Your Future’s In Your Hands
Anxiety & Fear / Essays 2019
Life is hard. We all wish there’d been some kind of assurance at birth that our life would be one long, straight and smooth path, but the reality is far from it. Our lives take many different twists and turns, and it’s hard to get past, much less prevail over, all the challenges that seem to be coming at us from all sides. During the course of this essay I will attempt to expound upon the concept of worrying, why we worry, and how we can help ourselves overcome this obstacle using concepts from Chabad Chassidus. This essay will mainly be based off of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi’s Tanya as well as different talks from Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, concerning the Chassidic perspective of man’s relationship with G-d and his ability to impact the future.
As human beings, as children, parents, friends, and teachers, we naturally worry. The world is a big place and it’s easy for us or someone we care about to lose their footing. We want to keep ourselves and our families safe and healthy, we want our children to grow up in the best environment, and of course we want to be good Jews. We want what’s best for ourselves and for those around us, and so, we worry, because seemingly none of these things are actually in our control.
We worry the car needs another trip to the mechanic. We worry our flight might be canceled. We worry we won’t get accepted to the seminary or yeshiva we chose. And our worries choke us, like a rope that’s being pulled tighter and tighter; excessive worrying eventually causes us to freeze up and lose our ability to make decisions.(1) We walk around with the weight of the world on our shoulders; after all, we’re responsible for our families, our homes, our careers, ourselves. It’s a lot for one man to handle.
An entirely different light is shed on the matter when coming from the perspective of Chassidus. Chassidus takes the worrier and shows him, look- your fear isn’t even yours to fear; G-d put you into this situation, and G-d takes full responsibility for taking you out of this situation. To start from the beginning: We all believe that G-d runs the world. This great, massive masterpiece with living, thinking, and doing people didn’t just form from two rocks crashing into each other, but because there’s a Master Creator who designed every particle and paired every set of atoms together to form each blade of grass as we see it.(2) We believe G-d cares about His creations, that He’s actively involved in our day-to-day existence, and that He’s creating us now the same way He made the galaxies 5,779 years ago.(3) Like it says in Rabbi Moses ben Maimon’s 13 Principles of Faith, we have perfect emunah, faith in G-d. We know He’s there.
But there’s another element of belief in G-d that Chassidus brings down, and that goes beyond faith; it’s bitachon, trust. The difference between the two words may seem to be mere semantics, but in reality it goes down to the core of us as people, G-d, and our relationship with Him.
Bitachon doesn’t just mean that you know that G-d is there, holding your hand and walking you through life, or even that you know G-d has the capabilities to take you out of a situation and make life better for you. Bitachon means knowing that G-d will take you out of a difficult situation, that G-d will make things better for you and will fulfill your requests and prayers, in a way that you’ll be able to see with your own eyes. It’s a total and absolute certainty of G-d’s salvation. It’s when you lose your wallet in a crowded shopping mall and are absolutely certain that G-d will somehow send the money right back to you. And the cool part? It actually works.(4)
Jews, by definition, are above nature. We literally have a piece of G-d inside of us,(5) the strongest connection to the divine that one could ask for. The laws of limitations simply don’t apply to us. So yes, when we know something will occur with absolute and perfect trust, G-d makes sure it gets done the way we prayed. In the words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, “When a person has bitachon, trusting without any doubt that G‑d conducts the world, he is then granted the privilege of seeing this with his fleshly eyes, too, at every single step; he sees how G‑d takes each of us by the hand and leads us in the way that is best for us, both materially and spiritually.”(6)
Psychologist Dr. Seth J. Gillian writes in her book Think, Act, Be that the reason people worry is because they’re trying to take control of an uncontrollable situation. By worrying about something bad that might happen, you’re covering the eventuality for that event to occur in your brain and when that event doesn’t happen, your brain links the worrying as the cause of the bad event not taking place. The worrying feeds into itself. Dr. Gillian’s advice on how to prevent this cycle from occurring is to learn how to brace uncertainty; by accepting that you have no say or impact on what will happen in the future, it’ll calm you down and cause your worries to recede.
But you do have an impact on what will happen in the future. By the very act of you placing your trust in G-d that He will make things be good for you, you’re turning yourself into a receptacle to receive His divine blessing. Thinking that G-d will make things good for you isn’t just an idea to meditate upon; that thought is the actual deed which will make good things happen.(7)
There’s a story in the Talmud about Hillel HaZaken (Hillel the Elder) traveling home from a journey, when he heard a great cry coming from the city. He said, “I am confident that this does not come from my home.” A verse from Psalms(8) is brought down to describe him: “He shall not be afraid of evil tidings; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.” Raba(9) said: “Whenever you expound this verse, you may make the second clause explain the first, or the first clause explain the second.’ It then explains further, “You may make the second clause explain the first, thus: ‘He will not fear evil tidings.’ Why? Because ‘his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.’ You may explain the second clause by the first, thus: ‘His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord,’ and therefore, ‘he shall not be afraid of evil things.’” One whose heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord is a person who shall not be afraid of evil tidings.”(10)
A yeshiva student once sent the Rebbe a letter during the summer regarding his plans to return home during the holidays to be with his father, who was unwell at the time. The Rebbe sent a return letter back with blessings for good health, and then added at the end, “Regarding the idea you proposed in your letter… I was greatly surprised and taken aback by the apparent lack of trust in G-d, which allows you to assume and make concrete plans as a result, already now in the middle of the summer that your father will still be unwell in a month’s time! It would be far better and more advisable to assume instead, like the adage of the Rebbeim, “Think positive, and the outcome will be positive,” that your father’s health will definitely have improved by then, allowing you to devote greater energies to your spiritual development.”(11)
The Tzemach Tzedek, the Third Rebbe of Chabad, distilled as a Chassidic saying, “Tracht gut vet zein gut” – “Think good and it will be good.” This saying goes beyond what psychologists say about positive thinking giving us happy boosts(12), and again demonstrates how we as Jews transcend the natural order of the world; by thinking positively, we are actually making ourselves a conduit for the positivity.
