Tanya, ch. 42;
Likkutei Torah, Devarim, p. 4d;
the maamar entitled VeKibeil HaYehudim, 5687;
the maamar VeAtah Tetzaveh, 5752

A chassid was sent by the Previous Rebbe, R. Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, to visit Jews in outlying communities and inspire them in the observance of the mitzvos. When he returned to the Rebbe, he told him that the Jews he visited had asked him the purpose of his trip, and he had answered them using the following analogy. In previous generations, there were itinerant scribes who would travel from community to community, checking the Torah scrolls and correcting any cracked or faded letters.

“Every Jew is like a Torah scroll,” the chassid explained to the local people. “But sometimes some of its ‘letters’ a mitzvah here or a mitzvah there become faded. My mission is to restore the letters.”

The Previous Rebbe appreciated the analogy, but told the chassid that it was not entirely appropriate. “The letters of a Torah scroll and its parchment are two separate entities. Therefore when a letter fades, its restoration can be considered as fashioning a new entity. A Jew’s relationship with his Torah heritage is, by contrast, a fundamental part of his being. It is like letters carved into a tablet of stone; the letters are part of the tablet itself.

“They may become filled with other substances or covered with dust to the point that they are not seen, but the letters are still intact. All that is necessary is that they be uncovered. One does not have to create anything new.”

A Foundation Above Intellect

Faith cannot be learned; it must be discovered. Or more precisely, it must be uncovered.

For faith in G‑d is not a logical decision that a person makes. Were this to be so, and were our faith to be dependent on our knowledge and understanding, it could be swayed back and forth. At times, it could even be dissipated entirely according to the vicissitudes of our thinking processes: If today, we feel we comprehend G‑d’s greatness, we will believe. But if tomorrow, someone with a more powerful intellect would convince us otherwise, such faith would fall apart.

Furthermore, the terms faith and belief are not proper synonyms for convictions based on logic. If it is logical, we know it to be true, and it is not a question of belief.

Faith and belief, in truth, stem from a non-rational commitment. Whether a person understands or not, he operates on the basis of an ongoing commitment to G‑d.

The Covenant Established at Sinai

This is reflected in our people’s first step in establishing their relationship with G‑d. Before revealing Himself to the people at Mount Sinai, G‑d instructed Moshe to make a covenant with the people. And when Moshe conveyed G‑d’s message, the people answered:1 Naaseh ViNishma, “We will do and we will listen.” Before even hearing what G‑d would say, they promised obedience.

Chassidus2 interprets nishma as implying “understand,” not merely to hear with our ears, but to internalize, and hear within our souls. Our people committed themselves to do before they would understand. They promised to devote themselves to G‑d with an unswerving commitment that went beyond the limits of their minds.3 This established our covenant with G‑d and motivated Him to reveal Himself at Sinai.

The Source From Which Faith Flows

But if faith is not based on understanding, on what is it based? Is it irrational devotion making a commitment without thought? Surely not. Although our faith is not based on our intellect, it is not at cross purposes with our minds. So what motivates our commitment? And what is its fundamental power?

Our faith emanates from our souls. A Jew believes in G‑d, not because he makes a decision to believe, but because his soul is G‑dly. Every Jew’s soul is an actual part of G‑d.4 Jews are “believers, the sons of believers.”5 This is their essence, who they really are. And because this is their essence, that quality will ultimately surface, making itself felt within the person’s conscious thought. Experiencing faith means identifying with our G‑dly core.

More specifically, our souls exist on several planes simultaneously. Just as they exist within our bodies, they also exist in the spiritual worlds above. On those levels, our souls experience a direct perception of G‑dliness. And the fact that they perceive G‑dliness on those planes affects their awareness of G‑d on this earthly plane.6

To explain this phenomenon: The seer Daniel relates7 that he was standing together with several comrades at the banks of the Tigris River. He saw an awesome spiritual vision. His comrades did not see the vision, and yet “a great dread fell upon them and they fled to hide themselves.” Our Sages ask:8 “If they did not see the vision, why did ‘a great dread fall upon them’?” In resolution, they explain that although Daniel’s companions did not see the vision, the spiritual source of their souls perceived it. And because a powerful impression was made on the spiritual source of their souls, their souls as they existed within their bodies were also shaken.

A similar motif applies with regard to each of us. Because our souls perceive G‑dliness in the spiritual realms, as we exist in this material realm, we also feel a connection to Him through faith.

Running an Obstacle Course

Why then do we not feel a connection of faith at all times? For the essential connection the soul shares with G‑d never changes, and in the spiritual realms, the soul’s perception of G‑d is constant.

The Prophet states:9 “Your sins separate between you and your G‑d.” The intent is not merely that our conduct can draw us away from G‑d as He exists above, but rather that our sins create distance between ourselves and the G‑dliness that exists within our own souls. The sins that a person commits block the G‑dliness within his soul from being expressed. More particularly, our excitement and concern for material things dulls our sensitivity to the spiritual and prevents us from appreciating the G‑dly potential we possess.10

On this basis, we can appreciate the mystic conception of the term emunah , generally translated as “faith.” Emunah, אמונה , relates to the word אימון , meaning “practice” or “training.”11 We all know G‑d inherently, as we know our own being. Emunah involves practice and training to make ourselves sensitive to this inner potential, and working to create a setting within our conscious minds that will allow this inner knowledge to be easily expressed.

Chassidus12 explains this concept using a term employed by the Zohar,13 “shepherding faith.” Just as a shepherd patiently nurtures his flocks, helping them to grow; so, too, a person must nurture his potential for faith. As stated above, we all have faith, but our faith may be underdeveloped and not internalized. To describe such a situation, our Sages14 give the example of a thief who, before breaking into a house, prays to G‑d for help in his theft. Now he obviously believes in G‑d, for he prays to Him. Yet his belief is not internalized, as reflected in his willful violation of G‑d’s commands. Within most people there is a similar though perhaps not as extreme dichotomy. Effort is necessary to harmonize between the person’s essential desire to connect to G‑d and his conscious thought.

Some of that effort should be focused on refining our conduct. For as mentioned above, our conduct can enhance or minimize sensitivity to our spiritual potential. But that influence is not direct, for refining our conduct cultivates our faith in an indirect manner. It does not affect our thinking processes immediately. Instead, it is years of continued Divine service that purify one’s thought and make one more capable of appreciating spiritual reality.

There is a more direct way to influence and enhance our awareness of our spiritual potential: through our thoughts. The way we think controls the way we feel. To experience a more conscious appreciation of our faith, we must work with our minds. As we know G‑d more, our sensitivity to our faith expands.

We need not fear that knowledge will “cool down” the vitality and energy of faith. Since the faith that exists within our heart is an expression of the essential bond to G‑d that lies at the core of our beings, it will not be hindered by our intellects. Instead, our minds will serve as filters, enabling these feelings of faith to be internalized throughout the full range of our personalities. In this manner, our knowledge of G‑d increases our potential for belief.15