Faith vs. Trust by Rabbi Wagner
R’ Shmuel Strashun, the ReSHaSH, was a talmid chochom as well as a man of means, who is known for his commentary on gemoro. He lived in Vilna, where he spent his time studying Torah and giving shiurim, while his wife ran their business ventures which were very successful.
Once, he had a debate with R’ Yisroel Salanter, who was his contemporary. The argued about bitachon, and, specifically, whether one may have bitachon about something that is not a necessity but merely a luxury. The ReSHaSH argued that if something is needed, then you are justified in trusting in Hashem to provide you with it. But if you don’t need something, then what basis can you possibly have to expect, let alone be certain, that Hashem will give it to you.
R’ Yisroel Salanter, however, disagreed. He insisted that if you trust in Hashem, He will come through for you, and there are no limitations on what you may have bitochon for. They each tried to support their position, but were unable to reach a resolution.
Finally, R’ Yisroel said that he would bring an irrefutable support for his position: “For me”, he said, “a gold watch is a luxury, it is not something that I can’t do without” (R’ Yisroel Salanter, unlike the RaSHaSH, lived in great poverty, and a watch (let alone a gold watch) was beyond his means). “But I will begin to have bitochon in Hashem that He will give me one, and my receiving one will corroborate my position”.
Not long afterwards, the RaSHaSH was approached by a local community member. “I made a vow to Hashem”, he told him, “that if he extricates me from a particular difficulty that I was facing, then I will give a gold watch to a Torah scholar who is learning diligently, who is in need of one. I experienced the anticipated salvation, and I am coming to you to fulfil my vow”. He handed the RaSHaSH a gold watch, saying “I trust you to give this to deserving talmid chochom”.
The ReSHaSH immediately gave the watch to R’ Yisroel Salanter, who fit the description perfectly, while conceding that his position was correct.
But the question still remains; - even if we are going to accept the proof of R’ Yisroel Salanter as conclusive, it still doesn’t seem to make sense. There is no reason at all for me to expect to get a gold watch (or a new lexus, or a vacation in Aruba or a slice of pizza with double cheese…), and if so, what possible basis can I have to expect, and have bitochoin, and be certain etc. etc. that the Eibishter will provide me with it?!
But, in truth, this question is on any instance of bitochon. Because, can we be sure that we are deserving of even the necessities in life? We know that אין צדיק בארץ אשר יעשה טוב ולא יחטא, and Yaakov Ovinu worried שמא יגרום החטא, so this should surely be a concern for people like us. Maybe my lack of health or money or other needs is necessary to provide me with cleansing for my sins and to grant me atonement. How, then, can I allow myself to be sure that Hashem will fulfill my expectations to have health and wealth for myself and my family without any issues?
The question is much stronger: As Yidden we have emunah that gam zu letova, and כל מה דעביד רחמנא לטב עביד. If something negative happens to us ch”v, we accept with love, and with complete faith that Hashem, who is our loving Father, knows what’s best for us, and whatever he does to us we should be thankful for, and even שמחים בייסורים. But if our emuna means that no matter what Hashem does to us, is coming only from Him, and therefore is truly good (because מאתו לא תצא הרעות), then how can I possibly have bitochon that He will give me what I think is good and what I consider good?!
The seeming paradox is, in fact, so puzzling, that it led some to erroneous conclusions about the meaning of bitochoin. But, in truth, the above definition of bitochon, - the certainty that Hashem will provide me with what I consider to be good for me – is indisputable; - it is the simple meaning of many pesukim and maamorei RaZaL, and (perhaps more importantly) it is the way bitochon was understood by Yidden throughout the generations, as illustrated in countless stories and anecdotes (including by both the ReSHaSH and R’ Yisroel Salanter (their disagreement was merely about how far bitochon goes), as is illustrated in the above story).
So the question remains, what rationale can I possibly have to feeling certain that Hashem will give me what I think is good for me, when I know that He may have other plans?!
One of the explanations for this given by the Rebbe is in a sicha on the Parsha of this week (chelek lamed vov) where the Rebbe addresses this issue very thoroughly (another answer is in chelek gimmel beshalach). The gist of the answer is: Emuna is really much easier than bitochon. I can truly believe in Hashem, and know that He knows best, and resign myself to whatever He does with me. If I am having financial troubles ch”v, I can prepare myself for the worst, to live a life of poverty, secure in the knowledge that if that is what Hashem decreed for me it is for my benefit. Then, if I get money somehow, I’ll be able to deal with that (most of us could…). But, if not, I’ll be prepared, and able to accept it.
Bitochon, on the other hand, the stubborn certainty that I will get exactly what I want the way I want it, is much more difficult (besides seeming much more risky).
There is even a nasty little voice inside of us that argues that emuna is the loftier of the two. The push for bitochon, it argues, stems from your self-centeredness or your greed, your being solely preoccupied with what you want and what you need. Instead have emuna, leave things up to the Eibishter and be satisfied with whatever He decides to do.
The choice, then, to have bitochon, requires a great inner struggle on many levels. One has to choose to work on having that certainty, and then he needs to actually work on reaching that level of certainty, of trusting completely in Hashem.
