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Reciprocity: The Name of the Game

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by Eli Soble
MyLife Essay Contest 2016

 

The method to think good so that it will truly be good

The Yiddish phrase Tracht goot vet zai’en goot translates to Think good, it will be good. An approach to life that is part of the Chabad ethos. It’s also the precise wording used by the third Chabad Rebbe, known as the Tzemach Tzedek, to convey it. The Previous Rebbe records[1] that his great grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, gave this advice to a Chosid asking for a blessing on behalf of his son who was gravely ill. His son subsequently regained his health. The Rebbe often advised this approach, by citing this phrase, for challenges great and small[2]. Think good, it will be good has become an integral part of the spiritual life and vernacular of today’s Chabad Chassidim.

Can this approach and what these 5 Yiddish words convey be practical or powerful enough to fully contend with the increasingly complex realities, the unique obstacles and crises, we each encounter in our lives as we journey on as Jews in today’s world? Using the lens of Chassidus, I aim to first present to you why, and then suggest a method for how, the answer is yes.

The Rebbe defines Think good, it will be good in context[3] of why the Torah characterized Moshe as being afraid before he fled to Midyan[4] to escape Pharaoh’s sword (prior to the events of the burning bush and ultimate exodus). The Torah records Moshe’s fear as guidance to us about the principle of Bitachon, which can be translated as[5] assured reliance on G-d. Moshe’s fear is a lesson that our own state of mind truly matters in shaping how events will unfold. That amidst adversity we should endeavor to look beyond the thorny or threatening details of how things seem. To step higher and rise to a mindset of sole reliance on G-d. A reliance that no matter how formidable the obstacle, G-d is the one who will rectify it for us overtly. To develop a trust which becomes so real to us, a specific vision of resolution which we feel so assured of, that our anxiety is replaced by tranquility. Finding our way to this state of mind, to this space, is to experience Bitachon. An internal reorientation which contains the power to shape our future to tangible and overt good. In other words, the Torah is teaching us that if Moshe utilized Bitachon and did not fear at all, he would have been completely safe[6]. The circumstances of personal danger that caused him to flee i.e. Pharaoh coming after him, would not have occurred.

Think good, it will be good then entails far more and goes entirely beyond contemporary ideas of positive thinking. It elaborates on and defines Bitachon, which is a powerful spiritual tool and distinct principle of Judaism. Bitachon is different from how the principle of Emuna, which is belief and faith in G-d, informs and helps our perspective about what happens to us in life. To look at the ups and downs in our lives with Emuna is to have faith that G-d is in complete control of everything that happens. That G-d is completely good and always merciful regardless of how differently we might naturally perceive and experience things[7]. Bitachon however speaks to the point in time, to our perspective, before things happen. It asks us to exert effort and develop a frame of mind specifically regarding how future events will unfold for us. To go out on the ultimate limb and believe that no matter what we may see before us, G-d will make the future overtly good. Bitachon says that G-d has given us a way to matter most in determining the course of events we experience. It is a state of mind which gives us a positive emotional bearing about our future.

When the strength of our Bitachon gives us tranquility about our future, it is then that it works to overtly shape our future[8]. This is because there is a principle of reciprocity[9] in our relationship with G-d. Think Good, it will be good then is insight as to how the Divine power of Bitachon works. That G-d responds to us in exactly the same measure as we turn toward him. To trust solely on G-d when facing a crisis, to consciously expect and rely on G-d to deliver the good we need on the terms we visualize, is to Think good. The complete embrace of that mindset, exhibited by a full dissipation of our anxiety, engages Divine reciprocity. Eliciting to us G-d’s revealed blessing and overt kindness, the it will be good. Knowing this secret of Bitachon, that it is a reflection of us which turns into G-d’s tangible and visible blessing, enables and encourages us to utilize it.

The power of Divine reciprocity within Bitachon works beyond criteria that may normally determine our circumstances. It takes us beyond natural cause and effect and even beyond the normal scale of reward. When we are able to throw our lot completely in G-d’s hands. When we can reach a place of feeling assured of his blessing beyond any calculation of how we would normally expect things to turn out (think good). G-d will give us good in the same manner. It will be given to us beyond any judgment, beyond what’s normally possible and beyond calculating whether our behavior is deserving of it[10] (It will be good).

