Negotiating Our Emunah Day by Day
Each day we count the number of days since Simchat Torah. We check the news with dread each morning, braced for yet another loss, more injured, more threats. As each week comes to a close, we mark another week since that Shabbat day. Our people as one suffer varying degrees of anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and PTSD. This is a true and harrowing story; we are living another chapter in the long book of Am Yisrael.
There were many calamities which befell the Jewish people in Tevet in particular,
(https://www.matan.org.il/en/online/a-month-of-darkness/). One can end the story there. Call Tevet a “bad” month and just hope to trudge through it as painlessly as possible. But the word Tevet also has tov, good, in it. According to Sefer Yetzirah, the month of Tevet is connected to the liver and the trait of anger, which are inherently linked (Talmud Berachot 61b). We get angry when our experiences do not align with our expectations. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that our expectations were wrong – we expect citizens to feel safe, we expect international support and humanitarian aid to victims, we expect all hostages to be freed and our soldiers to have all the tactical gear they might need. Sometimes “with much wisdom comes much anger” (Kohelet 1:18). But as is often the case, we need to choose between being “right” or being at peace. Our anger will not serve us, blaming politicians will not redeem us, and incessantly refreshing the news will not heal us.
The letter of Tevet is ayin (Sefer Yetzirah) and symbolizes our eyes (eynayim) which help us to choose what to focus on. Ayin is also related to a wellspring of living waters (the root of a more well- known word, ma’ayan). News stories and personal stories abound especially now, as a war of good versus evil is raging on Israel’s borders. We get to choose to ingest what is life- affirming and nourishing. An injunction given to us by Moshe Rabbeinu before his passing echoes in our hearts: choose life, ובחרת בחיים (Devarim 30:19). Choose a life where you see good, where your eyes focus on what is invigorating and as revitalizing as fresh waters. We, as a people, cherish every single life as infinitely precious (Talmud Sanhedrin 37a) and that contributes to our grave concern for everyone potentially in harm’s way. It should also be the same motivation for screening what we consume.
How do we “choose life” and live a life of emunah amidst the concern for our beloved soldiers, worry over our kidnapped loved ones, sirens and missiles, and while thousands of citizens are displaced from their homes? It can only be day by day, even hour by hour. There is a pendulum swing, a duality of opposing emotions and beliefs in all of us between despair and hope, feeling emotionally numb and deeply connected, questioning God’s presence and clinging to Him fiercely. Perhaps this is a deeper level of one of the questions that our souls will be asked by the heavenly court after our time in this world: נשאת ונתת באמונה (Talmud Shabbat 31a). While literally referring to being honest and upright in all business affairs, it can be understood as asking, did you negotiate back and forth with your emunah? Did you silently yell at the leaders of the world in anger and then recall that Hashem is running the show? Did you focus on death and destruction and then remember that we are told to focus on life and growth?
There is masa u’matan- dialogue, arbitration, and conciliation. Over and over again. This is how emunah is refined. Living a life of emunah does not mean that we don’t struggle, rather, “perfect emunah” might be defined by this ongoing negotiation, internal conversation, and grappling. We ought not squander our energies worrying about what’s been or fretting over what will be, which only fuels depression and anxiety. We focus on today, as it says in Likutei Moharan 272:1-
זֶה כְּלָל גָּדוֹל בַּעֲבוֹדַת הַשֵּׁם שֶׁלּא יָשִׂים לְנֶגֶד עֵינָיו כִּי אִם אוֹתוֹ הַיּוֹם
It is an important principle in a religious- spiritual life to solely focus our attention (literally translated as “before your eyes,” or eynayim from the root ayin), on today.
Today. Hayom. All we can ask for is today.
We choose life. A wellspring of sweet water. Life affirming news.
So let us read that first paragraph again, with an eye for life, and for the tov, good, inherent in Tevet.
Each day we count the number of days since Simchat Torah. We check the news with WONDER each morning, SCANNING for yet another SAVED, more ENEMIES ELIMINATED, more threats WHICH WERE STOPPED IN TIME. As another week comes to a close, we mark another week since that Shabbat day. Our people as one SUPPORT EACH OTHER TO varying degrees WITH PRAYERS, KIND WORDS, DONATIONS OF FOOD, SUPPLIES. This is a true and AMAZING story; we are living another chapter in the long book of Am Yisrael.
Am Yisrael Chai! To life!