The Question:

A Jew is at the doors of the next world, wavering between trust in G‑d that he will somehow recover, and acceptance of the inevitability of his passing. He feels that if he continues with optimism, the faith of his children will be shaken when he succumbs, and he writes for my advice.

My response:

Forget the doctor’s prognosis. Hold onto unwavering bitachon (trust)—the certainty that it will all be revealed good—and at the same time embrace whatever may come with love. Your children will be inspired and proud of such a father. With the help of the One Above, they will lead their lives in the same way.

I know that seems paradoxical, but it is the formula by which our people has survived for ages. As Jews, bound up with the divine, we are expected to live, even to thrive, on the razor’s edge of paradox.

Now allow me to back up a bit:

The Well-Beaten Path to Hopelessness

This is how the human being becomes old: He may start his life as an optimist, and he may achieve much success due to his optimism. But then, there are always failures.

Failures are painful. The human organism stores that pain in memory. Instinctively, it does whatever it can to avoid revisiting that pain. And one easy way to do that is by preparing for failure. Simply because, that way, you can always say, “I figured this would happen!” and the failure hurts somewhat less.

But it’s a cheap, loser’s strategy. That trepidation accumulates until it becomes a thick, entangling carpet under your wheels, thwarting any impetus forward. Eventually, you find yourself locked to the ground by your own fears. And then comes the ultimate surrender.

A better strategy is to always move forward with confidence. If things don’t work out as you hoped and expected, then embrace your new situation as an even better outcome—so much better that the good it contains stands beyond your limited vision.

With such an attitude, you succeed far more often and remain forever young, all the way until the very last breath.

Even As a Sharp Sword Lies Upon Your Neck

Here’s a story, told in the Talmud,1 to recall whenever ominous clouds stand overhead:

When King Chizkiah (Ezekiah) fell ill, Isaiah the prophet came to visit him. But rather than console him, he announced a heavenly decree: He was to die in this world and he would not receive a share in the World to Come.

“Isaiah,” countered the king. “Cease your prophecy and leave! So have I received from my ancestor David: Even as a sharp sword rests upon your neck, do not refrain from pleading for divine mercy.”

Then he turned to the wall and began to pray from the innermost of his heart—and he lived another 15 glorious years.

True prayer requires faith. And a faithful prayer must conclude with confidence and trust that the One to whom the prayer was addressed will answer in the very best way. Even when the decree is signed and sealed and the cold blade of a sharp sword lies over your neck, time can be turned back and the entire universe can be reordered through the power of one sincere prayer.

Feeling It

Really, it’s beyond faith. Faith is when, despite all that you know and see, you hold tight to the conviction that G‑d is good and all He does is good, even if for the moment you can’t fathom how it is good—because it comes from such a high place that it is impossible for you to fathom.

But trust—bitachon—is an emotional response. To trust in G‑d is to stay calm and confident, just as if you could see the good clearly and enjoy it with all your senses.

Even if you can’t achieve such calm, you can imagine someone who really does live in such a way. You can say to yourself, “I know that this is so and it makes sense to me that I should feel calm and confident, just like Zusia of Anipoli or some other great tzadik.” Imagine that calmness, embrace the moment, and it will become much easier to attain it.

Attain that emotional confidence and you are connected to the hidden good that lies beyond your intellectual grasp. Now it can shed its disguise and come into the open as obvious, revealed good.

Help Out of Nowhere

King David prayed with these words: “I lift my eyes to the mountains, from whence will come my help?”2

The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of righteous memory, once explained:3 The words “from whence” can also be translated as “from nothingness”—meaning that there is nothing in existence that could possibly help.

But then, David continues, “My help is from G‑d, maker of heaven and earth.”4 Beyond existence.

You see people believe that only fools are optimists. But the opposite is true. Precisely because we understand how desperate the situation really is, how helpless we are and how impossible the challenge, that itself tells us how great a G‑d we have—a G‑d who can lift us high beyond the natural order and transform the most ominous darkness to brilliant good.

The greater a realist you are, the greater your joy.

May you and all your loved ones live together to see very soon the light of Moshiach and, with the reviving of the dead, eternal life.