rd-working high school student:
“Why do you study so hard?”
“I want to get good grades.”
“Why do you want good grades?”
“So I’ll get into a good college.”
“Why do you want to get into a good college?”
“I want to be a doctor or a lawyer.”
“Why do you want to be a doctor or lawyer?”
“So I can make a lot of money.”
“What are you going to do with the money?”
“Oh I don’t know, get a house, do some good with it, take care of my family. And then, the last 15 years of my life, I’ll retire, and I’ll get a condominium, and live out my years in tranquility. This is my goal in life.”
This is everybody’s goal. We want peace of mind. We want a calm, tranquil life.
Advertisers and politicians feed off this innate human desire for happiness and peace of mind, and thus shower us with guarantees that their product will provide it. Buy this, invest here, travel here, join us, vote for me. Everybody has the same sales pitch. “If you listen to me, you’ll be happy. Just do this, and it will be great; you’ll be happy.”
This mercantilist culture in which we live leads us to believe that material goods can bring us the happiness and fulfillment we crave.
At a certain point, however, most people eventually realize they’ll never get there, that this rat race is never going to end, and they’re never going to have it. That’s why there’s so much frustration and so much depression in the world.
But imagine mastering a skill that can get you there right now, that can allow you to skip the 65 years and experience today more peace of mind than retirement in a Florida condominium. Imagine having the key to a worry-free life.
It’s All From Hashem
The Hovot Halevavot (Rabbenu Bahya ibn Pekuda, 1050-1120) writes that no matter how much one possesses, it is impossible to live without anxiety unless one has bitahon – trust in Hashem. With bitahon, a person can live without any worries or fears, and thus enjoy life to its fullest.
What exactly is bitahon, and how does this term differ from emunah (faith)?
The Hazon Ish (Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz, 1878-1953) explains that these two concepts are really one and the same. Emunah is the belief that everything that happens is from Hashem, and bitahon is the way one acts upon that belief, the way it affects his response to the challenges he confronts in life.
A person can test his level of bitahon by honestly asking himself, “How do I deal with my problems? Am I down, am I depressed, or am I upbeat?” If he approaches his problems with a calm, positive attitude, then he has a high level of bitahon. But if he finds himself getting flustered, uptight or angry, then his bitahon is deficient.
A Lesson From the Ant Farm
We must believe that everything that occurs, at every second to every person, is caused by Gd, who always looks out for our best interests and does nothing that is not for our ultimate benefit. Everything is in Hashem’s control, there’s nothing that “just happens” in the world. Hashem is all powerful and can change everything in a split moment.
Imagine we are standing on top of an ant farm. We see a bunch of little ants crawling around in the dirt, running around, hustling and bustling as they gather their food. We see many ants with large, impressive stockpiles of food that they’ve amassed, and then we see a little ant that, hazeet, has nothing. He’s “poor.”
What would it take for us to help this poor little ant? Nothing. We can just take a crumb from our lunch that would otherwise be thrown into the trash and give it to this ant. Presto – he’s a billionaire!
Once we understand that we are like ants – and even smaller – in comparison to Gd, we can understand and internalize the concept of bitahon. Hashem has the unlimited ability to grant us unlimited blessings. He can make the most impoverished beggar a billionaire with less effort than it would take us to give our crumb to an ant. Somebody is ill, Gd forbid? Hashem created him, and created all of life. He can certainly eliminate the illness in a moment. Living with this awareness is living with bitahon.
Putting Bitahon to Use
Bitahon is a powerful tool that you can use to enjoy life to its fullest and achieve happiness and serenity. The Vilna Gaon said that bitahon is “kolel kol hamitzvot vechol hamidot – It encompasses all the mitzvot and all good character traits.” Anyone who wants to improve his life should focus his attention on developing his bitahon.
Let us take a brief look at how bitahon helps one lead a more enjoyable and tranquil life.
A person with bitahon will rarely, if ever, experience jealousy. He will recognize that Hashem has given him precisely what he needs in life, and will thus feel content even if he sees others with more. He is also less inclined to grow angry. With bitahon, one realizes that everything that happens to him was ordained by Gd and is thus to his benefit, and, as such, there is no reason to harbor resentment toward those who wrong him. He will also be humble and feel no need to seek fame or recognition, or boast about his accomplishments. After all, if everything he has acquired and achieved is from Hashem, what does he have to brag about?
Bitahon is also the source of feeling and emotion in religious observance. We often find ourselves observing the Torah by rote, without any feeling, and when this happens, religion is stale and dry. If a person’s electricity is operating at 60 percent, then that’s how his appliances will operate. But if he has full power, then everything will work at full power. Similarly, the stronger a person’s bitahon is, the more powerful and energetic his religious observance will be.
Without bitahon, a person can get depressed over the smallest things, even minor inconveniences and setbacks. Because he expects things to be smoother, he feels frustrated when they don’t work out as well they could. But with bitahon, a person realizes that everything is precisely the way it should be, as determined by Hashem who knows what’s best for us.
A person with bitahon never has regret, because he recognizes that everything that happens was willed by Gd. Even what appears to be the result of his decisions was caused by Gd, who wanted him to make those choices. If a fellow sold his stocks and the next day their value soared, he will naturally feel frustrated that he did not wait another day. But if he has bitahon, he understands that he sold the stock exactly when Gd wanted him to, and he made exactly as much money as he was supposed to. A businessman sends a large shipment of merchandise to a customer, and the next day the customer files for bankruptcy. If he has bitahon, then instead of fretting over the loss he calmly accepts the fact that this is precisely what Hashem determined was the best thing for him.
A person with bitahon can smile and be happy in any situation, because he knows that everything is ordained by Gd.
And with bitahon, one has no reason to be afraid of anybody. Nobody has any say in your parnasah (livelihood) besides Hashem – not your boss, not your major client, and not your main customer. If the customer goes out of business, Gd will find another way to provide your livelihood.
With bitahon, a person can enjoy peace of mind even during these very difficult economic times. A master of bitahon could lose his job and still be in a good mood.
Most people are too worried to enjoy all the pleasures and delights that life has to offer. When a person has an issue on his mind, it can ruin his entire day. This is why happiness is so elusive. When a person is worried, his mind preoccupied about his business, he can’t enjoy his life. If a fellow wants to take out his kids for a nice Sunday afternoon joyride, but the whole day he’s thinking and worrying about his business, then he misses out on the whole day. He can’t have a good time with his children because of his worries.
The more stress one experiences, the harder it is to have a pleasant home. A father comes home after a hard day at work. His company laid off more workers, and he’s worried about his job. He’s nervous, depressed and in a bad mood. He snaps at his wife, and she snaps back at him; the kids snap at each other, and the whole night is ruined. Why? Because of stress, anxiety and depression.
This is not how it has to be. If the man realizes that it is Hashem, not his company, who provides his livelihood, and thus it will provided with or without that job, the company’s problems would not cause him any worry. He would come home every day happy, content and at ease, ready to enjoy pleasant, quality time with his wife and children.
Especially in this day and age, when life is so pressured and uncertain, we need bitahon to achieve tranquility and happiness. We must rely on Hashem and realize that ultimately, at the end of the day, He is the one who takes care of all our needs. If we master this skill of bitahon, believing in and relying on Gd, and nobody and nothing else, then we will, with His help, achieve the peace of mind and serenity that we all desire.
This article was from a class given by Rabbi David Ashear. To receive a short (few minutes) daily audio and written shiur of Chizuk on emunah and bitahon given by Rabbi Ashear, send an email to email@example.com
Opening parable was given by Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman.