The Chazon Ish discussed the meaning of bitachon in his classic work — Emunah u’Bitachon (Chap. 2):
There is an old misconception rooted in the hearts of many when it comes to bitachon (trust in G-d). This term… has been transformed into the concept that there is an obligation to believe that, in any situation in which a person finds himself, where he faces an uncertain future with two [different] paths — one good and the other not — that the good outcome will certainly occur. And if one is doubtful and concerned for the possibility of the negative occurring, he [must then] be lacking in bitachon. This understanding of bitachon is not correct, for as long as the future has not been revealed through prophecy, the future has not been decided. [After all,] who knows G-d’s judgments and rewards?
Rather, bitachon is [simply] the belief that there is nothing random in the world, and that everything which occurs under the sun is the result of a decree from Hashem.
When one internalizes this clear reality, that there is no chance misfortune, but rather all is from Hashem, for better or for worse; when one allows one’s emunah (belief) to alleviate the fear and give one the courage to believe in the possibility of salvation… then one has achieved bitachon in Hashem.
Part of this trait of bitachon is to be steadfast in one’s emunah even when one considers the possibility of yissurim (difficulties). One’s heart must maintain its awareness that this is not a random misfortune, for there are no random occurrences in the world at all; everything is from Hashem.
According to this, emunah and bitachon in Hashem are one and the same — emunah is the general perspective of the believing person, and bitachon is the person’s perspective in terms of himself; with emunah being the theory, and bitachon being the practice.
There is more to the trait of bitachon — for a holy spirit rests on the one who has bitachon in Hashem, accompanied by a strength of spirit that tells him that Hashem will indeed help him, as David HaMelech said — “If you bring an army upon me, my heart will have no fear; if a war comes upon me, in this I will have bitachon.” This matter varies according to the level of the person’s bitachon and his degree of holiness.
When the Chazon Ish wrote — “Who knows G-d’s judgments and rewards?” he was seemingly assuming that our ability to count on G-d’s help depends upon the level of our merits. This is what is known as the principle of “She’ma yigrom hachet — Perhaps one’s transgression will affect this.”
In fact, the Chovot HaLevavot says explicitly that a rasha (evil person) can not be sure that G-d will relate to him exclusively with rachamim (mercy), since he has been rebelling against G-d. This also seems to be the logic of “She’ma yigrom hachet — Perhaps one’s transgression will affect this.”
The Chazon Ish and the Chovot HaLevavot both seem relatively straightforward, since we know there is middat hadin (the trait of judgment) in the world. How, then, could one not be worried about “She’ma yigrom hachet” — the level of one’s merits? In fact, this seems to have been the concern that caused Yaakov Avinu to fear meeting up with Eisav, and not to simply trust in the explicit promise that Hashem had made to protect him.
Many sources, however, say that we can simply expect the good, independent of the issue of “She’ma yigrom hachet.”
Rav Dessler wrote that this approach of the Chazon Ish, that our ability to count on G-d’s help depends upon the level of our merits, is a high level. However, there are other reliable sources with different opinions on this deep matter.
In fact, Rav Yuzof (in Achat Sha’alti) explains — many classical sources understand that bitachon actually requires us not to focus on “She’ma yigrom hachet” — the level of our merits. Rather, bitachon obligates us to trust and rely on Hashem for our needs, and that things will be good.
Rashi (Yeshaya 50:10) wrote:
Even if a difficulty is coming upon you — “Yivtach b’sheim Hashem — Trust in the Name of Hashem” because He will save you.
He also wrote (in Gemara Sota 48a) that up until the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash (Temple), there was a group called the anshei amanah (men of faith) “who had bitachon in Hashem and relied on Him to do good, with no worry about any lack.” As long as they were fully committed to some great mitzvah, they could rely on Hashem to help them to do this good. And if they were lacking anything to do this, they were confident that Hashem would fill this lack.
