Emunah, trust in G-d, is an important part of Judaism. This Shabbat I heard a terrible and faulty story about what it would be. After that, I’ll tell you what I think it really is. First the not-unpopular nonsense.
“There was this man who came home from work early. Are you feeling OK, his wife asked. Better than ever, he answer. I just realized that I don’t need to work at all – I only need to trust that G-d will sustain us, and He will take care of all our needs. O, said his wife, now I know for sure that you’re not feeling well.
After 20 minutes came a knock on the door. Two men wanted to rent their donkey and cart. Here’s the money. You see that it’s working!
The two men had a bad plan. They wanted to kill a rich person, rob him and transport his body and bury it in the forest. So they did. But when they dug the hole they discovered an enormous treasure. They put the valuables in the cart but decided to wait till nightfall to return to the village, not to be seen by too many people.
One of them went to get them something to eat. On his way he thought: Why should I share my fortune – I’ll poison one of the sandwiches and get to keep it all. Once already stealing and killing, why not? The other though had the same mindset. He dug his colleague a pitfall.
The plans worked. The returning murderer fall into the pit and died. Great, said the other, now I got two meals – he ate and died too. The donkey got kind of bored and decided to go home. There the husband discovered the wealth and proved to his wife that Trust in G-d suffices.”
I asked the rabbi who told me the above legend: But why not tell the end of the tale? He gave me a puzzled look. I continued: The other people in Chelm lauded their righteous fellow-villager as the greatest saint ever-known. They totally missed that in order to get his “good” results, three people had to be murdered and the “righteous” man had to live from riches that were not his.
As Rabbi Yisrael Salanter already said tongue-in-cheek: The first Commandment in the Torah is “Do not be a fool!”
No, said the rabbi, you don’t understand. If you really believe, G-d will provide it all. I replied: That sounds like the friends of Job, who wanted to convince him that if he were completely righteous, no bad would have befallen him.
We already get life for free. The greatest gift there is. Then we get air to breath, no questions asked. Water is next on the list, almost gratis for most people. Most of us are healthy most of the time. And now we should have the rest of our needs also met without effort?
What’s the use of this world then? G-d created the Universe to have us work for His generosity, so that we won’t feel like beggars who get charity. If our only work would be to believe, we’d be like classical Christians – no offense – who also seem to hold that all religiosity only happens in head and heart.
I have a 15-year-old story of my own to understand Trust in G-d. After that, I’ll round off with a clear summery.
“My family lives in Gilo, in southern Jerusalem. We also lived here when the worldwide-reported shooting on Gilo happened at the Second Intifada. Not one person in Gilo died from all the shooting assaults. There are so many powerful stories about these Miracles, each of themselves worthwhile narrating. But for now I would like to focus on something else that happened in those days.
At the time that the shelling started, my sons were six and eight years old and they had no problem with it. They were as playful and silly as kids of their age are supposed to be. Until … one day my youngest one saw a grown-up family member getting scared by the shootings. And that got him anxious. The excellent father I am of course noticed, so I decided to talk with him. It turned out that he had started worrying, sleeping poorly and suffered from scary dreams.
I told him the obvious: “You don’t have to be scared. The biggest noise is from our weapons – we have the heavy artillery, the missiles, the helicopters and the tanks – thank G^d – the snipers have only light weapons. Nebbech (nebbish) the poor little guys in Beit Jalla – they should be scared.” (They didn’t need to, because we didn’t aim at them, and none of them died either, thank G^d.)
Now, have you ever noticed how bright small children are – at least some of them some of the time? They may miss some of our information, but wow, do they know how to work what they have. So it took this youngster no time at all to retort my initial reassurances. And this is what he said: “But daddy – what if a tank of ours in Bethlehem misfires a rocket and it flies into our window?”
Now, I don’t know if you can picture yourself getting such a question by your young kid who you love dearly. What would you say? Would you say: “Well, don’t worry; that won’t happen so quickly.” I assure you that he would hear that as if you meant: leave me alone; don’t kvetch. First of all, that would leave him worried. And not only that; that would reduce this troubled reflection into his own, private, lonely business. This would be received as a powerful way of saying that I don’t care about his feelings or about him. And that was not what I had in mind to accomplish.
Furthermore, I quickly contemplated and then rejected saying: “That won’t happen; I personally guarantee you”; or: “G^d loves us too much to allow that.” Because, what if, Heaven forbid, something like that would happen – what is he to think then? That G^d doesn’t love us; that I’m a liar; that his father doesn’t know what he’s talking about; or that the best way to stay real is to worry? A tragedy like that – we should never have to deal with it – is hard enough to handle, and shouldn’t be complicated by a notion that: G^d, my father, life or tranquility is off and inappropriate. So what to answer him? I had no idea.
But I wanted to help him – no, stronger, I knew that I had to answer him, so to speak. But I didn’t know how. I felt my wish to support him so strongly, that it was as an irresistible command to me. I had to. Did I know what to say – not at all. But I had no shred of self-doubt – I was going to help. I was not going to waste my or his time by performing an impressively pathetic dramatization of helplessness. And what did I do? I opened my mouth to answer him. And then I started explaining. This is what I found myself saying.
“Listen,” I said, “you’re confusing two situations. When there is shooting, do we go outside to look where the bullets come from?” My son shook his head as if I had suggested him to love spinach. “No,” I continued, “we don’t, right, because when we can see the bullets’ paths, the bullets ‘can see us,’ and that’s not healthy – that is not smart. There we use our sechel (brains). But after we used our understanding to the maximum, then we use our Emunah (our trust in Goodness).”
“Do we go walk between the flying bullets, singing ‘Look how much Trust I have’? No, we don’t, right, because that would be stupid. Then we would use Trust in the wrong area, the territory of the Intelligence. But after we have been as clever as we can, we also don’t go figure what else could still happen; because then you are already in the vicinity of Trust; and reasoning there is an out of placed use of our intelligence.”
“So we don’t trust when we must think, and we don’t reason when it’s time to trust. We only have to go about our lives as smart as we can and for the rest we can have Trust.”
After this talk, the bombardments continued for more than another year. But I’ve never seen him scared or worried about it again.
The Rabbis teach that sometimes we only have to try or only do the first tiny bit. Then Providence will take it from there. And not only that. By virtue of our initiative, people will credit this to us as if we did it all on our own. Success can taste really sweet.”
In other words: We are here to do what we need to do. We do that in the knowledge that we’re not alone. A benign G-d is with us. So we don’t work frantically. When we do our part, we are confident that He will add His part. That might not be what we wanted or expected. G-d is not only our Father but also our King. He’s not a civil servant who need to serve us. He has His Own Plan.
Our Trust is not that He will serve us. Rather, that He is Good and that we are invited to work with Him to bring the world and mankind ultimately to perfection.
Why would G-d have given us legs, hands and other organs if we only need to work with our brain?
Leaving it all to G-d is not religiosity – that’s laziness or stupidity.