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The Torah Learning Library of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

Faith in God and Faith in Self: Religion and Self Confidence

by Rabbi Haggai Resnikoff (Posted on July 10, 2017)
Topics: Torah, Sefer Bamidbar, Shelach, Machshava/Jewish Thought, God, Faith, Religiosity & Prayer

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This article is part of Torat Chovevei, a Community Learning Program led by Yeshivat Chovevei Torah with the support of the Covenant Foundation. The goal of the program is to connect communities to YCT through the medium of Torah learning. All topics discussed weave relevant contemporary issues together with Torah and non-Torah sources in monthly home-based learning groups (chaburot). These groups are guided by Rabbi Haggai Resnikoff, Rebbe and Director of Community Learning at YCT. For further information about Torat Chovevei, and how your community can get involved, please contact Rabbi Resnikoff at hresnikoff@yctorah.org.

 

  1. BeMidbar 13
כא וַֽיַּעֲל֖וּ וַיָּתֻ֣רוּ אֶת־הָאָ֑רֶץ מִמִּדְבַּר־צִ֥ן עַד־רְחֹ֖ב לְבֹ֥א חֲמָֽת׃
כב וַיַּעֲל֣וּ בַנֶּגֶב֮ וַיָּבֹ֣א עַד־חֶבְרוֹן֒ וְשָׁ֤ם אֲחִימַן֙ שֵׁשַׁ֣י וְתַלְמַ֔י יְלִידֵ֖י הָעֲנָ֑ק…
כה וַיָּשֻׁ֖בוּ מִתּ֣וּר הָאָ֑רֶץ מִקֵּ֖ץ אַרְבָּעִ֥ים יֽוֹם׃
כו וַיֵּלְכ֡וּ וַיָּבֹאוּ֩ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֨ה וְאֶֽל־אַהֲרֹ֜ן וְאֶל־כָּל־עֲדַ֧ת בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל אֶל־מִדְבַּ֥ר פָּארָ֖ן קָדֵ֑שָׁה וַיָּשִׁ֨יבוּ אוֹתָ֤ם דָּבָר֙ וְאֶת־כָּל־הָ֣עֵדָ֔ה וַיַּרְא֖וּם אֶת־פְּרִ֥י הָאָֽרֶץ׃
כז וַיְסַפְּרוּ־לוֹ֙ וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ בָּ֕אנוּ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֣ר שְׁלַחְתָּ֑נוּ וְ֠גַם זָבַ֨ת חָלָ֥ב וּדְבַ֛שׁ הִ֖וא וְזֶה־פִּרְיָֽהּ׃
כח אֶ֚פֶס כִּֽי־עַ֣ז הָעָ֔ם הַיֹּשֵׁ֖ב בָּאָ֑רֶץ וְהֶֽעָרִ֗ים בְּצֻר֤וֹת גְּדֹלֹת֙ מְאֹ֔ד וְגַם־יְלִדֵ֥י הָֽעֲנָ֖ק רָאִ֥ינוּ שָֽׁם׃
כט עֲמָלֵ֥ק יוֹשֵׁ֖ב בְּאֶ֣רֶץ הַנֶּ֑גֶב וְ֠הַֽחִתִּי וְהַיְבוּסִ֤י וְהָֽאֱמֹרִי֙ יוֹשֵׁ֣ב בָּהָ֔ר וְהַֽכְּנַעֲנִי֙ יֹשֵׁ֣ב עַל־הַיָּ֔ם וְעַ֖ל יַ֥ד הַיַּרְדֵּֽן׃
ל וַיַּ֧הַס כָּלֵ֛ב אֶת־הָעָ֖ם אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיֹּ֗אמֶר עָלֹ֤ה נַעֲלֶה֙ וְיָרַ֣שְׁנוּ אֹתָ֔הּ כִּֽי־יָכ֥וֹל נוּכַ֖ל לָֽהּ׃
לא וְהָ֨אֲנָשִׁ֜ים אֲשֶׁר־עָל֤וּ עִמּוֹ֙ אָֽמְר֔וּ לֹ֥א נוּכַ֖ל לַעֲל֣וֹת אֶל־הָעָ֑ם כִּֽי־חָזָ֥ק ה֖וּא מִמֶּֽנּוּ׃
21 They went up and scouted the land, from the wilderness of Zin to Rehob, at Lebo-hamath.
22 They went up into the Negeb and came to Hebron, where lived Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the Anakites…
25 At the end of forty days they returned from scouting the land.
26 They went straight to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran, and they made their report to them and to the whole community, as they showed them the fruit of the land.
27 This is what they told him: “We came to the land you sent us to; it does indeed flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.
28 However, the people who inhabit the country are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large; moreover, we saw the Anakites there.
29
Amalekites dwell in the Negeb region; Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites inhabit the hill country; and Canaanites dwell by the Sea and along the Jordan.”
30 Caleb hushed the people before Moses and said, “Let us by all means go up, and we shall gain possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it.”
31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We cannot attack that people, for it is stronger than we.”
  1. Are the spies telling lies about the land? What is the precise difference between Caleb’s report and the report of the other spies? Do they differ in facts?
  2. Do the spies express doubt about God’s abilities to preserve them? What is the basis of their doubts?

