A woman once visited Reb Shalom of Belz on an urgent matter of personal concern.
“I have done all I can do in this matter, Rebbe,” she said, “If I am to succeed and survive, it will be only because of God’s aid, and I can only get that with your aid. Please, Rebbe, pray to God on my behalf!”
The rebbe refused, saying, “The essential thing, good woman, is to have faith.”
The woman was shocked. She was a good and decent person, and one in true need. There could be no good reason for the rebbe to turn down her plea for help.
Taking a deep breath, the woman said, “Far be it from me to argue with my rebbe…”
“But you will do so anyway?” Reb Shalom barked. “Do you think you know this situation better than me?”
“I am not a learned woman,” she replied evenly, “but I do know a bit of Torah. When our ancestors were about to be slaughtered by Pharaoh’s army at the shores of the Red Sea, Torah first says that God ‘saved’ them (Exodus 14:30) and only later says that they believed in God (Exodus 14:31). Their salvation preceded their faith. I am no different. If God would save me now in this situation, I will without doubt have faith as well.”
“What is this?” Reb Shalom yelled. “An illiterate woman seeks to teach me Torah? No one has ever bested me in Torah study!” The woman stood and waited, neither arguing her point nor turning to leave. Suddenly the rebbe’s face broke into a great smile. He laughed loudly and said, “No one, that is, until now! No one, that is, but you!”
The rebbe prayed for the woman’s welfare, and God granted all she needed.
There are two kinds of spirituality. One rests on the certainty of God’s saving grace. The other rests on nothing at all. The woman in this story represents the first; Reb Shalom represents the second. In Hebrew, these two types of faith care called emunah and bittachon.
Emunah is faith in something. Bittachon is simply, and literally, trust. For one to have emunah, there must be a “something” in which one believes. Bittachon relies on nothing other than the belief that whatever happens to us is, in and of itself, the way to salvation if we would but engage it with our full attention.
Bittachon is a very difficult state to attain. Reb Shalom was asking something of this woman that even the Israelites could not give. Even though they had just witnessed the power of God displayed through the Ten Plagues, the Israelites could not trust God and engage the challenge of the moment head on. Instead, they panicked and asked God to save them once again.
Asking God for help is a sign of faith, just not the deepest faith. Reb Shalom had forgotten how hard bittachon is to achieve. The woman reminded him that most people need more than trust; we need signs. Given her situation, emunah was enough. Given your situation, which would you prefer?