Thursday, Apr 11, 2024

The Power of Bitachon in Tough Times

 

Boruch Hashem, I don’t have to make decisions for Eretz Yisroel or even for proclamations on behalf of daas Torah. However, I believe that current events make it instructive or even imperative to examine the vacillations of the Biden administration toward the State of Israel in a Torah light. We have already noted in these pages the dramatic change in the White House position toward Israel since the Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah Hamas massacres. From what was literally a brief moment of support and empathy with the Jewish nation, we have descended to hearing President Biden accuse Israel’s defensive actions as being “over the top” and disproportionate to the massacre. After almost eight decades of Israel being beholden to the vagaries of American administrations led by a State Department riddled with Arabists and outright anti-Semites, Israel is beginning to consider letting go of the apron-strings of the American crutch.

What does the Torah teach us about this seemingly necessary but certainly unhealthy relationship?

Let us first turn to the wisdom of Dovid Hamelech. He teaches us, in a passage we recite every single day, “Do not rely upon nobles, nor on a human being, for he holds no salvation” (Tehillim 146:3). The Ibn Ezra explicates, appropriately for us, that this refers to “a human being who cannot even save himself.” The Radak adds that even when we hope that the nations will come to our aid, it must be based upon the fact that Hashem runs the world and we put our hopes and reliance solely upon our Creator.

Indeed, Dovid Hamelech’s son, Shlomo Hamelech, even declared, “Trust in Hashem with all your heart and do not rely upon your own understanding” (Mishlei 3:5). In other words, not only should we not trust other human beings, but we shouldn’t even rely upon our own judgments, but only upon those of the Ribono Shel Olam.

The Vilna Gaon on Mishlei famously cites a Gemara (Megillah 18a) to illustrate proper bitachon. The rabbonon did not know the meaning of the word yehovcha in the posuk which states, “Cast upon Hashem your yehovcha and He will sustain you” (Tehillim 55:23). Rabbah Bar Bar Chana was walking along, carrying a heavy package. An Arab merchant said to him, “Take your package and throw it upon my camel.” Apparently, this taught the rabbonon the meaning of this word.

The Vilna Gaon explained that this was not a linguistic issue. We had no need to have an Arab explain to us the meaning of a word in Tanach. However, the sages were considering a question in the halachos of trust in Hashem. Should a person obviously trust in Hashem but also depend upon his own expertise or the help of others to fulfill the will of the Al-mighty? The incident with the Arab merchant crystallized that if we throw our dependence totally and genuinely upon Hashem, others will willingly volunteer to help us, without our lifting a finger. That is what Shlomo Hamelech is teaching as well – that we need not rely upon our own actions or those of others at all.

The Brisker Rov modernizes the Vilna Gaon’s metaphor and I take the liberty of providing a more modern example. Someone gives a ride to a person walking along a road. The grateful passenger climbs in, but clings to his heavy suitcase. When the driver offers him to put the burden down on the car floor, the weary traveler protests, “I was just trying to help you by reducing the burden upon your car.” The driver laughingly responds, “Don’t you understand? It makes no difference to me or my vehicle if you are holding your suitcase or not. We are carrying you either way.” The Brisker Rov concludes: This is Shlomo Hamelech’s eternal lesson. When we are relying upon Hashem, we need no one else. He is the Creator of the universe, the one who carries all the planets, galaxies and solar systems. He doesn’t need our help at all. The way Rav Chatzkel Levenstein put it sharply was: “It is our eyes that blind us to the truth when we see what we think is the help and salvation of human beings, when in truth it is only Hashem” (Ohr Yechezkel, Darkei Ha’avodah, page 152).

Rav Meir Simcha Hakohein (Meshech Chochmah, Devorim 10:20; Ohr Someiach, Talmud Torah 1:2) sees this mandate as also fulfilling the mitzvah of “uvo sidbak – to Him you shall cleave.” He explains that “the levels of bitachon where one trusts a king to provide governmental services and of a parent to provide family needs and a husband to provide parnassah to his wife are all included in our trust that Hashem will take care of us, which means clinging unto Him.”

