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TORAH AND BITACHONIn the third month after the Exodus of the Children of Israel from the land of Egypt, on this day, they came to the Sinai desert. (Shemos 19:1)
(Adapted from Mishnas Rebbe Aharon by R. Aharon Kotler, vol. 3, p. 126, cited in Trust Me!).
Shlomo Ha-Melech instructs us: "Wage war with strategies" (Mishlei 24:6). The Vilna Gaon (Even Sheleimah 4:11) explains that this refers to the refining of one's character traits. In order to cultivate and improve oneself, a person must employ all sorts of strategies. This is such a monumental endeavor that an entire tractate of the Mishnah - Pirkei Avos - is dedicated to it.
The Gaon goes on to say that a specific regimen of self-improvement is only necessary for a person who is not involved in full-time Torah study. However, one whose life is dedicated to Torah has a special advantage, as we read (Pirkei Avos 6:1): "Anyone who involves himself in Torah study for its own sake will merit many things...he will be attired in humility and fear [of Heaven]." The Torah he learns will itself bring out the desired traits. The Gaon takes this concept even further in Chapter two of his work, where he writes: "It is only possible to kill the evil inclination with Torah." Bad character traits, which are a reflection of one's evil inclination, can only be eradicated through the Torah. Other means can curb them, but not totally eliminate them. To merit such assistance requires momentous effort and commitment on one's part. It entails a total acceptance of the yoke of Torah upon oneself, and that one toil in Torah with tremendous diligence. When a person studies Torah on such an exalted level, it directs his behavior regarding positive and negative mitzvos as well as his character. Unfortunately, we see that after the little Torah we study, our actions and character remain far from perfect. This should alert us to try harder so that the Torah can influence us.
Torah Study Requires Bitachon
How can we raise ourselves up to this exalted level? The answer to this question is: through having bitachon. Simply put, it is impossible to toil exclusively in Torah unless one has bitachon. In addition to this, the Vilna Gaon states (Even Sheleimah 3:1) that having bitachon and being satisfied with what one has comprise the basic principles that are the underpinning of all good traits of character and behavior. These traits are the opposite of desire and lust. Without this basis, the Torah will not be able to develop and purify one's character. However, the more important of the two is the principle that relates to bitachon. Without this trait, one's Torah will not last.
Bitachon Elicits Hashem's Bounty
Let us develop this connection between bitachon and one's devotion to learning. The Almighty created human nature in such a way that when a person knows you are relying on him, his feelings of love and obligation toward you increase. This can be seen clearly in the love that parents have for their children, and it is especially evident in the feelings of a mother for her baby. A child has unlimited trust in its mother, and despite the limited cognitive abilities of an infant, the baby is unmistakably aware that it is relying upon its mother. The mother senses this, and feelings of love are generated within her that move her to respond unstintingly.
Bitachon follows the same pattern - both on our side and on that of the Almighty. In order to develop this trait within ourselves, we have to turn ourselves into "babies" and rely totally on Hashem. Doing so helps us develop a very strong feeling of connection with Him. This serves to enhance our Torah study, because we are no longer disturbed by everything that happens to us. Moreover, because we are closer, this in itself helps us to achieve firmer ties with Him. Often, when people speak of bitachon, this is the idea that they are referring to. In truth, however, bitachon is much more than this, for when we conduct ourselves in this manner, the Almighty responds by showering us with His abundance - in the same way that a mother so generously responds to her child's needs.
The Midrash (Devarim Rabbah 5:9) states: "Anyone who trusts in Hashem will be rewarded by becoming like Him, as it says (Yirmiyahu 17:7): 'Blessed is the person who trusts in Hashem; Hashem will be his trust.'" This teaches us that closeness to the Almighty is so great that in a certain respect one becomes like Him. He is spiritually elevated and given Heavenly abilities.
I'll Teach You Who Serves Supper!
The famous Chassidic Rebbe, Zusia of Anipol, had a shamash (attendant) who was not always in his right mind. This shamash knew Rebbe Zusia's unchanging daily schedule quite well. The Rebbe was accustomed to staying awake all through the night and into the next day, all the while learning and praying. This would go on until four o'clock in the afternoon, at which point he would turn his eyes upward and say, "Hashem, Zusia is hungry." Hearing that, the shamash knew it was time to serve his Rebbe a meal. After serving his master in this manner for 30 years, the shamash decided he was going to prove to Rebbe Zusia that it was he who provided the Rebbe his meals - and not the Almighty. If it were not for him, he thought, Rebbe Zusia would not get fed. He decided to "go on strike."
That same night a wealthy Jew had arrived in Anipol. Now, although the village may have been impressive spiritually - home to an illustrious tzaddik - physically it was nothing but a small, backward, destitute village. Among its other nondescript features, the town's "sidewalks" were simply narrow pieces of wood, that did not allow even two people to walk abreast. It was the middle of a cold, rainy night when the wealthy man's coach pulled in. He quickly disembarked from his carriage and headed toward the local inn. As he walked along the narrow sidewalk, an old Jew wearing a worn-out green kapote (coat) was walking toward him. The old man's head was down, and he was clearly unaware of anyone else's presence. Arrogantly, the wealthy Jew elbowed him out of the way, sending the old Jew tumbling head over heels into the mud. The wealthy man burst out laughing.
When he arrived at the inn, the wealthy traveler boasted to the innkeeper about what had just occurred, still laughing at the thought of it. The innkeeper asked, "Did this old Jew happen to be wearing a green kapote?"
The innkeeper then solemnly informed the wealthy Jew, "The only person walking around the streets at two o'clock in the morning wearing a green kapote would be Rebbe Zusia on his way to the mikveh."
The wealthy Jew stopped laughing, and his face quickly paled. In a quavering voice, he asked, "You mean the famous tzaddik, Rebbe Zusia?"
"Oy vey! What have I done!?" he cried in despair.
The innkeeper calmed him down. "Listen, Rebbe Zusia is a very holy person. I'm sure he won't hold this against you. If you want to ask his forgiveness, then I suggest you wait until tomorrow. Prepare a meal, maybe get a bottle of vodka, go to the shul and wait. Every day at four o'clock, Rebbe Zusia calls out to Hashem, asking to be fed. At that moment, come into the room, present your gifts of food and drink, and ask to be forgiven. I'm sure he'll not only forgive you, but he'll give you a full-hearted blessing as well."
Meanwhile, the shamash couldn't wait to see the expression on Rebbe Zusia's face when he would ask Hashem for food and no one would be there to provide it for him. What would the Rebbe do then? Peering through a crack, the shamash was bubbling with anticipation. Sure enough, at four o'clock, Rebbe Zusia said, "Hashem, Zusia is hungry!" At that very moment, the wealthy Jew sprang out from a side room bearing a tray filled with food and a bottle of vodka.
(This version of this famous story is based on R. Ezriel Tauber, I Shall Not Want, p. 46.)
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