What does menuchas hanefesh mean, and how is it different than bitachon (if it is different)?
One of the ways of serving Hashem is to be an ish menuchah, a man with peace of mind — not to get excited or be excitable. One must have a calm mind.
This is a very important principle. One might think that menuchah is not a middah. Middos are things like jealousy, anger or envy. But, one might think, the lack of menuchah is just nervousness. Is there anything wrong about that? It may not be wise to be that way, but is it wrong?
The answer is: Yes, it’s wrong to be excitable, to lose your tranquility.
When Shlomo Hamelech was about to become king, Hashem said to Shlomo’s father: “He is going to be a man of calmness (ish menuchah)” (Divrei Hayamim I 22:9). That is why he is called “Shlomo.” Shlomo means “peace.” He had peace in his time. Why did he deserve peace? Because he was always an ish menuchah; he did not get excited. Therefore, Hashem rewarded him. “The way you want to go is the way you are led” (Makkos 10b).
Conversely, if you want to be excitable, Hashem “blesses” you with more and more excitement … until you have a nervous breakdown.
However, Shlomo chose the way of menuchah, of chachmah. He is the one who said, “If the spirit of that ruler rises up against you, stay where you are” (Koheles 10:4). Who is the “ruler”? The yetzer hara. He controls a lot of things in the world. Shlomo said if the spirit of that “ruler” rises up against you to cause you to get excited, don’t yield; don’t leave your place; stay where you are.
That is why Hashem blessed him with peace and menuchah throughout his reign.
Now, let’s understand this quality, the attitude of menuchah, of calmness of the mind. One of the reasons we were given Shabbos is for menuchah. One might have thought that a day like Shabbos should be celebrated by arranging lots of trips, happy games, and races — things that will make a big demonstration in public. Shabbos should be a day of activity. Everybody should come together and there should be fireworks. But you see that Hashem planned Shabbos to be a day of menuchah.
The Chovos Halevavos explains that one of the purposes of being forbidden to do many things on Shabbos is prishus. Prishus, which is one of the important attributes of tzaddikim, means to abstain, to not get involved in superfluous things. Do your thing; don’t be excited. Stick to your business. All week you have to work; your mind is occupied with various things; you can’t think. You can’t stop and meditate, “What am I living for? What’s expected of me? Who am I? What is special about my nation’s history? What does it mean to be a Jew?”
Those are important questions. Therefore, Hashem said that one day of the week you can’t do this and you can’t do that. You must abstain. People think that the purpose of abstaining is not getting into the habits that might lead to an addiction. You shouldn’t get into the habit of drinking too much alcohol because you will be an alcoholic. You should refrain from becoming a slave to desires. That is how the world understands the simple meaning of prishus.
And it’s very true. The more a person allows himself to indulge in a certain thing, the more he becomes enslaved to that thing. But the Chovos Halevavos puts a new twist on the meaning of prishus. The purpose of prishus is so that our minds should be liberated. When you’re busy all the time, you’re enslaved. You can’t think.
Shabbos is a day of thinking — and it’s due to the menuchah. The Torah says, “I have given you Shabbos to know (ladaas) that it’s I, Hashem, Who makes you holy” (Shemos 31:13). Shabbos is a day of daas, a day of knowing. In order to know, your mind must be liberated from the many things that you would do otherwise.
Shabbos is called menuchah sheleimah, a perfect composure (from Shabbos afternoon prayer). It’s a day for peace of mind.
Practice that on Shabbos. Do you have a business? A lot of bills you did not pay yet? Merchandise you could not sell? Do you have problems? When Shabbos comes, forget about everything. Shabbos is menuchah.
The truth is that all your worries are nothing. The whole thing is only a dream. It’s only phantoms that are conjured up by the yetzer hara to get you confused. It’s only shadows. During your lifetime you worry about this and that. Years later, you see it was all false; you were worried about nothing at all. You wasted your time worrying. Shabbos tells us that Hashem says, “You do the work and leave the worrying for Me.”
Therefore, when Shabbos comes, practice for the rest of the week so that when you go back to your shop on Sunday, you go back with the spirit of Shabbos in your mind, the spirit that Hashem is in charge … that everything will be in order.
Don’t be excitable. Don’t be confused. Be an ish menuchah.
The Gemara (Shabbos 113b) mentions the term “p’siyah gasah,” a hasty step. People are hasty. They are running around all week. They feel that it’s an emergency to catch this customer. There is nothing wrong with being a hustler, but hustle with your body. Don’t let your mind be confused. “A hasty step takes away 1/500 of your eyesight” (ibid.).
By the way, that is literally true. If you’re excitable, it causes your eyes to become weaker and weaker. But “eyesight” here means more than merely your literal eyesight. You will not see the truth anymore. You’re so confused, you just see phantasmagorias. You don’t see the truth. You see shadows. What’s the remedy?
