The Secret Of Simple Faith And The Incredible Tale Of Nachum Ish Gamzu

Everyone is acquainted with the story of Nachum Ish Gamzu, the teacher of Rabbi Akiva.

Simple faith (or Emunah, if you will) is present in all spiritual systems in one way or another. It’s a virtue praised by all, something to be pursued with diligence, always. I believe very few sources elaborate so much about it as Breslov literature.

We know Emunah is important, but when the going gets tough, few people actually act in a faithful, emunah-dyk manner. From my personal experience, I have seen that only a handful of select individuals smile when things go wrong and say “This too is for the best”, as would be proper, like Nachum Ish Gamzu. You can find a few of his stories here.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov often stressed in his writings the necessity for simple faith. Contrary to popular belief, this has nothing to do with naive thinking (although there’s a semblance of it), but rather living with perfect clarity, focus, and what people call nowadays mindfulness (we call it da’at). Yet, this should not preclude us from making efforts to try to understand what is happening and acquiring wisdom through the study of Torah.

Quite the opposite. One should try as much as he can to be an expert in Torah and fill himself with wisdom because not everything in life requires “simple faith”. There’s a lot we can learn and understand, and neglecting to be wise is an insult to Hashem. I believe this idea comes from Rabbi Avraham Abulafia, but if not him, then someone else for sure.

The benefits of Emunah are immense as we shall see.

Continue reading reading this article in order to learn more about:

  • A story of a great Jewish sage
  • The benefits of simple Emunah
  • How to apply it in life

The story of Nachum’s simple faith

Many people know about it.

The Talmud tells the very powerful story of Nachum Ish Gamzu (the “this too” man). He was so called because, no matter what happened, he used to say “Gamzu LeTova” (This too is for the best) and carry on with life as if nothing was happening.

One could think this is not an impressive feat, but the Talmud doesn’t speak about average people or events, even though it may look like it on the surface. At first sight, Nachum might not seem like an impressive individual however his greatness is shown in a particularly unsettling story that happened to him.

Keep in mind that Nachum is not called by the title Rabbi or Rav, which in itself reveals he belonged to a higher regeneration back in the days, besides having been Rabbi Akiva’s master.

So once the Jews living under the oppressive Roman rule wished to gain favor with the Caesar and avoid more harsh decrees by sending precious stones in a box. After some deliberation, the rabbis decided to send Nachum with the box to present it to the emperor because, of course he wouldn’t just give the Jews some undeserved kindness.

On the way to the palace, Nachum stopped by an inn and slept in a room with the box. Little did he know that, while sleeping, the innkeeper would steal the precious stones and exchange them with dirt!

Pretty nasty guy.

The next day, while on the way to his destination, Nachum sensed something was wrong and, after checking the box, lo and behold, the stones were gone!

Simple Faith and Emunah can change the world

Interlude

Now, let’s pause. Get the picture:

You are on your way to save your countrymen. They have deposited all their hopes on you, squeezing out as much of their already meager savings as they possibly can in precious stones. Moreover, at that time, Jews lived under persecution, and one needed even more guts than usual to approach the Caesar. Any slight to his honor could result in the death penalty and more harsh decrees.

How would you act? Would you have despaired? Maybe go home and apologise to the people for the loss?

It’s not easy to answer.

In fact, we can’t speak about how we’d react in imaginary situations like these because we are obviously biased, to one side or the other. Yet, when most of us bite the wheel or punch the car window because of a traffic jam, it’s not difficult to imagine what we’d do in such a situation.

When people are beset by a heavy emotions, they don’t listen to reason and that’s what makes simple faith crumble.

But not real Tzaddikim like Nachum Ish Gamzu.

Back to the story

Everything happens for a reason and all events are brought into being by the Creator.

As it turns out, instead of despairing, Nachum simply repeated his adage “This too is for the best”, and continued on his way. Without many considerations, he entered the palace and humbly delivered the “gift” to the Caesar. As one would expect, the monarch was quite displeased with the offering.

It should be noted that, back at that time, the Roman empire was having difficulties with enemies along its border, having been fighting against them for a long time. So one could imagine the Caesar had little time and humor for a prank.

“Are the Jews mocking me now?!”, he raged, pointing to Nachum. “I will kill them all!”

How embarrassing that must’ve been for the emperor. But Nachum Ish Gamzu didn’t flinch as he was certain that this too was for the best. It turns out that, “luckily” enough, Eliyahu the Prophet just came in disguised as one of the Roman officers.

