What is the meaning of full trust in G-d?

What does it mean to have full “bitachon” (trust) in G-d?

From a talk by the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson. Presented with permission from the publisher, Sichos in English. Translated from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXXVI, p. 1-6.

Bitachon/trust 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 [the book] Chovos HaLevavos [Duties of the Heart] states:[1] “The essence of bitachon/trust 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 man so [wholly] righteous on earth that he always does good and never sins.”)[2] If even Jacob had this fear [see Genesis 32:8, and Rashi’s explanation there], certainly, it applies to others.[3]

On the surface, one might offer the following explanation: The concept of bitachon/trust 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.}

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 [including difficulties in this physical world] 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/trust 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. …

This explanation is, however, insufficient. For it is clearly apparent that the fundamental element of bitachon/trust 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/trust in G-d will receive manifest and overt good,[4] i.e., that G-d will deliver him from his difficulties.

According to the above explanation, it appears that this simple meaning of bitachon/trust is beyond the reach of the majority … (For “there is no man so wholly righteous one earth that he [always] does good and never sins,” 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/trust 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 people, whose Divine service has reached consummate perfection and who therefore do not have to worry about sin having an effect, who can trust that they will receive manifest and apparent good.[5]}

[Such an approach, however, contradicts the statements of Duties of the Heart [6] (in the explanation of “the reasons why bitachon/trust 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/trust 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?[7] 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 [third Lubavitcher Rebbe, known as the] Tzemach Tzedek (quoted frequently by my revered father-in-law, the [Previous] Rebbe)[8] who gave this reply [in Yiddish] after someone begged him to plead for Divine mercies on behalf of a person who was dangerously ill: [9] “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/trust [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/trust … 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/trust 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:[10] “Cast your burden upon G-d,” i.e., the person has no other dependency in the world except upon G-d. … {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/trust involves work and labor within one’s soul. And this effort and labor in developing bitachon/trust 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).[11]

This is the intent of the command[12] 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 approach[13] 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.[14]

This is the intent of the adage of the Tzemach Tzedek [cited above] that [the person's] bitachon/trust itself will lead to positive results. This is not a supplementary element of our bitachon/trust [in G-d]. … [Rather] bitachon/trust 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/trust is [or was] lacking.[15] …

This leads to a directive applicable to our actual conduct. When a person encounters obstacles and encumbrances in his observance of the Torah and [his] mitzvos [commandments], 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/trust will bear fruit]. (Needless to say, he must also do whatever he can in a natural way to remove these obstacles,[16] [but it is his bitachon/trust 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.

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

Edited Notes:

[1] The Gate of Trust, ch. 1. See also the introduction to that section. Also Kad HaKemach (by Rabbeinu Bachaye) states that “No doubt should mitigate one’s bitachon/trust.”

[2] Ecclesiastes 7:20.

[3] Kad HaKemach states that “a person who has faith may not necessarily have bitachon/trust. For at times, he will fear that perhaps [his] sins will have an effect.” (And in his discussion of this issue, he cites the example of Jacob the Patriarch.)

[4] [Trans. Note: The intent is that everything granted by G-d is ultimately good. We desire, however, good that man can easily and readily appreciate as good.]

[5] According to the opinion in the Midrash that “There is no [secure] promise for the righteous in this world,” on the contrary, the righteous do not rely (even) on [G-d's] promise.

[6] The Gate of Trust, ch. 2; see also ch. 3 and the conclusion of ch. 1.

[7] As stated in Duties of the Heart (loc. cit., ch. 3, the fourth introduction): “It is necessary for [a person] to take great care and [undertake] intense efforts to fulfill what the Creator obligated us in His service, [i.e.,] to carry out His commandments… so that the Creator will consent to give [a person] the matters which [that person] trusts he will receive.” Nevertheless, this is [necessary] only so that the person’s present conduct will not be in contradiction to his bitachon/trust in G-d. For it is impossible for a person to have bitachon/trust in G-d and rebel against Him (as stated in that source. That text gives an example from mortal conduct: [A person who is entrusted with a mission and ignores it cannot expect that the person who entrusted him with that mission will pay him generously].)

[Nevertheless, the intent is not that the person's positive conduct evokes G-d's generosity. Instead,] the foundation and the reason for his trust [in G-d] is G-d’s generosity which encompasses all created beings. See ch. 2 of the above source which states that the reason for our trust is “His mercy, graciousness, and love.” And similarly, in ch. 3 he writes: “The Creator shows mercy on man more than anyone else shows mercy.”

[8] Igros Kodesh of the Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, Vol. II, p. 537; Vol. VII, p. 197.

[9] As appropriate according to the ruling of Rama (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah, the conclusion of ch. 335).

[10] Psalms 55:23.

[11] This concept is explicitly stated in Sefer Ikkarim (Maamar 4, ch. 46): “It is written (Psalms 32:10): ‘A person who trusts in G-d will be encompassed by kindness,’ i.e., even if he is not worthy on his own accord, it is the propensity of bitachon/trust to draw down unwarranted kindness on those who trust in G-d.” See also ch. 47: “If a person would place his hope [in G-d] as is fitting, kindness would not be withheld from him by G-d.”

See also Kad HaKemach, loc. cit., which states: “A person who has bitachon/trust in G-d is lifted above the difficulty in reward for his bitachon/trust even if [otherwise,] it would have been appropriate for the difficulty to have been visited upon him.”

See also Yalkut Shimoni, Yeshayahu, Remez 473, which states: “The Holy One, blessed be He, asked: ‘Are there G-d-fearing men among you?… Trust in My name and [that trust] will stand by you…. I will save whoever trusts in My name.’”

[12] Psalms 37:3; 115:9.

[13] See the Zohar II, 184b, which states: “The higher realms impart influence to [the lower realms] according to the nature of [the lower realms' approach]. If they manifest a bright and eager countenance, brightness is shined to them from Above. And if they manifest sadness [the opposite occurs] ….”

[14] See Tanya, Iggeres HaKodesh (the conclusion of Epistle 11): “This faith causes everything to become truly good in an apparent way.”

[15] See Tractate Berachos [which relates that Yehudah bar Nassan was following after Rav Hamnuna]: He sighed. He told him: “Do you want to bring suffering upon yourself? It is written (Job 3:24): ‘Because I feared a fright, it has overtaken me.’ ” The intent is that if he would rely on G-d without any worry or fear, he would be saved from suffering.

[16] As is well known, there is no contradiction between true bitachon/trust in G-d and looking for reasons [to solve one's difficulties] in the natural order. (See the elaboration on this concept in Duties of the Heart, loc. cit., ch. 3, the fifth introduction. It is only perfectly righteous people who do not have to search for reasons in the natural order.