But on what basis is this adage brought? How can be truly be assured that regardless of our religious standing or our actions we’ll always be in the position of receiving unfiltered kindness and generosity from G-d? The Rebbe addressed this question with the following unequivocal statement: When a Jew decides to place his trust in G-d, and believe that this point in his life will truly turn out for the good despite all the physical circumstances around him insinuating otherwise, he’s going beyond his own nature which causes G-d to so-to-speak go beyond His own nature of the way He made the world, and give this man blessing and success beyond measure.(13)
Thinking good isn’t being delusional; it’s opening your mind to the possibility that there is a chance, and moreover a likelihood, that this thing will turn out in a positive way. The Rebbe once wrote to a woman who was ill, “While I am pleased to read in your letter… very good impression is weakened by the further tone of your letter, where you state that you want to be “realistic,” based on the prognosis of physicians regarding your condition. I want to tell you, first, that even from the realistic point of view, we must recognize the fact that very many times, the greatest physicians have made mistakes in diagnosis. Moreover, in recent times we see that new discoveries are made daily in the medical field, with new “wonder” drugs and methods, which have revolutionized medical treatment. Secondly, observing life in general, we see so many things that are strange and unbelievable that to be truly realistic, one cannot consider anything as impossible.”(14)
Making it Real
- G-d is running the world, and G-d is good: Everything happens the way it does because that’s exactly how G-d wanted it to be, and that means it’s the best possible outcome. There’s no such thing as accidents, rather Hashgacha Pratis, Divine Providence. During the moment someone might perceive missing the last plane out of town as a terrible catastrophe, but when he later hears the flight had an emergency landing he understands that Someone greater than him was making the decisions and running the show. G-d has your best interests in mind, and a G-d who is only good wants to give only good.(15)
…So trust! It takes effort, but the reward is infinitely greater. Trust that G-d is listening to you, that He cares, and that your trust in Him is inspiring Him to give you even greater success than what He had in store for you. You don’t need to be anyone special to deserve G-d’s unconditional love, because you already are someone special: you’re a Jew, and G-d loves you no matter what you do or say. Your trust is the very tool that draws down blessings!(16)
- You’re in control of your thoughts: The Alter Rebbe writes in Tanya, “For man was so created from birth, that every person may, with the power of the will in his brain restrain himself and control the drive of his heart’s lust, preventing his heart’s desires from finding expression in deed, word and thought, and [he can, if his mind will it] divert his attention completely from that which his heart craves [and turn his attention] to the exactly opposite direction.” We’re not at the mercy of our emotions, our brain creates them; we get to choose for ourselves how we want to think and feel.(17)
…So think positive! It’s tried and true, and it’s possible. When your mind is full of positive thoughts, there isn’t even room left for worries to find their way in. Test it out, and you’ll see how things in your own life will start to change for the better.
We worry because we want to take control of a situation that’s not within our control,(18) but we have just explained through the Chassidic teachings on bitachon in G-d and positive thinking that in reality we can make a difference on our future, and furthermore everything G-d does is for the good, and therefore there is no cause for us to worry.
1 Irving Schattner, LCSW
2 Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. 1, p. 164
3 Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Shaar Yichud V’Emunah, Chapter 1
4 Likkutei Torah, Devarim, p. 14d
5 Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Tanya, Chapter 2
6 Dated 16 Elul, 5710. Igros Kodesh, Letter 734, Heb. Vol. 3, p. 441
7 Igros Kodesh of the Rebbe Rayatz, Letter 1843 Heb. Vol. 6, p. 398
8 Psalms 112:7
9 A famed Rabbi of the era often quoted in Talmud
10 Tractate Brachot, 60A
11 Igros Kodesh, vol. 9, p. 281
12 “The Benefits of Positive Thinking and Happiness”, Mark Stibich, PhD
13 Address by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, 1963
14 Letter by the Rebbe to a woman living in the Bronx, N.Y. 1951-1952 Accessed via “therebbe.org”, “Being Realistic AND Positive”
15 Tanya, Chapter 26
16 Likkutei Sichot, vol. 36, pp. 1–6
17 Tanya, Chapter 12
18 Think, Act, Be by Dr. Seth J. Gillian