[Our Torah reading relates:]1

And Moshe matured and he went out to his brethren.... He saw an Egyptian man beating [an Israelite]... and he smote the Egyptian.... And he went out on the next day... and he told the wicked man: “Why do you strike?...”

And [that person] replied: “Will you kill me?...”

Moshe became frightened and said: “Certainly, the matter has become known....” And Pharaoh heard... and he sought to kill Moshe. And Moshe fled....

On the phrase:2 “And Moshe became frightened,” Rashi comments:

[The verse should be understood] according to its simple meaning. [Alternatively,] according to the Midrash,3 he was worried because he saw wicked gossipers among the Jewish people. He thought: “Now, maybe they will not be fit to be redeemed.”

It is worthy to consider: Why does the simple meaning (that Moshe was concerned about his life because it had become public knowledge that he killed the Egyptian) not suffice?4 [Why must] Rashi also cite the interpretation of the Midrash5 “he was worried... now, maybe they will not be fit to be redeemed” — which is not at all alluded to in the verse.6

It is possible to offer a simple explanation of the above: Rashi’s intent was to resolve a general question raised by the verse: “And Moshe became frightened and said: ‘Certainly, the matter has become known.’” Why was this particular mentioned?7 Moshe’s fear did not motivate him to act. For Moshe did not flee to Midian until after Pharaoh heard about the matter and sought to kill him.8

To resolve this question, Rashi cites the interpretation of the Midrash which explains that Moshe’s fear came as a result of his concern that the Jewish people were not worthy of being redeemed.9


The Torah’s words should never be interpreted in a manner that departs from their simple meaning. (In particular, this applies in the present instance, where Rashi does not suffice himself with the inter­pretation of the Midrash, and indeed, mentions the simple meaning before the interpretation of the Midrash.) Therefore, we are forced to say that even according to the simple meaning of the phrase “And Moshe became frightened” — that he feared for his life because it had become known that he killed the Egyptian — there is an explanation and a rationale (at least according to the approach of Derush)why the Torah mentions this matter.

[To understand the above,] it is beneficial to first [cite] the comments of the Midrash10 on the verse:11 “And Yaakov became very frightened and he was distressed”:

Rabbi Pinchas said in the name of Rabbi Reuven: Two people received promises from the Holy One, blessed be He, the chosen one of the Patriarchs and the chosen one of the Prophets, and, nonetheless, they became frightened.

“The chosen one of the Patriarchs” — this is Yaakov.... The Holy One, blessed be He, told him:12 “Behold, I will be with you,” and yet ultimately, “Yaakov became frightened.”

“The chosen one of the Prophets” — this is Moshe.... The Holy One, blessed be He, told him:13 “Behold, I will be with you,” and yet ultimately, Moshe became frightened. [This is intimated by the verse:]14 “And G‑d told Moshe: ‘Do not fear him (Og).’” “Do not fear him” is said only to a person who becomes afraid.

The commentaries on the Midrash differ with regard to the intent of this passage. There are commentaries15 who maintain that [the Midrash] is praising Yaakov and Moshe. Although they received promises from G‑d, they did not rely on the promise,16 fearing that perhaps they sinned17 and were thus unworthy of having the promise fulfilled.18

There are, however, other commentaries19 who explain that the intent of the Midrash is that “[we] should not learn from their example, for they should not have been afraid.” Instead, “[one’s] heart should be settled, trusting in G‑d.”20 {This intent is apparent from the continuation of the Midrash which states that the Prophet [Yeshayahu] would “criticize the Jewish people, telling them:21 ‘You have forgotten G‑d Who made you... and you are continually frightened throughout the day,’” i.e., the prophet rebukes the people for being afraid.}22

The opinion of the commentaries that [Yaakov and Moshe] should not have become frightened is worthy of exploration. What is lacking in the supposition that perhaps, because of their sins [they feared that they were unworthy of the fulfillment of G‑d’s promise]?

(To the contrary, it appears on the surface to be a very positive quality: One’s humility is so great23 that he is always concerned that his Divine service is not flawless and that he is sinful.24 )

This question focuses on the general nature of the attribute of bitachon, trust in G‑d, which we are commanded [to pursue].25 Bitachon is not merely the faith that G‑d has the potential to bestow good [upon a person] and save him from adversity. Instead, [it implies that] the person trusts that G‑d will actually do this. And his trust is so absolute that he is serene and does not worry at all. As Chovos HaLevavos states:26 “The essence of bitachon is the serenity of the person who trusts. His heart relies on the One Whom he trusts that He will do what is best and most befitting with regard to the matter he trusts in Him.”

