1 Av 5762
From the Desk of: Rabbi Yaakov Bear
Is Bitachon Dependent on Your Actions?
We find in the Medrash Tanchumah (parshas Vayeitze, 2) as well as in Medrash Rabba (Vayikrah chapter 29, 1-2) regarding Yaakov’s ladder.
“And he dreamed and behold a ladder set up on earth… Reb Shmuel bar Nachman taught that Hashem showed to Yaakov Avinu the ministering angels of Bavel (Babylon) and Madai (Persia) and Yavan (Greece) going up and down and the angel of Edom (Rome) going up countless steps… Hashem asked Yaakov “Why don’t you go up the ladder?” At that point of time Yaakov was scared and said: “G-d forbid just as these angels go down so too I will also go down.” Hashem said to him “Don’t fear. If you go up you will not come down forever.”He didn’t believe and he didn’t go up… Hashem said to him “Were you to have believed and ascended you would not have come down but now that you didn’t believe and did not ascend, in the future your children will be subjugated by these four kingdoms in this world.” At that time Yaakov was scared and said in front of Hashem “Can this be forever?” Hashem answered him (Yirmiyahu 30) “Don’t be dismayed, O Yisroel, for, lo, I will save you from afar.”
This Medrash requires explanation, for were this Medrash not written, I wouldn’t have dared to write that Yaakov Avinu, the chosen of the Avos “didn’t believe and didn’t go up”. How do we understand this? Why did Yaakov disobey Hashem’s command to ascend the ladder?
The renowned kabbalist Harav Shlomo Eliashiv zt”l in his sefer “Leshem Shevah Vehachlomoh” explains the aforementioned Medrash and out of his explanation emerges what appears to be a new understanding of the concept of “bitachon bashem”- trusting in Hashem. However, in the course of our explanation we will demonstrate that he is walking a well-trodden path that was already blazed by the “rishonim” and “achronim”.
The author of the “Leshem” brings from Tehilim chapter 32 verse 10: “Rabim machovim l’rashah v’haboteach bashem chessed yesovavenu”. “Many are the agonies of the wicked but the one who trusts in Hashem, kindness surrounds him.” He brings the explanation of the Yalkut Shimoni- “Many are the agonies of the wicked ” since he doesn’t place his trust in Hashem, “but the one who trusts in Hashem” even if he is a rashah (wicked person) kindness surrounds him. Similarly the Ramban in his sefer entitled “Haemunah Vehabitachon” chapter 1 quotes another verse from Tehilim 37, 3: “B’tach Bashem v’asay tov”. “Trust in Hashem and do good”; trust is mentioned before do good in order to emphasize that bitachon is not dependant at all on good deeds. Rather, even a sinner, a roshoh, who has not as of yet done any good has the right to trust in Hashem’s mercy. However, afterwards the verse states “and do good” in order to teach that the sinner must not continuously depend only on Hashem’s mercy without correcting his ways by doing good. If he will not do good Hashem will eventually extract payment. Whilst Hashem patiently waits for the sinner who trusts in Him to do teshuvah, Hashem finds a suitable time to extract payment. Bitachon, trust in Hashem, buys the sinner time and protection in order to do teshuvah, to change his ways.
The author of the “Leshem” explains the aforementioned Medrash and answers the question as to why Yaakov Avinu disobeyed a command of Hashem to ascend the ladder just as he witnessed the angels doing in his prophetic vision. He explains that Yaakov Avinu did not believe that he was worthy enough that Hashem should perform miracles on his behalf. Whilst Yaakov was correct that fear of sin is the most praiseworthy attribute as it states in Mishlei chapter 28 “Ashrei adam mefached tamid”, “Fortunate is the man who constantly fears Hashem.” Nevertheless he should utilize his fear of sin to prevent him from sinning as opposed to using it to remove the protection of bitachon, trusting in Hashem. Permitting oneself to worry that perhaps a sin will intervene is not the characteristic of tzaddikim.
This concept that “bitachon”- trusting in Hashem, and worry, “deagah” are mutually exclusive was taught by Harav Refoel Levine zt”l (son of Reb Aryeh Levine zt”l) who pointed out that “deagah” consists of the first five letters of the Aleph Beis except for the letter Beis- Beis represents “bitachon”, trust in Hashem. Whoever trusts in Hashem doesn’t fear and whoever fears is lacking in his trust in Hashem. This is also illustrated by the following joke: What sits at the bottom of the ocean bed and shivers and shakes? A nervous wreck. The way not to become one is to place one’s full trust in Hashem. Harav Hagaon Moshe Sternbuch shlita says “Don’t worry as 1) there is no need; 2) it doesn’t help; 3) the reward for worry is high blood pressure or a heart attack G-d forbid.”
In his sefer Kovetz Ma’amarim page 22, Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman brings another approach based on the Gemmorah in Menachos. When Moshe Rabbeinu ascended to heaven Hashem showed him each generation and its sages. He was shown Rabbi Akivah and his students… Moshe Rabbeinu asked Hashem: “I’ve seen his Torah, show me his reward.” Hashem showed him Rabbi Akiva’s skin being combed with burning irons. Moshe Rabbeinu asked: “Is this the Torah and is this its reward?” Hashem answered: “Be silent. That was my original plan.” This Gemmorah requires explanation. The Shloh explains that at the beginning Hashem intended the world to be created only with Elokim, the attribute of judgement, “din”. He saw that the world could not exist for mankind as a whole on the basis of judgement alone therefore He joined the attribute of mercy to the attribute of judgement so that the world could exist. However, Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues were capable of living according to strict judgement.
