What’s Trust Got to Do With It?

By Nili Navot, Tzfat, Israel
Essays 2016

MyLife Essay Contest 2016


A few weeks ago, on my walk home, I caught myself feeling anxious.  I wasn’t having a panic attack or anything severe, just feeling a general anxiety, for no obvious reason.  I stopped myself- literally stopped on the street for a moment, and quieted my mind.  I then applied a Chassidic concept I learned (I’ll be discussing it in this essay) and the result was remarkeable. The very next moment, not only did my anxiety dissipate, but my emotions were replaced with a sense of security,  calmness, and love.  This essay hopes to bring to light a real antidote to anxiety through a concept that is often discussed in Chassidic philosophy- Bitachon, loosely translated as security, or Trust.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe propounded the concept of bitachon in many of his writings and personal letters to people, as well as his life-transforming talk on Parshas Shemos1.  He raised this concept, an offshoot of faith, emunah, to an unprecedented level, and it is one of the backbones of Chassidic philosophy, one that can affect our way of living in the world on a daily and even moment-to-moment basis.  Chassidism also looks at the concept of bitachon as culled from the ancient musar, non-Chassidic work Duties of the Heart, written almost one thousand years ago by Rabbeinu Bachye, and often sourced by Chabad Rebbeim.  We will explore the concept of trust from these two sources, and cull from them real practical tools to abolish anxiety in our daily lives.

Many contemporary psychologists have termed the time we are living in the “age of anxiety”.  There are many clinical studies that show that the rate of anxiety has been steadily increasing and is now at an all-time high.  One of the attributing factors of this, according to the APA (American Psychological Association), is a decrease in social connectedness, and one of the factors contributing to this loss of connectivity is a “decline in trust in other people”.  This study shows the essential role that trust plays in our lives, whether it is within our interpersonal relationships or otherwise.  The decline in our social connectedness, due to factors such as increased divorce rate and more people living alone2, has also possibly lead to our society’s reliance on virtual connection, attempting to fill the lack of healthy connectivity by an often obsessive need for social connectivity in virtual worlds of technology.

The Ailment and The Antidote
Anxiety and other difficult emotions that people face daily can often be sourced to two distinct feelings or circumstances:  lack of security/control, and the feeling of isolation/separation/disconnection.  What are the antidotes to these emotions?  Trust, the feeling of true security, is the Chassidic antidote to anxiety.  The opposite of isolation or disconnection, which is true unity, is the second antidote to anxiety.  This Chassidic concept of unity will be briefly discussed, as addressed in Tanya Ch. 32 by the founder of Chabad Chassidus, the Alter Rebbe.

Where does real trust come from?  How can we cultivate trust and security, true bitachon?  In Duties of the Heart, Rabeinu Bachye lays out the criteria for us as humans to be able to fully trust another human.  As he expounds upon the seven qualifications the other person must carry and exhibit at all times in order to merit our complete trust, in Chapter 2 in The Gate of Trust # 4, Shaar Habitachon, it becomes clear that we are not able to put our full trust in any human, even our closest caretakers, but only in the one Creator.  “When we investigate these seven conditions, we will not find that any man exhibits all seven genuinely; the Creator alone does.”3  This is because we as humans are limited creatures, and in order to fully trust any entity with our entire lives, they must comply with criteria that are beyond the laws of nature.

Learning about these conditions, which only G-d can fulfill, one realizes how much care, love, protection, thought, mercy and compassion He has for us, how every single detail of our lives is perfectly thought out through Divine Providence, a Chassidic concept expounded by the founder of Chassidus, the Baal Shem Tov.  The outcome of this real trust in G-d is peace of mind from the worries of the world, feeling calm, secure, at peace, as is written “Blessed be the man who trusts in G-d, and G-d shall be his refuge” (Yirmiyahu 17:7)

When we contemplate, or in Chassidic terms practice hitbonenut, on certain concepts, our emotions are affected, and can even be transformed in an instant.  We can be in a state of anxiety, and when we pause and contemplate a Chassidic concept, we can arouse within our hearts feelings of positivity, calmness, security, love, a feeling of knowing that everything is good and will be good.  Security and trust in G-d means also knowing and feeling that we are loved unconditionally, protected and nourished and provided for in so many ways at every moment.  As I walked down the street that day and might have felt disconnected at the moment, I stopped and contemplated G-d. This realization alone, of His unconditional love for us, was responsible for the complete shift in my emotions. My trust in G-d did away with my anxiety and replaced it with serenity.

