Eisav came to meet Yaakov with 400 men. And chazal (our sages) tell us that Eisav had one mission in mind. It wasn’t a welcoming party; it was to kill his brother. Eisav was armed to the teeth, and these 400 mercenaries had set out to engage in battle to kill Yaakov. And the pasuk (verse) says “vayira Yaakov,” Yaakov was afraid. Says the Gemara (Talmud), it’s a contradiction. Rav Idi bar Avin says how could it be that Yaakov was afraid? Didn’t Hashem promise him that Hashem would protect him? Answers the Gemara, Yaakov was afraid that maybe he sinned and the promise that Hashem made before no longer applied. Maybe he’s no longer the man that he used to be.
I’d like to ask a very obvious question on this Gemara. When Yaakov is going out to face his brother in war, isn’t it obvious he should be afraid? What’s the Gemara’s question? How is it possible that Yaakov is afraid if Hashem promised him to protect him? Hashem made that promise 38 years earlier. Right now Yaakov is going out to battle with his brother who is probably his equal in strength and he’s accompanied by 400 men. Yaakov is facing tremendous odds against him. He’s in mortal fear. Maybe he was afraid because he was afraid? Why does the Gemara have to say no, he was afraid that the promise no longer applied, maybe he sinned. Maybe Yaakov was afraid like you and me?
And I believe what this chazal shares with us is a profound concept. You see, when I walk in the street I’m afraid because I’m alone. And if three thugs jump out of a car, I’m in trouble. But Yaakov Avinu (our forefather Yaakov) was never alone. He walked with Hashem. All day every day. If Hashem promised him earlier that he would protect him, Yaakov had nothing to be afraid of. It would be akin to you and I walking along the street accompanied by the entire US Marine Corps, and three high school punks pull out a switchblade. And I say to them, fellow, did you notice the M16 assault rifles? Did you notice the grenade launchers? I would not be afraid of three punks if I was accompanied by the entire US Marine Corps.
Yaakov Avinu walked with Hashem all day every day. If Hashem promised him earlier that He would protect him, Yaakov couldn’t be afraid. The Gemara says it’s a contradiction. It has to be that Yaakov assumed there might be some reason why the original promise doesn’t apply, because Yaakov walked with Hashem 24/7 his entire life.
And when you read about such chazals and you understand who the Avos (forefathers) were, you see pure bitachon (trust) in action. Whether we’ll get there now, in 20 years, or maybe never isn’t as much the point as to recognize what real bitachon means. Real bitachon means recognizing that Hashem is here. Real bitachon means relying on Hashem, understanding more than anything that no harm can befall me. It’s something that requires many, many years of work, but it’s something that changes a person’s perspective. At the core of it all is the understanding that Hashem decrees what will be and Hashem is on the scene to carry out that decree.