Shemot: Trusting God

trust2In this week’s Torah portion the Torah tells us “There arose a new king over Egypt who did not know Joseph.” There is a disagreement whether it was truly a new king or whether the king (Pharaoh) chose to ignore any debt of gratitude to Joseph and his people for saving Egypt and the world from the 7 year famine. Obviously, trusting in people — especially heads of governments — is problematic. Who do you trust? Who can you trust?

In my youth there was a television show entitled, “Who Do You Trust?” The show was not entitled “Is There Anyone You Trust?,” because, in the end all of us trust in someone or something. People trust in their intelligence, their power, their charm, their knowledge, their connections, their political candidate, and in their wealth. For those who trust (or trusted…) in their wealth, it is ironic that on the American dollar bill it advises “In God We Trust.”

Ultimately, what will help all of us to weather these difficult times is strengthening our trust in God. Trust in God gives a person peace of mind, the ability to relax and to be free of stress and worry. It helps one to deal with frustrations and difficulties.

Like all intelligent discussions, we first have to start with a definition. Trust in God is believing, knowing, internalizing that all that the Almighty does for us if for our good. It is knowing that the Almighty loves us greater than any love one human being can have for another person. He totally knows and understands us and our personal situations. Only the Almighty has the power to impact your situation. He has a track record. You can rely on Him. Everything the Almighty does for you is a gift; there are no strings attached.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Who Do You Trust?”
Commentary on Torah Portion Shemot

That sounds fine as far as it goes, but it’s not as simple as all that. Trusting in God does not mean that you are guaranteed a problem-free life. In fact, as we’ve recently seen, Many people suffer horrible tragedy and tremendous loss regardless of their trust, or lack thereof, in God. The hurricane devastates the righteous and unrighteous alike and loss of a child will break anyone’s heart.

However, Rabbi Packouz provides a handy list of 7 Principles for Trusting in God for our review. Here they are:

  1. The Creator of the universe loves me more than anybody else in the world possibly can.
  2. The Almighty is aware of all my struggles, desires and dreams. All I need is to ask Him for help.
  3. The Almighty has the power to give me anything I want.
  4. There is no other power in the universe other than the Almighty. Only He can grant me success and give me what I want.
  5. The Almighty has a track record for giving me more than I am asking for.
  6. The Almighty gives with no strings attached. I don’t need to earn it or deserve it. He will give it to me anyway.
  7. The Almighty knows what is best for me and everything He does is only for my good.

Although Christianity and Judaism are two different religions (with a common root), I think the list above can be applied just as well to the non-Jewish believer as to the Jewish person.

Does God love you more than anybody else in the world can? The New Testament is full of comments about God’s love, the most obvious being John 3:16. Yes, God does love you and He loves me, and He loves all Christians, and all Jews, and all Muslims, and all Buddhists, and all human beings who have ever lived and who will ever lived.

And yet disaster can strike at any moment and human history is replete with tragedies and disasters. The road of our lives and the lives of all who came before us is littered with broken bodies and broken hearts and broken spirits.

Certainly God is aware of all our needs and struggles since nothing is hidden from Him, but point two suggests that all we have to do to be relieved of our pain is to ask Him for help. Does everyone who has a sincere faith and prays to God receive immediate relief from suffering? Ask the parents of those children who were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary school.

God really does have the power to give you, me, and everyone else anything we want, but that doesn’t mean He will grant us anything we want. In fact, it is very likely that God will not grant us anything we really want most of the time.

From a Christian’s, Jew’s, or Muslim’s point of view, there is only one power in the universe: God. Only God can grant success and comfort. But as I already said, there’s a difference between what He can do and what He will do.

Does God have a track record of giving us more than what we ask for? I’m not even sure how to measure such a thing. I think that’s probably true in some cases, but not in others. Ask six million Jews who died during the Holocaust while praying for God to grant them mercy. Was death the only mercy He decided to give?

no-strings-attachedGod gives with no strings attached. Hmmm. Is that true? Probably in more cases than not, but there’s a presupposition that even in giving, God is trying to get our attention, especially if those receiving His gifts do not have faith. On the other hand, referring back to John 3:16, God is the grand master of unconditional love, so who am I to talk?

