Cultivating Emunah in Ourselves and Our Children in the 21st Century

Rabbi Zvi Grumet, Survey of Graduates of Yeshiva Day Schools, January 2018

The data show a remarkable dissonance between what respondents believe they were taught in their formal Jewish education and their current beliefs. Regarding whether the Torah was given to Moshe word-for-word as we have it today, 67% recall being taught that as a non-negotiable axiom while less than half of those currently accept it as axiomatic. Regarding halakhic immutability, 31% recall that being an axiomatic teaching while a third of those currently accept it as such. Similar disparities exist regarding nearly every one of the faith statements listed. Equally significant is how many disagree with those very statements that were emphasized as non-negotiable. 18% reject the purity of the Torah text, nearly 40% reject the immutability of halakha, 24% reject the notion that God taught Moshe the details of the mitzvot, 44% reject the idea that halakha cannot be adjusted to meet personal needs, 51% reject a limitation on questioning God’s actions, and 32% reject the idea that the Torah represents an ultimate truth...


I. Longstanding Challenges


(כט) וחקרתי עליהם ולא מצאתי בהם ספר מיוחד בחכמת המצפון. וראיתי החכמה הזאת שהיא חכמת חובות הלבבות שהניחוה ולא הברוה בספר שיהיה כולל שרשיה ופרקיה.

(ל) ותמהתי על זה תימה גדולה עד שאמרתי בלבי שמא המין הזה מן המצות אין אנחנו חייבין בו מן התורה אלא שחיובו מדרך המוסר להורות הדרך הנכונה והישרה וכמוהו כמו התוספות שהם רשות שאין אנחנו נתבעין בהם ולא נענשים אם נתעלם מהם ועל כן הניחו הקדמונים לחברו בספר עד שחפשתי על חובות הלבבות מן השכל ומן הכתוב ומן הקבלה אם אנחנו חייבים בהם אם לאו ומצאתים שהם יסודי כל המצות ואם יארע בהם שום הפסד לא תתכן לנו מצוה ממצות האברים:

(29) I examined these writings but failed to find among them a book specially devoted to the inner wisdom. I found that this wisdom, which is the duties of the heart, had been entirely neglected. No work had been composed, systematically explaining its roots and branches.

(30) I greatly wondered about this, and thought to myself, perhaps this class of duties is not obligatory from the torah but is only an ethical obligation the aim of which is to teach us the proper and just way. Possibly it belongs to the class of extra practices that are optional, for which we will not be held accountable for them nor will we be punished for neglecting them. And therefore, our predecessors omitted to write a special book on them. I investigated the Duties of the Heart from Reason, Scripture, and Tradition (talmud, midrash, etc.) to inquire whether or not they are obligatory and found that they form the foundation of all the precepts, and that if there is any deficiency in their observance, no external duties whatsoever can be properly fulfilled.

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Religion News Service ColumnsJeffrey Salkin: Martini JudaismOpinion

The three little words that Jews never say

February 14, 2017

God loves you.

There. I’ve said it.

I know what some of you are thinking: This is supposed to be Martini Judaism – not Martini Christianity. Jews don’t talk that way – that whole “God loves you” thing. I can’t say I blame you. Because, let’s be honest. It’s not how the world views Judaism.

Consider that terrible slur against the so-called God of the so-called Old Testament, who is the god of harsh judgment – as opposed to the God of the New Testament, who is the god of love. It’s just one step from there to Christians good, Jews bad.

It’s also not how Jews view Judaism, either.

Once upon a time, it was.

But our history has bruised us and battered us and it has forced us to be deaf to our own beautiful traditions.

Once upon a time, we saw ourselves as the people that God loves.

Now, to quote Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: too many Jews define themselves as the people that gentiles hate. This is a pathetic distortion of our faith and our fate.

Do you know why countless generations were able to stand up to Jew-hatred? Because no matter what befell them, they had faith in God’s love.

But somehow, this entire idea underwent a false conversion.

To prove this, I googled the words “God loves you.” Within a nanosecond, I got 13 million hits. I’ve been going through them very slowly, and as of today I can safely report that every time that term appears, it appears on a Christian web site.

