Bitachon – What Allows Us To Trust? — By Ben

Continuing along in my exploration of bitachon, or trust in God, I realized that many of us are probably plagued by trust issues. We have problems trusting significant others, the news, the government, customer service reps… even ourselves! And we’ve all had moments where we’ve poured our hearts out to God in prayer to not have them be answered. So how are we supposed to authentically trust in Him?

Well, I’m not going to answer that today. However I think in pursuit of that answer, it would be helpful to explore a little bit about what trust is and what helps us place our trust in anything in the first place.

In the plainest of senses I’m going to go with the definition that trust means – when a person can rely on another to do, accomplish, or fulfill something. Seems pretty simple. I ask you to take me to the airport and I know you are super responsible and punctual, I can rest easy that you’ll be at my front door on time. However Rabbi Bachaya ibn Paquda (author of Duties of the Heart which contains the section Sha’ar Habitachon) adds a deeper element to real trust. He clarifies that it isn’t just being able to rely on your friend to accomplish a task, but that you know your friend has your best interests in mind.

This nuance is important. If you hire someone to do a job (let’s say walking your dog), you might have a sufficient amount of certainty that this person will give Sir Wags A Lot his stroll around the block. But what if along the way someone offers them more money to walk their dog, they might abandon you all together shattering your trust. But if this person you hired is your father, who knows how hard you work and wants to help make your life easier, now we’re in a whole other realm of reliability.

With that nuance understood, Rabbi Paquda goes on to list 7 factors that are necessary in trusting another.

  1. Knowing that they care.
    As explained above, it’s not enough to know your trustee wants a paycheck, but also they have to share a feeling of compassion and empathy for what you need. In other words, when they have a personal relationship with you and you know they care, you are more likely to be able to rest easy.
  2. Knowing they want to help.
    I love my brother, but I don’t really care whether he puts up a new fence around his house or not. However, when his power went out in the early days of Covid quarantine, I was genuinely concerned. We had all just stocked up on frozen foods, and if his refrigerator was without power for days, all that preparation would have gone down the drain. So I prayed like crazy. When we feel the trustee cares as much about the task as we do, our ability to trust in them is far stronger.
  3. Knowing they are able to help.
    Your trustee can be your best friend, they can be enthusiastic about the task, and they can have all the authentic intentions in the world, but if all they have is a Prius, they’re not going to be able to help you pick up your new couch from Ikea. The person you’re trusting has to have the strength and/or capabilities to do what they’re promising.
  4. They know how to help.
    You might think this is the same as being able to help, but there’s an important difference. Wisdom. Sometimes we get pieces of advice that may not make the most sense to us. However, if we believe the person knows what they’re talking about, we’re willing to trust in their advice. Even if it is counter intuitive. When we know they know what is good for us, it fosters tremendous trust.
  5. They have a track record.
    Simply put, look at the facts. When you have an established relationship with someone, you know what you’re getting. My friend Tyler will always call me back. My friend Saul will never not give me food if I visit him. They’re just tried and true established character traits. It’s the reason why personal recommendations carry so much more weight than an impressive resumĂ©.
  6. They have complete control.
    This factor is one that we come across less often in our day to day lives (unless we’re talking about God). Rabbi Paquda uses the example of a mother with her new infant. She will feed, bathe, diaper, burp, swaddle, and care for that child with complete control despite what the child thinks it wants. And though few of us have that sort of relationship these days, that feeling of security that infant feels towards his mother is the feeling we should feel with God.
  7. They will help even if you don’t deserve it.
    How many of us have insulted our parents when we were teenagers then mere minutes later asked for money or to borrow the car? The final factor in trust is knowing that even if you reach a point of contention with your trustee, they’re still going to help. That they have a kindness and generosity to do beyond what has been asked of them. That they’ll help even when it isn’t required of them.

It’s rare that we are able to benefit from relationships that contain all 7 factors. Of course, Rabbi Paquda goes on to say that these 7 factors can only be found in God and he goes on to demonstrate that in chapter 3 of Sha’ar Habitachon. But as a tool, reflecting on these 7 factors can be a big help in understanding why we find ourselves with apprehension and anxieties regarding elements of our lives where we feel unsafe or experience a lack of control. Am I worried my boss is going to give me work I can’t handle? Who in my life has demonstrated a reliable track record?

In addition to the 7 factors there are 2 steps we can take that can make the trust we place in others more powerful.

  1. Deepen your relationships.
    The first factor was knowing that the trustee cares about you. But if you care about them, you humanize “the servant.” If you’re about to leave work to have dinner with your significant other only for your boss to come in and say, “I don’t care what you’ve got going on, I need this assignment done by tonight,” you might get the job done, but it’s probably not going to be your best work.

    However, if your boss comes in and asks you what your work load is like and then asks if you can handle the assignment, you’re much more likely to want to find a way to do the job well. But then take that a step further; your boss not only has been having conversations with you about your spouse, maybe even given you advice, then when you tell them what you’ve got going on that night, the two of you are much more likely to be able to find a way to get that assignment done in a way that works given the important dinner date.
  2. Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, You’re My Only Hope.
    So let’s say your loving boss, after all we’ve established (that you’ve got a good relationship, they care about your spouse, etc) is about to leave your office when they say, “Oh I’ve also got Steve working on the exact same assignment incase you mess up.”

    What the hell, right? All that duty and responsibility you felt goes out the window knowing that someone else is doing it too. Why even bother? However, if your boss had said, the reason I want you doing this tonight is because you’re the best employee by far, you always triple check your work, and I know not only are you the best one for this assignment, you’re the ONLY one who I can trust to complete it properly.

    Now we’re playing a whole new ballgame. When put our trust in one source, and only one source, that person reciprocates that trust with added effort. Conversely when we split up our trust, it undermines the confidence the trustee feels you have in them.
Photo by Christian Scheja

These last two steps are the work we are striving for when we build our bitachon with Hashem. We try to be as clear as possible that the 7 factors are found in Him. But then these two steps, deepening our relationship, then realizing He is the sum total of where I trust should be placed, that makes the difference between night and day. Trust me.

This post is dedicated to the refuah shlema of Sarah bas Bracha.

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