Living in the Shelter of Emuna

          After the closeness and intensity that we cultivate during Yom Kippur we move straight into festive preparations for the holiday of Sukkot. It is as if the Sukka invites us to come into its embrace saying, “this new you suits you! It is so beautiful, so pristine, so fresh. Allow it to take root right here inside my four walls and under my make-shift roof. If you look up, you’ll see the stars at night and shafts of light in the day peering through my branches. You will know that there is nothing more real than G-d. Enjoy yourself in my shady protection away from the sun’s uncaring glare.” [1]
        The sages say that the sukka is called “the shade of faith ”[2]. During the year we are more prone to believe that our success comes from causal relationships between our actions and our environment. It is only after Yom Kippur, when we have prayed to the Master of the Universe for our very lives, that we know that this belief is an illusion. It is on this new footing that we tentatively aspire to walk differently into the year that has just begun.
          What it faith (or “emuna” in Hebrew)? How does it feel when you have it? And most importantly, how do you get it?
          I have found a beautiful definition from the Hebrew writings of a student of R’ Moshe Shapiro [3], one of our generation’s Torah giants. He says that faith is living in accordance with spiritual law. That is a breathtaking definition – but it also makes our question even deeper than we originally thought. How on earth does one live in accordance with spiritual law? What even IS spiritual law??
          Let’s first look at some of the basic “laws” that we all accept as true and necessary in the operation of our world.
          First, we have natural Law. These are the physical laws of the universe. It would be absurd for a person to argue with them. “I am an atheist of the law of gravity,” a lunatic would explain as he jumps off a mountain. Natural physical law dictates that we survive and thrive according to its pre-programmed rules – without exception. Food, clothing, shelter… these are aspects of life that no one contests and are obvious to all.
          Slightly more subtle than this entry-level of law is “human” or social law. Although this is harder to quantify, the morals of respect, decency, and basic honesty are the fibers of the fabric of society. One who ignores these laws will not be able to function sustainably either. Without them, society would be reduced to chaos and brutal instinct.
          Deeper still is “spiritual law”, the least tangible of all. Although it is possible to argue its existence due to its non-physical properties, ironically this most subtle set of laws is the plane of law on which all previous levels are built. Only it takes special eyes to see it for what it is, an “inner eye ” that sees truly [4]. Spiritual law includes the mitzvos of the Torah as well as all the other mystical reasons Hashem created the world and how He runs it. It in fact is so core to all of life that it easily displaces and can over-ride the previous levels of law, since it is the source of them all. One who disregards this level due to its subtlety cuts himself off from the Source of life and thereby loses the special relationship with G-d that is part and parcel of the plane of existence.
          How do we live in adherence with this dimension which cannot be explained by our physical experience? The answer is, through Emuna we access the full workings of the intricacies of life, our place in it, and we thereby come into its flow. Spiritual law is a reality that once embraced, generates a powerful congruency in all aspects of our lives. Once one has tasted it, there is nothing in the world enticing enough to let it go, as it underscores everything else by millions of miles. It is nothing short of an umbilical cord connecting us to G-d Himself.
          The prophet Chabakuk attests; “a righteous man lives with his Emuna”. This means that he has given himself so totally over to this level of law that his life-force pulsates from Hashem Himself into his being. This is the place from where the tzaddik lives, invigorating his interactions with an otherworldly energy.
          Emuna is not an intellectual knowledge, but a heart-knowing. It must be held and nurtured in the only organ that needs no cognitive proofs yet knows most deeply – the heart. Faith is too high a quality for as limiting a vessel as the rational mind.
          One who doesn’t live in the shadow of faith, conversely, sees only what meets the eye and becomes obsessed with his physical needs and wants. Hashem is just not real for him. He needs to take matters into his own hands to make sure he gets his needs met. The figurative sun of physicality sears down on him with its uncomfortable heat. Everything out of the shade of the sukka (read: faith) appears random and profoundly empty and unsatisfying. At the end of the day, he is only a big… as himself.
          Not so a person of faith who holds the whole universe inside his heart. Amazingly, our relationship to G-d and our relationships with other people mirror one another . This is because the reliance on the internal laws of the universe even when they are intangible in fact trains a person to see outside of himself. What is common to knowing G-d as well as knowing the person sitting right in front of you is that you have to look through both physical and social laws of the universe. (In order to really see the other, I mean. Not just using etiquette skillfully to get what you want.) This is not so different from having to look through the schach of the sukka’s roof to see the unfathomable vastness out-there and come to know the unfathomable vastness within you.
          The interpersonal arena is the prepping ground for Divine encounter. The two cannot be separated. Emuna in life, in relationships, and living in accordance with spiritual law – even when it cannot be seen or measured – is the power of the heart. The sukka is where we will go to solidify the people we have become on Yom Kippur and enjoy our relationship with the One Who was there all along.

[1] The sun being an icon of the laws of the physical world.  See “Shelter in the Shade” by R’ Eisemman

[2] זוהר כרך ג (ויקרא) פרשת אמור דף קג עמוד א

דכתיב (שיר ב) בצלו חמדתי וישבתי ופריו מתוק לחכי =  צלא דמהימנותא

[3] In the work “Ohel Rachel”

[4] R’ Dessler

[5] Avos