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What is Faith?

By Rabbi Yehonatan Salem

As we start the book of Shemot, let us delve into its general message and central theme. The perashah begins with the descent of Yaakov Avinu and his family to Egypt. They were only a small group when they arrived, but in the course of their sojourn there for two hundred and ten years, they became a multitudinous people. During this time, the persecution and slavery that they endured brought out from within them the attributes of faith and trust in G-d, giving them the emotional strength to withstand their oppression.

Our Sages refer to  the  Jewish  People  as  “believers,  the sons of believers”. Our faith in G-d is hereditary – inherited from our forefathers. We have emunah – faith in G-d, that He created the world, and is directly involved with all that happens to each Jew individually, and to all of us as a people. He will ultimately reward us for every good action that we do and mete out punishment for any transgression of His word. It is true that we are commanded to constantly have emunah – faith in G-d, and to put our hope and trust in Him, but what exactly is faith?

Faith is the knowledge that another party has complete reliability. If, for example, we have a faithful friend, that means we can have trust in him. If he gives us his word that he will do a particular action, or that he will be a specific place at a certain time, we know that he will do his utmost to fulfil this, as with him “a word is a word,” and

we can certainly rely on him. Concerning such a person, whatever the situation and however hard or even seemingly contradictory it may be for him to do what he said, we can nevertheless be confident, rest assured and even relaxed, that he will be true to his word. If however, we find that he deviates, even slightly, from his given word, then he loses his complete reliability. We cannot rely on him totally, nor have complete confidence in him anymore. Someone once told me that as kids they would play a game, that one of them would be blindfolded and would have to fall backwards, relying on their friend to catch them before they fall to the floor. Although not advisable, this game portrays complete reliance.

We, as Jews, are commanded to have faith in G-d, that He is always in complete control of everything, and nothing in the world takes place that is not His will. In other words, we must have total reliance on Him. In all situations, whatever may be, whether it seems feasible or not, whether we understand or not, when a person has complete reliance on G-d, and says “I can rely on You (G-d), I know that it is You and only You, and that there isn’t and cannot be a safer place to be other than under Your complete protection” – this is faith. Concerning such a person it can be said: “He is living with G-d!”

In the coming weeks, we will address various questions concerning the topic of “living with G-d.” When can we depend on “our reliance on Him”? How can we be sure that we are really relying on Him,  and not, even subconsciously, on our family or overdraft facility to come to our rescue at the end of the day? How much of our own input is required for the success of any given situation? What is the difference between faith and trust? How can we work on acquiring our reliance on G-d?

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