Parshas Lech Lecha
Emunah: Keeping the Faith
The first of the Ten Commandments is emunah, the belief and faith in G-d
and His Torah, which lies at the very core of Judaism. It is obvious how
without a firm conviction of G-d's All-transcendent Reality, a commitment
to Torah and mitzvah observance is impossible.
The emergence of the Avos, the patriarchs, begins with Avraham.
Avraham's life was the epitome of emunah, "faith in G-d". He bravely
challenged the pagan beliefs of his times and championed belief in the
existence of One Supreme G-d. Nimrod had him cast into the fiery furnace
for not renouncing his beliefs, only to witness Avraham miraculous escape
unscathed. Throughout Avraham's life, he journeyed declaring the name of G-
d to all he encountered and attracting thousands of converts.
The Jewish nation, his descendants, is lovingly called mamanim bnei
mamanim, "believers the children of believers".
The concept of emunah is the foundation of Jewish life – so much so that
the Rambam lists the belief in G-d as the first mitzvah, the springboard
to observing all the other commandments. (Other Rabbis disagree asserting
that emunah is the precursor to all the precepts but not a mitzvah in
itself). In condensing the principles of Torah, the gemara draws it back
to one statement "The righteous [man] lives with his faith" (See Makos
The Rambam famously established the 13 principles of faith upon which
Judaism rests. The Sefer HaIkkarim (1:4) subdivides faith into 3 main
components – belief in the existence of G-d, in His providence for reward
and punishment, and the heavenly origins of Torah.
The definition of emunah – related to word ne'eman – is "loyalty",
or "faithfulness" to G-d and to the sacred principles of our faith
practiced by the Jewish people throughout the ages.
It is not a blind "leap of faith" in something that has no basis,
experience or track record. Jewish faithfulness is the affirmation to
uphold the beliefs of our ancestors. It is a loyalty to and trust of an
established system. Seeing ourselves as part of the greater historic
picture – where past, present and future coalesce –we are forever
conscious of the Torah legacy that has forever guided the Jewish nation.
The quality of emunah is implanted into the Jewish spiritual genetic
makeup – an inheritance from Avraham.
Accordingly, a Jew seeks to preserve and perpetuate the rich lineage and
heritage from his forbearers in the Torah, which is faithfully transmitted
from father to son. He is the next link in the chain uniting generations.
This is testimony of how far emunah reflects the Judaic concept of
mesorah, tradition. The Oral Law of Torah was, after all, verbally
transmitted by mouth down the ages until the redaction of the Mishnah.
What emunah connotes is the basis for the soul's relationship to
One who lives with emunah is one who sees his existence firmly rooted in
the divine. It is the end all and be all. It is his lifeline. Without his
faith, he has no spiritual existence – even for a short period; it is as
if his air supply has been cut off.
Starved of a relationship to G-d, the Jew loses meaning to his life. In
the innermost recesses of his being, he has a natural pull towards G-d.
That is where his neshama, "soul" longs to attach itself.
The faith of the Jew is the universal Jewish response in good times and in
bad times. It flows deeply in his veins. It is the proclamation of emunah
in the saying of Shema or singing the Ani Maamin, "I Believe" with which
the Jewish nation have weathered the storm. That is because the existence
and outlook of a Jew is forever focused upon how to serve G-d in my set of
This unique perspective permeates every movement and action in the life of
a Jew – to the extent that the Psalmist sang "All your commandments are
emunah" (Tehillim 119), an expression of our faith that translates in
The chosen nation is proud of their title as mamanim bnei
mamanim, "believers the children of believers". Their affirmation to
preserve and continue the lifestyle and ideals of our ancestors is all
about "keeping the faith".
The course material is presented by Osher Chaim Levene, author of "Set in Stone: The Meaning of Mitzvah Observance" (Targum/Feldheim), a writer and educator in London whose website www.mitzva.org explores the wisdom of the commandments.