Similarly Yaakov, who was greater than Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues, requests from Hashem to deal with him only with the attribute of strict justice. Bereishis 28, 21: “V’haya Hashem li l’Elokim”. “And may Hashem be for me Elokim” and therefore he was scared perhaps sin would remove his promise of Divine protection.
Similarly, the Chofetz Chaim (in his work “Shem Olom” in his section “Nefutzos Yisroel” chapter 8) writes: “Know furthermore that the attribute of mercy is not dependent on his merits, for even if he is an unworthy man, however, if he strengthens his trust in Hashem – the power of bitachon alone protects him and Hashem performs kindness with he who places his trust in Him.” So too wrote the Vilna Gaon (unlike the Chovos Halevavos) and I heard that similarly this is the position of the Medrash on the verse of Tehilim 32, 10: “Rabim machovim l’rashah v’haboteach bashem chessed yesovavenu”.”Many are the agonies of the wicked but the one who trusts in Hashem, kindness surrounds him.” And similarly this is the simple understanding of Tehilim 33, verses 18-19: “Hineh ayn Hashem el yerayav l’meyachalim l’chasdo. Lehatzil mimoves nafsham ul’chayos b’ra’av.” “Behold the eye of Hashem is on those who fear him, upon those who await His kindness. To rescue from death their soul and sustain them in famine.” From the fact that it didn’t write “yerayav hameyachalim l’chasdo” it is implied that these are two categories. We may deduce that even if he is not yet included in the category of “yirei Hashem”, those who fear Hashem, he is only hoping for the “chesed”, the kindness, of Hashem- even so Hashem will protect him.
If so, we have learnt that the attribute of trusting in Hashem, “bitachon bashem”, that whoever places his trust in Hashem, even a rosho, kindness surrounds him as it is written in Tehilim 32: “v’haboteach bashem chessed yesovavenu”. And we also learnt that the attribute of bitachon and the attribute of chessed are inextricably bound together as we end “hodu” with the words “Va’ani b’chasdechoh batachti, “And I trust in Your chessed.”
Why should it be that because a person who places his hope in the chessed of Hashem finds Hashem’s chessed? This concept is well illustrated by a famous parable. There is a story about a hermit who walks into a clearing in the forest and walks into a beautiful mansion for the very first time. He has neither seen a mirror in his life nor his own reflection. As he walks into the mansion he sees a large mirror and sees someone approaching him. He doesn’t know if he is friend or foe. He makes a fist and the approaching person also makes a fist. He runs toward him and the approaching person runs to him. He swiftly covers the ground and punches him on the nose, thereby breaking the mirror. The owner of the mansion walks in and asks him “why did you break my mirror?” He answers “it’s a pity you didn’t come in a minute earlier then you would have seen that it was a matter of self-defense.” The owner answered “it’s a pity you didn’t kiss him for he would have kissed you.” So too Hashem is “haytiv maytiv yaytiv lanu”.”He was good, He is good and He will always be good.” This concept is simple pshat in the possukim: 1) “Hashem tzilcho”, “Hashem is your shadow”. The explanation is just as man’s shadow unerringly copies his every movement, so do Hashem’s actions toward each man reflect man’s actions towards Hashem and towards his fellow man. 2) “Baruch hagever asher yivtach Basem v’haya hashem mivtacho.” “Blessed is the young man who will come to have bitachon in Hashem and in turn Hashem will be his security.”
The Kli Yakar brings how the taskmasters take Moshe Rabbeinu to task asking him “why did you come? Ever since you came things only got worse.” Moshe Rabbeinu passes on the complaint to Hashem who answers Moshe “now you will see what I will do to Pharoah.” The Kli Yakar explains that the darkest part of the night is just before the dawn. Similarly, the strongest contraction is just before the birth. This insight should enable us to strengthen our faith when we witness daily bloody tragedies. Hashem dialed emergency number 911 September 11th to wake us up to call to Him from the USA and daily tragedies in Eretz Hakodesh. As the intensity and frequency increases we must strengthen our faith as we are close to the dawn after the long night of Golus.
“Tamim tihyeh im Hashem Elokechah.” “Have complete/simple faith in Hashem.” (Devarim 18,13) Rashi says “al tachkor achar ha’asidos.” “Don’t investigate the future.” How is this possible? My friend Rabbi Rashi Simon asked this question to Harav Simcha Wasserman zt”l who answered just as a child in Eretz Yisroel who wants to cross the road trustingly puts his hand in yours so too must we put our hand in Hashem’s and ask Him to help us cross the road of life. In our tefillos we refer to Hashem as “avinu”, our father. “Hashivaynu Avinu Slach lanu Avinu”. Rabbi Leib Chosman zt”l explained most people only have a connotation of a King of strict justice. However, when we say Avinu Malkeinu we have a different perspective: every father wants to give but not every father has the means to give. Every King has the means to give but doesn’t necessarily want to give. We approach Hashem first as our loving, merciful father who not only wants to give but also is our King who can give. So please Avinu Malkeinu grant each of us the biggest gift of bitachon, peace of mind, menuchas hanefesh, and please bring Moshiach tzidkeinu now as a pure act of undeserving chessed.
Rabbi Yaakov Bear