('e-moō-na) אמונה root: אמן
Related words: Truth, Amen, Reliable, Artisan

What it is

Generally translated as faith.

We’re used to thinking of faith as a strategy for people who can’t think for themselves. "The fool believes everything," Solomon writes, "the wise man understands." Emunah, however, is an innate conviction, a perception of truth that transcends, rather than evades, reason. Quite the contrary, wisdom, understanding and knowledge can further enhance true emunah.

Nevertheless, emunah is not based on reason. Reason can never attain the certainty of emunah, since, reasonably speaking, a greater reasoning might always come along and prove your reasons wrong. In this way, emunah is similar to seeing first hand: Reason can help you better understand what you see, but it will have a hard time convincing you that you never saw it. So too, emunah endures even when reason can't catch up.

How to test for it

Practically speaking, a person may have faith because he is not interested or incapable of reasoning for himself. Therefore, his faith does not belong to him; he is simply relying on others. When a person has a profound emunah in any truth, he feels this truth to be part and parcel of his very own essence and being.

The litmus test would be a case of martyrdom. A person with sub-rational faith may or may not decide to give his life for his faith. A person with super-rational emunah sees no choice—to deny his emunah is to deny the quintessence of his being.

How to get it

As we said, emunah is innate, yet it may be enhanced through study, experience and reason. Without that nurture, a person’s emunah may remain divorced from his attitude and actions. The Talmud describes how a thief also believes in G‑d: On the brink of his forced entry, as he is about to risk his life—and the life of his victim—he cries out with all sincerity, "G‑d help me!" The thief has faith that there is a G‑d who hears his cries, yet it escapes him that this G‑d may be able to provide for him without requiring that he abrogate G‑d’s will by stealing from others. For emunah to affect him in this way he needs study and contemplation.

The most emunah-enriching studies are said to be Midrash and Kabbalah. The Kabbalists of the period following the Spanish exile (16th century) presented these ideas in a more rational form. Chassidut Chabad, an approach founded by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi near the end of 18th century, is a further extension of this trend, bringing the realm of emunah in greater proximity to human reason—and empowering human reason to glimpse into the transcendent realm of emunah.

Yet the greatest vitamin you can provide emunah is plain exercise. In fact, an artisan is called in Hebrew an "uman"—because he has practiced his craft repeatedly until it becomes natural for him. So too, emunah grows taller and deeper as you accustom yourself to see all the phenomena of life as manifestations of the Creator’s presence and glory. All the more so is emunah enriched by being tested and withstanding those tests; and by making sacrifices in life for the sake of your emunah.