People say, “Have faith.”

Why don’t we?

How can we?

Some part of the answer might be found in the “Exodus” narrative.

Pharaoh and the B’nai Yisrael (Israelites) have something in common:

Each time Pharaoh agrees to let the Israelites “go,” he is unable to do so, perhaps because he perceived himself as losing his own control and power (which we can infer from the behavior of other powerful people when faced with a loss).

Faced with such a perceived loss, he does not make a “rational decision.” Pushed by his own fear, he doesn’t take the time or make the effort to recall what he had seen of God’s power immediately before. He responds impulsively, “hardening his heart.”

Similarly, the Israelites, once freed from Egypt by overt displays of God’s power even over nature itself, nevertheless become anxious and fearful as they wander through the wilderness with no other provider than the very same God who had just miraculously freed them.

Confronted by difficulty, the Israelites fear, not taking the time or making an effort to recall what they had seen and experienced of God only shortly before. They responded impulsively and panicked.

I’ve experienced the same myself when struggling to apply or employ faith to face a given difficulty. I observed that, with God’s help, I’m able to draw on faith by reminding myself of truths about God. I feel better — for a while.

Yet, shortly later or even the next day, I find myself worried or resentful again.

Having faced a major personal difficulty recently, I learned that “having faith” can mean to repeatedly remind myself of things I’ve learned about or experienced of God:

God is not an idea, not a feeling; not matter, not energy. God is beyond space and time. God is constantly creating everything at every moment, while remaining the essence of the thing created. God is in and around everything. God is in charge of every event. Most of all, God is good and does only good — however it might seem to us.

“Having faith” can be a bit like “taking medicine.”

When we’re ill, the first dose of medicine might seem to help only temporarily or slightly, if at all. The true help comes from repeated doses.

Just so, “faith,” especially as expressed in prayer, might seem to help temporarily or only a little at first. Even if I feel much better initially, “faith” can seem to “wear off” and I re-experience the uncomfortable feelings.

Yet, with repeated faith and prayer, a positive frame of mind can come to far outweigh the discomfort.

There is another lesson to be learned here, too:

For Pharaoh or the Israelites to “remember” what they had experienced of God, they would have had to take their attention off of the presenting conditions and focus it instead on God (even if indirectly, through a “memory”).

The lesson, then, is that when seeking to “have faith,” we must decrease the amount of attention we give the problem and increase the attention we give God.

This isn’t arcane at all. Perhaps we have a bad drive home but once home, we are surrounded by a loving family and a warm, delicious meal. If we keep reminding ourselves of the drive, we’ll maintain or even increase our upset. If we focus on our loving family and the delicious food, we’ll feel better.  There are times when this doesn’t come easily. But we can make the effort — just as the B’nai Yisrael, even Pharaoh himself — could have made precisely the same effot.

We can choose whether to keep our mind on the problem that faces us — no matter how large or serious — or repeatedly focus our attention instead on every good thing we know about God.

Your Peace
is perfect
and complete,

in me
like a seed
like a full moon
on a dark, clear night,
like a sip of water
on a hot day.

Peace unshakeable,
like silence
in a winter forest;
like warmth
on a cornfield
in summer.

Now and ever
You fill the heart
of those
who let You
be known. [1]

Let us make the effort.


[1] © 2009 by Rabbi Eli Mallon