Outside, the world seems scary. But inside, we feel completely secure. A peak of Artscroll’s newest release, A Life of Bitachon, by Rabbi Yitzhak Dwek

A Note from Victoria Dwek for Between Carpools readers:

I really can’t get the image of those little 5-year-olds, jumping up and down, with hands pointed up to Shamayim, singing “ki imanu Keil” with their rebbi when they arrive to school. And while you’ll read about those little boys of Aleppo, Syria, circa 1953, below…still. 5-years-old? To have such faith? To be scared of being beaten up by the Arab kids every time they walk outside? And then arriving at school, beaten up and bruised but healthy, and feeling safe, confident, and invincible, “ki imanu Keil!”  

I had the privilege of reading my father-in-law’s book, A Life of Bitachon, when it was an earlier draft, over Shavuot and the following Shabbat. I read the book again, then in its edited form, over Shemini Atzeret and the following Shabbat. And as much as I internalized the messages through reading the book, as a family member, though, I get to see what bitachon does in real life. And how it doesn’t only make everything seem good, it also changes circumstances.

Often, when I’m in my in-laws home, I see my father-in-law receive a lot of visitors. And while I only hear the knocks at the door and don’t know any names or stories, I know that most of them come to hear how to strengthen their bitachon, because it works. Bitachon, at the very least, changes perception of a situation, and even better, helps us merit the yeshuah and changes the situation completely.

I had a friend who had suffered what most would consider a sad event in her life. She called me and said, “Everyone is telling me, ‘I’m sorry.’ They’re crying when they’re around me. But I’m happy. I don’t see what’s sad. Is there something wrong with me?”

There is and was nothing wrong with her. She simply had a high level of bitachon, where she was able to see the event as good. But–that doesn’t mean there was something wrong with the other people either. For ourselves, we can be strong. But when other people endure something, we can’t tell them to be strong. We have to be empathetic. I feel fortunate to be part of a family where this is matter-of-fact.

After I read the book a second time, I called my father-in-law. I had a question.

“Issurim are supposed to give us kaparah, atonement for sins. But what if someone, because of their high level of bitachon, doesn’t feel issurim. They have that ‘high tolerance of pain,’ and only see everything as good. Do they still get the kaparah?”

And while I won’t get into the response now, I wish that we shall all merit to feel this way. Below is an excerpt from A Life of Bitachon by Rabbi Yitzchak Dwek and published by Artscroll/Mesorah, which I feel proud to share with you. -Victoria Dwek

 

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A Life of Bitachon

By Rabbi Yitzhak Dwek

 

Reprinted with permission from Artscroll/Mesorah Publications.

 

Before we embark on this special journey together, I would like to share a beautiful thought from Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin.

We know that there is no holier land in the world than Eretz Yisrael. Within Eretz Yisrael, Yerushalayim is the holiest city. The Har HaBayis is holier than the rest of Yerushalayim. The Beis HaMikdash is holier than the rest of Har HaBayis. And the Kodesh HaKodashim is the holiest spot in the Beis HaMikdash.

By the same token, Klal Yisrael is holier than any other nation. The Kohanim are holier than the rest of Klal Yisrael. And the Kohen Gadol is the holiest of the Kohanim.

Within the calendar, the days of Yom Tov are holier than weekdays. And Yom Kippur is holier than any Yom Tov. On Yom Kippur, the holiest day, the holiest man enters the holiest place, and what tefillah does he recite? He says nothing. Why? Because the moment is too awesome to be expressed in words. (This is comparable to the way a Jew feels at tekiyas shofar. Words are inadequate to express his feelings. Instead, he blows the shofar, which is actually the voice of the neshamah.)

The subject of bitachon is a subject I have learned and taught and lectured about all my life. And yet, no matter how much I have written, my words cannot fully do justice to this subject that is the foundation of our avodas Hashem (spiritual efforts).

The vital nature of bitachon is in fact better understood by taking a look inside the Kodesh HaKodashim, for it was there, in the holiest spot on earth, next to the Aron HaBris (Ark of the Covenant) and the Luchos, that the tzintzenes haman, the jar containing a measure of the mahn received by Bnei Yisrael in the midbar, was kept.

What was it about the mahn that warranted a place in the Holy of Holies?

The mahn, like nothing else, symbolized the bitachon, the absolute trust, that the Jewish people had in Hashem, day in and day out, during their forty-year sojourn in the Wilderness. Each day they emerged from their tents to collect that day’s portion of food — and no more — trusting that tomorrow, Hashem would again send the mahn.

This supernatural existence did not last once the Jewish people entered Eretz Yisrael. Yet that jar of mahn was a reminder to all generations that bitachon is one of the kodshei kodashim of Yiddishkeit.

One who works on bitachon to achieve a life of serenity through faith is in truth serving על מְנָת לְקַבֵּל פְּרָס. The Mishnah in Avos (1:3) says אַל תִּהְיוּ כַּ עֲבדָיִם הַמְשַׁמְּשִׁין אֶת הַָרב עַל מְנָת לְקַבֵּל פּרְָס— Do not be like servants who work only to receive a reward.

