Beit Midrash

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Segula: Part 1: What is Emuna?/When Are We Called "Children" of G-d?

There are various levels of faith. Jewish faith - emuna - is different than other faiths. Emuna refers not just to a sense of belief, but rather to a connection with Hashem (G-d), and it is via this connection that a Jew directs his life and actions in the world...The very link between the Nation of Israel and Hashem is totally different from that between the rest of humanity and the Divine...


Rabbi Chaim Avihau Schwartz

Nissan 2 5783
Translated by Hillel Fendel

What is Jewish Faith?

We cannot approach matters of faith without first clarifying and elucidating this profound concept.

A human being manifests in his life all sorts of feelings, thoughts, and actions – but these are all preceded in importance and essence by his very life. That is exactly what faith is; not a feeling or a thought, but rather life itself. As the Prophet Habakuk said (2,4): "A tzaddik lives in his faith" – and it is by this faith of his that he thinks, feels, and acts.

There are various levels of faith. Jewish faith – emuna – is different than other faiths. Emuna refers not just to a sense of belief, but rather to a connection with Hashem (G-d), and it is via this connection that a Jew directs his life and actions in the world. Every person believes in something; faith is a universal property. Tens of millions of people have given their lives in various religious wars throughout history (see Kuzari 1,2), and today as well, men are willing to give up their lives for their beliefs. Still and all, emuna is totally different. The very link between the Nation of Israel and Hashem is totally different from that between the rest of humanity and the Divine.

This will be explained in the coming chapters.

When are We Called"Children" of G-d?

The Talmud (Tr. Kiddushin 36a) cites this verse: "You are children of Hashem your G-d" (Deut. 14,1). Humans are the creations of G-d the Creator, He Who makes things in the world. A shoemaker makes shoes, a computer programmer forms computer programs, and so on. Can we also list "children" as something that men form? Technically speaking, yes – but not when it comes to the essence. A child is not like a shoe, or a computer program, or anything else that we can "form" and with which we then have no genuine connection. A child is a continuation of his parents – forever. When Israel is called a "child" of G-d, it means that Israel continues the Divine life and the Divine truth in all of Creation.

The above-cited Talmud passage expands on the above verse and says, "When are you children of G-d? When you act like His children! But if you do not act like His children, you are not called His children. This is the view of R. Yehuda, but R. Meir disagrees. R. Meir says that in any event you are called His children, for another verse [of rebuke] states about Israel, "They are foolish sons [for not knowing G-d]" (Jeremiah 4,22)."

R. Meir continues to bring similar verses to strengthen the point, showing that even if they sin not out of stupidity, but rather for lack of faith (Deut. 32), and even if they worship the stars and idols (Isaiah 1), they are still called sons. And in all these situations, when they repent and return to G-d, they are called "sons" unconditionally (Hosea 2). Yes, when they worship idols and the like, they are called sons who are "depraved and destructive" – but even when their soul is ripped asunder, the option still exists for them to return and repent. It is said in the name of HaRav Kook of saintly blessed memory that an Israelite sinner's connection to G-d is greater than that of even a believing non-Jew.

Another Talmudic passage (Tr. Bava Batra 10a) cites a dispute between R. Akiva and the evil Turnus (Quintus Tineius) Rufus, beginning with a challenge made by the latter, as follows:

"If your God loves the poor, why does He not support them [Himself instead of commanding you to give them charity?]"

R. Akiva responded, "He commands us to do so in order that through them and our charity, we will be saved from the judgment of Gehenna."

Turnus Rufus said, "On the contrary, it is this charity that is in violation of G-d's will. It is comparable to a mortal king who was angry with his slave, put him in prison, and ordered that he should not be fed or given to drink. If someone then gives him food and drink, would the king not be angry with him? And you [Jews], after all, are called slaves, as is written, “For the children of Israel are slaves to Me” (Leviticus 25,55)."

R. Akiva responded, "On the contrary, to what is this matter comparable? To a mortal king who was angry with his son, put him in prison, and ordered that he not be fed or given to drink. One who then gives the son food and drink, would the king not send that person a gift in appreciation? And we, Israel, are called sons, as is written: “You are sons of Hashem your G-d” (Deuteronomy 14,1).

Turnus Rufus said to him: "You are called sons and you are also called slaves. When you fulfill G-d's will, you are called sons, and when you do not, you are called slaves – and at present, you do not fulfill His will!"

R. Akiva said to him, "The verse states: “Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you shall bring the poor that are cast out to your house?” (Isaiah 58,7). When do we bring the poor into our houses? Now, when we are charged with hosting the Roman soldiers in our homes – and it is regarding this time that we are commanded "to share your bread with the hungry.

Let us understand this dispute more clearly. We can see that it revolves around the same principle as the dispute between R. Meir and R. Yehuda. Turnus Rufus says that there are two seemingly contradictory verses, which means that there are times, such as when we do not fulfill G-d's will, that we are as slaves, and other times when we are as sons to G-d. R. Akiva then responds by quoting a verse commanding us to share our bread with the poor; how does this answer the claim of Turnus Rufus?

The famous commentator Maharsha explains as follows: R. Akiva brought proof that we are called children of G-d even when we sin because the verse states that even when G-d is angered at us and wants us to host the Roman soldiers, we are still – as the verse continues – commanded to give charity, which is a sign that our needy brethren are still G-d's children, in accordance with the parable that R. Akiva cited.

