show you that they were correct? So too faith says that just as you found answers to those questions, so too you will find answers to the parts you do not yet understand. That is the interplay between faith and knowledge.

There is a certain genre of Orthodox Jewish literature that follows the same pattern. Something that seems bad happens, then later we see how from that arises a good unseen result, and HaShem is directing everything.

I personally have this desire to write a similar story, where on page one, you see all the not good that happens. You then turn to the next page expecting to find out the good that will result, but instead the page is empty. And the last line on that second page says: And after one hundred and twenty years when the person went on to the next world it was revealed to him, why all this happened. But even so they kept faith that there was an answer. That is what HaShem said to Moshe, you can see my back but not the front. There is a plan , but not everything is revealed in this world.

In a sense this is the famous parable of the Rambam of the flash of lightning. We do not see the complete picture, just flashes that illuminate part of the world, and from that we need to extrapolate to the rest.


We find ourselves very often faced with what are accepted as facts, that seem to contradict the Emes that we know from the Torah. Many people try to work to reconcile them, but there is a Sfas Emes[5] that presents an approach that almost sidesteps the entire question.

One would think that in the time of prophecy- Nevuah there would be no doubts or uncertainty. But we know that to not be true. Anyone who has studied any part of Navi from Shoftim through Melachim, knows that the prevalence of Nevi’im did not preclude the worship of Avoda Zara. Even more fundamentally, the events of Matan Torah which as the Rambam writes were a joint Nevuah where Moshe and the Jewish people had the experience of Nevuah and recognized HaShem. And still forty days later the Jewish people are worshipping the golden calf, and rejecting that direct connection with HaShem. Therefore we see that there is always Bechira, even in a world of Nevuah.

This is what the Torah itself teaches us in the section on a Navi Sheker- a false prophet. HaShem says the Navi Sheker will be able to perform signs and miracles, just like a true Navi. What is the only answer, It is a test from HaShem that we should listen to the true Navi. There is no answer, or complete proof, only Emunah. Why is this happening? Because there always needs to be a balance between the different sides, so that there remains Bechira- free choice what to believe. If the power of a true Navi was so great, then there would be no Bechira, so there needs to be a parallel seeming truth, the Navi Sheker.

That is true in the world of Nevuah. When as the second Bais HaMikdosh was built and Nevuah ended, the connection with HaShem that had come through Nevuah, now comes through the wisdom of the Torah. In a certain level, the revelations through Chochmas HaTorah are greater than Nevuah. But if the wisdom of the Torah is so great and clear, once again how can there be Bechira? So just as in the time of Nevuah, there was a Navi Sheker, in the time of Torah there is Chochmas HaSheker. One manifestation of this is that the first confrontation between Klal Yisroel and the nations in the era of Chochma rather than Nevuah is with Greece, the source of the concept of wisdom in the world.

And just as there is a Navi Sheker, and there is no answer to his signs and miracles, so too there are Chochmei Sheker to whom we have no answer to their proofs through Chochma. Once again we need to use our faith to be able to overcome this test.

So there may be questions that seem unanswerable. That is the place of Emunah, just as in the time of Nevuah.

Reasons for Mitzvoth      

This can also be connected to the idea of the study of Ta’amei HaMitzvoth, what is translated as reasons for Mitzvoth. But the word Ta’am in Lashon HaKodesh actually means taste. We see this by the fact that the only two places in Chumash where it is used, is in connection with the taste of the Manna. What is the connection between taste and reason?

Taste in food is actually an extra. Food is equally nutritious whether it is tasty or not. A person who does not have a sense of taste, or has a terrible cold and cannot taste their food is still receiving the same nutrition. I have heard in the name of R’ Chatzkel Sarna ZT”L, the Rosh Yeshiva of Chevron, that when we say in Birchas HaMazon, that HaShem provides for the world with grace, we are referring to the beauty of food. HaShem could have created all food to look and taste like a plain potato and it would provide us with our nutrition. But He decided to give us a gift. We were graced that our food has taste.

The same is true with Mitzvoth. Whatever a Mitzvah is meant to accomplish will take place by the performance of the Mitzvah. This is true even without us understanding the reason. By the doing alone we are fulfilling the will of HaShem and the purpose of the world is being fulfilled. The fact that there is a reason which we can understand is only a taste. And even without the taste, the Mitzvah works.

The translation of Ta’amei HaMitzvoth as the reason for a Mitzvah is misleading. It is a taste that makes it easier for us to understand it, but it is not yet the complete reason.

