Once the Baal Shem Tov and his chassidim arrived at a faraway inn. The innkeeper was delighted to have them and prepared a feast in their honor. Just as they were seated, three loud raps were sounded on the door. The innkeeper did not bother to answer and continued attending to his guests.

The Baal Shem Tov asked him why he did not answer. The innkeeper explained that the three raps were a sign from his landlord that the day had come for him to pay the rent.

“So, go and pay it,” the Baal Shem Tov suggested. “We don’t mind waiting.”

“I don’t have to go until he raps like that three times.”

“But why not finish with the matter?”

“I must pay him 300 rubles, and I don’t yet have the money. However, I’m sure G‑d will provide,” the innkeeper answered, continuing in absolute serenity. His calmness amazed the Baal Shem Tov’s disciples.

They continued, sharing words of Torah interspersed with song. Some time later, the landlord’s agent rapped on the door again, but the innkeeper went about his business without paying attention. Still later, when he knocked a third time, the innkeeper put on his overcoat and took leave of his guests.

“Do you have the money yet?” the Baal Shem Tov asked.

“No,” replied the innkeeper.

“So how will you pay the debt?”

“G‑d will provide,” he said, and left.

The Baal Shem’s disciples watched from the window as their host walked alone down the road leading from his home. From the distance they saw a wagon coming towards him. Two men came out and spoke to him. After a brief exchange the innkeeper turned away and continued walking ahead. The men then turned their wagon around, caught up to the innkeeper and paid him some money. They shook hands and the innkeeper proceeded on his way.

The Baal Shem Tov instructed two of his disciples to find out what had happened. The gentiles in the wagon explained: “We are contractors, and we wanted to buy a sizable amount of liquor. The innkeeper was prepared to provide us with it, but asked to be paid in advance. We agreed, but quibbled about the price, for he said he would accept no less than 300 rubles. When he saw that we were not prepared to give him the full price, he left us, so we drove away. We changed our minds soon enough, and turned back to pay him what he had asked for, because we know he’s trustworthy. He couldn’t speak long, because he was hurrying to pay his rent.”

The Baal Shem Tov explained: “The innkeeper’s simple faith and trust brought him blessing. Because he trusted in G‑d completely, G‑d rewarded his faith.”

At the Core of Our Bond with G‑d

The Baal Shem Tov’s approach to bitachon, trust in G‑d, highlights the nature of our relationship with G‑d and the core principles of our faith in Him. The Baal Shem Tov taught that “G‑d loves every Jew like a father loves a son born to him in his old age.”1 Indeed, His love for us surpasses a father’s love. It is only that we, limited mortals that we are, have no better terms to describe His Love.

Now, G‑d is the ultimate of goodness, and “it is the nature of One Who is good to perform acts of goodness.”2 He thus desires to provide every member of His people with ongoing and consummate goodness.

Is there anything that can prevent Him from doing so? He controls every element of life with precise Divine Providence. Even the rustling of a leaf in the wind comes about through His will and desire.3 Nor are the laws of nature an obstacle for Him. When necessary, to borrow a phrase from our Sages,4 “He Who said that oil should burn can say that vinegar will burn.” He can bend nature at will, compelling it to supply what is best for the Jewish people as a whole and for every individual Jew. Seen in that light, our trust in Him is an outgrowth of the strength of our Jewish identity and the degree with which our faith has been integrated into our personalities.

An Unfailing Resource

Over the generations, the Rebbeim who succeeded the Baal Shem Tov developed his understanding of the concept of trust and made it part of the heritage of Chassidism. So, too, in our generation, the Rebbe radiated unshakable faith and trust to the Jewish people as a whole and to individuals in their thousands, lending encouragement to all those who turned to him. To a woman suffering complications in pregnancy, he wrote:5

G‑d created the world and it is He Who conducts it, both… where we are situated, and ... where you are situated…. Nothing takes place in the world without Him, and everything that He desires takes place. However, G‑d wants us to make a medium in nature; He wants things to happen in a natural way.