A little clarification

Some very special individuals back in these days merited to have the spiritual vision of Eliyahu. It was a gift only individuals of a very high spiritual caliber received. This idea is also brought in the Kitvei Ari.

The “visit” of Eliyahu can happen to such people in some extreme situations, as Heaven deems appropriate. The parameters, psychological mechanisms and principles behind such an experience are outside the scope of this post.

Eliyahu suggested the Caesar that maybe the dirt was the same as was used by Abraham, the Jews’ patriarch. It was known that, when Abraham waged war against 5 kings alone with his servant Eliezer, he was granted many miracles from Hashem. One of them was supernatural strength and another was that the dirt he’d throw at his enemies would turn into arrows.

The Caesar was now curious. He ordered to test the dirt at his enemies and, sure enough, it had turned to arrows, obliterating them. Being quite pleased with the offering, he let Nachum and the Jews in peace.

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What do I get from simple faith?

This little story, whether people believe it or not, illustrate a little the power of true, Emunah. There was a rabbi who said something along the lines of:

Faith is not a deduction but an intuition, not a form of knowledge, of being convinced without proof, but the attitude of mind toward ideas whose scope is wider than its own capacity to grasp.

The epitome of understanding is knowing one doesn’t know anything at all. Sure, knowing is important, but simple faith trumps all knowledge.

It literally changes not only the way we perceive the world, but the way the world runs.

Simple faith transcends understanding because if one knows something to be true, he doesn’t need it. That’s why it’s above even the level of Chokhmah.

How it works

Emunah only really comes when there’s lack of knowledge.

It’s not by chance that people say “a leap of faith”. That’s because, in order to fly, a person needs to first jump from a tall place (figuratively speaking. Do not jump from tall places).

Often, we are beset by people cutting us in traffic or making us wait for our appointments. What we don’t know is that the time we lose might just be the time it takes for us to avoid a life threatening situation. It could be that 5 seconds lost now is enough to make us avoid a fatal car crash. It’s also good to keep in mind that not only we are stuck in traffic but sometimes tens of thousands of other people people as well.

There are many levels of Emunah.

Yet, the less of it one has, the more difficult life becomes. Amid all the chaos and destruction in the world, one needs to either be a crazy sociopath or live with simple faith that in fact God is good and all is for the best.

Otherwise, who can actually go on and make sense of all the bad things happening without being affected by them? It’s a crazy world.

The system of Creation only makes sense because, at the highest rung of the ladder, one needs to have simple faith that everything is for the best, and if God is for us, nothing can stop us, as Nachum showed.

Final takeaways

On his way back, Nachum returned to the inn and was greeted by the surprised innkeeper who wondered how his trip had gone.

“Very well”, Nachum answered. “The Caesar was quite pleased with the gift”.

Thinking he was the one to be truly thanked by the Caesar, the innkeeper and his buddies went to him with tons of dirt as a present. Surely, if the Caesar had gone mad enough to happily accept dirt, there was a lot to be gained. The thieves went to the palace, probably thinking they could go for an early retirement.

As one would expect, the Caesar ordered the dirt to be tested against his enemies again. But, alas, they remained… dirt, and he ordered the thieves to be executed.

Now, imagine what would have happened if Nachum had abandoned his mission. He would’ve been deprived of having been a hero and of having received the vision of Eliyahu. Moreover, if his precious stones wouldn’t have been stolen, perhaps the Caesar wouldn’t have been very pleased with the meager gift.

What would a few more stones have accomplished to him?

Conclusion

Let me state something clearly:

This story is not a suggestion to abandon the pursuit of wisdom in favor of simple faith! As I mentioned in the beginning, Torah must be studied diligently, and as much as possible, no matter your haskafah.

I say this loudly because on more than a few occasions I’ve been approached by people telling me not to pursue the material I enjoy studying (Kabbalah), and rather learn to rely on Emunah alone. This is also one of the arguments people have for praying without kavanot.

But we will get to that in another post.

As precious as it is, simple faith is not easy to acquire. One will often find that the root of all challenges in life lies in that they all require some measure of it to be overcome. And challenges were created specifically for this: to test our Emunah. Therefore, they will keep coming back, whether people accept them or not.

This, again, is something that can only be experienced.

One who lives like that will immediately sense a change in life.

What are your thoughts on Emunah?

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Chaim Apsan

Chaim is a teacher and Kabbalah enthusiast. He loves helping Jews connect with true Torah teaching and enhancing their spiritual growth. With a focus on meditation, he guides individuals on transformative journeys of prayer, contemplation, and connection with Hashem. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and kids, and is committed to sharing the wisdom and power of Kabbalah in a genuine way.

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