by Daniel Feld
MyLife Essay Contest 2016
I. The Predicament of the Modern Man: No Inner Peace
Our modern life is chaotic. We are bombarded from the moment we wake up with texts, emails, articles, Facebook and nonstop connectivity with everyone and everything around us. There are countless demands on our attention, spreading our energies thin. We have hopes and dreams and desires, yet we cannot seem to follow any one of them. We cannot stay a course or see a task to its completion. It is as if everything is possible all at once, yet nothing is happening. We find ourselves at a perpetual crossroad, uncommitted and overwhelmed. In essence, there is a lack of inner peace, or “minuchas hanefesh2” as it is referred to in Chassidus. There is a lack of knowing where one is and what one is doing here, leading to a feeling of meaninglessness and inner turmoil.
Chassidus offers an answer. It is not only an answer, but it is a path. It is a path on which we are guided by a unifying principle melding the different parts of our lives to form a cohesive and meaningful whole. This concept is called bitachon, translated as “faith,” and its application to life’s situations through machshava tova, translated as “positive thinking.” It is not a quick fix or a magic bullet, but it is rather a daily practice and a way of life. In this essay we will explore the Sicha of the Lubavitcher Rebbe from Parshas Shmos, 19653 and its related sources,4 in which the Rebbe puts forth the understanding and tools which can bring one the inner peace that comes from knowing where one is, and what is one’s purpose. We will explore the practical steps set forth to address a lack of direction and inner turmoil, based on the chassidic concepts of 5bitachon (faith), machshava tova (positive thinking) and hisbonenus (contemplation and introspection,) which together and when properly applied, can unify the different parts of a person’s world to form an optimistic path towards a meaningful life.
II. The Issue: Kveidus A Crippling Heaviness
Many thinkers and authors have tried to address the above described challenge of the rat race modern life brings, and the frustration it can cause. I would like to begin with understanding the above challenges through the lens of Chassidus.
In Chassidus, this inner turmoil, the feeling of heaviness and the inability to start things, is understood as part of our human makeup. Chassidus understands there are different archetypal qualities in the makeup of a person, stemming from different sources in one’s soul.6 From one’s “animal soul” stems kveidus and atzlus, an ingrained “heaviness and laziness,” which when allowed will weigh a person down, leaving him without the ability to move forward and devote his energies to positivity and goodness. This heaviness, is able to take over one’s life and stop a person from being productive. From the sheer intensity and speed of our modern life, a person can become overwhelmed and lose their direction. In this situation, one’s ingrained heaviness is able to take over and lead one to feel lost and unproductive.
However, on the other side chassidus teaches, a person has a Gdly soul which imbues him with an ingrained love of Gd and of one’s fellow man, and which gives one the ability to devote one’s energy to doing good and fulfilling one’s role in this world.7 When a person’s innate positive energies cannot be expressed, an inner conflict is created. There is the repressed desire to do good and be productive, coupled with heaviness that weighs them down and makes it all seem grey.
So the question we are left with is: How can one overcome kveidus? How can one find a way to free oneself from being beat and overwhelmed by each obstacle, in order to go forward in a peaceful and powerful way?
III. The Answer: Bitachon A Foundation of Faith
Chassidus explains that at the heart of the issue lies bitachon “faith.” Bitachon in Chassidus is not simply faith that there is good, or that things are going to work out. “Bitachon” is the knowledge, an inner concrete knowing, that there is a Creator who created the world and fills every aspect of it. And the Creator Himself placed me inside of it! Bitachon is the knowledge that I am not here by chance, that I 8,9 was placed in my particular world, with its struggles and challenges, in order to fulfill my role.
The concept of bitachon is not a solution. It is the deciding factor upon which hangs a person’s mindset. When a person lives his life without the inner bitachon described above, each of life’s obstacles, difficulties and the myriad decisions one has to make on a regular basis, are overwhelming and challenging to overcome. Without an inner foundation of faith, molehills become mountains, and slowly a person becomes overwhelmed, frustrated and cannot find peace.
