The Path to Tranquility

During a train ride, the Chofetz Chaim began conversing with another Yid who happened to be in the same car. In the course of the conversation, he asked the other passenger if he set aside times to learn Torah.

“To tell you the truth,” the Yid replied, “I don’t have the time. The pressures of trying to eke out a living keep me busy from early morning until late at night, for if I slack off, another person may snatch away my parnassah.”

The Chofetz Chaim proceeded to relate a parable of a man traveling to the capital city via train, on a mission to meet with the king’s ministers about an important matter. Anxious to arrive at his destination, he felt that the train was moving way too slowly for his liking, so he took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves and began to push with all his might against the inside wall of the car.

“What are you doing?” his dumbfounded fellow passengers wondered aloud.

“I know that when my horse is struggling to pull a wagon up a hill, I get off the wagon and help move it by pushing the back of the wagon,” the man explained. “So here, too, I am pushing the wall of the train to get it to move faster. …”

The other passengers had a hearty laugh. “Do you really think that with your feeble efforts — by pushing from inside the train — you will add anything to the massive power of the engine of a locomotive?”

Hakadosh Baruch Hu, in His infinite mercy, provides sustenance for all His creations,” the Chofetz Chaim now told his fellow passenger. “Do you really think that with your efforts for parnassah you will increase your earnings?”

••

Certainly, in most situations, a certain amount of hishtadlus is not only appropriate but mandatory. But, as the Chofetz Chaim taught this Yid, one must always bear in mind that hishtadlus is not what brings us what we seek and need; it is a separate, independent requirement. Often, one can place great emphasis on a certain type of hishtadlus, only to receive what he was seeking from a totally different direction.

When someone fortifies himself with emunah and bitachon and recognizes that his fate and sustenance are solely up to Hashem, his heart is filled with a sense of tranquility and happiness. For he who has reached elevated levels of bitachon has no worries. Like a young child in his father’s arms, he feels secure and cared for in every aspect of his life.

Furthermore, the realization that all that he has is a gift from Hashem and isn’t a result of his own actions helps a person recognize the enormous debt of gratitude he must feel toward his Creator.

A group of Israeli psychologists, led by Dr. Oren Kaplan, recently released the conclusions of an extensive study on feelings of happiness and post-traumatic symptoms. Their results illustrate what many Torah Jews have long known: People of faith and religious affiliation are happier. Specifically, the researchers linked higher levels of happiness to a sense of gratitude that these individuals feel. During the course of their research, the 2014 Gaza war broke out, and the psychologists decided to expand their study to see how religious affiliation affected the residents of areas hit by missile attacks. They found that those who had higher levels of gratitude suffered fewer post-trauma symptoms.

One of the most striking aspects of the report was that the chareidi city of Bnei Brak has one of the happiest populations in the world, despite the fact that so many of its residents struggle financially. This reminds us again that material possessions and economic security don’t bring happiness; it is those whose lives are filled with meaning and gratitude who can experience genuine joy and tranquility.

Instead of wasting all their energy on what is actually the equivalent of pushing against a wall of a train, baalei bitachon achieve feelings of true serenity solely from the recognition that the Creator of the universe is with them at all times and seeing to their every need. Their hearts overflow with gratitude and the knowledge that regardless of their circumstances, they are never alone and they are never forsaken.