When a Jew or Jewess doesn’t feel well and a doctor has to be called, this does not mean that the doctor is going to do whatever he feels like doing. What is really happening is that G‑d has chosen this doctor to be His emissary and to carry out His mission.

When a person has bitachon, trusting without any doubt that G‑d conducts the world, he is then granted the privilege of seeing this with his fleshly eyes, too, at every single step; he sees how G‑d takes each of us by the hand and leads us in the way that is best for us, both materially and spiritually.

To a person challenged in earning his livelihood, he wrote:6

One ought to know, once and for all, that faith is not something that is meant to remain only in one’s thoughts; it must permeate the whole of one’s life.

You are, without any doubt, a believer. So, the very first point of belief is that G‑d directs the world. And if He is capable of directing one-and-a-half billion people, then your own affairs will certainly see the fulfillment of the verse,7 “I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and deliver you.”

Now, think this over. G‑d promises, “I will sustain and deliver you.” So think: Can a gentile from this or that land disturb G‑d from fulfilling His promise (G‑d forbid)? Having thought that, now consider: Is G‑d really in need of your worry as to how He is going to run your affairs and solve your problems? Or will He succeed in finding good solutions even without your worrying?

To a man under stress because of health issues, he wrote:8

The stronger your trust in G‑d, and the fewer your doubts in that trust, and the more you devote yourself to fulfilling your above-stated mission in this world of observing the Torah and its mitzvos and also of influencing others to do likewise, the more long years will you be granted. This is to be understood literally, without resorting to any inventive interpretations.

And to a woman struggling to develop marital harmony, he wrote:9

Every Jew, man or woman, should constantly keep in mind that G‑d, Who conducts the world at large, no doubt also conducts the microcosm of each of us. And just as He has a say in the big world, He certainly has a say likewise in our little personal world. One should depend on Him, trusting that He no doubt leads things in a good direction. Moreover, one should not interfere with this by one’s uncertain trust in Him.

The same measure of unwavering trust was extended to the Jewish people as a whole. To cite two conspicuous examples: In 5727 (1967), before the Six Day War, the entire world cowered in existential fear for Israel’s future. The Rebbe, by contrast, both publicly and privately stated that this was a period of unique Divine favor for the Jewish people and promised that they would soon be rewarded by wondrous miracles. When American students in Israel were streaming to the airport by the thousands, the Rebbe told his followers to stay in the Holy Land, assuring them that they did not face any danger.

And in 5751 (1990-1991), as the entire world was stricken with panic and consternation10 over the movement of Saddam Hussein’s troops into Kuwait, the Rebbe reassured people time and again that Eretz Yisrael is “the safest place in the world” and that there was no basis for fear or worry. In the Jewish community — and far beyond it — ordinary people, religious leaders, and opinion-makers all turned to the Rebbe as a source of serene optimism and determined purpose.

However, the Rebbe did not merely offer words of comfort and encouragement. He provided the intellectual underpinnings for this unwavering trust. In doing so, he taught us how to face those G‑d-given challenges that our fleshly eyes cannot appreciate as good.

Never Despair

Even when confronted with an unfavorable situation, we should therefore be ultimately serene. As countless examples in our Torah heritage teach, even when all outward signs indicate that a situation is negative, it can be transformed into good.11 For example, the Talmud relates12 that our Sages once chose Nachum Ish Gamzu to represent them on a critical mission to Rome — to persuade the emperor to nullify an ominous decree. To improve his chances, they sent with him a chest heavily laden with gold and jewels. In the dead of night, unbeknown to him, the innkeepers exchanged the jewels for dust. When Nachum discovered this, he said, Gam zu letovah — “This, too, is for the good,” and continued to Rome. There he gained an audience with the emperor and presented him with the request of the Jewish people and their gift.

When the emperor opened the chest expectantly and discovered dust, he was enraged and ordered the Rabbi to be thrown into the dungeon. One of the king’s advisors — actually, the Talmud teaches us, he was not really an advisor, but Elijah the Prophet in disguise — spoke up on the Rabbi’s behalf.

