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From Hardship to Happiness

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By Chanie Volovick
MyLife Essay Contest 2017
We live in a world where tragedies occur regularly, both to us individually and in the world at large. Poverty, crime and crisis are a sad reality. In our personal lives, we deal with numerous challenges, including financial struggles, relationship and family issues, etc. Simultaneously – and naturally so – we are constantly striving to achieve happiness, positive thinking, and inner peace. How can we move from a state of merely managing life’s hardships to a state of actively living in joy? The following essay will employ a few signature Chassidic teachings to accomplish the above such as “​Tracht gut vet zayn gut” (“think good and it will be good”) and “​Moach Shalit al halev,” (the mind rules the heart).

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, the Tzemach Tzedek, (1789-1866) commonly used the phrase “​tracht gut vet zayn gut”​1​What lies at the heart of this teaching is the concept of bitachon, trust in G-d, which is discussed at length in Chassidus. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that ​bitachon – trusting that G-d will resolve the challenges and hardships we encounter – not only helps us deal with uncertainty, but that the ​bitachon itself becomes the means by which we receive G-d’s blessings​ 2.​ How so? Chassidus explains that G‑d is good and is the only universal power. Therefore, all that happens must be essentially good.​3​ Our belief that this is true activates the truth inherent in reality, thus enabling us to palpably experience the good.

This may sound simple in theory, however, when life challenges arise and negative emotions overtake us, the notion of activating ​tracht gut vet zayn gut and ​bitachon may appear to be far-fetched, or even unrealistic.

How can we practically activate ​bitachon and thus experience the good inherent in our reality?

The Alter Rebbe writes in Tanya: “​Moach shalit al halev”​4​. The mind has the ability to transform our emotions and emotionally-driven thoughts from negative to positive. Based on this premise, we will now explore a 3-step process through which every individual can address negative feelings and ultimately transform a negative state of being into one of conscious joy.

1. AWARENESS
Gaining conscious awareness of our challenges is essential to overcoming them. It is often easier to escape rather than face the difficulties we encounter. Indeed, facing challenges can create feelings of fear and uncertainty but having the courage to deal with life’s struggles is in our best interest.

This process of recognizing what it is that life is asking of us, naturally also demands us to examine any accompanying overwhelming emotions and their underlying triggers. Taking the time to understand and mindfully address our inner selves is part and parcel of gaining conscious awareness.

One of the Hayom Yom teachings states: “​Yedias hamachala chatzi harefua- knowing the disease is half the cure 5”. (The daily teaching continues to explain that the next step in healing requires the absolute faith that G-d is our Healer.)

When the Jewish people were leaving Egypt and were faced with the impossible feat of crossing the Red Sea, many felt discouraged and were looking for an escape. The fear and terror that they were experiencing, felt too overwhelming for some. Perhaps returning to Egypt or committing suicide would be easier in resolving the inhumane challenge they were facing. However, avoiding the challenge and losing oneself in the overwhelming emotions that were triggered was not the proper response. Instead, G-d commanded them to travel forward, assuring His nation that with proper faith they would prevail.

2. ASKING G-D FOR HELP – PRAYER
Once we are aware and accept what the challenge is, then we are ready for the next step – asking G-d for help.

G-d desires that we have a strong connection with Him. Indeed, Maimonides​ ​says that part of the obligation of prayer is that in times of need we turn to our beloved G-d ​6. ​This even applies to spiritual matters, as the Alter Rebbe says in Tanya​ ​that if it is difficult for us to overcome distracting thoughts during prayer, we should turn to G-d and ask for help ​7.

What’s more, G-d so desires to be in dialogue with us that He often waits for us to reach out and beseech His help. For example, Chana the Prophetess was childless, and only after crying desperately and turning to G-d for help did she conceive a child and was thus blessed with our righteous prophet Shmuel 8.

