Two things have become major parts of my life recently: exercise and emunah. And, as it turns out, both work in similar ways: One strengthens your physical muscles; the other your spiritual muscles.
The best way to improve emunah (roughly translated as faith), or any skill, is repetition. In fact, an artist is called in Hebrew an uman because she has practiced her craft repeatedly until it becomes natural.
In the same way, emunah grows deeper as you accustom yourself to see all the wonders of life as manifestations of G-d’s presence. And emunah is further enriched when we are challenged and pass those tests by staying positive.
Around the same time I started running and going to the gym — to the point where it has become something I can’t go without — I also happened to begin reading a book called “Living Emumah” by Rabbi David Ashear, a renowned teacher and speaker. The book was a gift from Oorah, a Lakewood, N.J.-based organization that helps Jews become better acquainted with their Judaism.
Each week my learning partner and I go through the book, taking turns reading the sections aloud. The concepts seem simple, but their impact, I can say confidently, are life-changing.
Everything that happens to us in this world is orchestrated from above, from stubbing our toe to being snubbed by a friend.
We don’t always know why something is happening, but if we make an effort to thank G-d even when something seems unfortunate, we strengthen our emunah and connection.
It’s no simple task: You must make a paradigm shift in your mind to revolutionize your thinking process. But little by little, day by day, the transformation from “victim of circumstance” to “master of emunah” can happen.
As parents, we can train our children from a young age to live with emunah, to know how much G-d loves them and controls everything that happens in their lives. We should model this behavior for them, remaining positive and upbeat despite challenges.
The book says that as long as we are being grateful, G-d will bless us. As though our gratitude actually opens up the channel for blessings that may not have already been there.
Our belief does not create good; the good is already the underlying reality. Our belief provides the means by which that reality can surface.
It reminds me of the famous hasidic saying “Think good, and it will be good.”
And it’s not just our thoughts; it’s also our words and actions. Think, speak and do good, and goodness will come our way.
I haven’t quite mastered these skills, this paradigm shift in my thinking and being. But I’m more aware of it, especially in front of my children.
And especially when I hear them complain about something and I realize they may have learned that kind of attitude from me. That can be painful, and I try to find something positive to say in response.
We can always find ways to express gratitude throughout the day — somewhat obvious blessings in life we may take for granted, as well as the seemingly negative things as they happen. This one is more challenging — thanking G-d after something seemingly inconvenient or painful occurs.
Positivity is infectious. It seems easier to be positive and upbeat when you’re around others who are that way. But the strength needed for emunah is within. Be the positive person you admire, and spark that good attitude in others.
It’s a work in progress, but like any good exercise program, over time the results are unmistakable.