Tag Archives: bitachon

Bitachon and Hishtadlus for the Rest of Us

How does one balance these two seemingly contradictory ideas? It all depends on the person’s spiritual level. The closer a person is to perfection in his belief in Hashem, the more he is expected to rely on Hashem, and his level of hishtadlus (effort) must drop accordingly. Until a person reaches that level he may — and must — work, to achieve whatever he needs to function and sustain himself and his family. As his belief and trust in Hashem grow — and he must work on this mitzvah constantly, to reach ever higher levels of bitachon (trust) — he must adjust his level of hishtadlus and rely more on Hashem.

-from Torah Thought for the Day, p.56
Commentary for Parashas Mikeitz for Sunday
A Daily Dose of Torah

As I mentioned yesterday, for a person to trust God for his every need and be content in every circumstance as was the Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:10-13), that person would already have to be operating at a very high level spiritually. For the rest of us…well, we worry sometimes.

But I don’t entirely agree with the Rabbinic statement I quoted above. It seems that it could be abused by some people who state that they have achieved so high a spiritual level that they don’t (or shouldn’t) have to work to support themselves and their families at all, and instead, should be allowed to study Torah uninterrupted almost every waking moment. We can see such an example in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish population of Israel who refuse mandatory military service and many who choose not to work and have the Israeli government providing them with support.

I suppose any principle can be taken too far. The Bible is replete with examples of very holy men who were close to God and who nevertheless also labored to support themselves.

workI do agree with the principle of hishtadus, which is that we are to work to support ourselves and not to rely on God’s miracles for our “daily bread,” so to speak. But I don’t think that necessarily changes as we learn to believe and trust in God to greater degrees over our lifetimes. Sure, God could cause us to win the lottery by a miracle, but don’t count on it.

As I’ve also previously mentioned, we know that at the end of last week’s Torah portion, we saw that Joseph is in prison. After giving the Chamberlain of the Cupbearers a favorable interpretation of his dream, Joseph asked that the Chamberlain put in a good word for him to Pharaoh, King of Egypt (Genesis 40:14-15). But according to midrash, this was a mistake (although what mistake Joseph actually made is debated by the Rabbis) and as a result, Joseph spent two more years in prison.

The plain text of the scripture doesn’t seem to indicate this and it seems more likely that once the Chamberlain of the Cupbearers had regained his freedom, he simply didn’t bother himself with the request of one insignificant Hebrew slave.

But we do see in this example the delicate balance between trust in God and the necessity of our own efforts. Technically, there was nothing wrong with Joseph asking for help and indeed, God may have arranged this very situation. After all, we find that two years later, the Chamberlain does remember Joseph, but only because Pharaoh has a dream that no one can interpret (Genesis 41:1-13). If the Chamberlain had spoken to Pharaoh two years previously, Pharaoh could either have denied the request or in granting it, possibly make Joseph unavailable when he was needed to interpret Pharaoh’s most important dream.

Sometimes bitachon or trust in God isn’t a matter of asking or not asking a person’s help in a tough situation. Sometimes and perhaps quite often, it’s a matter of asking and then waiting.

The true description of bitachon is the belief that there is no coincidence in this world, and that everything that transpires occurs with Hashem’s approval and instruction.

When a person finds himself in a situation which appears dangerous according to the natural way of the world, and he is powerless to help himself, he must overcome his fear by realizing that the One Who controls everything in this world can cause a positive outcome just as easily as a negative one. This is called bitachon.

-from A Mussar Thought for the Day, p.60
Commentary for Parashas Mikeitz for Sunday
A Daily Dose of Torah

Sometimes we know that saying something will make a situation worse. We can tell ourselves to, “Just keep silent.” If we feel tempted to speak negatively about someone, we can strengthen our resolve not to say it by telling ourselves, “Just keep silent.”

The more difficult it is to keep silent, the greater the resulting spiritual elevation. When you tell yourself, “Just keep silent,” your silence isn’t just a passive state of being. Rather, it is an act of remaining silent.

In Tehillim (Psalms 34), King David tells us: “Who is the person who wants life and loves days that he may see good? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.” Remaining silent instead of speaking against others enhances and lengthens life.

