About the Relationship between Knowledge and Faith

Exchange of Emails

From: Daniel

Dear Rabbi Emanuel,

I’m deeply touched and moved by the open-hearted conversation between you and Passion–both facing life-threatening conditions, as I understand it.

Thank you both for your wonderful authenticity, and for sharing your conversation with a wider group of friends. 

I’m intrigued by the concept that a certain quality of knowledge (“conviction”) may be higher than faith.

Here’s the question that arises for me:  Do you think that faith (belief and trust in G-d) is the portal to this higher knowledge?  i.e., the conviction that death will come and that one’s heart and soul are prepared?  Is faith the pathway to this conviction?


From: Rabbi Emanuel Ben-David

Shalom dear Daniel,

What a great name you have!  In addition to be the name of one of the Prophets in the Bible, it has more to it.   The Word Daniel is an amalgam of three Hebrew words:  Dan-(a)ni-El which means that God, the True Judge, judges me.  He evaluates, appraises me, looking at my good merits.  This name symbolizes the close relationship of the bearer to God and the absolute acceptance of his Judgement (not necessarily in the negative connotation).  In our conversation we’ll realize that To Know is the closest and most certain relationship one can have with another.

Thank you for your poignant question.  Let me start with discussing Rabbi Soloveitchik thoughts on the subject, from whom I got this insight.  Then, I’ll describe the context of To Know in Biblical Hebrew, and conclude with what To Know means to me.

Rabbi Soloveitchik Teachings.

Rabbi Soloveitchik, in his Book “on Repentance” grapples with the First Commandment that the Maimonides (Rambam) lists.  Apparently, Rambam described the first, most fundamental Mitzvah, with two different verbs in two of his compositions.

In Sefer HaMitzvot (“The Book of Commandments”, Positive Commandments 1), Rambam says: “That is the command that He commanded us To Have Faith in God.”

In Mishne Torah (Repetition of Torah), for the very first of the Positive Commandments, the Rambam instructs us: “The very first Positive Commandment is To Know that there is a God”.  And the Rambam continues (Foundations of Torah 1) and elaborates: “The foundation of foundations and firmest pillar of all wisdom is, To Know that there is a First Being…”.  By that, he implies that this To Know is an overarching commandment that is a part and parcel of all other Commandments.

Rabbi Soloveitchik continues with a statement: “we all know what ‘To Have Faith’ means…”.  In his book “The Lonely Man of Faith”, he describes the religious experience (and being) of the Man of Faith.  “… fraught with inner conflicts and incongruities, who oscillates between ecstasy in God’s companionship and despair, when he feels abandoned by God.  And who is torn asunder by the heightened contrast between self-appreciation and abnegation.”

Rabbi Soloveitchik continues and explains his view and understanding of To Know.  He doesn’t think that the To Know relates to philosophical analysis, an attempt to explain the existence of God.  In his humble opinion, the To Know means that our faith, our belief, in the existence of God turns from faith that may change, into a constant and eternal consciousness and recognition in the Existence of God.  It is a permanent and everlasting knowledge that one cannot distract one’s thought from it even for a second.  That insight, cognition, becomes the basis to all our thoughts, ideas, feelings and emotions in all conditions and states.  Soloveitchik anchors this theorem in Proverbs 3:6:

In all your ways Know Him, And He will make your paths straight, true, smooth.

:בְּכׇל דְּרָכֶיךָ דָעֵהוּ וְהוּא יְיַשֵּׁר אֹרְחֹתֶיךָ

In conclusion, Rabbi Soloveitchik argues that both exist together (the principle of Duality, again…), and one supports the other.  “Faith can be neither profound nor enduring unless the intellect is fully and actively engaged in the quest for God.”  For him, Talmud Torah – the study of Torah (in the broadest sense of Torah) is essential.  Its purpose is not to only understand the rules and logic of things, but goes further.  The more you delve on it, the deeper the awe, amazement and reverence you feel to the Creator of All. 

