By Devorah Block, San Antonio, Texas
MyLife Essay Contest 2018
If I would try to contain the contents of this entire essay into two sentences it would be the following: 1) You have power to create your own reality. 2) The resolution to all of your challenges, hardships, and uncertainties lies entirely in your hands.
Since that sounds like blaspheme and nonsense all rolled into one, I’ll expound a little further. You might be thinking that the above statement is saying that you have the solution to all of your problems. In truth, your control of your life lies in your complete surrender to the One who is actually running the show.
Wait a second… Control? Surrender? How did those two words find themselves in the same sentence?
The reason why we want to wrap our heads around this concept to begin with is because for most human beings, the second things seem to be going wrong, our automatic reaction is to switch into stress and anxiety mode, one that takes so much out of us and can easily consume our entire existence. The real question is, how do we react to life’s little and big bumps without all that worry and fear? How do we not only push these emotions away, but react positively and productively in a way that can actually remedy the situation?
In a Sicha (Chassidic talk) on the Torah portion of Shemos(1), the Lubavitcher Rebbe answers all of the above questions by explaining the difference between Emunah – faith, and Bitachon – trust. In his talk, the Rebbe explains the true meaning of the Mitzvah of Bitachon, trusting in G-d, while bringing to life the famous adage of the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, “Think good and it will be good.”
The Difference Between Emunah and Bitachon:
Many times we use the terms Emunah and Bitachon interchangeably when in fact they are two very different things. That is also why there is a separate commandment in the Torah for each of them. The difference between Emunah and Bitachon is that Emunah strives to accept the reality and be at peace with it, while Bitachon strives to change it. Bitachon means not only believing in Hashem’s ability to extract a person from any sort of mess, but trusting that Hashem will in actuality.
Emunah is the recognition that whatever G-d does to us is good and is for our good. It is what allows a person to accept a harsh reality with the same love and faith as he accepts a positive one. Bitachon is when a person puts his full trust in Hashem that He will make everything good in an open and revealed way. Not the ouch-that-hurts-but-I-deserve-it kind of good, but the everything-is-just-fine-and-dandy kind of good. Think of a child who is being chased by a wild gang and runs to his father for protection. When the child is standing near his father, the fear drains out of him and he feels completely secure. Not because he knows that whether or not his father will decide to protect him it is for his own good, but because there is not a smidgen of doubt in his mind that his all powerful Daddy will protect him from all harm.
Since a person with Bitachon relies on Hashem to give him revealed good, he is not concerned about his current reality. He doesn’t even bother to make peace with it, because there is no doubt in his mind that it is about to change into something sweet.(2)
The Inner Workings of Bitachon:
Before we get to the what and how of Bitachon, we need to understand what the basis is for our certainty that Hashem will provide us with revealed good? What if we don’t deserve it? The answer lies in the words of the Tzemach Tzedek, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe. A man once came to him and begged him to pray for his son was who was fatally ill, and the Tzemach Tzedek replied to him, “Think good and it will be good.”(3) The man followed the Rebbe’s instructions, and sure enough, his son recovered completely. We can infer from these words that the positive thinking itself is what brings about the positive results. In other words, the fact you trust in Hashem is what brings about the flow of the revealed good into your life.
How does it work? In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) it says “Da ma limaala mimach,”(4) simply translated as “Know what is above you.” Chassidus brings out the deeper dimension of this statement by using the literal meaning of the word “Mimach” which is from you. Now the phrase translates as: “Know that what is (happening) above, is from you.” It’s hard to believe, but the goings on in heaven are actually determined by our behavior in this physical world. This means that everything that happens to us is not just because the Heavenly court decided it to be that way, but in direct correlation to the way we are conducting ourselves down here. In this case, when we think and act positively we are causing Hashem to react positively to us. When we put our full trust in Hashem that He will give us revealed good, we become a vessel for only that, and it becomes impossible for us to receive troubles just like it is impossible to fit a square into a triangle hole.
