The Power of Bitachon

מרן הגאב"ד שליט"א
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The Torah portion depicting how Hashem provided manna for our forefathers in the desert is a well-known segulah for ample livelihood.  However, as the Mishnah Berurah writes, it is insufficient to merely recite the words mechanically.  As one reads this parshah, he must contemplate its significance.[1]  He must realize and internalize how our livelihood does not depend on our own prowess.  As Shlomo HaMelech wrote, “The race is not won by the swift; nor is the war won by the mighty; nor do the wise earn bread; nor do the insightful achieve wealth; nor do the knowledgeable find favor. For the mishaps of time occur to them all. ”[2]  Our livelihood, too, does not depend on our own diligence in pursuing it, since the most well planned and finely executed strategies for business often meet with dismal failure.

Rather, each person’s livelihood is ordained from Above.  On Rosh Hashanah, it is decreed precisely how much each person will earn over the course of the coming year.  We need only perform the necessary hishtadlus (effort), each person according to his situation, to make a receiving vessel for Hashem’s blessing, all the while recognizing that it is not our effort which brings success, but Hashem’s blessing alone.

Regarding the manna which our forefathers gathered in the desert, the possuk states, “He who gathered much gained no more, while he who gathered little gained no less.”[3]  In other words, no matter how much they gathered, each returned home to find that his manna precisely suited his family’s needs.  Similarly, the amount of effort we invest in pursuing our livelihood does not determine our measure of success.  Rather, we are all entirely dependant on Hashem’s bountiful, merciful hand to provide for our needs and sustain us, just as He provided for our forefathers in the desert and throughout the generations.

To the degree that a person heightens his awareness of Hashem’s involvement in his life and develops his sense of bitachon (trust in Hashem), he creates for himself a larger vessel by which to receive Hashem’s blessing and thus lessens his need for hishtadlus.  The story is told of Rebbe Zusha of Annipole, who devoted himself to Torah study and prayer amidst utter poverty.  Several days passed in which he had hardly a bite of food to sustain his soul.  His students suggested that he approach a certain philanthropist in their city who would no doubt be happy to help.  R’ Zusha finally acquiesced.  He approached the stately mansion, touched the front door with the tips of his fingers, and hurried back to the shul to continue his service of Hashem.

His students were baffled by this strange behavior.  Having failed to even knock on the door, he could not have expected the philanthropist to even know of his presence.  Nevertheless, R’ Zusha insisted that he had done enough hishtadlus to create a vessel for Hashem’s blessing and no greater effort was necessary.  Sure enough, that very philanthropist soon arrived in shul of his own volition, bearing gifts of food and money for R’ Zusha and his students.  The students then realized that according to R’ Zusha’s lofty spiritual stature and his great bitachon in Hashem, only the slightest nod to hishtadlus was necessary.

Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk, zt”l, cites the following teaching in the name of his brother, R’ Zusha (which, incidentally, is the only time he quotes R’ Zusha in his sefer, Noam Elimelech):

וכי תאמרו מה נאכל בשנה כו' וצוויתי את ברכתי לכם כו' * בשם אחי החסיד המפורסם ויש לדקדק היות שהתורה יצאתה בכאן מדרכה שדרך הקרא לכתוב איזה יתור לשון בפסוק אפילו אות א' ועל ידי זה מתורץ כמה קושיות אבל הקשיא לא נכתב בעצמה בתורה * וכאן נכתב הקושיא בתורה וטוב היה שלא לומר כי אם וצויתי את ברכתי וממילא לא יקשה שום אדם לומר מה נאכל * ונראה שהשם יתברך ברוך הוא כשברא את העולם השפיע מטובו צינורות מושכין שפע לצרכי בני אדם ודרך השפע שלא להפסיק כלל אלא כשהאדם נופל ממדרגתו ואין לו בטחון בבורא ברוך הוא המשגיח אמיתי הזן ומפרנס בריות בלי הפסק כלל אז עושה האדם ההוא במחשבתו ההיא אשר לא מטוהר פגם חלילה בעולמות עליונים ומתישין כח פמליא של מעלה רחמא לצלן ואז נפסק השפע חלילה וצריך השם יתברך ברוך הוא לצוות מחדש השפע שתלך כמו מתחילת הבריאה * וזה הוא וכי תאמרו כו' שהתורה מלמדת לאדם דרכי השם שיהיה שלם בבטחונו על אלהיו ולא יאמר כלל מה יאכל כי כאשר חלילה יפול מן הבטחון לחשוב מה יאכל הוא עושה פגם חלילה בהשפע ואטרחו כלפי שמיא לצוות מחדש * וכי תאמרו פירוש כאשר תאמרו כך ואז תטריחו אותי וצויתי כו' אלא לא תתנהגו כך ותבטחו בה' בכל לבבכם ואז תלך השפע בלי הפסק כלל תמיד לא יחסר כל בה.

