The Real Answer to the Question, “Who Moved My Cheese?”
In 2005, Amazon.com reported that their #1 all-time best selling book was the one titled, Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life.
The book is a simple parable packaged in an amusing story of four characters who live in a maze and look for cheese to nourish them and make them happy.
Cheese is a metaphor for what you want to have in life—whether it is a good job, a loving relationship, money, a possession, health or peace of mind.
And the maze is where you look for what you want—the organization you work in, or the family or community you live in.
In the story, the characters are faced with, and eventually learn to deal with, unexpected change, or the shifting location of cheese.
While the book is lovely, and contains some profound life messages, I believe it leaves the question of its title unanswered. A more fitting title might have been, “How to Deal with Moving Cheese.”
It so happens, though, that I do know of a book, a little older but also a best seller—in fact the best seller of all times—that answers the question of “Who moved my cheese?”
There are two words often lumped together and commonly perceived as synonymous, when in reality they are not.
The two are Faith and Trust. In Hebrew, emunah and bitachon .
One way of explaining the difference between these words is that the former is the belief that G‑d exists. The latter is the knowledge thereof, or, more accurately, the result of that knowledge, in mind, heart, and deed1.
The story is told of the famous chassidic master, Rabbi Levi of Berditchev, who, to the surprise of his father-in-law, became a chassid soon after his marriage.
Unable to comprehend what had possessed his son-in-law to cross over to Chassidism , he confronted R’ Levi and asked him point-blank, “What do you have now as a chassid that you once did not?”
“Belief in G‑d,” was the terse but earnest reply.
Incredulous, the older man exclaimed, “Why, everyone believes in G‑d!”
To demonstrate his point he asked the maid of the house, “Do you believe in G‑d?”
“Of course,” she replied.
Responded Rabbi Levi, “She says G‑d exists; I know He does.”
To Rabbi Levi, G‑d was more than a theoretical idea; He was concrete and real.
In fact, if something were to be doubted, it would be his existence, not G‑d’s2. The knowledge R’ Levi spoke of was not the stuff of theory and abstraction but was practical and expressed itself in tangible conviction and commitment.
It was not about whom he endorsed; it was with whom he cast his ballot.
Consider the Talmudic thief who kneels before G‑d before burglarizing, praying for success. Isn’t such behavior oxymoronic? If he believes in G‑d, as his prayer suggests, how can he engage in an act clearly forbidden by G‑d, and, worse yet, pray for success?
Because he has faith (emunah) but lacks trust (bitachon).
While in the mind of our devout thief, G‑d exists somewhere, somehow, his personal life must go on. Bread must be put on the table.
To the trustee in G‑d, however, G‑d is intimately involved in our lives. Far from being removed, His presence is manifest and His interest in us engaged. Therefore, it is His blessing, not our efforts, we rely upon for success.
If trusting in G‑d sounds like an easy exercise, it has been grossly oversimplified.
There are those who argue that to trust in a Higher Being and His Providence is to take life’s easy path, much like using crutches instead of walking on one’s own. But real trust demands herculean effort and commitment. For to truly place one’s lot in the hands of G‑d, not in word or deed alone, but in mind and heart as well, is as counterintuitive as bungee-jumping.
Your life is on the line. And you don’t physically see the lifeline which holds you from behind (or above) as the world barrels past you at lightning speed.
That can’t be easy.
This point can be further illustrated by a parable:
Long before the entertainment industry boomed, tightrope walking was a common form of amusement and recreation.
Once, a world-famous master of the sport visited a particular region. Word spread quickly, and many people turned up for the show. All was quiet as the master nimbly climbed the tree from which he would begin his dangerous trek.
But just before beginning his routine he called out: “Who here believes I can make it across safely?”
The crowd roared their affirmation. Again he asked the question and was greeted by the same response.
He then pulled out a wheelbarrow from between the branches and asked, less boisterously, “Which of you is willing to get inside the wheelbarrow as I cross?”
You could hear a pin drop.
Faith is the roaring response of the crowd; trust is climbing into the wheelbarrow.
Shabbat and Shemita
There are two mitzvot often lumped together, commonly perceived as identical, when in reality they are not.
They are Shabbat and Shemita. The seventh day of the week is Shabbat, and the agricultural Sabbatical taken every seventh year is called Shemita.
About Shabbat it says3: “For six days work may be done, but the seventh day shall be Holy for you, a day of complete rest for Hashem .”
About Shemita it says4: “You may sow your field for six years, and for six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in its produce, but in the seventh year, the land should have a complete rest, a Shabbat to G‑d.”
Are they variations of the same theme? Not quite.
On Shabbat we honor G‑d as the Creator of the world; during Shemita we celebrate G‑d as its Master.
We rest on the seventh day of the week as a testament to the fact that G‑d brought (and continues to bring) our world into being, and we rest during the seventh year to acknowledge the fact that He directs all of its particulars.
Therefore, on Shabbat we refrain from all acts of creativity, as did G‑d in the very first week5.This emphasizes our belief that there is but one true Creator.
During Shemita, however, creating (per se) is permitted6. It is managing land that is not. That’s because the Sabbatical year comes to stress that there is but one Proprietor and Administrator7 of our world8.
In the words of Rashi ,9 “G‑d says, I have not excluded these [the produce that grows on its own] from your use or food, rather that you should not act as their proprietor…”
Shabbat upholds the account of creation, whereas Shemita is an affirmation of Divine Providence. That could mean that, hypothetically, a Deist might keep Shabbat, but not Shemita.
To return to our cheese—Shabbat helps us focus on who creates it; Shemita helps us identify who moves it.
What’s in It for Me?
It’s interesting to note that the Hebrew word for security is bitachon,or trust. Belief in G‑d may bring one to feelings of religiosity, trusting in Him brings on feelings of security.
It’s equally telling that stamped onto the US dollar bill, a symbol of sustenance, security and prosperity to many, are the words, “In G‑d We Trust.”
We would do well to carry its message in our hearts, not just our pockets.
Based on Letter of the Rebbe , 6th of Tishrei 5733, as well as Likutei Sichos vol. 26.