Picture a mischievous child who managed to smush an entire container of playdough into the freshly cleaned carpet. When you approach him, he bursts out crying knowing what’s coming to him, and you take that opportunity to set out his consequence. Now imagine the same scene but when you approach the toddler he flashes you an adorable smile and his eyes are dancing with life and excitement. As sure as you were a second before that you were going to discipline him, now his charming smile makes it impossible to carry through with that, and the most you can do is remove him from his playdough and set him up with a more damage controlled activity.
We can apply this example to us and Hashem. When we have Bitachon, we override any divine discipline that we might deserve, and instead Hashem changes our circumstances to make them good in every way. Not only does it become impossible for Hashem to give us hardships, but it becomes unnecessary as well. In essence, when we sin we are denying G-d’s presence in our lives, and when we have Bitachon, we are acknowledging G-d’s presence in our lives to the point that we are physically not worried when faced with challenges and frustration. When we are put to the test and we react with Bitachon, we are showing Hashem that there is no need to give us any wake up calls, we have already fully repented and reconnected with Him.
Chassidus teaches us a revolutionary idea: the fact that we are the ones creating our own reality. If we are thinking along negative lines, then we are creating a vessel for Hashem to do just that, and there is no reason for Hashem to disregard our behavior and give us revealed good. But if we think positively, then Hashem will react positively to us, and there will be no room for hardships. It is all up to us, and the way we choose to react to the situations that Hashem thrusts upon us. This concept is not just theoretical, it proves itself time and time again. When we think positively, we are literally creating the desired positive results.
I learned this concept for the first time earlier this year, and after internalizing it, the change in my thought processes, emotions and behaviors was immediately apparent. Shortly after the lesson in which we learned this Sicha, I realized that my purse which contained my wallet and other important things was missing. After checking in the first place where I thought it would be with no results, stress and anxiety was creeping fast and furiously into my system. It was then that the words of this Chassidic talk started rushing into my brain and it immediately stopped my negative train of thought. My new thought process went something like, I am not going to make myself into a vessel for the outcome that I do not want! I am going to become a vessel for strictly revealed good. I trust in Hashem that I will find my bag and there are no two ways about it. Surprisingly, I did not feel anxious at all after that little self pep talk. Once I made the decision in my head that I was going to find my bag, all those good for nothing what-if thoughts were silenced and I actually felt calm! Sure enough, in the next place I checked I found my bag sitting on a chair waiting for me. Would it have been there all along? Who’s to know? But I can tell you that what felt even better than finding my purse was the knowledge that I had not lost my cool in the process. It’s a trivial example, but for me it represents the huge change that Chassidus has made in my life. Before learning this concept illuminated by Chassidus, my reaction to that scenario would have been completely different; there is no doubt that I would have been stressed and bent out of shape until I found my bag.
This new understanding has affected my life down to the most seemingly insignificant occurrences.Things like coming up the stairs to my seminary apartment and realizing that I don’t have my key on me, and instead of getting stressed deciding in my head that the door will be open – and sure enough it is slightly ajar. Or in the slightly bigger challenges like making summer plans and figuring out job opportunities, making the firm decision in my head not to be anxious because everything will work out in a revealed good way, and then seeing things fall into place. You start to realize that you and G-d really are partners in creation, and when you put yourself on the same team as Him by relying on him with all your being, the only response is revealed good. It’s not easy at all – to let go of all calculations and probabilities and put yourself in a place of complete trust. I don’t always succeed, but I do strive to get there, and I find that as long as I’m sincerely trying Hashem responds as if I have actually reached the objective.
Here is how to implement Bitachon in your life:
Step 1: Let go. Acknowledge the fact that G-d is in control of your situation. (This is obviously referring to after you have done everything in your power to avoid/help the situation. Meaning, don’t cross the street in the middle of traffic because it’s all in G-d’s hands anyways.)
Step 2: Realize that G-d is your father, and all He wants to give is you sweetness and revealed good.
Step 3: Do the math: If Hashem is in control + He wants to give you revealed good = All you need to do to access this revealed good (and bypass any Divine discipline) is to show G-d that you trust him by not worrying.
