Steven Gotlib
Steven Gotlib

Book review: Rav Asher Weiss on Emunah and Bitachon

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“Excuse me, do you have emunah [faith in God]? What about bitachon [trust in God]?” 

If I were to pose this question to Jewish men and women on the street, visibly observant or not, I would likely be faced with two common reactions; blank stares and clarification questions. Even in day schools ranging from Conservative to Chareidi, these topics are rarely taught formally leading to students either not thinking about them at all or thinking about them vaguely or below their conscious radar. In fact, there’s an ongoing debate as to whether or not emunah should be taught formally at all in Chareidi schools. Whether you would have responded to my question with a blank stare, asking clarifying questions, or had a well-thought-out answer, Rav Asher Weiss on Emunah and Bitachon (Mosaica Press, 2019) is a book to add to your library.  

Split into four sections, this accessible English translation of the Minchas Asher al Emunah U’Bitachon leads readers through a step-by-step conceptual journey through these terms and their long history in the Jewish tradition. Section A consists of maamarim defining our terms. How does one develop emunas Hashem, how is that sixth sense of emunah properly practiced in the form of bitachon, and how much control does Hashem really have over our lives? 

Section B is a collection of sichos on various subjects, building on the terms defined in Section A and showing how they can be applied throughout our tradition. Section C is a collection of letters on specific questions bringing these otherwise potentially abstract concepts into lived experience. How much effort does someone really have to put into making a living if they have bitachon? How do they properly choose a profession for themselves in the first place? How is it possible for a terminally ill patient or the parents of a child who died at far too young of an age to still have faith and trust in Hashem? These questions and more are addressed in this question before shifting to Section D, a selection of letters specifically on the subject of the Holocaust – no doubt the most challenging threat to emunah and bitachon for most Jews in recent history. How do we address those horrors as a community, and how can we educate children about it productively and healthily? 

In each section, Rav Asher uses a direct, step-by-step style to help his readers build up their understanding from beginning to end and makes sure to address all sides and answer difficulties throughout. For example, he not only makes sure to note that his understanding of bitachon differs from that expressed by the Chazon Ish in the latter’s Sefer Emunah U’Bitachon but also seeks to understand why the Chazon Ish defined it as he did and explore how and why that definition seems to differ from his writings elsewhere. Similarly, when exploring the concept of hashgacha pratis, Rav Asher made sure to note how and why the understandings of the Talmud, Rishonim, and Achronim differ from each other until coming to how most define it today. 

Overall, Rav Asher’s approach is detailed, nuanced, and confident in itself as an ideal way to not only understand these fundamental concepts, but to live practically them in a world that by and large moves too fast to to slow around once in a while to think deeply about them. As someone who didn’t begin thinking about my relationship with Hashem until high school, and didn’t really sit down to hammer it out until rabbinical school, it’s impossible for me to understate the impact that this book could have had on myself or others if we were exposed to it earlier in our religious development. In subject, language, and presentation, Rav Asher Weiss on Emunah and Bitachon is perfect for learners at all levels who want to explore these subjects individually, as study partners, or in a classroom. 

About the Author
Steven Gotlib is a soon-to-be graduate of Yeshiva University's Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, where he also received a Certificate in Mental Health Counseling in partnership with the Ferkauf School of Psychology. He is an incoming avreich at Beit Midrash Zichron Dov of Toronto and incoming Rabbinic Assistant at the Village Shul & Aish HaTorah Learning Centre. A graduate of Rutgers University, Steven previously served as Rabbinic Intern at Congregation Beth Abraham - Jacob in Albany, New York and as Beit Midrash Coordinator at Congregation Shearith Israel: The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue on Manhattan's Upper West Side. He and his wife, Ruth Malkah Rohde, currently live in Fair Lawn, New Jersey.
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