By Esti Loeub, Vancouver, British Columbia
MyLife Essay Contest 2018
Unfortunately there are many external and internal challenges that we all face, yet some people seem to be presented with more painful situations and challenges in life than others. How do we stay strong in the face of these challenges? This essay will discuss the methods that Chassidus teaches us how to face suffering and challenges, namely by having complete emunah (faith) and bitachon (trust) in Hashem.
The Alter Rebbe gives advice on how to deal with personal suffering: “For this reason, our Sages of blessed memory stated that the verse, “Those who love Him shall be as the sun when it comes out in its might,” refers to the reward of those who rejoice in their afflictions. For one’s joy in affliction stems from the fact that being near to G‑d is dearer to him than anything of the life of this world, as it is written: “For Your loving kindness is better than life””(1).
When we contemplate the fact that suffering comes from alma d’iskasya (the concealed world which has a higher level of G-dliness than the revealed world), then we can accept it with love because we appreciate that it is a gift in disguise and it brings us closer to Hashem.
Or in other words as Viktor E. Frankl wrote in ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, “In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”
But is it enough to overcome our challenges by having faith that everything that Hashem does is for the good, and therefore this suffering must also be for my benefit?
The Rebbe says that that being at peace with suffering is not enough and there is a higher level of faith which is called Bitachon. Bitachon doesn’t just mean just being at peace with our challenges because we know that it is for our ultimate benefit; Bitachon means trusting that Hashem will give us REVEALED GOOD whether we are deserving of it or not!
But how can Hashem give us revealed good whether we are deserving of it or not? Doesn’t this negate the concept of reward and punishment?
We can understand this based on the advice that the Tzemach Tzedeck (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, 1789-1866) to someone who asked for a blessing for someone who was sick. The Tzemach Tzedeck advised him to “think good and it will be good”. How does positive thinking produce positive results? In order for the person to have complete trust in Hashem despite his personal challenges, he must work on himself a lot. This is something which does not come naturally to most people. When faced with challenges, we must focus on the fact that Hashem will save us without making calculations if it is even possible through the laws of nature (while of course we must also do whatever is possible to overcome those challenges ourselves through the laws of nature). When Hashem sees how much effort we put into having Bitachon, He too does not make calculations whether we are deserving of salvation or not, and He saves us from our suffering.
When we are faced with suffering and challenges, we must know that the outcome is completely dependent on us. If we are able to work on ourselves to have complete trust in Hashem, that He will give us only revealed then (while also doing everything that is in our power to overcome those challenges), then in fact, He WILL give us only revealed good.(2)
As Jews we are not limited to the laws of nature, as the Talmud Yerushalmi states that a Jew “believes in the creator of the world and he plants”. Even though the natural way of the world is that when you plant a seed it grows into a plant, the Jew believes that for everyone else the plant may grow naturally but for HIM the plant is only growing because Hashem makes it grow.(3) When we understand that we are not limited to the laws of nature, we don’t place our trust in doctors or other professionals but we place all of our trust in Hashem (while of course following the advice of doctors and other professionals when appropriate).
Just like Hashem can express Himself in opposite ways at the same time, so too He gives the Jewish people the power to have two conflicting emotions at the same time. On the one hand, when a Jew is suffering, he must have faith that everything that comes from Hashem is good and so the suffering must be for his benefit. Yet on the other hand, a Jew must have complete trust that Hashem can and will give him revealed good; not just in a way that Hashem knows is for the person’s benefit, but in a way which the person himself feels that it is good. Even when there seems to be no natural way to get out of the bad situation, he must trust that Hashem is not limited to the laws of nature and will grant him revealed good.
On December 20, 2017, on the last day of Chanukah, something happened which had a tremendous impact on Jews around the world, myself included. Mr. Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin was released from prison after serving eight years of a twenty-seven year cruel and unjust prison sentence. What most of did not believe possible according to the laws of nature (after losing an appeal and the US Supreme Court refusing to hear a subsequent appeal) happened in the blink of an eye. While I am not in a position to say that Mr. Rubashkin is a perfect human being, what is clear to me is that he and his family had COMPLETE TRUST in Hashem during his trial and imprisonment. His wife kept a clean pair of her husband’s clothes in her car for EIGHT YEARS, with complete faith that one day she would get the call that her husband is being released and she would be ready to pick him up immediately. And this is exactly what happened. This was a clear example to me and to a lot of others that having complete trust in Hashem will lead to Hashem’s salvation even when it does not seem possible according to the laws of nature.(4)
So how do we work on ourselves to have complete emunah and bitachon in Hashem? By using the chochmah, bina, da’as method:
1. We understand the definition of what it means to have complete faith and trust in Hashem.
2. We contemplate the fact that suffering is really a ‘present in disguise’ and is a higher level of G-dly revealation. We also contemplate that Hashem is beyond limitations and can take away our challenges even when it doesn’t seem possible according to the laws of nature.
3. We internalize this outlook to the point that our challenges do not phase us anymore or bring us down.
Just like the Rebbeim of Chabad always demanded that their Chassidim attain spiritual heights through their own effort, not by ‘clinging on to the Rebbe’s tallis’, so too the avodah of having emunah and bitachon requires great personal effort.
I know personally that the avodah of having complete trust in Hashem is something which is very difficult at times and requires superhuman strength to do. But knowing that having COMPLETE FAITH AND TRUST IN HASHEM is the ONLY KEY TO OVERCOMING SUFFERING AND CHALLENGES is what makes it something that I know I have to work hard to do.
1. Tanya Lekutei Amarim Chapter 26
2. Sicha of Parshas Shemos 5726
3. Sicha of Purim 1957
4. Sicha of Yud Shevat 5722