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Review by Ch, Capt Yosef Zarnighian

It is a unique opportunity to come across books that bridge the lives we have as Jews and service members. The Gate of Trust (Shaar Habitachon) is one of those books. After studying and teaching The Gate of Trust, I can say that it is one of those rare gems of books that I found to appeal not only to Jewish audiences, but almost to anyone with an appreciation and curiosity towards selfm growth and faith in our day-to-day life challenges. Originally written by the Spanish Rabbi, Bachya ibn Pakuda (c. 1050-1120 CE), the Aleph Institute has now offered a new, fluid English translation of this work, published by Kehot Publication Society.

The fundamental theme of the book, as Rabbi Bachya points out, is to realign the internal duties we all have toward each other and toward G-d. As Jews, we are often exposed to the external commandments—wearing tefillin and tzitzit, lighting Chanukah and Shabbat candles, eating matzah on Passover, to name a few— but we all have duties that are internal, too. Rabbi Bachya focuses on the duty of Trust (as the official motto of the U.S. has it: In G-d we trust). This trust ties into many questions, like “why do bad things happen to good people, and good things to bad people,” “why does failure repeat itself over and over,” “how do I deal with the fear of the unknown,” and more.

One of my favorite themes of trust, as discussed in Section Five of the book, regards the relationship we have in our lives in partnership with G-d. We often come across goals and projects in our lives that seem insurmountable, whether that’s personal—like buying a new home or raising our children within a certain vision, or professional—as is the case when we strive for a promotion or when project deadlines approach. Rabbi Bachya teaches that without realizing the hand of G-d guiding us in our challenges, we are bound to fail, but when we are aware of G-d’s guidance in our pursuits, and acknowledge Him throughout the journey, we are then bound for success.

“One who trusts in the Almighty has tranquility of spirit and a heart at ease regarding bad decrees, knowing that the Creator will arrange them for what is good for oneself in this world and the next, as King David said, “My soul, wait you only on G-d; for my expectation is from Him” (Ps. 62:6). But one who does not trust in G-d, even when he is prosperous, is always pained and in a state of continual anxiety. He is saddened and grieving, because he is little satisfied with his situation, and yearns to augment, increase, and hoard in. And likewise in bad times because he is disgusted by it, and it is contrary to his desires, nature and traits.”

On a personal level, I once had the privilege to sit down with a Sailor— an intelligence officer—who was curious about what I was reading when I was learning from The Gate of Trust. After exchanging some personal experience and history with each other, I shared a brief lesson from the chapter I was then studying. This Sailor was pleased, impressed, and even more inspired to know that our men and women in uniform have resources like this offered to them, at no cost, in order to strengthen our spiritual resiliency. We ended our conversation with this Sailor reminding me of the Pillars of Wellness that many of us are familiar with: Emotional, Physical, Social, Family, and yes, Spiritual Wellness, for which this book helped me strengthen and grow.

It was a pleasure to learn from the wisdom of such an important sage in our Jewish tradition, and I thank the Aleph Institute tremendously for offering this book to me, and to many others. It is worth repeating that the timeless lessons of having trust where it is difficult (and certainly when it’s easy), are relevant to all of us—men and women, single or married, service member or civilian, and regardless of where one currently stands in the spiritual path of one’s life. I hope and pray that this book will make a difference in the lives of each and everyone one of us, amen.

Originally published in the Three Weeks 57823 issue of the Jewish American Warrior.