From the Desk of Rabbi Moshe Hauer

In Praise of Israeli Emunah

When Israeli soldier Ori Megidish was rescued by the IDF after having been held hostage in Gaza for twenty-three days, footage released by her friends and family showed mitzvot they had performed in the hope of securing her safe return home. In one video that has been widely viewed, her mother can be seen with a group of women emotionally praying for her daughter’s return while performing the mitzvah of hafrashat challah.1 

Among the twenty-one soldiers who died in the building collapse in central Gaza in January was Master Sergeant (res.) Rabbi Elkana Vizel, thirty-five, a resident of Bnei Dekalim in southern Israel. Rabbi Vizel, a father of four and a teacher, had prepared a letter ahead of time in the event he would be killed in action. In the letter, he wrote: “When a soldier falls in battle, it is sad. But I ask you to be happy. Don’t be sad when you part from me. Sing a lot, hold each other’s hands, and strengthen one another. We have so much to be excited and happy about. . . . We are writing the most meaningful moments in the history of our people and the whole world, so please be optimistic. Keep choosing life all the time, a life of love, hope, purity and optimism.”

Emunah, faith, is essential to how we as individuals and as a nation confront or embrace the challenges before us. It is the critical ingredient in inspiring stories like these, two of the many hundreds of moving accounts shared since Simchat Torah. And we, especially those of us not yet living in Israel, need to learn how to access it.

The events of October 7 and their aftermath have inflicted enormous upheaval on the Jewish people and on huge numbers of individual Jews. The range of those affected is vast, including the families and circles of the hostages and victims of terror, as well as of the fallen, wounded, and active-duty soldiers; additionally, there are the displaced, the economically impacted, and those around the world grappling with the tsunami of antisemitism. Klal Yisrael’s resilience is being tested as it experiences significant individual and collective trauma. Ground Zero of those traumas is in Israel, and it is there that stories and images coming across our information streams demonstrate the power of emunah in building our resilience.

It is in Israel that we regularly encounter among the masses—halachically observant or not—emunah peshutah, a pure and simple faith in a loving G-d Whose supportive presence ensures that we are not facing our challenges alone, “lo ira ra ki Atah imadi—I will fear no evil for You are with me.”2 This is apparent in the bareheaded young soldiers wearing tzitzit, the songs of faith that have become alternate national anthems, and the embrace of mitzvot like the hafrashat challah of Ori’s mother. And it is in Israel that we also find many whose devotion and connection to G-d is not simple, but profound; individuals like Rabbi Vizel whose deep faith creates within them a determined, emunah-based sense of mission and purpose that fortifies them to experience and infuse every challenge with meaning. Emunah thus provides both support and meaning in confronting challenges, significantly impacting our resilience. 

More fundamentally, emunah is the heart and soul of Judaism, the single principle that—according to the prophet Chavakuk—all 613 commandments can be drilled down to.3 It can hardly be considered a mitzvah hateluyah ba’Aretz, a mitzvah that can only be fulfilled in the Land of Israel, yet it seems to flourish there in ways that bear out the Talmudic statement that one who lives outside of Israel is like one who has no G-d.4 For the sake of our own continued strength and to build the place of emunah in our own lives, we need therefore to explore how to enhance both the emunah peshutah that defines our understanding of G-d and His supportive presence in our lives, as well as the dimensions of emunah that will inform the purpose and meaning we see in our own role in G-d’s world. 

I. Man’s Faith in G-d: Elokei Ha’Aretz

“It [Eretz Yisrael] is the land that Hashem, your G-d, concerns Himself with; the eyes of Hashem are constantly upon it from the beginning of the year until the end of the year.”5 The holiness of the Land of Israel is predicated on its inherent connection to G-d, Who, as the Ramban often notes, retains an elevated degree of involvement there.6 

While this is part of the inherent kedushat ha’Aretz, there is an aspect of Hashem’s presence in the land that is predicated on human behavior, which we must strive to replicate wherever we are. Experientially, we feel Him more readily in Israel because G-d-speak is everywhere, Shem Shamayim shagur b’fihem.7 This G-d-speak makes a real difference—Rashi teaches that the way Avraham transformed G-d from an abstract concept, Elokei haShamayim, into a tangible presence on earth, Elokei haShamayim veElokei ha’aretz, was by making people familiar with G-d to the point that they mentioned Him regularly.8 That is the reality we encounter in Medinat Yisrael, and anyone who visits there can provide numerous illustrations of this. 

A personal example. Several years ago, a group I was with visited one of the communities on the Gaza border. Our local guide took pains to note several times during the visit that this was not a religious community; yet, when showing us the concrete-reinforced children’s nursery, she explained how during rocket attacks the teachers bring all the kids into the safe space and for the ten or so minutes they must stay inside, they sing together the Israeli pop song “Mi shemaamin lo mefached—He who Believes.” The song, by Israeli singer Eyal Golan, includes this in its “secular” lyrics: “He who believes is not afraid of losing faith for we have the King of the Universe, and He protects us from them all.”  

It is in Israel that we regularly encounter among the masses—halachically observant or not—emunah peshutah, a pure and simple faith in a loving G-d Whose supportive presence ensures that we are not facing our challenges alone.

