By Motty Shochet
MyLife Essay Contest 2017
This article will present a fundamental concept in Chassidus that is relevant for all challenges, but in particular it is applied when dealing with fears, worries and anxieties.
The concept of ‘trust’ is discussed in pre-Chassidic works. This article will focus on the definitions and novelties as it is taught in the teachings of the Chabad Rebbe’s. Likewise, it also serves to express the Chassidic perspective and approach for real life.
Thus the intent of the article is to provide:
a. A clear definition of the concept, as it is defined in Chassidus.
b. The Chassidic approach towards bitachon
c. Address questions which tend to challenge a person ability to apply this concept.
d. To offer practical suggestions to attain ‘bitachon’ in an authentic way.1
> I am worried that it won’t work out.
> I am worried I will not succeed, rather I will fail.
> The problems are great and anxiety is overwhelming.
> I know no inner peace; my constant nerves make me frail.
‘Bitachon’, which means to trust in G-d. One should trust G-d, trust that He will answer your prayers and will resolve the problem.
The Source and Obligation
The concept of ‘trust’ is discussed in early sources. The earliest explicit source can be found in Tehilim 2, and mentions in earlier scriptures.
A number of middle age Jewish philosophers have written on the topic, about its importance, elaborating its meaning and offering ways to achieve ‘trust’. Most famous is the 14th century work, Chovas Hal’vovos, Sha’ar Habitachon.3
The concept of ‘bitachon’ is an important subject in the teachings of Chassidus, discussing it from a number of angles, mystical and practical.4
The Lubavitcher Rebbe spoke about ‘trust’ countless times, in public talks and in personal conversation and correspondences to individuals.5 The stress and highlight of ‘trust’ is noticeable upon immediate read on the above correspondences. Sentences like “I am surprised to hear when surely G-d…”, are just some of the common expressions in the Rebbe’s teachings.
A common method of definition can be used by way of contrast and disassociation of other concepts:
Firstly, there is a distinction to be made between ‘hope’ and ‘trust’. Hope is a sense and feeling that good may happen. Hope is not a state of conviction, and one who has hope doesn’t claim with certainty that it will be good. Hope stems from a desire and longing for there to be good, and ‘I hope G-d will deliver salvation’ is a yearning that says that maybe things will be good. As a result, one who has hope is eager and grabs any opportunity and practical means that presents itself as a potential rescue.6
Trust, on the other hand, is a state of conviction. One who truly trusts that G-d will deliver salvation is one who lives and speaks with certainty that it will work out and it will truly be good. One who ‘trusts’ is free of any worries because one feels assured of positive results, just like when one entrusts a friend that he or she trusts with an important task, one is confident that the task will be done because one trusts the friend.
Thus one who trusts is at peace. A lack of peace and any feelings of unease is a sign of doubts and uncertainty, which means that one has an incomplete trust, which is a contradiction in terms. Trust, conviction and peace are contingent upon each other, to have trust is to have conviction that it will be good, and one who is convinced that it will be good is at peace.
Secondly, there is an important distinction to be made between trust and faith. A common misconception of trusts is to equate trust with faith, and perceive the two concepts as synonyms. Thus, some will describe their trust in terms such as “I believe in G-d”, which is often intended to be a shorter version of saying “I believe G-d can save me”.
A man of faith believes in the existence of G-d, in His involvement in everything that happens in the world in general and in his life in particular and in His absolute and unlimited power, ability and control (‘kol yochol’) to do anything including bring about salvation. But this is a belief in principles and doctrines, and to apply this in the context of facing a challenge, one would believe that G-d can save you, not that G-d will save you.
Faith and belief is a prerequisite to trust, upon which trust can be built but it is not trust itself. One who trusts believes that G-d will save him.7
There is of course a general correlation between faith/belief and trust, and strong faith/belief facilitates for a person to develop trust. There are two components in specific in the nature of faith and trust, similar in the general sense, of which one enables the other to be built upon.8
- G-d’s unlimited ability (‘kol yochol’). Just as one who truly believes in the principle of G-d’s unlimited ability automatically believes that G-s is not restricted or confined by nature or any sort of restriction, similarly, one who trusts that G-d will deliver salvation trusts that this will happen even when this defies the rules of nature. In the words of our sages “even if sword is already on the neck one trusts that one can be saved”.
