05 May 2009

אמונת חכמים: The Sages' Faith

In the sixth chapter of Avos (although not part of the mishnah), there is a statement which says "גדולה תורה יותר מן הכהונה ומן המלכות, שהמלכות נקנית בשלשים מעלות, והכהונה בעשרים וארבע, והתורה נקנית בארבעים ושמונה דברים, ואלו הן" ("Torah is greater than the priesthood or kingship, for kingship is acquired with thirty virtues, the priesthood with twenty-four, and Torah is acquired with forty-eight qualities. These are...") - amidst this list is אמונת חכמים (emunat hakhamim (sages' faith/belief)), but it goes undescribed as to what, specifically, the Sages' faith was, leaving us with the question as to what that is. Over the weekend, I found the following relevant and concise description of the faith of the Sages:
was an extremely simple faith, and the doctrine of the world to come prevented any amount of trouble and calamity from clouding or weakening this faith. For trouble and calamity were always explicable as a test and purification, or as a temporary punishment; all the greater would be the joys and raptures of the world to come. Fulfill the commandments: then God will help you.1
I know there is also Urbach's chapter on this (ch. 2, "The Belief in One God"), although not as concise, he concludes with
The concept of faith in the Lord does not find exhaustive expression in the recognition of God's existence or in a declaration proclaiming this recognition, but includes the conviction that there is a permanent relationship between the Deity and the world and its creatures. Faith is trust in the existence of Divine Providence. The manifestations of man's faith are the love and fear of the Lord.2
So these definitely help us in understanding this phrase of "sages' faith". However, one investigating this term should also be acquainted with the common understanding that it really should be אמונה בחכמים - faith in the sages, which is a separate topic.
1 -
C.G. Montefiore and H. Loewe, A Rabbinic Anthology (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1960), 334.
2 - Ephraim E. Urbach, The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs, trans. Israel Abrahams
(Cambridge, MA & London: Harvard University Press, 1975)

No comments: