(In my previous post, I indicated that “faith” (emunah) or “trust” (bitachon) can be found in the earliest Jewish literature and history. I provided only a couple of examples, but showed that the references are easily accessible. Some people might still be using a “concordance,” but I’m guessing that it has largely been replaced by “googling” a word or topic online. In this current post, I’ll be indicating that faith/trust is a talmudic theme as well.)

Moving forward in time from the literature of the “scriptural era,” we come to the Talmud. As with scripture, a full review of the references to faith/trust would be prohibitively lengthy. My goal in these posts is to encourage interest in consulting earlier sources for a wider view of what Judaism teaches. 

There are several anthologies of talmudic teaching: “Everyman’s Talmud,” “Rabbinic Anthology” and “The Sages,” to name a few. They are invaluable resources for rabbis and Jewish teachers preparing talks, for sure. But they can serve an educational function of their own, acquainting any of us with Jewish teachings and teachers through the use of quotations and citations. 

The Talmud itself is made up of 6 “seders” or orders, each of which is subdivided into “volumes.” The first “order” is titled “Zera’im” — “Seeds.” Seder Zera’im reviews the agricultural laws of Torah. Yet the first masechet (volume) in “Seeds” is “Brachot” — “Blessings” — which: 

“…Deals with the prayer and worship of Israel; the regulations relating to the main components of the daily prayers, and the forms of thanksgiving or ‘grace’ to be recited over food and on sundry occasions.” [1]

For many years, the standard English translation of the Talmud was published by Soncino Press (and was thus called “The Soncino Talmud”); to be distinguished from the “Mishnayoth,” edited by Blackman, which contains only the Mishnah but leaves out the Gemarrah (rabbinic discussion of the Mishnah). Currently, there are other editions of the Talmud, as well, including Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’ translation of the Mishnaic Hebrew of the Talmud into Modern Hebrew (and its own translation into English). 

Why does the Talmud begin with a discussion of agricultural laws?

The general editor of the Soncino Talmud was Rabbi Isadore Epstein. It bears mentioning that he grew up with a traditional Eastern-European yeshivah education, and received s’michah (ordination) from a Beit Din (three rabbis), among whom was Rav Kook — the chief rabbi of the mandated territory of Palestine (pre-state of Israel, who passed in 1935), who was a halachic authority, a kabbalist and a poet. We can rightly expect, then, that Rabbi Epstein’s concerns would be both halachic in the purely practical sense, as well as spiritual in the intent of the mitzvot and the inner kavannah that accompanies them.

In his introduction to this volume, Rabbi Epstein, z”l, tells us that elsewhere in the Talmud, Seder Zera’im is referred to as “emunah” — ‘faith’:

“Resh Lakish asked, “What is meant by  ‘…and there’ll be faith in your times…’ (Isa. 33:6)?
‘Faith’ (emunah) refers to ‘Seder Zera’im’ (the order “Seeds”).” [2]

Upon which the Jerusalem Talmud further states: 

“‘Faith’ is applied to ‘Seeds” because it requires faith in the Almighty to sow with the assurance of a crop.”

In a sense, “agriculture” is taken by the Talmud as a metaphor for life itself. We daily “plant seeds” by our acts, in the hope that they’ll bear “fruit’ for us.

The Talmud tells us: We should begin the process by aligning ourselves several times daily — through prayer and blessings (expressions of gratitude) — with the One Source of all Nature — all life — that (or Who) determines the outcome of our efforts. 

Faith and the Shema & Amidah

It’s very reasonable, then, that “Brachot” — the volume on “Blessings” — begins with a discussion of saying the “Shema.” The entire Talmud opens with the question: “From what time in the evening do we say the ‘Shema’?” It’s intent underlies the entire Talmud.

Why?

Because the “Shema” is our recognition that there is this Source and only this Source:

“Faith in the ‘Life of the World’ [i.e. God; the חי העלמים] if held with conviction, implies the recognition of God as the owner of the earth [and everything in it].”  [3]

Faith, then, begins with our recognition of the Divine and Its Presence and Goodness in everything that has come, comes or will come to us.

“For what is the ‘Shema’…but the grand affirmation of Israel’s faith in God’s ownership of the world — His [Its] mastery over life and Nature — with His [Its] consequent claim upon human service, devotion and love?” [4]

Rabbi Epstein says the same of the Amidah:

“…the [daily] Amidah…covering the whole range of human needs — physical, mental and spiritual — is [similarly] grounded on faith in God’s Ownership of the Universe…” [5]

If the “Shema” is our affirmation of faith in God, the “Amidah” is the subsequent placing of all of our needs — physical, mental and spiritual — in the “hands” of the One Who is in charge of all. Notice the relative brevity of the Amidah: It contains no extended pleading or begging. It’s language is straightforward, lacking unnecessary histrionics. It’s central section — the “peitionay” section — merely states a category of need (to which we might mentally add our personal need), then thanks — blesses — God as the One Who meets our needs.

But as Rabbi Epstein points out, it is all based on a recognition of God as the “Owner” of all. 

Faith is Letting Go

Our prayer is preceded by our meditation on God as the Source of all.

In our prayer, we need only state our need — then “let go.” 

We can only float in water when we lie back and “let go.” If instead we struggle, we sink.

Faith in God is “letting go.”

State your need, then let go, knowing that God is taking the best action, unhampered by any limitation whatsoever. 

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[1] introduction to Soncino “Brachot;” notes by Rabbi Dr. Isidore Epstein (as “I. Epstein”)
[2] ibid; see also:
https://halakha.com/shabbath/shabbath_31.html

[3] ibid.
[4] ibid.
[5] ibid.