The Role of Intellect in Understanding HaShem

In the Mesechta of Chagiga the second Perek begins with a discussion of the proper way to learn different sensitive and deep topics in the Torah. The reason why this discussion is in Chagigah is because in the Torah the idea of Chagigah is described as “When you come to see HaShem”. Part of the Aliyah LaRegel was not only to come to Jerusalem but to see and be seen by HaShem. As difficult as it is for us to visualize this, we still have some connection to this level through the study of Torah. And the deeper the level of the Torah study is, the closer we can come to this. But such a study comes with potential dangers. Therefore when discussing the Torah study of “seeing HaShem”, we are guided in the proper way to approach it.

The Mishnah teaches us that the more mystical levels of the Torah can only be taught in small groups. These levels are described Ma’aseh Bereishis and Ma’aseh Merkavah. The Rambam[6] describes the first as “the natural wisdom and the delving into what was the beginning of existence”. The latter is “the Godly wisdom which is the discussion of all existence, the existence of the creator, the knowledge of Him, His descriptions, the existence of all from Him, and what will be after death“. The Rambam continues[7] that every person desires that his intellect can understand these ideas, and needs to be warned to do it in the proper way.

The Mishnah continues that anyone who delves into these ideas is not caring about the honor of his Master. Explains the Rambam[8] does it mean that he does not care about the honor of his master? The person’s intellect is the ‘honor of his Master’. And someone who delves into places that he is not capable of understanding will twist his intellect into a way that even an animal is better than him.

The Rambam in the Moreh Nevuchim[9] writes in a similar vein, but ends the Perek that this is not coming to close the gateways of intellectual seeking completely as the fools think, but to know the limits of the human intellect.

We are enjoined to study these ideas in the correct way, to delve where we are holding, but to understand that the intellect also has limits, and the attempt to go beyond them, is doomed to twist the intellect and the person into something incorrect.

[1]  ספר המצות להרמב”ם – מצות עשה – מצוה א – היא הצווי אשר צונו להאמין האלהות והוא שנאמין שיש שם עלה וסבה הוא פועל לכל הנמצאות והוא אמרו אנכי ה’ אלהיך ובסוף גמרא מכות אמרו תרי”ג מצות נאמרו לו למשה בסיני מאי קראה תורה צוה לנו משה כלומר מנין תור”ה והקשו על זה ואמרו תורה בגימטריא הכי הוו תרי”א הוי והיתה התשובה אנכי ולא יהיה מפי הגבורה שמעום הנה כבר התבאר לך שאנכי ה’ מכלל תרי”ג מצות והוא צווי באמונה כמו שבארנו:

[2]  מכות דף כג/ב  – אמר רב המנונא מאי קרא תורה צוה לנו משה מורשה תורה בגימטריא  שית מאה וחד סרי הוי אנכי ולא יהיה לך מפי הגבורה שמענום

[3]  עיין באריכות בהערות ר’ חיים העלער לבס”מ של הרמב”ם

[4]  ספר החינוך – מצוה כה  – שנאמר בתחילת נתינת התורה, אנכי ה’ אלהיך אשר הוצאתיך מארץ מצרים וגו’ [שמות כ’, ב’], ופירושו כאלו אמר, תדעו ותאמינו שיש לעולם אלוה,