 A story that illustrates this point occurred with the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement.
There was a poor man, whose only source of income was from a single customer who purchased a small amount of liquor and food daily. This income would allow the poor individual to provide the bare necessities for his family. On one occasion, when the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples visited the poor man, he graciously gave them whatever food and liquor he had in his possession, free of charge. He literally hosted the Baal Shem Tov and his students down to the very last that he had in his possessions. Finally, left without any means to provide for his desperate family, he turned to G-d and prayed, asking for help. The following day, his only customer returned to purchase the daily supply of food and liquor. The man said: “This time pay upfront and I will then supply you with the food and drink.” The money he received enabled the poor man to purchase goods for his customer. The customer then ate and drank and became intoxicated and started to cry. He said that he felt that his life was coming to an end and it was his final wish to give the poor man, his only true friend, all of his wealth. The Baal Shem Tov later explained that his purpose in going to visit this man and depriving him of his source of income and food, was so that he, the poor man, would beseech G-d and thereby receive the wealth that was destined for him. In order for him to receive his riches, he needed to ask for it. The Baal Shem Tov’s visit brought about the man’s prayers, which thus served as the vessel for the blessing G-d wanted to give him.

The Torah refers to prayer as “service of the heart.” On the verse in the Shema: “​Leahava es Hashem Elokeychem u’leavdo bechol levavchem”  – to love Hashem your G-d and serve Him with all your heart, the Talmud comments: “What does “​avoda sheb’lev”​ (service of the heart) mean? It means praying to G-d 9.

Indeed, talking to our Creator about our challenges and emotions that arise in life is similar to a child approaching his loving parent for help with his or her issues. Chassidus explains that just as the relationship between a father and son is special and strong because the son is the offspring of his father, so too we are all a part of G-d and have that special connection 10. ​And just as a protective and adoring parent offers comfort and support to his or her child, so too G-d, our Father, is always fully there to support and sustain us 11. 

3. TRACHT GUT (THINK GOOD)
Once we have asked G-d to help us, we are now ready for the next step – to start filling our minds with positive thoughts, thoughts that lead to ​emunah (faith) and ​bitachon (trust) in G-d.

The knowledge that we are never abandoned by G-d offers relief from the overwhelming challenges that create stress and anxiety. We can think about how G-d loves us and that therefore whatever happens is actually good for us. Contemplating G-d’s unconditional love for us, His children, enables us to envision pleasant and positive outcomes.

Focusing on positive thoughts creates positive results. Believing, trusting and knowing that G-d takes care of His children creates that reality. If we do not see the possibility for a solution at present, we can always anticipate that it is going to happen at any moment. Positive thinking fills our lives with ​simcha.​ Serving G-d with joy replaces our negative feelings, (​moach shalit al halev) and creates a peaceful atmosphere in our home. Being content and hopeful enables us to have a significant impact in our friends’, families’, and communities’ lives. Chassidus emphasises Maimonides’ teaching of “one action of a single individual can change the entire world” ​12​ in the perspective that our good thoughts, (“​trachting gut”) has a domino effect on all those we encounter.

The book of Shemot tells the story of Moses in Egypt. He saw an Egyptian man beating a Jew. Moses then killed the Egyptian attacker. The next day, when Moses confronted a Jewish man who was about to strike his fellow Jew, the man said to him: “Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Moses became frightened. Pharaoh became aware of this incident and sought to kill Moses and he was forced to flee to Midian.
The Rebbe says that Moses’ fear resulted in Pharaoh’s desire for revenge, and that had Moses not been afraid he would not have had to face a threat to his life. It was the fear itself that led to the danger, because the power of ​bitachon
​ and absolute faith in G-d creates positive outcome ​13.

