I was talking to my rav on the phone the other day. One of my questions triggered a memory he had of forty years ago, when he was a teenager in yeshivah. He was amazed that this is the first time that he remembered it.
He told me that in the yeshiva he had a friend from out of town, we’ll call him Shlomo, who would always have to find himself places for Shabbos. Shlomo had one particular friend who he enjoyed going to. It turns out that this friend had a sister who was slightly younger than Shlomo, who would often be there. Well, needless to say, a small relationship just happened to develop between them, nothing bad, just letter-writing. Of course, the yeshivah did not know about this, and he most certainly did not WANT the yeshivah to know about this. However, Shlomo had one small problem: my rav. Because my rav was the only one in the yeshivah who knew about this clandestine relationship, he wanted "hush money" to keep quiet. So, every two months, this girl would bake and send a cake to my rav, who in turn, kept his mouth shut. And, thank G-d, in the end, (they both) got married and lived happily ever after.
The only question I forgot to ask my rav was: Did he REALLY threaten him, or was he really just joking, and enjoyed the free cake?
This week’s parsha begins with the story of the spies who were sent to spy out Eretz Yisroel, shortly before its conquest. As we know, they came back, and ten out of twelve members of the scouting party gave a negative report. Yehoshua and Calev both wrote the “dissenting opinion,” and actively encouraged the nation to continue to have faith in Hashem’s promise. They were not listened to, and plague occurred as a punishment, along with 40 years in the desert for each of the 40 days of the expedition. The next day, a group stood up and said, “We’re ready to conquer Eretz Yisroel! We DO believe in Hashem!” Moshe warns them off, they attack nonetheless, and in the end, are all killed.
To me, this seems to be an interesting way of learning some of the rules of having emunah (faith) in Hashem. A person is obligated to have faith in Hashem’s promises, that they will be fulfilled, whether soon or later. Of course, we do not take the “blind-faith” method, which other religions believe in. We do believe in asking questions and searching for truth. We do have a solid tradition that ultimately rests on around 2 million people having experienced the exact same experience over 3300 years ago (something, I do not believe anybody else can claim). And we do encourage people to continue to work on their emunah in different ways.
However, emunah can be a tricky thing. On one hand, if one does not act in accordance to the level of emunah they are on, they can lose everything. The result of the spies’ report is such an example. Obviously, they were on a level where they could have entered Eretz Yisroel and easily conquered it. In this regard, their actions did not meet the standards of their potential, and they forever lost their opportunity.
On the other hand, we see that when people act in a way which is greater than their level of emunah, like in the case of the Jews who suddenly “believed” the next day and wish to attack, then they can lose everything as well.
When I went to my Rosh Yeshiva about my beginning to work, we spoke about different ideas, and he made mention of what the Rambam wrote in regard to Hashem’s promise to take care of those who dedicate their lives fully to learning. I told him straight-out, “I’m not holding there," and without skipping a beat, he threw that option out the window, and said, “Good! Then you’ll work at nights and continue to learn during the day!” That was thirteen years ago, and I’m grateful for that advice.
In the end, people should always try their best to be honest with themselves and know where they are holding. People must know what level of emunah they are truly holding at in many different areas in life, and then act accordingly.