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Bitachon

Bitachon

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A friend of mine and I were talking about bitachon (trust in G‑d) and illness, the kind of illness where doctors kindly provide cure rates and survival statistics.

He said that bitachon exists at an entirely different level than statistics. In other words, it's not that one trusts that he or she will be among the percentage that survives, but at the level of bitachon there is no such thing as survival. The concept doesn't exist. Neither is there a cure rate, where one trusts that he or she will be among those cured, while others, G‑d forbid, will not.

According to my friend, we're simply talking apples and oranges. Two different species. When we speak of bitachon and statistics, we're worlds apart.

I thought about this for a long time. I couldn't get it. Hard as I tried.

But then a flash occurred — the kind that lets me know that there's one thought worth pursuing amongst the dribble that rambles through my head, one thought that will nag me to distraction until I bring it to completion.

Bear with me, as we complete this thought together.

Bitachon is life. And where there is life, there is no survival. The two can't exist at the same time. Because where there is life, there is no future nor past. There is only life — that which is in front of you at any given moment, accepted in full and without judgment.

Bitachon is G‑d, because G‑d is life and where G‑d is there is nothing else. Not even survival. Where G‑d is there is nothing to survive; there is only that to be with.

Nothing exists outside of G‑d; thus nothing exists outside of life. There is no way to separate any of life's experiences into Life and Not Life. All of life's experiences are life. My life. Your life. Life.

We have the choice to pretend that we can make this separation. And when we do, we enter into the world of statistics and cure rates. We do this ourselves. We take an elevator and push the "down" button. The elevator follows your command. It has no will. You relinquished your bitachon. The elevator does what you want.

But if you choose not to press that "down" button, there is only life. There is no health and disease. There are just states of being. There is no length of life. There is just being alive. If you are alive in this moment, what do you care about the next?

And if you do, you are clinging. You are grasping, trying to hold onto what is not yours. You are stealing; you have become a thief who wants more than what has been given you. You are alive now? Isn't that enough?

Why are you not so exquisitely present in this moment that there is nothing left within you with which you can think about the next? What is lacking in this moment that has you worried about the future? If G‑d is everything, with nothing lacking, perfect in all ways, creating the universe anew at each moment, why are you squandering the gift of what you have? If you cannot know this, if you cannot live this truth... then you lack bitachon. Dont bother pushing the "down" button. You're on your way already.

Do you divide your life into pleasure and pain? Whether it meets your expectations or not? Whether it is good or bad by some definition you have artificially arrived at? Whether the face that G‑d presents to you is one you like or not?

Have you created categories of cruelty and kindness, judged them and put them in columns called Life/Not Life; G‑d/Not G‑d? Does not it all come from the same source?

Or do you look to things like fair and not fair? Do you feel you deserve more or less? Are you stunned into disbelief that this could be happening to YOU? As if others somehow deserve it more? Or are stronger and can better bear the burden?

Or are you hero or victim? The hero convinced the disease can never touch him and thus never cries nor feels the fear, the panic, the regrets that are also part and parcel of his condition? The victim certain that he will be among the worst of the statistics, and so never encounters his bravery nor feels the transcendent power of rising above and banishing death from his consciousness, if only for a moment?

Neither have bitachon. For both contemplate the future, both consider their fate, both shun the moment in disillusion and fear, both deny the fullness of themselves and thus the fullness of the moment that G‑d has proffered.

But what of the future? Do we live in a world where there is only today? Only this moment with no thought of what it will bring? Do we cast our fate upon the winds without care, without concern for consequences, with no plans?

What about Moshe's bar mitzvah? Chani's wedding? The bank and the dentist appointment?

All exist within this moment. Each concern is part of the tapestry. It all happens in a flash, in a weaving similar to the miraculous functioning of your body where billions of simultaneous events occur outside of your awareness yet impact upon your being.

When you are present, completely present in each moment, you are also present with the future that is contained in that moment. It is a subtle distinction. There is the future which is not real — your artificial projections of what will or should be; and there is a future that is contained in the reality of each moment.

When I spend time with my child, for example, I attempt to be completely with her in each moment. Totally present to her mood, thought, facial expression, breathing, vocal intonation, the problem she is presenting, the joke she is telling, the tears of her disappointment, the frustration of failed expression, the fear of failure or dread of the night. I am present to her, as best I can be, and as much as I can I am focused on this moment with an open heart and attentive mind. And yet, as much as I am in the now, I am aware of the consequences of my actions and words, my expressions, the look in my eye. I have lived too long not to know that each act creates its mark, and that mark is now imbedded on the soul of the other, and the indentation is engraved and now part of the being — my daughter — to whom I am speaking and being with. I am aware of these things and may later reflect on the effect of these engravings as they mold her character and responses.

But in the present I am simply acting with awareness and concern, bringing the all of who I am into this interaction; being as fully present to it as I can be. For love would cause me to be the same whether this was the first or last of many moments or the only moment there ever was.

