One of my greatest challenges is Bitachon, trust. This requires very deep belief that not only did God create the world, he also monitors each and every individual being in this universe each and every minute and that he is entirely beneficent. In our day, just a generation-and-a-half from the Holocaust, a time when the very existence of the miracle of the State of Israel is increasingly threatened daily, in a world plagued with global terrorism as well as global warming, it’s much easier to conclude that either God is on break or is, chas v’chalila actually evil.
Part of that negative thinking stems from, egotistical, shallow thinking. As finite beings in time, we’re not able to see very far ahead into the future. If things look bad now, our overwhelming tendency can too easily be to fear that we’re headed for an inevitable bad end. Even though we’ve been reassured over many generations that things will ultimately work out, because we can’t see it immediately, we’re more sure of our own limited vision and judgement. If we declare that everything is going to hell, then that just must be true. Not exactly the objectivity we’re usually so proud of.
I think, however, that there is a deeper bitachon than merely adopting an optimistic outlook (which, itself, is integral to Torah). I call it “without a paddle” bitachon, since it requires us to periodically jettison whatever we’ve become complacent and too comfortable with. Year after year we return through the cycle of Jewish holidays where, if we want to fully experience each one, we need to let go of what we experienced and learned last year. Even our deepest insights and epiphanies need to be released. We need to be ready to start all over again, basically from the beginning, and leap onto the new year’s ride. This is especially meaningful as we face Rosh HaShana once again.
We find that the ladder that brought us from the ground to our present elevation will now function as an anchor and prevent us from climbing any higher if we don’t let go of it. We need to force ourselves, if necessary, to joyously embrace the unknown.
Avraham, our forefather, is praised as the first Jew, more specifically, the first Ivri, the first to cross over. Surely not everyone in his culture was a savage child-sacrificing beast. There were probably many decent people who appreciated and agreed with his insights into the Universe, but they never reached the level of ethical monotheism.
What marks Avraham as unique, and the necessary spirit to found the Jewish people, is that he was willing to leave behind everything he knew, everything that was comfortable and familiar, and head into a new land. Just realizing that the Creator was a necessary part of reality, he was pointed in a new direction. He sent himself on this journey with a blessing. As we see in later stories, of course he had many moments of doubt and fear, but he was willing, nonetheless, to constantly forge ahead.
Rabbi Shloime Twerski, of blessed memory, published an article shortly before his death on Simchat Torah in 1981, about how hard it is for us to make changes in our lives, even when we know that the change is for the best. No matter that we just worked hard and saved up and bought a wonderful new home, it’s always so difficult to pack up and leave our crowded apartment. For more than half of the world’s Jews, myself included right now, even though we have the opportunity of the millennia to make ourselves at home in our spiritual and historical homeland, very few of us, at least if we’re not being actively threatened at the moment, aren’t paralyzed when offered to option to live in Israel. Bitachon is a hard road to follow.
On a deep level, it shouldn’t be, but in many personal realities, it really is too much to expect that we’ll all jump happily into the unknown in every part of our lives, trusting our instincts and training as well as, of course, hashgacha pratit. But we can, at least once in a while, encouraged by the new opportunities of a new year, try a little, take a few small steps in the right direction. The Psalm we read from the beginning of Elul until after Simchat Torah, chosen specifically for this holy season, tells us to “trust in God, strengthen and fortify our hearts and trust in God”. It takes a strong heart, but we are given that by The Creator as well.