Bitochin: Foundations of Psychological Security by Dr. Sanford Drob
Volume 2 , Issue 2 (Nov, 1988 | Kislev, 5749)
The Talmud (Berakhot 60a) relates the story of Hillel the Elder, who, upon returning from a journey, heard a great cry coming from the city. He said, ?I am confident that this does not come from my house.? The Talmud quotes scripture in saying of such an individual: ?He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is steadfast and trusting (batoch) in the Lord? (Psalm CXII, 7).
Rabbi Hillel, it seems, possessed the great quality of bitochin, trust in the ways of the Lord and hence, security with the ways of the world. The word bitochin is derived from the Hebrew root batoch, and connotes the qualities of ?being at ease?. ?without trouble?, and hence, ?security?, sureness? and ?trust?. What is this quality of bitochin and how is it attained? In an age pervaded by insecurity and doubt, alienation and anxiety, it may be well worth our while to inquire into its nature. Perhaps this seemingly naive ?trust in the Lord? can provide us with insight into the psychological security we long for and yet find so elusive.
Put simply, an individual who has bitochin rests secure because he has the faith that whatever happens to him in life is God's will and hence, ultimately happens for his own good. Those who are fortunate enough to possess or develop such trust go about their lives without worrying about the future, without feeling any need to sacrifice their principles to gain some material advantage, and secure in the feeling that their world is good and ?complete? no matter what their specific fortune.
However, the individual with bitochin is no ?Pollyanna.? He or she does not simply believe that everything must necessarily go his way. Rabbi Hillel was confident that it was not his home that was on tire, but, as we will soon see, had it been his home and family that had been stricken, he would not have lost his faith and trust. Like the biblical Job, an individual with bitochin retains his faith, retains his psychological security, even in the face of the most acute personal tragedy.
No Blind Faith
Neither does the individual with bitochin have ?blind? faith in the happenings of the world. He or she endeavors, with all the means available to him, to grow spiritually, intellectually and even materially. However, what the individual with bitochin does not do, is worry excessively about the outcome of his ventures or view things as unbearable or tragic if these ventures go unrealized or unfulfilled.
Needless to say, bitochin is a very rare and difficult achievement. Many religious individuals think they possess it, or in the belief that the ?pious? must possess it, they attempt to create the impression that bitochin is theirs. The fact of the matter is that it is nearly impossible to know whether one is in possession bitochin until, like Job, one is put to the acid test through the experience of what by all accounts appears to be some great personal tragedy or misfortune.
Bitochin does not come naturally for most individuals. As a matter of fact, the psychological operations involved in achieving it go against human nature as it is defined by contemporary psychology. This is because psychology defines man as essentially a biological being who achieves security through the fulfillment of basic biological needs. Bitochin, on the other hand, is a spiritual/ethical achievement, and the security it provides derives from the individual's conviction that God will provide primarily for his spiritual and moral needs. Indeed, the individual who possesses bitochin is prepared to surrender all his other possessions. His security derives from the spiritual/moral law which is in effect written into his soul and which he identifies with through the fulfillment of Torah and mitzvot. Such an individual does not seek to fulfill desires, but rather, as we learn from the study of Chasidut, seeks to activate and essentially become the ?Godly soul? within him. Thus, bitochin does not deny or negate personal or human tragedy, but rather to the degree that an individual possesses bitochin, the core of his being remains intact in spite of his misfortunes.
Bitochin is not something that can be achieved solely through intellectual endeavor. Rather, it is a state of being that comes about as the result one's own action or experience. It is, in a sense, a byproduct of an individual's absorption in the performance of good deeds. Jewish tradition provides that a shaliach mitzvah, one who performs a Torah mission, is protected both spiritually and physically as long as his work is incomplete. This, indeed, is the origin of Hillel the Elders' sense of confidence in the L-rd, for his was a lifelong Torah mission. Bitochin, in the aspect of trust in one's physical security, is, paradoxically, dependent upon one's surrendering the desire for the physical and material in favor of moral and spiritual development.
Attained Through Actions
While bitochin cannot be attained by intellectual effort alone, certain insights can provide the impetus to its achievement. When we truly realize, for example, that the objects of all of our past worries have either not occurred or that we have learned and grown from all of the misfortunes we have feared, we are more likely to surrender much of our worry and doubt. A story is told about Rabbi Akiba which serves as a parable for his view that ?whatever the Almighty does is for the good?.
