Building upon the previous essay about bitachon, trust in G-d, when it comes to severe difficulties in life, should we always expect that things will improve, or should we sometimes just accept that they won’t get better? And can we pray for one on the verge of death? This is Rabbi Asher Resnick’s second of two essays addressing the topic.
How does the Torah want us to relate to severe yissurim (difficulties and challenges)? Are we always supposed to expect that the situation will improve, and continue to daven (pray) for a complete yeshua (salvation)? Or, is there some point where one should simply accept the tragic reality as it is, and stop expecting and praying for an improvement?
What is the obligation with both bitachon (trust in G-d) and tefillah (prayer)? In short, what should one believe, expect, and do when facing great difficulties?
Rav Wolbe (Alei Shur) strongly encouraged us to never give up, and to have hope, even when we feel that a sword or gezeira (decree) is on our neck: While one with real bitachon doesn’t anticipate that Hashem will deal with him exclusively with chessed, and accepts with love whatever Hashem does bring upon him, there is also a trait that is related to bitachon called tikvah (hope).
The Gemara Brachot 10a says that the prophet Yeshaya went to visit Chizkiyahu the king when he was close to death. Yeshaya told Chizkiyahu that because he had never had children (to avoid the evil offspring that he knew he was destined to have), he would not only die soon in this world, but he would also not merit Olam Haba. Chizkiyahu then asked Yeshaya if he could marry his daughter, and through their combined merits possibly nullify the terrible prophesy and decree against him. Yeshaya replied that there was no point, since the decree had already been established. Chizkiyahu responded to Yeshaya — “I have a tradition passed down from the house of my father’s father that — “Even if a sharp sword is resting on your neck, don’t hold yourself back from rachamim.” Right then Chizkiyahu turned his face towards the wall and davened. What was the “wall?” Rebbe Shimon ben Lakish says that it refers to the walls of his heart.
There are many great things we can learn from this story. The main point which is relevant here is that a decree had already been issued, and there seemed to be nowhere else to turn. Chizkiyahu, however, did not give up. He davened from the totality of his heart. The Gemara continues (based on Melachim Beis 20:1–6) — “And Chizkiyahu wept an intense weeping.” Hashem, right away, told Yeshaya to tell Chizkiyahu — “I have heard your prayer and I have seen your tears. Behold, I am going to add fifteen years to your life.” Therefore, we see that there is hope, even when a sharp sword, i.e., an actual decree from Hashem, is resting on the neck of a person.
Rabeinu Yona explained this idea (Mishlei 3:26):
An additional obligation of bitachon is that we must know with our hearts — “Hakol biyedei Shamayim — all is in the Hands of Heaven.” We, therefore, have the ability to change both nature and our mazal (spiritual destiny). There is no obstacle for our salvation, neither big nor small, and although the difficulty may be imminent, the salvation can also come immediately. G-d is all-powerful and nothing can hold back His plan…Have bitachon in Hashem at all times of difficulty and darkness, and know that, in truth, He can save us from any difficulty, and that His salvation can come in the blink of an eye. Therefore, one should hope for His salvation, even if the sharp sword is resting on his neck. [As Chizkiyahu declared —] “Even if they are coming to kill me, I will still pray to Him.” This prayer emanated from bitachon, as it says — “Have bitachon in Hashem at all times” — in other words, even when the danger is close, and a person doesn’t know how to be saved from it.
This prayer which emanates from bitachon is rooted in a complete emunah (belief). Hashem is all-powerful, and nothing in the world can stand in the way of His will. If He wants to save you, His salvation can come in the blink of an eye. While bitachon itself does not mean that only tov v’chessed (good and kindness) will come, the prayer that emanates from bitachon does require us to trust in Hashem, since He has the ability to save us even when it seems that there is no way out. Bitachon and its offspring tikvah (hope) are almost two opposites within the same topic: Bitachon — not [necessarily] to anticipate that it will be exclusively good, and hope — that all will be good. One with true bitachon will combine both of them in his heart.
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Rabbi Asher Resnick serves as a senior lecturer at Aish HaTorah’s Executive Learning Center, and is a senior training lecturer for Aish’s Rabbinical Ordination program. As a close student of Rav Noach Weinberg, zt”l, he developed a special expertise in addressing fundamental issues in Judaism, as well as in bringing classical texts to life. As a bereaved parent, Rabbi Resnick’s extensive writings on loss, suffering and trauma provide a sensitive Jewish perspective on coping with these fundamental life cycle issues. OlamiResources.com is happy to highlight several essays over the coming months featured on his website JewishClarity.com. This essay should be l’zechut ul’iluy nishmat Ruchama Rivka, a”h, bat Asher Zevulun.