Thursday, January 28, 2010

Uncle Why Explains the Jews

Hi, boys and girls.

Uncle Why's video doesn't seem to be working this week so we are just going to have to blog it.
Well, boys and girls, it looks like so much has been happening in the past few weeks - Obama says that he was "overconfident" about imposing implementing a Mideast solution, the horrible earthquake in Haiti that has shaken all of us up, Massachusetts elects a Republican, Britain announces a terror alert and cancels all flights from Yemen, and the dybbuk is still not out! - I think that many of us find some of these things a bit hard to believe.

And that brings me to Uncle Why's Jews word for this week:

EMUNAH אמונה

Now, this is not an easy word to explain, boys and girls, especially since there is so little of it here in the Blogosphere. The more I look, the more I see blogs by people telling us how much EMUNAH they don't have. But we will do our best.

Now, some of us think that EMUNAH is a religious Zionist women's organization who's "mission is to help alleviate the burdens of Israel’s social problems". And as long as you give them money, you are a very good Jew.

This is at best EMUNAH peshuta, boys and girls.

No. EMUNAH is really believing that HKBH runs the whole world, and, if we are good Jews, He gives us money. And lots of other stuff. Just like it says in Parshat Bechukosai.

Now this may sound rather simple, boys and girls, and lots of folks will be plenty sure that they have as much EMUNAH as they need but it might just be that they are fooling themselves.

Let me illustrate it with a true story. One day, boys and girls, Uncle Why was waiting in a front room to meet a distinguished person. There were other people also waiting to see this person, and this included a young couple who outwardly did not display any signs of religious observance. Since we were all waiting, we started to chat. In the course of the conversation, the female of the species commented:

אתה חושב שאנחנו לא מאמינים. אנחנו כן מאמינים כמוך. (You think we are not believers. We are believers just like you!)

Uncle Why explained to her as follows:

From our perspective, EMUNAH is not some general concept that starts and stops with believing that some kind of Supreme Being exists. We have a charter to our belief system with a detailed list of provisions (13 of them!). We do not merely believe that G-d exists, but also that He created everything that exists, He enables all things that occur, He communicates to us through prophecy, He authored the Torah and gave it to us, the Torah is immutable (that will be next week's Jews word,
boys and girls), He knows what we do and think, and He will reward us for following His rules and and punish us for breaking them.

(And I left some out.)

So there is a bit of fine print in our belief system. Now you may believe, BUT, if you don't believe in everything on this list, with all the bells and whistles, then you really cannot say that you are a believer "just like me".

So here is where things get so confusing, boys and girls. Lots of Jewish people actually pick and choose which parts of the list to believe and which to not. And we have a new concept:

Selective EMUNAH!

Uncle Why wrote about it in his book, boys and girls (pages 203-204). Here is what I wrote:

I have already written in the Introduction to this book why secular Jews are non-observant. To be observant, one must believe in at least these articles of the 13 principles of faith:

1. There is a G-d (who created us and everything that we can perceive)

2. G-d gave us rules (his Torah)

3. G-d is aware of everything that we do (and say and think) – in short, he knows whether or not we follow the rules

4. G-d will reward us for compliance and punish us for transgression of the aforementioned rules.

I wrote that some secular Jews simply don’t believe in G-d. They never get to first base. Why don’t they believe in G-d? They will say that it is because they don’t see Him. Of course, we will say something else. We will say that it is because they don’t look for Him.

And why don’t they look for Him?

It is because this group is very intelligent. And they know that if they look for him they may actually find Him. And if they find Him, they will not be able to intellectually reject principles 2, 3, and 4. And they will have to follow rules that they are not prepared to follow.If they find G-d, G-d will control their lives. They don’t want any G-d controlling their lives so they must make sure that there isn’t One.

This group is easy to comprehend. The other secular Jews are a bit more puzzling. They claim to believe in G-d yet still reject principle 2. And if not number 2, then numbers 3 or 4. How they manage to do this is beyond me. They must be even smarter than the first group. But it shows me one thing – that even if one believes in G-d, he can still find some pretext to avoid subjecting himself to following rules that he is not prepared to follow.

All this is discussed in the Ramban at the end of last week's Parsha (Shmos, Bo 13:16).

And so, boys and girls, we learn a new meaning to EMUNAH SHLEIMAH - COMPLETE faith. No, it doesn't mean having complete faith in the particular things that you happen to believe in. It means to have faith in the complete list of Jewish beliefs, whether they make you feel good or not.

And, now it's time... answer one of your Jews questions. This one comes from Moshe who is the only one who ever wrote me a letter in Hebrew.

--Hi, Moshe!--

Moshe writes:

L'Chvod Uncle Why,

מחד, הספר טוען בצדק רב, כי החרדים אינם אלא יורשים וממשיכים טבעיים וזהים ליהודי הדורות כולם, והמחדשים הם אחרים. מאידך, אין נכון להוציא יהודים מאמינים אחרים מן הכלל. כל יהודי ירא שמיים ממשיך לאותה המסורת מסיני. שמירת שבת בפרט ושמירת תורה ומצוות בכלל, הן הם סימני היהודי הנצחי.

On the one hand, the book claims, with much justification, that the chareidim are merely the heirs and natural successors and emulators of the Jews of past generations and the "reformers" are "others". However, it is not proper to exclude other believing Jews from the mainstream. Every G-dfearing Jew continues this tradition from Sinai. Shabbos observance in particular and observing Torah and mitzvos in general, these are the signs of the Eternal Jew.

(In total, Moshe wrote a whole lot more than this.)