"And if you may ask, 'What will we eat?’ ... I shall send My blessing.”[4] My brother, the renowned chassid (R' Zusha), noted that the Torah here veers from its usual manner of expression.  Normally, the Torah adds an extra word, or even just an extra letter, to answer one or many unasked questions while never stating the question explicitly.  Here, the Torah presents the question itself.  Would it not be better for Hashem to simply offer His assurance, “I shall command My blessing”? There would then be no more reason for anyone to ask, “What will we eat?”

When Hashem Yisborach first created the world, He made channels through which His kindness and bounty would flow to mankind.  The nature of these channels is such that they would never cease conveying Hashem's blessing were they never blocked by man's lack of bitachon and his unwillingness to recognize how the Creator truly oversees his affairs and constantly provides for all creation.  With these impure thoughts, man blemishes the Upper Worlds and weaken their strength.  Then, the flow of bounty is interrupted.

It is then necessary for Hashem to renew the flow of bounty, such that it will descend to the world as before.  This is the meaning of the verse, “If you ask, 'What will we eat?'” By presenting this question explicitly, the Torah reveals to us that Hashem’s way is to encourage us to be perfect our trust in Him and never ponder, “What shall we eat?”  By expressing such a lack of bitachon, man compromises the flow of blessing and troubles Hashem to renew it.  Thus, the expression, “If you ask,” means to suggest that as a result of this very question, Hashem will be forced to send a new blessing, since the original flow of blessing will have been blocked.

The Torah warns us not to ask such questions.  Rather, we must trust Hashem with all our hearts. Then, the original flow of blessing will continue to descend forever without interruption, and we will never lack anything.[5]

It has been suggested that R’ Zusha heard this explanation from the lips of Eliyahu HaNavi[6], yet he was in fact preceded many generations earlier by the Seforno, who writes:

ונתנה הארץ פריה ואכלתם לשבע ... וכי תאמרו מה נאכל בשנה השביעת הן לא נזרע ולא נאסף את תבואתנו: וצויתי את ברכתי לכם בשנה הששית ועשת את התבואה לשלש השנים:

ואכלתם לשובע: שיהיו הפירות רבי המזון כענין שהיה בעומר שהיה מספיק לגדול כמו לקטן כאמרם ז"ל אוכל קמעא ומתברך במעיו ויספיקו פירות הששית גם לשביעית ... וכי תאמרו מה נאכל: וכאשר יסופק זה אצלכם ולא תבטחו שיהיה המעט מספיק באיכותו, ועשת את התבואה: באופן שתשבע עין מראות ותראו שיספיק הכמות.

“The land shall give forth its fruits, and you shall eat to satisfaction …. And if you may ask, ‘What will we eat on the seventh year, if we do not plant or gather our crops?’  I shall send My blessing on the sixth year, and it shall make produce to last for three years.”[7]

You shall eat to satisfaction”: The crops will be so nutritious that, like the manna, they will suffice for the old and the young such that, as our Sages tell us, we will eat just a small amount of food and feel the blessing in our stomachs and the produce of the sixth year will suffice also for the seventh.  And if you may ask: What will we eat?”: If you doubt this assurance and do not trust that the small amount of food will suffice by virtue of its great quality, “…it shall make produce (to last for three years),meaning, your eyes will be satisfied to see the abundance, and you will realize that the quantity will suffice.

The Toldos Yaakov Yosef writes in the name of the Rambam that if our bitachon in Hashem would be perfect, we would receive actual manna from the Heavens, as did our forefathers in the desert.[8] Citing the Baal Shem Tov, zt’l, on the  possuk, הבוטח בה' חסד יסובבנו - “He who trusts in Hashem will be surrounded by kindness,”[9] the Toldos elsewhere writes that if a person’s trust in Hashem is perfect, the angels of Heaven watch his every footstep, such that nothing in the world can possibly harm him. [10]  The Baal Shem Tov is also quoted as saying that even if many harsh decrees have been passed in Heaven against a person, his trust in Hashem can protect him and prevent the punishment from befalling him.[11]  As David HaMelech said, “He who trusts in Hashem is like the Mountain of Tzion, which will never falter and will remain forever.”[12]

