Bitachon Builder #1
(Excerpted from Rav Avigdor Miller on Emunah and Bitachon)
Why is it so important to learn about bitachon?
Because all the phenomena of the world contradict it.
The mere fact that you have to put food into your mouth and chew is a contradiction to bitachon. Imagine a person with so much faith that when food is placed on the table he prays that Hashem will nourish him — without eating it! Of course, everybody understands that such a person is a fool. He has to put the food in his mouth. Not only that, but he has to do a lot of work. He has to go through the work of cutting off pieces with his front teeth. Then his tongue has to propel the pieces to the back teeth, the molars, which grind the food and secrete saliva to make it softer and help digest it in the mouth, and also to lubricate the swallowing. There’s a lot of work involved in eating.
Imagine a pious bachelor who studies Torah all day and prays to Hashem that he should have offspring — without getting married, without a wife! We would understand that this is not going to happen despite all his prayers. He might be the greatest tzaddik in the world, but it’s not going to happen.
Therefore, there are limits to bitachon. There are certain areas in which we are expected to feel full responsibility; there are certain things that we must do where we can’t lean back and rely on bitachon.
But that leads to the great problem of bitachon. The problem is that our lives are a continual contradiction to bitachon. Bitachon means to know that only Hashem does everything and our efforts are entirely meaningless. Yet, at the same time, we are continually busy all our lives contradicting this principle.
A person asks Hashem for a livelihood. How much effort does he put into asking? Let’s say he is a very pious man who wakes up early to spend an extra hour a day asking exclusively for his livelihood. Imagine such a tzaddik. But look how much he does to contradict that prayer. If he works from 9-5, for eight hours he is demonstrating the opposite of what he is praying.
That is the heart of the problem of bitachon. We are busy all our lives contradicting the principle of bitachon. We contradict it with all our strength, all day long. The problem is that everyone needs a parnassah, but at the same time you have to know that you’re not the one who earns your living.
Therefore, we begin to see how important it is for people to take upon themselves the study of bitachon, because otherwise they are going to be idolaters. They are going to worship their hands; they are going to worship their tools. They are going to say, “Kochi v’otzem yadi, My power and the might of my hand has gotten me this wealth” (Devarim 8:17), because it’s inescapable to avoid becoming a victim of life’s routine, which says you’re the author of your fate and the cause of your success. Aren’t you chewing? Aren’t you marrying to have children? Aren’t you taking steps to prevent illness? Aren’t you selling your wares or your shares? When you cross the street, don’t you look both ways?
By the way, that’s a good idea: You should look both ways when you cross the street. Don’t be a ba’al bitachon and close your eyes when you cross the street. The truth is that you should pray even when you walk in the street. It’s a good idea to say, “Hashem, see to it that I get across the street safely.” It’s not a bad idea at all.
It’s a great pity that people sometimes live for years and years and never once pray to avoid having an accident. Every night, during Maariv, we pray, “Hashkiveinu Hashem Elokeinu l’shalom, Lay us down to bed, Hashem our G-d, in peace.” People don’t know that this is a prayer against having accidents. Every night when saying this berachah, which ends with “Shomer amo Yisrael la’ad, Who protects His nation Israel forever,” have in mind that you’re pray- ing against accidents — accidents to yourself, your wife and your children. But don’t just rely on the official prayers; use your own words, too.
In any event, you see that you’re relying on yourself in very many details.
Sometimes you don’t as much rely on yourself as you do upon others. You rely, for instance, on the police to a great extent. You rely, to a great extent, on the army to protect you from invasion by foreign forces. (America should certainly arm, by the way. The more America arms, the less boldness Russia [i.e., the Soviet Union] will have. The more America disarms, the bolder the Soviets, the communists, will be.)
It’s right that we should arm. But it costs a lot of money. It’s a big cut in our income to defend America. Yet, we understand that it must be done.
We certainly are putting our reliance upon very many things other than Hashem. We are spending a lot of effort and money on them. Now, all this is a big contradiction. Therefore, it becomes essential and imperative to start the current flowing in the opposite direction.
We have to start working on the awareness that nothing means anything. Our weapons are worthless. The army does not exist. Our efforts for our health are meaningless. We have to understand that our 9-5 job, where we try with all our strength to make a living, will not help us earn one penny. And that is a huge job by itself: to fight against all the phenomena that stand and cry out, “You’re the one who makes the decisions for your fate.”
How do we fight it? With bitachon — studying it, practicing it, and staying focused on it all the time.
We say every day, “Hashem echad — Hashem is one.” Hashem is the only one. It’s a declaration of bitachon: the belief that our efforts achieve nothing. And it’s the truth, because haven’t we seen people who put in a lot of effort and in the end their effort was their undoing?
A certain gentleman whose name will not be mentioned struck it rich. He was a poor boy from a Jewish slum and went away from his people. He became lost in the movie-making world. This man had worked his way up from the East Side and finally was on top of the world. Literally. One day he was flying in his very expensive private plane. Floating above the rest of humanity, he decided to look out the window. Way below, all the everyday people looked like insects crawling on the ground. This man was sitting in his grandeur and contemplating his success.
They don’t know how it happened, but he fell out.
Now, imagine that he was a philosophical person who was able to think a little on the way down. It took time from such an altitude before he finally met the ground. And, therefore, perhaps he was thinking something like this: “Suppose I had remained with my father at the pushcart on the East Side. Would I be falling down now? What was I working for all these years? For years I had dreamed, fantasized, looked forward to, and hoped for this grand opportunity. But all it did was lead me to this point—the point where I’m going to die young and tragically. I was working all these years in order to come to this certain place right now, dropping from the sky.”
I don’t really know if he was thinking that, or anything, but what did all his efforts get him? An early death.
Hashem is in control—whether people admit it or not. That is what it means when we say, Hashem echad. Hashem is the one in control. The only one. He is the sole power that controls everything. This principle is so important that we say it every day (as
part of the Shema). The Jew makes it his motto. Before he breathes his last, he declares it. It’s a pity that we so often say it hastily and thoughtlessly.
The facts of life are often presented in such a way by the yetzer hara that people are convinced that they succeed by their own efforts. That brings us back to the great subject of bitachon. As much as possible we have to put into our heads this lesson: Hashem echad.
“Hashem is one” means that you can’t do anything unless He wills it. Nobody carries out the slightest deed—nobody can even open his mouth and talk—unless Hashem wills that he should have the power to do so.
What does bitachon mean? It isn’t trust that Hashem will carry out what you want. That is not real bitachon. Bitachon means understanding that Hashem is completely and solely in command of all the affairs of the world. Bitachon means to know Hashem echad. The world and all its events are orchestrated by one Author.
We have to study it, repeat it and do everything in our power to counter the current of kochi v’otzem yadi — even as we engage in all the necessary daily activities that contradict bitachon. Otherwise, we might easily fall into the trap of thinking that we are the authors of our lives.
Shema Yisrael ... Hashem echad! Don’t just say it. Mean it. Study it. Live it.
Click here to download a printable PDF for your Shabbos table.