Wednesday, May 02, 2007

My most recent Jewish Observer essay: "Bitachon, Hishtadlus, Histapkus"

Bitachon, Hishtadlus, Histapkus
Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer

Blessed is the man who trusts in Hashem, and to whom Hashem alone is the object of his trust.

And he will be like a tree planted by the waters, that sends forth its roots to the rivulet, that will not fear should heat come. And its leaves will be fresh, and it a year of drought it shall not worry, nor shall it desist from yielding fruit.

The heart is evasive above all things, and it is frail — who can know it?

I, Hashem, probe the heart, test the innards, so as to reward each one according to his conduct, according to the fruit of his deeds.

(Yirmiyahu 17:7-10)

1. Bitachon

Once, Heaven directed the Baal Shem Tov to go to a certain village to learn the trait of bitachon. So the Baal Shem Tov traveled there with his students, where they lodged in the house of the village tax-collector. The tax-collector was very happy to have such eminent guests.
The next day, as they were all praying, one of the village lord’s bailiffs came, knocked a big stick on the table three times, and left. The guests were dumbfounded. They looked at their hosts, who was unmoved. A half an hour passed, they had completed their prayers, and again the bailiff came, knocked three times on the table, and left. The Baal Shem Tov asked their host: “What is the meaning of these knocks?” The tax-collector answered: “That was a warning. Today I must bring the lord the rent. The warning is repeated three times. If, after the third warning, I do not produce the money, the lord will incarcerate me and all of my family.”
The Baal Shem Tov said: “It is obvious from your happy countenance that you have the necessary sum. Please go and give the money to the lord before the meal. We will wait for you, and then sit calmly to eat.”
Their host answered: “As of now I have not even a single penny, but it can be taken for granted that Hashem will provide for me. Since I still have three hours left, let us eat and drink unhurriedly.”
So they sat to a leisurely, calm meal. As the meal ended the bailiff came for the third time and knocked on the table. Still, the tax-collector displayed no anxiety. They recited the grace at length and in tranquility. Their host then donned his Shabbos finery, and said: “Now I must go deliver the rent to the lord.”
Once more, the Baal Shem Tov inquired: “Do you have enough money?”
Their host responded: “I still do not have even a single penny, but Hashem will definitely provide.”
He took his leave and departed. As the Baal Shem Tov and his students stood watching, they saw a fine carriage making its way towards the tax-collector. Their host stood by the carriage and spoke a few words with the traveler within. Shortly thereafter, the tax collector continued on his way, while the carriage departed on its way. However, they saw the carriage then come to a stop, and the traveler calling to their host to come back. They then saw that when their host returned to the carriage, the traveler began counting coins and giving them to the tax-collector.
When the carriage drew closer to the Baal Shem Tov and his student, they asked him: “Why did you call our host back and give him money?”
The traveler answered: “I proposed to him that I would purchase all the whiskey that he produces this coming winter. Initially we could not come to terms, as he refused to settle for any less than his asking price. Realizing, however, that he is an honest man, I felt compelled to pay his price. As he said he had to go deliver the rent, I was not able to spend more time chatting with him.
The Baal Shem Tov then said to his students: “See how great is the power of bitachon!”

(Sippurei Chassidim, Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin zt”l, Parashas Bechukosai)[1]

The theme of this story (and similar ones) has permeated our consciousness. Its theme is clear: If you really, really place your trust in Hashem, all your needs — perhaps even desires — will be met, at exactly the right time, exactly in the right place, exactly in the right measure.

Is there nothing that is beyond the grasp of a “true” Ba’al Bitachon? If you do not attain what you need — and perhaps even what you want — must you conclude that it because you lack bitachon? From these stories, and many others, this would seem to be the case. However, a different perspective is suggested by the Chazon Ish zt”l (in Emunah U’Bitachon).

The Chazon Ish notes that a necessary corollary of the notion that with enough bitachon everything will be for your very own personal “best,” is the assumption that whatever expectations you have or choices you make in life, you may rest assured (assuming you have “true” bitachon) that they will work out to your best personal advantage. Otherwise, how can you be sure Hashem is going to send you the money to pay the rent? Perhaps it is G-d’s will that you should be evicted! Accordingly, a person who doubts the outcome of any decision (made l’shem Shomayim, of course) will be the best one possible for him as a person lacks bitachon.

