Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Relying on God

Does having bitachon, relying on God, mean that you believe that everything will work out in your favor? R. Lichtenstein (By His Light, chapter 7) contrasts two Medieval views of bitachon.According to the Chovos Ha-Levavos, bitachon is faith that God will mercifully do good for us. According to R. Bachya ben Asher, in his Kad Ha-Kemach, bitachon has an entirely different goal. It is about coming closer to God by thinking about Him. It is less about physical results than about the spiritual results of the process. Indeed, R. Bachya (ben Asher) even says that if we have faith that God will cause something we want to happen, then even if it doesn't happen we still have great reward for having faith. What does it mean to receive "great reward"? R. Lichtenstein explains that the Chovos Ha-Levavos held of a bitachon of faith while R. Bachya (ben Asher) held of a bitachon of love. For R. Bachya, bitachon is an expression of love to God that brings us closer to Him.

I would suggest that these two aspects of bitachon are not contradictory. For example, in R. Bachya (ben Asher)'s explicit source, R. Yonah's commentary to Prov. 3:6, R. Yonah writes that bitachon is an incredibly rewarding attitude that brings you closer to God. He does not, however, state that what you hope for will not come true. That was R. Bachya (ben Asher)'s innovation. R. Yonah seems to hold of both a bitachon of faith and of love.

Similarly, Orechos Tzadikim (Sha'ar Ha-Simcha) begins his discussion of bitachon with a quote from R. Shlomo ibn Gabirol's Mivchar Ha-Peninim (according to a footnote in the Lipkin edition) which clearly expresses a bitachon of love. He then proceeds with a quote from Chovos Ha-Levavos which includes the need to rely on God's mercy to grant good even to those who do not deserve it -- clearly an expression of a bitachon of faith.

It is R. Bachya's separation of faith from love that is useful in the context of Interventionism, the view that the world follows the laws of nature but God sometimes intervenes (see this post: link; and R. Bachya's commentary to Gen. 18:19). A bitachon of faith could be Interventionist. It could mean that you must trust that God will intervene on your behalf. It could, however, reflect a belief that God controls everything and there are no real laws of nature.R. Bachya's view, however, it exclusively Interventionist. He diverges from the approach of R. Yonah and the Orechos Tzadikim that combines faith and love, retaining only the aspect of love -- you must place your fate in God's hands, thereby growing closer to Him.

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