Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

3 Cheshvan 5763 - October 9, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Home and Family

Do we register our child in the best possible school, when we know the fees are beyond our present capabilites?

May we make promises that we cannot see our way to keeping in terms of shidduchim?

"How do you pay the rent when you have no money?"

Some of the questions dealt with in this book. No answers, which would be defeating the very test-aspect of this attribute.


Trust Me! An Anthology of Emunah and Bitachon
by Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff

Published by Feldheim

Reviewed by Judith Weil

After the Nazis took over control of Austria, my late grandparents, R' Mordechai Yehuda Kritzler and his wife, Devora, decided to flee to England via Switzerland. The Austrian authorities would not allow anyone to leave the country unless the family's documents were all in satisfactory order and they stepped up their requirements from time to time in terms of the certificates they required.

When my grandparents reached the border crossing between Austria and Switzerland, the border guard said that one newly required document was missing. My grandfather took out his wallet, hoping against hope that he would find a copy of this certificate. As he searched through its contents, a photograph fell out.

"Who is that?" asked the guard, looking at the photo of one of my grandparents' then teenage sons, my Uncle Efraim. "That is my son," answered my grandfather. "He passed through this border crossing just a few weeks ago."

"I recognize him," said the guard. "I was on duty when he crossed through and I wouldn't have allowed him through unless his papers were in order. You may go."

The above story does not appear in Trust Me! An Anthology of Emunah and Bitachon, but had the author, Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff, known of this incident, he may well have included it. "Trust Me!" is that rarity, a very readable book on an extremely elaborate issue, bitachon, a characteristic or value that is not identical for any two people.

Bitachon is one of the most elusive qualities required of us. We know what our duties are in most other directions, in terms of Shabbos observance, Kashrus, and so on. But what is required from us in terms of hishtadlus, making our own effort? To what extent must we make our own exertions, and to what extent must we rely on Hashem's help? We have all heard of -- and probably all experienced -- situations like the above which occur too often to allow us to explain them away as coincidences. But to what degree may we anticipate such `luck'? (And who knows whether the particular border guard had indeed processed my uncle's papers, and that he was not simply a decent human being who knew that it was better to tell a lie than to condemn a middle-aged Jewish couple to the care of Hitler and his henchmen? And if that was indeed the situation, does this lessen the miracle?)

If we are not hungry right now, and have money to pay for only one meal, and a hungry person asks us for money -- do we give him that money and trust in Hashem that somehow, during the next hour, something will happen? More to the point, perhaps, under present-day circumstances, do we register our child in the best possible school, when we know the fees are beyond our present capabilites? And may we make promises that we cannot see our way to keeping, in terms of shidduchim? And if we do, indeed, see our way to keeping these promises because we have a healthy bank balance, or a good job, may we rely on not needing our funds for medical or other urgent purposes, or on our continued employment? Is the employer more to be relied on than Hashem?

In Trust Me! Rabbi Parkoff brings stories and anecdotes, some going back to the Torah and the Midrash, some dating back several centuries, some modern and some even contemporary, that illustrate the bitachon possessed by leaders of our people. He writes that life is full of trials: "They are an integral part of life." They are "challenges that we must accept and overcome."

He says there is such a thing as false bitachon. "It takes no effort to mouth expressions of bitachon when nothing substantial is at stake. However, a person will eventually face a test whereby he can determine if he really has trust."

When a person has real bitachon -- "One won't hear him boasting... that he has bitachon." Moreover, he says, such a person doesn't fear a competitor who opens up a store nearby, but will even go out of his way to help him.

A level of bitachon such as helping a competitor, is one that perhaps we can ascribe to. Few of us can honestly relate to the level of the Arizal who never kept any food for the morrow. Few, if any, rabbonim would expect us to behave this way.

But there are other circumstances in the book to which we can perhaps relate better, and these concern situations that occurred within living memory ("How do you feel when bombs start falling?) or that many of us face on a regular basis ("How do you pay the rent when you have no money?").

As we all know, not everyone who tried to escape from the Nazis survived to tell the tale the way my grandparents did. Many were murdered. Millions of people have encountered untold difficulties over the generations and the result was often not as they would have wished. It takes bitachon to accept that the apparent "not good" is, in fact, "good" -- that it is part of Hashem's plan, even if we don't understand it.

Rabbi Parkoff discusses situations of this type in sections like, "A Father's Struggle with faith Amidst Loss and Pain"; "Faith is Learned the Hard Way" and "To a Mother who Lost her Baby."

This last title creates a particularly sad image, especially for women. But not all is sad for us women. There is a section that is very complimentary to us, or at least to our ancestresses, who crossed the Red Sea on dry land. In "Nature Takes Care of Those who Do Hashem's Will," the author argues that a miracle, the so-called supernatural, is a greater occurrence when experienced by a man than when experienced by a woman.

The idea is complex but it is worth making the effort to understand.

The world was created Be-Reishis -- for the sake of Reishis, the Torah. And in the Torah, the real natural order of things is that the worthy are awarded "naturally" -- without the need for special Divine interception.

The less worthy a person is, the greater the Divine intervention is needed in order to help him. And the corollary is that the greater the person, the more "naturally" he is helped, and the less interference is required. When a great person is saved, the miracle is less than when a person of smaller stature is saved.

Relatively little Divine intervention was needed in the case of the righteous women of the time, as compared to the case of their fellow men.

Once this section is understood, Shiras Miriam, the comparatively short song that Miriam and the other women sang after they crossed the Sea, takes on a new meaning. We suddenly understand why they sang only after the men finished singing, and only after the angels sang.

And we suddenly receive a new view on bitachon, and suddenly understand that we are living in a topsy- turvy world, indeed, a world where "nature" is unnatural and where the apparently miraculous is often the real natural order of things!

Not all concepts discussed in the book are as involved. The list of the section titles reads like a list of the questions we ask ourselves again and again. The subjects covered include: The Purpose of Creation; To Believe -- or Not to Believe; Faith in One's Prayers; Princess Hagar; Why So Many Trials?; Angry at G-d; The Broader Scheme of Things, and The Concept of a Career.

The appendices deal with subjects of practical significance that almost everyone comes across at some stage of their lives. They are entitled: Bitachon, Budgeting and Borrowing, and Torah and Medicine.

Another story that is making the rounds but does not appear in this book -- presumably because the book was completed long before the story was publicized -- has to do with the Sbarro Pizzeria and the Twin Towers:

An Israeli was doing a favor for an American of his acquaintance. This involved his being in the Sbarro pizzeria at a certain time, and as it turned out, it was just then that it was bombed. Thanks to the Israeli, the American was elsewhere at the time. The Israeli was injured and the American determined to do all he could for him. Thus, when the victim was flown to the U.S. for medical treatment, his friend closed his business so that he could help him while he was in the hospital. He acted as translator and arranged for him to have the best doctors and medical treatment. His business was located in the Twin Towers and the dates when he kept his office closed included September 11, 2001.

Again, as with the story about the Nazis, we do not know why Hashem does what He does. We do not know why He arranged that this man would survive while others did not. We do not know why some people survived while six million did not. We only know that it is hard to write off the story as a random occurrence.

Emuna and bitachon are elusive concepts, at least for most of us ordinary mortals, even if not for many of the great people described in the book. It is tempting to expect this book to provide us with answers to our bitachon- related questions, but there are few, if any, answers in this book. They would be out of place. When it comes to emuna and bitachon, each of us has to find his/her own answers, has to know his/her level, and must then aim for the next level.

The book does not provide solutions. It does give us insights that help us deal with our own problems in our own best way, influenced by the approach of the people we want to emulate.


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