Bitachon: Trust that …?

There are three basic models of bitachon:

1- Bitachon is the belief that everything will turn out okay. This message is taught in an entire genre of stories which create the image that if you only are properly observant and had sufficient bitachon, the only airplane you would ever miss is one that ch”v is going to crash.

This notion is not as absurd as I just portrayed it.

Rav Dessler gave a famous formula: The amount of hishtadlus (pragmatic effort) one must invest to solve is problems is only to compensate for a lack of bitachon. To try harder than that would imply a lack of faith. For example, when Yoseif asked the wine steward to remember him to Par’oh, he was punished for the lack of faith by having to wait another two years for rescue (Chazal, as repeated by Rashi ad loc). For us, such effort would be fine, but for someone on Yoseif haTzadiq‘s level, such hishtadlus was beyond the appropriate. Notice the implication: Bitachon gets you what you otherwise would have been working toward in more physical ways — getting what you want, what makes you happy.

2- The big problem with the previous model is that it doesn’t stand up very well to real world experience. Which then leads to a second version of the idea: that bitachon means that everything works out for the best. I may never know how and why Hashem wants me to experience some challenge, but as Nachum Ish Gamzu would say, “gam zu letovah— this too is for the best.” Or, to quote his student, Rabbi Aqiva, “Everything which the All-Merciful does, He does for the good.” Everything that happens is from G-d and therefore good, but I don’t always know what “good” is, and therefore often want something else. In the long run, it’s “letovahfor the good” even if the short-term event itself doesn’t seem so good.

3- The Chazon Ish (Emunah uBitachon ch. 2) not only differs, he calls both of these positions “wrong”.

This view of trust is incorrect, for as long as the future outcome has not been clarified through prophecy, that outcome has not been decided, for who can truly know Hashem’s judgements and providence? Rather, bitachonmeans realizing that there are no coincidences in the world, and that whatever happens under the sun is a function of Hashem’s decree.

Bitachonis the denial of the concepts of randomness, happenstance and accident. Not that everything is for my good, even if in some unfathomable way, but everything is according to Hashem’s plan and wisdom. The Chazon Ish has a problem with our assuming that something is good, since we never will know when an event’s story is complete, when we can judge it with full hindsight.

Rav Soloveitchik (e.g. in his disussion of the Holocaust in Qol Dodi Dofeiq) would state this more vehemently. One can’t deny the experience of suffering. Entering a meta-level, in which suffering is good by providing some reason for it, is either intellectually dishonest or emotionally frigid, and often both. The power suffering can have in our lives is when it is experienced as suffering. As he titled his essay “Uviqashtem misham“, from the pasuq in VaEschanan, “וּבִקַּשְׁתֶּ֥ם מִשָּׁ֛ם אֶת־יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ וּמָצָ֑אתָ כִּ֣י תִדְרְשֶׁ֔נּוּ בְּכָל־לְבָֽבְךָ֖ וּבְכָל־נַפְשֶֽׁךָ׃ — And from there you will seek Hashem your G-d andyou will find Him, if you pursue Him with all your heart and all your life-soul.” (Devarim 4:29)

The Chazon Ish is not denying “gam zu letovah” (in the sense of the 2nd definition of bitachon, above), rather he is excluding it from the concept of bitachon in particular. As he writes later

There is another aspect to bitachon — that there rests a ruach haqodesh upon a person who possesses unique bitachon. It is a spirit of confidence that Hashem will help him, as King David says: “אִם־תַּֽחֲנֶ֬ה עָלַ֨י ׀ מַֽחֲנֶה֮ לֹֽא־יִירָ֪א לִ֫בִּ֥י; אִם־תָּק֣וּם עָ֭לַי מִלְחָמָ֑ה בְּ֝זֹ֗את אֲנִ֣י בוֹטֵֽחַ׃ — If a camp encamps against me my heart will not fear; if a war arises against me…” (Tehillim 27:3). This aspect is relative to this special person’s unique bitachon and special measure of his sanctity.

This confidence is not bitachon, it is the inspiration, the almost-prophecy of ruach haqodesh that emerges from bitachon. And, it would seem, the confidence will not always be met by the reality of how things unfold.

In sum then, how would I define bitachon?

In Rabbi Chaim Brown’s observation that motivated these three posts on bitachon, we actually find a union of these ideas. We are taking a lesson, meaning we are aware that the insecurity we feel due to the current financial climate is from G-d. Following Rav Elchanan’s words about the Great Depression, we are assuming it is middah keneged middah, repayment in kind, for relying on one’s own efforts for success. Trusting the wine-steward, as Yoseifdid. And so, Hashemshakes the institutions we consider our means for self-made success in order to remind us that we need His assistance.

Bitachon is awareness that the A-lmighty is acting in a covenental partnership with you. It is from there that Rav Dessler’s formula for hishtadlus emerges, one partner only picks up what he does not expect from the Other’s contribution. It is the Chazon Ish’s awareness that every event in our lives is part of a plan. And yet we can avoid simplistic dismissals of suffering. Yes, Nachum Ish Gamzutells us that everything is for the best, eventually. But since I must remember that no story, no “eventually”, is ever over, I can not find meaning or redemption in that fact. Pain remains pain. And yet, having bitachon demands that trust in “כחי ועצם ידי — my strength and the might of my hand” is misplaced, and through my activities I can not avoid the tragic. It is part of the role I play in the Divine Plan, and to not accept them as from Him and part of the covenant would be disloyalty to it.

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