Sunday, December 4, 2011

Gauging our Bitachon

The Midrash teaches that after Yaakov Avinu was stripped of his material goods he declared, "אשא עיני אל ההרים מאין יבא עזרי"—“‘I lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where will my help come?’ Eliezer the servant of Avraham brought ten loaded camels to convince my mother to marry my father. I don’t even have one earring or a bracelet to court my wife-to-be!

But he immediately encouraged himself, “Will I then lose my bitachon? Chas v’shalom that I should lose my hope and trust in Hashem! 'עזרי מעם ה' עושה שמים וארץ!'—“My help will come from Hashem, Maker of heaven and earth.’”[1]

The commentary on the Midrash explains that the word mountains—הריםalludes to parents—הוריםsince both words are essentially the same. The word עזרי alludes to Yaakov Avinu’s future wife, the woman he hoped would be his עזר כנגדו, his helpmate.[2]

Even Yaakov Avinu, the bechir ha’avos, had a momentary lapse of bitachon before he was able to reconnect with Hashem and trust in Him fully. Clearly, bitachon is an ongoing process with its attendant setbacks, and since it is a dynamic quality we run the risk of fooling ourselves into thinking that we have attained a high level even though we have not. So how are we to know whether we are truly developing greater bitachon or just coasting?

One simple gauge of genuine bitachon is our degree of patience when facing challenges. The more bitachon one has, the harder it is to unsettle him.[3] The Alter of Kelm, zt”l, tells us that this is like walking along a narrow log to cross over a raging river. Fear itself makes it very difficult to walk along such a narrow bridge, and the person who manages it with aplomb demonstrates his confidence in a positive outcome.[4] When a person knows that he is in Hashem’s hands, bitachon is strong and fear dissipates. The bridge beneath his feet is solid, and so the pressures of a gust of wind or the fearsome sound of the rushing river below him cannot make him falter.

Our bitachon-stability is highlighted most clearly in our reactions to other people. Do we become flustered and defensive when we are challenged by their behavior, or do we have patience and try to see it from their point of view? One of the greatest tests of our real, not illusory, level of bitachon is in how we treat our spouse. The Midrash itself points to this, since Yaakov Avinu’s own lapse was in the matter of his shidduch.

Rav Nissim Yagen, zt”l, would often discuss the challenges of shalom bayis. “It truly pains me that many times shortly after marriage husbands approach me with complaints. ‘Rabbi, my wife is simply not what I though her to be before our marriage.’

“I invariably reply in kind: ‘You too, are not precisely as she thought you to be before your marriage!’

“The truth is that this feeling betrays a marked lack of bitachon. Chazal brought three proofs from Tanach that one’s wife is heaven-sent.[5] The Ben Ish Chai, zt”l, asks why the Gemara there specifically discusses shidduchim. Is not everything from Hashem? He explains that it is especially in this area that one comes to see with his own eyes that the woman Hashem has sent him is truly his match made in heaven. Like the splitting of the Yam Suf, natural law does not reign when it comes to shidduchim!

Rav Yagen concluded, “But one needs a lot of patience until he sees this, especially at the beginning. I still recall my first trip to America many years ago. I saw a slogan on a billboard that proclaimed a message from Kennedy’s inauguration address: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.’ This is also the secret to building a good marriage: Ask not what your spouse can do for you. Ask instead what you can do for your spouse!”[6]

[1] Bereishis Rabbah 68:2

[2] Maharzu, ad loc

[3] Likutei Moharan I:155; Alter of Kelm in Chochmah U’Mussar II:153

[4] Chochmah U’Mussar, Ibid

[5] Moed Katan 18

[6] Nesivei Ohr, p. 173-174, 179

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