The Ramban (HaEmunah v’HaBitachon — chap. 1) explained that while one with emunah may be afraid of “She’ma yigrom hachet,” one with bitachon will not be afraid:
One with bitachon not only believes that Hashem has the ability and he, therefore, won’t give up, he also has bitachon that Hashem will actually save him.
While the Rambam and the Sefer HaChinuch understand that the lav (prohibition) of “Lo tirah meihem — don’t be afraid of them” in Parshat Shoftim (Devarim 20:1) is a prohibition to fear an enemy specifically in times of war, Rabeinu Yona holds that this prohibition applies in every eit tzara (time of difficulty). This involves two separate requirements:
First, a Torah prohibition to be afraid of difficulty at any time.
Second, to have bitachon that the salvation of G-d will actually come.
However, Rabeinu Yona would agree that one will not be violating this lav except if one actually gives up, which would, in any case, be against the very foundations of emunah.
The Maharal (Netiv HaBitachon) wrote that Hashem will be a shelter and protection in both this world and in Olam Haba (the World to Come) for all who place their bitachon in Him. Although there may be times when one will not be able to get some good because of a difficult mazal (spiritual destiny), even so, one should have bitachon in Hashem. Hashem [may even be] able to help from the upper world which is entirely good, if one has a difficult mazal in this world… The one with bitachon in Hashem will be surrounded by chessed, [meaning] the upper chessed [without limits].
The Leshem (a work of kabbalah written by the grandfather of Rav Elyashiv) wrote that the verse promises us:
“Habote’ach b’Hashem, Hashem mivtacho — The one who has bitachon in Hashem, Hashem will be his trust.” Even a rasha (evil person) who has bitachon in Hashem will be surrounded by chessed. Therefore, it is not good for one to hold himself back from bitachon because of the fear of — “She’ma yigrom hachet,” she’ein davar omeid neged habitachon — because nothing stands in the way of bitachon.
Rav Elchanan Wasserman, based on the Rambam, explained that the problem with bitachon being dependent upon the degree of our righteousness (i.e., “She’ma yigrom hachet”), is that we always need to have bitachon in the chessed (kindness) of Hashem. As the Leshem mentioned, even a rasha who has bitachon in Hashem will be surrounded by chessed. If not for this, we wouldn’t find any bitachon at all, because as the verse says — “Ein adam tzadik ba’aretz asher ya’aseh tov v’lo yecheta — There is no tzaddik in the world who does good and never ever transgresses.”
No contradiction — While the “good” is not definite, we still need to strengthen our belief in salvation.
To reconcile the Chazon Ish with these other approaches, we first need to understand that there is no obligation to believe that the salvation from one’s difficulty will always definitely come. Along with our bitachon, we understand that the future is not determined, there is middat hadin (the aspect of justice) in the world, and our transgressions have definite consequences. But, at the same time, we should not say that the salvation of our difficulty is merely able to come. While the “good” is not definite, we need to strengthen our belief in the real possibility of salvation.
The Ramban (Emunah u’Bitachon) describes bitachon not as a yediah (knowledge) or emunah (belief), but rather as a nesiat hanefesh (inspiration of the soul) — to strengthen oneself and to trust that one will merit chasdei Shamayim (kindness from Heaven).
Rabeinu Yona (Sha’arei Teshuva) says similarly:
It is G-d’s will that, at the very moment of difficulty, a Jew’s heart should be specifically filled with the salvation of Hashem, to the point that he will have bitachon and reliance on that salvation, with no fear at all.
Since this bitachon is not any type of future knowledge, and the one with bitachon is simply strengthening himself, bitachon is no contradiction to what our mind understands. Even the one with bitachon doesn’t claim to know how things will turn out. Ultimately, the situation he faces is unclear — will G-d relate to him with judgment or mercy; with salvation or not?
Bitachon in a positive outcome is not logical; it is what Hashem has decreed that we should expect and believe.
Why, then, should one with bitachon assume that the outcome will be specifically good? After all, hashgacha haElyona (the elevated Supervision) in which we have bitachon, has many different aspects to it — the traits of chessed (kindness), din (judgment), rachamim (mercy), etc. There would seem to be no logic in having bitachon that the aspect of chessed would be the one which would win out in any particular situation.
