כל נמצא זולתו הוא חסר

All that exists other than G-d is defective [1]

“Emunah (אמונה),” the Hebrew word for “faith,” is related to another Hebrew word, “Amanut,” (אמנות) meaning “skill.”

How true! For “faith” is a “skill,” far more than it is a feeling or an attitude. It’s the skill of choosing the most calmness- or happiness-producing response to a situation, and the one that most acknowledges G-d’s role, presence, and goodness. We choose our response by choosing our thoughts. 

A person who has mastered this skill is called a “ba’alat or ba’al emunah (בעל אמונה or בעלת),” a “master” or “expert” of faith.”

Who are “experts of faith”; the masters of this skill? They are the “righteous;” the “צדיקים;” the ones sometimes called “saints.”

Some people have mastered all of the mitzvot; all the observances, and yet aren’t called “righteous.”  Something more is needed to earn that “title.” To be an “expert of faith” requires “inner” control; the “control” – choice, really – of thoughts and feelings.

We might see a man or a woman who never worries; never becomes angry. We intuitively feel that they’re sincere; not hiding turbulent feelings behind a smile or façade of calmness. We acknowledge to ourselves, also, that they differ greatly from ourselves in that regard. We might then think of them as being among “the righteous.”  

But there’s a fatal flaw in this impression.

Even if we acknowledge that this skill can be learned, and that this “righteous” man or woman has achieved something we ourselves have not – as yet – achieved, the flaw in our thinking persists.

What flaw?

The assumption that this learning is ever finally, fully achieved.

It’s not.

There are musicians who are called “masters” of their instrument. The beginner watches and listens, and quickly understands why they’re called “masters,” when compared with his or her own present skills. Yet, in truth, their “mastery” includes the understanding that their learning is never complete; never finished. The “master” musician must still practice almost daily, must always learn new techniques, must continue to explore how to make their instrument a vehicle for personal expression. It’s a never-ending process.

The spiritually “righteous” are no different. They are always learning new levels of acceptance; new levels of “choice.” Through their acceptance, they transcend their own “wills,” their own “selves.” They can then receive the awareness of G-d ‘s Light and Peace, which is always with us. What Yishiyahu (Isaiah) says of us in the future, is true for the righteous now:

The sun shall be no more your light by day,
Neither for brightness shall the moon give light to you
But the Lord shall be to you an everlasting light [2] 

What looks to us like “sufferings” are, for the righteous, opportunities for even higher “learning” (which includes application, or performance), leading to even higher spiritual experience; fuller awareness and perception of G-d’s Light and Peace. It’s not that the righteous don’t suffer (at, G-d forbid, the loss of a loved one, for example). It’s that they weigh their own responses against disturbing their own peace to unnecessary degrees, thereby obscuring the Light and Peace of G-d that they know to be ever-present in them. It is by their response to their suffering that they earn the title “righteous.”

How do we even begin?

By recognizing that only G-d is perfect. Not other people. Not us, ourselves.

We become angry with others, or with ourselves, when we aren’t “perfect.” When they/we do something that it seems (to us) that they/we should have the “good sense” not to do. Yet, no one intentionally does what they/we know to be wrong. Our judgement can be marred by the pressure of feelings known and unknown; by lack of consideration for consequences on ourselves or others; by a mistaken belief (based mostly on limited life experience) that life requires us to do what’s expedient rather than what’s right; and so on.   

In so doing, or in becoming angry when we think someone else is doing it, we disturb our own peace; our own intimacy with the softness of the Divine Presence in us.

Instead, let us begin our mastery of faith by always remembering that only G-d is perfect. All the rest, including ourselves, are “works in progress.”

MAY MY SOUL BE SILENT TO THOSE WHO INSULT ME [3]

“Be silent…” — Do I expect an unfailing perfection of any human being that can only be found with G-d?

And then, let us progress from there in mastering the skill of “faith.”

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[1] Sefer Ha-Yashar — The Book of the Righteous; Rabbi Seymour J. Cohen, ed. and trans.; Ktav Publishing House, Inc.; 1973; p. 32 

[2] Yishiyahu/Isa. 60:19

[3] Berachot 17a (The personal prayer of Mar ben Ravina; recited at the end of each Amidah)