Having emunah in Hashem is more than just a method of coping, and making meaning of—and thereby enhancing difficult times. The merit of emunah holds the power to free one from the actual difficult circumstances in which one may find oneself.
When the message of their impending freedom from Mitzrayim reached Bnei Yisrael, the pasuk states, “and the nation believed” (Shemot, 4:31). The fact that they believed that Hashem could take them out of what seemed like a doomed and hopeless life was no small matter. In fact, the midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Beshalach, 240) says that it was only in the merit of our forefathers having emunah in Hashem that they were redeemed from Mitzrayim!
If we take this midrash literally, it would seem that it was one single factor that caused their liberty: emunah. This underscores how powerful having emunah is. When one truly believes that Hashem is fully capable of providing any salvation that one may need, this can spur remarkable and unthought of salvations, much like leaving the seemingly impossible conditions of Mitzrayim.
How do we understand this power of emunah?
At first glance, it’s possible to say that since emunah is such a great deed, it deserves such a great reward. It’s like a justice system—a great deed deserves a great reward. However, this might not necessarily be the way the power of emunah actually works.
Rav Zundel of Salant (teacher of R’ Yisrael Salanter) wrote: “As is known, Hashem’s supervision and providence is over all of a person’s affairs; and just as a person turns his heart towards Hashem, so does Hashem turn towards him to watch over him, as it is stated (Tehillim, 121) “Hashem is your shadow.” And the more one turns to Hashem, the more Hashem watches over him, as the midrash says that the words “Hashem is your shadow” teach that just as a shadow—when you show it one finger, it shows you one finger; if you show it an entire hand, it shows you an entire hand—so too, [does] Hashem [act in this fashion] (“Ohr Yisrael,” 24).
This seems to mean that when we put 10% belief and trust in Hashem, then Hashem’s help comes through to a 10% degree. However, if we turn towards him completely, and believe 100% in His ability to help us, then Hashem can help us entirely. Some situations in life, more than others, may require a stronger degree of trust placed in Hashem in order to see salvation. For example, a grave and severe circumstance—like being enslaved in Mitzrayim—might require a really high level of confidence in Hashem to merit redemption, whereas a less intense situation may not require such a lofty level of emunah. In short, commensurate to one’s belief, is one’s salvation and help from Above.
Says Rav Yerucham Olshin (Yerach L’moadim, Pesach, Maamarim, 6), we learn from Rav Zundel that Bnei Yisrael’s redemption wasn’t necessarily a reward for their emunah, but rather commensurate with the amount of belief they placed in Hashem. Since Bnei Yisrael turned their hearts to Hashem to such a great degree and believed that He could do anything for them, they hit the barometer of belief necessary to have Hashem turn towards them and help them so greatly and mightily. Their high level of emunah activated Hashem’s high level of help, and they were redeemed from a deeply dire situation in Mitzrayim.
Yet I wondered, maybe what Rav Zundel means when he says that to the degree that one turns to Hashem, Hashem helps him—is that if a person turns to Hashem 10%, then as a reward he deserves to get 10% in return. Likewise, if he believes 100%, his reward is even greater and he deserves that Hashem fully help him!
However, Rav Zundel seemingly derived his opinion from the midrash he quotes which is based on Hashem acting towards us like a shadow—so the amount one shows of himself is exactly how much of one’s shadow will be revealed. This would seem to mean that there is a direct and immediate correlation between one’s emunah and the salvation he may receive. A shadow doesn’t work based on deserving reward, it works because it’s a practical fact—it’s inherent in its nature. Even if a person doesn’t “deserve” for his shadow to appear, it nevertheless appears. Hence, the more one shows of himself, the more one enhances his emunah—the more his shadow appears, the more Hashem who acts like a shadow helps him.
So, maybe we can suggest the following: If emunah is reward-based, then it’s dependent on calculation and therefore might not be as powerful as one would think. After all, there might be doubts: maybe those merits of having emunah were used for something else, maybe they were lost due to certain misdeeds, maybe it’s better that they be saved for the next world, etc. However, if the function of emunah isn’t based on a justice system, but instead works like a reflex, or shadow, then it might not be subject to discretion. If you put your hand out, its shadow automatically appears.
Perhaps then, this can shed light onto the power of emunah: If one believes to the necessary degree, the salvation could be more of an automatic response, like a shadow. If Hashem is your shadow, then the merit of having emunah, perhaps, reigns beyond all potential doubts and discretions, since, like one’s shadow—making it appear, making our salvation happen—lies much within our own hands and hearts.
Binyamin is a graduate of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchanan, and of Wurzweiler School of Social Work.