To Manifest Redemption in the Face of Despair
MyLife Essat Contest 2017
Most of us are perpetually in need of redemption from personal hardship, be it difficulty finding a soulmate, infertility, financial problems, illness, or some other difficulty. Popular culture buzzes with new-age principles on positive thinking and “the law of attraction” as a means to manifest one’s desires. Likewise, many Chassidic sources teach that we can bring about both personal and global redemption through complete bitachon (trust) in G-d’s power and chessed (loving kindness).
Yet, many times we pour our hearts and souls into prayers for a particular redemption and are disappointed by the results. Without a way to contextualize the incongruity between our intentions and the inevitable harshness of reality, many people break, losing faith either in G-d’s goodness, Jewish observance, life, or all of the above.
This issue is perhaps best explicated by the fact that, for thousands of years, Jews have prayed, with immense bitachon (trust), for the coming of the Moshiach (the Messianic era), but the world remains riddled with pain and suffering and we are too often faced with despair.
This essay will explore a way to transcend this despair. By applying a series of Chassidic teachings to a well-known Midrash, we will discover a new perspective wherein despair and frustration fuel the ultimate goal: to manifest redemption.
The Power of Bitachon and Positive Thinking
The concept of positive thinking and its power to manifest tangible results is deeply embedded in Chassidic thought. The third Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, once advised a man
whose child was severely ill: “Think good, and it will be good!” The man followed his advice, putting his bitachon in G-d, and his child was totally healed.
The Noam Elimelech explains, G-d created pipelines that flow down from heaven with an abundance of provisions for each person’s needs. If a person doubts G-d, their thoughts debilitate the pipeline’s flow. In order to provide for this person, G-d has to create a whole new pipeline. Thus, a lack of bitachon can keep a person from receiving their physical wants and needs.
In Likutei Hasichus, the Rebbe defines what it truly means to have bitachon. “Bitachon is not merely the faith that G-d has the potential to bestow good [upon a person] and save him from
adversity. Instead, [it implies that] the person trusts that G-d will actually do this. And his trust is so absolute that he is serene and does not worry at all.”
The Rebbe explains that such bitachon will merit the salvation a person seeks, regardless of whether or not the person actually otherwise merits it. For, it takes a lot of self-work to discipline a person’s mind and heart to have such trust in G-d’s ability to take care of one’s problems. If one manages to achieve this level of bitachon, “all of the obstacles and encumbrances will be eliminated and he will enjoy the actual good that is apparent and manifest to all.”
The Rebbe ends this piece with the promise that bitachon will merit the coming of Moshiach, as bitachon was what merited our redemption from Egypt.
What does true bitachon require of us?
The midrash teaches that in the Garden of Eden, G-d showed Adam HaRishon (the first man) a vision of all his future progeny. Adam saw the soul of King David, who was destined to die three
hours after his birth. Since it was clear how much potential David had, Adam gave David 70 years of his own life.
Since King David is the forefather of Moshiach10, this curious midrash about David’s potential may contain clues to Moshiach’s potential. And all lessons on the global redemption Moshiach
brings can teach us how to achieve personal redemption.
Rabbi Joseph Wineberg, in his commentary on the Tanya, teaches that Adam’s soul was “a comprehensive soul that contained all the particular souls of subsequent generations”. So, if Adam had to give years of his own life so that King David’s potential could manifest, surely we all must give of our life-force to fuel Moshiach’s potential in this world.
The Midrash explains how Adam, at the end of his 930 years, regretted the fact he’d given King David 70 years of his life.12 Faced with his mortality, Adam felt his gift was breaking him. So too, many of us feel broken and drained after pouring our energy towards a redemption that seems to go unfulfilled. For, as the Rebbe taught, “bitachon involves work and labor within one’s soul”.
This issue is exacerbated by the fact that it’s impossible to measure the strength or purity of a person’s bitachon; each person can only gauge for themselves. If a person feels their bitachon was as strong and pure as they could muster, they may be crushed when their prayers go unfulfilled. Both the ego and heart can break in the face of failure, yet this breaking can actually lead to a wonderful expansion of one’s vessel.
Breaking to Expand
Our egos are often constricted, which limits our ability to receive G-d’s goodness. The Mittler Rebbe explains the importance of breaking one’s ego. He explains how each person puts up a boundary around the body of knowledge they hold. When presented with a new concept, they have to break the ego and nullify what they formerly held true. This process expands both the mind and “self” in order to integrate a deeper, truer sense of reality.
Heartbreak also expands our vessels. The Rebbe would often tell a story about a Chassid who traveled far to visit the Rebbe “Rashab”and ask for a blessing for an issue he was suffering from. The Rashab told him he couldn’t help him, so the Chassid left and dissolved into heartfelt sobs. The Rashab’s brother had pity and arranged for the Chassid to meet with the Rashab again. This time, the Rashab gave the Chassid the blessing, and soon after the blessing was fulfilled. The Rebbe explains that initially the Chassid was not on the level to receive the Rashab’s blessing; it was only through heartbreak that his vessel expanded to hold the blessing.
