For my recent blog posts I’ve been veering away from the weekly Torah portion to explore the concept of bitachon, or trusting in God, by going through Sha’ar HaBitachon, a section of the 11th century book, Duties of the Heart. However, parshas Beshalach is not only one of my favorite readings, it also is a primary teacher of bitachon.
The portion begins with the Jews finally free from Egypt’s slavery. But the stroll of freedom is short lived when Pharaoh decides if he can’t have the Jews no one can, charging at them with the chariots of Egypt. This of course leads to the famous splitting of the sea, a miracle on such a level it is considered one of the greatest moments of God’s revelation ever experienced. Long story short, the Jews end up on one side and the Egyptian soldiers end up on the bottom of the sea.
With victory at hand and their sadistic oppressors slain, the Jews celebrate with an exuberant song so uplifting, we sing it every morning in the section of praise known as Pesukei D’zimrah. However what goes up must come down. It’s just odd that the Jews come down off their high in 3 days when they run out of water and the complaints begin.
The parsha continues with a similar pattern multiple times, with each occasion their prayers answered with a miracle. And each occurrence comes with a unique lesson of bitachon. But none of the tests offer as much to learn as the miracle of the manna.
Manna from Heaven
The manna or mann as it is called in the Hebrew, is a dew like substance that falls from the sky, outside your door, and when collected, would taste like whatever you imagined. Pretty incredible right? However the mann had some strict rules associated with it. A family was only allowed to collect a specific portion allotted to them. Once collected, they were instructed to eat all of it, leaving nothing over for the morning. The only exception to this was Shabbos when they were to collect a double portion as they were prohibited from collecting the mann on Shabbat. And so the Jews lived with the system up until they entered the land of Israel.
But what would happen if a family didn’t finish their portion of mann and tried to keep it until the morning? The text of Beshalach says the following; “Some did not listen to Moses and left some of it over until morning and it became infested with worms and putrid…” (Shemos 16:20)
Reading about this miracle three thousand years after the fact, one might ask, why did the Jews go against God’s instruction? God brought them out of Egypt killing their enemies and now food is literally raining from the sky. Why would they have any apprehension about the source of their sustenance? As Rabbi Denbo likes to say, whenever you’re reading the Torah, make it real. Yes the Jews have had the miracles, but they did run out of water previously and just before getting the mann for the first time, they had run out of food. So even though God is meeting their needs, it’s not without some tests of faith.
So to take that idea further, that you’ve been given food to eat and you must consume all of it and trust that there will be another batch the next morning is actually quite scary. If we look at the mann as a metaphor for our income in today’s world, who among us would have the faith to spend all our money expecting God to supply us with the rest? Your answer is either, “Absolutely not! I have to save for a rainy day and retirement and who knows in this job market if I’ll be working in a month!” or it’s, “What are you talking about? People spending wildly and are in so much debt their grandchildren will be paying it off!”
However both responses operate with a complete lacking in trust of God. God gives us what we need to accomplish what he has sent us to accomplish. To the individual racking up the mountain of debt, they are likely disconnected from spending that money l’sham shamayim (for the sake of heaven). And to the individual hoarding their money in CDs, trust funds, and other investments, they are letting their abilities (if money equals power) to change the world sit in a bank. I heard a story this week that Rabbi Noach Weinberg, founder of Aish HaTorah was approached by his supporters to start an endowment for his yeshivah. Rabbi Weinberg fervently opposed the idea stating that he refused to let a mountain of money sit just so his school could be sustained by the interest, while there were Jews in the world suffering.
Now just to be clear, I’m not saying that anyone reading this blog should cash out their retirement account and go on a spending spree. For this teaching to work completely, you have to have tremendous trust in God which you have to build. You can’t just decide you’re going to have all the bitachon in the world. Also one does have to operate within the ways of the world (known as derech hatevah), so it is fine to have a savings account. But God does bestow upon us certain gifts to affect the world and if we’re not using those gifts to their fullest extent we are missing out. If we are spending our money properly, God won’t leave us out to dry. Unless there’s a lesson he wants us to learn.
Part of the Power is the Belief
Going back to the mann, other sources say that if a person ate only, say, 75% of what they collected, that left over 25% would become rotten. But then when they went out to collect their portion the next day, the amount available was now only equal to the amount they had eaten (I.e. 75% of what they had yesterday.)
From here we find that the act of trusting in Hashem (bitachon), brings more blessing. Later on I’m going to delve into the relationship between how much work a person must do (histadlus) verses how much bitachon a person has. But the act of trusting that God will give you what you need actually changes how He distributes your portion and sustenance. Operating from a place of scarcity and fear means that when unforeseen expenses pop up, we may get angry, perhaps at the person causing the unexpected demand. But when we trust God will give us what we need, we know that this new expenditure (if it is necessary) is what our money is meant to go to and that Hashem will likely supplement.
As the parsha concludes, the Jews run out of water again, then finally are faced with the war with Amalek. So clearly the Jews, even under the miraculous protection of God, clearly must face distressing tribulations. However, a mere few pages later is next week’s parsha Yisro, where God reveals himself to the people in such a profound way, it is considered to be the most extraordinary moment in all of history. And I think that’s really what this bitachon is all about. It’s not about whether your bank account is going to grow vs whether you’ll be living on the street. It’s about knowing God is going to help pick up the pieces when things fall apart, and because you’ve invested in this behavior and mindset, you see it. Because it’s already happening. How many miracles in your life have already happened to you? Living with bitachon allows us to peek behind the curtain as God’s kindness falls into place.