Saturday, February 14, 2009

the mitzvah of emunah and levels of belief

As mentioned in the previous post, the Rishonim ask how there can be a mitzvah to believe in G--d when the assumption that G-d exists and can command us presupposes accepting the mitzvah itself. For this very reason, writes R' Tzadok haKohen (Tzikdas haTzadik #207), the first dibra of "Anochi" reads as a statement of fact. The Torah is informing us, not commanding, that belief in G-d is part of our essence, something which is natural to every human, and that trait of belief is lost only due to our corruption of a healthy mindset. With this we can understand the striking statement of the Rambam that when we see [deliberate] kofrim we can assume that their souls were not present at Sinai and they are not truly of the stock of the Jewish nation. Everyone who is Jewish inherently is a believer.

Clearly there are degrees and levels of belief, but there seems to be some confusion as to what is meant by levels of belief. There is no shiur for the mitzvah of emunah -- it is not enough to say I am 51% certain that G-d exists, and "rubo k'kulo" so I am yotzei the mitzvah. The use of the word "da'as" by the Rambam is a giveaway that we are dealing with knowledge, which implies (or may even mean) belief that is certain and true, not just probable. R' Elchanan writes (Agados al Derech haPeshat end of Yevamos 12:10-11) that emunah must exceed even the level of certainty we have that what we see with our eyes is true! The eyes can be deceived, but emunah represents an acknowledgements of unquestionable truths.

So what do we mean by levels of faith? A mashal: I like music and can appreciate that Mozart is a brilliant composer. But I am just an amateur without even a good ear. Someone who studies at Juliard School for Music may say just as I do that they like Mozart, but their appreciation of Mozart is vastly superior to mine. Does that mean that my appreication is false or that I am less certain of my apprectiation? Of course not! Emunah is like appreciating a symphony or great work of art. There are multiple levels of appreciation each of which is true.

There is an espitimological difference between what we know to be true based on what our minds tell us and what we accept on faith alone, but that difference has no bearing on our certainty in both types of beliefs. The acceptance of the unseen as being as real as that which is before our eyes is the yichud of emes and emunah.


  1. so you leave the Mitzvah of Emunah totally to the Koach Hamedameh, the imaginative faculty with as little guidance from the Sichli, as you quoted from the BH in your last post! I can accept this b'shem R. Tzadok, R. Elchonon or even the BH but please do not imply that is Rambam's yediah! You are falling for the classic trap of jumbling different Shitos as Lo Plug!

  2. >the imaginative faculty with as little guidance from the Sichli

    add as possible - to the sentence.

  3. >>>so you leave the Mitzvah of Emunah totally to the Koach Hamedameh,

    Sorry, but please tell me where in this post you see any such thing.

    There is absolutely no relationship between what I am writing about, i.e. the issue of whether emunah is innate or whether it must be developed and learned, and what you are reading into the post and commenting on.

    R' Tzadok's approach is echoed nearly verbatim by the Malbi"m (Shmos 20:1) who cites the Rambam as his source that emunah is innate. Do you think the Malb"im is also conflating shitos?

  4. When you say:

    that belief in G-d is part of our essence, something which is natural to every human,

    I understand that to mean that without yediah we are predisposed to belief. We therefore believe because of innate element that sounds very similar to the imaginative faculty, which is too innate and intuitive based on experience.

    You also contradict yourself. If it is in all humans why do you then continue and explain Rambam's not being at Sinai with it?

    BTW Rambam does not hold that Jews are different.

  5. Just because the imaginative faculty is also innate, does that mean that it is the same thing as belief? Many different types of thought are innately part of our character - it doesn't mean they are all the same. Apples and oranges. Sorry, i don't see your point.