Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Meaning of Bitachon - Confidence.

In the previous post, I discussed Avraham’s self-doubt that is depicted so vividly in the story of Brit Bein Habetarim. However, this introspection did not lead to inactivity and paralysis. Notwithstanding all the doubts Avraham felt, taught and recruited people to follow him in what he understood to be the path of God.

כִּי יְדַעְתִּיו, לְמַעַן אֲשֶׁר יְצַוֶּה
אֶת-בָּנָיו וְאֶת-בֵּיתוֹ אַחֲרָיו, וְשָׁמְרוּ דֶּרֶךְ יְהוָה,
לַעֲשׂוֹת צְדָקָה וּמִשְׁפָּט--לְמַעַן, הָבִיא יְהוָה עַל-אַבְרָהָם,
אֵת אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר, עָלָיו.

19 For I have embraced him, so that he will charge his sons and his household after him, to keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice that the LORD may bring upon Abraham all that which He spoke concerning him.' (Breishit 18:19)

In a responsa to R. Ovadyah the Proselyte (Blau edition responsa 293 also see my post http://yediah.blogspot.com/2007/07/status-of-proselyte-descendant-of.html ) Rambam sees this verse as a description of Avraham’s accomplishments.

ועיקר הדבר שאברהם אבינו הוא שלמד כל העם והשכילם והודיעם דת האמת וייחודו
של הקב"ה ובעט בע"ז והפר עבודתה והכניס רבים תחת כנפי השכינה ולמדם והורם
וצוה בניו ובני ביתו אחריו לשמור דרך ה' כמו שכתו' בתורה +בראשית י"ח י"ט+
כי ידעתיו למען אשר יצוה את בניו ואת ביתו אחריו ושמרו דרך ה' וגו'.

Avraham taught the people the true Law, the unity of God and rebelled against idolatry by disrupting their [the gods] service. He also brought many under the wings of the Shechinah [HKBH] teaching and commanding his children and his household to follow in the ways of God as it says in Breishis 18:19…

Furthermore –

It was the chief aim of their [the Patriarchs] whole life to create a people that should know and worship God. “ For I have embraced him, so that he will charge his sons and his household after him "” (MN3:51)

Clearly, this constant introspection did not stop Avraham from pursuing his goal of building a nation that acknowledged the existence of God as Creator and endeavored to emulate Him by partaking in His creation. Apparently, the Torah is teaching us that tension between self-doubt and self-assured action must be maintained at all times. I would like to suggest that the self-confidence that counteracts the paralysis that may result from self-doubt is what the Middah Bitachon is.

It is striking that Rambam does not define Bitachon in any of his writings as far as I can tell. I did a search on Mishne Torah and the word does not appear in its entirety. In the listing of subjects section, of both Rav Kafieh and Michael Schwartz’s editions of the Moreh Hanevuchim the concept Bitachon is not defined. The popular concept of Bitachon, where one relies on God and personal action is seen as a prop is alien to Rambam thinking. To him there is only one approach; think about what you are about to do, perfect yourself so that personal biases and preferences do not lead you astray, make sure the action is consistent with the goals you have set for yourself based on your understanding of what is right and then act with confidence. Bitachon is not a standalone virtue but is an integral part of Emunah – belief – which to Rambam means learning God’s ways and emulating them through actions that are consistent with them. Bitachon is the self-confidence needed to act when you know that it what you are about to do is correct overcoming self-doubt.

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