Friday, September 08, 2006

Stand Up or Shut Up

Heaven, the saying goes, helps the man who helps himself. The Yiddish equivalent translates as ‘Blessed are the hands that do it alone’. Despite the giggles I could raise just by pausing for a moment here with the appropriate expression on my face, I do accept the validity of the sentiment expressed.

In Yeshiva one of the things that was drummed into us was the issue of Emuna and Bitochon. Literally translated the first is faith and the latter trust and that is how they are used in our school of thought. We are taught that it is incumbent upon us to believe He makes everything happen according to a very tightly controlled plan in which every single thought, every single heartbeat from the king’s down to that of the louse on his head is divinely controlled and meshes into its very specific place in the universal tapestry. The obvious question that arises as to how free will can exist within a framework of preordination is generally considered to be out of bounds for our puny little brains. Likewise, how it is possible that anything has been around forever?

Naturally these are questions you cannot shake off once they have arisen. My Rebbes were not prepared to discuss them with me; telling me instead that I am a Shaigetz for thinking about them. I did of course and in developing my own answers to the theological dilemmas I also came to the realisation that I am proud to be a Shaigetz.

The question of divine intervention and how it works is not only an abstract one. There are two well-documented schools of thought within Judaism, the one Chassidim subscribe to maintains that even inanimates have their lifespan and every movement within it planned from the outset and the other believes that the laws of nature are only interfered with for humans who deserve it. Neither gives very clear instructions on how to decide when it is acceptable to sit back and let Him be in control and when it is necessary to make an effort yourself although all agree that sometimes one must.

Chassidim take Emuna to stand for unwavering faith in the Lord and the knowledge that He is in control over everything. Bitachon is translated into the assurance that ultimately whatever happens to you is for the good. If you have enough Emuna and Bitachon life can only be plain sailing. The alarming rise of social anti-Semitism in Britain, the tough economic situation of the illiterate school-leavers, the growing worldwide threat of Muslim terrorism and Great Britain’s increasing kowtowing to a growingly sophisticated Muslim PR machine that must be gleefully penning Tony Blair’s name to a growing list of European leaders they have helped topple, all this does not keep you awake at night if you have enough faith in He who sees the big picture.

I once asked my mentor whether having Emuna and Bitachon allows me to sit back and observe life. More specifically whether a sum of money I had lying around should be invested for the future or could be used to make my life more comfortable now. I feared that investing in the future displayed a lack of faith in His ability to supply me with all I need at any given time. His reply was that I can only sit doing nothing allowing God to run my life if I honestly and truly rely on Him alone. To use the cyclists Prayer formula and ask for help only when the hill is steep while relying on gravity to take me back down does not go down well in the heavenly applications department apparently.

Many Chassidim might therefore be forgiven for watching passively from the sidelines as what I believe is a growing threat to our security and wellbeing on this continent develops. They have their Emuna and Bitachon that will get them through with smiling faces to whatever awaits them and thus need and ask for nobody’s help. Those however who have built their entire Jewish identity, not to mention their positions of importance and comfort in this land on the promise of ‘never again’ will probably be punished for lying as well as their lack of Emuna not to mention Bitachon.