And, in truth, if I was acting without that awareness, pretending that the future was under my control, that each moment could not always be the last, that tomorrow is not unknown, then I would be acting with dishonesty, and such dishonesty and illusion could allow me to be angry more quickly than I should, or forget to tell my daughter how much I love her every chance I get, for I might think that there are more chances than exist. For, in truth, the only chance that exists is now.

There is always time for love. And that, I have come to see, is bitachon. It is not only life. It is love of life. Love of life in every form that exists. In every taste and sensation. It is an immense, exquisite appreciation and acceptance for every face of G‑d that He grants us to see. It is standing wide-eyed and innocent willing to discover the revelations of G‑dliness, everywhere and always and with thankfulness.

With bitachon, there is no time left to contemplate survival. There is no reason to.

Jay Litvin was born in Chicago in 1944. He moved to Israel in 1993 to serve as medical liaison for Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl program, and took a leading role in airlifting children from the areas contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster; he also founded and directed Chabad’s Terror Victims program in Israel. Jay passed away in April of 2004 after a valiant four-year battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and is survived by his wife, Sharon, and their seven children. He was a frequent contributor to the Jewish website Chabad.org.
Artwork by Sarah Kranz.
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Anonymous cleve May 1, 2013

wow. Reply

Tuviah NYC, USA February 8, 2011

Bitichon absolutely inspiring. Incredible. Thank you, Reply

Bracha Los Angeles, CA May 23, 2008

The month before my father passed away, at an age similar to Mr. Litvin's passing, he spoke of bitachon. Mr. Litvin's article brings to mind the very thoughts I contemplated when I was in mourning--what about the celebrations of the future? what does it mean to live? when is living more than just surviving?
Very beautiful article, indeed! It really touched my heart. Reply

Carl H. Chicago, IL April 13, 2007

Time Awesom, truly beuatiful veiw. It makes me think though, if you did something bad in the past; people treat you bad (rightly so, although you should do unto others as you'd have them do unto you). But they say "the greater the sinner, the greater the saint". So the past lays the ground in my opinion for a future of bigger badness or greater goodness. But that depends on "the now". If someone is changing for the better right now, you shouldn't wait for the change to injoy their new personality, you should take time "NOW" to nurture that change. So living in the now is very important. Reply

Anonymous April 12, 2007

every time i read one of jay's phenominal articles i am drawn to tears.....not from the serious or at times morbid subject matter, neither by the deep emotions evoked by this intelligent, thought provoking and heart stirring, beauty of an article written by a master chasid and talented author, in fact jay's whole point in many of his articles is to teach us that crying over that is.....well....silly........the reason i cry is because im selfish....its because i begin to think and feel what kind of mentsh....and how great a mind.....with such a clear and truly REAL view on life and torahwas lost. i cry for myself that i never got to know him while he was alive and am stuck with only learning from his brilliant articles....in fact i am depressed at the thought that i lived at the same time as him and was complety oblivious to his existance. i cry because now all i have left to do is say ....i love u my dear jay am truly sorry that i missed u....but thank u Reply

Cydney Zapata Stuart, Fl. U.S.A. March 16, 2007

Jay Litvan and bitachon I never knew Jay Litan. I never knew the meaning of bitachon. I know them now and will never forget them.
Thank you for sharing this most beautiful message and much gratitude that Mr. Litvan continues sharing wth the world even after his earthly death. Reply

abraham portugal brooklyn, new york March 13, 2007

i like this thank you Reply

Chava Cohen Syeilacoom, WA/USA May 4, 2005

Jay Litvin I never knew Jay or recall reading any of his articles. Now that I have and find today is his Yahrzeit, I feel a great sadness and loss. His personality comes through in a tremendous way in every article. What a guy! He was one year younger than my husband and me. Too young to die. His memory is truly a blessing. Thanks for sharing him with us. Reply

Anonymous July 30, 2004

Re bitachon Any person who lives in that way has everything..... all the love and joy a human being is able to feel.

And yet we ( all too often ) say 'no thank you' to just that.
Reply

lee r trscy glendale, ca April 16, 2004

Bitachon and Havdalah I enjoyed reading Jay's articles, and am saddened to hear of his death. A family friend died yesterday as well. So the concept of bitachon is important. It's interesting because Judaism is, of course, distinct from new-age pantheism in that we are supposed to make all sorts of distinctions. All is God, and we ought to be present at all moments, but we are also supposed to be drawing lines between things. Prety much every aspect of our lives is supposed to have lines drawn. And I wonder why. I wonder that perhaps the failure of those who want to just jump to the idea of bitachon is that one cannot really get there until one really understands and practices the idea of havdalah. It's a weird conflict but it feels right. As a Jew who is thinking all the time of Jewishness but not doing much Jewish Reply

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