The answer is simply that it is Hashem’s Will for us to have bitachon in His chessed and rachamim. Otherwise there would be no room for us to trust that the aspect of chessed is specifically what will prevail, and not to be concerned with “She’ma yigrom hachet.” In other words, our bitachon in the chessed of Hashem is not because this is what is logical to us, but rather because Hashem has decreed that we should have that bitachon. And this is even with whatever transgressions we may have.
Bitachon should be particularly in the chessed of Hashem, and this will cause chessed to be expressed.
Many sources say that one is not merely supposed to have bitachon in Hashem, but rather one should have bitachon particularly in the chessed of Hashem, like the verse in Tehillim (13:6) — “v’ani b’chasdecha batachti — And I have bitachon in Your chessed.” While we may never know with certainty why Hashem wants us to have bitachon specifically in His chessed, we do see that this very reliance on His chessed will cause the chessed and rachamim (mercy) of Hashem to be expressed.
The Ramban explained that bitachon in Hashem really means to have bitachon in the chessed of Hashem:
Even if you have no good deeds and know yourself to be a rasha (evil), have bitachon in Hashem. He is the Ba’al HaRachamim (Master of Mercy) and He will have mercy upon you, as it says — “And His mercy is on all of His creations” — in other words, on both tzadikim and resha’im.
Rashi (Tehillim 31:24) put this very simply:
Hashem protects those who believe in His salvation and rely on it.
Rabeinu Yona (Mishlei 3:26) also said:
The obligation of bitachon is to have true bitachon in the mercy of Hashem, because His mercy and His chessed are both enormous, as it says in Tehillim — “v’ani b’chasdecha batachti — And I have bitachon in Your chessed” (13:6) and — “Batachti b’chessed Elokim olam va’ed — I have bitachon in the chessed of Hashem forever and ever” (52:10).
When a difficulty draws close and one is afraid because of his transgressions, he should strengthen his hope, because the chessed of Hashem is above every transgression, and He will have mercy on anyone who humbles himself and requests His mercy.
The Sefer HaIkarim wrote:
The one with bitachon in Hashem will be surrounded by chessed, even one not deserving in terms of himself. It is the way of bitachon to extend free chessed to those with bitachon in Hashem. (Chapter 46)
There is tikvat ha’chessed (hope in the chessed) — There is nothing which prevents the salvation in terms of chessed alone. (Chapter 47)
And [this is true] even if one has many transgressions… because it is impossible that the power of the transgressor to transgress is greater than the power of Hashem to forgive. (Chapter 48)
Bitachon, which is true d’veikut (attachment to Hashem), creates an elevated protection.
The Gemara Brachot (60a) says that when Hillel HaZakein (Hillel the Elder) was on the road back to his town, he heard the sound of screaming coming from the town. He declared that he was certain the screaming was not coming from inside of his own home.
The Gra explained this bitachon (surety) of Hillel HaZakein:
Some say that the bitachon of Hillel HaZaken was simply his confidence that there wouldn’t be any actual screaming from inside of his home, since it would be impossible to say that there couldn’t be any difficulties at all inside his home. After all, we do find many tzaddikim (righteous individuals) who definitely did have difficulties. However, since the Gemara based this surety of Hillel HaZaken on the verse of “Mi’shmua ra’ah lo yira — [One with bitachon] won’t be afraid of bad tidings,” it appears that the bitachon of Hillel HaZakein was that there wouldn’t even be any difficulties in his home. In other words, the s’char (benefit) of having bitachon in Hashem is that — “Mi’shmua ra’ah lo yira — From a bad tiding he won’t be afraid,” meaning that Hashem won’t bring difficulties upon him.
And the Gra also said (Mishlei 25:15):
We have bitachon that Hashem will never abandon us… If it were [only] because of ourselves, we would be afraid because of “she’ma yigrom hachet.” However, as long as it is because of His chessed, we should not be afraid at all, since His chessed is established forever.