This is “secular” Israel: Shem Shamayim shagur b’fihem. It would be hard to replicate among strictly observant Jews in America the rich sense of faith and connection experienced at a Sephardic Selichot prayer with masses of traditional Israeli Jews. And do the observant Jews of America have anything that resembles the life of religious Israeli Jews, where a night out may consist of going to a holy place like the Kotel or Kever Rachel to daven? This past year, I had the privilege to visit the Kotel on the last night of Chanukah. It was astounding to see the thousands who streamed there to offer special prayers on Zot Chanukah, a virtuous practice noted in many mystical and Chassidic sources that goes relatively unnoticed among American Jewry. Shem Shamayim shagur b’fihem.

Toward this end, we should consider how all of us everywhere can become more comfortable with G-d-speak, mentioning Him more regularly and building up our individual and communal emunah peshutah, simple faith and greater awareness of His presence in our lives. There has been meaningful progress in this area before and especially since October 7, with multiple platforms engaging people in ongoing prayer efforts, in spreading daily inspirational doses of emunah, and, of course, in saying “Thank You Hashem!” While these are not experiences of deep and profound theological or philosophical study, they bring G-d into our lives, which is always a good thing, but especially so in these times of challenge when the sense of His supportive presence ensures that we are not facing our challenges alone—lo ira ra ki Atah imadi. 

II. G-d’s Faith in Man: Chovato B’olamo 

One of the most impactful educational innovations in the modern State of Israel is the Mechina pre-military academy. After seeing significant abandonment of observance among religious soldiers in the military framework, Rabbi Eli Sadan created the Bnei David Mechina Program in Eli, where students spend a year preparing for their army experience. A significant part of their daily schedule is dedicated to the study of emunah, but rather than address the theological questions of G-d’s existence or even the core principles of our belief in the Divinity of Torah and the afterlife, the curriculum focuses instead on the questions of “why”: why did G-d create the world and for what mission and purpose did He choose man? 

Studying the thoughtful Torah works of Rabbi Yehudah Halevi, the Maharal, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, the students are given an emunah framework focused less on G-d’s role in the world and more on answering the existential questions of chovato b’olamo—what G-d seeks from us as the Jewish people and from the individual Jew here and now in Israel in the twenty-first century, as “we are writing the most meaningful moments in the history of our people and the whole world.” The result is a program that has consistently churned out students driven by a sense of mission to serve G-d and the Jewish people by assuming responsibility to protect and build the  modern State of Israel in the vision of the prophets. Motivated to excel in serving their people, an inordinate number of graduates of Bnei David and its sister institutions are senior officers in the IDF and serve in combat units, while many have gone on to other realms of public service. They and their work are invariably defined by the deep faith that provides them with a sense of mission and purpose. This is the strand of emunah taught in one of the classic works of Jewish thought, the Derech Hashem (The Way of G-d) of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato (the Ramchal). While the title of the book gives the impression that its subject will be an understanding of G-d and His ways, the book’s real focus is on clarifying the mission and purpose of man. The book’s name is thus appropriately derived from a verse that speaks of Avraham “teaching his children and household to keep the derech Hashem, the way of G-d, by doing that which is right and just.”9 In this context, the way of G-d serves as the template for how man, created in G-d’s image, should conduct himself. More broadly, the book provides a brilliant and beautiful superstructure for G-d’s goals in Creation and in His ongoing providence. It is a work of emunah whose ultimate and most empowering lesson is on the role of man in G-d’s world, and those who absorb that lesson are transformed by it.     

This sense of mission, as well, is more accessible in Israel, the center stage of Jewish life and the place where our history is being written. It is there that we encounter clear-eyed men and women living lives of emunah with the confidence of those who know exactly who they are and what they are here for. Yet all of us everywhere must work to strengthen and clarify our own sense of mission, building our emunah by considering, identifying, and ultimately being driven by chovato b’olamo, our purpose in the world, the “why” of our existence as individuals and as a nation.

III. Conclusion

The challenges the Jewish people are now facing are deep and profound, and we must confront and embrace them. We would do well to draw from the inspiring and instructive example of the great people of Eretz Yisrael, where emunah is the currency that carries a power and impact much richer than the faith we experience here. We must follow people like Ori’s mother to draw strength from beyond ourselves, from the G-d of our emunah peshutah, Whom we trust is with us, Who instructs His angels to accompany us wherever life takes us, and Whose eyes are constantly on us. And we must follow the inspiring example of Rabbi Elkana Vizel, identifying with G-d’s faith in us and finding the strength that must come from within ourselves and our emunah-driven clarity of the purpose for which He has granted us life on this earth, to write the next and more glorious pages of Klal Yisrael’s history, of its return in peace to Tzion v’Yerushalayim. 


1. See;

2. Tehillim 23:4.

3. Chavakuk 2:4, Makkot 24a.

4. Ketubot 110b.

5. Devarim 11:12.

6. See, for example, Ramban to Vayikra 18:25.

7. See Bereishit 39:3, where Rashi explains that the Torah’s description of Hashem being with Yosef was based on Yosef constantly invoking His Name.

8. Rashi to Bereishit 24:7, based on Bereishit Rabbah 59:8.

9. Bereishit 18:19.


Rabbi Moshe Hauer is executive vice president of the Orthodox Union.

This article was featured in the Spring 2024 issue of Jewish Action.
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