Let My People Know

"A person may be very intelligent and learned and be unable to grasp certain matters of faith in their simple clarity"

“Altogether, faith, in its essence, is beyond the mental grasp of the human mind, and perhaps even of the soul.

It belongs to a realm of existence higher than our normal scope of recognition, where reasoning does not seem to be much use.

Similarly, in the physical life we may know a sensation of nameless fear without any reason; we may experience the inexplicable or visionary.

Yet faith is much higher even than these mystical experiences.

And even if the intellect is needed to make God comprehensible, it is not the mind that grasps God.

It therefore cannot be a simple matter to explain what faith is.

It may be appropriate first to relate to its contents.

The faith of Israel is primarily a belief in the one God who is more sublime than anything that has form or that can be conceived.

This faith rests also on providence, on personal Divine grace, on a particular relation to the individual person and situation.

This is the problematic faith which the research scholars cannot quite grasp.

Indeed philosophies of all sorts, including those that take pains to prove the existence of God, have trouble with this problem of the relation between the world and the Divine, between personal providence and Divine essence.

According to the Baal HaTanya, the people of Israel, devout believers and children of a long tradition of faith, receive and absorb this faith from their earliest years.

It is not given to analysis or reason; it lies rooted in the depths of the soul.

This fact implies that the commandment to have faith is rather absurd.

How can such a “mitzvah” be ordered or commanded?

If one has faith there is no need for the mitzvah or commandment to believe; if one does not have faith, the commandment can have no effect.

It is not a matter of making an effort.

In contrast, the mitzvah to love, for example, may be considered difficult for those who do not love naturally, but it is certainly not absurd to demand it.

Perhaps the mitzvah to believe is a directive to recognize that such a mitzvah exists, but one either believes or doesn’t believe, regardless of the mitzvah.

It may be argued, therefore, that this mitzvah is really a commandments or injunction to know and not necessarily to believe, a matter of the intellect and not of the heart.

The Hebrew word for faith is “Emunah” which is of the same root “Emet,” or truth.

So faith and truth are really the same word, or at least derived from the same root.

To believe is to recognize the truth of something, and to admit a truth is a matter of faith.

What we consider truth is almost always a leap of faith at some point.

The problem lies in the fact that not every level of faith has the same degree of clarity we require for certainty of truth; there are differences in the way things are believed in.

Some concepts are clear, others quite vague.

For example, items directly perceivable by the senses provide us with a clear faith in their existence.

I can be more committed about the reality of the table before me than that of Mount Everest.

Not that I question that such a mountain exists; it is only a matter of the distinctness of my certainty about it.

The unquestioning faith in objects one can see and touch is different from the obscurity of one’s faith in more abstract or paradoxical objects.

For example, there is the children’s paradox of trying to envision that people on the other side of the globe are not walking on their heads.

It takes some time and effort to distinguish the transparent truth of antipodes; not everyone accomplishes it with the same ease, although there is no real doubt in anyone’s mind about it.

In other words, there is faith that is clear as day, readily seized and easily grasped, and there is the faith that is not clear in this way, but has to be learned or at least worked at with the mind or heart or both.

A person may be very intelligent and even learned and be unable to grasp certain matters of faith in their simple clarity.

This obstacle is not connected with issues of good and evil, but is a consequence of one’s powers of abstraction, or rather of seeing certain kinds of truths clearly.

What may be obvious to one person is often beyond another person’s perception, just as one person has the ability to see a joke whereas there are others for whom no amount of explanations will help.

Of course, the capacity for faith is not the same category as a sense of humor or feeling for aesthetic beauty.

It may have something of the essential quality of inwardness, beyond the intellect, but it is far more profound, since it is not only a matter of the mind but also, to a powerful degree a matter of the heart.”

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

From “On Faith and Being” p.233-236, from In the Beginning by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz