What does trust in God mean?

  Do you  go after your own needs, but also trust in God?
Or do you need to sit and learn Torah, and assume that what is decreed for you will come automatically? [As the disciple of Reb Israel Salanter wrote in his book Madragat HaAdam מכאן שאין אדם צריך לשום סיבה אלא מה שנגזר בשבילו יבא ממילא בלי שום סיבה כלל] (Translation: "From here we learn that a person does not need any cause, but rather what is decreed for him will come to him without any cause at all--as the Ramban/Nahmanides concluded.")

The Gra said this issue is addressed in the Gemara Rosh HaShanah 26b.
The actual text of the Gemara is just about two lines. It says:
"The people in the local study hall did not understand a strange word in a verse in Psalms יהבך. 'Cast on God  יהבך [burden] and He will support you.' And then they saw Raba Bar Bar Hana walking with a merchant, and the merchant used that word and said, 'Put  יהבך on my camel'; and so then they understood it."
The Gra explained:  "They thought that one should do השתדלות (effort), one should take actions to get his needs meet, but also trust in God. But because of that, they did not understand the verse. They thought it should say צרכיך, 'Cast on God your needs and He will support you.'  After they saw that their original assumption was faulty, and that rather one should just sit and learn and then what one is supposed to have will come automatically, then they understood the verse." (This was in fact how all Navardok yeshivas were started: two students just would come to any Russian town and simply sit and learn Gemara and Musar in the local beit midrash [study hall] and a yeshiva would just pop up around them.)
They would not ask for money. They simply learned Torah.]
This above approach was clearly what people were saying or implying in Far Rockaway [Shar Yashuv] and later in The Mir Yeshiva in NY. The idea was in incredibly simple and straightforward: "Learn Torah and God will do the rest. He will take care of everything else."  [Though if you actually try to pin me down I could not tell you if anyone actually put it in such basic fundamental terms.] [In any case, I could not say I could fulfill this. I wish I had.]

 I have a modified version of this. That is there are things which  are obligations upon me that it would not be right to shirk. And when there are actual obligations that the Torah puts upon me,  I need to do. The cases where one should trust are things that are not actual obligations.
In the above I am presenting the idea of Navardok of trusting in God, and assuming He will help without any effort on my part. That is the path of the Gra and Navardok. On the other hand the Duties of the Heart [חובות לבבות] says one should do effort. So what we have here is an argument among Rishonim [first authorities, i.e anyone from the Middle Ages]. And I was trying to show how I try to navigate my way between these two options.
So trust is  a kind of value that has nothing in the secular world to correspond to. And it is like walking on a tight rope over Niagara Falls. You really never know when to trust, and when to put out your own effort. It is highly personal. To bring this message to the larger public, the way to do so  is by starting a kind of Navardok yeshiva --which means a regular Litvak Musar Yeshiva, but with an extra emphasis on trust in God. [Or to set aside one room of your home or a yeshiva just for Musar. I saw this in Netivot in the yeshiva of Rav Montag there, and this makes a lot of sense to me. This helps to bring the basic message of the Torah into focus: to be a mensch, that is to have good traits.
This kind of conflict- when to trust and when to expend effort- is really just a single example of a larger set of conflicts in values that occur in life. Much of moral philosophy deals with conflicts in values. But even conflicts in moral values are even more basic to nature that we are aware. This is an example of  logical contradictions one gets into when he enters into areas where not just human reason, but even pure reason can't enter as Kant goes into. [That is this is an area of numinous value, the dinge an sich. ]

On a personal note I think I should have stuck with the basic approach of yeshivas in those days -"Trust in God, learn Torah and God will take care of the financial issues." When I left this kind of framework, not only did things fall apart from a Torah perspective, but from a financial perspective also-- almost with a vengeance. That was  to tell me in so many words, "You abandoned Me, so I will abandon you."  Whether you ascribe this interpretation to the events that occurred at that time or not does not really matter, because the fact is this: as long as I  trusted that God would take care of things, and I sat and learned Torah,  God did take care of everything in the best possible fashion possible. And when I stopped, so did He.


(1) I am not going into The problem of Evil or Theodicy. While I  try to have this attitude of trust, still when things do not go my way, I do not  make that a question on God. And it seems that this is required in order to have true trust in God. It has to come with its complement--of a determination not to ask questions when things go wrong.

