THE BITACHON PARADOX
B’Shalach, Bitachon Bytes
By Rabbi Zalman Goldberg
The Torah in Parshas B ’Shalach tells us about the Yidden finding themselves facing a difficult challenge, the various mistaken reactions that are possible, and Bitachon’s guidance for each one.
The existence of the entire Jewish nation is in grave danger. The Yidden are trapped with the sea before them and the Egyptians in hot pursuit right behind them. With good intentions, the Yidden offer different ideas on how to proceed1.
In Avodas Hashem, all of the approaches suggested have merit, and are thus worthy of being mentioned. Nonetheless, each contained certain flaws which required correction. Even the highest of the levels was lacking a certain element of Bitachon.
The first response to the crisis was that they should throw themselves into the sea, ליפול לים. In Avoda, this corresponds to an ongoing situation that is challenging the public and which causes the individual to completely withdraw from helping others in order to ‘weather the storm.’ He figuratively jumps into the sea and surrounds himself with holiness and purity, thus saving nobody but himself from calamity. The downside of this approach is so blatant that the Rebbe does not even explain its deficiency. Saving oneself is worthless when others could have been helped; even if it’s only a few, and only in small ways. The whole Torah is founded on Ahavas Yisroel, and a person who is lacking this foundation places everything else he does into question2.
The second group of Yidden proposed admitting defeat and returning to Egypt. Spiritually this refers to a Yid whose response to national calamity is, “I will do everything in my power, including assisting others, to ease the difficulties.” But this is done with a feeling of defeat. Generally, Torah and Mitzvos must be fulfilled with zeal and zest, with pleasure, liveliness and joy, but this response to crisis is a feeling of helplessness and despondency. Of course, one of the basics of Yiddishkait is עבדו את ה’ בשמחה, and therefore, even though this second group had a better response to the difficulty at hand, wholesome it was not3.
The third suggestion was to wage war against the Egyptians. This group had energy. They were not crushed and depleted by the approaching enemy. They gathered their strength and boldly stood up to the challenge. The problem was that their decision was human, and not congruent with what Hashem wanted from them. Hashem’s goal was that they serve Him4 at הר סיני, תעבדון את האלוקים על ההר הזה, and battling the Egyptians was not on the agenda5.
The fourth group was better, for they did not venture to fight a war or to deviate from Hashem’s plan. They campaigned for davening to Hashem to attain salvation from the emergency. Although they were mostly on the right track, by caring for others and not just themselves, maintaining simcha and not becoming despondent, not allowing themselves to be distracted with other plots, there was still one small but crucial ingredient missing: moving forward to complete Hashem’s will. Although davening is nice and important, it lacks the element of taking action and doing what Hashem wants from us. Even though an individual is so battul to Hashem to the extent that he has none of his own opinions or perspectives, and his davening also expresses this bittul, the lack of avoda in the right direction shows that the bittul was taken too much to an extreme.
A person who acts and accomplishes does not seem to be battul per se; after all he is a person doing material actions. Nonetheless, he is fulfilling the will of Hashem.
A story is told of two people who were about to come before the king. One was a civilized person who understood the greatness of a king; the other person was a coarse peasant who was ignorant of such phenomena. The king called for the first individual, and having contemplated the exaltedness of His Excellency, he fainted upon entering the king’s chamber. The peasant was then ushered in and was commanded to buy a box of matches for the king, which he proceeded to do. Although bittul is important, it mustn’t stop the king’s will from being fulfilled.
To better understand the importance of actual avoda notwithstanding the value of bittul, the Rebbe gives an example from Emuna and Bitachon. In a sense, these two are opposites, yet both are demanded of us. Emuna reflects the belief that all our needs derive from Hashem, and Hashem is all good, and thus everything we have is ultimately good. Bitachon, on the other hand, mandates that a Yid believe that all will be revealed good, and not just good that only Hashem can relate to.
So we have here two paradoxical elements; that of Emuna in Hashem and focusing on His greatness, which is an act of Bittul, and simultaneously strongly believing that the good will be relatable to even us mortal beings.
Interestingly, according to other Chassidic sources6 it seems that exercising bitachon represents the strongest connection to Hashem (a spiritual experience, not a practical one), one that supersedes even sin, and the punishment that should otherwise come along. But it’s not just a lofty experience; bitachon means that we will see that it will be good.
The physical aspect must be there. The same is true with the fourth group, those who advocated davening. They were missing the action part of Avodas Hashem, and even though action may seem to contradict the bittul to Hashem, it’s demanded nonetheless.
In the end, it turns out that in the context of bitachon (and in the context of any real bittul), the physical aspect was not at all a distraction to the cleaving to Hashem. The reason for this is that the aspect of the gashmius is secondary and flows automatically from the spiritual experience. This never changes; the gashmius never takes prime importance lest it affect the devotion of the bitachon.
The same is with the people in the fourth group who preferred to daven: if they would have followed Hashem’s will even in material aspects, out of their bittul to Hashem, the material aspects would not have detracted from their closeness to Hashem at all7.
Rabbi Zalman Goldberg is a well sought after speaker and lecturer on Chassidic thought. His writings and recordings on the topic of Bitachon can be accessed at http://www.gotbitachon.com.
1) לקו’’ש ח’’ג ע 879.
2) Bitachon encourages helping others, to the greatest extent possible and with the right intentions. Shaar HaBitachon chapter 4 paragraph וכן אם אדם
3) Bitachon strongly promotes simcha, as it says oz vichedva bimkomo, strength and joy are in Hashem’s place. לקו”ש ח”א ע’ 194.
4) היום יום כ’’ט טבת.
5) ראה שער הבטחון פרק ג’ וההקדמה הרביעית. וראה לקו’’ש ח’’א ע’ 98 ואילך.
6) לקו’’ש חל’’ו ע’ 4 ואילך.
7) ראה השיחה בהערה 1 ע’ 884.