Groping for Direction

At glad and sunny times, it is as clear as daylight that “G‑d is my Shepherd; I’ll not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me by still waters.”1 He leads me by the hand, so to speak. But when confronted by long and gloomy hours, people sometimes feel alone; in this world, G‑d seems to be hiding His Face.2And “today, the further we proceed, the thicker is the darkness around us.”3

Thus it was that in the course of the years thousands of forlorn strugglers, groping in the dark for the Hand of the Divine Shepherd, poured out their hearts to the Rebbe,4 face to face or in writing, with the request that he help them find their bearings. Indeed, browsing through the Rebbe’s letters, a reader sometimes senses that he is listening in to a confidential yechidus — an encounter of souls — between a chassid who has been honest enough to bare his heart in the Rebbe’s study, and the Rebbe. The responses are candid, but compassionate. Above all, in this sampling of over seventy letters, the Rebbe empowers his correspondents with a rock-solid trust — even at such times they are in good hands.

Some of the letters are simplistic, others are erudite and philosophical, but all are beamed to their various recipients individually, “for their minds are all different from one another,”5 in our day as in days gone by. Indeed, Yehoshua was appointed the leader of his generation precisely because he was “a man in whom there is spirit”;6 in the words of Sifri, “He was able to meet the spirit of every individual.”7

Accordingly, in response to the identical question (“How can I cultivate the attribute of trust?”), one correspondent is advised to say and ponder over the words of the above-quoted psalm (“G‑d is my Shepherd; I’ll not want...”); another is urged to study the expositions of Shaar HaBitachon in Chovos HaLevavos; while yet another is encouraged in quite a different direction: “I hope, too, that you will participate in the farbrengens8 that take place [in Kfar Chabad] from time to time, which heal and strengthen and raise the spirits of those who are downfallen and of those whose hearts are bruised — downfallen and bruised in the battle of the [good and evil] inclinations, the battle of Form over Matter, and of spirituality over physicality.” In this way, the replies “meet the spirit of every individual,” especially since many of them are one-on-one responses to the private doubts and quandaries that correspondents around the world shared with the Rebbe.9

Thus, in the absence of physical yechidus, the letters remain an inexhaustible conduit of communication, instruction and inspiration.

Choosing the Letters

In the year 5747 (1987) a team of scholars headed by R. Sholom Ber Levin, Head Librarian of the Library of Agudas Chassidei Chabad, New York, undertook a mammoth challenge — the publication of an annotated selection from among the tens of thousands of letters written by the Rebbe over the years.10 The resultant long shelf of volumes, entitled Igros Kodesh,11 is the source from which the present volume made its chronological selection, from among hundreds of letters on the subject of bitachon.

The parent series, however, despite its impressive strides, still has a long road ahead. Accordingly, almost all the letters below date from the 1950s and 1960s, while the many thousands of letters that were written in the following two decades are virtually unrepresented.

This modest sampling of the Rebbe’s letters on bitachon should thus be viewed as a mere prism — to diffract a variety of colors from among the broad spectrum of approaches presented in the letters at large.

From Reverent Eloquence to Readability

In keeping with the literary conventions of Rabbinic circles, every mention of the name of the Rebbe Rayatz is embellished by reverential phrases; for example, “Our master, mentor, and Rebbe,” “May his merit protect us,” and “May the memory of the holy tzaddik be a blessing, for the life of the World to Come.” These phrases are so prolific that even in the Holy Tongue they are invariably abbreviated to clusters of acronyms. In the present translation, they have been further telescoped to “my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, of saintly memory,” or the like.

Likewise, every name mentioned is followed by the cordial blessing Sheyichyeh! (lit., “May he live!”). Since this impedes the ready flow of any English sentence, it is omitted.

The same applies to another time-honored convention of Rabbinic correspondence: the salutations that head some of these letters in the Holy Tongue are replete with honorific appelations of esteem. For example, if the salutation that precedes the name of the recipient of Letter 3 (הרה"ח הוו"ח אי"א נו"מ וכו' — harav hechassid, havasik vechassid, ish yerei Elokim, navon umaskil, vechulei) were to be translated literally, it would read: “The rabbi and chassid, the eminent and veteran G‑d-fearing chassid, a man of understanding and intelligence, etc.” In the present translation, a salutation such as this is foreshortened to “the [esteemed] chassid,” or the like.