On the other hand, the Chazon Ish suggests that in the absence of a prophecy we have no way of knowing how we fit into Hashem’s master plan. True, any decision I make, no matter how small, must be configured into the plan. And, ultimately the plan itself leads to the best possible outcome for Am Yisrael and for humanity. However, the eventual positive outcome does not guarantee the best possible result for me personally.[2]

This is even true for a person who would seem to be worthy of the best possible result. There are simply no guarantees. Ya’akov Avinu knew this when he said (Bereishis 32:11): “I have been diminished by all the kindnesses.” Ya’akov did not lack bitachon. He knew that there are no guarantees: “Perhaps I have become sullied by sin” (Rashi from Berachos 4a). As Yirmiyahu tells us in the verses we saw above: Bitachon may lead to many positive results. “And he will be like a tree planted by the waters, that sends forth its roots to the rivulet, that will not fear should heat come. And its leaves will be fresh, and it a year of drought it shall not worry, nor shall it desist from yielding fruit.” But, then again, it may not. “The heart is evasive above all things, and it is frail — who can know it?” We ourselves may not know what is going on inside ourselves. “I, Hashem, probe the heart, test the innards, so as to reward each one according to his conduct, according to the fruit of his deeds.” Our trust is in Hashem’s ultimate awareness, concern and direction.

Bitachon, writes the Chazon Ish, is the belief that everything that happens in this world is the result of Hashem’s decree.

The necessary precondition for such Bitachon is emunah. But emunah is also a victim of misconception. Many people assume that emunah is a belief that one either does or does not possess. They do not perceive a continuum in emunah. Chazal did. They defined people who merely possess the minimal set of beliefs [viz., the Rambam’s thirteen principles] as “ketanei amanah” — “small believers.”[3] Their emunah is weak. Minimal belief may prevent a person from committing major sins, but it will have little impact beyond that.

Beyond the minimal set of beliefs, emunah is a middah, a character trait like any other character trait. Thus, just as a person may possess, for example, more or less anavah (humility) or tzenius (modesty), a person may possess more or less emunah. As a middah, our emunah is measured by the extent to which our perspective on the Creation emerges from a conscious awareness of the wondrous, infinite wisdom of its Creator...[4]

Just as emunah is a middah, and the extent of your emunah is the extent to which you perceive the wisdom of the Creator in His Creation; so too your Bitachon is also a middah.[5] The extent of your Bitachon is the extent to which you perceive that as a participant in the Creator’s master plan you fill an essential role in the ongoing development of this extraordinary Creation.

Were we were to function at higher levels of Bitachon, how would we respond to a difficult situation? How would we react when confronted with an episode that would make most people apprehensive?

Ba’alei Bitachon (people who have “mastered” the middah of Bitachon) never lose sight of the fact that they are not subject to mere chance and happenstance. A Ba’al Bitachon knows that his perspective in the face of adversity does not guarantee him a “positive” outcome. However, his Bitachon provides him the security of the knowledge that Hashem guarantees that the ultimate outcome will be positive.

This Bitachon, anchored in a greater measure of emunah, in and of itself alleviates the anxiety caused by life’s challenges. Moreover, although a Ba’al Bitachon knows that there are no personal guarantees, nevertheless, his middah of Bitachon reminds him that Hashem’s succor may well be at hand. In any event, no situation is irreparable (whether in the long or short term).

The ideal role models for a Ba’al Bitachon are Lulinus and Papus.[6] When confronted with imminent death al kiddush Hashem at the hands of the Roman governor Turinus, these two tzaddikim told him: “We are [evidently] liable to death before Hashem. If you do not kill us, He has other executioners. He has many bears and lions in His world who can kill us. The reason Hashem has delivered us into your hands is because He intends to revenge our blood upon you” (Ta’anis 18b). It may not be the best thing personally for a person to be killed, but it is part of the master plan.

Returning to the story with which we began, from the Chazon Ish’s perspective, if the tax-collector is confident that Hashem will provide the needed funds, he possesses incomplete Bitachon. A more complete sense of Bitachon would be that whatever happens, Hashem has His plans and even if I end up suffering, I trust that He knows what he is doing.[7]

However, even according to the Chazon Ish:

There is another aspect to Bitachon — that there rests a holy spirit upon a person who possesses unique Bitachon. It is a spirit of confidence that Hashem will help him, as King David says: If a camp encamps against me my heart will not fear; if a war arises against me etc (Tehillim 27:3). This aspect is relative to this special person’s unique Bitachon and special measure of his sanctity.[8]

Because he attained this lofty level of Bitachon, Nachum Ish Gamzu was secure in the knowledge that “gam zu l’tovah” — “this, too, is for good” (Ta’anis 21a). Since Nachum Ish Gamzu attained a unique level of Bitachon, his holy, confident spirit afforded him serenity in his trust in Hashem.

