Monday, November 2, 2015

Intro To Machshava: R. Bachya Ibn Paquda - Bitachon and Hishtadlus

Rav Aryeh Leibowitz
Adapted by Micah Hyman

Rabbeinu Bachya Ibn Paquda authored an important work on Jewish thought and avodas Hashem, titled Chovos Ha-Levavos (Duties of the Heart).  In the introduction, R. Bachya defines two categories of mitzvos:
  1. Chovos Ha-Evarim (lit. duties of the limbs - action based mitzvos), and
  2. Chovos Ha-Levavos (lit. duties of the heart - belief based mitzvos). 
Nowadays many people mistakenly think that Judaism primarily cares about one’s actions, yet pays little attention to one’s beliefs.  R. Bachya’a two categories demonstrate the fallaciousness of such a perspective.

One of the prime examples of a “duty of the heart” discussed by R. Bachya is having faith (bitachon) in Hashem.  R. Bachya delves into the topic at length, dedicating an entire section to it.  Fascinatingly, before even defining bitachon, Rabbeinu Bachya tells us the benefits of possessing bitachon.   He states in no uncertain terms that one who possesses bitachon has serenity from the pressures of money, gains independence from other people, enjoys satisfaction with what he has, and is shielded from greed. Taken together, all of these benefits free a person from societal pressure and facilitate service of God.

Rabbeinu Bachya moves on to define bitachon.  He defines it as an acceptance of God’s complete control over the world, and a recognition that everything God does is for the best. This entails a belief in three essential facts: (1) Hashem knows what’s best for a person, (2) He has the ability to provide for man, (3) He has the desire to do what is best for man. 

R. Bachya’s definition begs important questions.  One is: If God is in control of the world and does what is best for man, how is one to relate to personal suffering?  Readers might ask: Does having bitachon require a person to be “happy” in the face of suffering? 

This question was tackled by the Chazon Ish.  He suggests that having bitachon does not require a person to ignore normal human emotions.  Rather, it demands of man to intellectually affirm that everything is from God.  When something tragic happens, it is human and appropriate, to mourn and shed a tear.  This does not contradict a person’s ability to acknowledge God’s role in the events.  A person possessing bitachon must be cognizant of the fact that nothing happens without God’s approval and in the grand scheme of things – not necessarily from man’s earthly vantage point - this too must be beneficial. 

A tension point in this discussion is the need for hishtadlus – our requirement to put in our own effort.  The need for hishtadlus is obvious, as Rabbeinu Bachya points out with an amusing anecdote: A man lies in an orchard, but refuses to go get himself an apple. By a stroke of luck, someone brings the man an apple. Still, he needs to do the hishtadlus of putting it into his mouth. Even if his acquaintance puts into his mouth, he still needs to swallow.

To be continued….

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