This past week, the Kol Tzedek staff ended our staff meeting by sharing the books we are reading. (If you are looking for inspiration, I will post a selection in the P.S.) We are no doubt a bookish bunch! I myself just finished reading a book called Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience by Sharon Salzberg. I highly recommend it.
I have been on a journey this year to understand the idea of faith more fully, so that I can articulate my own experience and teach about it. In English, the word faith feels risky, as in "a leap of faith." There is no certainty or ground beneath it. The Hebrew word most often used to describe faith is Emunah. A word that perhaps most fully means something like truth or trustworthy. In Hebrew, this essential spiritual concept exudes confidence. It's a sure bet. It's an unshakable knowing. Emunah is reliable. Which is precious and pronounced in a world that of uncertainty, chaos, and change.
What I discovered in my own learning is that there is tremendous resonance between Buddhist conceptions of faith and my own Jewish understanding. In the book, Sharon explores three concepts of faith: bright faith, verified faith, and abiding faith. I will define them each briefly in my own words. Bright faith is the spiritual ignition, the falling in love, the beginning of a relationship that has the potential to become foundational in our lives. Verified faith emerges through the necessary process of doubt and challenge. Having put our faith to the test (and not vice versa!), we can know for ourselves that our faith can endure rigor and reality. Which leads us towards abiding faith, which is a steady companion we can rely on.
As far as I can tell, the opening parshiyot of the Book of Exodus tell the story of the ancient Israelites' emerging bright faith. It exists in both personal and collective narrative, which are ultimately inseparable. It begins with the Israelites crying out from their own depths (Ex. 2:23). A cry that is heard on high, and perhaps just as importantly, deep within. It arises again with Moses at the burning bush, quite literally encountering a blazing bush (Ex. 3:2). If that ain't bright faith, what is?! And it is confirmed in the opening of this week's parsha, Vaera, when the Holy One affirms I hear your cries and I will help you. I will free you (Ex. 6:5-6).
וְגַ֣ם ׀ אֲנִ֣י שָׁמַ֗עְתִּי אֶֽת־נַאֲקַת֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר מִצְרַ֖יִם מַעֲבִדִ֣ים אֹתָ֑ם וָאֶזְכֹּ֖ר אֶת־בְּרִיתִֽי׃
I have now heard the moaning of the Israelites because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant.
לָכֵ֞ן אֱמֹ֥ר לִבְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֮ אֲנִ֣י יְהֹוָה֒ וְהוֹצֵאתִ֣י אֶתְכֶ֗ם מִתַּ֙חַת֙ סִבְלֹ֣ת מִצְרַ֔יִם וְהִצַּלְתִּ֥י אֶתְכֶ֖ם מֵעֲבֹדָתָ֑ם וְגָאַלְתִּ֤י אֶתְכֶם֙ בִּזְר֣וֹעַ נְטוּיָ֔ה וּבִשְׁפָטִ֖ים גְּדֹלִֽים׃
Say, therefore, to the Israelite people: I am the LORD. I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through extraordinary chastisements.
Except in my own theology, the Holy One is inseparable from us and so the call and response is internal. It is the awakening of bright faith within us that has the potential to free us. It is the force that allows us to know that we are inseparable from our Source and deeply rooted in a community that cares for us and a tradition that supports us. Bright faith is what allows us to manifest ourselves in the world. In the words of Sharon Salzberg, "With bright faith we act on our potential to transform our suffering and choose a different way" (29).
In this next New Year, may we have the courage to align our lives and arise with bright faith.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Year!
Rabbi Ari Lev
P.S. And for the KT staff book list: An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed by Helene Tursten, A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine, Day After Night by Anita Diamant, Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I've Loved) by Kate Bowler, Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience by Sharon Salzberg, and Gathering Blue (from The Giver Quartet) by Lois Lowry.
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.