Well, Moshe, you seem to have missed the main thrust of the book that was arrived at in Chapter 9. And that is that every Jew who meets the description that you described after the word "However" is a chareidi. There is no such thing as a "chareidi" and "other Jews who are believers". There are not two distinct entities. It doesn't matter what kind of kippa one wears or what they call themselves, the Eternal Jew that you describe is a chareidi. One who keeps Shabbos and Torah and mitzvos and is a true believer is a chareidi. (Moshe's mindset is stuck on the conventional Quaker Oats/Fagin - QOF - chareidi that I discuss and dismiss in Chapter 3).

But, Moshe, there is an amazing phenomenon that even many Orthodox Jews who observe Shabbos and keep Torah and mitzvos have not fully studied all of the principles of EMUNAH and may be missing some of the nuances that are part of the package but make a world of difference (the very fine print).

For example, many, many Orthodox Jews have trouble even with the very first Principle of Faith. Particularly the second part of Principle number 1. Principle 1 says that we believe that G-d created all that exists. But it says something else, as well.

It says that G-d "does all that is done".

This means that every activity that is perpetrated by man or beast is actually G-d's doing. We are only agents of G-d and we are fooled by our gift of free will to assume that we have done the deed ourselves. Thus people may think that if they are self-sufficient, it is their skills and their cunning that accounts for their affluence. They earned their wealth and it is theirs.

But Principle 1 tells us otherwise. It tells us that G-d orchestrated his skills and his cunning and the wealth that one has is his for the sole purpose of using it for other goals that G-d wants to accomplish through him.

But so many Orthodox Jews, even those who profess to have full EMUNAH, even those who write blogs with titles that profess ideas like truth and EMUNAH do not really believe this.

They believe in "Kochi V'otzem yadi".

One does not need the Rambam to compose the 13 articles of faith. Almost all of them are written directly in the Torah. The Rambam merely compiled and codified them.

The second part of Principle #1 is expressly written in the Torah in Devarim 4:35 and 4:39. And the explanation that I just gave is right there in Devarim 9:18.

And so, Moshe, anybody who believes completely in what the 13 principles mean is as much a "chareidi" as anybody else. But somebody, no matter how much he keeps Shabbos and how much he pays for his esrog, who doesn't believe completely in what it says in the 13 Principles, is a mechusar EMUNAH and, even though he is a believer, he is not a believer "just like us".

Well, that's it for this week, boys and girls.

Join us every so often when Uncle Why explains the Jews and just remember --- true believers are great Jews!


Anonymous said...

"EMUNAH is really believing that HKBH runs the whole world, and, if you are a good Jew, He gives you money. And lots of other stuff. Just like it says in Parshat Bechukosai."

Is that really correct, though? The conditions in Bechukosai are addressed to all of us collectively ("teileichu," "tishmeru," "va'asisem"), and so are the resultant berachos ("gishmeichem," "vehisig lachem," etc.).

I'm not seeing anything there that suggests that if an individual Jew does these things (while the rest of the Jewish people do not), he or she is necessarily guaranteed the corresponding berachos; there is, after all, the well-known problem (even Moshe grappled with it) of the "tzaddik vera lo."

So a better statement, perhaps, would be:

"EMUNAH is really believing that HKBH runs the whole world, and that He will do for you what is best for you - which may or may not be what you think it is."

(This also gets into the question of the difference between "emunah" and "bitachon," which is a whole other discussion.)

Yechezkel said...

Thank you for commenting. I think you are absolutely right. Not only that, but I actually wrote in my book that we must note that Parshat Bechukosai is in the plural. I edited the post to reflect this. Though I didn't use your "nusach", I agree with it as well.

Kol Tuv


Anonymous said...

So, if someone believes completely in the 13 Principles of Faith, but does not keep shomer Shabbat (for whatever reason) - where do they fall?

I know this might seem like a strange question, but I wonder what you think?


Anonymous said...


Perhaps the following will help answer your question.

The Gemara (Berachos 63a, in Ein Yaakov's version) records and endorses a popular statement: "The thief, in his burrow [from which he'll break into a house to rob it], calls out to G-d [to ask for help]."

There's a great deal of discussion in Chassidic writings about this statement. What is going on here? If he believes in G-d, why is he stealing? He's obviously not trying to hypocritically impress anyone with his religiosity, since he's alone in his burrow!

The upshot is that no, this person truly believes in G-d as the only One who can help him be successful. The problem is that he allows this belief to remain in the abstract (in Chassidic terminology, "makkif" - surrounding him), but does not internalize it and have it affect his thoughts and actions. (If he did, he would realize that G-d can provide for him without his having to steal.) So in short, his belief in G-d is genuine but somewhat superficial.

Arguably, then, something similar applies to your question. Taking the 13 Principles (in particular, #1, #10, and #11) to their logical conclusion, one would have to conclude that it is critical to keep all of the mitzvos that we can: the specifically "religious" ones (Shabbos, kashrus, etc.), the "ethical" ones (honesty in business dealings, avoiding lashon hara, etc.), and any other categories that can be devised. So someone who is not (yet) doing so thereby demonstrates that their belief in the 13 Principles, while perhaps genuine, is only "makkif" and has not yet become internalized as it should be.

Yechezkel said...

To Rachel,

Thank you for commenting.
I intend to address your question in an upcoming post, BL"N. Stand-by!


Anonymous said...

@Anonymous - thank you for that analgoy, that's food for thought indeed.

@Yechezkel - looking forward to reding that post, indeed!


Shaul B said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Yechezkel said...

Mazel Tov, Shaul B. You are the first non-spammer who wrote a comment that I had to delete. The main reason is that you seem to have issues on things that I didn't write. I welcome all comments, pro and con, and all readers are entitled to criticize my opinion, with one proviso:

That I actually expressed that opinion.

But comments that conjure opinions that I did not express and go on to rant about how wrong they are have no place on my blog.

Please try again but do it properly.