In seeming contradiction, the Chazon Ish writes that man may not always rest assured of Hashem’s protection.  A person may find himself in a difficult situation and comfort himself by saying, “Hashem will help, and all my difficulties will soon be resolved,” but how can he be so sure that Hashem will indeed rescue him from his plight?  There is a Judge in Heaven who metes out justice for all the deeds of man.  Perhaps his difficult situation was brought upon him as a punishment for his sins.  Hashem does not always rescue a person from his problems, just because he trusts in Him.  We say in Selichos, “Perhaps He will pity a poor and impoverished nation; perhaps He will show mercy.”[13]  This implies that perhaps He will show mercy, but perhaps not.  One must have faith that Hashem is able to help, even when the situation seems hopeless.  When our Sages tell us, “Even if a sharp sword hangs over a man’s throat, let him not despair of Hashem’s mercy,”[14] they mean that one’s prayers might be effective and he might be saved from the sword, so let him pour out his heart in prayer.  But on what basis can a person assume that Hashem will fulfill his prayers?

At first glance, the opinions of the Baal Shem Tov and the Chazon Ish seem to be at discordance.  However, on closer inspection the harmony between them is revealed.  Rav Chaim of Volozhin writes in Nefesh HaChaim that in times of trouble, a person should concentrate on Hashem’s absolute power, recognizing that there is no force in all existence that has any influence to help or harm him accept for Hashem’s will.  If he fully acknowledges this truth, nothing in the world will be able to harm him.[15]

Certainly, the Chazon Ish would not argue against the words of Rav Chaim of Volozhin, who drew the waters of his teachings from the wellspring of his mentor, the Vilna Gaon.  The Chazon Ish himself writes elsewhere, “If a person trusts Hashem, a Divine spirit rests upon him, and a spirit of might accompanies him, assuring him that Hashem will surely help.  This is as David HaMelech said, ‘If a battalion encamps against me, my heart will not fear.  If war rises against me, in this I will trust.’[16][17]

Rather, when the Chassidic masters and Rav Chaim of Volozhin taught that trust in Hashem will guard from all harm, they spoke of a person who trusts in Hashem with every fiber of his being.[18]  When the Chazon Ish taught that one cannot be certain that Hashem will help, he spoke of a person who has not reached this high level.

Still, there remains a subtle distinction between the two schools.  According to the Chazon Ish, a person’s bitachon protects him according to “his spiritual level and the degree of his holiness.”  He must be worthy of his bitachon.  However, according to the Chassidic masters, everything depends on the sincerity of his bitachon, through which he can be redeemed from his troubles, even if he is not worthy.

This school of thought is supported by earlier commentators, such as the Sefer Ha’Ikkarim,[19] which explains the possuk הבוטח בה' חסד יסובבנו - “He who trusts in Hashem will be surrounded by kindness,” to mean that even if one is not worthy in his own merit, the power of bitachon is so great that it can draw down undeserved kindness from Heaven.

The Midrash writes the same:

רבים מכאובים לרשע.... רבי אליעזר ורבי תנחום בשם רבי ירמיה אפילו רשע ובוטח בה' חסד יסובבנו.

“There are many injuries to the wicked, (but he who trusts in Hashem will be surrounded by kindness)” …  R’ Eliezer and R’ Tanchum say in the name of R’ Yermiyah: Even a wicked person who trusts in Hashem will be surrounded by kindness.[20]

And elsewhere:

אמר ר' יצחק: הכל בקיווי

R’ Yitzchak taught: Everything depends on hope.[21]

The Eitz Chaim commentary explains that even if a person is unworthy of Hashem’s kindness, the merit of his hope, prayer and trust in Hashem can enact supernatural salvations on his behalf, as the possuk states, לישועתך קויתי ה' - “I hope for your salvation, Hashem.”[22]

[1] Mishnah Berurah 1, s.k. 13

[2] Koheles 9:11

[3] Shemos 16:18

[4] Vayikra 25:20-21

[5] Noam Elimelech, Behar

[6] Toras Emes, by the Rebbe of Lechovitz

[7] Vayikra, ibid

[8] Ketones Pasim, Parshas Shemini

[9] Tehillim 32:10

[10] Toldos Yaakov Yosef, Parshas Mikeitz

[11] Keser Shem Tov

[12] Tehillim 121:1

[13] Chazon Ish, Emunah U’Bitachon, ch, 2.

[14] Berachos 10a

[15] Nefesh HaChaim 3:12.

[16] Tehillim 27:3.

[17] Emunah U’Bitachon 2:7.

[18] See Radak on Tehillim 116:10; Emunah U’Bitachon by the Ramban, end of chapter 1.

[19] Chapter 46

[20] Yalkut Tehillim 32:10

[21] Midrash Rabbah, Parshas Vayechi, 95

[22] Bereishis 49:18