(2) We know the self is hidden. We can't know our motivations. We often think we are acting from the most noble motivations. It is obvious to others that this is not the case. They can see through our self deception easily. The reason we fool ourselves is we think we have some kind of  special access to know out own motivations. And that is a delusion. But we do know what we are consciously committed to. And to know that is absolutely simple. We can only be committed do what is right or not. Those are the only two options and we can know every second whether we are acting in accord with what we know is the real truth of if we are putting self interest ahead of the truth

(3) Thus what I suggest is to learn the Madragat HaAdam [the book of Musar by  Joseph Yozel Horwitz  of Navardok] in order to try to get to trust in God as much as we can. That is what I am suggesting is that learning Musar is a way of penetrating into the Hidden-Self [the Ding An Sich]. And I am pretty sure that Reb Israel Salanter must have been thinking along these lines also. Reb Israel Salanter must have thought of his system of learning Musar as being a kind of spiritual practice that can penetrate the veil that separates us from the hidden reality. And I am inclined to agree.

(4) I should mention that the greatest yeshiva in the world Ponovitch has a connection with Navardok. The Stipeler Rav, Rav Kinevsky was a son-in-law of Rav Yoseph Yozel Horwitz the rosh yeshiva of the Navardok yeshivas.  

(5) The story with Navardok was the students were taught Ethics and Trust in God along with Gemara. And the kinds of students that came out of such schools really had good character. [Students of Navardok would just go to any random Russian city and sit and learn in the local synagogue and a yeshiva would automatically pop up around them.
Kelm learned Musar most of the day. The Mir (in the city Mir) learned from I think about from 1.5 or more hours per day of Musar after it became  a Musar yeshiva. [But in NY, the Mir had a 20 min. session in Musar before the afternoon prayer and 15 min. before the evening prayer.]

(6) Trust in God has become considered to be opposed to work. That is if you see someone learning Torah all day that is supposed to mean they trust in God. If they are working, it means they are not.
I disagree with this formulation of the problem. While it is true that to get a good picture of what trust in God is in practice, I do not agree that this formulation is the right one.  The way I see things is that Torah ought to be learnt along with a vocation, and survival skills.
That is in fact what you generally see in "Mizrahi" institutions. Or "Bnei Akiva." That is religious Zionism.

(7) I do not want to make it seem like I have trust in God nowadays. But I try to repeat that small paragraph about trust from the Gra when I wake up in the morning in the hope that eventually it might sink into me to begin to trust God again.

(8) Musar today I think should be directed towards finishing all of the four classical books of Musar along with the books of the disciples of Israel Salanter.  [There are two books from Isaac Blasser. The אור ישראל and a second one that just came out recently in Bnei Brak of his writings and letters. I saw this book in Netivot in Rav Montag's yeshiva but most people are completely unaware of the existence of this second book. The letters of Simha Zissel from Kelm I found completely unintelligible and no one has reprinted them. The מדרגת האדם {Level of Man}is  a masterpiece. The book אור צפון {Hidden Light}from the Rosh Yeshiva of Slobodka I think is important, but for some reason he wrote in every chapter something that seems contrary to the simple explanation of the Gemara. I was not able to make much progress there. That is incidentally where Rav Avigdor Miller went to yeshiva.]

(9) Trust also goes with accomplishment in Torah, not intelligence. See this note: "But in any case, is there any compelling evidence of a correlation between IQ and achievement? Richard Feynman  had an IQ of 123, which is OK, but not exactly astronomical, Yet he was one of America’s greatest theoretical physicists. ... Amusingly, William Shockley, inventor of the transistor, was among the elementary school children tested by IQ  researchers (in the 1920's). His IQ was not high enough to be a “termite”, so he was shut out of the experiment and was not deemed “gifted”."

(10) I have been hoping that by saying over to myself that piece of Musar [That Gemara Rosh Hashanah along with the commentary of the Gra] that somehow the concept of trust would get inside me. I can not say that I succeeded in that, but it did help me withhold action. I was in a situation which was very terrible but I thought that unless I am actually force to leave that I should not do so based on this idea of the Gra that if it is from Heaven it will happened whether you like it or not. So I stayed and somehow after years of torture somehow the situation just seems to have been resolved.

(You might that you are not allowed to learn in some beit midrash. That happened to me but that is from Heaven. In that way God will guide your steps to where you ought to be.  )

Asking for money to learn Torah seems to violate the Rambam's idea that for one to seek charity in order to learn Torah causes one to lose his portion in the next world. But to accept charity that is offered seems to be OK in terms of the end of the Laws of the Seventh year --"not just the tribe of Levi but all who put themselves out to serve God and turn from the pleasures of this world, God will provide." This seems to be in accord with the Mishna in Pirkei Avot. [Perhaps this is an issue of סוגיות חלוקות (differing approaches in the Gemara)? But I think this is not a case of disagreement but rather to seek charity to learn is forbidden, but to accept it if offered is OK. ]  But in a practical sense I think the majority of people have  a kind of intuition of who is learning Torah for its own sake and simply accept money in order to continue to do so,- as opposed to those who are learning Torah for ulterior reasons of personal gain. And all intuitions have a prima facie plausibility on the face of it unless some other intuition comes along with more prima facie plausibility that can defeat the first one as Dr. Michael Huemer goes into.