As we strive to grow closer to G-d and manifest His goodness, we will inevitably be met with disappointment. Our egos will naturally want to reject G-d or Jewish faith rather than admit there may have been something amiss in our bitachon. But if we can break our egos and work towards a deeper level of bitachon, we can come closer to achieving redemption. The process of breaking and expanding/growing are necessary steps to approaching an infinite G-d. This is why the fragments of the broken tablets Moses brought down from Sinai were treasured in the Ark
alongside the second set of tablets16: we could never have been on the level to receive the second set of tablets if the first set of tablets hadn’t broken.
We can learn to find joy even in the breaking, if we hold onto the bigger picture. Adam HaRishon regretted the loss of his 70 years — but he was only losing life on a superficial level.
The Arizal teaches18 that Adam’s soul was reincarnated into King David and will later be reincarnated into Moshiach. Therefore, when Adam was giving his years to David (his future
reincarnation), he was, in a way, fueling his future existence. Likewise, by holding fast tor bitachon in the face of pain and disappointment, we channel the redemption we truly desire.
G-d’s Master Plan
We cannot truly gauge the success of our prayers for redemption of any issue, as our perception is limited to this physical world. The Baal Shem Tov explains that the results of prayer are often manifest “in the heights of the universe” and not in the physical world, and that many people who think their prayers are ineffective are wrong.19 Such prayers eventually manifest in this physical world, sometimes on a far larger scale, through the course of time.
The first prayer recorded in the Torah was rejected. According to the Talmud20, Abraham, who embodied Chessed (loving kindness)21, establishes the Shacharit (morning prayer) when he prays for G-d to have rachamim (mercy) on Sodom and Gomorrah and save the many inhabitants Despite Abraham’s prayers, the two cities were destroyed and only Lot23 and his two daughters
are saved. Soon after, Abraham’s prayer for King Abimelech of Gerar to be healed is immediately answered with positive results.24 Thus, it may seem as though Abraham’s two prayers were irrelevant, or answered at random, despite the fact that his bitachon had been demonstrated as he passed through Nimrod’s fiery furnace unscathed.
When we look deeper, we see that Abraham’s prayer for Sodom and Gomorrah fueled the spiritual redemption he sought on a much grander scale, even though the immediate prayer request was not realized. After fleeing their homes with their father, Lot’s daughters are convinced that they are the only humans alive. In order to save their race from destruction, they get their father drunk and sleep with him.26 Both daughters get pregnant, and one gives birth to Moab. One of Moab’s descendants, Ruth, converts to Judaism, and it is from this convoluted lineage that King David, the forefather of Moshiach, is born27. So, we see that Abraham’s prayer created an opening for King David and the Moshiach28, and thus the ultimate redemption of many more souls29 than the few thousands that lived in Sodom and Gomorrah.
Although many of our prayers may not be answered with direct salvation, G-d always manifests our desires for the good, sometimes on a far greater scale than we can imagine. Sometimes we must suffer a long wait-time until our prayers manifest, which may be a tikkun (spiritual fixing) for the lack of patience that accompanied man’s first sin in the Garden of Eden30. We must patiently hold onto faith, even when it seems like our prayers have utterly failed.
Giving of Our Unique Essence
The process of praying with bitachon, breaking, and expanding is enhanced because everyone contributes their unique sparks to the process of global redemption via their journeys to personal
According to the Zohar, our forefathers, Abraham and Jacob, along with Jacob’s son, Joseph, gave a total of 70 years of their lives to David HaMelech. However, David only lived to be 70 years old – why didn’t he live for 140 years? Why did Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph have to give David 70 years when Adam had already given him 70?
The Tzemoch Tzedek explains32 that with the gift of years, Abraham imbued David with Chessed (loving kindness), Jacob imparted koach (power), and Joseph gave the aspect of Chochma (knowledge) as it is enclosed in emotional qualities. He elucidates these kabalistic concepts to explain how the three holy men bestowed intrinsic qualities that they had respectively mastered, so David could best take advantage of his potential Kingship.
Likewise, each individual’s soul is unique and contains a distinct element of G-d33. Adam gave King David the initial life-force; similarly, each one of us have to give of our unique G-dly spark
to Moshiach by being true to ourselves and holding strong in our bitachon. In this way, we contribute towards a unity that will bring Moshiach and the ultimate redemption.
Becoming the Redemption We Seek
G-d intermittently throws us glimpses of the glory of His potential. It’s when we emerge from an imminent disaster unscathed, dance with strangers who feel like our brothers and sisters, or taste the sweetness of an answered prayer. The ultimate redemption has not arrived and our personal journeys to redemption are filled with challenge. Nonetheless, G-d is with us, giving us signs that our prayers are on their way to being answered, in ways that are much bigger than we can imagine.
We must all give of our life-force – our undying bitachon and our unique spark – to manifest true redemption. We must remember that disappointment can always lead to expansion and a deeper connection to G-d. As we grow, we become stronger pipelines for G-d and his blessings, and will thus bring redemption to everyone around us.
May we bask in the light of true redemption, soon, in our days.