I often notice that more people respond to my posts about popular Jewish observances (e.g. seders) than about more cognitive parts of Judaism — like “faith.”
As a child, I went through an afternoon Hebrew School program in an Orthodox synagogue, without ever hearing the word “faith” (or “emunah”) mentioned. We were taught the basics of what to do — especially what’s needed to participate in a synagogue service.
There’s still little discussion of “faith,” even for Jewish adults, although there’s probably more than in the past. “Jewish Meditation” in whatever form is typically taught without reference to “faith.”
Yet, “faith” is a major theme in the Talmud and later Jewish writings (not to mention TaNaCh itself).
It’s sometimes taken as synonymous with “trust;” sometimes as something separate.
How do I define them both?
For learning purposes, I’d define “faith” as the belief in certain ideas about God, especially: existence, presence, goodness. By “belief,” I mean “understanding of” and “agreement with.”
Yet, even with understanding and agreement, one further step is needed to make these ideas of personal relevance.
It’s “trust,” which I understand as “letting go.”
If we want to float on the water, we must relax; “let go.” The more we struggle to stay afloat, the more we sink into the water.
“Trusting God” is the same. We might believe all there is to believe about God, but if we don’t “let go” and “let God,” we haven’t trusted.
We might ask: Don’t we have to make an effort to take care of ourselves? Don’t we have to take actions?
The answer? Yes, usually. There can be times when God gives us what we want and need without any effort of our own, but some sort of action or effort by us is usually necessary. Part of “faith” is discerning when to act and when to “let go.” In fact, even when we do act, our “faith” is that the outcome is always in God’s hands, rather than our own. To paraphrase Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev:
If we are successful — du!
If we are not successful, God forbid — du!
Learning to float is the first lesson in swimming. If so, kal v’homer, shouldn’t “trusting God” be the first lesson in Jewish education? Or at least be introduced then and there?
So, there has to be “trust” at some point; there has to be “letting go.”
In prayer — especially Visualization and Affirmative prayer — I’ve found that “letting go” on its deeper levels is a “transcendental” experience. I might be visualizing a healing or emotional change for the better, but in letting go, in trusting, it is God, not me, who is bringing it about. I only “witness” it.
Yet, as I’ve written elsewhere, that has often left me with a pervasive feeling of being with God long after the prayer itself has finished.