Categorized | Columnists, Rabbi Yogi

Mordechai’s story shows trust in God can alter reality

Posted on 08 March 2018 by admin

Every year, I hear the Megillah read, and every year, I find myself perturbed by the same question: Why was Mordechai perfectly confident that the Jews in the Persian Empire would be saved from Haman’s genocidal decree?
Mordechai, after all, had lived through one of the bloodiest periods in Jewish history, the destruction of the First Temple (Esther 2:5-6), and witnessed the havoc and carnage that King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia had wrought. And yet, Mordechai informed Esther in no uncertain terms that if she remained silent and did not attempt to use her position of power as queen of the empire to save the Jewish people, “relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another place” (Esther 4:14). How does Mordechai know this? He is not a prophet. The Megillah remains silent on this point.
The Chassidic master Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov (1740–1809) suggests something that might sound surprising to the modern ear. It was Mordechai’s complete and absolute trust in God, his bitachon, that molded reality. Mordechai trusted God to save the Jews, and therefore God had to reciprocate in kind, by fulfilling Mordechai’s desire.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak wasn’t the first sage to suggest that bitachon could alter reality. Rabbeinu Bachya Ibn Paquda, writing in the first half of the 11th century, notes of the promises assured specifically to one who exhibits trust in God: “But one who trusts in God is safe from harm, and can rest assured that no evil will befall him” (Chovot Ha’Levavot, introduction to Section 4).
According to this line of thinking, bitachon is good for more than just setting one’s mind at ease that everything that happens in life is decreed by a loving God. Bitachon will actually shelter you from harm. (It should be noted that even according to this understanding of the nature of bitachon, everyone’s level of bitachon is unique and will therefore manifest itself in reality to different degrees.)
Many great sages followed this general line of thought, from Rav Yosef Albo (1380–1444), to the Maharal (early 1500s?–1609), to more recent scholars such as Rav Zundel of Salant (1786–1866) and the Alter of Novardok (1847–1919).
The Lubavitcher Rebbe (1902–1994) quotes the third rebbe of Lubavitch, the Tzemach Tzeddek, as replying to a petitioner, “Think positively and things will be positive. “This implies that the very act of thinking positively (having bitachon) will give rise to results that are visibly and manifestly good” (Likkutei Sichot, Parashat Shemot 1991).
Leaving aside the many theological difficulties with this position (most notably, the issue of the suffering of the righteous person of faith), this philosophical stance seems well represented in different verses in Tanach, which suggest a connection between bitachon and divine providence.
King David famously writes, “…but as for one who trusts in God, kindness surrounds him” (Tehillim 32:10), and, “… rely upon God for your enjoyments, for He will grant you the desires of your heart” (Tehillim 37:4). Isaiah similarly writes, “The being that relied (on You), protect him with peace, peace; for in you did he trust” (Isaiah 26:3).
Rabbi Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz (1878–1953), known to the Jewish world as the Chazon Ish, rejected this understanding of the nature of bitachon. In his philosophical work Emunah U’Bitachon he writes as follows:
“There is an old misconception rooted in the hearts of many when it comes to the concept of bitachon. This term … has mistakenly become a term to describe the obligation to believe that if a person finds himself in a situation where he faces an undecided future, with two ways apparent — one good and the other not — surely the good outcome will be the one to occur; if one is doubtful and fears the opposite of good occurring, he is lacking in bitachon. This understanding of bitachon is not correct, for as long as the future has not been revealed through prophecy, the future is not decided, for who knows God’s judgments and rewards? No, bitachon is not that, but rather the belief that nothing happens by chance, and that everything that occurs under the sun is the result of a decree of God” (beginning of Chapter 2).
Scholars understood the Chazon Ish as categorically rejecting the previously mentioned understanding of bitachon, going so far as calling it “an old misconception.” In this light, Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein (1933–2015) argued that the Chazon Ish promoted a bitachon that does not “scatter the clouds of misfortune” or “raise expectations” at all, but rather merely “expresses a steadfast commitment. Even if the outcome will be bad, we will remain reliant on and connected to God” (By His Light: Character and Values in the Service of God, p. 142).
According to the Chazon Ish’s interpretation of the nature of bitachon, how are we to understand Mordechai’s steadfast belief that the Jews will be saved? (Other studies of Mordechai’s belief do not rest upon his bitachon.)
I believe that the answer lies in one glaring sentence written at the very end of Emuna U’Bitachon, Chapter 2, which seems to have been glossed over by the masses.
“There is more to the trait of trust, for a holy spirit rests on the one who trusts in God, accompanied by a strength of spirit that tells him that God will indeed help him. As King David said, “if you bring a host upon me, my heart will have no fear; if a war comes upon me (in this I will trust).” This matter varies according to the level of the person’s trust and his degree of holiness.
In other words, even the Chazon Ish seems to agree that there is a level of bitachon, albeit a lofty one that holds the power to alter any reality, or in Mordechai’s case, any decree. To contact Rabbi Yogi Robkin, email him at
yrobkin@dataofplano.org.

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