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My rebbe HaGaon HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt"l said in the name of his rebbe HaGaon HaRav Yerucham Levovitz zt"l that on the week of Parshat B'shalach it is customary to speak about bitachon. With Hashem's help we will try to speak about that topic this evening.
The Jewish people were leaving Egypt with the Egyptians pursuing them from behind. Suddenly they noticed that the Yam Suf was before them. With the enemy chasing them from behind and the sea in front of them, what are they to do? Moshe prayed to Hashem, and He replied:
"why do you cry out to Me? Speak to the Children of Israel and let them journey forth! And you lift up your staff and stretch out your arm over the sea and split it; and the Children of Israel shall come into the midst of the sea on dry land" (Shmot 14:15-16).
The sea will only split after you actually enter into it. In the Gemara we find two opinions regarding what happened next:
"Rav Meir used to say: 'when the Israelites stood upon the edge of the sea the tribes were competing with one another this one exclaimed: I will descend first into the sea while that one exclaimed: I will descend first into the sea. Thereupon the tribe of Binyamin sprang forward and descended into the sea' Rav Yehuda said to him: 'the incident was not as you described it, rather this tribe was saying: I will not be the first to descend into the sea while another declared I will not be the first to descend into the sea. At that point Nachshon ben Aminadav leaped forward and descended into the sea." (Sotah 36b).
My Esteemed Teacher HaGaon HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt"l raised the following difficulty with the opinion stating that Nachshon ben Aminadav took the plunge first: What happened to all the other tzaddikim of the time, why did they not blindly follow Hashem's command? R' Chaim answered that had Hashem commanded them to die al Kiddush Hashem at sea, many would have followed, but to actually go into the sea believing that nothing would happen to them is something only one person was able to achieve. I must say that I have not yet been able to understand this - can we truly say that Aharon, Yehoshua, Caleb, Pinchas, Elazar, and Itamar did not share this belief with Nachson? Did others not also witness all of the great miracles in Egypt that should have given them the bitachon as well? There was a clear instruction from Hashem to proceed, was there no one else with the bitachon to obey the directive to jump into the water? Furthermore, had Moshe not promised them long before that they would eventually leave Egypt to receive the Torah and enter the "land of milk and honey"? Clearly Hashem was not planning to drown them. Was crossing the water therefore not the best thing for them? I would venture to suggest that Nachshon was simply quicker than the others and he was the first to arrive at the water. By the time the next person arrived to jump in, the sea had already split.
We are not permitted to deduce from here that we may have full confidence in Hashem without prayer. We find in the book of Shemuel that he prayed before the war against the Plishtim, as we know that Mordechai and Esther as well as the rest of the nation prayed to Hashem and fasted. Bitachon does not mean to simply sit back and believe that Hashem will take care of us and everything will be all right. Bitachon is the realization that everything comes from Hashem and only He is able to remove whatever danger or difficult situation we may find ourselves in.
The Rambam rules that although tefilla is generally only a Rabbinic obligation, it is a positive Torah commandment to pray to Hashem in times of danger, Hashem yearns for our prayers - instructing Moshe not to pray at Yam Suf was an exception. It is the rare occasion that Hashem provides explicit direction.
Bitachon does not imply that a person is sure that everything will turn out all right - it is the understanding that only Hashem can save us. Hashem wants to do what is good for us. We, however, must be worthy recipients of this good. When we ask Hashem for help while promising to try to improve then we are worthy of His assistance.
Bitachon as we understand it means to have the confidence that we should follow Hashem's directives and that whatever happens as a result is for the best. The prophet provides us with an example of misplaced bitachon. The prophet tells us:
"Her leaders judge for bribes and her Kohanim teach for a fee and her prophets divine for money - yet they rely on Hashem, saying: 'behold Hashem is in our midst; no evil can befall us'" (Micha 3:11).
The prophet is referring to people who sin and act in ways that are contrary to the Torah's commandments. On the face of it, the latter part of the pasuk seems praiseworthy. While it is true that they are guilty of many infractions, they still have bitachon in Hashem. Yet, the prophet continues:
"Therefore, because of you, Zion will be plowed over like a field; Jerusalem will become heaps of rubble and the Temple Mount will become like stone heaps in the forest" (ibid. 12).
Bitachon of this nature not only is not considered a mitzvah but in fact is an aveira! Why so? Are they not relying on Hashem rather than the powers of avoda zara or even forces of nature? The explanation is that this type of bitachon is a chillul Hashem. Hashem promised that the Land of Israel would be given to the Jewish people only "if you hearken to My commandments" (Devarim 11:13). Moshe Rabenu was told to leave Egypt and travel onwards and he would eventually reach Eretz Yisrael. In the incident cited by the prophet they thought that they could rely on Hashem even while acting in violation of His will. True faith and confidence in Hashem means faith that He will bring about a Kiddush Hashem. Someone who claims to have faith in Hashem without observing the Torah is guilty of creating a chillul Hashem, for he thinks he can go against Hashem's commandments without any ramifications. Bitachon means that Hashem will keep His word, not that He will always bring about the end that you desire.