Finally: The Holy Tongue considers it impolite to address a respected individual directly in the second person. Some languages deflect the frontal encounter by using the plural form of the second person instead of the singular; classical Hebrew goes further and addresses such an individual in the third person. To translate this literally, however, would be confusing. Accordingly, “I was happy to hear his good news” is rendered here as “I was happy to hear your good news.”

Recurring Themes in the Talks

Side by side with his written responses to individuals, the Rebbe often threw light on the subject of bitachon — placing one’s trust in G‑d — in public talks delivered in the course of farbrengens. Many of these talks were later annotated and published, whether in Yiddish (the language in which they were delivered) or in the Holy Tongue, and representative passages from them appear below in English translation.

As an example of a theme that recurs in these talks: If, instead of passively awaiting supernatural intervention, one endeavors to create a natural conduit for the downward flow of Divine blessings, does this not contradict the concept of completely placing one’s trust in G‑d? This question presents itself in a variety of guises: If, in principle, one’s living is provided from Above, how is it that working for a living does not compromise one’s reliance on that principle? If G‑d is the ultimate Healer, how can the Sages approve of consultation with doctors? And if a mere mortal down here is expected to provide a natural medium for a required salvation to take place, why was Joseph punished for placing his trust in Pharaoh’s butler?

In other discussions, the Rebbe explains how trusting in G‑d does not contradict the belief that everything is for the good; how when one has trust in the One on High, he also has trust in his fellow Jews; and how the familiar imprint In G‑d We Trust means that one regards G‑d as his trustee: one hands everything over into His Hands and relies on Him in all one’s affairs. Another talk conveys the Rebbe’s assurance that “when a child is born, his sustenance is born together with him. Indeed, the birth of an additional child increases the sustenance of the entire household.” Yet another talk raises the question, How can a person honestly trust that he will be granted manifest good, when he knows that he is not sinless? In response to this question, the Rebbe offers a number of assurances for those who are deserving and for those who are perhaps less so.

Hope, Faith, Trust

One final example of a recurring theme is the difference between hope (tikvah), faith (emunah), and trust (bitachon). For a start, to cite one of several distinctions drawn in this volume, the root of the very word bitachon means “certainty.” In this connection, the Rebbe once relayed12 a remark of his revered father-in-law, the Rebbe Rayatz, on the difference between hope and trust:“True, in the former case, one hopes that things will be good — but one is not certain of this. Having trust, by contrast, means that one is certain about the subject under discussion.”

If we look back over the generations, we can trace the early roots of this remark.

The Rebbe Rayatz once cited a tradition that he had heard from his father, the Rebbe Rashab13 — that “the Baal Shem Tov14 implanted faith in trust.”

The Rebbe Rayatz continued: “This means that one is certain that what one believes will actuallymaterialize down here.”

One of his listeners asked: “Does this then resemble hope?”

The Rebbe Rayatz replied: “Trust (bitachon) is more than hope. A person who has trust believes that what he hoped for will certainly eventuate. In fact, it is already present. The obstacle exists only in the person himself.”15

The Rebbe Maharash16 spelled this out in plain and practical terms: “People are not lacking a livelihood; they are lacking trust. Every individual is indeed provided with a livelihood. It’s only that by lacking trust, a person sometimes turns off the tap....”17

Choosing the Talks from the Variety of Material...

The massive range of the Rebbe’s teachings on the subject of bitachon is mind-boggling, and the inescapable task of making choices from the wealth available is daunting indeed. This is true both with regard to the variety of material and to the variety of available versions.

Firstly, with regard to the variety of material: Over the decades, any one particular theme may appear and reappear in a variety of presentations. Its first appearance may perhaps be a major, scholarly treatment; it may next appear as a colorful passing allusion; and at its next appearance it may serve as background to a novel interpretation of Rashi on a seemingly unrelated subject. In cases such as this, choices must be made.

