Certainty Only for the Sinless?!

The1 obligation to trust in G‑d2 — to have bitachon — is not merely to believe in G‑d’s ability to treat one benevolently and to rescue him from distress and the like. It means that one trusts that G‑d will in fact do this. And this trust is so certain that the individual is completely relaxed and not worried in the slightest. This is spelled out in Chovos HaLevavos:3 “One who trusts in G‑d has a tranquil spirit. His heart relies on the One in Whom he has placed his trust; He will doubtless do what is good and proper for him in the matter at hand.”

Now, the grounds for such certainty are problematic. Even when a person has an explicit Divine promise, it is possible that “sin would cause” the promise not to be fulfilled.4 How much more is this the case when there has been no explicit promise. And the concern “lest sin cause” the promise not to be fulfilled is applicable to everyone, for “there is no man on earth [so] righteous that he does [only] good and does not sin.”. Koheles 7:20. Indeed, even Yaakov Avinu was anxious5 lest sin would block the fulfillment of the Divine promise.6

A Tentative Solution

At first glance, one might want to explain as follows:

One’s trust in G‑d is based on the belief that everything originates from the Creator. Hence, when a person finds himself in a dire predicament, this is not because the individual causing it is in some way in control, G‑d forbid, for everything comes from Above. As a result, the mind of the person in trouble is utterly at ease, for either of two reasons:

(i) If he is not deserving of any evil, G‑d will surely rescue him from it. (And this certainty applies even when there is no natural possibility for salvation, for “who can say to Him, What are You doing?”7 Moreover, G‑d can choose to change the laws of nature.)

(ii) If, on the other hand, one is not worthy of such kindly intervention (and is indeed deserving of the punishment at hand), his mind is still utterly at ease because he is certain that this misfortune does not result from a side factor. It comes only from G‑d, because he has not fulfilled his obligations satisfactorily, and that is why he was placed in the present predicament. Accordingly, he fears no one but G‑d alone. Moreover, he is aware that what is transpiring is for his good, for the Torah’s punishments are an expression of G‑d’s kindness, inasmuch as they cleanse him from the blemish of his sin. And if so, there is no room for worry or fear.

Accordingly, it is clear that there is no conflict between the two concepts: A person’s trust in G‑d can be perfect even though he knows that because of his sin he will possibly not be found worthy of being rescued from the impending misfortune. And this knowledge does not detract from his peace of mind because he realizes that whatever happens to him derives from G‑d.

True, some of the commentators have written that according to the Midrash, “one ought not be afraid” (i.e., one ought not emulate Yaakov Avinu and Moshe Rabbeinu, who were afraid). This was written because from a simple reading of the relevant verses it would appear that they feared the cause of their distress; i.e., Yaakov feared Eisav (“Yaakov was very frightened and distressed, and he [therefore] divided the people who were with him... into two camps”8 ), and likewise Moshe Rabbeinu, [when confronted by Og, the mighty King of Bashan,] was told, “Do not be afraid of him.”9 Thus, when the verses are understood at their simple level, the fear experienced by Yaakov and Moshe indicates that their trust in G‑d was imperfect.

Those who are Deserving and Those who are Not

However, the above explanation is unsatisfactory, because bitachon plainly signifies not only a peaceful state of mind; it also signifies that one trusts with certainty that things will be good for him — and specifically with the kind of good that is visible and manifest, for G‑d will rescue him from his predicament, and the like.

Moreover, according to that explanation, as outlined in section (b), bitachon in its plain meaning is not relevant to most of the Jewish people. (For “there is no man on earth [so] righteous that he does [only] good”714 — and who is the man who can adjudge himself worthy of G‑d’s kindness?) Hence, for most of our people, bitachon would primarily consist of the thought that even if they were not found to be deserving of G‑d’s kindness, they would still enjoy peace of mind because everything stems from the Creator. Moreover, whatever was to transpire would be for their good, except that it would not be the kind of good that is visible and manifest.

According to this approach, only consummate tzaddikim — whose Divine service is perfect and who are not anxious about the possible effects of sin — can trust that things will work out well for them with the kind of good that is visible and manifest.

In fact, however, the author of Chovos HaLevavos states otherwise. In the course of his discussion of “the circumstances in which bitachon is conceivable,” he describes a situation in which “the One Who is trusted is infinitely magnanimous and kind toward whoever is deserving and to whoever is not. Moreover, His magnanimity is constant and His kindness is continuous, never ceasing and never severed.”10 According to this statement, then, one’s bitachon is based on G‑d’s kindness even to whoever is not deserving.

Now, this requires explanation. After all, even though G‑d’s mercy extends also to someone who is not deserving, is it not possible that a person may be deserving of punishment for his unworthy deeds?11 And if so, on what basis does a man trust with certainty that G‑d will act benevolently toward him, even though he is undeserving of this?

Cast Your Burden upon G‑d

This may be understood in the light of a teaching of the Tzemach Tzedek12 that was often quoted by my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe [Rayatz].13 Someone had begged him to intercede in order to arouse Heaven’s mercies upon a patient who was dangerously ill.14 The Tzemach Tzedek replied: “Think positively, and things will be positive.”197 This implies that the very fact of thinking positively — having trust — will give rise to results that are visibly and manifestly good.

