Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Truth and Belief I

The relationship between truth (Emet) and belief (Emunah) can be summarised as follows: belief is the sense that something is true. Hence when one says, ‘I believe you’ they are essentially saying, ‘You are being truthful to me’. Furthermore, belief allows a person to absorb truth within themselves - without belief one either rejects, or remains unaffected, by truth. For instance, suppose someone cautions you to avoid sitting on a particular chair which they claim to be rickety. If you don't believe the statement, it won't influence you, and you'll proceed to sit on the chair regardless. If, however, you do believe it, you'll heed to their advice and will probably avoid the chair or sit on it cautiously.  
There are two steps to uniting truth and belief. The first involves bringing belief to the truth. This means that out of all the ideas or possibilities one could potentially believe in, one comes to believe in the ‘truth’. The second step entails bringing truth into belief; strengthening one’s belief until it becomes unwavering and has the force of certainty. In this way, the belief becomes increasingly ‘true’. It is certainly possible for one to believe in something and still entertain doubts about it, or lack the conviction to act upon it.

When truth is brought into belief, the certainty born has real impact on the world. To illustrate, when Jacob walked upon the water surface of the Jordan River, he said, “With my staff – Mikalti - I crossed this Jordan.” Why was the ‘staff’ mentioned at all? The staff alludes to the quality of truth. The numerical value of the word ‘Mikalti’ (remembering that every Hebrew letter is also a number) equals the numerical value of the word ‘Jacob’, who is the symbol of truth in Kabbalah. Furthermore, using the term ‘staff’ reinforces the stable nature of truth – just as a staff supports a person, truth supports an argument. This verse has thus been interpreted to mean that Jacob’s walk on the water was not a miracle caused by Divine intervention but a natural result of Jacob’s certainty that he could do so.Hence, though we usually see belief as merely a sense of conviction in a truth, belief can actually serve to bring out the truth as well. 

This has important implications for a skateboarder. Based on personal experience, and what I've often observed in others, after a skater manages to land a trick once, he proceeds to land it with relative consistency. This is a peculiar thing. Just before he landed it for his first time he attempted the trick a hundred  times without success, yet suddenly, upon landing it once, he starts landing it uniformly. Why does a single success completely change the skater's ability? Was it merely that he finally discovered the 'trick' behind the performance of the trick, or may other factors be at play?...                  



  1. I suppose this connection between belief and truth could also be expressed by "Tracht Gut vet Zein Gut" - think well and it will be well ... Although this apparently only applies to one who has complete nullification of ones self in the absolute certainty of Hashem ... very difficult to attain. Certainly it's a far way from "willing all the traffic lights to be green" or any other mundane self-oriented desire. And it's not quite the same as mastery of a skill either. Maybe it's closer to having the intent, upon being well, to then serve Hashem with Mitzvot observance. But there are surely other dimensions to it too.

  2. Regarding 'bringing truth into belief' - it makes me think of what can happen when one (eg. me) becomes inspired from a story/thoughts imparted by a passionate speaker. When the ideas ring so true and morally sound, if one is able to 'bring the truth into belief' they will act on the speaker's message by making some change in their routine even if small or perhaps to begin a brave venture. The ability for the person to succeed in their new challenge is partly dependent upon how sure they are in their belief. Once the person achieves success this reinforces their belief being the truth all the more. Of course sometimes the Creator and Master of the world may have other plans for the person, even when they fully believed that they would achieve a certain goal.... and for an unexplainable reason did not achieve success. Here the person may find comfort in knowing that Judaism teaches that G-d does not give any person a challenge which they do not have the abilities to cope with. This may mean they have to work on themselves to bring out their strengths, but know that they ARE there! This idea can also be something to aim for in terms of unifying Truth and Belief once again. May we all succeed!