God knows what is best for me. I can’t argue against that and this seventh point could be used to explain the other six. We may ask for something and not get it and then conclude that we didn’t get what we wanted because it wasn’t good for us. On the other hand, the parents of 26 murdered children only want this all to be a bad dream and for their precious little ones to be restored to them. Is that not “good for them?”

No, I’m not trying to be a downer and “diss” trusting in God, but such an abiding trust is difficult to come by.

Blessed are You, O God … Who has provided me my every needs.


One of the great tzaddikim lived in abject poverty, yet always had a happy disposition. He was asked how he managed to maintain so pleasant an attitude in the face of such adverse conditions.

“Each day I pray to God to provide all my needs,” he said. “If I am poor, that means that one of my needs is poverty. Why should I be unhappy if I have whatever I need?”

Tzaddikim are great people and we are little people who may not always be able to achieve the intensity of trust in God that would allow us to accept adversity with joy. But even if we cannot attain it to the highest degree, we should be able to develop some sincere trust.

When our children are little, we as parents know what they need. They might prefer a diet of sweets, but we give them nourishing foods. They certainly despise receiving painful injections that immunize them against dreadful diseases, but we forcibly subject them to these procedures because we know what is good for them.

Some people do not believe in God. But to those that do, why not realize that He knows our needs better than we do, and that even some very unpleasant experiences are actually for our own betterment?”

Today I shall…

try to bear adversity with less anger and resentment, remembering that God is a compassionate Father, and that He gives me that which He knows, far better than I, that I truly need.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tevet 20”

The Hebrew word bitachon is typically translated as “trust” in English, but that hardly does it justice. Trusting God isn’t about God always giving us what we want or us experiencing God as always doing what we think of as good. It’s the realization that God is always good regardless of our experiences.

Consider any of the “holy men” you may admire and revere from the Bible. From Abraham to Paul, they all led less than perfect lives. Yes, God granted them many gifts, but He also allowed much hardship. Abraham and Sarah were childless and without an heir for most of their lives and into extreme old age until God granted them Isaac. Jacob was hated by his brother Esau, kept in virtual slavery by his relative Laban for twenty years, his daughter was raped and held captive, his favorite son Joseph was lost and presumed dead. Another son Judah married outside of the Hebrews and two of his three sons died. Joseph was a slave and a prisoner for years in a strange land before being elevated to great power, but only on the condition that he conceal his identity, even from his own brothers. When Joseph died, every one of his descendants for generations was kept as slaves in Egypt. Even their rescuer Moses was unable to lead his people into Canaan and instead wandered with them in the desolate wilderness for forty years until finally dying with almost everyone else in his generation without walking in Israel for himself.

Dietrich BonhoefferThe “saints” of the New Testament fared no better. Consider the stoning of Stephen, the harsh life of Paul leading only to death in Rome, and the martyrdom of Peter and every other Apostle. No, trust and faith did not result in comfort of life.

No, trust in God cannot be based on experience with God because if it were, none of these people would have been able to trust Him. In fact it seems that one must trust God in spite of our life experience. Rabbi Packouz’s list does little good, since God does not perform good on command. Knowing that God can spare us pain and suffering doesn’t help and is a bitter irony when God doesn’t spare us pain and suffering. Job’s most famous line (for me) illustrates what it is to trust in God.

Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face.

Job 13:15 (ESV)

This gives us a picture of the Jewish method of trusting God, since it doesn’t preclude telling God how we feel about what’s happening to us.

Rabbi Twerski tells us that only a great tzaddik, a very holy and spiritual person, can truly trust God at the level I’m talking about here. But he also says that it’s not impossible for we “ordinary folk” to trust God, either. In his own declaration on the matter, Rabbi Twerski states, Today I shall try to bear adversity with less anger and resentment, remembering that God is a compassionate Father, and that He gives me that which He knows, far better than I, that I truly need.

In our own times of hardship and anguish, maybe this is the best we can do as well.

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

2 Corinthians 4:5-12 (ESV)

Good Shabbos.

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