Having obviously far too much time on my hands, I then googled the phrase “God loves the Jews.” 837,000 hits. And all of those hits are also on Christian web sites.


דאמר רבי שמעון בן לקיש ויקרא יעקב אל בניו ויאמר האספו ואגידה לכם ביקש יעקב לגלות לבניו קץ הימין ונסתלקה ממנו שכינה אמר שמא חס ושלום יש במטתי פסול כאברהם שיצא ממנו ישמעאל ואבי יצחק שיצא ממנו עשו אמרו לו בניו שמע ישראל ה׳ אלקינו ה׳ אחד אמרו כשם שאין בלבך אלא אחד כך אין בלבנו אלא אחד באותה שעה פתח יעקב אבינו ואמר ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד

As Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said that it is written: “And Jacob called his sons and said, Gather around and I will tell you what will occur to you in the end of days” (Genesis 49:1). Jacob wanted to reveal to his sons when the complete redemption would arrive at the end of days (see Daniel 12:13), but the Divine Presence abandoned him, rendering him unable to prophesy. He said: Perhaps the Divine Presence has abandoned me because, Heaven forfend, one of my descendants is unfit, as was the case with my grandfather Abraham, from whom Ishmael emerged, and like my father Isaac, from whom Esau emerged. His sons said to him: Hear Israel, our father, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. They said: Just as there is only one God in your heart, so too, there is only one in our hearts. At that moment Jacob our father said in praise: Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever, as all his children were righteous.

II. Contemporary Challenges


Dare to be Desperate: Rosh Hashanah Day 2, 5777

06 OCTOBER 2016

Abbe Breiul was a great 19th century discoverer and scholar of prehistoric art. He is perhaps most famous for having discovered a carving known as "The Sorcerer," which he found deep in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains of France. Painted on a high wall deep inside the cave, the image contains human and animal features, including a horse’s tail, deer-like ears, heavy antlers, and a human torso and feet. The face contains owl-like eyes that stare implacably at the viewer like the Mona Lisa. Breuil concluded - and later researchers generally concurred - that the depiction represents some sort of deity to which the Upper Paleontological hunters would pray some 10,000 years ago for success in the hunt and survival through the harsh winter. The earliest known human instance of prayer, in other words, is one of a desperate cry for help to some sort of mythical power. While we reject the particulars of their pagan worship, the point is clear. The earliest known stages of child and civilization's development demonstrates just how deeply we are wired to turn to a higher power for assistance when life's problems weigh us down.


Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith

The awareness which comes with prayer is rooted in man’s experiencing his “creatureliness” . . . and the absurdity embedded in his own existence . . . . Man, as a slave of God, is completely dependent upon Him. Man enjoys no freedom.

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This is a sensitive topic, but it's one I feel many are thinking about.

I tried to keep this as respectful as humanly possible. As always with religion, people can get offended quite fast, and that's not the point.

The point of this video is to shed light on the MANY MANY types of religions the world has, and how...some of them can contradict others.

And if they do...then who is right? And who is wrong?

Because I am not 100% confident that mine is right and theirs is wrong, I feel that the only possible solution is to step back for the time being from being religious.


Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulations, 1981

Disneyland is a perfect model of all the entangled orders of simulation. To begin with it is a play of illusions and phantasms: pirates, the frontier, future world, etc. This imaginary world is supposed to be what makes the operation successful. But, what draws the crowds is undoubtedly much more the social microcosm, the miniaturized and religious revelling in real America, in its delights and drawbacks. You park outside, queue up inside, and are totally abandoned at the exit. In this imaginary world the only phantasmagoria is in the inherent warmth and affection of the crowd, and in that sufficiently excessive number of gadgets used there to specifically maintain the multitudinous affect. The contrast with the absolute solitude of the parking lot... is total.


