I was speaking to a friend recently, shortly after the horrific Meron accident that took place on Lag BaOmer. Like all of us, my friend was struggling to come to terms with what happened. When he discussed the tragedy, the struggle within him kept bursting to the fore. First, he said, “We have to have emunah that it’s all from Hashem.” But a moment later, he countered in a pained voice, “But how could it have happened?!” Then again, “We have to have emunah that Hashem does everything for the best.” Then again, “But it’s not possible that such a thing could happen, and in Meron on Lag BaOmer!”
He felt guilty that he was questioning G-d and so he immediately reassured himself that one must have emunah. But it was clear that, despite his best efforts, the painful event refused to be quelled within him.
I told him that the vacillating tumultuous emotions were par for the course of internalizing emunah. We sometimes have the mistaken and naïve notion that emunah is just something you have or don’t have. We may therefore be embarrassed and hide the fact that at times our emunah may be shaken and we have to struggle mightily to strengthen our emunah. But the truth is that emunah is a process and a lifelong journey that has ups and downs.
The following thoughts are from a lecture given by Rabbi Avrohom Yachnes on Tish’ah B’Av 5773 (2013) in Camp Dora Golding:
“What does it mean to believe in Hashem? People say that seeing is believing. But the reality is not that way. The truth is that not seeing is believing.
“I was once speaking to a group of people. I removed my watch, held it up in front of them, and asked them if they believed that I had a watch. I told them that I hoped they didn’t say yes. The reality is that they didn’t believe I had a watch in my hand, because they definitively knew it.
“I told them that if I were to hide the watch and ask if they believed it was still there, hidden from view, then their answer would depend. If we had a trusting relationship and everything I told them in the past had been true, then they could believe that in this case, as well, the watch was still there. However, if we had no prior relationship, why should they believe I have a watch just because I said so?
“Not seeing is believing if you trust the one telling you the facts.
“A few years ago, I was sitting in an aisle seat on a plane, when a woman sitting opposite me noticed my yarmulke and asked me if I believed in G-d? When I replied that I did, she asked me how I could believe in an entity I had never seen?
“I replied, “Ma’am I don’t want to make you nervous, but we are currently flying at an altitude of 30,000 feet and there are hundreds of other planes flying in the vicinity of our air space at the same time. During the day, when the pilot looks out the front window, his visibility is about five miles. At night, with the headlights on, his visibility is only about 500 yards. Planes travel, on average, about 600 mph. Did you ever wonder how come one plane doesn’t ever “meet” another plane by mistake in midair?
“The answer is that in the cockpit there is a console that has many beeping lights. Using radar, those beeping lights represent other planes and, based on that, the pilot knows to keep a safe distance from other planes. That means that the pilot doesn’t actually see the other planes. Yet, he believes they are there based on radar.
“I told the woman that if the pilot flies a plane based on belief, then I can also believe in G-d even though I never saw him.
“The reality is that if you want to believe, you will. Faith is a matter of choice.
“I was waiting on line in a store in Boro Park a few years ago, and I struck up a conversation with the fellow behind me. “He told me he was a baal t’shuvah. A few years earlier, he had been completely unobservant; but at that point he was wearing tzitzis, eating kosher, keeping Shabbos, etc.
“When I asked him how long it took him to become religious, he replied five minutes. He explained that he was on the 78th floor of one of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, when a plane crashed into it. It took him five minutes to run down the steps to safety. At that moment, he knew unequivocally that G-d was sending him a message, and he immediately embraced a life of Torah and mitzvos.
“There were thousands of people who escaped the World Trade Center that day. Yet, they didn’t become baalei t’shuvah as he did. He seized the moment and recognized that G-d had saved him, and so he had a responsibility to do something.”
Some people think Judaism advocates blind faith. This is a mistake. The basis of our connection with Hashem is a knowing relationship. In the concluding words of Aleinu, we say, “And you will know today, and you will return to your heart that Hashem is your G-d; there is no other.” By studying the world, analyzing history, and primarily by studying Torah, we develop emphatic knowledge of the one true G-d. It is based on that knowledge that we build emunah – to have faith in Hashem even when we don’t understand why He does things and how He runs His world.
A colleague once told me that he once attended the painful funeral of an eight-year-old girl who died in a fire. At her funeral, her father wept and said, “far dir iz lichtig, un mir darf hubben emunah – For you there’s only light (in the world of truth), and I have faith.”
In the most painful times, we walk ahead in darkness with the light of our faith. Sometimes, that light may seem to dim, but we seek to fan its flame and strengthen it within us.
A Jew learns to live with questions. At times, he has to strengthen his emunah, but that is the path to greatness.
The introduction to the Aseres HaDibros is “I am Hashem, your G-d, who took you out of Egypt.” Before relating the commandments, G-d relates His personal connection with us. The foundation of our connection to Torah is based on emunah – our personal connection with the divine.
This year, Hashem transformed Lag BaOmer into Tish’ah B’Av. Now, we wait for when Tish’ah B’Av will be transformed into Lag BaOmer!