“SET” for Success: Life-Changing Chassidic Tools

By Nechama Dina Hendel, New Haven, Connecticut
Essays 2016

MyLife Essay Contest 2016

Contemporary Issue: Searching for Success

Success is one of the most desired human attainments.  If you google “success,” hundreds of books and articles will surface, proving how widely its formula is sought after and explored.

And, yet, it often seems elusive.  Many people struggle with failure at work, disappointment in relationships, and unfulfilled dreams and aspirations.  Achieving success is a psychological need[1], and therefore its absence brings emotional ramifications.  It is common to suffer from low self esteem, and even anxiety or depression, when one’s time and efforts do not bear fruit.

Not knowing why you are experiencing failure or how you can attain success can overwhelm you with feelings of frustration and despair.

Chassidus empowers us by defining success and prescribing the appropriate method to achieve it.  Following this formula provides a sense of security and joy as we embark on any endeavor in life.  Our fears and insecurities can be alleviated, as we arm ourselves with the Chassidic tools which guarantee success and happiness.

Through various sichos of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek’s teachings in Ohr Ha’Torah, and the Alter Rebbe’s Tanya, we will answer the question:  How can we achieve success at work, in our relationships, and in every area of our lives?

The innovative teachings of Chassidus encourage “SET” [2]:

1) Submission to G-d (Bitul), 2) Effort (Yegiyah), and 3) Trust (Bitachon).  The ideology behind these three steps is that when we partner with G-d, we set ourselves up for success (hatzlacha).  The Chassidic concepts we will explore are mazal, bitul, yegiyah, making a keli, and bitachon. 

Chassidus Defines Success

The Tzemach Tzedek explains that success is based on mazal, as the Zohar calls the successful person a “bar (master of) mazal.”  Mazal is often translated as luck, which sounds random, but it actually means a drip from Above. [3]  Mazal is not something which one earns through hard work; rather, it is a gift from G-d. [4]

This unique definition of hatzlacha runs contrary to popular thinking, which attributes success primarily to a person’s effort and abilities.

Chassidus’ source is the Torah’s description of the first “successful man,”[5]Joseph.  How is it that he achieved success under the most tragic circumstances, as a slave and prisoner in Egypt?

The Tzemach Tzedek notes that throughout the depiction of Joseph’s success, the Torah emphasizes that G-d was with him.  And because of this, his hatzlacha was in whatever he did, proving a perfect track record.

Joseph demonstrates that, first and foremost, we need G-d’s blessing.  This is supported in the verse in Proverbs, “The blessing of G-d brings wealth.”[6]

This knowledge alone can provide a psychological “fix.”   For those who struggle with obsession with work, this is a reminder that every penny earned is from G-d.[7] Therefore, a balanced lifestyle and spiritual focus are far more beneficial than becoming a workaholic.

Now the question is: Is there a method to warrant G-d’s blessings?

Step One: Submission to G-d (Bitul)

Chassidus teaches us that the vessel for G-dly success (which is higher than nature and its limitations) is bitul, humility and submission to G-d.[8]

Bitul literally translates to nullification, and it implies nullifying your ego before G-d’s will.  But the amazing thing is that when you humble yourself before G-d, this introduces you to the infinite capabilities of your soul.[9]  So you don’t lose anything in the process of shedding your self-absorption; rather, you open yourself to true happiness and fulfillment.

For example: depression, anger, and self indulgence all come from the ego[10] and are qualities which hamper one’s ability to succeed and build healthy relationships. Through nullification to G-d, you can transcend each of these negative traits.

When you experience a bad mood, you can use bitul to propel yourself forward to productivity.  Remind yourself, “It’s not about how I feel, but about what I need to do to fulfill my G-dly purpose.”

When you feel angry, you can use bitul to return your inner calm and help you forgive others.  Meditate on the fact that G-d is in control and whatever you are experiencing is from Him for your benefit, even if you don’t understand it.[11]

Bitul dedicates you to a higher purpose and liberates you from the confines of your own restrictive ego.  And with this act of submission to G-d, you invite His infinite blessings into your life.

