The Jews are the oldest people in the world. They were around when the ancient Egyptians were building their pyramids – and probably even helped them to do it. They were around when the ancient Spartans were sailing the seas and building their Trojan horses. They were on first name terms with the ancient Assyrians; the Ancient Babylonians; the Ancient Persians; the Ancient Greeks; and the Ancient Romans – all of whom tried their best to annihilate the Jews.
But the Jews continued to adapt, to survive, and even, to thrive. Which other nation could be kicked out of their own country – twice – and still be around to tell the tale? Which other people could endure thousands of years of suffering and persecution, and still flock to their synagogues in droves to dance with their Torah on Jewish holidays? What is the secret of those dancing Jews?
It’s called E-M-U-N-A. Some people try to translate ‘emuna’ as ‘faith’, but Jewish emuna is in a completely different box from plain old ‘belief’ or ‘faith’. Emuna is the substance that fuels the soul. It’s the substance that connects a person directly to G-d, and lets them see beneath the surface of this world.
People with emuna know Who’s running the show; they know that life is not a series of seemingly random, often cruel events, but planned down to the smallest detail by the Creator of the world.
People with emuna don’t get cross when people push in front of them at the supermarket; or when they lose big sums of money; or when life doesn’t go their way. Quite the contrary.
People with emuna smile when someone hands them a big, fat, juicy insult. People with emuna laugh when they get an unexpected and unexpectedly enormous bill through the post. And they dance in the face of misfortune.
Sounds impossible? Unbelievable? Like a fairy tale? That’s because you’ve never met a person with real emuna. But I have. I’ve met people who have been through the most difficult circumstances and trials, and emerged out the other side even stronger, and even more at peace within themselves.
How could they do it? How could they continue to smile, and laugh and dance after they lost their home? Or lost their job? Or lost a loved one? Or lost their health? How?
Only with emuna.
So then, I asked these dancing Jews, how do I get emuna? I also want to dance in the face of misfortune; I also want to smile about all the things that didn’t go right, and laugh about all my disappointments and painful experiences.
“Ah,” they said. “You can’t just buy emuna off the shelf in Walmart. It takes time. It takes patience. It takes an awful lot of work.”
“I’m ready!” I told them. “I’ll do whatever it takes. I’ll trek to the ends of the earth; I’ll sit up a mountain meditating; I’ll only eat carrots and shave all my hair off – just tell me, what do I need to do?”
“First, you need to believe. Then you need to talk.”
Believe what? Talk to who?
“Believe that there is a Creator of the world, and that He loves you more profoundly than you could even begin to imagine. Then make the time to talk to Him every day.”
“Anything. Everything. Don’t hold anything back.”
The Creator of the world wants to hear that I’m having trouble sticking to my Grapefruit Diet?
He wants to hear about my ten year old child who is still having trouble reading?
He can’t be interested in hearing my side of the massive argument I had with my husband this morning?
I had my doubts. Why would the Creator of the World be interested in me, and my problems? How would talking to Him make any difference, any way, and help me to have emuna? How was I even meant to start that conversation off? People would think I was mad.
The dancing Jews smiled. “We’re all mad,” they said. “But once we knew a man who was sane. And he told us to talk to G-d.”
What could I say to that? So I tried it. At first, I felt like a crazy person.
“G-d, I don’t even know if you exist! I don’t even know if you’re real! But I want to bounce like those dancing Jews, I want to be happy, I want to laugh. And they told me this is the way. G-d, if you’re real, please give me a sign!”
He didn’t answer immediately, and I nearly gave up. But something told me to give it one more try.
“G-d, if you’re out there, please give me emuna! Please let me dance through the hurt and the pain, and to start smiling again. G-d!”
Slowly, slowly, one foot started to tap, then the other. Slowly, slowly, one leg started to bend, then the other. A warm feeling started to spread throughout my body, and I realized with a jolt: “I feel loved!” For the first time in ages, the stress seeped away, the worry disappeared, the pain subsided, and I felt loved.
It was the most amazing feeling in the world. And right then, I knew how the Jews could continue to dance through all the exiles, the pogroms, the massacres, and the hardships: G-d helped them.
And He can help you, too.