Explanation is required: What is the foundation for this absolute certainty? Even when there is an explicit promise from G‑d, it is possible that the promise will not be fulfilled because “sin will have an effect.” Certainly, this applies when there is no such promise. [More­over,] the possibility that “sin will have an effect” is relevant to each of us (for “there is no righteous man in the world who will do good and not sin.”)27 If even Yaakov our Patriarch had this fear, certainly, it applies to others.28


On the surface, one might offer the following explanation: The concept of bitachon is based on the faith that everything comes from G‑d, blessed be He. Thus when a person is found in distress and difficulty, it is not because [the material factor] causing the distress has, Heaven forbid, [independent] control in any manner whatsoever. Instead, everything comes from Above.

Therefore the person is absolutely serene. Either way, [he has no reason to worry]. For if it is not appropriate that any evil be visited upon him, certainly G‑d will save him from it. {This is true even when there is no way, according to the natural order, that the person will be saved. For there is no one who can dictate to G‑d, and He has the potential to change the natural order.}29

And if the person is not worthy of G‑d’s kindness (but instead is worthy of receiving a punishment), he should still be utterly serene. For he knows that his difficulty is not a result of any [material] entity, but rather stems from G‑d alone. It has come about because he did not fulfill his responsibilities to his Creator; his [neglect of his obligations] brought about the difficulty. Therefore he fears G‑d alone. {Moreover, he realizes that the difficulty is for his own good. For the punishments ordained by the Torah are expressions of G‑d’s kindness, cleansing a person from the blemish of sin. Thus there is no place for worry or fear.}

Accordingly, there is no contradiction. A person may have absolute bitachon in G‑d even though he knows that sin may have an effect and he will not be saved from the difficulty. This does not disturb his serenity, for he knows that everything that happens to him comes from G‑d.

[According to this explanation, we can interpret] the approach of the commentaries to the Midrash who maintain that Yaakov and Moshe should not have become frightened [and that we should not learn from their conduct as follows]: As evident from the simple interpreta­tion of the relevant passages, they were afraid of [the person who brought about the distress]. Yaakov was afraid of Esav, as it is written: “And Yaakov became very frightened and he was distressed. [Hence,] he divided the people....”

Similarly, Moses was warned not to fear [Og]. The fact that he had such fear indicated that he was lacking in consummate bitachon in G‑d.


This explanation is, however, insufficient. For it is clearly apparent that the fundamental element of bitachon is not merely serenity and peace of mind [that comes from the knowledge that everything is ordained by the hand of G‑d]. Instead, [the desired intent is] that the person who has bitachon in G‑d will receive manifest and overt good,30 i.e., that G‑d will deliver him from his difficulties.

According to the above explanation, it appears that this simple meaning of bitachon is beyond the reach of the majority of the Jewish people. (For “there is no righteous man in the world who will do good and not sin” and who can justifiably declare that he is worthy of having G‑d’s kindness manifest upon him.) [It would appear that] the concept of bitachon is primarily [reflected in the conviction] that even when a person does not merit G‑d’s kindness, he has peace of mind because [he realizes that] everything comes from G‑d. (Moreover, everything is for his own good; it is just not [always] manifest and apparent good.)

{It is only perfectly righteous men, whose Divine service has reached consummate perfection and who therefore do not have to worry about sin having an effect,31 who can trust that they will receive manifest and apparent good.32 }

[Such an approach, however, contradicts the statements of] Chovos HaLevavos33 (in the explanation of “the reasons why bitachon is possible”) that “there is One Who can be trusted because of His ultimate gener­osity and kindness which is extended to a person who is worthy and also to one who is not worthy. His generosity will continue and His kindness will be extended without cessation or end.” [According to this view,] the concept of bitachon is based on the principle that G‑d will bestow kindness on a person who is not worthy as well.

Explanation is therefore required: [True,] G‑d’s mercies are extended also to persons who are not worthy. Nevertheless, isn’t it possible that a person will receive punishment for his undesirable acts?34 What is the [conceptual] foundation for a person’s trust that G‑d will act generously to him although he is not worthy?


The above questions can be resolved by first explaining an adage of the Tzemach Tzedek (quoted frequently by my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe)35 who gave this reply after someone begged him to plead for Divine mercies on behalf of a person who was dangerously ill:36 Tracht gut, vet zain gut (“Think positively, and the outcome will be good”). It is apparent from the Tzemach Tzedek’s words that thinking positively (having bitachon [in G‑d]) will bring about a good outcome (in revealed and manifest good).

It appears that the intent can be explained as follows: The obliga­tion of bitachon concerning which we were commanded is not merely a particular element (and a natural corollary) of the faith that everything is in G‑d’s hands and that G‑d is generous and merciful. For there is no need for a distinct obligation for such belief. Instead, the obligation of bitachon is a separate thrust in Divine service. Its definition is that a person will rely and depend on G‑d alone to the extent that he casts his lot entirely upon Him, as it is written:37 “Cast your burden upon G‑d,” i.e., the person has no other dependency in the world except upon G‑d.