- G-d’s involvements in the world. Just as one believes that G-d sees, decides and is in control about everything that happens in the world, likewise one who trusts focuses his attention entirely on G-d, to the exclusion of all natural possibilities of salvation.9 Ultimately, G-d is the one running the world and as he is the one in control. By way of analogy, one who is prison knows that the keys to the prison are in the hands of his master, thus his freedom lies in the hands of the master.
To summarize and merge these two components together, one trusts that one’s salvation is in the hands of G-d, who is beyond any of the rules of nature.
Questions about Trust
Why does one trust that G-d will save him? One of the “thirteen principles of faith” is the belief in ‘reward and punishment’; surely anyone that makes an honest introspection may be right to be skeptical if one will receive ‘reward’? Who can say in no uncertain terms that he or she deserves a blessing? Surely a feeling of entitlement to revealed goodness is arrogant? Since one has not received a personal promise or blessing then what is the reason to be so sure that one will be saved?
The explanation is that ‘Trust’ in itself begets blessings. It is only understandable for the human being to worry. Fear is part of survival instincts and when positive results do not look promising then one will naturally worry. To tell oneself “that G-d can and will bring salvation” and mean it is not an easy task. And because it is not easy that it brings the reward and blessing. When one has internalized this trust than one is in turn rewarded with the blessing.
This is the meaning of the Chassidic adage “think good and it will be good”10; it is the very positive thinking itself that earns and results in blessings.
To explain this a little deeper: An important principle in G-d’s relationship with the world and the individual is one of “measure for measure” and the amount of effort invested is the measuring stick for the reward.
Placing trust in G-d means that one is ignoring the circumstance and reality as it appears. One is defying the odds as it were, and instead taking a leap of trust, choosing to focus ones attention towards G-d’s, thinking to oneself that G-d will take care. This in turn effects the same from G-d, that He too ‘ignores’ the spiritual state that a person is in, regardless of whether salvation is deserving or not. Defying the physical rules from below evokes the defying of the ‘spiritual rules’ from above.
To summarize, letting go of (trying to) control and letting the creator of the world and of the given situation to take care of the situation, deviating attention from all doubts and focusing the attention entirely on positive results, releasing oneself of all concerns and worries and trusting G-d to take care of oneself, is what begets the salvation. Indeed, the measure for the effort invested is the measure of the blessing.
Is it practical for someone who has not advanced in education in Torah to attain trust? Is it realistic for a person who believes that his or her level of relationship with G-d is in need of much improving?
Religious education and practice is irrelevant, wherever one is up to in life trust is attainable 11, albeit one is committed. As stated, trust requires effort it entails devotion and diligence. One cannot receive it from someone else, nor can it be internalized through inspiration or acquired by reading a single essay about it.
It is worth noting that Torah study in the works of pre-chassidic such as Chovas Hal’vovas and Chasidic works that elaborate on the subject of trust majorly assist one in the journey.12
Another important point to be mindful of is that there are many levels of trust.13 The difference of levels may often change with a person’s growth and what was considered to having certainty and trust at one point in life may be considered uncertain at a later point.14 With growth to a higher level of reality comes a higher expectation for trust, and one must vigorously strive to move forward and higher, one step at a time.15
Prayer and Trust
If one is in a state of peace and confidence that it will all work out, then what need is there to pray for help? Prayer seems to denote that one is uncertain as to how things may turn out, which is why one is beseeching G-d?
The same could be asked about any good deed which one does for the sake of a merit. What merits does one need when confident that G-d is going to help?
The truth of the matter is that not only are the two not mutually exclusive, but to the contrary, they work hand in hand. One prays because G-d desires the heart of man.16 One trusts that G-d hears the prayers. Similarly, with a good deed, a kind act and a mitzvah brings blessings, and one trusts that the blessing will then come.
It was stated earlier that one who trusts is at peace. Peace and the lack thereof is an indicator to one’s trust. The ultimate sign of trust though is joy, and it could be said that is in fact an even higher level of trust.
Imagine if one would see the blessing arriving, certainly one would be excited and joyous, the blessing is on its way, it is only a matter of time. Ultimate trust in G-d is such a strong feeling of assurance that the blessing is about to arrive and it is only a matter of time.
It is worth noting that this is something unique to ‘trust’ that other psychological methods cannot offer. When dealing with the prevalent and major issue of anxiety today, the discoveries of psychology have offered great methods and techniques to avail oneself from worries, fears and anxieties.
