By Rabbi Dan Lewin
Three key powers rest within the soul: emunah (deep faith), bitachon (trust) and simcha (happiness). Each flows from the former: Faith leads to trust; without faith, there’s no trust. Without trust, there can be no true happiness. And these three emotions are developed during the three festivals this month.
Each second of the day, there is an invisible exchange taking place between a person and God which evolves the more we exercise free choice. (For without independent will and effort, there is no real exchange, only reacting.) At times we may be more tangibly aware of this dialogue, while other times it may be faintly detectable in the background. But the more we practice paying attention, the more we can see and hear.
One of the game changers in this relationship is the trait of bitachon, which relates to the soul’s power to pursue victory. The victory here is breaking through internal barriers — such as fears, conditioned thinking, or self-centeredness — to arrive at the purest relationship with God that bears fruit.
Furthermore, the way we relate to God — simply, with hesitation, and with trust — inevitably influences our interpretation of events, our experience of life, and the outcomes we seek.
In Jewish thought, the quality of emunah is a recognition of the source: the pure belief in ONE supreme being, the acceptance that God is in control. The attribute of bitachon, on the other hand, incorporates distinctive positive feelings about the future; it is the belief — even certainty — that God will take care of you so that things turn out to be visibly good.
The reason the latter ability is so important is that it is impossible that in this life on earth a person will not undergo tests, encounter stressful periods, and face internal demons to overcome. The question is: What emotion is experienced during those challenging times? And perhaps more than any other trait, the power of bitachon most reveals one’s resilience and loyalty.
Measure for measure
The Baal Shem Tov has a short explanation on a verse in Psalms that summarizes the role our mindset plays in our ongoing exchange with God. The verse reads: “Many are the pains of the wicked, but as for him who trusts in the Lord — kindness will encompass him.” (Psalms 32:10)
The simple dynamic conveyed in this short phrase is how the trust in God results in kindness, while the opposite is also true. The absence of trust is a feeling of anxiousness, leading the mind into excessive calculations and tense concern about what lies ahead. This in turn provokes the corresponding response, reminiscent of the verse “and their fears I will bring to them (Isaiah 66:4).”
This exchange is not to be confused with a type of self-fulfilling prophecy, but rather involves comprehensive principle regarding the power of thought: Whatever a person thinks about, explains the Baal Shem Tov, is where his innermost being attaches. If the mind, for example, is consumed with thoughts of divine judgment, the person attaches (and plugs in) to that divine attribute of din, which is fair but tilted toward strict consequences. And when he or she is confident in God’s kindness, the soul attaches to the unlimited storehouse of goodness — which flows and envelops them.
In this regard, bitachon entails more than positive thinking. It’s about nurturing the relationship, remaining conscious of God’s all-encompassing guidance. This core sense can be enhanced through study, conscious practice, and mitzvahs wherein the effort to perform good deeds helps the person to feel connected and, as a result, to maintain the proper mindset. Here, our spiritual pursuit and work can directly impact the psychological and physical experience.
For many people, having bitachon is one of the hardest instructions to fulfill since negative thoughts and doubts enter the mind and flow freely. And even when someone can successfully push away uninvited emotions, there is still a void — the need to create a spiritual mindset that enables a warm sense of security. It’s an ongoing state to be cultivated, and not only in moments of confusion and crisis but also in periods of plenty.
A special time to come closer
As it pertains to the current period in the Jewish calendar, teshuvah is intimately connected to bitachon. The better we feel about ourselves — secure in our effort to face our missteps, reconnect, and restore the soul to full strength — the easier it is to generate a feeling of trust.
In contrast, the commentaries explain, someone who is filled with unaddressed regrets struggles to feel trust; the awareness of bad choices sets fear as the default emotion as the person becomes wary of payback, or feels undeserving of abundant kindness. Nevertheless, with sincere effort and prayer, a person can penetrate any spiritual blockade (whether internally or above) and implement the above teaching from the Baal Shem Tov.
Fresh from the Ten Days of Teshuvah, this week we arrive at Sukkot and enter a completely different frame of mind. In many ways, these holidays are about enhancing certain inner powers, planting seeds within the soul that sprout and blossom throughout the entire year. More specifically, the tears and toil are behind us and our effort now entails the ability to reveal happiness within us. This type of happiness is in the air, one that we tap into and adorn ourselves with on Sukkot.
There are many types of joy. There is a superficial happiness, tied to pleasure, gain, and desired outcomes. There is a more unconditional and natural joy, the love of being alive and appreciating whatever you have. Then there’s fulfillment that comes through hard work, the satisfaction in knowing that we have put forth our best regardless of the result. Finally, there is a spiritual happiness which you experience for the sake of the holiday.
This last happiness doesn’t stem from any personal occurrence or reason, but rather is bound up in the mitzvah of festive celebration (“you shall rejoice in your festival”). So, even if you happen to feel the opposite on that day, you dig inside to find and express joy — out of obligation, and for the sake of those around you — which is the highest level of this emotion.
To be sure, all festivals are bound up with happiness, as the Torah states. But Sukkot possesses an extra dose of joy, reflected in the multiple emphasis in the verses, which points to its unique theme, phrased in our prayers as “the time of our rejoicing.”
The deeper Torah teachings explain how the placement of holidays and their respective themes and accomplishments follow an experiential cycle — the way the holidays are ideally experienced. As it plays out during this month, Rosh Hashanah was the prime time to solidify faith. Yom Kippur, our souls toiled for victory, which in turn cleansed our system to invite more trust. This holiday, we feel the results, and this expresses itself in the ultimate spiritual happiness. We transform that happiness into action by creating beautiful sukkahs and finally celebrating in dance with the Torah. Thus, the full spectrum of our being — from faith to action — is activated, and this uplifted state spills over into the year.
Rabbi Dan Lewin is director of the nonprofit Maayan Chai Foundation. For information, visit www.maayanchai.org.