The difference between “faith” and “emuna”

It goes very frequently that people utter the word “faith” not realizing its linguistic etymology and the connotations that it carries in particular civilizations. Reading R’Zev Leff’s commentary on Parshas Chukas at Outlooks and Insights clarified this realization in me all the more, that in Judaism, the word “emuna” denotes an entirely different meaning than the word “faith” as so often used in the Western world.

“Faith” in the Western world carries the connotation of belief that is void of any support from any other human faculty, most notably, the intellect. The act of believing in the context of the word “faith” is done almost whimsically, without rational examination of any evidence. It could be an act prompted purely by emotions and prejudices precipitated unconsciously by a person’s experiences and upbringing.

On the other hand, the word “emuna” carries no such connotation. If the word is searched in the entire Torah, one can only find that it means something completely at odds with the above. For example, in Beshalach 17:12, we find that the word “emuna” is used to describe the steadiness of Moshe Rabbeinu’s hands when he was praying for Yisrael during the battle with Amalek. According to R’Akiva Tatz in a series of shiurim given at Ohr Somayach, emuna implies the quality of faithfulness and steadfastness to a known set of rationally verified facts. In one of the shiurim, he explained this in the form of a story, where a young woman living in the forest is saved from a pit by a young man from the city who happened to pass by the pit in the forest during one of his travels. After the rescue and being obligated by the family of the young woman, the young man makes a promise to betroth the young woman, but under the condition that he settles some business he has in the city. The young man thus returns to the city, and the young woman waits for him, but alas, the young man does not come back for her in a very long time, himself having forgotten about his promise. However, the young woman knows for a fact that he made a promise, and she adheres to this fact steadfastly, consequently not agreeing to be betrothed to other young men who come her way during the course of waiting. This quality, R’Tatz explains, is emuna. It is not a whimsical prompting to ascribe to a particular unverified view, but a conscious and deliberate act of adhering to a fact that has been exhaustively and rationally analyzed for its truth value.

However, possessing the quality of emuna in one’s thoughts and actions does not imply depending entirely on the faculty of his intellect to derive truth. It does not preclude the idea that there are things that cannot be understood or grappled by the human mind. This is explained in R’Leff’s commentary on Parshas Chukas mentioned above. The quality of emuna thus implies that after we verify the legitimacy of the source of a set of statements, values and views handed to us, we are obligated to make full use of our intellects to understand that which we can understand – the why’s and how’s of it – so as to help us live more in accordance to that set of statements, values and views.

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~ by musafiremes on June 30, 2007.

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