No matter what level of Bitachon one attains, to the extent that a person trusts in Hashem, he will be equipped to face adversity, perhaps even to attain happines: For there is no sadness in the world for the one who recognized the light of all lights of truth (Kovetz Igros Chazon Ish 1:36); and leads to happiness: And the one who trusts in Hashem is full of happiness (Sefas Emes Acharei Mos 5654; see also Sukkos 5645).

However, says the Chazon Ish, there are people who piously espouse Bitachon when they feel secure, but whose Bitachon dissipates the moment that their sense of security is disturbed. For example, a storekeeper who possesses true Bitachon would not be distressed if a competitor opened a similar store nearby. On the contrary, a true Ba’al Bitachon would even help his competitor establish his business! The Ba’al Bitachon trusts that Hashem will bring both of them success — or failure — as required by the master plan.[9]

Indeed, the person who possesses false Bitachon is worse than a person who lacks Bitachon: While a person who lacks Bitachon is lacking a primary component of Judaism, a person who possesses false Bitachon suffers from an even more dangerous — and contagious — disorder. How so? A person who lacks Bitachon is so obviously not a role model that he will not influence others.

However, a person who possesses false Bitachon may serve as a role model. Indeed, he may even presume to educate others, inculcating them with his false Bitachon! Moreover, since so little is expected from a person who lacks Bitachon, he will not come to cause a Chillul Hashem. On the other hand, when sufficiently provoked, the person who possesses false Bitachon will display his underlying repulsive character and cause a Chillul Hashem. People will inevitably remark: This person who [purports to] practice mussar, how repugnant are his deeds and how disgusting are his schemes!

Another defining characteristic of a true Ba’al Bitachon is that he does not publicize his acquisition of that trait. He is a paragon of Hatzneia Leches (walking modestly; see Michah 6:8). In fact, a Ba’al Bitachon will invariably bemoan his lack of that trait That he does possess Bitachon is only manifest to others, in the strength that he derives from his trust in Hashem. Hence, a Ba’al Bitachon does not worry if a rival opens an identical store down the block, but will assist him as much as possible. The Chazon Ish notes that such a person, one who even does chesed with his competitor, increases sanctity within the Creation the greatest possible extent. Such an individual is truly mekkadesh shem shomayim. How praiseworthy he is and how blessed is his generation!

2. Hishtadlus

And I shall bless you in all that you do (Devarim 15:18)

[And the Butler did not remember Yosef] and he forgot him — Because Yosef pegged [his hopes] on the Butler remembering him, he was incarcerated for another two years... (Rashi to Bereishis 40:23).

At first glance, there seems to be an apparent contradiction here: On the one hand, Hashem promises us blessing in what we do. We will not be blessed if we do not “make our Hishtadlus” — exert ourselves — to begin with. Yet, on the other hand, Yosef is criticized for having exerted himself. Should he have remained idle, trusting Hashem alone?[10]
Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler (in the last speech he ever gave, in 1954 — vol. 4 pp. 28-31) explains how one must balance one’s personal efforts and exertions vs. his trust in Hashem. If your emunah is strong, you are able to discern the spiritual trends that are active in the world, in what direction they are propelling the world, and you within it, and accordingly to direct your own efforts. The goal is to know and be conscious of a basic principle of Bitachon: That any exertion or effort that is not motivated by spiritual aspirations — an exertion or effort that is motivated by materialistic aspirations — clashes with emunah.

Admittedly, concedes Rav Dessler, the balance between legitimate and necessary Hishtadlus — your quest for resources that are required so as to fulfull your spiritual aspirations and their needs; and illegitimate and unnecessary Hishtadlus — your quest for resources that you desire so as to fulfill your materialistic aspirations and their prerequisites — is very fine. Much prayer, and much divine aid, are required to attain that balance.

It was in the maintenance of that precise balance that Yosef did not meet with success. He was not punished with the additional two years in prison because he asked the butler to help him out. Every person is required to act to save himself, and Yosef was correct in approaching the Rather, it was because he “pegged his hopes” on the butler. For what was, perhaps, a momentary lapse, Yosef was focused on the material means of deliverance, forgetting that it is only the spiritual means — Ratzon Hashem — that directs the world and the pathways of a person. That was enough to “send him back to the drawing board,” to spend another two years working on his emunah u’Bitachon.