Bitachon should be paralleled with endeavoring[11] to progress in our Judaism. To advance by some degree in our Prayer, Torah study and observance of Mitzvos. No effort or addition is too small. By making an advance we exhibit the integrity, the wholeness, of the mindset we are working on. We demonstrate that Bitachon impacts not only our inner world but our behavioral life as well. Our integrity is important, since it is Bitachon which is whole that evokes the reciprocal tangible blessing in response. Bitachon is effective when our desire and drive to overcome challenge is so that we can grow in our observance, in our relationship with G-d[12].

The question of course is how can this be done? If the achievement of Bitachon and the overt blessings it brings depends on a cessation of anxiety and a sense of tranquility, how is that possible in the midst of a crisis or severe problem? How does one practically achieve Bitachon?

In a letter[13] to a Chosid who was feeling fear and anxiety the Tzemach Tzedek outlined a method. When we face any kind of challenge, thinking and conversing about the details of what could go wrong next causes us to identify[14] with these possible outcomes. That identification is what produces fear and anxiety. Even while amidst this kind of anxiety we have the ability to divert our thoughts and conversation (both verbal and written). Through channeling our thoughts and conversations away[15] from what could go wrong next this works to dispel our active identification with these outcomes. Naturally over time, without objects of identification, our anxiety will be dispelled as well.

The ideal way to move our thoughts and conversations away from what could go wrong next is to reach out to another and study Torah, the revealed Torah or Chassidus. Social interaction in the context of Torah study puts our thoughts and conversations outside the space of what could go wrong next. Over time it opens a mental canvas free of anxiety in which we can introduce Think good, it will be good. It gives us the cognitive opportunity, the mental space to visualize that G-d will make the positive change we need happen. With a renewed reliance on G-d about our future, we can then take the opportunity to run with it in our thoughts and conversations. These new objects of identification will give life to a new emotional state, an inner tranquility. Bitachon then actualized will engage Divine reciprocity to shape our personal future with G-d’s overt blessing.

Think good asks for a multi-step behavioral process requiring committed effort specifically directed toward the future outcome we need and want. Its successful implementation transforms our perspective and emotional bearing. This in turn connects us to an array of Divine forces. These forces alter our reality by causing G-d’s blessing, mercy and kindness to be overtly revealed. Delivering to us literal and tangible good, specifically on the terms we need. Think good does so no matter how formidably complex our challenges truly are and it does so beyond judgment.

A method then to think good so that it should truly be good when facing any type of challenge or crisis:

  1. Dissipate anxiety
    a. See our first goal as dissipating fear or anxiety to create a space in which we can think good.
    b. Work on dissipating the anxiety through removing negative objects of identification. These would be thoughts or conversations (verbal or written i.e. social media) about what could go wrong next or anything else that produces anxiety or a negative state of mind.
    c. If practical, refrain from any specific activity that is prone to giving us negative objects of identification.
    d. Utilize the power and focus shift of a Torah based positive social encounter with a partner or group to replace the negative mental objects with positive ones.
  2. Visualize a positive outcome.
    a. As the positive distraction centered around Torah begins to make the anxiety dissipate endeavor to introduce positive thoughts i.e. positive objects of identification. That G-d, who is most merciful to all irrespective of behavior, will definitely bring us a good outcome from the crisis, no matter how impossible it seems, in order that our Judaism can grow.
    b. Visualize the specific solution that we expect G-d to bring to the dilemma at hand.
    c. Continue to build on the expectation for a positive outcome with the knowledge that this method contains the Rabbeim’s blessing to succeed as well as taps into the fabric of our relationship to G-d, in that how we turn to him he responds to us.
    d. Encourage and maintain these positive thoughts and expectations by conversing about them.
  3. Increase in the study of Torah, Prayer and performance of Mitzvos, no amount of forward progress is too small.
  4. Engage in natural means for a solution if it presents itself albeit with the recognition that it is the BItachon on G-d which will bring results and not the natural endeavor.
  5. Persistence, do not give up or stop trying if you run into difficulties
    a. Continue and return to steps 1 through 4 until you experience anxiety free Do not give up if you stumble, it’s perfectly natural, just keep at it and you will succeed.
    b. Utilize the approach for challenges great and small. Once you experience success even on a relatively small issue this will empower you in case something more difficult arises.

