"And Your Faithfulness in the Nights": Faith in Times of Distress

  • Rav Yehuda Shaviv
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash


Yeshivat Har Etzion

This shiur is dedicated in memory of Dr. William Major z"l.


"And Your Faithfulness in the Nights":

Faith in Times of Distress

By Rav Yehuda Shaviv

Translated by Kaeren Fish


·  ·  Chavakkuk condensed (the principles and obligations of Jewish life) into a single one: "The righteous man shall live by his faith." (Makkot 24a)

Chavakkuk managed to sum up all 613 commandments into the most central mitzva of all: faith. As the verse teaches, "All of Your commandments are faith" (Tehillim 119:86).

Let us attempt to expose the background to this prophetic assertion: "The righteous man shall live by his faith."

·  ·  The burden that was seen by Chavakkuk, the prophet: How long, O God, shall I cry out while You do not hear; I call to You of violence, but You do not save. Why do You show me sin and cause me to look upon misdeeds; corruption and violence are before me; there is strife, and contention is prevalent. Therefore Torah is weakened, and justice cannot prevail, for the wicked man besets the righteous, so that justice ends up being perverted. (Chavakkuk 1:1-4)

The solution:

·  ·  Look among the nations, behold, and be struck with amazement: for a deed will be performed in your days that you will not believe when it is told to you. I shall raise up the Chaldeans, the bitter and impetuous nation, who shall process throughout the breadth of the land to possess dwelling places that are not theirs. They are terrible and dreadful… They shall come, all of them, to do violence… (ibid. 5-9)

The cry is then even greater than before:

·  ·  Your eyes are too pure to see evil; You cannot behold iniquity; why, then, do You look upon those who are treacherous, and keep silent while the wicked man devours one who is more righteous than he? And [why do] You make men like the fish of the sea, like the creeping creatures, that have no ruler over them? (13-14)

This cry cannot be silenced until it is answered:

·  ·  I shall stand upon my watch and set myself upon the tower, and wait to see what He will say to me and what I shall answer when I am reproved. (2:1)

Indeed, God's answer comes:

·  ·  God answered me and said: Write the vision and make it clear upon the tablets, that he who reads it shall run. For there is still a vision for the appointed time, and it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it tarries, wait for it, for it shall surely come; it will not delay. Behold, his soul is puffed up and not upright, but the righteous man shall live by his faith. (2:2-4)

This is the background: the earth is full of sin, evil and violence; Torah and law are trampled and looked down upon; the righteous man cries out and there is no response. When he receives a response, he is told: "There is still a vision for the appointed time… and the righteous man shall live in his faith." This, then, exposes the essence of the commandment of faith. "Your faith (or faithfulness) in the nights" - night is the time for the observance of this commandment.


In his introduction to his doctrine of divine attributes (Guide of the Perplexed I:50), the Rambam teaches: "Know that faith is not a verbal utterance, but rather a matter that is represented in the soul, that one should believe that it is in fact as it has been represented."

Faith is not a matter for declarations and statements. Nor is it a matter for imaginary creations in one's thinking. Rather, it is a matter of representing something internally – for things may not look that way in reality, but nevertheless we believe that the external reality should look that way, as it is represented in the soul. This internal representation may be the result of one's having received teaching, tradition, study, or from moments of grace, when one is momentarily struck with the illumination of something of the real picture, or other sources.

It is clear, then, that faith is not relevant where mortal eyes perceive a complete match between the "representation in the soul" and the external reality. It is also difficult to see the role of faith as one that is meant to bridge real contradictions: after all, a person is not required to bury his head in the sand and not see reality for what it is. The crux of "faith in the night" is where the picture of reality is not clear, where everything is foggy. That is the place for faith: faith that the true reality, which will become visible when the light begins to shine, is identical to the reality represented in the soul. "And your faith in the nights."


In truth, a person should cleave to his faith even when, to all appearances, the picture he sees before him is different or contradictory. But then faith assumes a new significance.

We are introduced to the word "faith" for the first time in parashat Beshalach, in the description of the war against Amalek. There we are told: "And it was that when Moshe lifted his hands, Israel prevailed… and Moshe's arms grew heavy… so Aharon and Chur supported his arms… and his arms were steady (in Hebrew, 'emuna' – literally, 'faith') until the sun set" (Shemot 17:11-13).

"Emuna," as it appears here, means stability: his hands maintained their steady stance; they remained in place until it became dark. However, in the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, this expression is removed from its contextual significance and used as "proof" for a teaching on the subject of faith:

·  ·  "And his arms were steady (emuna)" – for there are several types of faith. There is faith that is only in one's heart. The point is that a person must have such faith that it spreads throughout his body… And when he has such faith, something of that faith contributes to his intellect. Then all that he holds in his faith grows stronger in his intellect: that which he should have believed at the outset, now that he has achieved greater faith – he now understands that original concept with his intellect. And this is the meaning of the verse, "And his hands were emuna": he had such great faith that it pervaded his entire body; even his arms themselves had that great faith. "Until the sun set (lit., came)" – in other words, to the point that it reached the intellectual understanding of the matter. For the "sun" represents wisdom…. (Likkutei Moharan I:91)

In other words, faith must not remain a representation in our hearts. This representation must leave its impression on the person as a whole – even down to his limbs as they perform physical action. A person's entire life should be influenced by the reflections of faith in his soul; he must live a life of faith.