This explains the curious timing of Joseph’s success.  Specifically when Joseph became a slave to Potiphar, this aroused in his service of G-d the level of “eved,” being a slave.  Servitude implies that all of a person’s identity is connected to the identity of the master.[12]

And so it was with Joseph.  He had no identity independent of G-d, his true Master, and was constantly mentioning Him to others.[13]

Joseph’s success grew with his bitul.  Therefore, when he reached bitul muchlat (absolute submission to G-d) as a prisoner, he experienced an even higher level of supernatural success which surpassed the human potential.[14]

This is the secret which changes the entire equation of success, and which the wide range of psychological literature is missing.  Modern psychology focuses on the “you.”  You need to become more confident, hard working, or goal conscious to become successful.[15]

Chassidus puts the focus on G-d.  Your dedication to Him leads you to self- transcendence[16] and unparalleled success.

Bitul is a lofty pursuit, but we can work towards it one step at a time.  We can start by thanking G-d and speaking about Him, as Joseph did.  We can acknowledge each time we invest our energies into something that it is G-d who will determine our success.  And practically, we can consider what He wants from us in every endeavor and realm and act accordingly.

For example, being scrupulously honest[17] and giving charity[18] are acts of submission to G-d which help assure financial success.

Step Two: Effort (Yegiyah)

Bitul is not an excuse to be batul,[19] inactive or lazy.  In Chassidus, there is an emphasis on balancing our submission to G-d with yegiyah, effort.

Again we turn to Joseph, the Torah’s prototype for success.  By analyzing his dreams, we recognize that work and progression are associated with holiness and success.[20]

In his first dream, Joseph and his brothers are gathering bundles of wheat[21]; they are laboring and effecting growth.  The fact that Joseph’s second dream is about celestial bodies also shows ascent, as the earthly scene of his first dream progresses to a heavenly one.

What is the lesson for our own lives?  Sometimes, we imagine that we can succeed without hard work.  The Rebbe teaches that such thoughts are clearly from the animal soul, the egotistic part of the human being. [22]  On the other hand, if we exert ourselves and put in effort, we are guaranteed success.  As it states, “You labored (and therefore) you discovered.”[23]

Also supporting the need for yegiyah is the Biblical verse, “And the Lord, your God, will bless you in all that you shall do.”[24]  This teaches us that although the priority is earning G-d’s blessings through connection to Him, we still need to expend the effort and take natural steps towards success.[25]

We must labor to create a proper keli (vessel) within nature to contain G-d’s blessings.  The language of Chassidus is precise.  “Making a vessel” emphasizes that the physical conduit is critical, yet secondary, to G-d’s blessing, which is the source of all success.

Examples of making a natural keli are adopting a balanced diet and lifestyle to better one’s health, going to work each day to make a living, or spending quality time with a loved one to improve a relationship.  Step two is a reminder that we must ground ourselves in practical actions.

Step Three: Trust (Bitachon)

Once you’ve aligned yourself with G-d through bitul and you have invested yegiyah, you are ready for the final step: trust in G-d.

It is common to feel anxiety and experience doubts, even after making an investment, taking a test, or committing to a relationship.  You may worry, “Have I made the right decision?  Will I succeed?”

Bitachon helps us keep serene and positive, as we put our full trust in G-d.[26]  Bitachon does not refer to general faith or belief that whatever G-d does is ultimately for the good.  Rather, it is complete trust that the results of any endeavor will be positive, in a way of revealed good.[27]

Chassidus teaches us that the spiritually intensive labor of bitachon is so potent that it actually earns the positive outcome.  As the Tzemach Tzedek advised someone who pleaded with him to arouse mercy for a sick person, “Tracht gut, vet zayn gut~ think good, and it will be good!”  The implication of his words was that the positive thinking would cause his recovery, and so it was.[28]

Visualization is a powerful technique for bitachon.  Vividly picturing the success, healed relationship, or salvation you are waiting for helps to make it a reality.[29]  Exercising bitachon in your thoughts, speech, and actions causes you to exude confidence and joy as you merit success.