Moreover, not every relevant exposition, no matter how illuminating, can be represented in an anthology. For example, a major discourse delivered in 5712 (1952),18 and couched in mystical terminology, provides extensive analyses of the various levels of bitachon as they derive from their respective sources in the Divine emanations known as Sefiros. Furthermore, it relates each of those levels to its corresponding conceptual framework in the Kabbalistic blueprint of the cosmos. Obviously, sources such as that maamar do not lend themselves to being summarized, nor to being exemplified by adroitly spliced excerpts.

Omissions, where made, are indicated by [...]. Sometimes this signifies a personal reference; sometimes, an entire Talmudic pilpul or a documented critique of a recent learned publication; and sometimes it signifies a reference to a current event in the Jewish world that was meaningful to readers or listeners at the time, but that does not throw light on the theme of this anthology, which is bitachon.

..and the Variety of Versions

Unlike the letters, each of which has a fixed and indisputable text, the Rebbe’s talks have been preserved in a variety of versions, some complementary, some diverse. Many weekday talks were taped and their typed verbatim transcripts were published informally. Many entire farbrengens, especially those that took place on Shabbos or Yom-Tov, were preserved in the memories of gifted listeners, known as chozrim,19and then committed to writing in draft versions known in Lubavitch parlance as hanachos.

It is at this stage, during the preparation of a particular talk for its first publication, that its diversified presentation becomes apparent, both in content and structure. Some edited versions interweave related discussions that were delivered on earlier occasions; some versions omit local or topical allusions; some versions add sources and cross-references, summaries and subheadings; and when a draft version had been submitted to him, the Rebbe would often enrich the text or the footnotes by supplementary material. (A text whose wording the Rebbe edited and approved for publication is described in Lubavitch usage by the adjective mugah.) Moreover, since the Rebbe’s listeners and readers include some who are brilliant scholars and others who are not, many hundreds of his talks have been adapted and translated over the years so that they can be beamed at specific audiences. The passages chosen for the present volume are mainly taken from the three major series — Sichos Kodesh, Toras Menachem — Hisvaaduyos, and Likkutei Sichos.20

Some of the footnotes to this volume were translated or summarized from those published sources; most were composed for the present volume. And throughout, the translation and annotation of the texts was finetuned by the input of R. Yonah Avtzon, Director of Sichos In English, and their attractive presentation was designed by Yosef Yitzchok Turner.

Optimistic Trust in Days of Crisis

These lines are being written during critical days in Jewish history. This is especially clear to those readers whose ears still echo with the Rebbe’s cry from the heart, week after week, decade after decade — that ceding territory to our enemies not only provides no peace: it actively whets their appetite for greater, life-threatening concessions. Week after week, the Rebbe warned of the security risks entailed by unabashed capitulation to terrorist threats and world opinion. Speaking of a similar predicament, the Rebbe once told of how a national leader armed with trust, King Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah) of Judah, rejected outright the blandishments of a seemingly generous peace offer that was attainable, but at a price — submission to the Assyrian invader and deportation from the Land of Israel.21

May He Who heard the plea of Chizkiyahu in his era hear today the anguished plea of our idealistic brother and sister Jews who have been deported from their warm homes and flourishing yeshivos and thriving farms in the Holy Land. May their eyes and ours behold the Coming of Mashiach, soon.

In the meantime, Jews in Eretz Yisrael and allaround the world are echoing the ancient entreaty: Chusah, HaShem, al amecha... — “G‑d, have pity on Your people, and do not let Your heritage be an object of contempt for nations to rule over.”22 For, as the Rebbe teaches repeatedly throughout these letters and talks, G‑d transforms reality in response to a Jew’s insistence, regardless of what his fleshly eyes may see, on trusting G‑d’s promises — and foremost among these is the Divine promise of Redemption. This long-awaited transformation of reality is the Divine response to the Jew who insists on cultivating positive thinking and (the Rebbe uses the English word) optimism.

Uri Kaploun


20 Menachem Av, 5765 (2005)