Rav Wolbe (Alei Shur) discussed how bitachon will impact one’s hashgacha (Divine supervision):
A fundamental [of Torah] is that the key to hashgacha is the person himself. Hashem brings upon a person the positive and negative consequences of his own actions.
In addition to this, however, the story with Hillel HaZakein (Gemara Brachot 60a), who was sure that the screaming in his city wasn’t coming from his own home, shows us the power of a person’s bitachon and d’veikut (attachment to G-d). They enable a person to enter into a special place of elevated protection, and, therefore, he should not be afraid of bad tidings.
The Gemara (Brachot 60a) also tells a story with Rebbe Akiva, facing one difficulty after the next, while on a journey. First, there was no room for him at an inn, then his torch blew out, and finally, his rooster and donkey were both eaten up. He responded to each new challenge by saying — “Kol mah d’avid Rachmana, l’tav avid — All that the Merciful one (Hashem) does, He does for the good.” And then, in the morning, he saw just how beneficial every one of these seeming difficulties had actually turned out to be.
Based on this gemara, the Maharal (Netiv Ahavat Hashem, perek aleph) wrote:
A person should be accustomed to say — “Kol mah d’avid Rachmana, l’tav avid — All that the Merciful one does, He does for the good.” And when a person says this about something which appears to be bad, but he has bitachon in Hashem that it will be for good, then Hashem will make that “bad” into good…
And, therefore, Rebbe Akiva said — “Kol mah d’avid Rachmana, l’tav avid — All that the Merciful one (Hashem) does, He does for the good,” because all mishpat and din (justice and judgment) that comes upon a person is really for his benefit. [Therefore,] when something comes upon a person which looks bad, but the person has bitachon in Hashem, then Hashem will transform it into good, because of this bitachon in Hashem.
Furthermore, the Mararal wrote (Netiv HaBitachon):
Even when one sees and thinks that all hope is lost, he should not give up. He should have bitachon in Hashem forever, that He is able to save him. Hashem will then save him, just as he had placed his bitachon in Him.
Hashem has two different aspects of chessed — chessed which is limited by mishpat (justice), and chessed elyon (upper chessed) [which is unlimited]. The remarkable power of bitachon is that it allows one to access the chessed elyon of Hashem. Bitachon is the key to unlock this upper world of rachamim (mercy) without boundaries.
Rav Shimshon Pincus (She’arim b’Tefillah) discussed bitachon as it relates to the tefillah called “Kriah,” which means to call out to Hashem with His eternal Name (and essence) of unlimited rachamim:
When a person has bitachon in Hashem, that [very bitachon] will save him from all difficulties.
The Medrash (Tehillim 25) gives a mashal (analogy) of one who told bandits who had captured him that he was close to the King. When they brought him to the King, and the King asked him how they were related, he simply answered that he trusted in the King. The King then assured him — “Since you have trusted in me, I will save you.”
In the very same way, bitachon in Hashem will itself cause Hashem to be concerned for and to save a person, even though that person may not deserve it as a result of his own deeds… The very fact of his bitachon in Hashem will be the cause for him to receive his request. This is a fundamental principle of the Torah — that through a person’s bitachon in Hashem, he will receive his request from Hashem, even though he is not fitting according to his own deeds.
The greater the danger, the more one must recognize Hashem, and the greater must be one’s bitachon in Him… to the point that one may even need to recognize Hashem’s ability to do miracles.
There is a great difference between the bitachon required for a tzadik and the bitachon which a rasha (evil person) needs. Since the rasha has more aveirot (transgressions), he is in much more danger, and therefore requires much more bitachon to be saved. If, however, he does have this greater bitachon, and recognizes that Hashem can have rachamim and chessed even for him, then he can also be saved.
This really answers the earlier questions. How can we have bitachon [i.e., complete confidence] that Hashem will fulfill our requests? And who can say that he has the necessary merits to guarantee this? The answer is that the bitachon in Hashem will itself be the cause of his salvation.
