David Walk

Truth and Belief

In the morning, after the recitation of Shma we declare: It’s true! We follow that exclamation of clarity about God’s power wielded on our behalf, with 14 more terms of confidence and clarity. In the evenings, on the hand, we recite: It’s true and I believe it (EMET V’EMUNA). In the AM, it’s all ‘WOW!!’. In the dusk, it’s more, ‘Hmmm, let me think about that’. And there’s a lot to think about.

The first thing to consider is EMUNA. EMUNA is a big deal. We are often referred to as MA’AMINIM B’NEI MA’AMINIM, believers and offspring of believers. EMUNA is more than a psychological or cognitive idea; it is also a behavior pattern. According to the Talmud, the first question one is asked post-death is: Did you conduct business with EMUNA (Shabbat 31a). For us EMUNA is a lifestyle decision. It is how we must live the meaningful life.

The term itself demands analysis. The root is the same as AMANUT, art or skill. EMUNA is not just a decision; it is a commitment which requires hard work to master. EMUNA, according to the Beit HaLevi (the first Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik) explains that EMUNA is different from knowledge. Knowledge, information can be taught and given over to another; EMUNA is belief and faith. It must be generated and cultivated by each individual. It can be encouraged, but not transmitted. The Beit HaLevi taught that if someone loses faith we can’t regenerate it for them. He suggested to pray for them.

So, to a great extent night time is alone time. Rav Kook taught that daytime is societal time; night time is when every individual is alone and separate, under his own roof. Historically, people didn’t go out at night. Each individual is alone with their very personal and intimate thoughts. I really believe that’s why we don’t have repetition of the Shmone Esre at night. In the dark, we are individuals, not a TZIBUR, community.

After we make this crucial declaration that we have EMUNA in the fact that God is eternal and unique, we make the other part of the critical announcement: We are His exclusive nation. The first part of this affirmation could be made by any monotheist, which includes half the human race. It’s the second part which makes us unique: We alone are God’s nation!

This brings us to the real message of this third BRACHA surrounding the Shma (and this is true both morning and night): We have a special, national, historical relationship with God which began with the Exodus and continues until the ultimate GEULA.

What most people call World History, we think of as the unfolding of God’s Covenant with the Jewish people. I majored in history, which, let’s be honest, isn’t all that practical, because I believe that we find God in the unfolding of the human saga. Some people find God in the heavens, others in the microscope; I find God in the History of the World Parts 1 through infinity.

The main difference between the description of the neverending story of our love affair and partnership with God when recited in the evening is the emphasis on bad guys. We have a lot of words here for those who are out to get us: kings, ARITZIM (perhaps, evil tyrants, think (Nebuchadnezzer, Titus, Hitler, it’s a long list), MITZAREINU (our oppressors), OYVEINU (our enemies, 2X), SONEINU (those who hate us, 2X).

History has taught us that God: redeems us, delivers us, doesn’t allow us to stumble, leads us to the high places (probably cultic sites) of our enemies, and, eventually, raises our KEREN (glory, pride, from the word for ‘horn’) over those who hate us. It sometimes takes a while, but eventually, we’re the last one standing. This first part of the BRACHA emphasizes the protection God has given the Jews throughout history. In the morning counterpart to this section, we mostly discuss Torah, mitzvot and the permanent relationship between Yisrael and God. The evening version is definitely darker. 

The second half of this paragraph repeats the model from its AM counterpart, and glorifies God for the Exodus. It goes through the chronological steps to the redemption from Egypt: 1. Miracles and revenge on Pharaoh, 2. Killing of the firstborns of Egypt, 3. The actual departure, and 4. Splitting Yam Suf. It’s possible that this is an attempt to explain the four terms for redemption in Shmot 6:6 & 7.

The final piece of this BERACHA which we are looking at in this article emphasizes that our ancestors were eyewitnesses to all these wonders and we are recipients of their testimony. We also declare that our ancestors at that moment had perfect faith in God: And His Kingship was accepted upon themselves willingly…and unanimously.

There may have been numerous backslidings in the Wilderness, but at that moment of the Exodus, our great grandparents were all on the same page, and that page read: We accept the Eternal as our God and Sovereign, unconditionally and eternally.

  We then have highlights from the Song of the Sea, but I will leave that for my next piece.

Before I close this piece, I want to add another thought about EMUNA. At the beginning of this article, I made it sound like EMUNA is relatively easy. Just put in some serious thought, and it becomes obvious and clear. I probably gave that impression, because that is the tenor of this blessing, but it is clearly not true. EMUNA is hard. It’s attainable, but requires constant hard work. I am going to end this piece with a noteworthy quote from one of the deepest and most serious thinkers I ever encountered, Reb Aharon Lichtenstein: 

The motto I inscribed in my college notebook was King David’s plea: Tuv ta’am vada’at lamdeni key b’mitzvotecha he’emanti [“Teach me good discernment and knowledge, for I have believed in Your commandments,” Tehillim 119:66]. Answers, I of course continued –and continue – to seek, and have found many. But it is an arduous search.

We eternally seek answers, because the questions just keep on coming! It’s not enough to write it in your notebook; it’s a thought which must accompany us, always. 

About the Author
Born in Malden, MA, 1950. Graduate of YU, taught for Rabbi Riskin in Riverdale, NY, and then for 18 years in Efrat with R. Riskin and R. Brovender at Yeshivat Hamivtar. Spent 16 years as Educational Director, Cong. Agudath Sholom, Stamford, CT. Now teach at OU Center and Yeshivat Orayta.
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