Why Working on Emunah is Essential
Emunah is the cornerstone of observance and survival within Yiddishkeit. We have mitzvos to guide our observance, but without real emunah, we lack the necessary relationship with HaShem to bring our mitzvos to life. We, in essence, according to the kabbalists, create an angel that can do good but lacks a voice. Our kevanah is conditioned on emunah.
Emunah seems like a simple concept but it’s much more advanced. We can survive life on a simple emunah, but the reality is that life is devoid of the richness that deeper levels provide. And when the going gets tough, we’ll get going…the other way. More than a simple emunah is needed.
This is one of the reasons why for over a year and a half now I have been studying Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh, Building a Sanctuary in the Heart, as the book is designed to guide one from knowledge of emunah to the deepest levels, enhancing their relationship with HaShem exponentially.
An early area of the book that recently caught my attention was regarding simple emunah and how we need to expand beyond that. When we lack the work on making our emunah no longer a mental fact but rather a feeling in our neshama, we find ourselves stuck at the simplest emunah. This is very problematic when it comes to the struggles we encounter in life.
The Bobover Ruv comments on Parshas Vayeira, bringing a Midrash that Avraham asked HaShem to never test him again with something like the Akeida. Given Avraham’s lofty spiritual status, comments the Ruv, the question is brought – why? The Koznitzer Maggid, in Avodas Yisroel, says that every test Avraham passed brought him to a higher level of spirituality. If each test brought him higher, why would Avraham ask for the nisyonos to stop? After all, he was holding at a level where he clearly understood this equation and understood the nature of HaShem.
The Maggid explains — each time a person is given a challenge, HaShem conceals Himself from that person. Their success can’t rely on the closeness of HaShem or their spiritual successes. Their attainments are to no avail, the spiritual resources blocked. During the period of struggle, the person feels abandoned by HaShem, only a sliver of the relationship can be felt. It’s this moment that’s critical, all the spiritual work inaccessible, their intellectual and emotional reserves empty, that a person has only one thing they can rely on — their level of emunah built up in their neshama. That spark is never hidden from them. If one can ground themselves in their emunah, then they can rely on that for success.
Why is this the case? The Ruv explains that if someone has access to their Torah study, their spirituality, and their inspiration from the past, then it’s not a real test. There are no obstacles when we feel the closeness of HaShem. But when we don’t feel close to Him, when we lack our resources, when we feel abandoned, then that test is really a trial for us to endure. Only when we feel abandoned and neglected does HaShem see if we’re really loyal to Him, staying the course and relying on emunah alone.
This is why it’s essential to study emunah. Yes, emunah is a heart condition, but it can only become one after we master it mentally and engrave it on our neshama so that we feel emunah at all times. This is very hard work, and unfortunately, it’s easy to think this work is optional or unnecessary.
It’s easy to try to skip the areas we think we’re strong in or the areas we don’t struggle in and try to reach the lofty clouds. We skip on these areas of avodah. This is a critical error, however. Just as a website with a critical error cannot function properly, so too every one of us cannot succeed and grow with a critical error in how we function and process. It may seem like we have an area mastered or a lack of a certain taiva, but the reality is that we still need to work on it.
Each area we neglect is a rung on the ladder that’s missing in our climb upward. Even if we feel we can skip a rung or two while climbing up, when we have a yerida, or are faced with a trial, which we all have, missing rungs can quickly turn a slight stumble into a painful fall. With emunah, however, it’s an even bigger component.
Emunah is the pole (right or left, your choice) to this ladder. Without it, there are no rungs of stability since there’s nothing they can grab on to. The more we grow and build, and higher we go, the stronger our emunah needs to be and the higher it needs to reach, otherwise that work truly will get us nowhere.