Middah of the Month for Iyar: Emunah
Tikkun Middot Project Curriculum
Rabbi David Jaffe
While Emunah is usually translated as faith, in this session we focus on its related meaning – Trustworthiness. Emunah shares a Hebrew root with Oman, an artisan — someone who can be trusted or relied upon to produce a quality product. Emunah is that quality of reliability that we engender in others through our sustained honesty and consideration. A person or institution that acts with Emunah/trustworthiness is one in which you can have faith.
The Tosafot, 13th century Talmud commentators, explore the relationship between the term “Emunah” and agriculture:
The farmer who sows seeds places his faith in the Lifegiver of All the Worlds, for he trusts that God will provide all that is needed for his crops to grow.
If the farmer didn’t trust at some level that the seeds would grow in the ground s/he would probably not go to the effort to hoe and plow and do all the work needed to produce crops.
Education is very much the same – Educators invest a tremendous amount of energy preparing classes and giving of themselves to people of all ages based on a trust that people can connect, learn and grow.
Without this basic trust, the work of education would feel too hopeless and hard since the results are not immediate.
What do you need to rely on, or have trust in, to function well in your work, in your community or at home?
Communities, organizations and societies are built on trust. How do people know if they can trust one another? Heroic, dramatic gestures like saving someone from a fire may generate gratitude, but trust comes from the many daily, small transactions done repeatedly over time.
When describing the difference between Aaron and Miriam and their brother Moses, God describes the greatest prophet as “ne’eman,” “trustworthy.” In trying to explain the meaning of trustworthiness, the 12th century commentator, Rashbam, employs a potent metaphor based on a verse from Isaiah:
“Not so with My servant Moses; he is trusted (ne’eman) throughout My household.” (Numbers 12:7)
Ne’eman [in the above verse] means steadfast and rooted every moment of the day. As the verse in Isaiah 22:23 says: “I will affix him as a peg in a secure place – b’makom ne’eman.” The peg stuck in strong ground will not easily fall. (Rashbam’s commentary on the Book of Numbers)
To be trustworthy/ne’eman is to be “strong ground” that can hold a tent peg secure. Strong ground does not always mean completely solid ground. A tent peg needs soil that is flexible and a little loose to be able to enter. It also needs soil that is not completely dry so it will grip the peg. Let your mind explore this metaphor to see what is at stake in developing this middah of Emunah/trustworthiness, especially for people who lead others.
Each day do one at least one thing (promptly replying to an email, following through on a small commitment, arriving on time, etc.) that will reinforce another’s trust in you.
Write a phrase on an index card and repeat it for several minutes at the beginning of your day to focus your attention on this middah throughout the day.
Nasati v’natati b’emunah? – Have I been faithful in my transactions with others?
Emunah is trusting in the world, being worthy of the trust of others, and being firmly rooted and steadfast.
Focus phrases from goodreads.com:
“When friendships are real, they are not glass threads or frost work, but the solidest things we can know.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays: First Series
“If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
“…For like a rugged tree you are hard and sound at the core.”
― H. Rider Haggard, She
“A steadfast heart does not stray from the path.”
― Wayne Gerard Trotman, Kaya Abaniah and the Father of the Forest
“Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots.”
― Victor Hugo, Intellectual Autobiography: Ideas on Literature, Philosophy and Religion
“Be like the cliff against which the waves continually break; but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
“People will walk in and walk out of your life, but the one whose footstep made a long-lasting impression is the one you should never allow to walk out.”
― Michael Bassey Johnson