What does this have to do with the literal narrative about Moshe's arms? It seems to be entirely removed from the literal meaning of the text. However, if we look deeper, we find that the two levels are very closely connected.

Amalek represents the darkest and most sinister embodiment of night. In their encounter with Amalek, Bnei Yisrael are faced with the depths of hatred and wickedness, the epitome of evil in the world. Is there any greater fog than that? Amalek – "who met you (karekha) on the way" – the Sages explain the word karekha as coming from the root for "cold." Indeed, there is nothing like the phenomenon of Amalek to chill a wall of faith simply by virtue of its presence, its existence.

However, when we say that Amalek represents night, this is not an exact analogy. Night is hidden, it is opaque, while Amalek is explicit and open; the evil is apparent. Is this, then, a place for faith? Are we required to close our eyes? Here we find the test of the agents of action – the hands. Strong faith means that the representation in the soul must prevail over the reality that we observe externally. One is even required to fight, to wage war, to act so as to destroy the evil and the negative, to modify the picture so that the outer reality matches that of the soul. When one's faith reaches one's hands, then we may anticipate the coming of the sun – the light of reason.

Amalek must be fought – "God is at war with Amalek for all generations" – in order to complete His throne and to bring faith and reality into alignment.


This, too, we learn from Chavakkuk.

It is no coincidence that Chavakkuk uses expressions that evoke warfare: "I shall stand at my watch and set myself upon the tower…" (Chavakkuk 2:1). Perhaps the two different terms – "I shall stand" and "I shall set myself" – are hinted at in God's response. "If He tarries – wait (chakeh) for Him" (2:3) – a passive waiting, as opposed to "a righteous man shall live in his faith" (2:4) – living, dynamic reality.

An investigation of Chavakkuk's roots and background reveals a fascinating elaboration of this teaching.

The Zohar (Part 1, 7b) teaches:

·  ·  Rabbi Shimon feared and wept. He said, "God – I heard You spoken of, and I am fearful" (Chavakkuk 3:2): Chavakkuk said this when he died and was revived by Elisha. Why is he called Chavakkuk? Because [Elisha told his mother,] "At this time next year you will be embracing (choveket) a son" (II Melakhim 4:16), and he was the son of the Shunamite woman. There were two embraces: one of his mother, and one of Elisha, as it says, "He placed his mouth upon his mouth" (ibid., 4:34).

Let us consider this: this woman was blessed with a son after she had already despaired of ever bearing children. Then she was faced with a great tragedy:

·  ·  The woman conceived and she bore a son… and the child grew up, and a day came when he went out to his father, to the reapers. He said to his father, "My head, my head" … he lifted him and brought him to his mother, and he lay upon her lap until noon, and he died. (ibid., 4:18-20)

"Noon" – at the time when the sun shines strongest, the world of the Shunamite woman grows dark. Her only son, her pride and joy and her hope for the future, has expired before her eyes. What does she do? Does she put an end to her own life? Does she take her leave of the world? Does she cover herself with sackcloth? None of the above. Rather, she gathers resolve and acts. She organizes herself and runs off to the man of God. We ask ourselves: does she not see that her son is dead? What can she achieve by her actions? This bitter, painful situation is the actual, tangible reality. Yet even if this is the reality, this is not the representation in her soul! And so the woman does not reconcile herself to it; she fights for a change, she fights to do the impossible, and she is successful: "She took up her [revived] son and she left" (ibid., 4:37).

Chavakkuk, by his very existence, is a symbol of faith; he lives by virtue of the power of faith. It is no wonder, then, that it is he who is called upon to tell the world, "A righteous man shall live by his faith."

The idea encapsulated in Chavakkuk's story is beautifully reflected in the formulation of the Amida prayer, where the Sages chose to mention "faith" – emuna – specifically in the context of the resurrection of the dead: "You are faithfully committed (ne'eman) to resurrect the dead;" "…Who faithfully fulfills His promise (emunato) to those who sleep in the dust."


Thus far, we have addressed the darkness that is faced by the individual. What of the darkness that faces the nation?

The greatest darkness that befell the Jewish nation was the destruction of the First and Second Temples, when "the glory of Israel was cast from the heavens to the ground" (Eikha 2:1). A wedge was thrust between heaven and earth, between Israel and their Father in heaven. Therefore, "You have covered Yourself with a cloud; prayer cannot pass through" (Eikha 3:44); "Even though I call out and cry for help, He blocks up my prayer" (ibid., 8).

It is at such a time of night that faith is tested. And it is strengthened every morning: "Every morning anew; abundant is Your faithfulness (emunatekha)" (ibid., 23). For just as the coming of the dawn follows a timeless law of nature, such that the sun always rises and shines after the night, so it is a law that the redemption will dawn, and a perfect, repaired world will come about: "For God will not neglect forever" (ibid., 31).

The key lies in man's hands: "Let us search our ways and examine them, and return to God" (ibid., 40). And from here emerges the cry: "Return us, O God, to You, and we shall return; renew our days as of old" (ibid., 5:21).

This is our faith, and God's promise to us.