(from Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book: “Conversations With Yourself”, p.145) [Artscroll.com])

-from Just Keep Silent
Daily Lift #194
Aish.com

SilenceThat last quote is more directed at a person who wants to say something to another person, usually something insulting, but who choses for the sake of Heaven to refrain, but I think it fits in our current discussion as well. Sometimes we can only say and do so much, and when we reach the limit of our ability to positively affect our situation, then all we can do is rely on God’s mercy.

The issue though is that even a complete trust in God is no guarantee that the outcome will always be good. True bitachon enables a person to realize that good or bad, everything comes from the hand of God.

And that is a very difficult middah, yet there is hope, at least according to the Sages:

Chazon Ish states that just as there are levels in other middos, such as mercy, humility, etc., there are many levels of bitachon. As long as one possesses even a small trace of bitachon, he is not excluded from the group of believers, and will merit ultimate redemption.

-from A Mussar Thought for the Day, p.60

Replay: Getting in the Wheelbarrow

I first published the blog post “Getting in the Wheelbarrow” last spring on my now defunct Searching for the Light on the Path blogspot. Given the set of challenges I’ve been facing lately, it seemed like a good time to pass this message along again.

There are two words often lumped together and commonly perceived as synonymous, when in reality they are not.

The two are Faith and Trust. In Hebrew, emunah and bitachon. One way of explaining the difference between these words is that the former is the belief that G-d exists. The latter is the knowledge thereof, or, more accurately, the result of that knowledge, in mind, heart, and deed.

Rabbeinu Bechaya (in his book Kad Hakemach) puts it this way: “Anyone who trusts has faith, but not anyone with faith trusts.”

-Mendel Kalmenson
“The Real Answer to the Question, Who Moved My Cheese?”
Chabad.org

This could be a useful answer to a lot of people’s difficulties in their relationship with God. It could be a useful answer to your relationship difficulties with God. It could be a useful answer to my relationship difficulties with God. We tend to think of having faith in God and trusting God as the same thing, but they’re not. Because they’re not, we’re expecting certain things to happen in our lives that aren’t going to happen. It’s like being married. If we believe in our spouse but don’t trust him or her, what kind of a marriage is that? Is it even a relationship at all?

Here’s another example from the same source:

This point can be further illustrated by a parable:

Long before the entertainment industry boomed, tightrope walking was a common form of amusement and recreation.

Once, a world-famous master of the sport visited a particular region. Word spread quickly, and many people turned up for the show. All was quiet as the master nimbly climbed the tree from which he would begin his dangerous trek.

But just before beginning his routine he called out: “Who here believes I can make it across safely?”

The crowd roared their affirmation. Again he asked the question and was greeted by the same response.

He then pulled out a wheelbarrow from between the branches and asked, less boisterously, “Which of you is willing to get inside the wheelbarrow as I cross?”

You could hear a pin drop.

Faith is the roaring response of the crowd; trust is climbing into the wheelbarrow.

It’s easy to have faith in God but not to trust Him. It’s easy to say “God exists and I believe in Him” as long as we don’t have to become personally involved in performing the weightier matters of Torah. We can have an incredible faith that the tightrope walker will make it to the other end of the rope as long as we don’t have to climb into his wheelbarrow.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.-James 2:14-24

When James (Ya’akov) says “that a person is considered righteous by what they do”, he’s talking about trust or bitachon. Our problem, is that we “think” about God, and we “feel” all warm and fuzzy about Jesus, but we don’t “do” anything about changing our lives to conform to our thinking and feeling. Here’s another example:

Maimonides is one in a long line of Jewish commentators who have proposed rationalistic interpretations of Scripture. Thus, words denoting place, sight, hearing, or position (of God) are interpreted as mental properties or dispositions. In our own vocabulary, it could be said that Maimonides has attempted to demythologize biblical narrative.

-from Maimonides: A Guide for Today’s Perplexed
by Kenneth Seeskin

Maimonides tends to see Biblical interpretation as either literal or allegorical and his strength as a theologian, philosopher, and sage is in his rational approach to the Tanakh (Jewish Bible). However there is a significant gap in his vision. We can also interpret the Bible and God through a mystic and experiential lens. The mystic seeks to encounter God in an extra-natural realm; meeting Him outside the boundaries of our physical universe, but we can also experience God in our day-to-day life by experiencing ourselves. We can “do” God and not just “think” or “feel” God. We can be the answer to prayer. We can have and live out faith and trust.

We can get in the wheelbarrow.