2. BeMidbar 14

ב וַיִּלֹּ֙נוּ֙ עַל־מֹשֶׁ֣ה וְעַֽל־אַהֲרֹ֔ן כֹּ֖ל בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וַֽיֹּאמְר֨וּ אֲלֵהֶ֜ם כָּל־הָעֵדָ֗ה לוּ־מַ֙תְנוּ֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם א֛וֹ בַּמִּדְבָּ֥ר הַזֶּ֖ה לוּ־מָֽתְנוּ׃
ג וְלָמָ֣ה יקוק מֵבִ֨יא אֹתָ֜נוּ אֶל־הָאָ֤רֶץ הַזֹּאת֙ לִנְפֹּ֣ל בַּחֶ֔רֶב נָשֵׁ֥ינוּ וְטַפֵּ֖נוּ יִהְי֣וּ לָבַ֑ז הֲל֧וֹא ט֦וֹב לָ֖נוּ שׁ֥וּב מִצְרָֽיְמָה׃
ד וַיֹּאמְר֖וּ אִ֣ישׁ אֶל־אָחִ֑יו נִתְּנָ֥ה רֹ֖אשׁ וְנָשׁ֥וּבָה מִצְרָֽיְמָה׃
2 All the Israelites railed against Moses and Aaron. “If only we had died in the land of Egypt,” the whole community shouted at them, “or if only we might die in this wilderness!
3 Why is the LORD taking us to that land to fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be carried off! It would be better for us to go back to Egypt!”
4 And they said to one another, “Let us head back for Egypt.”
  1. What are the Israelites saying about God here? Do they doubt God’s ability to deliver them or their own ability to fulfill what God wants of them?