וְהָיוּ שָׁם יוֹשְׁבִין חַרְטֻמֵּי מִצְרַיִם, וְאָמְרוּ, מִתְיָרְאִין אָנוּ מִזֶּה שֶׁנּוֹטֵל כִּתְרְךָ וְנוֹתְנוֹ עַל רֹאשׁוֹ, שֶׁלֹא יִהְיֶה זֶה אוֹתוֹ שֶׁאָנוּ אוֹמְרִים שֶׁעָתִיד לִטֹּל מַלְכוּת מִמְּךָ. מֵהֶם אוֹמְרִים לְהָרְגוֹ, מֵהֶם אוֹמְרִים לְשָׂרְפוֹ, וְהָיָה יִתְרוֹ יוֹשֵׁב בֵּינֵיהֶן וְאוֹמֵר לָהֶם, הַנַּעַר הַזֶּה אֵין בּוֹ דַּעַת, אֶלָּא בַּחֲנוּ אוֹתוֹ, וְהָבִיאוּ לְפָנָיו בִּקְעָרָה זָהָב וְגַחֶלֶת, אִם יוֹשִׁיט יָדוֹ לַזָּהָב יֵשׁ בּוֹ דַּעַת וְהִרְגוּ אוֹתוֹ, וְאִם יוֹשִׁיט יָדוֹ לַגַּחֶלֶת אֵין בּוֹ דַּעַת וְאֵין עָלָיו מִשְׁפַּט מָוֶת. מִיָּד הֵבִיאוּ לְפָנָיו וְשָׁלַח יָדוֹ לִקַּח הַזָּהָב, וּבָא גַּבְרִיאֵל וְדָחָה אֶת יָדוֹ וְתָפַשׂ אֶת הַגַּחֶלֶת וְהִכְנִיס יָדוֹ עִם הַגַּחֶלֶת לְתוֹךְ פִּיו וְנִכְוָה לְשׁוֹנוֹ, וּמִמֶּנּוּ נַעֲשָׂה (שמות ד, י): כְּבַד פֶּה וּכְבַד לָשׁוֹן.

And some of the observers sitting among them were the magicians of Egypt that said, “We are wary of this, that he is taking your crown and placing it on his head, that he not be the one we say (i.e. prophesy) that will take the kingship from you.” Some said to kill him, and some said to burn him. And Jethro was sitting among them and said to them, “This child has no intent [to take the throne]. Rather, test him by bringing in a bowl [a piece of] gold and a coal. If he outstretches his hand towards the gold, [surely] he has intent [to take the throne], and you should kill him. And if he outstretches his hand towards the coal, he [surely] does not have intent [to take the throne], and he does not deserve the death penalty.” They immediately brought the bowl before him (Moses), and he outstretched his hand to take the gold, and Gabriel came and pushed his (Moses’) hand, and he grabbed the coal. He then brought his hand along with the coal into his mouth and burned his tongue, and from this was made (Exodus 4:10) “slow of speech and slow of tongue.”

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III. New Pathways

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Rekindling the Flame: Neo-Chassidus Brings the Inner Light of Torah to Modern Orthodoxy

By Barbara Bensoussan

Jewish Action Magazine, Winter 2014

"From the middle of the eighteenth century, gedolim like the Ramchal [Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto] and the Ba’al Shem Tov began bringing forth the deeper secrets of the Torah,” says Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, mashpia at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) and the rav of Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, New York. “Halachah constitutes the physical life of the Jew, but the soul of the Torah is the potion we need to infuse it with life. Hashem saw that the Jewish people were suffocating, so He sent the Besht [the Ba’al Shem Tov] to revive them and give them a taste of the light of Mashiach.”

Despite the fact that the Orthodox world brims with minyan factories, glatt kosher vacation packages, yeshivot and kollelim and a thriving print media, Rabbi Weinberger is concerned. One thing is missing, he says: “the soul.” As he wrote in an essay that appeared in the online journal Klal Perspectives in 2012, “Our communities—spanning the entire spectrum of Orthodoxy—are swarming with Jews of all ages and backgrounds who have little, if any, connection to Hakadosh Baruch Hu.” Many of the off-the-derech youth, he says, are not running away from authentic Yiddishkeit; they simply “never met it.”

