Growing In Emunah: How Do We Begin?                   


A new column by Rabbi Yechezkel Spanglet    


The Gemarah relates (Makos 23b) “Rav Simlai stated: Six hundred and thirteen mitzvos were taught to Moshe… Dovid [Hamelech] came and established them on eleven [ethical requirements]… Micha established them on three… Yeshayahu on two… Chavakuk established one imperative upon which the 613 mitzvos are based as it says in the passuk,  צדיק באמונתו יחיה‘- The righteous person shall live with his emunah.’”

Is this a new religion? Can one principle condense or replace the 613 mitzvos? Is emunah some magical seed from which sprouts the entire Torah?  And how does the posuk stated above answer our questions?

Let’s start with a mashal:

On a recent fundraising trip abroad, a friend paid a visit to a prospective donor. Ascending the elevator to the second floor, he was taken aback when he did not find room 200. Back at the lobby, the receptionist informed him “Sir, you made a big time mistake!  You want suite 2000 on the 20th floor.” My friend was in a daze as the uniformed man pointed to a second set of elevators. After ascending once more – must higher this time- he reached his destination.

Just as the fundraiser thought that he had reached his destination on the second floor, one may feel that he has reached his “destination”of understanding emunah. He is also ascending the wrong elevator.

Our fund raiser began at ground floor, that is, the foundation. However, to reach his actual destination, it was necessary to ascend many more floors. Similarly, in our quest to define emunah, we must begin at its basic foundations. From there we must ascend many levels of understanding and their applications. The applications help us to deal with different issues of life,  such as how to attain happiness and serenity, growing from nesyonos, how to cope  with suffering,  Olam Habah, how to relate to Hashem and so forth.  In the end we hope to have built a comprehensive emunah skyscraper- a store house of knowledge and tools that will help us to lead more meaningful and holier lives.

The posuk mentioned above ,,צדיק באמונתו יחיה is  very relevant in helping us strengthen our emunah. This “secret” will unfold as our essays unfold.

The Gemara (Bava Metzia 84a) describes an interesting incident. Rebbe Yochanan’s beloved chavrusa, Resh Lakish, had passed away. Rebbe Yochanan fell into despair. The Chachamim brought him a new chavrusa, Rebbe Elazar ben Pedas. This great talmid chacham brought a proof to all of Rebbe Yochanan’s assertions, causing Rebbe Yochanan to despair even more instead of being content with his brilliance. Why?

The Gemarah continues, “Rebbe Yochanan exclaimed, Resh Lakish would me ask me twenty-four questions on every contention and I would respond with 24 counter-arguments. That enabled me to gain a complete understanding of the subject matter. You [Rebbe Elazar ben Pedas] bring me twenty-four proofs, through which I gain no higher understanding.”Therefore, the Gemarah enlightens us on how to gain the most from our essays. Our readership is invited to ask, inquire and be partners in this spiritual odyssey so that we can build this magnificent emunah edifice in our hearts and mind.

We begin ascending.



  1. Excellent! I was always bothered by a question and was zocah to hear an answer this morning from Rabbi Haber at the Sadfdie shul in Deal NJ.

    Borei olam promises and bestows the farmers in the 6th year with a outstanding amount of bounty and yet the shomrei shivias are called ‘Giboray Koach”? Individuals lhavdil show trustworthiness to banking institutions by making a large down payment. If Borei olam so to speak gives such a down payment what’s the big test?

    Rabbi Haber gave two explanations.

    1) The farmer had to invest to be prepared to accept the abundance. That required a major cost outlay for extra farm workers, warehouse space etc… The cost outlay showed trust in Borei olam!

    2) The Torah tells us ” vayshmon kishron vyibod”. In the 6th year one can easily fall into the false pretense that it is his own work that caused the bounty. It takes a true believer when all is going well to recognize who truly sustained us.


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