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In 1942, the Japanese invaded the Philippines, engaging in a brutal, bloody war. Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese lieutenant, was dispatched to the Philippines to fight and was instructed that under no circumstances was he to surrender. True to his orders, he fought determinedly throughout the war. But in 1944, when the war ended and the Japanese returned home, something strange happened. Unaware that the war had concluded, Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda remained where he was and continued fighting. He was twenty years old and completely alone, but he remained in uniform, hiding in the jungle, waging a one-man battle. He carried on this mission for almost thirty years, remaining loyal to his orders not to surrender. During this time, he became a legend, avoiding capture and killing over thirty Filipinos.

In the years following the war, the Japanese sent Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda numerous announcements that the war had ended, but he refused to surrender without orders from his commanding officer. In 1974, the Japanese government finally sent Hiroo Onoda’s original commanding officer to find him. He eventually found Hiroo Onoda hiding in the jungle, still wearing his original uniform, still wielding his original rifle, focused on winning the war of 1942. When the officer told him that it was time to go home, Hiroo Onoda refused. “I’m following my orders. I was commanded to fight to the death with no surrender!” His officer tried to reason with him. “This is ridiculous, you have to come home. Don’t you understand? The war is over.” But Hiroo Onoda could not be convinced. “Orders are orders. I have to be loyal.” His officer finally pulled out the original demobilization order and read the official order to go home. The moment Hiroo Onoda heard the official surrender order, he immediately turned over his rifle and went home.


While this story is one of extraordinary commitment and loyalty, it is also one of utter foolishness. For almost thirty years, Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda fought a non-existent war, living in a subjective reality that was completely disconnected from the truth. While this level of loyalty is worthy of admiration, it also begs the question: What is the virtue of faithfulness, and what is its ideal implementation? When is it appropriate and praiseworthy, and when is it inappropriate?


Eight Lines of Debate

The final eight pesukim in the Torah raise many questions, as they discuss Moshe Rabbeinu’s death. This poses an obvious problem, as Moshe Rabbeinu prophetically received and wrote the Torah. If every word of the Torah is absolutely true, how can Moshe have written of his death while still alive? The Gemara (Bava Basra 14a–15b) suggests two solutions to this problem: Either Yehoshua wrote these last eight pesukim after Moshe’s death, or Moshe wrote these words “b’dim’ah” (with tears).

However, these seemingly straightforward answers actually raise even more questions. First, how is it possible that Yehoshua wrote the last eight pesukim of the Torah? This runs counter to one of the very core principles of Judaism – that Moshe received the complete Torah from Hashem on Har Sinai and wrote it in its entirety. Once the door is opened to the possibility of an additional author, where is the line drawn? And if one accepts the other answer, how does Moshe Rabbeinu writing these pesukim with tears solve the problem? If writing with tears is considered writing, then Moshe did write these last eight pesukim, and the substance of the ink should be inconsequential. If writing with tears is not considered writing, then Moshe did not write them, and the fact that they were written with tears should also have no consequence.

The Vilna Gaon (Kol Eliyahu, V’zos Haberacha 133) provides an amazing solution to this problem, masterfully synthesizing both answers of the Gemara. The word “dim’ah” means tears, but it also refers to a mixture. The Ramban explains, in the introduction to his commentary on Bereishis, that the entire Torah is one interconnected sefer, one elongated Shem Hashem, a single organic entity. When Moshe wrote the Torah, he separated the single, elongated Shem Hashem into individual words, forming the written text of Torah. However, Moshe left the final eight pesukim as a mixture (dim’ah), still in its original form as an elongated Shem Hashem. Yehoshua then took this “seed,” this mixture of letters, and unpacked it into its separated, final form. Thus, these eight pesukim were, in fact, written by both Moshe and Yehoshua – documented by Moshe, but finalized by Yehoshua. (This is another way that these pesukim were written in a mixture. In addition to being written in a mixed format, it was expressed through a mixture of both Moshe and Yehoshua’s writing.)

There is another layer as well to the statement that Moshe wrote the final eight pesukim b’dim’ah. The spiritual concept of tears represents confusion and a lack of clarity. One cries when they are existentially confused and when the path ahead loses its clarity or dissolves. One cries when they hear that instead of the fifty years they imagined, they have only weeks left to live. Tears come with happy news as well; when one thinks they only have days left in this world, and they suddenly hear that they are cured, they cry.