However, according to the Chazon Ish, while Hashem would certainly want us to always yearn and hope for His chessed, that is not the essential point of bitachon. As he explained, bitachon is simply the belief that nothing in the world is random; all is from Hashgacha (Divine supervision), and all is ultimately for our good.
Iyun tefillah — a particular type of certainty with bitachon — can be dangerous.
There is, however, a concept called iyun tefillah (intense prayer) which can actually be destructive. As Rashi explains it:
“The person says in his heart that his request will be fulfilled because he davened with kavanah (focus).”
Seemingly, the same is true when a person says in his heart that he is sure his request will be fulfilled because he had bitachon in Hashem. This thought of “magia li — this is coming to me” because of some merit, is very dangerous. Our bitachon needs to be in the chessed of Hashem, not in the great zechut (merit) of our bitachon in Hashem, nor in the zechut of our tefillah.
In fact, it is possible that this issue is even more serious with bitachon than it is with tefillah. If one has bitachon specifically in the zechut of his bitachon, then he will ultimately be lacking in the bitachon itself, since he will no longer be relying exclusively on the chessed of Hashem.
Chalishat hada’at (anguish/hopelessness) also influences us badly.
Just like bitachon and reliance on the chessed of Hashem has a positive influence on our future situation, similarly chalishat hada’at (anguish or hopelessness) influences us negatively.
The Torah (Devarim 20:5–7) discusses three military exemptions — a person who built a house but had not yet dedicated it, one who planted a vineyard but had not yet redeemed it, and one who began marriage but had not yet consummated it. In all three cases, the Torah states a reason — because another man may come and finish this process which he began, and Rashi tells us — “this would be anguishing.”
The Maharal (Gur Aryeh on Devarim 20:5), explaining these words of Rashi, said:
The concern is not that the death of the one in battle will cause this anguish, but rather the opposite — the concern is that the anguish will cause his death. It appears that there are people who will feel anguish over the thought that another man could come and take what is theirs, as Rashi expressed it — “this would be anguishing.” And then, as a result of this anguish, his mazal (spiritual destiny) will be damaged, which could ultimately become the cause of his death in the battle.
This point is actually spelled out in an explicit Gemara (Horayot 12a):
“Perhaps one will have chalishat hada’at (anguish or hopelessness) and that [itself] will damage his mazal (spiritual destiny).”
This shows us the benefit of having bitachon in the chessed of Hashem, and not being held back from this bitachon by the fear of “she’ma yigrom hachet.” This bitachon will itself help to awaken and actualize that very chessed of Hashem in our lives.
There is also a second benefit to having bitachon in the chessed of Hashem. The kavod (glory/honor) of Hashem will be expressed and revealed through this very fact that people are relying on the chessed of Hashem.
We should not doubt bitachon even when we don’t see the yeshua (salvation).
We should not doubt the remarkable power of bitachon even when we don’t actually see the yeshua (salvation). While we may not always see the results of our bitachon, we need to know that it will certainly be successful to impact us with the chessed of Hashem. There are different opinions as to how this occurs.
The Sefer HaIkarim said it is impossible that the one with bitachon will not attain his request if his bitachon in the chessed of Hashem is true and complete. This is also the explicit opinion of the Leshem — “She’ein davar omeid bifnei habitachon — There is nothing which stands before bitachon.”
Rabeinu Yona (Mishlei 10:28) pointed out:
If you don’t attain the matter which you are yearning for, the effect of your yearning will still be the cause for many other significant benefits and kindnesses in the same area which your soul desired, as it says — “v’ha’boteach b’Hashem, chessed y’sovevenu — And the one with bitachon in Hashem will be surrounded by chessed.”
The Ramchal said similarly:
Bitachon in Hashem is true bitachon… and if [the salvation] is delayed, wait for it; and if it is not in this world, it will be in Olam Haba (the world to come). But it is impossible that your hope will be lost forever.