Practical Application of “SET” for Success:

3 Steps to Success Actions Assessment

Step 1:

Submission to G-d ~ Bittul

1) Acknowledge G-d as your source of life and success

2) Submit yourself to Him through humility, prayer, and good deeds[30]

Can I nullify my ego before G-d’s will?
Step 2:

Effort ~ Yegiyah

1) Invest effort and work

Examples: Seek medical counsel (2 opinions) and treatment/ Search for an appropriate job

Have I made a natural “keli” for G-d’s blessings?



Step 3:

Trust in G-d
~ Bitachon

1) Think, speak, and act positively

2) Visualize the recovery, success, or desired relationship

Do I trust in G-d wholeheartedly, believing that He will bring success?



Conclusion: Choose the Right Partner!

Chassidus transforms us by shifting our perspective from self-centered to G-d centered.

It equips us for success through defining hatzlacha as the manifestation of G-d’s blessings and advising us to achieve it with bitul, yegiyah, and bitachon.  By applying the tools in the “SET” method, we partner with G-d and can earn immeasurable success in every area of our lives.

And when the mazal starts shining down, let’s not forget to thank G-d for His blessings, thus beginning the next cycle of happiness and success!

[1] Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs

[2] All of the ideas are heavily sourced in Chassidus, but the name of the method and the ordering of the three steps is the author’s application.

[3] Ohr Ha’Torah Vayeishev 278, 1-2

[4] Zohar Vayeishev 189, 1

[5] Genesis 39, 2

[6] Proverbs 10, 22

[7] Hayom Yom Daled Menachem Av

[8] Likutei Sichos Volume 25, pgs. 213-219

[9] Your G-dly soul, which is literally “a piece of G-d Above,” as taught in Tanya Chapter 2

[10] Tanya, Chapter 1 (the animal soul)

[11]Tanya. Igeres Hakodesh, Epistle 25

[12] Talmud Pesachim 88, 2

[13] Rashi on Genesis 39, 2

[14] “His (Joseph’s) hand” is no longer mentioned, as it was apparent that his success was a manifestation of “G-d’s hand.”

[15] For example, a popular book on success, The 10x Rule by Grant Cardone.

[16] It’s interesting to note that in later years Maslow criticized his view of self-actualization, adding the need for self-transcendence.

[17] Hayom Yom Chof Zayin Sivan

[18] Based on the Talmudic explanation of the verse “You must tithe” (Deuteronomy 14:22): ta’aseir (you should tithe) is similar to tit’asher (you will become wealthy).  The Rebbe in Igros Kodesh (volume 14, page 211) also writes that when you resolve to give charity beyond your means, G-d helps you earn that money.

[19] Sifri Parshat Re’eh

[20] Likutei Sichos Volume 3, pgs. 819-822

[21] Genesis 37, 7

[22]Pharoh, the prototype of a person driven by animal instincts, dreamed about animals eating and drinking.  The scenes of leisure and passivity in Pharoh’s dreams led to erosion and decay, proving that un-holiness is associated with no work and descent.”

[23] Megillah 6b

[24] Deuteronomy 15, 18

[25] Likutei Sichos Volume 31, pgs. 170-176

[26]There is a strong correlation between bitul and bitachon, as both require letting go of the desire to feel in control.  Interestingly, the analogy of an inmate is used to illustrate both bitul muchlat and bitachon.

[27]Likutei Sichos Volume 36, pages 1-6

[28] Moses’ fright is relayed in the Torah to teach us this same message.  It was actually Moses’ fear and his articulation of it that caused him to be discovered by Pharoh, after he murdered an Egyptian (Shemot 2, 11-15). The Rebbe teaches that had Moses trusted in G-d, he would have been protected!

[29] An auspicious time to do this is during the amidah prayer, blessings 15 and 16.

[30] The Rebbe advises learning and adhering to the laws of Family Purity to help with marital harmony or infertility and checking tefillin/mezuzot for health and other concerns (Igros Kodesh).