There’s only one way to really acquire emuna…
…And that’s the hard way.
Let me tell you a story:
A few years’ ago, when I was at the height of my troubles with secondary infertility, and it was causing me more heartache than I can describe, one of my ‘friends’ who also had secondary infertility decided to go the IVF route, and conceived twins the first time around.
Ooo-wah, did she turn into the most obnoxious, preachy, self-righteous person around, when it came to the subject of ‘having emuna’. Whenever I’d see her, she’d start preening herself about the enormous amount of ‘emuna’ she’d had, which had led to Hashem blessing her with more children.
(The implied corollary was of course that I must have ZERO emuna, because after all my praying and attempts at self-improvement I still had absolutely nothing tangible to show for it.)
I stopped talking to her around the fifth month of her pregnancy, because the mental torture she was inflicting on me each time we spoke got to be more than I could handle without cracking up.
I berated myself for days after I’d seen her:
Maybe, I just don’t have emuna! The whole problem is that I just don’t have enough emuna!!
And then I’d run off to re-double my hours of hitbodedut, or try to take on another super-machmir practise on myself, to show God how much I was trying to have emuna.
It took me years’ to figure out what I’m about to share with you, namely that ‘emuna’ doesn’t happen when life is going your way, and God is apparently effortlessly and immediately answering all your prayers and pleas.
(Remember, Hagar conceived immediately and also got the same wrong idea about how ‘holy’ she was, while the far more righteous and emuna-dik Sarah had to wait until she was 90 to become a mother.)
Emuna, real emuna, happens when you cling on to Hashem despite the fact that life is going ANYTHING but the way you want it to.
Real emuna sprouts in the decade you spent asking to have more kids, without being answered.
It grows in the soil of yearning so much to have your own stable home in Eretz Yisrael, but still continuing the relationship with God when He says ‘no’ again and again and again. Real emuna takes root on that rocky ground of loneliness, despair, emptiness and overwhelm, when all the doors have been closed in your face, and there aren’t any windows.
At those low times, in those lowly places in your life, when you have nothing to keep you going except your trust in Hashem’s goodness, that’s when real emuna grows.
Real emuna is not getting God to do what you want. That’s a completely warped, quasi-xtian idea. Jewish emuna is when whatever God does, that’s fine by you.
And that is a HUGE level that will take most of us at least 120 years to attain (and that’s if we’re working on it constantly).
I know that I’m not there yet.
God is not a vending machine. You don’t just pay ‘six hours’ of hitbodedut in and then get whatever you’re asking for pop out the slot. There are two main things we’re meant to be talking to God about:
1) Help with recognising and overcoming our bad middot.
2) Help to build our relationship with Him, and to recognise His hand in every facet of our lives.
That’s how real emuna grows.
We’re also taught that three things are only acquired with suffering:
- Eretz Yisrael
- The World to come
When I hear all these too-good-to-be-true stories from apparently frum people who are peddling the ‘vending machine’ model of God, it makes me think that either they’re just plain lying about not having any hardships in life, or any times that God said ‘no’ to them, OR their life really is that straightforward and amazing, in which case it’s highly unlikely they acquired any of the three things listed that are only acquired with suffering, regardless of how it may look from the outside.
Either way, that’s not the person you can really learn emuna from, because emuna grows in the gaps in our lives and not when those gaps have been filled.