“Do you think the Jews have lost their senses?” he asked the emperor. “They are coming to appease you and ask a favor. Why would they want to mock you? The Rabbi knows that he could be killed for bringing you dust.

“So this cannot be ordinary dust! It must be something special. The Jews have a tradition that their forefather Abraham used a unique kind of dust to defeat his enemies. He fought against four strong kings. How was he able to vanquish them? He took this dust and threw it into the air, and the dust miraculously turned into spears and arrows! Perhaps this is the same special dust?”

The emperor was willing to experiment. The Romans were waging a war at that time. They took the dust out to the battlefront and the same miracle took place. They threw the dust in the air, and it clattered to the ground as spears and arrows. The enemy, stunned and dismayed, was soon vanquished.

Needless to say, the emperor was very pleased with this news. He had Nachum Ish Gamzu taken out of the dungeon and thanked him for the wonderful gift that he had brought. He nullified the decree against the Jews, filled the chest that the Rabbi had brought with precious gems, and gave it to him as a gift.

Similarly, our Sages relate13 that R. Akiva would always say: Kol mah de’avid Rachmana, letav avid — “Whatever G‑d does is for the good.” And they detail a series of seemingly negative occurrences that ultimately proved to be for the good.

Both R. Akiva and Nachum Ish Gamzu firmly believed that G‑d controlled every element of existence and everything that happened was positive in nature. Even when confronted with adversity, they soon saw that their belief was well founded. Even the unfavorable circumstances in which they found themselves led to a positive outcome.

Not always, however, can we be promised such a favorable resolution of difficulties. Nevertheless, even if a person is confronted by suffering, his mind should be entirely at ease and he should accept it with joy,12 believing with perfect faith that since it comes from G‑d, it too is utterly good.14

Good in Disguise

How can something outwardly bad be called good? We cannot fathom G‑d’s wisdom. If Moshe, our Teacher, was stymied by the perennial question, Why do bad things happen to good people?15 — then surely ordinary people will not have ready answers. But even when we cannot resolve the issue intellectually, from the standpoint of faith we can rest assured that, as stated above, since G‑d is the ultimate of goodness, what He does is good. To give one example, punishment for one’s sins is, in truth, kindness. Just as when a father washes away the filth of his young son,16 the son may initially not find this pleasant, ultimately he realizes that this is for his own good. Therefore, regardless of his circumstances, a person should be totally at ease. If the outcome is positive, he will be thankful for G‑d’s kindness. And if it does not work out to be outwardly good, he will understand that it is from a higher good,17 one that cannot be perceived by our eyes, but is good nonentheless — for it comes from our loving Father.14

The Distinction Between Faith and Trust

True as all the above is, this approach cannot be called bitachon, trust. Emunah, faith, includes the belief that G‑d is benevolent and that whatever He does is somehow, philosophically, for one’s good. A person with bitachon makes a further commitment, investing himself in a dynamic relationship with G‑d, trusting that the situation will ultimately be good in actual fact. Even when he sees no natural way in which his difficulties can change for the good, he casts his burden upon G‑d and anticipates the kind of positive outcome that is readily recognizable as good.

Moreover, this trust is not the province of a select spiritual elite, but is rather relevant to everyone, regardless of his spiritual standing. Indeed, as evidenced by the story of the Baal Shem Tov related above, there are times when simple and artless Jews are more capable of experiencing this trust than scholars.

Having bitachon thus means that any person, even if he is not unusually worthy, can and should rely on G‑d, calmly trusting that He will help him out of his difficulties, no matter how formidable they appear.14

Thinking Positively

The above appears problematic. After all, reward and punishment are fundamental principles of the Torah, and Divine gifts are bestowed upon a person in a manner that is commensurate with his conduct. How then can a person who does not have special merits18 trust that G‑d will save him from misfortune?19 Seemingly, this runs contrary to basic premises of our faith.

In resolution: A person is not being granted good because he is deserving. It is not that he possesses a particular merit that has tipped the scales of reward and punishment. Instead, by tranquilly relying on G‑d, he has stepped beyond the entire framework of reward and punishment. When a person focuses his trust on G‑d alone, attaching himself to Him from the depths of his heart, G‑d’s Providence is aroused — not because he is worthy, but because he is bonded with G‑d at a level that is superrational.