The Gemara continues: “When you make Kiddush, you restore your eyesight” (Shabbos 113b). When you drink the wine of Kiddush, it will restore your eyesight. How? Because you say: “Vay’chulu hashamayim v’haaretz v’chol tz’vaam, And the heavens and earth were completed, and all their hosts.” Kiddush tells you that Hashem made everything; everything is under His control. Nothing in the world is without Hashem. Therefore, what are you worried about? What are you excited about? You’re just acting like you’re making a living. He is the one that is supporting you.
But you’re the one plowing your field and putting seeds in the ground — this does not mean a thing. You’re only going through the motions. The final result, when the bread comes on your table, is that you have to say, “Baruch Atah Hashem … hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz — You are the one who brings forth bread from the ground”!
The farmer complains, “What do you mean, ‘You are the one’? Wasn’t it me who plowed the field? Wasn’t it me who planted the seed? Wasn’t it me who cut the grain? Threshed the grain? Winnowed it? Ground it? And baked it?”
All these things are just shadows. You think you did it. When the bread is on the table, you say, “Baruch Atah Hashem, You’re the one Who gave me the bread.”
Of course, when people run around all week like horses in a race — horses don’t stop to think where they are running — it seems to them that everything is cause and effect, an accident. They don’t stop to see the hand of Hashem that is constantly guiding everything in their lives.
Therefore, on Shabbos, when you make Kiddush, you restore your eyesight. When you understand the very important principle that everything came out of nothing — that nothing in the world has intrinsic existence; “Ki Hu amar vayehi, Hashem spoke and it came into existence” (Tehillim 33:9), and He keeps it in existence every second — you see the truth that you may have lost in the hustle and bustle of the week.
“Forever, Hashem, Your word stands in the Heavens” (Tehillim 119:89). Which word? The word “yehi,” let there be (Bereishis 1:6). That word is still standing in the Heavens. “Konanta eretz va’taamod, You established the world and it remains standing” (Tehillim 110:90). Only Your word keeps it standing. If You would withdraw Your word, the whole world collapses — not into debris; it would collapse into zero. Nothing would be left. It would go back to the original nothing.
Therefore, Shabbos teaches us what is called in our language bitachon, trust in Hashem. Bitachon is a corollary of menuchah. A man who practices, all his life, understanding that Hashem is in charge and guiding everyone’s fate — every detail of our lives is under His control; Hashem is steering the steering wheel of history — learns to gain menuchas hanefesh.
When things happen in life that might upset him, he knows that there is a purpose in everything. When Aharon found out that his younger brother Moshe was appointed the leader, he did not say, “My younger brother is taking over? What! I’m terribly disappointed. I’m going to leave the whole business!”
No! He did not say that; he went along. Therefore, Aharon is found everywhere in the Torah. Don’t think it was easy. Moshe was his younger brother. When Esav realized that Yaakov, his younger brother, was the leader, he could have done the same thing as Aharon — but Esav did not. While Yaakov was in the yeshivah of his parents, where they were teaching that Hashem was in charge of the world, Esav was pulling his bow and shooting, saying, “I did it.” Had he been in his father’s house and listened, he would have learned he did nothing.
Therefore, bitachon and menuchah go together. A person who learns the great study of bitachon is going to be rewarded with a nature that will enable him to withstand the stresses of life. And if you can withstand the stresses of life, you’re going to be successful, because life eventually will turn out the right way — if your worries don’t get to you. People ruin their health because of worry and stresses. They get angry, excited, and jealous. All these things wear out the body. Therefore, when the time comes at the end of a person’s life to see the fruits of his success, he is not there anymore to see it, in very many cases.
The word “rasha” is related to “ra’ash.” Ra’ash means disturbance, excitement. You might think that resha’im are people who rob or kill other people. Principally, however, they are excitable people. Their actions are the results of their failure to achieve menuchas hanefesh.
Is that too severe? Is that going too far to say such a thing? No. It’s not going far at all. These people are missing the whole point of life: that Hashem Echad — Hashem is in charge of everything.
“The resha’im are like the driven sea” (Yeshayah 57:20). The waters of the sea don’t rest. They constantly pile up in waves — waves upon waves. The resha’im are like the driven waters of the sea. “They are unable to keep quiet” (ibid.). That is a rasha. Some people talk all the time; keep your mouth closed. People get into fights; there is nothing to fight about. Quiet! It will pass over in a minute.
Due to the necessity of peace of mind, this is one of the most important subjects for avodas Hashem. Menuchas hanefesh, peace of mind, is essential to be successful in this world as a Jew. If you wish, call it bitachon. It’s more familiar in that sense, but it’s the same quality.