Rabbi Dovid Ashear tells an inspiring story: A newly married couple was blessed with a healthy baby boy. Yet, three or four years passed and the wife was not getting pregnant again. Her doctor was puzzled and ran some tests. The couple went to Eretz Yisrael to daven and get blessings from gedolim. One particular rebbe told her, “Your ability to have a child depends on your emunah.” When she came back to America, her doctor had the test results. “Unfortunately, you are not able to become pregnant,” he pronounced. “But I already gave birth to a healthy child!” she exclaimed. The doctor replied, “Well, there is a 1% chance you could have a child, but lighting doesn’t strike twice!”
The woman was devastated, but she remembered the rebbe’s words: “Have emunah.” Years went by. One day, she told her mother she wasn’t feeling well. Her mother suggested she take flu medication. “But it says on the bottle not to take it if you’re pregnant,” she replied. Her mother was taken aback. “Why do you think you’re pregnant? The doctor said it’s almost impossible.” “But there is a small chance,” she answered her mother. She skipped the flu medication, and two weeks later she called her mother. “Mom! I have great news. I’m pregnant!” She gave birth to a healthy child, and a year later she had yet another child!
This story gives insight into something quite striking in Parshas Lech Lecha. Avraham went through many tests: He was thrown into a furnace by Nimrod. Hashem told him to leave his family and homeland with no known destination. When he got to Eretz Yisrael, he had to leave because of a famine. He battled against four mighty kings to save Lot. After all this, Hashem told Avraham he will have great reward. Avraham replied to Hashem, “But I don’t have any children; I only have Eliezer, my servant.” Hashem reassured Avraham that he will have descendants and they will be as plentiful as the stars. Then the pasuk says something very puzzling: “V’he’emin baHashem, v’yachsheveha lo tzedaka.” Rashi translates the pasuk as, “Avraham believed in Hashem, and Hashem considered the emunah of Avraham as an act of righteousness.”
But surely Avraham had proven much earlier in his lifetime that he believed in Hashem! And here, Hashem personally told Avraham he will have a child. So, what additional emunah did Avraham really need?
Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz, Rabbi Shamshon Raphael Hirsch and Rav Shlomo Wolbe all say that it’s a misconception to say that emunah means “to believe.” Emunah means to live with the belief that Hashem can make something positive happen for you, even if it defies reality. Avraham believed in Hashem prior to this. But Avraham also knew Sarah was born without a womb. Having a child was impossible! But Avraham accepted what Hashem said: He would have a child—absolutely! For this high level of emunah, Hashem considered him extremely righteous.
The Torah describes Noach as pure and righteous. Hashem warned him of the impending flood and instructed him to build a teiva. At Hashem’s instructions, Noach took 120 years to build the teiva, since Hashem wanted people to see the construction and inquire about its purpose. For 120 years, Noach warned the people to do teshuva lest a flood destroy the world. Yet on the day of the flood, Noach didn’t enter the teiva until it started to rain. Rashi says he was missing a degree of emunah. Of course Noach believed in Hashem, but it wasn’t real to him until it started to rain.
In our initial story, the woman showed her emunah when she refused to take the flu medicine, even though her doctor had indicated she would not be getting pregnant again. Her actions showed that she was living in an emunah dimension that was real to her.
Living with emunah is not beyond our reach. There are opportunities every day. For example, we can respond “amein” every time we hear a bracha. The Gemara says that the letters of the word amein (aleph, mem, nun) are an acronym for the words “Keil Melech ne’eman”—Hashem is the reliable King. Each time we respond “amein” to a bracha, we are affirming that Hashem has absolute control regarding the area covered by the bracha that was just recited: Saying “amein” in response to the bracha of Hamotzi, recited upon eating bread, means we affirm that Hashem makes the wheat grow from the ground. Saying “amein” during Bircas Hamazon shows that we have full emunah that Hashem provides our livelihood, that He allows us to have food on the table.
Taking some action each day to affirm Hashem’s involvement in our everyday lives will help us not just to believe in Hashem, but to live with the reality that Hashem always watches over us and determines the course of our lives.
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged but any contributions are always welcome. Beyond PTI, Rabbi Bodenheim conducts a weekly beis midrash program with chavrusa learning in Livingston plus a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]. For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit pti.shulcloud.com.