It was New Years eve of 2019 that my brother gave me, as a belated Chanukah present, Chovos HaLevavos (in English – Duties of the Heart). I had asked him for it because that book contained a section known as Sha’ar HaBitachon – The Gate of Bitachon. I had dabbled in studying the concepts known as emunah and bitachon here and there, but for Chanukah I wanted to zero in and make bitachon my mitzvah.
There is a phenomenon that is often said of people who focus on bitachon, that their lives are separated into two sections, their lives before bitachon and their lives with bitachon. When I first heard this, I wrote it off as a sort of religious propaganda. But since New Years, I can honestly say, with consistent study, actively exercising the concepts, and a little bit of faith (which is what actually emunah/bitachon is all about) my happiness, stress, anger, and overall quality of life have radically improved. In short, this year has been one of the best years of my life. Let me repeat that. 2020 has been one of the best years of my life.
Since that time, I’ve dedicated a good amount of my blog posts to lessons concerning bitachon, pretty much jumping around the chapters of Sha’ar HaBitachon. Since we’re approaching Rosh Hashanah, I thought it might be a good idea to explore the final chapter to give an overall perspective from what I’ve learned. That being said, if you would like to read my other posts on bitachon, click here.
Emunah and bitachon are often translated as faith and trust. What that means in this context is that you believe that God not only exists, but is involved in each and every moment. He didn’t create the world then peace out. He isn’t only concerned with “important” matters. Every moment is important. But on top of that, every moment that you experience is for your ultimate benefit. Not necessarily to be happy, but to afford you the opportunity to grow, fix yourself, and fix the world. This belief as a mindset is known as emunah – or faith. But just because you talk the talk doesn’t mean you walk the walk. Putting emunah into practice and actually behaving in a way that demonstrates this philosophy is known as bitachon – or trust.
10 Levels of Trust
Rabbi Bachya ibn Paquda ends Sha’ar Habitachon by detailing 10 distinct stages a person progresses through (potentially) as they mature. Note that with each stage, their awareness of reality shifts. To demonstrate this, the author uses a parable, but I’m going to give a more modern example. Whenever there was a problem at a store or a restaurant my father would demand to speak to “the senior most individual.”
How many times have we called customer service to talk with someone who barely speaks English and has to strictly follow a script? Heck, these days you have to navigate through a dial prompt system for 20 minutes just to get to the customer service rep. Then, after jumping through the hoops of their strictly tailored script, the rep elevates your concern to a technician or supervisor. This individual has far more freedom to give you a solution unique to your situation, but if they can’t help you, now you have to demand to speak to the head supervisor. After suffering their lip service, you decide to write an email to the Vice President of the company at the corporate office, who can circumvent the rules of rigid policy and finally give you a free replacement for your broken product.
The more mature our bitachon/trust level, the higher up the chain we are in the analogous customer service rigmarole.
- A nursing baby.
At the beginning of life, our sole source of trust is our food. The bottle or the breast. Eat, sleep, poop, as they like to say. We don’t care where it comes from, just gimmie, gimmie, gimmie.
- Transition to the mother.
Once we grow up a little, we realize it’s not the bottle that gives us our sustenance, but our mother. We become more aware of her love and attention as our source of comfort, not just the comfort in and of itself. Note: Emunah and Ima (Hebrew for mother) have the same root, as our foundation of faith comes from our mother.
- Acknowledge the father.
As we mature farther, we realize that our dad has a critical part in allowing our mothers to be there for us. Traditionally the father was the breadwinner. And whether that is as true today, we still are likely to depend on our fathers for support and permission for many things.
- Realizing our own strength.
Eventually we (hopefully) attain independence. We develop our own skills, ideas, and work ethics, so we’re no longer relying on our parents. We start to trust ourselves and our own abilities. We can fend for ourselves.
- Who’s the boss?
Even though we may trust in our own skills and abilities, we will come to realize that that’s only as good as the person willing to pay us for it. So at this point we put our trust in our boss at work, our customers, the stock market, etc.
This is where someone with no spiritual connection would stop. However, if you start to develop bitachon, you can progress further.
- Acts of God
Okay, so you’ve got the job, your boss likes you, you’re getting promoted. Let’s just hope a pandemic doesn’t come out of no where and cripple the economy. Most of us realize there are factors that are out of our control. So at that point what do we trust to give peace of mind? Is it renters insurance? Is it the superstition of a lucky rabbits foot? It’s here that most people will turn to God in an extreme need or for fear of that which they cannot control.
- God starts to become a Partner
If a person grows in their bitachon/trust of God, they start to turn to Him for things they have some control over. A sports team praying before a game, a person praying that they nail their presentation. The more control we have over something (or think we do), if we still turn to God for help, the stronger out connection with Him becomes. And don’t think, “Oh I don’t want to bother God with something so insignificant.” Believe me, you’re not wasting God’s time.
- God is always there for us, so we should always be there for Him.
Between step 7 and step 8, the person starts to realize that the connection to Hashem is more important than making as much money as possible or being the best at the job. The job becomes a means to an end, that end being a full relationship with God. At this level, the person is trusting in God for everything, from the biggest challenge to the smallest inconvenience.
- It’s All Good.
At this level, the individual stops seeing events as good or bad but only good. They are fully aware and have internalized that everything that happens to them is for the good. There is always something to learn, there is always an opportunity to grow, and everything is a communication from Hashem. In a way, the very concept of good outcome disappears. “What? My first class ticket got downgraded to coach all the way in the back of the plane and I’m surrounded by four babies? Great! Clearly Hashem has something for me in that situation? Maybe I can help one of the mothers and be a kiddish Hashem! Maybe I will strengthen my ability to learn in the midst of persistent crying.” It may seem pollyannaish, but you’ll be surprised how this mentality can transform a situation.
- It’s All God.
Finally at the tenth level, there’s the realization that reality is “hevel” or a facade. Let’s say I told you that I was going to conduct a sociological experiment and that I paid someone $100 to yell at you and say really mean things. But if you didn’t attack them back, at the end of the day I would pay you $10,000. Do you think you could do it? Of course! One, there’s an incredible reward. But more importantly, you know the jerk doesn’t really believe the things he’s saying to you, he’s just doing it for the money. It’s all fake. That’s what the tenth level of trust is all about. Pirkei Avos 4:21 says “This world is like a corridor before the World to Come; prepare yourself in the corridor so that you may enter the banquet hall.”
Now having that level of bitachon doesn’t mean you blow off reality. It means that trials and challenges thrown at us aren’t actually about their superficial causes. Your boss isn’t really mad at you because you forgot to send the email last night. It’s about rectifying something deeper and the opportunity is being tailored to you personally by Hashem.
Going back to the tech support example, if you’ve got the home phone number to the CEO of the company, you’re not going to be rebooting your computer in safe mode to solve the problem. You’re going to be tackling the heart of the issue. When you’ve got the connection with Hashem, you’re solving the most essential of issues while becoming better friends with God at the same time. You’re not wasting your time jumping through hoops on menial tasks, you’re elevating yourself through every moment, whether the problem seems big or small. You’re inline with your purpose of creation. At that point your true concern becomes pleasing God because you are confident your self growth is all that matters and everything else is simply a way to get there.
With that in mind, I hope bitachon will be as powerful for you as it has been for me.