But now we must understand: Does R. Yehuda, who says that we are G-d's children only when we do His will, then hold like Turnus Rufus?!

The answer is that if we are precise in reading R. Yehuda's words, we will understand that he means that when we sin, we are not called sons – but we are still G-d's children in essence. Externally, we are not related to as sons, because of our sinful situation – but we are still and eternally G-d's children.

That this inference is true can be seen from the following Talmudic passage (Tr. Sanhedrin 44a), which states that when Achan sinned in taking booty from the enemy, as recounted in Chapter 7 of Joshua, G-d tells Joshua that the reason they lost the battle is because "Israel sinned." R. Abba bar Zabda says in the Talmud, "Even though a Jew is a sinner, he is still called Israel – as is commonly said, 'a myrtle in between thorns is a myrtle and is called myrtle.'"

The Talmud then asks why must it be emphasized that it is both a myrtle and is also called a myrtle? And the answer is that the way something is called and the way we relate to it are not always the same – yet here, we see that the myrtle is both: a myrtle in essence, and also must be related to as such, even though it is among thorns. The same is true for Israel as children of G-d, even when, according to R. Yehuda, they are not" called" as such.

Halakhically speaking, we follow R. Meir's ruling, as stated by the Rashba
(R. Shlomo ibn Aderet, 1235-1310) – even though we generally follow R. Yehuda in his disputes with R. Meir. Thus, Jews are always called "sons," and of course must always be related to in this manner.

The Mishna
(Tr. B'rachot 4) cites the short prayer that one prays when traveling in a place of danger. The prayer is this: "O G-d, save Your nation, the remnant of Israel; at every junction may their needs be before You. You are the source of abundance, Who hears prayer."

What is meant by this phrase, "at every junction," parashat ha'
ibur? The Amoraic Sages explain it as meaning, "Even when You are as filled with anger, evrah, as much as a pregnant woman, me'uberet, [is full]…" or as meaning, "Even when Israel violates, ovrim al, the Torah..."

Both of these explanations are very strange. When a person is in a place of danger, is that the time to mention Israel's sins and G-d's anger at them?! 

The explanation is that there is no comparison between one who prays for himself, and one who prays whilst including himself in the entire community of Israel. When one prays for himself, the prayer is heard with a critical "ear," to see if he is worthy of being answered affirmatively or not. But when we pray with and for the entire community, we are not relying on its merits and deeds, but rather on the fact that Israel is "Your people," even if they sin; for "love covers all sins" 
(Proverbs 10,12). The Talmud states clearly (B'rachot 8a) that G-d does not turn away the prayer of many, based on Job 36,5. This, therefore, is the strength of the Nation of Israel: They are always G-d's sons, and therefore specifically when one connects himself to the community of Israel, he will be saved from the dangers of the road.

The Talmud recounts an allegorical dialogue between the Master of the Universe and the Prophet Hosea, in which the latter was expected to stand up in defense of Israel:

G-d said to him, "Your children have sinned." Hosea should have answered, "They are Your children, the children of your special ones Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – have mercy upon them." But not only did Hosea not say that, he said, "Master of the Universe, the entire world is Yours; why don't You just replace them with another people?"

G-d said, "What shall I do with this old man [for not trying to find merit in Israel]? I will tell him to marry a prostitute and have children with her, and then I will command him to send her away; if he is able to do that, I will also send away the Jewish people. As is stated: “G-d said to Hosea, Go, take for yourself a wife of prostitution and children of prostitution” (Hosea 1,2). And then it is written: “So he went and took [as a wife] Gomer the daughter of Diblaim” (verse 3)." The Sages interpreted her name, via various homiletical methods, to mean that she was very promiscuous and licentious. The passage in Hosea continues to recount that his wife bore him three children, and G-d told him to name the second one Lo-ruhamah, "for I will no more have compassion upon the house of Israel … And she conceived and bore a son, and G-d said [to call him Lo-ammi, "for you are not My people, and I will not be yours” (Hosea 1:3,9)."

The Talmud continues:

After two sons and one daughter had been born to him, G-d said to Hosea, 'Shouldn’t you have taken an example from your master Moses, who, once I spoke with him, separated from his wife? You too, separate yourself from your wife.' Hosea answered, 'I have children from her, I am unable to dismiss her or to divorce her.'"

Thereupon, G-d rebuked Hosea: "Just as you, whose wife is a prostitute and… you do not even know if your children are yours or of other men, still, you are attached to them and will not forsake them – so too, I am still attached to the Jewish people, My sons, the sons of … Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They are so special that they are one of the four acquisitions that I acquired in My world… as is written: “The nation that You have acquired” (Exodus 15:16). And you, Hosea, say that I should replace them with another nation?!"

The Talmud states that Hosea repented of his mistake, and his prayers helped gain forgiveness for Israel. But let us picture the scene: A prophet of G-d, a man of justice and ethics, is commanded to take a prostitute – more promiscuous than a regular prostitute – for a wife! And all because he advised G-d to replace Israel with another nation. For this, Hosea had to learn "on his own skin" the proper relationship between a father and son – not only one who might or might not be his, but all the more so, one who is most certainly his son! A son is never replaced with someone else, under any circumstances! And to be a child of G-d means to be connected to the special Divine leadership in every aspect of life. Such a phenomenon simply does not exist within the non-Jewish world, and never will. 

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