This teaching may be understood as follows:

The obligation to place one’s trust in G‑d (to have bitachon) is not merely a component and a corollary of one’s faith (emunah) that everything is in His hands and that He is gracious and compassionate. Such an obligation would not need to be stated separately. Rather, the obligation to place one’s trust in G‑d is an avodah90 of its own, an independent challenge in one’s Divine service. That challenge is to rely on G‑d to the point that one casts one’s lot entirely into His hands — as in the verse,473 “Cast your burden upon G‑d” — and to be without any other support in the world apart from Him. It could well be that this is what the author of Chovos HaLevavos had in mind when he wrote that a person who has trust is “like a bondman who is incarcerated in a dungeon on the authority of his master.” That prisoner’s trust is beamed only toward his master, “to whose hands he is subordinate, and no man but him can bring harm or help.”

Trusting in G‑d in this way is such that the natural situation makes no difference whatever. Even if according to the natural order it is impossible that a particular individual should be rescued, that individual relies on the Holy One, blessed be He, Who is not restricted by the laws of nature.

Having Trust Entails
Avodah and Exertion in one’s Soul

Precisely this is the basis for a person’s trust that G‑d will act benevolently toward him, bestowing upon him goodness that is overt and manifest, even if he is undeserving of such kindness.

Having trust does not mean that one believes that since G‑d’s kindness is limitless both toward those who are deserving and those who are not, one will therefore be granted His kindness without any independent exertion. (If this were so, there would be no such thing as reward and punishment.) Rather, having trust entails avodah90 and exertion in one’s soul, and it is this that evokes G‑d’s kindness. If a person genuinely trusts, from the depths of his soul, in G‑d alone, to the point that he is not at all worried, this very arousal evokes a reciprocal response from Above, and he is blessed with lovingkindness (even if otherwise he would not have been found deserving of it).

This connection is stated explicitly in Sefer HaIkarim:15 “Even if a person is intrinsically undeserving, trust has a way of evoking unearned lovingkindness16 upon those who place their trust in G‑d.” And conversely,17 “If such an individual had hoped as he ought to have done, G‑d’s lovingkindness would not have been withheld.”

The author of Kad HaKemach18 writes likewise: “He who trusts in G‑d will be raised out of misfortune by virtue of his trust, even if he was deserving of that misfortune.” Other classical works, such as Nesivos Olam,19 write in similar vein.

So, too, Yalkut Shimoni on Yeshayahu:20 “When the Jewish people enter a time of woe, they say to the Holy One, blessed be He, ‘Save us!’ The Holy One, blessed be He, replies: ‘Is there a man among you who fears Heaven?’ They say: ‘In the past [...], but today, the further we proceed, the thicker is the darkness around us [...].’ So the Holy One, blessed be He, advises them: ‘Place your trust in My Name, and it will stand you in good stead [...], for whoever places his trust in My Name, I will save.’ ”

Keser Shem Tov21 reflects the other side of the same coin: “When Heaven seeks to exact punishment from someone who deserves it, they deprive him of his attribute of trust.”

This, then, is the content of the command to “trust in G‑d”22 (and of other similar commands) — one should cast his burden upon G‑d, trusting that He will bestow upon him the kind of good that is overt and manifest. This trust one directs to G‑d alone, without any calculations as to whether his rescue is possible. When a man’s trust is of this caliber, G‑d relates to him “measure for measure”23 — He protects him and has pity upon him, even if the tally shows that he does not deserve to be granted specifically the kind of good that is visibly and manifestly good.24

In this lies the explanation of the teaching of the Tzemach Tzedek, that trust in itself gives rise to good results.25 This principle is not tangential to trust: it defines the trust concerning which we have been commanded.

I am the One who can Remove my Obstacles

The above thoughts lead to a practical directive. When a person encounters obstacles to his observance of the Torah and its commandments, he should be aware that their removal depends on him and on his conduct. If he trusts absolutely that G‑d will see to it that things will be good, to the point that he is utterly at ease without any shadow of anxiety (and at the same time, of course, he takes whatever natural steps are dependent on himself in order to remove those obstacles26 ), then we have been given the promise, “Think positively, and things will be positive.” We have been promised that this will take place actually, that all the obstacles will cease to exist, and that things will be good for that individual — in a real and practical sense, with the kind of good that is overt and manifest, visible to fleshly eyes, and “lower than ten handbreadths [from the ground].”519

And just as concerning the redemption from the Egyptian exile the Sages teach that “by virtue of their trust the people of Israel were redeemed from Egypt,”27 so will it be with the Redemption from this last exile — as is written in the Midrash,28 “They are deserving of redemption by virtue of their hope [alone]!” So may this indeed be fulfilled with us — that by virtue of our people’s trust that “My deliverance is soon to come,”29 we will merit G‑d’s deliverance, with the true and complete Redemption, speedily and actually in our own days.