Money, Drugs, and Trust in God — By Ben

Bitachon, best translated as trusting in God, is a Jewish philosophy that has changed my life. To keep focus on the attribute, I regularly return to the classical Jewish work The Gate of Trust or Shaar Habitachon (from the larger work, Duties of the Heart). However, in my review, I always come across a section that bothers me.

In explaining the advantages of having bitachon, the author compares someone with bitachon to an alchemist. The idea of alchemy, being able to turn regular metals into gold and silver, in modern day is laughable. Did the author Rebbeinu Bachya really believe this was possible? Torah wisdom is often regarded as divinely inspired, part of a divine tradition, or if it is from the Torah itself, divinely written. So for me, anytime a Torah work gives credence to something modern science has debunked, it makes me question the work’s credibility.

But then I came across a commentary that made an important clarification. The Artscroll edition of Shaar Habitachon writes, “Although nowadays it is well-known that other metals cannot be chemically transformed into gold or silver, there are numerous modern-day equivalents of the ‘alchemist’… These are the people with the ability to amass fortunes with relative ease through dubious means.” The commentary goes on to list examples such as “tech geniuses who can manipulate markets” or currency counterfeiters. So it is not that the author necessarily believed that alchemy worked, but that he was identifying a type of predatory individual. Those who prey on others through lies and harm. This clarification opened up a section of the book I always glossed over. And since I’ve been rewatching the show Breaking Bad, it dawned on me that there is one more example that truly makes the author’s comparison particularly relevant. The street drug manufacturer/dealer.

So with that in mind, let’s look through the comparisons and see how they stack up to the friendly neighborhood drug pusher.


1. Materials and Ingredients

The alchemist needs specific material for work and cannot complete it without them.Whereas a person with bitachon has his sustenance guaranteed from any means available in the world.

Right off the bat, the analogy works. Whether a dealer is relying on product from higher level dealers or they are collecting Pseudoephedrine from drug stores to cook their own methamphetamine, their drugs rely on a supply of materials. Though their money may be abundant, with pressing deadlines from dangerous buyers, their time may not be. And getting those materials in time may be the difference between life and death.

2. Dangerous Process

The alchemist needs actions and procedures to produce the silver and gold… it is possible that the fumes and the smoke can cause him to die… Conversely one with bitachon is secure from any mishaps and feels secure no bad will happen to him.

All you need to Google is “home meth lab explosions” and you will find no shortage of stories, images, and videos. And that’s the worst case scenario. Without proper safety precautions, a meth cook will die from the fumes and smoke the author makes mention of just as the alchemist would have.

3. Loneliness because they Cannot Trust

The alchemist is secretive toward others out of concern for himself.

A drug dealer clearly needs some discretion. They are likely always having to make fabrications for their source of income, where they spend their time, and they have to keep their most troubling stresses secret. Even if all their friends and family may be aware of their illegal dealings, they are unlikely to open up about threats from rival dealers or that the police may be on to them. So the inability to open up is, in ways, worse than the physical dangers of the job.

4. Inventory Issues

The alchemist must either prepare an abundance of gold and silver for a time when he will need it or prepare just the right amount for the interim.

A dealer does not want to be left with a house full of drugs lying around. If they’re producing the product themselves, not selling off the inventory can mean that should they get caught by the police, the more illicit substances they are caught with the larger the prison sentence. If they are getting their supply from a higher level dealer, losing that product and not being able to pay for it could mean they are in for a lot of pain or worse. The point is, if they have too much product on hand, they can be a sitting duck.

5. Paranoia

The alchemist is in a constant state of fear and dread due to his occupation.

I’ve already mentioned the need for secrecy. But that was of a personal and emotional nature. On top of that a dealer is in constant fear of police, other dealers, or anyone else for whom he could be a target. He is either in possession of a lot of valuable product or a lot of money. Either way, someone wants what he’s got.

6. Money doesn’t ensure Health

The alchemist is not protected from sickness and disease which disturb his contentment… from enjoying his wealth

If Breaking Bad teaches us anything, it’s that no matter how much money you have, you’re still at the mercy of deadly diseases like cancer. Though you may have access to the best treatments, medical science… isn’t an exact science. Even in today’s post-Covid world, those who take the strictest precautions can still get the virus. So if money and caution can’t give you security, what can? There where the person with bitachon excels, knowing that whatever happens to them is for the best.

7. Money may become Worthless

There is a possibility that the alchemist will not be able to use his gold and silver to obtain his food because food might not be accessible in his city at certain times.

Sometimes money isn’t worth the paper it is printed on. In times of hyper-inflation, war, or survival money won’t buy much of anything. Imagine being stranded on a desert island with only one other person. Do you think a stack of $100 is going to get you the food they’ve caught? In the case of a drug dealer, the vast majority of their money is worthless until it is laundered, so the analogy is even stronger. But for an honest person, not only can they spend their money in confidence, they know that even if times get tight, Hashem is going to give them what they need when they need it.

8. On the Run

The alchemist is unable to remain in one place out of fear that his secret will be revealed.

Whether it is the cops or another criminal entity, sooner or later someone is coming for the drug dealer. There is a good chance they’re going to be running for their life at one point or another. Is a life of constantly looking over your shoulder really worth the stacks of cash?

9. What a Legacy

The alchemist’s alchemy will not accompany him in the end.

Even if the drug dealer escapes prosecution and poverty, at the end of it all what are they left with? Lives destroyed, blood on their hands, and the knowledge that they hindered society opposed to having contributed. Even Walter White ends up in a place where he doesn’t know what to do with the limitless money. In the end you have to ask, what was it all for?

10. Ultimate Exposure

If the secret of his occupation becomes known it will bring about his death

Fear of being exposed isn’t new on this list. But where earlier it was about inhibiting personal matters or immediate harm, here I believe it is akin to being exposed as a broad public disgrace. A successful drug dealer may be able to launder their money and create a respectable public persona, but they will always have a fear of all their secrets coming to light and every possible meritorious thing they may have done to rationalize their actions being corrupted.

Wealth vs Peace of Mind

Ultimately, this whole section of Shaar Habitachon is about understanding that unlimited material success will never give the feeling of safety, security, and wholeness that honest work and a trust in God can give. There is only so much control any of us have no matter what fortune we think we may wield. The allure of money and power is an illusion of freedom, but it can, in actuality, render us the most terrified of slaves to fear, anxiety, and a whole other level of dangers.


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