I remember standing in the bus station looking out at the chaotic Saturday night at dinner crowd. With no tables sat in my section I just wanted to go home. At most other restaurants, if my section was slow, I would go help other servers, run food, run credit cards sitting out on a table. But at this particular restaurant, the beyond middle aged waitresses were viciously territorial and made sure you knew it.
I could have argued with the inexperienced host, complained to the owner chatting with her friends in the John Wooden room, I might have make snide comments, and I sometimes even demanded to take one of the other servers tables when my-finally-sat-first-table requested Vicky or Sondra. And though I did do all of those things, it was around this time I started to really move in a more religious direction. One of the tenets of Judaism is that God is involved in every moment of your life and He wants what is best for you. As a 30 year old waiter, still quite far from his 22 year old self’s dream, the environment seemed to indicate God wasn’t anywhere near.
But I decided to put the theory into action. When something doesn’t go my way, just take a breath and trust that what was coming next would likely be better. Well sure enough, the next table sat would be a six customer one and they go right into my section, or a table of big drinkers ordering martini after martini, or at the end of the night when the other servers demanded they were done for the night, a few easy tables came in who all tipped well.
A Whole New World
I found that when I trusted it would work out, most of the time it did. This began a major turning point in how I started to look at life. This outlook is known in Judaism as emunah. And when you not only think this way, but behave this way, it is called, bitachon. For the purposes of these blog posts, I will refer to it as bitachon, but specifically the way I plan to use the concept, emunah will be synonymous.
Emunah and bitachon are really what living a life with God is all about. But keeping that mindset and behavior is a skill that’s not easy to develop. The whole society we live in tells us the opposite message. You need to be successful so you’ll have enough money for kids, college for those kids and your retirement. If that guy is better than you, he’s going to get your job. I won’t have time to go to my friend’s dinner, I’m too busy. Personally, I go through periods of being very inline with bitachon then I pendulum swing so far I start to think the concept is a crock.
However, when I am practicing bitachon, everything about my life seems to work better. With that realization, I have made the active goal to learn about and practice my bitachon everyday. In pursuit of that, I may take a break from the usual parsha/Torah portion posts for a while as I explore this topic. If you want a parsha post, just type in the parsha name into the search field on the front page of this site. Most parshas have quite multiple from previous years.
As we learn bitachon there are a lot of questions and concerns I’m sure many of you have. If God is in control why do the good suffer and the bad prosper? How can you not freak out when your mortgage payments are due and you just lost your job? I’ve tried this before and it didn’t work. Etc.
Clearly it’s a big topic, so that’s why I want to do it as a series. We’ll get those questions eventually (God willing.) But in the mean time, I just want to lay some ground work. First off…
Not a matter of faith.
Most of the time emunah/bitachon is translated as faith. I’m not nuts about that word as it implies a sort of blind hope, based on nothing concrete. I had a Rabbi define knowledge, belief, and faith in the following ways.
Knowledge is the ability to say whether something is true or false beyond a reasonable doubt. You can never know anything with 100% surety, so Judaism sets the bar at the same stringency as our court system. Belief is the ability to say whether something is true or false, but with a reasonable doubt. Finally, faith is saying something is true or false purely based on emotional desire.
In the strictest terms of the concept of bitachon, knowledge, belief, and faith don’t apply if you look at bitachon in the right way. In a way it is based on a faith, an expectation that’s not 100% logical. But at the same time, your bitachon muscle grows because you end up seeing it work. So it’s not based on blind faith, but a clear and even documentable occurrences that make up your life.
It doesn’t mean you get what you want.
Most people have the idea that if there’s a loving, all powerful God, then that would mean that we should all be happy, living a life without pain or injustice, and everyone should get what they want. If that’s what you think God and life are about, you are sorely mistaken.
Bitachon isn’t about getting what you want, it’s about realizing that God is trying to get you somewhere. Life is about growth and accomplishment, becoming the best version of yourself, and perfecting this world (ultimately while creating a relationship with God, but let’s leave that be for now.) While you might be trying to get to work on time and you happen to find yourself in the worst traffic since carmageddon, God might be trying to get you to learn patience, gratitude, to or some other perspective shift. Bitachon is about knowing that the situation God has put you into is for the purpose of getting you to a new level. The snapshot takeaway is knowing that though God may not give you what you want, He’ll always give you what you need.
Doesn’t mean you don’t have to work.
A few years ago a book known as The Secret came out. The main idea was this Law of Attraction, that if you meditated on what you wanted, the universe would reciprocate that energy and bring you the object of your desire. To some degree, kabbalistic ideas support this. But once again bitachon isn’t about getting what you want.
There is a concept in Judaism known as histadlus. It’s essentially the work you have to do to be successful. Doesn’t sound like a religious concept at all, you work hard, you’re more likely to get what you want. However Judaism also says that you have no control over your success, it’s all given to you by God. And we know this too. Some people seem to get handed everything to them on a silver platter while others toil for years and never get the success they so desperately have worked for.
Histadlus is about doing the work to show Hashem you want it, but ultimately recognizing Hashem is going to give you what you need. There’s actually an interesting relationship between how much bitachon an individual has versus how much histadlus they have to do. But I’ll cover that in a future blog post.
Wrapping It Up For Now
For Chanukah I asked my brother for a famous 11th century work known as Chuvos LeVuvos (Duties of the Heart). Within that book is a famous section known as Sha’ar HaBitachon (The Gate of Bitachon). Strangely enough, there is a WhatsApp group I am in where a Rabbi sends 5 minute lessons on bitachon every morning. The day after my brother gave me the book, the lesson of the WhatsApp group was titled “The solution for anxiety.” I thought it was oddly coincidental as my brother struggles with anxiety. I listened to the audio exert and even more oddly coincidental was a discussion about the benefits of studying the book Shaar HaBitachon! (You can listen here for yourself.)
So I have taken on studying and reviewing that book every morning. I plan to start covering my learning within these blog posts for the next short while. If you want to grab a copy of the book or maybe find it online, we can learn it together.
However if not, no biggie. But if you’re skeptical about this whole emunah/bitachon concept I’ll suggest a little exercise. What I call the Goggles Test. When I first started dabbling into seriously religious pursuit, way before my story at the top, I gave my self a little test. I pretended that I wore the goggles of someone who did believe that God ran the world and had my best interested in mind. Those first few weeks were staggering, and in my opinion the first real steps to where I am now. Give it a try. An honest, objective, and free of skepticism try. Who knows, you might find yourself writing a weekly Torah blog.