“There are many out there who may have been shown or taught a version of Yiddishkeit that is dry, that is cold,” agrees Josh Weinberg, a YU musmach who considers himself a neo-Chassid, and is one of many who look to Rabbi Weinberger for inspiration. “They may practice Judaism in their communities [due to societal pressure], but inside, there’s a lot of apathy and [it’s done by] rote. Chances are they were never exposed to this deeper and joyous side of religious observance.”


IV. A Path Forward


(ד) שְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל ה' אֱלֹקֵ֖ינוּ ה' ׀ אֶחָֽד׃ (ה) וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔ אֵ֖ת ה' אֱלֹקֶ֑יךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ֥ וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ֖ וּבְכָל־מְאֹדֶֽךָ׃ (ו) וְהָי֞וּ הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֗לֶּה אֲשֶׁ֨ר אָנֹכִ֧י מְצַוְּךָ֛ הַיּ֖וֹם עַל־לְבָבֶֽךָ׃ (ז) וְשִׁנַּנְתָּ֣ם לְבָנֶ֔יךָ וְדִבַּרְתָּ֖ בָּ֑ם בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ֤ בְּבֵיתֶ֙ךָ֙ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ֣ בַדֶּ֔רֶךְ וּֽבְשָׁכְבְּךָ֖ וּבְקוּמֶֽךָ׃ (ח) וּקְשַׁרְתָּ֥ם לְא֖וֹת עַל־יָדֶ֑ךָ וְהָי֥וּ לְטֹטָפֹ֖ת בֵּ֥ין עֵינֶֽיךָ׃ (ט) וּכְתַבְתָּ֛ם עַל־מְזוּזֹ֥ת בֵּיתֶ֖ךָ וּבִשְׁעָרֶֽיךָ׃ (ס)

(4) Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. (5) You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (6) Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. (7) Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. (8) Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead; (9) inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.


(א) והיו הדברים האלה. אמרו המכחשים על עשרת הדברות ועליהם נאמר וכתבתם על מזוזות ביתך והאמת כל המצות:

These words: The Dissenters have applied this phrase to the Ten Commandments (they also believe the Ten Commandments are meant below in “you shall write them on the doorposts of your houses;” but the truth is that these words denotes all the commandments.


(א) והיו הדברים האלה. וּמַהוּ הָאַהֲבָה? והיו הדברים האלה, שֶׁמִּתּוֹךְ כָּךְ אַתָּה מַכִּיר בְּהַקָּבָּ"ה וּמְדַּבֵּק בִּדְרָכָיו (ספרי):

(1) - What is the “love” that is here commanded? These words will be [on your heart] - for thereby you will arrive at a recognition of the Holy One, blessed be He, and will cleave to His ways (Sifri).


הכתב והקבלה דברים ו:ו

אזהרת ושננתם מוסב על מצות יחוד ואהבת ה׳ שהתחילה בו הפרשה, וכן ממה שאמר אחריו וקשרתם לאות על ידך וגו׳ וכתבתם על מזוזת וגו׳ דצוויים אלו לא נוכל להסב אותם אל התורה כולה, כי הוא דבר בלתי אפשרי, וע״כ אינו מוסב רק על מצות יחוד ואהבה.

Haketav Ve-Hakabala Devarim 6:6

The warning, "You shall study," is addressed to the command of unity and loving Hashem with which the parsha began. And the same emerges from that which is stated afterward, "You shall bind them as a sign upon your hands, etc." "And you shall write them on the doorways, etc." For these commands - we cannot say that they refer to the entire Torah, for that is an impossibility; rather, it refers only to the command of divine unity and love.