A Real-Life Lesson

Allow me to share with you, dear reader, a personal and meaningful vignette from my early childhood in Aleppo, Syria.

Life in Syria was scary. When my mother was expecting me, there were pogroms in which the non-Jews burned the synagogues and Sifrei Torah. Anxious and terrified, my parents went to hide in the home of an Arab neighbor, who was supposedly protecting them. But as he “welcomed” them into his home, these are the words he used to “comfort” them: “I will take care of you, not like the Israelis who are cutting open the stomachs of the pregnant Palestinian women and murdering the children.” This was his brand of “hachnasas orchim” (hospitality). As I grew up, life continued to be scary. The non-Jews sometimes tormented us and beat us up on our way to school. Think about that for a moment. Today, kids are greeted at school with smiling faces and music. But for us, every trek to school was filled with trepidation and fear. We didn’t dare wear yarmulkes outside. Often, if a non-Jew asked if we were Jewish, we found ourselves in a quandary: Should we tell the truth and be beaten, or lie and pose as Arabs with Arabic names? Neither option was pleasant, to say the least.

We were tormented at times by the Arab children. When we arrived at our school, we were dressed in our white-and-blue little uniforms, along with many bruises, if not physically, then certainly emotionally.

But our kindergarten rebbi, whom I remember with much fondness, Chacham Dovid Boukai, brought us close and instructed us to repeat after him the words of Yeshayah (8:10): עֻצוּ עֵצהָ ותְֻפָר דַּבְּרוּ דָבָר וְלאֹ יָקוּם כִּי עִמָּנוּ אֵל —Plan a conspiracy and it will be annulled; speak your piece and it will not stand, for Hashem is with us.”

We sang along joyously, and the words “ki imanu Keil” meant so much to us, for we knew that the Al-mighty was with us always. And as we sang, we jumped up and pointed upward to Hashem.

Even now, more than 60 years later, the singing — and the faith it evoked in me — is such a vivid and warm memory.

Every day of my childhood was a lesson in emunah.

This is in line with what Rav Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik taught:

Life teaches bitachon to those who contemplate it well, even more than can be learned from sifrei mussar (books of ethics) (Yalkut Emunah U’Bitachon, p. 494).

a life of bitachon by rabbi dwekThe Stone Stood in His Way

I was blessed and privileged to grow up with the message of the importance of bitachon during my childhood years in Aleppo, Syria. I enjoyed a very close relationship with my paternal grandmother, Rabbanit Bolisa Dwek. Her husband, who passed away in 1929, was a rabbi and president of the yeshivah in Aleppo and a successful businessman, as well as an accomplished speaker. She remained a widow for many decades and lived in our house during those years.

My grandmother would put me to sleep with a powerful story about the Baal Shem Tov, which she told over and over again until it was imbedded in my memory and in my heart. It was a story I never tired of hearing.

Shalom made a living brewing and selling arak. One day the Baal Shem Tov came to town to collect tzedakah for the poor, and Shalom was only too glad to host the eminent sage for the night. The children of the house greatly enjoyed the presence of the holy Baal Shem Tov, who told them stories, sang songs with them, and imbued them with beautiful lessons.

The following morning, the Baal Shem Tov bid Shalom farewell as he prepared to move on to the next town to continue with his mission. Shalom and his family pleaded with him to stay.

“How can I stay?” the Baal Shem Tov asked. “The poor are depending on me.”

Finally, Shalom offered to match the sum of 100 rubles that the Baal Shem Tov hoped to raise that day. The Baal Shem Tov agreed to stay for another day, and Shalom’s family was happy.

But the following day the same scene occurred, until once again Shalom offered the Baal Shem Tov 100 rubles from his own money.

This went on day after day until Shalom, who was not a wealthy man, had no money left to offer.

What he did have was a semiprecious stone, which he used for emergencies. If ever he was in need of funds, he would pawn this stone and then redeem it when he would obtain the money to do so.

This time, he pawned the stone for several hundred rubles and thus was able to buy the privilege of hosting the Baal Shem Tov for another few days. When the money ran out, the holy man finally left Shalom’s home.

Shalom, who had a large family, was left not only guestless, but penniless. There was literally nothing to eat in the house and no money for food. The children went to sleep hungry. Shalom turned to Hashem and began to daven for salvation.

Suddenly, he was interrupted by the sound of banging on his front door. It was a bunch of drunkards and they were demanding drinks. There was no arak to be had in Shalom’s house and no money to manufacture any. But the drunkards wouldn’t leave Shalom alone. Finally, they asked him if he had the empty barrels in which he usually made arak. When he replied in the affirmative, they told him to put water into the barrels and then at least they could enjoy the taste of arak.

Shalom did as they asked, and as they enjoyed their pseudo-alcoholic beverages, they began throwing coins of all denominations in his direction in payment.