A person who sins and truly desires to change, Hashem will help him - this is positive bitachon. However, a person who thinks he can continue in his evil ways all the while having faith in Hashem is sorely misguided. If you are not willing to change things for yourself why are you so certain that Hashem will change things for you?
Hashem wants us to return, He does not want us to die. It all depends on us. The people of Ninve were wicked people who repented. Hashem will redeem us but we must be worthy of redemption. We are not permitted to declare that we have bitachon that everything will be all right.
Chazal tell us "Great is repentance, for on account of an individual who repented, the entire world is forgiven" (Yoma 86b). Furthermore, Chazal tell us: "Great is repentance for it brings the redemption nearer, as it is said: 'a redeemer will come to Zion, and to those of Yaakov who repent from willful sin' (Yeshayahu 59:20)" (Yoma 86b). How are we to understand this? Were there not many righteous individuals, such as Yirmiyahu and Yechezkel, who lived during the period when the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed? Can it really be said that there was not a single person during that time period who repented? Could not the tshuva of R' Yochanan ben Zakkai and other holy tannaim of the time have prevented the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash? Can we truly say that not a single tzaddik during the terrible Holocaust repented? What about R' Chaim Ozer, R' Baruch Ber, and even the Chazon Ish who was in Eretz Yisrael at the time? Did not a single one of them do tshuva? Heaven forbid that we should even think such a thing! It goes without saying that all of these tzaddikim did tshuva! If so, where is the redemption? Did we not just say in the name of Chazal that when an individual repents not only are his own sins forgiven but those of the entire world? Does not tshuva hasten the final redemption?
The answer to this question is that proper tshuva is not as simple as it sounds. During the days of Yechezkel the people bemoaned:
"since our sins and our iniquities are upon us and we are wasting away because of them, how can we live?" (Yechezkel 33:10)
There was no chance of living after the sin. This pasuk shows quite clearly that theJewish people themselves did not really believe that tshuva could help them. As a result Yechezkel was forced to swear to them in the Name of Hashem that their tshuva is in fact accepted. We recite some of Yechezkel's words in our Neila tefilla:
"Say to them: 'as I live - the word of Hashem/Elokim - I swear that I do not desire the death of the wicked one, but rather the wicked one's return from his way, that he may live. Repent, repent from your evil ways! Why should you die, O House of Israel?'" (ibid. 11).
We are already used to the words of Yechezkel and those of Chazal regarding teshuva. To us it appears quite simple - we fast on Yom Kippur, recite a few piyutim some of them even have very nice tunes, we hit our heart a few times (not too hard, we would not wish to G-d forbid hurt ourselves in the process), recite viduy a few times, and we assume that Hashem will forgive us. It is for this reason that the poskim have written that Motzaei Yom Kippur should be treated as a bit of a Yom Tov and we must rejoice over the fact that our sins have been forgiven (Ramma Orach Chaim 624:5). From this perspective, tshuva is in fact very simple: "Rather, the matter is very near to you" (Devarim 30:14) - nothing is closer to us than tshuva.
On the other hand, tshuva is not so straightforward. The tshuva process can be described as "a ladder set earthward and its top reached heavenward" (Bereishit 28:12). To reach the first rung of a ladder is easy, but to climb further and further up and reach the top rung is much more difficult. Rabenu Yona writes (Shaarei Tshuva shaar 1:1), that clothing can become clean with a bit of washing, but the more it is cleaned the whiter it becomes. For a soiled garment to appear as good as new is very difficult. You have to do tshuva to an extent, and try to grow more we should not be complacent and say we have done tshuva, we must constantly strive to grow higher and higher.
Chazal tell us that Adam HaRishon was given "one easy commandment and he transgressed it" (Shabbat 55b). We are told that for the next one hundred and thirty years he fasted and underwent all sorts of suffering in an attempt to repent for his sin (see Eruvin 18b). With all that Adam HaRishon did, the world did not return to its former state. To a certain extent, Hashem accepted Adam's tshuva, as we note on Rosh Hashana "Your word is true and endures forever" - just as You accepted the tshuva of Adam HaRishon, may You accept our tshuva as well. His tshuva, however, was not sufficient to nullify the decree that people will die, that "by the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread" (Bereishit 3:19), and that the women were cursed with: "I will greatly increase your suffering and your childbearing" (ibid. 16). These decrees are still in effect today, even after Adam's one hundred and thirty years of penance.
No matter how much we feel we may have improved there is always room for more. May we merit reaching a level of total tshuva and complete bitachon in Hashem. Amen.