What about a person who feels undeserving of God’s goodness being that he/she is an imperfect human being who deals with struggle and sin? Chassidus teaches that G-d rewards our unshakable trust in Him with countless blessings, regardless of whether we otherwise deserve it. It takes incredible willpower to believe in Him in times of challenge, and that in itself deserves reward. The verse states “but as for him who trusts in G-d, kindness will encompass him…” The workings of faith is that it brings unconditional kindness upon those who trust in G-d.”​14

G-d wants every Jew to trust that He will provide sufficiently. The Jewish nation spent 40 years in the desert following the Exodus from Egypt. G-d sustained His nation with a daily portion of manna which was collected daily. Gathering more ​manna
​ than required would result in that extra unnecessary portion spoiling ​15.​ Why did G-d command that the ​manna be collected each and every day with the exception of Shabbat? Why would it not suffice to collect once a week? Although being in the desert, a place devoid of food and water, would be a reason to doubt sustenance, G-d was giving His people the opportunity to rise above the challenge and believe in His miracles, employing renewed daily acts of faith and trust 16.

The Rebbe teaches that complete faith involves not only the belief that G-d was, is, and will always be good, but more so, that the individual palpably experiences goodness and inner peace, even when it naturally would seem impossible. And when the human steps out of his limitations, G-d mirrors man, and in His limitlessness, He transforms nature 17.

In my personal life, I have experienced the blessings that positive thinking, ​tracht gut vet zayn gut, and ​moach shalit al halev
​ bring. One specific story stands out for me.
Having previously lived in New Jersey, and facing difficulty with a job, my husband and I decided to relocate. The idea of moving back to California, my home state, was appealing. When we inquired about the prospects of living there, many of our friends expressed great surprise that we were planning to move without my husband, Shmuel, having the security of a job in California. We went for a visit to my parents who live there, and I packed an extra suitcase with more than was necessary for my family for the visit, believing that we would find a job on this trip. While in California, I envisioned everything falling into place. A week before the start of the school year, we were uncertain about where the children would attend school and where Shmuel would find a job. However, we had no doubt that G-d’s eyes are upon us at every given moment and would ensure success. Our trust in G-d paid off when Shmuel was offered a job and we enrolled our children in the school of our choice.

Thinking this way had an enormous impact on my emotions. If I would have focused on the negative feelings about my situation, I would have despaired. With the future unknown, I knew that I needed to recognize and face my feelings and challenge (Step 1) and to ask G-d to help me overcome any doubt (Step 2). I was thus able to imagine many amazing scenarios and opportunities coming our way, which filled my heart with joy and anticipation for what the future held for us, and all the blessings G-d was going to shower upon us (Step 3).

Living this way is not simple. It takes constant effort and reminders to return to each of these steps and work on thinking positive. However, with practice it becomes easier.

Upon awakening every morning, we recite ​Modeh Ani – we acknowledge the gift of life that G-d grants us each and every day. The morning blessings are recited thereafter, focusing on all the wonderful gifts granted by G-d to us – from the breath of life itself down to all the nuanced blessings in our bodies functioning properly. Focusing on these thoughts transforms negative or worrying feelings and thoughts to grateful, positive ones ​(moach shalit al halev).

What I hope to leave my readers with is that ​bitachon and the chassidut-based path to positive thinking​ is a successful approach towards creating the meaningful life we all strive for. It helps create a situation where our​ “moach” is “​shalit al halev” which in turn creates a life rich with inner peace, conscious joy, and revealed blessings.

Sources and Footnotes
1.Likutei Sichos Vol. 36 Pg. 4
2.​ ​Likutei Sichos, Vol. 36 Pg. 5
3.​ ​Tanya, Ch. 26 Pg. 65
4. Tanya, Chapter 12 Pg. 33
5. 16 Sivan
6. ​ ​Rambam, Hilchos Tefilla, Chapter 1 Halacha 2
7 .Chapter 28 Pg. 69
8. Samuel I, Ch. 1 vs 11
9. Talmud,Tractate Taanis 2A
10.Devarim 14: 1 (Banim atem LaHashem Elokeichem)
11. Lekutei Sichos 31 page 116
12.Rambam, Hilchos Teshuva, Ch. 3 Halacha 4
13.Likutei Sichos, Vol. 36 Pg. 6
14.Ikkarim Maamar 4, end of Ch. 46
15.Beshalach 16 vs 17 and 18 and Rashi on those verses.
16. Devarim 8:3
17. ​ ​Likutei Sichos Vol. 3, Beshalach Pg. 883 and 884

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