Years passed, and the Baal Shem Tov was once again passing through this town. Looking for Shalom, he was directed to the richest section of town. The Baal Shem Tov knocked on the man’s door and was ushered into a marble foyer by a smartly dressed butler. As he waited for the master of the house to appear, the Baal Shem Tov gazed at the silk drapes, ornate furniture, and plush couches decorating the home. At last, Shalom arrived to greet his honored guest. He sat down with the Baal Shem Tov in his lavish living room and expressed his joy at seeing him once again. But then he turned to the Baal Shem Tov and with the confidence of a wealthy man, queried, “With all due respect, why was it necessary for you to take my last ruble, so that my family was left literally starving?”

The Baal Shem Tov smiled and replied, “I saw that you were destined to merit great wealth. The only thing that was holding you back was your dependency on the stone you pawned whenever you needed funds. Until you would depend solely on Hashem for your needs, you could not receive this abundant blessing.”

Bitachon is the key to all berachah. If we depend on someone (or something) else, Hashem puts us into that person’s hands. If we depend on ourselves, Hashem puts our success into our own hands. But if we truly depend only on HaKadosh Baruch Hu, then we will be completely in His hands and merit to receive the greatest berachos.

But while we need to keep our focus on Who is the Source of all that we receive in this world, the value of true bitachon runs much deeper than that.

An End Unto Itself

As a young man, Rabbi Hillel Mandel, who later became the principal in Deal Yeshivah, went to learn in the Novaradok Yeshivah in France during Elul. While there, he told the Roshei Yeshivah that he wanted to learn bitachon. They pushed him off and did not accede to his request. Finally, one of them told him, “You don’t want bitachon. You want what you gain as a result of having bitachon.”

There’s no question that bitachon is the source of all kinds of shefa and berachah from Shamayim. But bitachon is much more than that.”

My father used to joke with one of his customers, an Arab man. He’d make friendly remarks to him and even wish him happy birthday. We knew that in their hearts, the two really hated each other. But when in business, one has to conduct himself this way. Some of us speak to Hashem the way my father spoke to the Arab. Bitachon is not just, “You’re so kind and helpful. Please fill my order,” or, as some adults will say to a child, “You’re gorgeous. Go get me something.” Those who think bitachon is a means to an end are greatly mistaken.

Bitachon means living with Hashem. One cannot say he keeps Shabbos because he wants a day of rest, although it is true that it’s a restful day. Rather, we keep Shabbos because it’s a mitzvah, and by abstaining from work, we are attesting that Hashem created the world.

Imagine a man goes to buy a diamond from Tiffany’s for $100,000. Of course, they give him a beautiful box in which to keep his diamond. Someone sees him carrying the box and asks, “How much did that box cost?” He replies, “It was $100,000.”

But that’s not true. The box didn’t cost $100,000, the diamond did!

The main thing is not what we receive from Hashem; that’s like the box. Rather, the diamond is our kesher (bond) with Hashem. Rabbi Nissim Yagen zt”l would illustrate this concept with a personal story:

Rabbi Yagen would travel to America for a month at a time to raise funds for his yeshivah and for his kiruv network. One time, as he was preparing to depart, his children began to cry: “Abba, we don’t want you to leave.” They understood that he would be away for a while, and it was painful for them to see him go. Rabbi Yagen tried his best to calm them.

He told the youngest child, “I’ll get you a special candy from America,” and the little girl was happy. To the next one he said, “I’ll bring you back a nice toy,” and this child too was calmed. The next daughter was already a bit older, so he told her, “I’ll get you a beautiful dress from America.” At this, the girl began to smile.

Finally, he told his oldest daughter, “I’ll bring you back whatever you want. Just tell me what it is.”

But his words seemed not to have any effect on the girl, and she continued crying. “Abba,” she said, “I just want you. I don’t want anything else!”

One who works on bitachon to achieve a life of serenity through faith is in truth serving על מְנָת לְקַבֵּל פְּרָס. The Mishnah in Avos (1:3) says אַל תִּהְיוּ כַּ עֲבדָיִם הַמְשַׁמְּשִׁין אֶת הַָרב עַל מְנָת לְקַבֵּל פּרְָס— Do not be like servants who work only to receive a reward.

We should not be performing the mitzvos as a way to earn reward from Hashem. We should not be trying to attain bitachon as a way to achieve a stress-free life. Rather, we should work on bitachon because we long for closeness with Hashem. In Tehillim (73:28) it states: קִרְַבת אלֶקים לִי טוֹב — G-d’s nearness is my good; we want a kesher, a relationship with Hashem. Bitachon is actually an end and a purpose in itself.

For more information about A Life of Bitachon click here.

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Victoria Dwek
Victoria holds a B.A. in English Literature from New York University and a M.F.A in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She’s the editor emeritus of Ami Magazine’s Whisk and is an obsessive cookbook writer (with seven to date). When she’s not writing, she’s busy entertaining her cuties, all aged 11 and under.

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