Rabbi Akiba was once going along the road and he came to a certain town and looked for lodgings, but was everywhere refused. He said, 'Whatever the All-Merciful does is for good' and he went to spend the night in an open field. He had with him a cock, an ass and a lamp. A gust of wind came and blew out the lamp, a weasel came and ate the cock, a lion came and are the ass. He said, 'Whatever the All-Merciful does is for good.? The same night, brigands came and carried off the inhabitants of the town. He said to them, Did I not say to you. 'Whatever the All-Merciful does is all for good?'
The obvious moral of this parable is that one frequently cannot understand the true significance of a seeming misfortune until well after the event has occurred. Had Rabbi Akiba been admitted to lodging in the town, had his lamp continued to shine, his ass neighed or his rooster called, he, too, would have been carried off by thieves.
Those of us fortunate enough to have the experience of raising children have often smiled at the apparent triviality of a child's worries. After all, we have all made it to adult life generally unscarred by forgotten homework assignments, the slights of our classmates and difficult teachers. If only we could smile at our own adult worries in the same way. Indeed our own lost business opportunities, failed love affairs and financial setbacks are in the long run more trivial than the worries of childhood, since the injuries of adult life, in comparison to those of childhood, do not readily impact upon our psychological development and personality.
If we accept that our goal in life is to perfect our spiritual and ethical character, we realize that there are very few, if any, events which cannot serve as lessons, opportunities or challenges toward achieving that end. Indeed, from a kabbalistic point of view, the very existence of evil and misfortune is meant to arouse within mankind the quality of rachamim (compassion) which will help bring about tikkun haolam, the restoration of the world. A concrete instance of this is to be found in the physician who developed her own compassionate bedside manner as a result of a life- threatening illness she experienced as a medical student. Even one's own death is a challenge and opportunity to provide chesed (loving kindness) to those who remain. For an individual with bitochin, unlike for the egoist, threat to the self is not a threat to all values, but rather a further challenge to affirm the values to which one has dedicated his life and to thereby further refine the nature of one's soul.
All in the Hands of God?
The concept of bitochin seemingly places all in the hands of God, but if we adopt the proper perspective, there is paradoxically a parallel truth that all is in our hands as well. The Talmud tells us that prior to the conception of a child, a guiding angel takes a seminal drop and queries of God, ?What is to become of this drop? Is it to develop into a person strong or weak, wise or foolish, rich or poor?? The angel does not, however, raise the question of wickedness or righteousness, for according to the Talmud these are the province of free will, for ?Everything is in the hands of heaven except the fear of heaven? (Niddah 16b). All is in God's hands because He controls the events which serve as challenges to our lives. However, it is up to us to respond to these challenges. The individual with bitochin trusts that God will provide him with no challenge to which his spiritual/moral self cannot rise, and he trusts in himself that he will rise to any challenge with the midot (traits) of kindness, righteousness and compassion.
Still, one may not be able to understand how bitochin can exist in a world barely recovered from the greatest tragedy in Jewish history, the Holocaust of European Jewry. Indeed, this is a vexing problem some say the greatest problem, for contemporary Jewish philosophy. However, whatever our theological response to the Holocaust, we must recognize that even in the midst of these atrocities there were indeed individuals who possessed the greatest and purest bitochin or trust in God.
We read in the diaries of Holocaust martyrs:
God. You have done everything to make me stop believing in You. Now, lest it seem to You that You will succeed by these tribulations in driving me from the right path, Inotify You, God, and God of my fathers, that it will not avail You in the least. You may insult me. You may castigate me. You may take from me all that I cherish and hold dear in the world. You may torture me to death, but Iwill always love You and these are my last words to You, my wrathful God: I die exactly as Ihave lived, crying, ?Eternally praised be the God of the dead. the God of vengeance, of truth, of love, who will soon show His face to the world again and shake its foundations with His almighty voice.
Yossel Rakover, 1943
I simply can't build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness. I hear the ever-approaching thunder, which will destroy us too. I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again. In the meantime, I must uphold my ideals, for perhaps the time will come when I shall be able to carry them out.
?Diary of a Young Girl,
July 15, 1944.