Rabbi Yonasan Sacks
Rabbi Yonasan Sacks

The Challenge of Bitachon

At the beginning of Parshas Vayishlach, the Torah recounts the meeting between Yaakov Avinu and Eisav Harasha. The Torah tells us that Yaakov's initial response to the impending meeting was (32:7), "vayira Yaakov meod vayetzer lo", Yaakov experienced great fear and anguish. Under normal circumstances, this reaction would be understandable. However, in last week's parsha, Hashem promised Yaakov, "unshmarticha bechol asher telech" ("I will guard you wherever you go"). How could Yaakov Avinu be so fearful if Hashem had promised him he would emerge victorious? The Gemara in Berachos (4b) tells us that Yaakov was concerned "shema yigrom hacheit", perhaps sin would cause Hashem's promise to be rescinded.

The Rambam, in his introduction to his commentary on the Mishna, points out the following difficulty. Later, the Gemara Berachos (7a) tells us that any promise Hashem makes for that which is good, even if it is conditional, will never be rescinded. Hashem's promise that he would protect Yaakov was one for the good, and therefore could never be retracted; why then was Yaakov fearful that his sins would cancel the promise? The Rambam answers that this comment in the Berachos depends on whether the communication took place between Hashem and a prophet privately or whether the prophecy was meant to be relayed to others. If the prophecy is private, there is no guarantee that Hashem will not retract it. If, however, it is to be relayed to others, it will not be rescinded. As such, Yaakov was justified in his fear - Hashem's communication was to him alone, and could therefore be rescinded.

The Meshech Chochma in Parshas Vayera points out that Avraham and Sara had seemingly similar reactions to the news that they would soon be blessed with a child. The Torah describes Avraham's reaction as "vayitzchak", and Sara's as "vatitzchak". Why, then was Sara criticized for laughing and Avraham not criticized? The Targum translates the two terms quite differently. Avraham's laughter is translated as "vechadi", he rejoiced. Sara's laughter is translated as "vecheichas", she laughed. The Meshech Chochma suggests that since Hashem told Avraham the news in private, there was no guarantee it would actually happen. However, once he was commanded to tell Sara, this prophecy had the status of a promise that would not be retracted, and hence Sara's laughter was inappropriate.

The Rambam in the seventh of the Shemona Perakim and in the Moreh Nevuchim discusses the concept of nevuah in general, and specifically one who receives it. The Rambam quotes three possible understandings of the qualifications of a navi. The philosophers who do not follow the Torah assume that anyone can receive nevuah if they perfect themselves. This is incorrect. The general populace assumes that Hashem picks random people to be nevi'im, regardless of their character. This understanding is also incorrect. The correct understanding is that preparation is necessary, but insufficient. Certainly, one cannot receive nevuah without being spiritually fit. However, even once a person has perfected himself, there is no guarantee he will receive nevuah. What does perfection mean? Can a navi never make a mistake in his personal life, lest he lose his nevuah? The Rambam brings several examples of neviim who sinned yet retained their ability to receive prophecy that prove that this is not the case. One of these examples is Yaakov Avinu who received nevuah despite his sin - his trepidation of the encounter with Esav.

There seems to be a contradiction within the Rambam. In the introduction to the commentary on the Mishna, he says that Yaakov Avinu was justified in his fear. Yet here he says that Yaakov Avinu sinned relative to his stature. How can one resolve this contradiction?

Rav Elchanan Wasserman hy"d, in his explanation of aggadeta (5) at the end of his Kovetz Ha'aros, quotes a comment of the Vilna Gaon in Chapter 14 of Mishlei. The Gaon quotes the verse in Tehillim (118:9) "Tov lachasos bahAshem, mivtoach bindivim" ("it is better to trust in Hashem than in nobles"). The Gaon is bothered by the seemingly obvious nature of this verse - of course our bitachon is in Hashem! The Gaon understands the two similar, but distinct, terms used in the verse: bitachon and chisayon. What is the difference between the two, between belief and reliance? Bitachon, says the Gaon, is when someone gives you an absolute promise and you believe that the promise will come true. Chisayon is when you believe something will happen even if there was never any promise to that effect. Placing one's trust in Hashem, even when there is no guarantee He will grant that which one wants, is far superior than placing one's trust in the absolute promises of a human being. Rav Elchanan writes that this is the way to resolve the contradiction within the Rambam. Yaakov Avinu had legitimate cause for concern - his sins could have caused Hashem's promise to be rescinded because the promise was given in private. Nevertheless, even if there was no explicit promise, he should have relied on Hashem. A person must trust in Hashem even without guarantees as to the outcome.

This lesson of Yaakov Avinu serves as a model for our behavior and character. The Meshech Chochma points out that Yaakov Avinu led a life filled with much suffering. The way Hashem appeared to Yaakov was different than the way He appeared to Avraham and Yitzchak; he appeared to Yaakov at night, outside of Eretz Yisrael. Even in the heart of darkness and despair, in the dire straits of galus, one can still experience the presence of the shechina.

The Gemara in Berachos tells us that each forefather instituted a different prayer - Avraham instituted Shacharis, Yitzchak instituted Mincha, and Yaakov instituted Maariv. The tefilla at night was the one instituted by Yaakov, because his life was one of trials, fears, and anguish, yet he still had trust in Hashem.

How can a person experience nevuah even in chutz laaretz? On the verse at the beginning of sefer Yechezkel, "hayo haya d'var Hashem el Yechezkel ben Buzi HaKohen", Rashi, commenting on the double language of "hayo haya", says that although he was now in chutz laaretz, Yechezkel was already a navi when he was in Eretz Yisrael, and therefore could also be a navi in chutz laaretz. One can not initially become a navi in chutz laaretz, but the experience of nevuah in Eretz Yisrael serves to sustain nevuah, even in chutz laaretz.

The Meshech Chochma explains that a person can survive in galus by retaining a connection with the Torah and values of Eretz Yisrael. Yaakov Avinu instituted the tefilla of Maariv, which the Gemara says commemorates the sacrifice of the fats and limbs in the Beis HaMikdash. These are unique in that they can be brought at night, but only if their original sacrifice was brought during the day. This is the experience of galus - one can still experience the shechina if one links oneself to Eretz Yisrael, much like one can bring the fats and limbs if they are linked to a daytime sacrifice.

We now are experiencing, in a dire way, the darkness of galus, especially in light of the recent events in Eretz Yisrael. May our bitachon and chisayon in Hashem serve as our source of strength as we await the geula sheleima bimeheira biyameinu.

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