What does it mean to have emunah? We hear this term flung about causally, loosely, as it’s a common theme to urge upon every Jew to have emunah, faith in G-d. There are many who would argue that without true emunah, it is impossible to completely fulfill any of the other 612 mitzvot. Yet, most people in this day and age do not possess this quality, and if I may avow, are sorely missing contentment in life for the lack of it.
This coming seventh of Av will be the first yahrzeit of Yosef Hoffman, my husband’s grandfather. Zaidy merited having a long life, passing away comfortably in the presence of his family, a few months short of his ninety-eighth birthday. He was a simple man, known to only a small number of people. Zaidy did not have an easy life; it was filled with the tragedies and disappointments typical of the generation that lived through two world wars, a great depression, and the arduous work of rebuilding the State of Israel. Yet, despite it all, he was a man who possessed true, unshakable emunah.
During one of our conversations, I asked Zaidy why he believed in Hashem, after all the pain and evil he experienced and witnessed. He looked at me in bemusement and said simply, “Because He is the borei olam, the creator of the world.”
With that firm conviction, Zaidy was able to keep his faith, despite many harrowing losses and challenges – from the loss of his mother when he was just a young boy of fourteen, and then his father a few years later, his deportation from his hometown in Czechoslovakia in 1941, and the murder of his wife and four children in Auschwitz. After he was liberated, with his faith intact and his strong belief that a person must do what he must do, he married a wonderful girl, ten years his junior. Her name was Faiga, and he loved her deeply and sincerely. However, before he and his new wife could make their move to a new country, they were required to wait years for the opportunity to emigrate from the DP Camps in Germany. Finally, in 1947 they move to Israel where they faced the hardships of creating a family in the nascent state, with limited resources available to them. Later on, there were personal disappointments and sorrows, culminating with the death of his wife Faiga in 2005.
Yet, throughout it all, his loyalty to Hashem never faltered. In his twilight years, after he retired from the daily grind, living in an assisted-living apartment, he would spend his free time with a Tehillim in hand, and when visitors would come, he would carefully mark the place so that he could resume where he left off after his company left. A pile of seforim was always to be found on his table, and thrice-daily minyan attendance was something he arranged his schedule around.
He had no doubts, he had no questions; he had the most beautiful emunah p’shuta and perhaps, as a small reward, Zaidy was able to see the revelation of G-dliness in this world.
Zaidy, in his ninety-eight years, managed to see the entire arc of Jewish history – from pre-war Europe to the seemingly inevitable destruction of the Jewish race; from the slow rebuilding of our nation, the establishment of the state of Israel, and the growth and momentum of Judaism around the world in ways that we haven’t experienced in hundreds if not thousands of years. Finally at the end of his life, Zaidy lived at the intersection of Boro Park and Flatbush, across the street from a yeshiva literally bursting with children. The mere morning traffic, with all the full school buses coming in and out of 19th Avenue is an outstanding testament of the success and renaissance of the Jews, and Zaidy saw it all. He saw that belief in Hashem was not just wishful thinking, but knowledge of a Creator that is in control of everything.
So, what can we learn from this? How can the average person build emunah, when life’s challenges and daily occurrences leave us with more questions than we can answer?
Based on Zaidy’s experience, it seems simple enough – look for indicators that only G-d could have created the amazing, incredible world we live in.