3. Ibid.

ח וִיהוֹשֻׁ֣עַ בִּן־נ֗וּן וְכָלֵב֙ בֶּן־יְפֻנֶּ֔ה מִן־הַתָּרִ֖ים אֶת־הָאָ֑רֶץ קָרְע֖וּ בִּגְדֵיהֶֽם׃
ז וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ אֶל־כָּל־עֲדַ֥ת בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לֵאמֹ֑ר הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֨ר עָבַ֤רְנוּ בָהּ֙ לָת֣וּר אֹתָ֔הּ טוֹבָ֥ה הָאָ֖רֶץ מְאֹ֥ד מְאֹֽד׃
ח אִם־חָפֵ֥ץ בָּ֙נוּ֙ יְקוק וְהֵבִ֤יא אֹתָ֙נוּ֙ אֶל־הָאָ֣רֶץ הַזֹּ֔את וּנְתָנָ֖הּ לָ֑נוּ אֶ֕רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־הִ֛וא זָבַ֥ת חָלָ֖ב וּדְבָֽשׁ׃
ט אַ֣ךְ בַּֽיקוק אַל־תִּמְרֹדוּ֒ וְאַתֶּ֗ם אַל־תִּֽירְאוּ֙ אֶת־עַ֣ם הָאָ֔רֶץ כִּ֥י לַחְמֵ֖נוּ הֵ֑ם סָ֣ר צִלָּ֧ם מֵעֲלֵיהֶ֛ם וַֽיקוק אִתָּ֖נוּ אַל־תִּירָאֻֽם׃
י וַיֹּֽאמְרוּ֙ כָּל־הָ֣עֵדָ֔ה לִרְגּ֥וֹם אֹתָ֖ם בָּאֲבָנִ֑ים וּכְב֣וֹד יקוק נִרְאָה֙ בְּאֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֔ד אֶֽל־כָּל־בְּנֵ֖י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ (פ)
6 And Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, of those who had scouted the land, rent their clothes
7 and exhorted the whole Israelite community: “The land that we traversed and scouted is an exceedingly good land.
8 If the LORD is pleased with us, He will bring us into that land, a land that flows with milk and honey, and give it to us;
9 only you must not rebel against the LORD. Have no fear then of the people of the country, for they are our prey: their protection has departed from them, but the LORD is with us. Have no fear of them!”
10 As the whole community threatened to pelt them with stones, the Presence of the LORD appeared in the Tent of Meeting to all the Israelites.
  1. Who frames the people’s fears as a rebellion against God? Are they correct in doing this?
  2. Is a lack of self confidence actually an expression of a lack of faith in God? Does the scale of the doubt (macro vs. micro) make a difference in answering this question?

4. Proverbs 3:5

בְּטַ֣ח אֶל־יְ֭הוָה בְּכָל־לִבֶּ֑ךָ וְאֶל־בִּֽ֝ינָתְךָ֗ אַל־תִּשָּׁעֵֽן׃Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And do not rely on your own understanding.

5. Yonah Gerondi, Commentary on the Book of Proverbs, p. 17

…ואל בינתך אל תשען. שלימות הבטחון שיבטח אדם בשם ולא יבטח באדם ולא גם בכח עצמו ועוצם ידו ולא בשכלו ותבונתו …הכל תלוי בידי שמים…And do not rely on your own understanding. The perfect trust is when a person trusts God and does not trust in human beings and not in themselves and in the powers of their own hand and not in their own intelligence or judgement..everything is in the hands of Heaven…
  1. Does this framing of trust in God support or undermine a person’s self-confidence? How much assurance does a person feel who has this kind of trust in God and lack of trust in self?

6. Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, Ale Shur, The Publishing House for Mussar Literature in Honor of Rabbi C.M. Lahmen, Jerusalem, 1986, p. 576.

בזה אנו נוגעים בעצם סוד הבטחון: יש מחשבה שאדם הוגה מתוך מצב של קירבה אל הבורא, ויש מחשבה שהוא הוגה מתוך ריחוק, הוא רואה אותן העובדות מתוך שני המצבים אך מצב הקירבה או הריחוק משנה את הבנתו מעיקרו. מתוך קירבה אל הבורא רואים את העובדות באופן אחר מאשר מתוך ריחוק.
דוגמה לענין זה: המרגלים…יהושע וכלב ראו את הארץ מתוך מצב של קירבה–והיו בטוחים בה’ שיוכלו לכבוש אותה. שאר המרגלים נחלשו קצת בדבקותם בה’ לפי גודל מדריגתם, ראו את הארץ ויושביה מתוך מצב של ריחוק והבינו “כי חזק הוא ממנו”. השנים בטחו בה’ בכל לבם, והאחרים נשענו על בנתם מבלי לבטוח. גם יהושע וכלב השתמשו בשכלם ובינתם, כי האדם מוכרח וחייב להשתמש בהם, אבל הם הבינו מתוך בטחונם וזאת היא הבינה הראויה.
In this we touch on the essential secret of trust: there are thoughts that a person thinks from a place of closeness to the Creator, and there are thoughts that they think from a place of distance, they see the same fact from these two places but closeness or distance influence their essential understanding. From a place of closeness to the Creator, we see the facts differently from how we see them from a place of distance.
An example of this point: the spies…Joshua and Caleb saw the land from a place of closeness–and they trusted in God that they could conquer it. The other spies, who were slightly weaker in their attachment to God according to their level, saw the land from a place of distance and judged that “it is stronger than we”. The two trusted in God with all their hearts, and the others relied on their judgement without trust. But Joshua and Caleb also used their intelligence and judgement, for a person is forced and required to use them, but they judged from the perspective of their trust and this is appropriate judgement. 
  1. According to Rav Wolbe, what is the relationship between trust in God and trust in one’s own judgement. Does a person who trusts in God necessarily distrust themselves?
  2. What is the confidence level of a person who trusts in God based on Rav Wolbe’s model above. Is this different from Rabbeinu Yonah’s?