We must also note that Rav Chaim Kanievsky (Derech Emunah, end of Hilchos Matnos Aniyim) explains that the line in bentching which says, “Boruch hagever… Blessed is the man who trusts in Hashem, then Hashem will be his security” (from Yirmiyah 17:7) means that the person who trusts man only is actually cursed, but even the person who trusts in Hashem but thinks that he requires human intervention as well is neither cursed but does not receive a brocha either. Given all this, we must realize that Rav Moshe Feinstein rules (Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 4:37:19, and see Dorash Moshe, page 113) that one must do some hishtadlus (effort), such as obtaining a livelihood, but this does not negate having complete bitachon that this, too, comes from Hashem. We can certainly apply this to our dealings with nations and world leaders. If they offer and are sincere about helping us, this is what the Vilna Gaon promised us would happen if our bitachon is firmly in place. However, if they are only setting us up for disaster and, G-d forbid, destruction, we have no need for the help of “nobles,” when there is nothing noble about their pressures, offers or hypocritical advice.

Throughout our history, there were numerous nissim that occurred to Yidden who exhibited extraordinary bitachon in Hashem only, regardless of the dangers and spiritual tests facing them. One such event happened to Rav Shimon Bergstein, who was learning in Baranovitch under Rav Elchonon Wasserman. Young Shimon was a Polish citizen and the Lithuanians wanted to send him to Siberia simply because he was Polish and suspected of being a traitor. Although Shimon tried valiantly to avoid the spies, he was always makpid to daven vosikin and they caught him and shipped him off to Siberia. He never lost his bitachon, always believing that it was all for the best. Indeed, when the Nazis came to Baranovitch, murdering most of the yeshiva bochurim, including the holy rosh yeshiva, Shimon was spared. He later settled in Eretz Yisroel, where he raised a beautiful Torah family and helped many of those who arrived after him. Although he always mourned his rabbeim and chaveirim, he felt that Hashem had saved him because of his steadfast faith that there is a good purpose in everything that was happening to him (Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein, Borchi Nafshi, Shemos, page 425).

Most importantly, even if a king or president does something in our favor, it is not only the will of Hashem. It is His direct doing. We are all familiar with the posuk (Mishlei 21:1) which teaches that “Like streams of water is the heart of a king in the hand of Hashem; wherever He wishes, so He directs it.” The Medrash (Mishlei Rabbah 21; Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh, Devorim 10:17) states that kings and other rulers have no free will. Their actions are totally controlled by G-d. The Ralbag and Malbim explain that this must be so, because otherwise the king could endanger or even cause destruction to his people and country. The Meshech Chochmah (Devorim 17:15) proves this from the fact that when Shaul was no longer king, Shmuel began to fear him, since he now had the free will to do whatever he wanted (Shmuel I 1:11). Therefore, although, as Rav Moshe Feinstein taught us, we must do our hishtadlus, we should not obsess or worry excessively about despots, rulers or presidents. Interestingly, when the Brisker Rov was told that people were worried about this or that prime minister’s opinions about something affecting the Torah world, his response was, “I am not worried about the prime minister, for he is in the hands of Hashem. I am concerned, however, about So-and-so who is out of office and can cause us trouble.”

We should, of course, follow any guidance that gedolei Yisroel choose to share with us about elections and political leaders. But let’s not worry excessively about who will be president. A number of recent American leaders, who are known for their help for the Jews, were later proven to have been quite anti-Semitic in their private moments and even writings. It is absolutely clear that Hashem was causing them to go against their own grain for the sake of Klal Yisroel. As we learned from Rav Moshe Feinstein, we must do our hishtadlus, meaning our due diligence. But let us always remember that the Creator of the universe is still fully in charge of His world. May He look at us favorably and grant us the yeshuos and nechamos we seek bemeheirah beyomeinu.

 

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