Sunday, April 26, 2009

Simple Faith – Deep Faith

It is a fairly accepted belief that - as a rule - our European ancestors had a deeper and more abiding faith in God and Judaism than those of us who live in the modern era. By modern, I don’t just mean modern Orthodox. I mean anyone of us who has come in contact with modern science and modern thought on almost any level. By studying Mada – worldly knowledge - we learn more about the physical nature of God’s creation and - as well - we learn to appreciate the magnitude and magnificence of His ‘Yesh MeAyin’ creation.

But in doing so we pay a price. Because in addition to becoming more inspired about what God actually did, we also encounter difficult questions – especially in the disciplines of science, anthropology, and philosophy.

What our ancestors in Europe had that we do not have was high level of Emunah Peshuta - simple faith. This gave them a deeper faith. Their focus was not on the ‘why’ or ‘how’ of creation. But on the fact that God in all His glory created the universe in all its complexity and that He gave His Chosen people a set of laws to live by. It was pure and simple faith that provided a depth that knowledge through rational thought cannot. As a whole they had no over-riding need to find rationality in our existence and no broad and deep knowledge of Mada to raise any questions about it.

What does this say about Emunah Peshuta versus Emunah through rational thought?

I think what we experience today weakens the depth of our faith. It is a faith based less on simplicity and more on the give and take between Torah knowledge and worldly knowledge - through the medium of rational thought.

We have greater access to both the disciplines of Torah and Mada than most of our European ancestors did. And that makes Emunah Peshuta almost impossible to rely upon. Questions arise and must be dealt with. Sometimes there are just no satisfying answers and we remain with questions and contradictions. By its very nature questions weaken deep faith.

For those who have less exposure to worldly knowledge and know only Torah as is the case in Charedi Israel - simple faith is easier to achieve. Without worldly knowledge the ‘question pool’ is limited if it exists at all.

This fact is in part responsible for the increasing numbers of Frum Jews who have a crisis of faith when they encounter these contradictions.

While faith is strengthened to a certain degree when such questions are answered properly - at the same time the depth of such faith cannot be compared to the pure and unquestioning faith of Emunah Peshuta.

Does that mean worldly knowledge should be avoided ...or at least limited to what we need in order to survive which is what the Torah Only Hashkafa advocates? Perhaps they have a point. But how can you ask people to remain ignorant?

And in the current climate of instant information – it is becoming increasingly difficult if not impossible to avoid getting enough general knowledge to start having questions of faith.

And once a question enters your mind it is impossible to deny or negate it. If that thought contains a kernel of doubt without any satisfactory answers - how is it even possible to have the deep faith of our ancestors?

One of the answers that I live by that helps me to maintain my own faith in the face of unanswered questions is that the evidence of God and the truth of Torah supersedes the questions I have. My belief is based on studying both Torah and Mada and - in most cases - reconciling the two disciplines via rational thought.

What about the remaining questions? They exists and remain questions in my mind.

The Gemarah will often ask questions - discuss them - and end up with the word 'Kashe' - 'question' … and remain unanswered. The Gemarah then goes on to the next topic. The lesson learned from this is that the Gemarah recognizes that not all questions can be answered. Nor do they need to be.

There is a famous Yiddish expression that is derived from this that says ‘one won’t die from an unanswered question’ – ‘Fun A Kashe Shtarbt Min Nisht’. But one’s Emunah does get tested. And this is the price we moderns pay. But in my mind – it is better in the long run to live with knowledge and questions than to live in ignorance and no questions. Because deep faith though simple means can turn to deep doubt in an instant - if one is unprepared when encountering much of Mada.