Sunday, February 3, 2013

Back to Basics

A Foundation in Bitachon

In this week’s Parshat Yitro we receive the Ten Commandments; the canon that defines us as Jews. The first commandment is G-d stating His Existence and Oneness. This commandment is obviously pivotal, because without it, we would not have to heed the other nine. The first commandment is the Jew’s raison d’être; it points to the gravity of bitachon.
Bitachon, or trust in G-d, is THE ingress to fulfilling every other mitzvah in the Torah. With genuine belief in G-d’s existence, our lives are likely to be permeated with direction and meaning. Yet, stripped of bitachon, we flounder in this baffling universe, where suffering courses wildly through our veins, and where we meander through the banality of our everyday existence, devoid of the proverbial shoulder to lean on.
Trust me; no one comprehends the criticalness of bitachon better than the one who disregards it.  Bitachon was always a spiritual romp for me. It was a trial and my clichéd “Everest.” Perhaps this began when I was in kindergarten and my childish imagination spewed a bunch of theological theories; that G-d had other god buddies, or that G-d looked like King Triton from The Little Mermaid, or that (forgive my 4-year-old brazenness) there was no G-d at all.

Of course, as one grows older, this particular subject can become even more enigmatic and difficult. When a girl in my high school died from cancer a mere few days after Purim, a day that ensures G-d’s mercy and receptiveness towards prayers, my heart shrouded itself in a cloak of  doubt and distrust. Who is this G-d and why did He do this? This question is the definition of tiresome because it entered the gates of every person’s mind since the beginning of time. Yet, the ubiquitous and immortal nature of this question still does not take away from its inherent frustration or hurt. 
The angst still exists and, at times, it pours down in fiery pellets. Clearly, I am not yet perched atop my Everest with a flagpole digging into the stone, shouting “I did it! I did it! I finally mastered bitachon! ” In fact, I'm still grappling with it.
I know that a person is shirking off adulthood until he/she can accept full responsibility for his/her actions. I do not want to point a castigating finger towards anyone, but I do feel as if there is a genuine problem in many Jewish education systems, namely that there isn’t a central focus on teaching bitachon.
In my high school, we learned what the Ramban had to say on this Pasuk and what the Ohr HaChaim had said to refute the Ramban. We were chin deep in the Tanach. We immersed in a Chumash, Two Navis, One Ketuvim, plus a load of other subjects every year. I could brandish the wand of my Jewish knowledge at a Shabbat table—causing everyone to blink in disbelief and drop their jaw a little. What does Rashi say about Avraham in this Parsha? I knew it. What does the Vilna Gaon say about Dovid HaMelech in this Perek? I knew it. I had to know it—otherwise I would fail my upcoming exam.
Of course, learning the Tanach is a holy quest. Soaking the words of Torah is a personal growth tool. But what about the very fundamentals of Judaism (i.e. emunah and trust in G-d)? Sadly, I can neither tell you what the Ramban or Ohr HaChaim said anymore, nor can I apply it to my daily life (even if I did recall their sayings).
Everyday vicissitudes call for a faith that runs deeper than hours spent memorizing Pasukim from Navi.  Why didn’t we focus on studying that? 
Aside from poring over various technicalities in Tanach, my school doused us with tzniut speeches as if our very existence relied on it. My teachers’ slogan was “You are a Bas Melech. Your beauty is on the inside!” On days that they became tired with that phrase, they would trill on about “No movies! No TV! No Goyish books! Tumah! Tumah! Tumah!”
Please, can somebody explain this to me? We wore uniforms day in and day out; fastened to our throat, caressing our ankles. And we were so overwhelmed with homework and studying—who on earth had time for movies or TV?
We also learned way too many “Midah K’neged Midah” examples. It was enough to frighten even the most valiant of souls. If one sins with fire, then G-d punishes with fire. If one sins with his tongue, then—you guessed it. At one point, I firmly believed that if I got a paper cut in the morning, it was because I “cut” my soul with the "tumah" of the television I watched the night before.
Why couldn’t we revel more in the subject (faith and bitachon) that stands at the very core of our religion? Why couldn’t we be taught that G-d loves us unconditionally instead of envisioning Him as a punishing Being?
The very first commandment of the Torah is to be completely aware of Hashem’s existence and the active, loving role He plays in our lives. 

 Well, who’s up for revolutionizing the Jewish education system with me? Anyone?


  1. Bitachon mountain is unlike Everest. No one out there can say "I made it to the top." Even Moshe Rabeinu was accused of lack in Bitachon. It is a constant struggle for everyone, on different levels. And those who have in fact attained high altitude on Bitachon, have to fight constantly against sliding back down it's slippery slope.
    Your Bais Yaakov teachers probably considered Tanach stories a good strategy for instilling Bitachon in their students. Perhaps it was enough for them, perhaps it was enough for many of your fellow classmates.
    One of the things I discovered as I matured is that you cannot rely on others to come inspire you. You have to go and find your own answers, answers that work for you personally. It's just the extra work you have to put in if you dare to have your own personal questions.

  2. True that. And like I said, part of being an adult is accepting responsibility for your actions. I'm not blaming anyone in particular...I just believe that priorites should be shifted. I never understood why women (who don't have an obligation in Torah study) HAVE to spend hours upon hours immersing in the nuances of Chumash and Navi. Bitachon is a very complex subject because it often includes your own family ubringing and your emotional struggles (not only your education). BECAUSE it's such a difficult and yet INTEGRAL subject...I believe that more time should be spent on learning/questioning/answering it. Although this is terribly cliche, I'll say it anyways: One cannot build a house on shaky ground. If Jewish education wants future generations to continu growing spiritually, I'm of the opinion that they should focus more on the "foundation" i.e. EMUNAH AND BITACHON. Children and teens need to know that Hashem LOVES them. Perhaps this will lead to less "rebellion."

  3. It was no different in my school. The reason why it is not taught is not because it is considered obvious, but rather the teachers themselves have not grasped it either. With the tznius police, they focus on external aspects as reflections of religiosity, but fail to understand what faith is.

    In the end, a truly amazing teacher is a rarity. Such gems cannot be available for every child in every grade. If you are truly lucky there will be one, maybe two, who teach those aspects.

    A parent is supposed to be a child's primary educator; in my case, mine certainly were. I have also found speakers who do talk about bitachon (I cannot recommend Rabbi Yisroel Reisman's Navi shiurim highly enough), and again, not all are created equal, so it may take time to find a speaker who speaks to you.

    As RMP said, there is no finish line or peak for bitachon. It is infinite. And, one's personal search for bitachon is that: Personal.

    A child who rebels rarely rebels because of something a teacher told them. They are rebelling against their parents. Tuition is paid to teach a child the basics of Judaism; a parent has to fill in the gaps.

  4. Thanks for recommending Rabbi Reisman's shiurim :) I believe that "rebellion" is complicated and that there can be many factors leading up to it. But, yes, parents are usually the main reason for that. On a different note, it's good to know that others are struggling with bitachon as well...we are never alone...even though we sometimes think that's the case.

  5. You are definitely right about the lacking in the Jewish Education System. I think one of the main problems, as you said, is that its focus is on the superficial shell of Judaism and not the "real stuff" like bitachon. Which usually results in either:
    a. Girls going off the derech completely, because they are looking for something real in their lives, and Judaism as they know it is not providing that.
    b. Girls living shallow, superficially Jewish lives.
    c. Girls who look for inspiration within Judaism, and may not follow the "Bais Yaakov Lifestyle" but still remain committed Jews.

  6. Love your response Anonymous! Check, check, and check again!