When clarity breaks down, when the expected path disappears, we cry. This is why the Hebrew words for tears (dim’ah) also means “mixture,” something that is unclear and confusing. Interestingly, the root of the Hebrew word for “crying” (boche) is the root of the word “confusion” (mevucha) as well. When the Meraglim delivered their negative report about Eretz Yisrael, Klal Yisrael cried. Chazal (Taanis 29a) note that this was an inappropriate form of crying (bechiya shel chinam – a baseless cry). In Klal Yisrael’s eyes, the road to Eretz Yisrael was broken, and the path toward their destiny was shattered. But in reality, this was not true. As punishment for inappropriately crying – for incorrectly viewing the clear path as broken, Hashem made that day – Tisha B’Av – a day of genuine crying (middah k’neged middah – measure for measure). Tisha B’Av became the day of all breakdown and crying, and it became the day where we actually lost our place in Eretz Yisrael; not by choice, but by exile.

Moshe’s journey was coming to an end; the leader of the Jewish people was ending his life-long mission without entering Eretz Yisrael. As his path came to an end, he laid down his final words in tears, leaving Yehoshua the job of recreating the clarity that Moshe had achieved. This can be understood as Moshe writing down the last eight pesukim while crying, or as Moshe writing down the actual words of these pesukim with his literal tears, deepening the Vilna Gaon’s answer, that Moshe wrote the last eight pesukim in a mixture. Not only were the words written as a mixture, but they were written with a mixture – with confusion, with tears.


The Essence of Emunah

To better understand the meaning and significance of these last eight pesukim, we must turn to the concept of emunah. We are often told of the importance of having emunah in Hashem, but what exactly is emunah? Emunah is often translated as “faith”; the dictionary defines faith as a “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” Faith is generally viewed as a “personal opinion,” a “subjective belief,” an “emotional decision,” or a “blind leap.”

Knowledge (yediah), on the other hand, is objective, unconcerned with opinion and belief. Without knowledge, there is no basis for argument. For example, if two people argue over which flavor of ice cream is superior, chocolate or vanilla, they are simply expressing two subjective opinions; their arguing is fruitless. Neither side reflects the objective truth, because there is no objective truth in this case. These are both subjective beliefs. Knowledge deals with objective facts, that which is not subject to belief or opinion.

If belief in Hashem is simply a subjective opinion, a question of blind-faith, then it has no connection to knowledge. However, this presents a major problem. Many commentators include emunah in Hashem as one of the 613 mitzvot. If it is possible to objectively know that Hashem exists, then why is there a mitzvah of emunah? Instead of commanding us to “believe” in Him, shouldn’t we be commanded to “know” Hashem? And if emunah is not a subjective belief, why is it called emunah?

To make things even more complicated, the Rambam states that we are commanded to both attain knowledge of Hashem (Rambam, Mishne Torah, Yesodei HaTorah 1:1) and have emunah in Hashem (Sefer HaMitzvos 1). If it is objectively true and knowable that Hashem exists, then why is there a mitzvah of emunah, of blind faith? How can we be commanded to both know Hashem and have faith (emunah) in Him?

To summarize, we can either be commanded to have blind faith in Hashem or to know Hashem, but not both.

  • If we are commanded to know Hashem, what need is there for emunah (faith)?
  • And if we are commanded to have faith (emunah) in Hashem – to believe in something unknowable – how can we also be commanded to know Hashem?

In our next article, we will delve deeper into this fascinating topic and try to understand the nature of emunah on an even deeper level. In the meantime, may we all be inspired to continue to embark on the journey of becoming our ultimate selves!

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Rabbi Shmuel Reichman is the author of the bestselling book, “The Journey to Your Ultimate Self,” which serves as an inspiring gateway into deeper Jewish thought. He is an educator and speaker who has lectured internationally on topics of Torah thought, Jewish medical ethics, psychology, and leadership. He is also the founder and CEO of Self-Mastery Academy, the transformative online self-development course based on the principles of high-performance psychology and Torah. After obtaining his BA from Yeshiva University, he received Semicha from Yeshiva University’s RIETS, a master’s degree in education from Azrieli Graduate School, and a master’s degree in Jewish Thought from Bernard Revel Graduate School. He then spent a year studying at Harvard as an Ivy Plus Scholar. He currently lives in Chicago with his wife and son where he is pursuing a PhD at the University of Chicago. To invite Rabbi Reichman to speak in your community or to enjoy more of his deep and inspiring content, visit his website: