It’s Not All or Nothing


I was asked the following question: “I thought I had bitachon [trust in Hashem]. I am constantly telling people that Hashem is great and is always taking care of us. But when a problem comes up in my own life, I lose it. I become nervous and worried. So, of what value are all my lessons in emunah? What good are they if they do not help me when I confront a personal problem?”

I answered that each and every lesson in emunah that we learn and internalize is valuable beyond estimation. Emunah is not an “all or nothing” enterprise. Whatever we accomplish is immensely significant, even if there is room for us to grow further.

I once heard a remarkable story from Rav Fishel Schachter that beautifully illustrates this point. There was once a certain Rabbi who was a towering scholar, spending all his time learning, teaching, and writing. He composed pages upon pages of chiddushim (novel Torah insights) which he very much wished to have printed. The nearest printing press was overseas, and so he summoned a student and entrusted him with his precious pages. “Please take this, my life’s work, overseas and have it printed. Guard it with every fiber of your being.”

The student was petrified, being entrusted with such a priceless treasure, but he agreed. Soon after he set sail, a violent storm broke out at sea, and the ship began to capsize. Fortunately, the student somehow managed to survive, but his Rabbi’s papers were lost.

He returned home and told his peers what had happened. The students were all very frightened. How could they break such terrible news to their dear Rabbi? How could they tell him that his life’s work was lost forever?

One boy devised a plan. The next day, when the Rabbi entered the classroom, this student raised his hand to ask a question. He mentioned the Mishnah’s comment (Berachot 60b), “Just as we bless [Hashem] for the good, so do we bless [Hashem] for the bad.” The student asked, “How is this possible? How can one bless Hashem over misfortune just as he blesses Hashem for joyous events?”

“What do you mean?” the Rabbi asked. “Everything Hashem does is good! There is never anything ‘bad’!”

Another student raised his hand and asked, “But what if such and such happens?”

The Rabbi repeated what he had said, this time more emphatically: “Everything Hashem does is good! If something happens, then, of course, this is the best thing for the person.”

One by one, the students raised their hands to ask what the Rabbi would say if this calamity struck or that calamity struck. The Rabbi grew red in the face repeating himself with greater and greater emotion that Hashem is good, and we thus can and must bless Him and be grateful for everything, even for that which might initially appear as bad.

Finally, a boy spoke up and informed the Rabbi that his papers were lost at sea. The Rabbi heard the news and promptly fainted.

The boys realized that their plan had failed. They thought they could prepare their Rabbi for the devastating news, but it didn’t work.

They revived the rabbi and then apologized, explaining that they had hoped to prepare him by speaking about this theme of trusting that everything Hashem does is good, but apparently their efforts were inadequate.

“What do you mean?” the Rabbi replied. “At least I woke up. Who knows what would have happened if you hadn’t prepared me!”

There are thousands of levels of bitachon, and every lesson we learn and contemplate brings us to a higher level, and is thus immensely meaningful and significant.