7. Christian D. Larson, Your Forces and How to Use Them, The Progress Company, Chicago, 1910, p. 9.

PROMISE YOURSELF
To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet.
To make all your friends feel that there is something in them.
To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.
To think only the best, to work only for the best, and to expect only the best.
To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.
To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile.
To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others.
To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear; and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.
To think well of yourself and to proclaim this fact to the world, not in loud words but in great deeds.
To live in the faith that the whole world is on your side so long as you are true to the best that is in you.
  1. What parts of this meditation are healthy advice? What parts are unhealthy?
  2. What differences are there between this model and Rav Wolbe’s model? In what ways are Rav Wolbe’s model preferable? In what ways are Christian Larson’s model preferable?

8. Talmud Bavli, Masechet Ta’anit 9b

רב שימי בר אשי הוה שכיח קמיה דרב פפא הוה מקשי ליה טובא יומא חד חזייה דנפל על אפיה שמעיה דאמר רחמנא ליצלן מכיסופא דשימי קביל עליה שתיקותא ותו לא אקשי ליהRav Shimi bar Ashi was often found before Rav Pappa and would raise many objections against the opinions of Rav Pappa. One day Rav Shimi bar Ashi saw Rav Pappa fall on his face after prayer. He heard him say: May the Merciful One save me from the embarrassment of Shimi, and as a result Rav Shimi bar Ashi resolved to be silent and not to raise any further objections

9. Talmud Bavli, Masechet Berachot 28b

מתני׳ ר’ נחוניא בן הקנה היה מתפלל בכניסתו לבית המדרש וביציאתו תפלה קצרה אמרו לו מה מקום לתפלה זו אמר להם בכניסתי אני מתפלל שלא יארע דבר תקלה על ידי וביציאתי אני נותן הודאה על חלקי:
גמ׳ ת”ר בכניסתו מהו אומר יהי רצון מלפניך ה’ אלהי שלא יארע דבר תקלה על ידי ולא אכשל בדבר הלכה וישמחו בי חברי ולא אומר על טמא טהור ולא על טהור טמא ולא יכשלו חברי בדבר הלכה ואשמח בהםk
MISHNA: In addition to the halakhot relating to the fixed prayers, the Gemara relates: Rabbi Neḥunya ben Hakana would recite a brief prayer upon his entrance into the study hall and upon his exit. They said to him: The study hall is not a dangerous place that would warrant a prayer when entering and exiting, sowhat room is there for this prayer? He said to them: Upon my entrance, I pray that no mishap will transpire caused by me in the study hall. And upon my exit, I give thanks for my portion.
GEMARA: The Sages taught in abaraita the complete formula of Rabbi Neḥunya ben Hakana’s prayer: Upon his entrance, what does he say? May it be Your will, Lord my God, that no mishap in determining the halakha transpires caused by me, and that I not fail in any matter of halakha, and that my colleagues, who together with me engage in clarifying the halakha, will rejoice in me. He specified: And that I will neither declare pure that which is impure, nor declare impure that which is pure and that my colleagues will not fail in any matter of halakha, and that I will rejoice in them.