However, when a person has an internal bitachon, it provides them with a rocksolid base with which to go through life. Each new challenge and decision does not shake the foundation. They know it is there for a reason. One knows that they are not responsible for the challenges in their path, and their job is to keep going. Individual obstacles are no longer problems unto themselves, but are rather threads in a woven tapestry. Having bitachon provides one with the perspective that can bring inner peace and the ability to overcome.
- Applied Bitachon : Positive Thinking!
Now that we have understood the concept of bitachon, we need to understand how to apply it. The bitachon in the Creator and in one’s place in the world, is the foundation upon which a positive mindset is built. But when a person is faced with a real everyday challenge, the intellectual understanding of bitachon is not enough. We need a practical tool through which we can apply it in everyday situations. That tool in Chassidus is Machshava Tova Positive thinking!. While bitachon is the concept, Machshava Tova is the tool, the medium through which bitachon is actualized in real life.
The idea of machshava tova is expressed succinctly in the Tzemach Tzedek’s10 famous saying, “Tracht Gut Vet Zain Gut,” “ Think Good, and it will be Good.” This saying leaves us with questions. How can one be so sure it’s going to be good? What is it based on? The answer is bitachon. Bitachon is the base which allows one to say “it will be good.” One has bitachon that he is where he is meant to be, and whatever he encounters on the way is for the good. In other words, when a person has the bitachon that he is here to fulfill his role from Hashem, then all challenges and obstacles boil down to one worry, and one worry only : Hashem’s role for him, and since he is certain that he was put here to fulfill that role, then he is certain he will succeed.
The power of positive thinking is a subject that has been explored in multiple selfhelp books over the last 100 years.11 Popular ideas about positive thinking include it’s ability to provide a better mindset, endurance, success and happiness. While these may be valuable ideas, there is a fundamental difference in the approach of Chassidus. In Chassidis, machshava tova is not only a positive mindset, but it is a practical application of a person’s bitachon in everyday situations.. A person’s machshava tova is a direct outgrowth of a person’s bitachon in the Creator, and in his place in the world. In this way a person’s bitachon provides a base for understanding the saying, “Think good, and it will be good.” It is not some prescription for success. It is a way of life based on one’s bitachon 12 which brings good into one’s life and into the world.
V. Chassidus In Action
We have understood the principles, but we need to now look at a practical example of how machshava tova and bitachon can be applied to someone’s life. Let’s take a gifted, young man studying to become a teacher. He is finishing his degree and is looking for a teacher position. He wants to make sure to get the best position where he will be able to use his talents to the utmost. He applies to three coveted teaching positions and is accepted to all of them. He ends up choosing the school which has the best reputation.
At this point let us contrast two different directions he can take as he begins his new job. One, with the application of machshava tova and bitachon, and one without.
- Without: 2 months into the job he is not whole with his decision. Inside he feels,
“I’m not sure why I chose this school over the others. How do I know this is the right one for me? I thought it was perfect for the job, but I can’t seem to really apply myself. Maybe this one wasn’t really the right choice. I made a decision too quickly…”.
The doubt continues to gnaw away at him inside and never lets him fully apply himself to the job.
He is plagued with questions,
“What would it have been like at the other school? Maybe it would have been a better fit…”
Eventually two months into the job he is frustrated and unhappy. He is not managing to connect with his students and he is disappointed in himself. He cannot change schools as it is too late in the year, and is beginning to doubt his teaching abilities.
- With Machshava Tova:
As soon as the first thought questioning his choice of schools comes in, he fortifies himself with machshava tova:
“If I ended up teaching here, it is because I am meant to be teaching here. I have faith that Hashem is running the show, and guided me to the best school for me to have the most positive influence as a teacher. I will devote myself fully to my teaching and to connecting to my students, since this is the school I was meant to be in.”
Needless to say, in this case his bitachon and machshava tova provide him with an outlook which allows him to connect fully with the students, and to devote himself as a teacher. He is not riddled with selfdoubt and applies himself fully. He was able to overcome the challenge of modernity and its myriad options. His bitachon and machshava tova led him to a path of inner peace and optimism.