A cognitive module to develop an objective and realistic perception of the situation can reduce the cause of the fear. A behavioral module may teach one to become stronger to overcome the nerves. Relaxation and ‘Mindfulness’ might release the anxiety. But ultimately these methods are designed only to alleviate fear but they do not necessarily offer a person a reason to celebrate. There may be no reason to be afraid, but there is no reason to be joyous either.
True Bitachon, on the other hand, not only offers peace of mind, but it also lifts the spirits, inviting positive energy, anticipation and excitement for real goodness to come.
Sources and Footnotes
1 It is in the opinion of the writer that a clear and precise definition of the concept is not only a prerequisite in attaining ‘trust’, but it is also something in of itself that contributes and assists in attaining ‘trust’.
2 Se Psalms 27:1, 32:10, 33:18, 112:7, 118:8, 146:3. See commentaries on the verse “G-d is my light and my savior, from whom shall I fear?!” (Psalm 27, ibid). And numerous times in the Talmud, see tractate B’rochos 60a.
3 See Sharei T’shuvah l’Rabeinu Yonah (3:32) Kad Hakemach, erech bitachon, Safer Haikarim 4:4649, Reishis Chochmo Sha’ar Ha’ahavah ch.12, Nesivas Olam (Maharal from Prague) nesiv Habitachon. See also Igros Kodesh Tzemach Tzedek v.1 p.322 and onwards.
4 See, for example, Likutei Torah d’rushim l’shmini atzeres 90d (p.180) and 91a.
5 For a collection of the Rebbe’s talks and letters on the subject, see “In Good Hands” translated by Rabbi Uri Kaploun (Brooklyn, NY. Sichos in English. 2005), Sha’arei Simcha Ubitachon (Heichal Menachem)
6 See Igros Kodesh Admur Harayatz v.6 p. Appended as a footnote to Likutei Sichos v.3 p.883 footnote 85. The description of ‘hope’ in the letter is brief and the above is an interpretation of the writer. See also Likutei Sichos ibid, safer Haikarim 4:47 “tikvas hachesed”.
7.Likutei Sichos v.36 p. See also Likutei Sichos v.26 p.
8 Based on Likutei Sichos ibid.
9 Trust and Nature: Nevertheless, it is incumbent upon a person to seek out and make use of all natural tools available. One who doesn’t is irresponsible. G-d created nature and it is considered “precious in G-d’s eyes”. (See D’roshos Haran D’rush Shemini, Likutei Sichos v.30 p. However, with trust, the perception of the nature is very different then it is without it. The approach to nature is that one sees it as secondary and insignificant. G-d will grant salvation, nature is merely a ‘byproduct’ of this salvation. In fact, since salvation comes from G-d and one trust that G-d will deliver salvation then one would never even go about using natural tools if not for the fact that G-d instructed to use nature. (Likutei Sichos v.15 p. )
The reason why G-d wants nature is for a reason known only unto Him, and transcends human intellect, and with faith, one accepts G-d’s instruction as it is. But nature is to be seen as G-d’s instruction and not something that hold any intrinsic value. (Derech Mitzvosecho, M. Taglachas Hametzora p.). See also footnote 12.
10 Originally, this was a response from the Tzemach Tzedeck (Rabbi M.M. Schnnerson, 3rd Chabad Rebbe) to an individual who requested a blessing for a relative who was critically ill. Upon receiving this response the Chosid questioned “Rebbe, what assistance can my thoughts provide, your thoughts [the thoughts of the righteous] can assist?” the Tz”Tz answered “true, but one must know that there are thoughts and there are thoughts, and [your] thoughts does help”, see igros Kodesh Admur Harayatz v.2 p.537.
11 As explained earlier, even if one is not deserving of reward one can and should trust that reward will come.
12 The Rebbe encouraged many people to study Chovas Halavovas as a means to develop and grow in ones trust, see sources footnote 2.
13 See Likutei Sichos v.26 p.97, v.16 p.173.
14 See Tanya ch.29 regarding teshuvah.
15 See Likutei Sichos ibid 24 p. how trust is not a contradiction to the precept “do not rely upon miracles” (Shabbos ), because a ‘miracle’ is relative term and given the level of reality one has reached it is not considered a miracle, rather it is nature for that reality.
16 Toras Menachem 5745 v.5 p. The Rebbe Maharash (Rabbi Shmuel Schneerson, 5th Chabad Rebbe, 1883) once commented that it is surprising that Jewish people are struggling financially when they are deserving blessing, and he resolved that “this is only because of the lack of trust which serves as a ‘funnel’ for the blessings”