It is possible to explain that this is the intent of Chovos HaLevavos which states38 that [a person’s] bitachon should resemble that “of a prisoner in a dungeon in his master’s domain.” The prisoner puts his trust only in his master, for “he is given over to his hand. No other person can cause him harm or help him.”

{For this reason, our faith in G‑d is such that our actual material situation is of no consequence. Even if according to the natural order it is impossible for a person to be saved, he relies on G‑d Who is not bound by nature at all, Heaven forbid.}

This itself is the foundation for a person’s trust that G‑d will bestow apparent and manifest good upon him, even if he is not worthy of this kindness.

For the definition of trust is not that because the kindness of G‑d is totally unlimited and can be extended to a person whether he is worthy or not, he will, therefore, receive G‑d’s kindness without any effort on his own part. (Were this to be true, the entire concept of reward and punishment would thus be nullified.) Instead, bitachon involves work and labor within one’s soul. And this effort and labor in developing bitachon in G‑d evokes G‑d’s kindness.

When a person truly trusts in G‑d alone from the depths of his soul, to the extent that he has no worry at all, his arousal [of trust] itself causes G‑d to conduct Himself with him in an appropriate manner, granting him kindness (even when, [on his own accord,] without taking this trust into account, he is not worthy of such kindness).39

This is the intent of the command40 to trust in G‑d: that a person should “cast his burden on G‑d,” [relying on Him] to grant him manifest and apparent good. Since he trusts G‑d alone (without making calculations as to whether or not it is possible for him to be saved [according to the natural order]), this causes a corresponding approach41 toward him in the spiritual realms. G‑d protects him and showers mercy upon him even when, were one to make a reckoning, he would not be worthy, and He enables him to appreciate manifest and apparent good.42

This is the intent of the adage of the Tzemach Tzedek [cited above] that [the person’s] bitachon itself will lead to positive results. This is not a supplementary element of our bitachon [in G‑d]. Quite the contrary, this is the definition of the bitachon that we are commanded to have.


Based on the above, it is possible to say that this is the intent of the verse in our passage that speaks about Moshe’s fear when he heard [his fellow] Jew say: “Will you kill me... like you killed the Egyptian?” The intent was to teach us this fundamental message with regard to the quality of bitachon: that bitachon itself will lead to and bring about G‑d’s salvation. The opposite is also true. When a person is not saved from distress, the reason is that his bitachon is lacking.43

This is the intent of the verse: “And Moshe became frightened and said: ‘Certainly the matter has become known.’” (And directly after that [it tells us]:) “Pharaoh heard... and he sought to kill Moshe. And Moshe fled....” The fact that Moshe feared for his life and did not trust G‑d44 that no harm would befall him because of his positive efforts [to save a Jewish man from the Egyptian who was beating him and to rebuke the two Jews who were quarreling] was itself the cause for “Pharaoh [to] hear of the matter and to seek to kill Moshe.” [Moshe’s lack of trust] caused him to have to flee [for his life].

{It is possible to explain that this is the intent of the wording of the verse: “And [he] said: ‘Certainly, the matter has become known.’” Not only did Moshe think these thoughts within his heart, he expressed them in speech.45 This increases the emphasis on his lack of bitachon. For in addition to having these suspicions in his mind, he spoke about them.}46

Were he to have had complete bitachon in G‑d, and not have worried at all about the situation in which he found himself (that “the matter had become known” and would be discovered by Pharaoh), that would have caused the matter to have been forgotten and for him to have realized apparent and manifest good.

This leads to a directive applicable to our actual conduct. When a person encounters obstacles and encumbrances in his observance of the Torah and its mitzvos, he should realize that the elimination of these obstacles is dependent upon him and his conduct. If he has absolute faith in G‑d, that G‑d will help him so that the situation will be good until he is utterly serene without any worry at all, [his bitachon will bear fruit]. (Needless to say, he must also do whatever he can in a natural way to remove these obstacles,47 [but it is his bitachon that will shift the flow of the paradigm].) [He will see the realization of] the promise: “Think positively and the outcome will be good.” This will become manifest. All of the obstacles and encumbrances will be eliminated and he will enjoy actual good that is apparent and manifest to all.

Just as with regard to the redemption from Egypt, it is said:48 “In the merit of [their] bitachon, the Jews were redeemed from Egypt,” so, too, with regard to the redemption from this last exile, the Midrash states:49 “They are worthy of redemption in reward for [their] hope (alone).” May we merit this, that in the reward for the bitachon of the Jewish people [in the promise] “My salvation will come soon,”50 they will merit that G‑d will redeem them in the true and ultimate Redemption. May this take place in the immediate future.

(Adapted from Sichos Shabbos Parshas Shmos, 5726,
and Sichos Shabbos Parshas Beshalach, 5723)