Step 4: Think positively. Admittedly, this is much easier said than done. It is also the most crucial of the steps because our thoughts are what create our reality. Since it is very hard to think only positively about a situation that is looking very negative, start off with investing an equal amount of time to thinking positively as you do for thinking negatively. If you find your thoughts wandering off to contemplating the negativity of a situation, or thinking up “worst case scenarios,” you need to immediately spend the same amount of time thinking in a positive way about the same situation, and focusing on the “best case scenario.” There is a well known rule in Judaism, “A little bit of light chases away much darkness.” The power of your positive thinking will banish the effects of the negative thinking. The more you identify with the light and the positivity, the more you will become a vessel for it, and it will start becoming part of your natural thinking patterns. Eventually, we will be able to think strictly positive thoughts about whatever situation it is that we are in.
Some good thoughts to have handy are:
Hashem is taking care of me, it’s all going to be good.
It’s all going to work out.
_________ (whatever it is that you want to happen) will happen.
I trust Hashem that I will be able to _________.
Step 5: Believe what you think. It’s not effective to be constantly thinking positively if we don’t actually believe what we are thinking, and we are still feeling worried. Take a moment to meditate on the meaning of Bitachon and the positive thoughts that you are thinking, and connect to them. Then divert your attention from the situation, and show Hashem that you are not worried about it by involving yourself in other matters.
Step 6: Speak Positively. Speech is one of the most powerful tools we have. When we speak we are reinforcing and energizing whatever it is that we are speaking about, making it more real. Therefore, it is extremely important to speak positively about the things that we want to turn out positive. Whatever the situation may be, when talking to others about it, try to downplay the negative aspects and emphasize the positive. Besides for strengthening your vessel for revealed good, it will reduce your anxiety because the more something is spoken about, the more you start to identify with it and the more real it becomes to you. Therefore, by eliminating negative speech it will automatically lessen the intensity of your worry.
Step 7: Take Positive Action. In my seminary we recently had a raffle for a ticket to New York for the annual Chabad Women’s Emissaries Convention. A friend of mine was so sure that she was going to win that she ordered a pair of warm boots to New York so that she would have what to wear in the cold. I don’t have to tell you who was sitting on the plane to New York the following week… The most powerful thing that we can do is to bring our Bitachon into the realm of action. Act on your trust and you can be sure that Hashem will react accordingly. Whatever your situation is, take actions that show Hashem that there is no doubt in your mind that He will come through for you.
Step 8: Acknowledge the revealed good that Hashem is constantly bestowing upon you. When things do work out, don’t take it for granted, but let G-d know that you acknowledge that it is the work of His hand, and that you appreciate it.
Once we realize that our control comes through our absolute surrender to G-d’s goodness, (you see those words do belong in the same sentence after all!) we will be able to react to the big and small frustrations of life from a place of optimism and inner peace, as opposed to stress, anxiety and/or fear. It’s not easy; it takes courage to plunge into the world of trust and to completely let go of all of our illusions of control, but what would we rather be – warriors or worriers? Part of the beauty of the approach of Chassidus is that it is usually not instant or easy, but the transformation that it brings about is so lasting and so real. This is because Chassidus first tries to change the way we think, and then the emotions and behaviors that follow are authentic since they are based in a solid mindset. When Chassidus meets the idea of Bitachon, the results are a deep rewiring of the brain, to the point where we can respond to any challenge or frustration without anxiety or fear, and furthermore, we can transform it into a case of revealed good.
1 Likutei Sichos Volume 36, Shemos Alef
2 This is why Emunah is the appropriate approach to painful events that have happened in the past, and Bitachon is what is demanded when there is a situation that is still unfolding. For example, if someone finds out that he was rejected from a certain job opportunity, he needs to believe that though what he experienced was painful, it came straight from Hashem and is ultimately for his own good. On the other hand, after a person has had his job interview and is still waiting for his answer, he needs to have Bitachon that he will be accepted, and he needs to be so one hundred percent sure about it that he’s not even worried about the results.
3 This story can be found in the Igeres Hakodesh of the Previous Rebbe, Volume 2 p. 537, and Volume 7 pg. 197.
4 Pirkei Avot, Chapter 2, Mishne 1