This is the implication of the adage coined by the Tzemach Tzedek and repeated by the subsequent Rebbeim: Tracht gut, vet zain gut (“Think positively, and the outcome will be positive”). Thinking positively, having bitachon in G‑d, will in itself give rise to results that are visibly and manifestly good.20

This approach is a fountain of confidence. When a person finds himself in a distressing situation and does not see any possibility of being saved by natural means, he does not wonder in despair,21 “From where will my help come?” Rather, by virtue of his bitachon, he trusts with certainty that G‑d, Who is the Master of nature and can alter any situation as He desires, will assuredly help him.22

Ongoing Acknowledgment

The principles of faith and trust are relevant not only in a crisis. Instead, a person should live his everyday life with faith in the Living G‑d, carrying out the directives of the Torah of Life. Moreover, this ought to be done — as is characteristic of life — happily and energetically.

All the varying events and circumstances that affect him do not change the fundamental gift that G‑d has granted him: life. Therefore, at every moment and in every situation, he should serve G‑d with a glad heart, accepting everything joyfully. This applies even when, at the very same time, he is asking G‑d that his present and future situation should change and become plainly recognizable as good.23

Inviting G‑d into Our Day-to-Day Lives

Faith and trust enable a person to chart his life as a partnership with G‑d, associating Him with his efforts to earn a living and raise his family, in the spirit of the verse,24 “And G‑d your L‑rd will bless you in everything that you do.” On this verse, Sifri comments: “Lest a person think that he should sit idle, the verse comes to teach us that G‑d’s blessing is bestowed ‘in everything that you do.’ Implied is that the Torah instructs one to create a natural medium for one’s livelihood, and that “one should not rely on a miracle.”25

Why, however, does he employ those mediums? Because he was commanded to do so. He does not consider the medium as being important in its own right, but instead employs it only in response to G‑d’s command,26 as no more than a tool through which G‑d works.27 Thus while working and taking initiative, the person realizes that nothing he accomplishes is the result of “[his] strength and the power of [his] hand,” but that it is G‑d “Who gives [him] the power to prosper.”28

This approach is intimated by our Sages’ comment29 that a Jewish farmer “believes in Him Who is the Life of all the worlds — and sows.” True enough, the fact that germina­tion follows sowing is a natural phenomenon. Nevertheless, a Jewish farmer does not sow because of this natural process, but because “he believes in Him Who is the Life of all the worlds.” This applies not only to agriculture, but to all means of earning a livelihood.30

Walking the Tightrope

Saying that the natural order is not significant in its own right does not mean it should be disregarded. G‑d created the world in which we live and its structures are significant to Him.31 Therefore a person must choose realistic goals both in his own Divine service, and in his efforts to disseminate the Torah and its mitzvos to others. If an obstacle arises, he should not feel constrained, but should trust that G‑d will enable him to overcome it. Nevertheless, both the goals, and the manner in which he overcomes his challenges, must conform to the principle that G‑d “formed [the world] for the sake of stability.” In that way, his mission will lead to tikkun olam, “correcting the world.”32

A Classic Lesson: the Manna

As the Jews emerged as a nation, G‑d desired to train them to develop faith and trust. Hence for forty years, He caused manna — “bread from heaven”33 — to descend daily, clearly demonstrating to every person that there is no need to worry about providing for himself. “Each day’s portion [descended] on its day,”33 teaching that “He Who created the day also created the sustenance for it.”34

This awareness prepared the Jewish people to make the transition to the norm of “bread from the earth” after entering Eretz Yisrael.35 As they faced the challenge of earning their livelihoods through natural means, they were able to maintain the awareness that “it is He Who gives you the power to prosper.”36

This is not merely a story of the past. The Rebbe Maharash would say37 that even at present, in the era of exile, our livelihood descends as the manna did, as “bread from heaven.” “Bread from the earth” is, in truth, only a conduit for the ultimate source of sustenance, “the bread from heaven.”32

