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How to strengthen trust in God

In an extract from his new book on the spiritual power of Psalms, Marvin J Shaw looks at Psalm 27 as an aid to faith

Modern Day Psalms in the 21st Century, Marvin J Shaw, i2i Publishing, £16.95

    With so many bad things happening in the world - and so many difficult challenges in our own personal lives - the following question naturally arises: how can we trust in Hashem (G-d) enough to believe that He truly has our best interests at heart?

    The psalm we chose to help us investigate this was Psalm 27, which we noted is read in that period of the Jewish year particularly focused on atonement and repentance.

    Arnold Band opined that the first part of this psalm conveys divine presence whereas the second part hints at divine absence.

    For us, it is important to be cognisant of whether, at any particular time in our life, we are more aware of G-d's divine presence or His absence. This level of trust in Him will demonstrate itself in our sense (or otherwise) that all is well in our world.

    Miriyam Glazer sees this psalm as being something more positive. She labels Psalm 27 as a profoundly comforting psalm - stating that if we repeat its first two lines over and over again, then our personal fears will dissolve.

    These lines are: "By David. The Lord is my light and my salvation - whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life - of whom shall I be afraid?

    "When evil men close in on me to devour my flesh, it is they, my enemies and foes, who stumble and fall."

    Rabbi Zvi Miller seems to concur with Miriyam Glazer in that he specifically advises us to “pray again and again” and hold on to our faith in Hashem. Then, he says, undoubtedly He (G-d) will ultimately come to our aid.

    It is interesting that Rabbi Miller asserts that “all aspects and situations in our lives are dependent on our hope in Hashem”. Yet, he also adds that whilst we wait for G-d's redemption, we must “fight an inner battle - the struggle between faith and disheartenment”.

    So, according to Rabbi Miller, it seems that repeating (for example) the first two lines of Psalm 27 will help -but only so much. We must also fight this major inner battle within ourselves, between “faith and disheartenment” - between our belief in divine presence and our fear of divine absence.

    Rabbi Feuer implies something similar when he says that “we can develop trust in G-d if we work on it diligently and consistently”. He adds that “if a person is absolutely delighted by every opportunity that comes his way to exercise his trust in G-d, he has attained the level of a master of trust”. This is not to say, however, that we should ask for challenges. Indeed Judaism would frown on such behaviour. Only if we are given a challenge by G-d, should we try to follow Rabbi Feuer’s advice.

    All this is fine in theory. How, though, are we meant to develop our trust in Hashem to such a level that we are able to positively delight in difficult challenges?

    Rabbi Pliskin seems to pose a similar question (not mentioned in our initial discussion on Psalm 27 - but worth relating here). He asks (and then answers): “What is the root element of having hope in Hashem? You realise that He is the very essence of kindness and compassion. You realise that He loves you on the deepest level possible. You realise that He is all-powerful and has the ability to help you. So your having this hope, is making a powerful statement of your basic belief and trust in Hashem. Thinking the thoughts of hope to Hashem is spiritually and emotionally life-enhancing.”

    This spiritual understanding is powerful on a mind or mental level and I would suggest that we read the above quote from Rabbi Pliskin to ourselves - whenever we begin to sense that our hope is wavering.

    Yet human beings operate, very much, on an emotional level as well as on a mental one. What we think is not necessarily the same as what we feel. That, in fact, is the basic difference between emunah (faith) and bitachon (trust). Faith and belief are important and can strengthen our mental well-being. But when we manage to transform them into a strong deep secure emotional feeling - then the trust and inner security that we experience is unsurpassed.

    Let us return to Rabbi Pliskin, though, as he takes us a step further. He tells us that this trust, this hope to Hashem, is not a means to an end. It is, in fact, our very goal. This is an important statement. Rabbi Pliskin is saying that, once we are able to trust in Hashem, we have reached our destination. Assuming this is so, we will now want to know how we can achieve this goal. How do we access the powerful, secure and life-enhancing feeling of trusting in G-d?

    Rabbi Pliskin's answer is, in fact, remarkably similar to that of Miriyam Glazer. Whereas she advises us to repeat lines one and two of the psalm “over and over again”, Rabbi Pliskin encourages us to do the same; slowly and repeatedly - but this time with verse fourteen. That verse says:" Hope in Hashem (the Lord); strengthen yourself and He will give you courage, and hope in Hashem".

    As you repeat it, feel the hope-giving message becoming an integral part of the way you view life".

    That is what Rabbi Pliskin suggests.

    So the answer (as to how to strengthen our trust in G-d) would seem to be to repeat verses 1, 2 and 14 with feeling; until we internalise them into our very being.

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