Every person has his or her unique role in Hashem’s master plan. Each unique role requires a unique set of resources. Some roles require more funding; others less. Some roles require more training, others less. Some roles require a Klal focus; some a personal focus. And, the roles sometimes change, and the circumstances in which those roles are to be filled almost inevitably change. Thus, the difficulty in striking a balance. It helps to have help in sorting such matters out, and it is necessary to reassess one’s role on a regular basis: Is it time for me to learn, or time for me to work? Is it time for me to teach, or to stay home with my children? The questions are myriad. And they must all be answered on the basis — and only on the basis — of Ratzon Hashem, of the Emunah I have attained, and the Bitachon I have achieved. Thus, to appropriately define the parameters of your Hishtadlus, you first have to acquire the trait of Bitachon.

3. Histapkus

While one’s Bitachon delineates his Hishtadlus; both are predicated upon Histapkus.
The word Histapkus is difficult to translate into English. Some times it translates as contentment, other times as restraint, some times as simplicity and other times as frugality — but it transcends all those definitions. It is the focus, the perspective on life and living, that Hashem expects us to develop. Unambiguous words from the Gra define Histapkus and stress the importance of the twin traits of Bitachon and Histapkus (from Even Sheleimah 3:1-2):
Bitachon and Histapkus. These are the principles for all good middos. They are the the antitheses of desiring and coveting,[11] and the root of all [middos] is Bitachon.[12] One who lacks Bitachon cannot retain Torah (Gra to Devarim 32:20).

As we have written, all transgressions and sins result from coveting. Lo Sachmod encompasses all of the commandments and the entire Torah. Histapkus, the converse [of Lo Sachmod] is the foundation of the entire Torah. It consists of complete belief, of not worrying the worries of tomorrow... One whose heart has been enhanced by the trait of Bitachon — even if he transgresses severe transgressions — is superior to someone who lacks Bitachon, for [through lack of Bitachon] one comes to jealousy and hatred. Even if he is involved in Torah and Gemilus Chesed [his activities are meaningless] because he only does so to glorify his own name (Gra, Likkutim to Rabba bar Chana in an explanation of Sabbei d’Bei Athuna d”h Iysai Budia).[13]

A final Chassidic tale captures the mindset of a Ba’al Bitachon who possesses the trait of Histapkus:

The holy Gaon Reb Shmelka of Nickelsburg zt”l asked his Rebbe the great Maggid of Mezritch zt”l: How is it possible to fulfill the dictate of Chazal: “A person must make a blessing over the bad just as he makes a blessing over the good” (Berachos 9:5).

The Maggid responded that he should go to the Beis HaMedrash, and find Reb Zushya of Hanipoli who would explain the mishnah to him. So Reb Shmelka went to Reb Zushya and related that the Rebbe had sent him to learn the interpretation of the mishnah.

Now, Reb Zushya was always downtrodden and destitute. His situation was extremely bad and strained. Yet Reb Zushya declared: I am astonished that our Rebbe directed you to ask me about this. This is a question that should be asked of someone who has undergone some difficulty, chas v’shalom. But I so not know of such difficulties, for nothing bad has ever befallen me, even for a moment. Baruch Hashem, from the day I was born until today I have had all that was good. How can I know what it means to accept the bad with happiness?

Reb Shmelka then understood the obligation to “make a blessing over the bad just as he makes a blessing over the good:” A person must be in such a state of happiness that he never feels the bad at all. (Sippurei Chassidim Parashas VaEschanan).

[1]Another example: Once, the Alsheich spoke about bitachon without effort. In the audience there was a man who carted clay for a living. After hearing the Alsheich he said to himself: “Have I gone mad? If all my efforts are empty and inappropriate, why do I toil...? Since all this work is for sustenance that is already mine, that was decreed for me [by Heaven] in any event, why should I toil and tire myself for naught? If I have bitachon then without doubt it will come to me automatically...”

So he sat down by his stove, and started saying Tehillim. When his wife and children demanded that he take to his cart, he rebuked them: “Are you crazy, Heaven forfend? Did I not hear explicitly from the Alsheich that if a person trusts Hashem his sustenance comes to him even without effort?... You too, my children, should follow my example, and our sustenance will come to us automatically.