Raising Our Hands Heavenward

There is a lofty level of prayer at which, in the words of the Zohar,38 there are “people who yearn and wait every single day to ask the Holy One, blessed be He, for their provisions.” Their prayer voices their awareness that everything comes only as an act of G‑d’s lovingkindness.22

At a more common level, in addition to trusting that G‑d will certainly grant good that is recognizably and manifestly good, we must also request it, as Rambam writes: “There is a positive commandment to pray...; one must request and plead for the fulfillment of his needs....”39 For our prayers serve as catalysts to draw G‑d’s blessings from a state of potential into tangible reality.11

Thus, in a classic prayer,40 David HaMelech pleads: “I have called You, so that You should answer me!”

What rationale underlies this plea?

To explain, the Midrash41 tells of a king who placed a chest of precious gems atop a slippery marble column that stood within arm’s reach of his upstairs palace window, and promised the hand of his daughter in marriage to the first young man to reach it. One after another, the aspiring grooms climbed — and failed. Finally, one determined young man reached within inches of the chest. Looking up, he saw that the king himself was at the window, eagerly watching his endeavors.

He cried out: “Your Majesty! Just give me a hand and I’ll reach the top!”

The king asked: “But why only you?”

The young man replied: “Because I called you!”

For All Humanity

The fundamental concepts explained above — to accept everything G‑d grants with happiness, to trust that He will provide visible and overt good, and to pray for it — stem from our fundamental faith in G‑d. They apply not only to the Jewish people, but to all humanity.

The concept that there is a Creator who oversees the entire world and cares for all its inhabitants was made known to all mankind by our Patriarch Avraham. Later, at the Giving of the Torah, G‑d charged the Jewish people as a whole to continue this path of conduct, influencing “all the inhabitants of the world to accept the commandments given to Noach’s descendants.”42 First among those command­ments is faith in G‑d, and this includes bitachon — trusting that G‑d will relate to His created beings benevolently.

Spreading an awareness of these concepts is part of a greater goal — “to perfect the world under the sovereignty of the Al-mighty.”43 By perceiving G‑d in all of our varied pursuits, we draw closer to the age when “the world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the ocean bed.”44

Looking to the Horizon

In this endeavor, too, bitachon is significant. Just as concerning our people’s first redemption the Sages teach that45 “by virtue of their trust the people of Israel were redeemed from Egypt,” so, too, with regard to the Redemption from this last exile, the Midrash states:46 “They are deserving of redemption in reward for their hope [alone]!” So may this indeed be fulfilled for us — that by virtue of the Jewish people’s trust in the promise that “My deliverance is soon to come,”47 we will be privileged to witness, speedily and in our own days, the true and ultimate Redemption.27

Sichos In English

The Fifth Chanukah Light
5771 (2010)

Acknowledgments

People from all walks of life, confronted by significant challenges, turned instinctively to the Rebbe, and were heartened by the encouraging guidance that he offered. A sampling of this guidance was translated some five years ago in the letters and talks that appeared under the title In Good Hands.48 However, whereas most of the talks in that anthology were either excerpts or adaptations, the present volume presents virtually the full text of six of the classic expositions of the Rebbe on bitachon.49 This volume also includes two additional items: an essay entitled “An Obstacle — or a Springboard?” which brings together many of the Rebbe’s teachings on bitachon that figured in a variety of sichos, and a letter written in 5707 (1946), which appears here under the title, “Doing G‑d’s Work.”

The texts were translated by Uri Kaploun and Rabbi Eliyahu Touger; Rabbi Aharon Leib Raskin researched the sources; Yosef Yitzchok Turner gave the book its esthetic appearance; and Rabbi Yonah Avtzon, Director of Sichos In English, oversaw the compilation from its inception.

This project was sponsored by Yaakov and Karen Cohen in memory of three young shluchim Levi Deitsch, Mendel Deren, and Esther Aidel (Rubin) Cohen — who were recently taken from this world in the midst of their life-work.

Sichos In English