Through this method of Think good, it will be good which is a vessel for G-d’s overt mercy and the Rabbeim’s blessing we can positively persevere through crisis and experience G-d’s tangible goodness enabling strong growth in our Judaism.

As a concluding thought in parallel. A primary theme of the Rebbe is that we are living in a time very close to the complete redemption of the Jewish people and all mankind. One of the ways the Rebbe advised for us to bring about redemption is regular group study about Moshiach and Redemption in all areas of Torah and specifically Chassidus[16]. Not simply as an endeavor that somehow has a mystical property to bring redemption but through the study of this topic we can “know, understand and feel” in the realest way that we truly are on the verge of Moshiach and redemption[17]. This endeavor then enables us to identify [18] with the reality of Moshiach and redemption that is unfolding. Giving us the ability to uplift our own personal lives to a state of redemption which can truly tip the scale globally. This is the ultimate Think Good, which will without any doubt, bring us extremely soon to the greatest reciprocal[19] will be good of the complete redemption through G-d’s agent, Moshiach.


[1] Likutai Diburim 1, page 159. Igeres Hakodesh of the Previous Rebbe, volume 7 page 197. The Tzemach Tzedek is quoted “…arouse your power of Bitachon in G-d, with a pure faith that He, blessed be his name, will save your son. Thoughts are effective, think good, it will be good.”

[2] An example from the Rebbe in Toras HaShlichus, Kehos 5764, Page 472, “Certainly you recall the multiple times in your…work when you have imagined that the situation is awesomely fearful, but then the situation flipped over to visible and revealed good…You must follow the command of the Tzemach Tzedek to think good and it will be good.”  Also in my encounter with the Rebbe series, edition printed for

Parshas Noach, October 16th 2015 with slightly different wording. Additional examples can be found in Likutai Sichos vol. 21 pages 462-464. Igeres HaKodesh of the Rebbe volume 4 pages 130, 198. Volume 8, page 358. Volume 20 pages 8, 195.

[3] Likutai Sichos of the Rebbe volume 36 pages 1-6

[4] Shemos 2:14 – 2:15

[5] Bitachon describes a frame of mind as well as an emotional wavelength which goes beyond a definition of a few words. This essay as a whole is intended to help define Bitachon, suggest a method for how to achieve it and with that receive the overt blessings it brings.

[6] Likutai Sichos Vol. 36 page 6, see footnote 45 and 17.

[7] In Likutai Sichos 36 page 5 footnote 43 the Rebbe references the Alter Rebbe’s Tanya, the end of

Igeres HaKodesh chapter 11. The chapter discusses maintaining belief that everything which happens is Divine good beyond our limited perception. The last line of the chapter indicates a faith of that caliber will ultimately cause the hidden good to be revealed, i.e. experienced overtly in the way we appreciate and understand.

[8] Likutai Sichos Vol. 36 page 5 and 6.

[9] Some of the sources for reciprocity cited in the Sicha of the Rebbe and letter of the Tzemach Tzedek:

Tehillim 32:10, “As for one that trusts in G-d, he will be encircled by kindness” Sefer Ha’Ikkarim explains this is teaching us the principle of reciprocity, that Bitachon itself elicits the Divine kindness. The Tzemach Tzedek relates that the Alter Rebbe taught him the name of the Maggid of Mezritch that the posuk, Yechezkel 1:26, “Above the expanse that was over their heads…. was like the appearance of a man upon it, from above.” Is teaching us that the temperament one displays toward G-d will be the attribute that is displayed from above to him. The Zohar expresses this in Parshas Tetzaveh page 184 side b. Talmud, in tractate Sanhedrin 90a states “…All the Midos, attributes, of G-d are Midah kneged Midah (i.e. reciprocal).

