Jewish Living

How to Strengthen One’s Emunah

By Michel Twerski, as told to Binyamin Ehrenkranz

Strengthening emunah is often challenging due to the chasm between our minds and our hearts. While we recognize intellectually that there is a Creator to Whom we are indebted for our lives and for everything that happens to us, this does not always translate into an ongoing awareness that impacts how we live and feel.

How can we begin to make faith real in our lives? Through increased consciousness. We need to focus on the things that we actually already know.

God is our constant companion. He’s a member of our family, He’s a member of our office space, He’s a member of our social circle. He’s a companion in our lives wherever we go and in whatever we do.

But how can we feel this emotionally?

Making a berachah should be taken seriously. It takes only a few seconds to stop and say, “I want to acknowledge that what I am eating is a gift from Hakadosh Baruch Hu.” When a person recites berachos in the morning, thanking God for the fact that he can walk and see and stand up—it takes only a few seconds to realize that these are all Divine gifts, and that nobody owes it to him. These are blessings that Hakadosh Baruch Hu gives us in order that we begin the day with a sense of gratitude. And this should continue throughout the day, as well; when we say Asher Yatzar, for example, we thank Hashem for the fact that our organs work so perfectly. We can engage in all of these acts of gratitude mindlessly or, if we choose to, mindfully.

Developing Awareness
The Gemara says that when a person reaches into his pocket to take out a certain coin and he takes out the wrong one, it was orchestrated from Above. A relevant parable mentioned in some sefarim concerns a king’s only son who had committed a crime for which he deserved capital punishment. In this kingdom, capital punishment was implemented by making the condemned individual lie prostrate on the ground; a huge rock would then fall upon him, crushing him.

The king was in a quandary. If he did not carry out the punishment, he would appear to be a hypocrite, and it would signify that the king’s laws were not enforced and hence, meaningless. But if he did carry out the punishment, he would lose his son.

One of his advisors suggested: “Take the rock and crush it into small pellets, and then whenever the prince walks by, throw one of the pellets at him. Over many years you will have thrown the entire rock at him, except that instead of killing him, the rock will have caused him minor injuries and discomforts.”

God is our constant companion. He’s a member of our family, He’s a member of our office space, He’s a member of our social circle. He’s a companion in our lives wherever we go and in whatever we do.

In a certain sense, we generally dismiss little frustrations—the car wouldn’t start, or we stubbed our toe—and react by saying something like, “Oh, darn!” (or something worse).” We often do not view these occurrences as being directed by a loving Parent Who has a cheshbon [reason] for everything that happens to us. We need to remember that even these minor incidents are meaningful in terms of our relationship with the Ribbono shel Olam. The only way one can manage dealing with larger challenges is by dealing with the smaller ones, and by developing a God-consciousness on a moment-by-moment basis.

One begins forming this type of awareness by saying to himself: “As much as I can, today I am going to try to be mindful of both the blessings in my life and the small distresses, and I’m going to express my gratitude for everything that takes place in a way that will make the Ribbono shel Olam a real presence in my life.”

On Reflecting
On the other hand, sometimes what can’t be achieved with forethought can be achieved via reflection. Even though you may go through your daily routine unthinkingly, if you can create tiny spaces in which to spend a few minutes mentally reviewing what has transpired over the past several hours and whether or not you handled these events in a conscious manner, you can improve in your mindfulness. You can say to yourself, “Okay, this and this happened and I reacted vindictively or angrily. That shows that I failed to recognize that the incident was orchestrated by Hakadosh Baruch Hu. If I truly believed that, I wouldn’t have reacted so angrily or so arrogantly. Here’s what I need to do next time to react in a way that shows I believe Hashem is behind it all.”

This exercise is very challenging and it does not happen on its own. But if one applies himself, as time passes he can become quite good at it.

Taking God Seriously
In certain circles, it can be common for individuals to come to shul dressed very casually. This practice is wrong because it indicates that we don’t take our audiences with Hashem seriously. If we truly internalized that we are going to meet the Sovereign of the Universe, and we acknowledged that He holds our heartbeat in His hands, would we arrive dressed informally? And when we davened, would our minds be on cruise control as they often are?

The bridge we have to cross in emunah and bitachon is beginning to take God seriously. Our faith has to be manifest in everything we do—in our self-restraint; in our refusal to get angry, in the way we talk to people and about people, in the way we make berachos, in the way we come to shul, and at what time we come to shul. And it has to be evident in how we deal with tiny successes. We should not accept them mindlessly—we should be grateful for them and recite all of our berachos, in a way that shows we are engaged with Hakadosh Baruch Hu with feeling: “Thank You Hakadosh Baruch Hu for this fruit!”

Conversely, our faith should be evident in the tiny discomforts we experience too. If we work on our awareness that small annoyances come from Hashem and gradually build up to a full recognition that all derives from a Divine Author, when we experience great successes we will receive them humbly and gratefully; and when, chas v’shalom, we have significant challenges, setbacks or pain, we will also be able to receive those with the knowledge that they come from the same Author.

Over time one who cultivates this God-consciousness will be able to deal with life more effectively. He will meet successes with humility and gratitude, and he will face challenges and pain with a certain sense of equanimity, knowing that they are not without meaning.

In Chassidus there is the concept of da’as, which the Zohar Hakadosh calls the key to the other middos, which are intellectual or emotional. Da’as stimulates and unites them, enabling our emotions to reflect how we think. It is really a form of focus and concentration.

Emunah and bitachon are developed in small increments and grow in “real-time,” to the point where we gradually do take ourselves seriously and we take Hakadosh Baruch Hu seriously. Growing little by little is the key in developing daas—of achieving for ourselves that the intellectual becomes real. And that is when we can begin to experience feeling love, awe, reverence and gratitude.

Rabbi Michel Twerski is the Hornosteipler Rebbe of Milwaukee and senior rabbi of Congregation Beth Jehudah.

This article was featured in the Summer 2018 issue of Jewish Action.
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