וּמַקְדִּימִין לִקְרוֹת פָּרָשַׁת שְׁמַע מִפְּנֵי שֶׁיֵּשׁ בָּהּ יִחוּד הַשֵּׁם וְאַהֲבָתוֹ וְתַלְמוּדוֹ שֶׁהוּא הָעִקָּר הַגָּדוֹל שֶׁהַכּל תָּלוּי בּוֹ. וְאַחֲרֶיהָ וְהָיָה אִם שָׁמֹעַ שֶׁיֵּשׁ בָּהּ צִוּוּי עַל (זְכִירַת) שְׁאָר כָּל הַמִּצְוֹת. וְאַחַר כָּךְ פָּרָשַׁת (במדבר טו לח) ״צִיצִית״ שֶׁגַּם הִיא יֵשׁ בָּהּ צִוּוּי זְכִירַת כָּל הַמִּצְוֹת:

The section beginning, "Hear, O Israel" is recited first, because it sets forth the duties of acknowledging the Unity of God, loving Him, and studying His words. This is the great and essential matter on which all depends. Then, the passage beginning, "And it shall come to pass" is read, this containing a charge to fulfill all the other commandments. Finally the section concerning Fringes is read, as it also contains a charge to remember all the commandments.


ליקוטי מוהר"ן תנינא – תורה ה

ָהעִקָּר הוּא הָאֱמוּנָה וְצָרִיך כָּל אֶחָד לְחַפֵּשׂ אֶת עַצְמוֹ וּלְחַזֵּק אֶת עַצְמוֹ בֶּאֱמוּנָה.

Likkutei Moharan Tinyana - Torah 5

The esence is faith, and everyone must search out himself and strengthen himself in faith.


Rav Soloveitchik, Abraham's Journey, Pgs. 29-31

Halacha considers general recognition to be far superior to identification by naming marks. Configurative recognition is solid, a certainty… Identification by Simanim is not instantaneous; it consists in an act of inferring: the object belongs to me because I know the mark that is characteristic of this object. If it were not mine how would I know this mark?

Of course, there are two possibilities: either I saw the object before, or there are two objects with the identical characteristics. The decision by the court to accept the sign as a piece of evidence is based on probability and statistics. However, identification based upon a general impression of the configuration or the whole is spontaneous, instantaneous...

Recognition of God is an art in itself. It is a double one: by Simanim and by Tevi’at Ayin.


The Lonely Man of Faith, pg. 52

Does the loving bride in the embrace of her beloved ask for proof that he is alive and real? Must the prayerful soul clinging in passionate love and ecstasy to her Beloved demonstrate that He exists? So asked Soren Kierkegaard sarcastically when told that Anselm of Canterbury, the father of the very abstract and complex ontological proof, spent many days in prayer and supplication that he be presented with rational evidence of the existence of God.


Azure no. 16, Winter 5764 / 2004

Redemption and the Power of Man

By R. Meir Soloveichik

Maimonides [asserts] in his Laws of Repentance that “Israel will be redeemed only if it repents.” Whether the messiah comes, Maimonides seems to be saying, is up to us; whether he redeems us depends on whether we become worthy of redemption.

Yet Maimonides’ assertion, which is based on talmudic precedent, begs the following question: What if we never repent, and therefore never become worthy of redemption? If the messiah’s coming depends on our own worthiness, how can traditional Jews be so certain—indeed, why are we obligated to believe—that he will eventually come? This question was posed by one of the leading Jewish philosophers of the last century, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, in a lecture on the subject of repentance:

If one accepts Maimonides’ opinion… that the coming of the messiah is dependent upon repentance, and that if it does not take place then there will be no redemption; how is it possible to declare, “I believe with complete faith in the advent of the messiah and though he may tarry I will await his coming every day”? It is possible that he will tarry indefinitely if Israel does not repent; what sense is there in awaiting his coming daily?

Rabbi Soloveitchik’s answer is startling: Because the messiah will come only when Israel is worthy of his coming, the belief in the certainty of redemption is of necessity a belief that Israel will prove itself worthy of the messiah. Maimonides himself stresses that “The Tora has already assured us that Israel will finally repent at the end of its exile and immediately be redeemed.”

Thus, writes Rabbi Soloveitchik, the portion of the Jewish credo that expresses belief in the coming of the messiah is “based upon faith in kneset yisrael [the congregation of Israel]. It is not an easy faith.” Faith in the messiah is faith in ourselves, in our ability to bring the messiah by becoming worthy of his arrival.