Eventually they sold the cart and donkey to a non-Jew. While the non-Jew was out with the donkey and cart, digging clay, he found a buried treasure. He filled sacks with the treasure and placed them on the cart. Suddenly, a rock fell from the mountainside and struck him dead. Out of habit, the donkey returned to the carter’s house, drawing the gold-laden cart... Upon finding the sacks full of gold, his children came to the carter and conceded: “Your bitachon provided your salvation!...”

The Alsheich’s students asked the Alsheich: “Can the carter’s bitachon be greater than ours? We have striven to achieve bitachon, yet have remained unsuccessful. The carter, on the other hand, heard you but once, sat by his stove, and attained a treasure!?” The Alsheich responded with an analogy: “There is a difference between pounding a peg into hard ground, in which the peg will stand firm and immobile; and pounding a peg into crumbling soil, in which the peg will shake and will not stand firm. What the carter heard from me he took as a solid fact, with neither doubt nor anxiety... This is not the case with you. Since the greater a person the greater his yetzer ho’ra, you are like the crumbled soil, turning the matter over: “Yes, no, perhaps this would be a miracle, perhaps this is not the way.” You have many doubts, and your bitachon is crumbling... You must pound the peg so deeply down that it reaches a bedrock that has not been weakened by doubt. Then the peg will stand firm...” (Madreigas HaAdam, Darchei HaBitachon chap. 5).
[2]Indeed, there is no guarantee that the positive result will happen anytime soon. We see numerous places in Chazal where positive outcomes may come many generations after a decision was made. For example, see Rashi to Bereishis 33:16: “And on that day Esav returned to his way — Esav himself. But the four hundred men that went with him sneaked away from him... And where did Hashem reward them? In the days of David, as it says (Shmuel I 30:17): “But only the four hundred lads that rode the camels [eluded David].”
[3]See the description of Noach in Rashi to Bereishis 7:7.
[4]The Chazon Ish lists several modes of contemplation, study and other tools that can enhance a person's emunah.
[5]According to the Chazon Ish, Bitachon as a middah is very much in sync with its literal translation as “trust.”
[6]See also the Gemara in Pesachim 53b concerning Chanania, Mishael and Azaryah.
[7]Similarly, in the second story, the carter must not expect automatic sustenance. If it is proper for him to sit and say Tehillim he should do so regardless of whether he will receive his living effortlessly — or not.
[8]Nevertheless, certain situations cannot be changed no matter how great a person's Bitachon (see Michtav Mei'Eliyahu vol. 4 pp. 98-100 that it would have been necessary for Hashem to destroy the world and start it from scratch to make the impoverished Rabbi Elazar ben Pedas rich — and that even then he might not be rich the next time around — as it would spoil the Heavenly plan if he were a wealthy man).
[9]Evidently the laws of hasagas gevul were meant for the masses that function at the lower levels of Bitachon.
[10]A well-known jest illustrates the point that Hashem expects some effort on our part: A flood came and a man had to climb onto the roof of his house. As the waters rose a neighbor in a rowboat appeared, and told him to get in. "No," replied the man on the roof, "Hashem will save me." Then a firefighter appeared in a speedboat. "Climb in!" shouted the firefighter. "No," replied the man on the roof, "Hashem will save me." A helicopter appeared and the pilot shouted that he would lower a rope to the man on the roof. "No," replied the man on the roof, "Hashem will save me." Eventually the man drowned and went to heaven, where he asked Hashem why He hadn't helped him. "I sent a neighbor, a firefighter, and helicopter," said Hashem. "What more do you want?"

[11]From the Gra to Chabakuk (2:4): Bitachon is the antithesis of coveting [chemdah] while Histapkus is the antithesis of desiring [ta’avah].
[12]From Shaarei Kedushah by Rabbi Chaim Vital (2:4): Coveting is the av hatumah [colloquially: the root of all evil], as it leads to hatred and results in theft, false oaths and even murder. And it [Lo Sachmod] is the tenth of the ten commandments because it is equal in weight to all of them. [And one who covets] denies Hashgochoh, [divine control of events] and does not believe that everything results from Hashem’s hashgochoh. But [on the other hand] there is no trait as great as Bitachon.
[13]See note 3 (ad loc.) for the Gra’s explanation of how the signs of kashrus of birds and animals allude to the traits of Bitachon and Histapkus, and why the difference between the Bitachon and Histapkus possessed by the nation at the time of Galus Bavel and the Bitachon and Histapkus possessed by the nation during our current Galus resulted in their galus of limited duration, and in ours of unending duration.

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