Ibn Pakudah offers an astounding insight into human nature with the remark that, “If you don’t trust God, you’ll inevitably trust someone or something else” (Introduction to Gate 4). That’s to say that we’re hard-wired to trust in something or another.
Let’s see an illustration of this. We’ll quote from Erich Remarque’s, “All Quiet on the Western Front”, which sets out to depict the bleakness and ugliness of war. The protagonist is speaking about the soldier’s visceral reaction to sudden violence.
To no man does the earth mean so much as to the soldier. When he presses himself down upon her long and powerfully, when he buries his face and his limbs deep in her from the fear of death by shell-fire, then she is his only friend, his brother, his mother; he stifles his terror and his cries in her silence and her security; she shelters him and releases him for ten seconds to live, to run, ten seconds of life; receives him again and often forever.
….. At the sound of the first droning of the shells we rush back, in one part of our being, a thousand years. By the animal instinct that is awakened in us we are led and protected. It is not conscious; it is far quicker, much more sure, less fallible, than consciousness. One cannot explain it.
A man is walking along without thought or heed;–suddenly he throws himself down on the ground and a storm of fragments flies harmlessly over him;–yet he cannot remember either to have heard the shell coming or to have thought of flinging himself down. But had he not abandoned himself to the impulse he would now be a heap of mangled flesh. It is this other, this second sight in us, that has thrown us to the ground and saved us, without our knowing how.
This is an instance of purely instinctual trust in and dependence upon something basic — the earth, in this case. The soldier simply knows in his heart that he should surrender himself to the earth; he doesn’t have to think about it. That reaction is inborn, primitive, and native to his humanity. That’s the sort of raw trust in something or another that we submit to when we need help desperately.
Ibn Pakudah’s point is that we should trust God just as viscerally if we’re wise, which is our concern here.
(c) 2015 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman
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Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has also translated and commented upon “The Path of the Just” and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers).