By Rabbi Zalman Goldberg
Discussions about Bitachon most often revolve around techniques to strengthen Bitachon, how to apply Bitachon to various situations, and examples of people who excelled in this lofty midda. Often however, there exist basic and fundamental hindrances to practicing Bitachon in Hashem properly. A strong animal soul (which expresses itself freely), can be a formidable challenge to our properly connecting to Hashem1. When this is the case, it will seem quite difficult to exercise Bitachon in Hashem. At such times, the Bitachon discussion should be of a different nature. The hindrance may need to be dealt with in order to reach a state in which strengthening Bitachon is relevant.
The very nature of the nefesh ha’bahamis, even if it is acting in a permissible manner, is contrary to Bitachon. In a Bitachon life, a person’s every move is premeditated, and the intellect is used to ensure that his conduct is congruent with Hashem’s expectations. The animal soul, however, roots for immediate action by instinct only, and without taking a moment to make sure one’s conduct is kind, ethical and G-dly. Therefore, even if the behavior isn’t intrinsically bad, becoming accustomed to following our animalistic instinct can potentially lead to severe transgressions, as animals aren’t so righteous, after all.
In general2, there are two ways to take control of the animal soul and prevent it from ‘sitting in the driver’s seat’; the internal way and the external way.
The internal manner of affecting the animal soul is through meaningful remorse and t’shuva for behaving in a mindless way. Just by living life in an animalistic manner, we cannot fathom how much was thought, said, and done in an unG-dly manner3. The hechsher may not always be checked properly, or all the correct brachos recited, the main thing being that the food should be consumed as soon as possible. Not always will the feelings of others be on the radar when behaving in a mindless and selfish way. Not always will davening, learning, and fulfillment of Mitzvos be a priority when the animalistic soul is in charge. Thus, t’shuva from this lifestyle is necessary, together with a strong resolution to change course and become more mindful as to what kind of behavior would Hashem like to see from me at this particular time. When the problem is clearly recognized and a firm resolution is reached and acted upon, one can begin to take back control of the animal soul.
The second way to influence the nefesh ha’bahamis is the external way. Through coercing oneself into a more G-dly lifestyle, even when the animal soul is not ready for the change, the שיניו רשות (change of domain) tames the animal soul’s previous habits. This tactic is not an internal or consensual in the slightest; it’s using the change of atmosphere and a very strong positive atmosphere at that, to throw the animal soul off course and to give leadership to the G-dly soul.
This tactic can be used by people of all backgrounds, no matter their upbringing. While complete internal change is difficult and can take a considerable amount of time to accomplish, an option to totally change the course is readily available. By ridding oneself of all goyishe clothing and replacing them with Yiddishe attire; by removing from the home, car and office any non-kosher influences, including goyishe newspapers, books, magazines, TV, and (unnecessary) internet; and by ensuring that the children receive as Jewish an education as possible, to mention a few examples, even if the person isn’t internally holding on that level, through placing oneself in a better and holier atmosphere, the road ahead will be very in tune with the Will of Hashem.
This is similar to the Rambam’s advice4 that one of the ways to do t’shuva is to change one’s name, as if to say, ‘I am a different person, not the one who committed those sins.’ (This is not just to escape punishment, but to improve.) The context here is that even though the sins have not been repented for, since the person has completely changed his course of life by changing his name, the message is conveyed that this is a new person and the sinner doesn’t exist any longer to be punished.
This is similar to how the avoda of is’hafcha is discussed in several contexts. Is’hafcha means to make a total turnaround in one’s lifestyle, which consists of a major change from how things were in the past. In contrast to iskafia, which is a constant battle of overcoming the animal soul every time it expresses itself with a temptation of some sort, is’hafcha overhauls the nefesh ha’bahamis entirely and says that certain battles will simply never occur again.
Just as for a baal t’shuva, who, after he fully accepts upon himself to keep Shabbos, for him desecrating the Shabbos is not an issue, because it is simply not an option, likewise with any change. If recreational internet use or getting angry is absolutely not an option, the instinct for these habits will be tamed and controllable.
Ultimately, this external approach has the potential to eventually refine the nefesh ha’bahamis as well, so that not only will the animal within not operate as usual, it will lose its animalistic attributes until it will become good, just like the good inclination5.
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) באתי לגני תשי’’ב ס’’ב.
2) לקו’’ש חל’’ו ע’ 106 ואילך.
3) לקו’’ת ד’’ה אני לדודי.
4) הל’ תשובה פ’’ב ה’’ד.
5) עיי’’ש בסוף השיחה.