VI: Conclusion: The Daily Prescription
In the beginning of the Alter Rebbe’s13 Siddur, he provides a short and simple daily prescription with which to begin one’s day. It is meant to imbue the person with bitachon for the day through contemplating his place in creation right at the day’s start. The practice is called “Hisbonenus,” best translated as “contemplation and introspection.” Hisbonenus is taking a moment to contemplate a certain concept in order to allow it to become internalized. The Alter Rebbe prescribes, that immediately upon arising one should take a moment to reflect on one’s place in the creation.
The exact wording should be somewhat individualized but the idea is along the following lines: “I just woke up in a beautiful world created by Gd. A world in which Gd is present throughout, including being close to me. I may encounter many things throughout my day, and the things I will encounter are for my good, for all of it was put here by the Creator. In this special place on earth I am here to spread Gdliness and do good, and I shall focus my actions, my thoughts and my speech to fulfill this purpose.”
This moment of introspection can provide a source of power and inspiration throughout one’s day. When encountering challenges throughout the day, one can reflect back and remind oneself of the bigger picture. With time, this practice of hisbonenus can instill in us the bitachon and positive thinking with which we can create a better world. Chassidus has provided us machshava tova and bitachon as powerful tools for personal transformation which can be successfully applied to the challenges of our modern age. Through their contemplation and practical application, we can overcome the challenges on our path and merit for “our good thoughts to be considered actions, to see success in all our efforts throughout the day, and in all the days of our lives.”14
Footnotes and Sources:
(1) Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, 1789 1866, the 3rd Rebbe of the Chabad Lubavitch Chassidic Movement ,
(2) See the Rebbe’s Maamar,“Baasi Ligani” 5717. Chovas Halivavos, Shaar Habitachon p.281. Maamarim Admor Haemtzaiy“ 01 .p ,misertnuK ,אתה אחד ושמך אחד”. Maamarim Rebbe Rashab 5672 236, and Sefer Maamaraim 5671, p. 37, and as the Rebbe and the Frierdiker Rebbe would sign off many of their letter in Igress Kodesh.
(3) Likutei Sichos, Vol. 36, pp 1 6.
(4) Hisvaduyos ,10 Nissan, 5742, pp.11902000, also see beginning of the Alter Rebbe’s Siddur
(5) As discussed mainly in Likutei Sichos, Vol. 36, pp. 1 6
(6) See Tanya, chap. 1 for discussion about the Kveidus and Atzlus (heaviness and laziness) stemming from the element of earth in the Nefesh Habihamis ( the animal soul). Also see Tanya, 26 and Sefer Maamaraim of the Rebbe Rashab, 5659 p112.
(7) That is namely, to serve Hashem through fulfilling the Torah and keeping the Mitzvot, and to affect one’s surroundings and the world to become a better place. One’s role in the world, and the mechanism through which the fulfillment of the Torah and Mitzvos fulfills it, is a beautiful and vast subject in Chassidut, and is beyond the purview of this essay. Please see Likutei Sichos, Vol. 36, pp. 1 6. Tanya, chapters 3637, Dvar Malchus p. 63, 5752, among other sources for more discussion on the subject.
(8) See footnote 7
(9) Chassidus understands the Talmudic saying, “For I was created to serve the Creator,” (Kiddushin p.82b) as the realization that comes from the bitachon in the Creator of the world, and in His particular placement of me inside of it, in order to fulfill my purpose.
(10) See footnote 1
(11) Books such as The Secret (Rhonda Bhyme, 2010), The Power of Positive Thinking ( Norman Vincent Peale, 1952) and Think And Grow Rich (Napolean Hill, 1937) among many others…
(12) In Likutei Sichos , Vol. 36, pp 1 6. the Rebbe explains further the mechanism of “think good, and it will be good.” The Rebbe explains that it is not faith alone that brings good. It is the practice itself which brings good. It is the everyday spiritual discipline, of working on oneself, to continuously expect the best based on bitachon, that leads to the promised result of “and it will be good.” The work a person puts in of thinking positively, elicits a similar response from Hashem thus transforming the world to be a better place.
(13) Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, 1745 1812, the 1st Rebbe of the Chabad Lubavitch Chassidic Movement
(14) Quote from the Rebbe’s blessing from a Sicha, 11 Nissan, 5742