[10] Likutai Sichos Vol. 36 page 5

[11] In Likutai Sichos 15 page 486 the Rebbe explains that Bitachon should also be coupled with natural efforts to resolve whatever challenges we face. However, the Rebbe stresses that there are two conditions. The first is, we need to be aware the utilization of natural means is not because those are what will bring us the solution at all but only because G-d wants us to utilize natural means as much as possible. Secondly, if we find it naturally impossible to do anything regarding the problem, it means the natural path is not required for Bitachon to work.

[12] LIkutai Sichos 36 page 4 footnote 35, page 6.

[13] Letters of the Tzemach Tzedek, 2013 edition, letter 15 page 19 (two versions). Also see letter 2 page 3. 14 The word Identify is being used as a translation of Daas. Daas being the sensory comprehension of information, the hergesh i.e. feel, of an idea. For example, a smart child may be able to explain what rich and poor means but an adult identifies with the experiential meaning of these conditions. A healthy adult reacts with compassion toward someone else who experiences a loss as opposed to a smart child who may understand but still feel indifferent. An adult has Daas, is able to identify and therefore empathize with someone else, as compared to a child in this context (The illustration of a child relative to an adult in reference to Daas is found in the Rebbe Rashab’s Maamer Parshas Va’Yechi 5670).  The letter of the

Tzemach Tzedek describes how one’s conversation and thoughts are what activate’s Daas

(identification). Daas being the basis, the life force so to speak, on which our emotional experience i.e. anxiety (i.e. fear) or tranquility (i.e. love, harmony and safety), depend.

[14] This parallels chapter 28 in the Alter Rebbe’s Tanya which describes how to respond when one is disturbed during prayer or Torah study by improper thoughts. The advice in chapter 28 is to channel our Daas away from the improper thoughts i.e. not to think about them directly which would cause us to identify with them. Rather we should turn our thoughts toward intensifying our joy in prayer. The strength to do this comes from knowing that the improper thoughts do not signify that our prayer has no value or that it was not done properly. It is in fact the opposite. It indicates that our Divine Soul is engaging successfully with the less spiritually attuned forces within us known as our animal Soul. The improper

[15] If one happens to be naturally free of anxiety or freeing oneself of anxiety and fears comes easily, one can go right to step 2.

[16] Sefer Hasichos 5751, Parshas Tazria Metzora, chapter 12 page 501, The Rebbe explains that adding in learning Torah about Moshiach and redemption is the direct path to effect the revelation and arrival of Moshiach and redemption in complete actuality. In chapter 13 the Rebbe encourages this study to happen in a group so as to more effectively bring one heartfelt joy and increasing desire for the arrival of Moshiach.

[17] Sefer Hasichos 5751, Parshas Balak, chapter 9 page 692

[18] In Sefer Hasichos 5751, Balak page 692, the Rebbe explains that even though in the Talmud, tractate

Sanhedrin 97a it says Moshiach will arrive when our Daas, powers of identification, are diverted (“Hesech HaDaas”) this is meant that we identify so strongly with Moshiach and redemption that we are able to reach levels of observance that transcend the boundaries of identification, Higher than Daas, l’maleh min HaDaas which is equivalent to Shtus Dkedusha (“Folly within Holiness”) in the Hemshech of Basi L’gani

i.e. Maamer of 5715. In general, this speaks to orienting our Jewish observance toward, and recognizing our bond with, G-d as he is completely beyond the parameters of comprehension. Folly in this context then, “within Holiness”, is a positive kind. It is the antidote for the negative kind of folly which is beneath Daas i.e. a state of behavior in which we act unconscious to our relationship with G-d.

[19] In Sefer Hisvadius V’Yakheil P’kudai 5747, chapter 14, the Rebbe explains that when the Jewish people see their pleasure and desire as redemption this reciprocally can provoke G-d, so to speak, to see his desire and pleasure as redemption, and thus bring the redemption.

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