In my previous post, I quoted an aggadah (anecdote) from the Talmud in which Hillel’s unusual calm at a moment of possible danger exemplifies the peace of mind that results from faith, as the rabbis find described in Ps. 112:7 (and elsewhere). [1]

The gemorrah discusses the meaning of the incident further:

Rabbah [2] said: “Whenever you teach [דרש] this verse (Ps. 112:7) you can make the second clause explain the first or the first clause explain the second.”

Rabbah is telling us that we can learn two very different – even opposite – aspects of developing faith, depending on how we interpret the verse. Both are of great spiritual, practical value. Both are necessary.

‘The second clause explain the first’:
‘He won’t fear bad news’
because
‘his heart is steady, trusting in G-d.’

‘The first clause explain the second’:
‘He won’t fear bad news’
therefore
‘his heart is steady, trusting G-d’.”

In the first interpretation, trusting G-d leads to the absence of fear. Change begins within and radiates outward.

In the second, controlling expressions of fear and the tendencies that give rise to them leaves the heart “steady” in faith. Here, “change” begins with the outward behavior, radiating inward to the state of mind and heart.

This post is about the first of these two interpretations and its implications in our efforts to develop faith.

If we make the second clause explain the first, Hillel’s lack of fear is because he trusts G-d. Trust is the “cause,” peace is the “effect.”

How do we develop this kind of faith? Rabbah says that the verse seems to suggest the following to us as one approach:

“Nachon le’bo” – his heart is “steady.” In Hebrew, “steady” is “nachon” [נכון], the root of which, (KVN/כון), is linguistically connected with “kavannah” – i.e. “directed.” Hillel “directs” his heart to G-d, rather than to the “bad news.” How? By attributing to G-d all that happens.

If an event occurs, and you think that it’s the result of “luck,” or someone’s “fault,” then you’ve at that moment taken your attention from G-d, and put it on “luck” or another “person.” Your heart becomes “unsteady,” flitting back and forth between possible reasons and causes.

Not only that, but if you attribute G-d as the cause, but feel that G-d’s acts can be either “good” or “not good” (and everything in-between), you’ve again made your mind “unsteady.” You’re always evaluating and reevaluating what’s happening in terms of your own viewpoint. And your own viewpoint won’t ever stay the same, either. So, again, your mind “flits” back and forth between how the event “looks to you,” or how you feel about it.

If, instead, you sincerely attribute an event to G-d, then you’ve already taken a major step towards mental peace. You’ve stopped asking “Who?”, “Why?” and so on. Doing so, your mind is immeasurably more “directed.”

If, further, you sincerely affirm that G-d is good and everything G-d does is good, you have taken a giant step towards peace; you’ll probably begin to feel it, even partially, almost immediately.

This would describe Hillel: All that comes, comes from G-d; All that comes from G-d is good.

He gives more attention to G-d, and less to the event itself. 

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[1] Berachot 60a
[2] Rabbah bar Nachmani  (c. 270 – c. 330 CE)