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Review by CH (LTC) Yoni Zagdanski, USAR

This best-selling book teaches us about something we all take for granted – Emuna (faith). Yet, this book is groundbreaking. Why? Because it is easy to have Emuna when things are going smoothly in our lives. But when we face major challenges or setbacks, Emuna sometimes flies out the window. There is a lot of pain out there: there are people right now experiencing severe illness, unemployment, marital strife, divorce, death of a close relative, etc. This book is about keeping your Emuna when life goes seriously wrong. And given that we’re in the midst of the most widespread pandemic in human history, it is very apropos. But I dare say that “The Garden of Emuna” is more than a book; it is a practical guide for life.

Many of the concepts in this book are drawn from the Zohar and the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, grandson of the Baal Shem Tov. Rabbi Arush simply but masterfully explains these spiritual concepts using modern language and scenarios that everyone can relate to. The reader will discover that Emuna is not something that you have or you don’t; rather, there are many shades of Emuna. But Rav Arush breaks down the levels of Emuna into three general categories. A person can either have low, average, or high levels of Emuna. The reader learns how to assess his level of Emuna and how to move to a higher level.

The first concept that I personally connected with was the concept of gratitude no matter what. Rabbi Arush talks about the need to thank Hashem equally for the good and for the seemingly bad. That, he says is the true definition of Emuna – having faith. Some of us have experienced a “bad” event, just to realize much later that in fact, it had been a blessing in disguise. Rabbi Arush drives the point that saying thank you for the “bad” is not just a nice thing to do; it is a Mitzvah – see Tractate Brachot 60a.

Let’s be honest with ourselves. We Jews are pretty good at the art of complaining. Moses had to endure 40 years of complaining in the desert. G-d, as we see in the Torah, is not a big fan of complainers. Why not? Because complaining is the exact opposite of gratitude. When people complain, they are displaying a lack of faith.

Rabbi Arush teaches that the more we complain, the more G-d gives us reasons to complain – in the form of hardships. But the more we thank G-d for everything, the more he showers us with blessings. I experienced this firsthand as a Chaplain. I was once counseling a Captain (let’s call him Ken), who was deeply depressed because he and his wife could not have children. I followed Rabbi Arush’s advice and told him to spend 30 minutes a day thanking G-d for all the amazing things in his life, including the fact that he and his wife couldn’t have children. Judging from his expression, he must have thought that I was completely insane. After all, who would thank G-d for such a sad predicament? “Ken, Just do it!” I told him. I didn’t think he was going to follow this advice, but he did. Two weeks later, Ken called me and almost could not utter the following words: “My wife is pregnant!”

I am still in touch with Ken, and every now and then, he sends me pictures of his gorgeous daughter; I call her the “miracle girl.” I too have experienced small miracles for simply thanking Hashem for seemingly “bad” things.

Another concept that Rabbi Arush writes about is Hashgacha Pratis – the belief that everything that happens is God’s will. (Even though this concept seem to negate free will, it is consistent with the Maimonides’ first principle of faith and Tractate Hullin 7b.) It is hard not to get angry when we see a parking ticket on our windshield; or when we see the neighbor’s trash all over our lawn; or when our spouse misplaces the car keys (again), etc. But Rabbi Arush would say that we’re getting angry at the stick. But who is wielding the stick? Hashem! He uses the stick to test us, to challenge us and yes, sometimes to chastise us. Let’s talk to Hashem – not the stick!

Lastly, I connected with the concept of Hitbodedut , or self-reflection. Rabbi Arush says that only through daily Hitbodedut, can one strengthen his connection to Hashem. I must confess that I have a very hard time connecting in synagogue, where there are so many distractions. You might relate with the following thoughts I sometimes have in synagogue: “I can’t hear the Chazzan!”; “Why is he davening so slow/ fast?!”; “I can’t stand that tune!” “Can’t the Rabbi see that everyone is asleep during his speech? Why does he go on with his speech?” and on, and on.

Hitbodedut is a time when you can just be yourself and talk to Hashem and say what is really in your heart. This is not just a Breslov practice. Every Jew is required to perform a Cheshbon Hanefesh (personal reckoning) and analyze his actions of the past 24 hours. This is the only way to improve our good (traits) and ditch our bad ones.

I could go on and on praising this important book. Take my word for it: this book will change your life and the lives of your loved ones. And if you’re able to apply some of these concepts while serving in a mentorship capacity, you might change the lives of the Soldiers that come to you for help, and perhaps even save a soldier’s life.

Originally published in the May-June 2020 issue of the Jewish American Warrior.

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