This, then, is the justification for the certainty of bitochon: If one undertakes that struggle, and actually brings himself, through his efforts, to a sincere bitochon in Hashem, then that bitochon itself makes him deserving of the Eibishter providing him with what he had bitochon about, be it a necessity or even a luxury.
True, there are times when bad things happen, and even to good people, and we know absolutely at such times, that it is from Hashem and, therefore, for the good. And yet, if I go through with the struggle to feel an absolute bitochon that the Eibishter will give me open and revealed good, then that very bitochon (that came at great cost) has earned those very results, - everything good betov hanireh vehanigleh the way I see it and understand it. And if my bitochon is for a luxury (like a new yacht or a penthouse apartment), then it has earned that as well.
There are mitzvos that have specific segulos, such as tzedaka, which has the guarantee that “aser bishvil shetisasher”, - that it will enrich the person who practices it (and this is so certain that Hashem says ובחנוני נא בזאת). Although there are people that are destined by Hashem to be poor, and for them, undoubtedly, that is what is best for them, still, they have the option to give tzedaka and be rich, and that will then be what is best for them.
In a similar manner, bitochon has the segula, the unique quality, of bringing the desired results of visible and revealed good, and one who brings himself to experience this bitochon, can be absolutely certain of the results.
And we can’t either say ‘I’ll forego the results, and I’ll just make do with emuna’. Because (as R’ Sholom Mordechai pointed out) bitochon is not just an option or a tool, but a mitzvah and an obligation. We have the ability to fulfill one of Hashem’s commandments, albeit one that requires effort on our part, and achieve the best results in a physical sense, in בני חיי ומזוני רויחי in tov hanireh vehanigleh!
On a personal note:
I have been going through a bit of a trying time lately, and I am overwhelmed.
No, you misunderstand me. I am not overwhelmed by my illness (or by my extensive testing, although some were a bit annoying…). I don’t know what everyone is thinking, but my illness is not that terrible, it’s just that, - an illness. It’s something that we’ll fight and beat and vanquish and eliminate very quickly and conclusively IYH.
What overwhelmed me, rather, was the outpouring of love and caring and support, the multitude of hachlotos tovos and peulos tovos.
I am humbled. I am awed. I am overwhelmed.
First of all, I want to say, there are times when ‘thank you’ feels like the two most hollow and empty words in the world, that can’t convey even a fraction of what I’m feeling. But, for the lack of better words – THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! To all of you who reached out to me with words of chizuk and support or practical assistance in so many different ways, and to all of you who took part in so many increases in Torah and mitzvos. You are all extraordinary, and words cannot express how moved I am by all of this.
Once, during a farbrengen (Parsha Beshalach 5714), the Rebbe related the following:
“A Jew from Eretz Yisroel became very ill, and needed to undergo a complex surgery, and he wrote to me requesting a brocho. Nu, a Jew asked me for a brocho, should I be stingy with brochos? They are, after all, the Eibishter’s brochos! So I wrote to him a brocho to heal, and I added that he should start putting on tefillin.
The Jew followed my advice, and began to put on tefillin, and he immediately recovered, to the point that he no longer required surgery. The doctors, who had almost given up hope on him, were in shock!
The other patients in the hospital questioned him about his unbelievable recovery, and he told them it was the tefillin. When they heard about the healing powers of tefillin, they also wanted to take advantage of them, and, indeed, many began putting on tefillin.
This Jew became completely healthy and was able to leave the hospital very shortly thereafter. The reason is simple: The only reason for his illness was in order that he put on tefillin and influence others to put on tefillin. As soon as that purpose was achieved, there was no further reason for him to be in the hospital, and he was able to be discharged immediately”!
If my illness was intended to serve as a catalyst to increases in good deeds, then that purpose has BH already been achieved in a most wonderful way – once again thank you from the bottom of my heart and the depth of my soul to all of you and each and every one of you – and I am ready to get my discharge from this whole parsha.
The power of everything you all did is immense, much more powerful than any illness. I can only wish that this tremendous force should bring to each and every one of you brochos ad bli dai, visible and revealed good, tov hanireh vehanigleh in every single area, בני חיי ומזוני רויחי ובכולם רויחי, and to be able to use it to increase in every aspect of your avodas Hashem with simcha and menucha.
And all of this, your love and caring and your many peulos tovos, none of which I deserve, are surely more powerful that the last residue of golus, and will surely burn away these final barriers and clear the way to the geula hoamitis vehashleima ans Moshiach Now!
L’chaim! Let us all take advantage of the powerful tools we were provided with, emuna and bitochon, and use them to get all good brochos for every single person in every area betov hanireh vehanigleh, and especially the most important brocho for the immediate hisgalus of Moshiach Tzidkeinu NOW!!!
Rabbi Akiva Wagner
לזכות שד"ב בן מרים שי', לאויוש"ט מתוך בריאות הנכונה וכט"ס בטוב הנרוהנ"ג!
לזכות הרה"ת אהרן בן חנה, לרפושו"ק ואויוש"ט
לזכות הרה"ח ר' מ"מ הכהן בן חוה, לרפו"ש ובריאות הנכונה ואויוש"ט