[5]  שפת אמת ספר דברים – פרשת שופטים – שנת [תרמ”ז]  – ואא”ז מו”ר ז”ל אמר כי איש ישראל צריך להיות תמים. אע”פ שנתנה תורה הטעם נביא מקרבך כו’ שלא תאמר להם יש לשאול כו’. א”כ עתה שאין לנו נביא הדרא קושיא לדוכתי’. אעפ”כ אנו אין לנו אלא ידיעת התורה. ופי’ בזה הפסוק איזה ספר כריתות אמכ’ אשר שלחתי’. ואמר דאיתא ושלחה לאפוקי למי שמשתלחת וחוזרת ואנחנו בנ”י אפי’ ישלחנו ח”ו כמה פעמים אין לנו מקום אחר רק חוזרין אליו לעמוד בפתח עד שירחם עלינו. ולכן אין ס’ כריתות לנו עכ”ד פח”ח. והאמת כי זה הדין בשוטות שא”י להתגרש. וכמו כן באיש ישראל בטלין כל החכמות כשנוגע באמונת השי”ת וכמאמר מוטב שיהי’ שוטה כל ימיו ולא רשע שעה א’ לפני המקום. ולכן אין לנו לחפש שום חכמה רק מן התורה ומהקב”ה וב”ש בלבד. ואע”ג שבאמת הנבואה חסר לנו. כמ”ש אותותינו לא ראינו א”ע נביא ולא אתנו יודע עד מה. יתכן לפרש כנ”ל שבנ”י מתפארין בזה שאעפ”י שלא ראינו אעפ”כ ולא אתנו יודע כו’. שאין מחפשין ידיעות חיצוניות לסור ח”ו מאמונתו ית”ש. וזה השבח של בנ”י אדם ובהמה ערומין בדעת ומשימין עצמן כבהמה. כמ”ש בהמות הייתי עמך דכתי’ ואנחנו עמו וצאן מרעיתו. פי’ כשהקב”ה מנהיג אותנו בהתגלות הדעת כבנים כמו שהי’ בזמן המקדש. ואפי’ עתה בגלות שאין זוכין לזה אעפ”כ צאן מרעיתו אנחנו. ובאמת זה שבחן של בנ”י בגלות. ואפשר שזה מעלה גדולה ביותר כדאיתא באשה שאין בעלה מספיק לה צורכי’ אעפ”כ אינה מורדת בו בפרט אנחנו שיודעין שמצד עונותינו הוא. וז”ש כי הגוים האלה כו’ ואתה לא כן נתן כו’. ויתכן לפרש כי כל החכמות ששם הקב”ה בטבע מעוננים וקוסמים. הכל הי’ כדי להראות שבחן של בנ”י שמניחין כל החכמות ומבטלין עצמם אליו ית”ש. וזה המשך הפסוק תמים תהי’ כו’ כי הגוים כו’ ואתה לא כן כו’ שהכל מכוון א’ כנ”ל.

[6]  רמב”ם פירוש המשניות – מסכת חגיגה פרק ב משנה א – ושמע ממני מה שנתבאר לי לפי מחשבתי ממה שראיתי מדברי החכמים. והוא שהם מבינים במעשה בראשית החכמה הטבעית וההעמקה בהתחלות המציאות. ורוצים במעשה מרכבה חכמת אלהית שהוא הדיבור בכל המציאות ובמציאות הבורא בידיעתו ותאריו וחיוב כל הנמצאים ממנו והמלאכים והנפש והשכל הדבק באדם, ומה שיהיה אחר המיתה,

[7]  ונודע כי כל אדם בטבעו משתוקק לכל החכמות כולם בין יהיה טפש או חכם והאדם על כל פנים מחשב באלו השתי חכמות בתחילת מחשבתו וישליט מחשבתו עליהם בלי התחלות ובלי מדרגות בחכמות מנע זה ללמדם והזהיר עליו ואמר להפחיד אותו המשליט דעתו בהתחלות מבלי הקדמות כמו שביארנו כל המסתכל בארבעה דברים וכו’. ואמר להכניע המשליט שכלו ומחשבתו בדברים האלהיים בדמיונו המופשט בלי התחלה בחכמות:

[8]  כל שלא חס על כבוד קונו ראוי לו כאילו לא בא לעולם, פירוש כי העדרו מן האנושית. והיותו כשאר בעלי חיים טוב למציאותו ממציאותו אדם, מפני שמבקש לדעת הדבר חוץ מדרכו ועל מה שאינו בטבעו כי לא ידמה מה למעלה ומה למטה אלא אויל בצורת הנמצאים וכשירצה האדם הערום מן החכמה לחשוב עוד שידע מה שעל השמים ומתחת לארץ בדמיונו הנפסד שהוא מדמה אותם כמו בית ועלייה וכמו כן מה שהיה קודם שנבראו השמים ומה שיהיה אחר שיפסדו השמים תוציא אותו זו המחשבה אל השגעון ותמהון הלבב. וענין זו המלה המפוארה וזה העזר האלהית. באמרם כל שלא חס על כבוד קונו, רוצה בו מי שלא יחוס ויחמול על שכלו, כי השכל הוא כבוד השם ושאינו יודע שיעור זה הדבר שניתן לו נשתלח עם תאותו ונמשל כבהמות. וכן אמרו מי שלא חס על כבוד קונו זה העובר עבירה בסתר. ואמרו במקום אחר אין המנאפין מנאפין עד שתכנס בהן רוח שטות וזה אמת כי בעת התאוה איזו תאוה שתהיה אין השכל שלם. ומה שהביא זה הענין בזה המקום היה למה שאמר במה שקדם הן הן גופי תורה. וכן מנעו בגמרא ללמדם בפרהסיא והזהירו על זה מאד ויעצו שילמדם האדם בינו לביו עצמו ולא יגלם לזולתו וסמכו זה למאמר שלמה שאמרו בזה הענין על דרך משל, דבש וחלב תחת לשונך:

[9]  חלק א פרק ל”ב


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