Think Good
The Lubavitcher Rebbe has put such an emphasis on the importance of trust in his teachings and letters that entire books have been dedicated to just this topic, such as In Good Hands, 100 Letters and Talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe .. on Bitachon: Trusting in Gd.  He speaks in his famous talk on Shemot about this trusting as not just a belief, but an action.  The act of having full complete trust in G-d, whether or not the person deserves to see himself saved in the situation he is in, in and of itself creates a merit for the person to be saved in a real revealed manner.  This is where one of the fundamental statements of Chabad Chassidus comes in.  More than one hundred fifty years ago, this statement was given over by the third Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (1789–1866):  Tracht gut, vet zein gut; Think Good, and it Will be Good, and the Rebbe in this talk shows how we actually create our reality and its positive outcome by having trust that it will be good.

In addition to the contemplation and generation of trust,  there is another powerful contemplation discussed in Tanya, Chapter 32.  The number 32 in numerology is equivalent to the word Lev, Heart. Not coincidentally, this chapter explores the workings of the heart and cultivating unity, one of the cornerstones of Chassidic thought.  Through a genuine and sincere contemplation of unity, our feelings of anxiety stemming from a false notion of disconnection or isolation are wiped away.  But what does this elusive word, unity, really mean?  The Alter Rebbe tells us in this fundamental chapter that the only thing that separates us is our physical bodies, that our souls are actually all united as one.  “So do we say in our prayers:  5“Bless us, our Father, all as one with the light of Your Countenance”.  From this we learn that when we tap into the mindset that we are all one, and we feel this unity, then and only then can G-d bless us with His Countenance.  Furthermore, as the mind itself is where our souls are connected, it is precisely in this intellectual realm that we can contemplate these ideas in order to create true trust and unity, as well as various positive emotions, which lead us throughout our days and guide our positive actions.

Is There a Difference?
It has become a major trend in psychology to focus on the mind as a tool for bettering our realities and lives, with psychological methods such as mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy, positive thinking, and other techniques taking the psychological world by storm in the past several years.  There is at least one major difference between Chassidic philosophy and these other techniques, and the differentiator is this concept of bitachon.  The trust that we speak of in Chassidus is not trust in ourselves, as opposed to many psychological theories that are based on increasing compassion, confidence, expression, and so on, of ourselves, but rather, through our trust in something greater, we create the vessels in order to receive and draw down G-d’s blessings that He bestows upon us.  While most of these positive psychology theories and the self-help field generally focus on the self:  self-mastery, self-confidence, self-identity, and self-fulfillment, bitachon in its proper function is aimed towards something above and beyond self.  Furthermore, the concept of unity is in direct opposition to this focus on self.  When we contemplate that we are all united as one; when we contemplate the greatness of G-d and the amazing blessings that He bestows upon us constantly, we are connected to positive feelings, stemming from positive thoughts, leading to positive actions and our increased ability to do good work in this world.

The ultimate purpose of our hitbonenut, or contemplation, of Chassidic concepts, is to enable us to be vessels and messengers, able to fulfill our missions here on earth in the best way possible.  Negative emotions can be obstacles to our work, which is not self, but G-d -directed.  Moments where we feel anxiety, a disconnection, or lack of trust, are opportunities for us to draw upon Chassidic concepts, such as the ones presented here, meditate upon them, and draw up our latent feelings of trust, love, and unity, enabling us to be better able to perform our various tasks and good deeds in this world, with joy.  The concepts briefly discussed in this essay are just a tiny drop in the vast sea of the wellsprings of Chassidus, that when learned and internalized, have the power to transform us and our behaviors, and since we are all united as one, when one of us transforms through the contemplation of these concepts, it intrinsically draws out more love and connection amongst ourselves as a people, leading ultimately to true and lasting peace, may we merit to see it immediately.



[1] Likutei Sichos 36, Shemos 1

[2] http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2000/12/anxiety.aspx

[3] Shaar Habitachon, Gate #4 of Chovos Halevavos, Duties of the Heart

[4] Likutei Sichos 36, Shemos 1

[5] Liturgy, final blessing in the Amidah