In my humble opinion, the genius minds that created these works, represent God sharing some of His Knowledge with humanity.  Our sages taught (Berakhot 58a:8): “One who sees the Sages of Israel recites: Blessed…Who has shared of His wisdom with those who revere Him. One who sees Sages of the nations of the world recites: Blessed…Who has given of His wisdom to flesh and blood.”

Yosef the Dreamer humbly attributed his ability to solve Pharaoh’s dream to God (Genesis 51:15-16).  …“I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it.  Now I heard people saying about you that you hear a dream and can resolve it, telling its meaning.”  Yoseph answered Pharaoh, saying, “It is not me!  God will respond to see to Pharaoh’s welfare.”

Johann Sebastian Bach often signed off his works with SDG and sometimes wrote JJ at the beginning of a composition.  JJ Stands for him petitioning Christ to help him.  SDG is an acronym for (Latin) Soli Deo Gloria.  These words translate to “The Only God Glory”, which could mean that Bach attributing his success to His help.  It also shows Bach’s humility, affirming that all his work was done solely for the glory of God.

A few of Dr. Albert Einstein’s quotes hint to a same attitude.  “The more I study science the more I believe in God” is one of them.  Maybe he referred to his revelation of E=MC2 the statement: “When the solution simple, God is answering”.  In his writing “The Merging of Spirit and Science” he said:

“The most beautiful and most profound experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the power of all true science…  …To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms – this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness.

I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”

Let me conclude with yet another bookend from the Rambam’s Mishne Torah (Laws of Repentance 10:6). 

“No one loves God save by the measure of knowledge that one knows Him.  According to that knowledge will that love be; if knowledge is little so will the love be.  If it is abundant, the love will be abundant.”

To Know in the context of Biblical Hebrew.

The verb To Know and Knowledge are used to indicate the absolute and most intimate acquaintance that is second to none.  Here are a few examples, the first is from Isaiah 11:9:

For the land shall be filled with Knowledge of Adonai [as certain] as water covers the sea.

כִּי מָלְאָה הָאָרֶץ דֵּעָה אֶת יְהֹוָה כַּמַּיִם לַיָּם מְכַסִּים

The next is from Deuteronomy 34:10:

Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moshe, whom Adonai Knew, face to face.

וְלֹא קָם נָבִיא עוֹד בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל כְּמֹשֶׁה אֲשֶׁר יְדָעוֹ יְהֹוָה פָּנִים אֶל פָּנִים׃

Rashi explains that this Knowledge of HaShem was reciprocal by referring to a few examples that describe Moshe’s relationship with HaShem.  WHOM THE LORD KNEW FACE TO FACE — this means: that he (Moshe) was familiar with Him and used to speak with Him at any time he desired.  As we read that Moshe said (Exodus 32:30): “And now I will ascend to the Lord”.  Or (Numbers 9:8): “Stay and I will hear what God will command regarding you”.

At a moment of utmost distress, when Miriam (Moshe’s sister) died, we can see that faith faded (Numbers 20:12):

You did not have faith in Me to sanctify my Name (L’Hakdisheni) in the sight of the People of Israel.

יַעַן לֹא הֶאֱמַנְתֶּם בִּי לְהַקְדִּישֵׁנִי לְעֵינֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

You can read more about it in my teaching on Parashat Ḥukat.

Within the context of the relationship between people, the verb To Know describes the most intimate relationship.  It is a relationship of love, that also includes the sexual element, that creates a family (Genesis 4:1).

Adam Knew his wife Ḥavah, and she conceived and gave birth to Kahyin.

וְהָאָדָם יָדַע אֶת חַוָּה אִשְׁתּוֹ וַתַּהַר וַתֵּלֶד אֶת קַיִן

The Bible uses four other verbs to describe intercourse; none of them is used in the context of intimate relationship. When the Bible needs to use the imperative tense for intercourse it uses one of these four verbs.  It never uses the verb To Know; you cannot command someone to Know someone else.  Knowing comes from free choice, out of love. 

Those things that I Know:

Every morning I wake up with gratitude, and express it with the Modeh Ani prayer.  As I start my day, making the first mug of coffee, I look out the kitchen’s window.  The view that we have is breathtaking. 

