This is another of the series of Mussar workshops I assist with. It’s especially timely as we look forward to Pesach. We transform our allegiance from a limited human, Pharaoh, to the Infinite God, lifting our upper limit from the finite to the Infinite. Perhaps the most insidious Pharaoh we need to free ourselves from is ourselves. Trust is a necessary emotion to enable our reliance on God.
Mussar Midot and Mitzvot
ביטחון Bitachon (Trust)
(וְיוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי שַׁבָּת לַיהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לֹא־תַעֲשֶׂה כָל־מְלָאכָה (שמות כ:י
And the seventh day is Shabbat for HaShem, your God. Do no labor. (Shemot 20:10)
וְהָיָה אִם־שָׁמֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶל־מִצְוֹתַי…וְנָתַתִּי מְטַר־אַרְצְכֶם בְּעִתּוֹ
And if you deeply listen to my mitzvot… and I will bring timely rain to your land. (Devorim 11:13-14)
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Judaism is entirely based on trust. We’re asked to validate experiences of that which we cannot perceive. Although semi-proofs, lacking all rigor, are easy to find, in truth it’s impossible to prove God’s existence, the objective value of mitzvot or any other reason to participate in Jewish tradition.
ביטחון, Bitachon (trust), and אמונה, Emunah (belief), are closely related and are often used interchangeably. We continuously work on our faith (Emunah (אמונה) is related to Omanut (אמנות), which means craft–in other words, Jewish tradition sees “faith” as a work in progress!). The deeper we’re able to forge our belief that God exists and that He is a benevolent God, the more we feel safe in trusting Him.
In general, a lack of trust encourages power and control issues. “If I can’t trust anyone (or any “power”) to do something, I better take care of it myself.” While, superficially, this can seem like a healthy and mature relationship with responsibility, quite often what it really displays is pure narcissism, the actual emotional statement being “Only I am capable and trustworthy and good enough to do what needs to be done”. In other words, “I’m better than everyone!”
Thus, the central mitzva of Judaism, Shabbat observance, directly, and almost in a heavy-handed way, forces us to give up control, at least for one day a week. To one degree or another, each of us needs to remove ourselves from the center of our universe. On both a figurative and literal level, coming to terms with the fact that even if we don’t personally provide for our needs the world will still go on. No one, ourselves included, is indispensable. The world will continue to exist after we, individually, are no longer here, just as it will continue to function even if we occasionally disengage our efforts at production.
God, we learn, is patient and can bear infinite insult from us. We, and our fellows, are remote from this (in our cases human) level of development. Thus, since God can, as it were, “take care of Himself”, we really have to worry about the effects of our actions on other people. So, while the ultimate goal is in terms of our relationship with The Creator, in “real life” (and also, the path to refining our relationship with God is through our relationships with our fellow men), it’s the people around us, whom we increasingly learn to trust, who benefit. Thus Shabbat provides our best exercise in developing these spiritual “muscles”.
If the world were, indeed, random and chaotic, it would be insane to trust anyone or anything. The more predictable things are, the more secure and confident we feel and that makes us much more likely to be trusting.
Even if we inexactly understand the “rules” and the deep, underlying connections of cause and effect, our experience tells us that, to some extent, at least, the general concept of cause and effect is true. The second paragraph of the Sh’ma explains this phenomenon on the basis of covenant: If we perform our duties (observe the mitzvot), God will preserve us in The Land. But if we don’t, we’ll surely be lost, as we have time and time again. The reminder from our twice-daily recital of this, along with our historical experience, reinforces our understanding the world as organized and directed rather than pointless and random. On a personal basis, we’re reassured that our actions have predictable (even if not necessarily foreseeable by us) consequences. As we gain confidence in this area, our ability to place trust beyond our own limited selves grows. We can begin to evict ourselves from the center of the universe as well as to understand our own identities as human and not divine. This allows us better relations both with our fellow men, whom we see as our equals, as well as with God, Whom we see infinitely transcends us.