The long-awaited day had arrived. Elisheva beamed. She’d eagerly anticipated this auspicious moment. Her pious husband and each of her sons were about to reach a pivotal milestone. Just imagine the excitement she felt watching them approach the holy Tabernacle. The sanctity was palpable. With profound gratitude and pride, she observed their every step.1

Her husband, Aaron the High Priest, entered, along with his sons. But shortly afterwards, the unfathomable occurred. The oldest sons, Nadav and Avihu, were struck and killed by a heavenly fire.

Commentators propose various reasons as to why this calamity took place. Rather than consider the why, let’s focus on some lessons that can be learned from Aaron’s ineffable response to this tragedy.

Moses said to Aaron: “This is what the L‑rd spoke, [when He said], ‘I will be sanctified through those near to Me, and before all the people I will be glorified.’”2

Aaron’s reaction to these words was: “Vayidom Aaron”–he was silent. To most of us, such silence is unimaginable. How does a parent remain silent upon watching the untimely demise of a child—let alone two children?

Perhaps such silence is far more powerful and expressive than words. To remain silent and accept inexplicable loss requires inner fortitude fueled by emunah. Emunah is an inner certainty that goes beyond its usual translation as faith or belief; it is expressed by acting upon what you know is so.

Aaron didn’t complain, “G‑d, why have you punished us like this?” He didn’t blame G‑d; he accepted. This is emunah in action.

The Torah is replete with stories of pain. Righteous individuals, such as our patriarchs and matriarchs, were not exempt from suffering. Any bereaved parent knows this terrible pain. It may subside, but it’s always there.

We cannot understand why certain things happen, but we can accept that this is so. Self-recrimination and senseless regret only compound the inevitable pain. And only G‑d truly knows why.

The Hebrew word emunah is usually translated as faith or belief, but it actually expresses so much more. Emunah means faithfulness and allegiance to what you know. More than just a theoretical concept or idea, it is an action or practice. Emunah enriches your resilience in the midst of great struggle, crisis or personal loss.

Another word related to emunah is the Hebrew word for training—imun. Faithfulness is the product of training. The Israeli Defense Force’s term for military training is imunim—a derivative of emunah.

Emunah isn’t limited to the belief in your mind. It is acted upon, connecting mind and body with actions. Emunah can be likened to a staircase. Intellectually, you may know that the stairs go up to the next level, but until you climb them, you won’t actually experience that next level. Believing, or even knowing, that the stairs are there is not enough. You have to climb them.

We’ve all heard the adage “practice makes perfect.” Professional athletes and musicians are the product of continual hours of intensive training and practice. Such training becomes ingrained, and visible when called to action. It’s the same with emunah.

We have an inherent desire to understand and, thus, seek explanation. Fight the urge to find someone or something to blame. Some things are beyond our understanding and seem inexplicable. Instead, go outside and look up at the sky. The sky is above and beyond you. The “why” is as well! Emunah is expansive and endless. Gazing up at the sky can teach us this lesson. It’s always there, hovering above us; likewise can be our emunah.

Silence is often the loudest and best response. It doesn’t mean that you won’t cry or bemoan your pain and loss. But a guilt trip won’t help you or anyone else. It’s senseless.

When the tribulations of life have stretched your limits to the max, you can feel that you have no more to give. But there’s still so much more expected of you. You may think to yourself: “Will things ever let up? How much more can I take?” You wonder why this is happening. At times like these, you need to call upon your reserve of emunah.

Each of us needs to establish and maintain a personal emunah account and make regular deposits into it. Emunah is a spiritual insurance policy, ensuring that you’ll have the means to carry on. As a beacon that illuminates new pathways in the midst of crisis, it must be perpetually charged.

Making It Relevant

  1. Think of circumstances you’ve experienced in which strong emunah enriched your coping skills.
  2. Strive to learn from every struggle and uncover a lesson from each.
  3. Click here for a fuller understanding of emunah.
  4. Schedule time each week to check the “balance” and make a small deposit in your personal emunah account.