Toward a new Jewish domestic agenda
Break on through

Faith and trust

My friend the Feminarian is having some trust issues with God. She writes:

Every time I tell God: OK, I'll put this living situation in your hands. You know I’m very confined and sad living in our current place, and here's this opportunity (new apartment, the house, etc), and God, I'll just trust you that what’s best will happen.

And then every time I lose the thing I want. God and my desires don't line up. And I don't mean it in a whiny way. I mean that it's really hard to trust God when every time I give something to God it doesn't work out.

It is really hard when something one desperately wants doesn't come through the way one wants it to. (I'm guessing each of us has something that fits into that category -- or something we fear will fall into that category eventually.)

Reading this post highlighted for me how important I think it is that we be able to say these things. That even seminarians, who will someday (God willing) be clergy, be able to admit that there are times when our relationships with God feel strained or painful -- when a great disappointment, or deep wound, cuts at the quick of our ability to feel connected with God. Every person of faith deals with these issues at some point, on some level, and as clergy we need to be able to say, "I know what that feels like; I've walked that stretch of road, too."

Last night I listened to a live webcast of Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, and his remarks dovetail with these issues in some interesting ways:

One important quotation from Chazal [our sages of blessed memory] which directly relates to this issue, the power of thought to determine [what arises], is this simple two-word phrase, machshavah mo'elet, which means "thought works." Or "thought helps." The question is, what does it help?

The Sages say that sometimes, if you think too much about something happening, that will help that it shouldn't happen! The example given is, a person plans too hard to finish a tractate of the Talmud by a given date. "I'm going to learn this tractate by Rosh Hashanah." Very likely if you decide to do that, you're not going to do it...that thought itself might backfire! It would result in the very opposite. Instead of helping it happen, the thought can help it not to happen.

The Gemara goes on to say, what does thought help to happen, and when does thought actually project an energy that prevents something from happening? Chazal say, that's a function of yirat shamayim [fear, or awe, of God]...

I have complicated feelings about the notion that getting what we want, or not getting what we want, comes down to yirat shamayim -- that if I don't get the outcome I'm looking for, it's because my awe of God was insufficient. That may be an interpretation that doesn't translate well into a liberal religious mindset. Still, I like the idea that our thoughts change reality, if only in a certain way.

Much of Rabbi Ginsburgh's talk centered around two key terms, emunah (faith) and bitachon (trust). If I've got this right, he defined faith as believing that whatever arises comes from God, and is therefore good. Trust is an attitude that presumes that God is good and that God wants us to understand the good in all things even if that good isn't readily-apparent to us in our limited human consciousness. (Intriguingly, he said at one point that faith and trust are closely-linked, and at another point that they can work in opposition to one another. There's subtlety to these definitions that I'm surely missing -- if anyone can enlighten me, please do.) Anyway, he went on to say:

If I had very large perspective on reality -- the whole world, all of history -- I would understand that all is good. I don't see my previous incarnations; I don't see where I'm coming from or where I'm going, so I can hardly fathom what's good for me and what's not good for me...

Faith means, no matter what happens, I believe it should be good and I accept it with joy. As Chazal [the Sages] say, when something bad happens you have to bless Hashem with the same joy that you bless God when something good happens. The whole distance between this world and the World to Come is that in this world there are two different blessings, one for good things and one for bad things. But the spiritual motivation of saying the blessings should be the same... and in the world to come, there will only be one blessing. It will all be the blessing of the good, because it will all be good in our eyes.

I'm fascinated by the notion that in the world to come -- in messianic time when the work of perfecting creation will be complete, when all the holy sparks will be lifted up, when the ultimate tikkun will have been made -- we will offer only the blessing for good things. In the world we know, we are called to bless God sometimes in joy and sometimes in sorrow, but in days to come we will fully understand the fundamental goodness of all things.

I know I often have an impulse to put a band-aid over suffering. It's hard for me to simply sit with something that hurts, whether it's in my own life/practice or in someone else's, and that's something I need to work on. (Boy, did my year of chaplaincy work teach me about that.) But I wonder whether there's a way to strengthen our own faith and trust, our emunah and bitachon, even while we acknowledge our very real moments of feeling distant from God. To acknowledge what's broken even as we assert what's whole.

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