Rabeinu Yona and the Ramchal agreed with the Sefer HaIkarim and the Leshem that it is not possible for one who has bitachon in Hashem not to be successful in having the chessed Hashem express itself all around him. Hashem has promised His chessed to those with bitachon in Him. This promise is certain, and independent of any condition at all. Their disagreement is simply the degree to which this chessed will be specifically according to the request and hope of the one with the bitachon.
While the mitzvah of tefillah (prayer) requires that we ask of Hashem whatever we ourselves perceive to be our needs, we understand that only Hashem knows what is truly good.
The same is true with the mitzvah of bitachon. G-d’s will is that we have bitachon in His chessed, and strengthen ourselves that what we see as our salvation will really come. But, even so, we need to understand that only the Hashgacha Elyonah (G-d’s elevated supervision of the world) knows what is really best for us.
In terms of hopes, prayers, and requests which are not answered as we would like, the Sefer HaIkarim (4:24) points out a fundamental principle:
Sometimes a tefillah which one thinks is best is not accepted, not because of any transgressions, but because it is simply not what Hashem wants…
[In addition,] if Hashem knows that this request will not be good for the person, then it will [also] not be accepted…
Therefore, an ideal tefillah for a chacham (wise person) would be — “Master of the Universe — Do Your Will in the Heavens above and grant satisfaction to those who fear You below. Do whatever is best in Your eyes… In other words, whatever I daven before You, don’t pay attention to my [specific] words and my requests to do what my heart desires or what I request. Many times I request and daven for what is not good for me, because I imagine that it will be good. But You know much more than me if this matter is good for me or bad. Therefore, You should decide and not me. Do what You know is good, and not what is merely good in my own eyes.”
Our Rabbis thus said (Brachot 54a, 60b) — “One is obligated to bless on the bad just like he is obligated to bless on the good.” This is because the real evaluation of the good is only with Hashem, not with man.
The most proper prayer is, therefore, general, and not too specific. Otherwise, it is as if we are trying to force the ratzon Hashem (Will of G-d) to what we think is best, and not trying to force our own will to be more like the ratzon Hashem.
Similarly, the Rashash (Brachot 16b) pointed out:
We ask Hashem “l’malei mishaloseinu l’tova — to fulfill our requests for good” [in general terms] because [we understand that] some specific requests which appear proper in our eyes are not really the best for us.
Rav Wolbe (Alei Shur) explained:
Bitachon flows from one’s emunah (belief) in hashgacha pratit (Divine Supervision). Even with bitachon, however, it is impossible for us to think that everything which occurs will be exclusively tov v’chessed (good and kindness). There is also the trait of din (judgment), as well as tests and decrees [from Heaven]. How does one with bitachon accept all of this?
The depth of bitachon is that a person knows he is in the reliable hands of his Creator, and everything that He gives him is measured and with justice.
The nature of man is to take all of the kindness of Hashem as if it is expected. He never asks why Hashem has given him so much more than he deserves. However, when Hashem takes from him through the trait of judgment, he immediately asks why this is happening to him. He views the middat hadin (trait of judgment) as if it were a thief taking what is his with no justification.
This is the point that Iyov (Job) made — “Hashem natan (G-d gave)” and I didn’t ask any questions, “V’Hashem lakach (and G-d took)” and I am also not asking any questions. And with both aspects, both chessed (kindness) and din (judgment) — “Y’hi sheim Hashem m’vorach — I will bless Hashem” — since He knows what is really best for me.
This is bitachon. A person knows — in other words, his soul knows — that he is in the trustworthy hands of Hashem. And this is how the Chovot haLevavot (Sha’ar Bitachon, Chapter 1) expressed it — “The essence of bitachon (trust in anyone) is menuchat nefesh (peace of mind); one’s heart is relying on whomever he is trusting that he will only do whatever is good and proper for him.” [And we need to realize that] this is speaking about peace of mind and the reliance of one’s heart, not [merely] an intellectual awareness.
This should be l’zechut ul’iluy nishmat Ruchama Rivka, a”h, bat Asher Zevulun