I Know that it – all that I see, and all that I don’t see – is Him.  With Gratitude to this gift I commit “ לְעׇבְדָהּ וּלְשׇׁמְרָהּ- to till it and tend it” (Genesis 2:15).

I Know my עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ – helpful counterpart (Genesis 2:18), the soul that accompanies me for decades.  The one that pushes me forward, and also counterbalances me to keep me from spinning off to out-of-control trajectories.  

I Know that I am a Jew.  Daniel, you can read more about my view What is a Jew under the Tab Jewish Identity and Thought .

I Know that anything happens for a reason, and accept the lack of knowledge what it is. 

I Know that there is Divine Providence (Hashgaḥah Pratit – הַשְׁגָחָה פְּרַטִית), which supervises so many things that I go through. It happened so many times that I cannot ignore its existence.

I Know that (Pirkei Avot 4:22): “Against your will were you formed and against your will were you born.  Against your will you live and against your will you will die.  And ultimately, against your will you will give an account and reckoning before the King of the kings of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.”  None of it is my choice.  And,

I know that I have the free choice to do something with my life.  I have the faith that when the time comes, I will have something to be remembered by and to account for.

We all know that.  I mean, everyone knows that one is going to die, eventually.  Our Creator made us in such a way that this knowledge usually resides in our subconsciousness.  And for a very good reason.  If it was in the forefront of our thoughts, it could paralyze us and drain all motivation we may have.  And yet, there are times that most of us start being more and more aware of the existence and imminence of death.  Yes, one can argue these statements, using examples and cases to prove the contrary.  Yet, if we generalize our claim, I’d say that the above statement is basically a correct one.

Throughout my life I experienced the full spectrum of happenings.  Some were awesome; I perceived many others, at their time, as total calamities.  I couldn’t find one single sliver of goodness in them.  Time passed, could be even years.  I realized, that unless experiencing that calamity, I wouldn’t be able to experience a great thing that happened years later.  It happened too many times for me to ignore.  Being a scientist, I deduced the most profound Knowledge that I possess today.

I Know that whatever I am going through today will be good.   What is the good that hides within it or when it will happen – I definitely do not know.  I Do Know that it will. 

Death is a part of life, a milestone on a very long journey, that started before one even became conscious.  The Journey does not terminate at that milestone, it continues on.  I do not know where to, how it will be and what it feels like; I know it will be OK.

And I am OK with that.


Many friends responded to the articles that I published under this heading.  All of them are contain words of encouragement and inspiration.  The following seemed to me a perfect ending to the conversation you just have read.

From: Katriel

Shalom Reb Emanuel,

I was moved by your “Passion” discussion.  My eye also caught a reference to a 2% of a chance for participation in a clinical trial! 

I watched this young lady in America Got Talent during a challenging time where I could use some uplifting and she became an immediate inspiration.  Watch her in this link to the YouTube videoclip and you will understand:

Nightbirde’s GOLDEN BUZZER Audition Has Simon Cowell In Tears! | America’s Got Talent 2021 – YouTube

My sincere wish for the two upcoming rounds is that they prove most effective and you have a speedy recovery and transition.  Kind regards with chin up, strong faith and of course deep breaths. 


Latest News and events

Yom Kippur 1973: My Personal Memories of that Horrific War


On Yom Kippur 2023, I shared my memories with Havurah Shir Hadash congregation. The following is an edited transcript of the recording that is also shared here.

United with Israel We Shall Prevail and Overcome!


It’s time for us to unite and act together: All Israel are responsible for each other! Now, when Israel is under the vicious attack of the barbarian Hamas no one can stand indifferent. We all must speak up and show solidarity with Israel.

Repentance and Forgiveness – Two Sides of One Coin: Reframing the Past and Changing the Future


Rosh HaShanah, Jewish New Year, calls to examine our actions during the past year, make amends and promise not to repeat mistakes. This process is called Teshuvah, repentance.

Ekev – The Shema Second Portion: The Consequences of Free Choice


Parashat Ekev ends with the second portion of the Shema prayer. In it, Moshe explains the consequences, for better or worse, of choices the People or Israel will make.


Skip to content