The Rambam defines emunah as the knowledge that Hashem created and continues to run all of Creation.
In Shemoneh Perakim, he delineates the first of the Thirteen Principles of Faith: “The Creator, blessed be He, created and orchestrates all activities, and He alone did, does and will do all actions.”
Simply put, nothing can exist and no activity can occur without Hashem. There is no such thing as happenstance. There are no random occurrences. Hashem is intricately involved in the running of the world.
Emunah is the understanding that Hashem is involved in the big picture issues. Life and death. War and famine. Disease and disaster. Which countries will go to war? Which will enjoy peace? Which economies will expand? Which will collapse?
But even more significantly, emunah is the knowledge that Hashem is involved in the minutiae of my daily life. Hashem is there with me, 24/7, 365, all day, every day, from morning to night. No human being or other power can change my destiny. Hashem decrees the fate of man, and Hashem is there on the scene to carry out that decree.
That is emunah—the clear understanding that Hashem runs the world, from big to little, from global to local, across all platforms and situations. Hashem is there controlling every outcome.
Definition of bitachon
Bitachon, however, is quite different. Bitachon means trust. The Chovos HaLevavos defines bitachon as relying on Hashem, trusting Hashem. It is a sense of depending on Him to watch over and protect me.
Hashem is kind, loving and merciful. Hashem created me in order to give to me. And Hashem wants what is for my best. While I am responsible to be proactive, I am not in charge of the outcome, and I am not the determinant of the results. That is Hashem’s role. And so, while I do my part, I rely on Hashem to care for me. I take my heavy burden and place it on Hashem.
Emunah is a state of understanding. Bitachon is a state of trust. Emunah comes from studying this world and seeing that there is a Creator. Bitachon is the state of trust that comes from recognizing that that Creator is good, kindly and wise—and that He cares deeply for His creations.
A person can have emunah and not bitachon
Amazingly, a person can have emunah and not bitachon. He can know that Hashem runs the world, but not necessarily trust in Him.
Pharaoh was a classic example.
The Jews were multiplying at a fantastic rate, and the Egyptians feared that they would soon be outnumbered. Pharaoh had the solution: throw the Jewish boys into the Nile as soon as they’re born. The Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 1:18) explains that this wasn’t a flippant reaction—it was highly calculated. Pharaoh said to his people, “Hashem pays back measure for measure. If we burn the babies—Hashem will burn us. If we hang them—Hashem will hang us. Hashem, however, promised Noach that He would never bring another flood. If we drown the babies, Hashem will want to punish us by drowning, but He won’t be able to. So we are safe.”
Clearly, Pharaoh understood the power of Hashem. He realized that Hashem watches over the world. He also understood that Hashem acts with justice. Pharaoh had no problem with emunah, but he didn’t trust Hashem—he rebelled against Him. He had emunah, but no bitachon.
Hashem is out to get me
I had a chance to see an example of this distinction in a setting closer to home. For many years I was a high school rebbe. One day, I was speaking to a young man about some things that were going on in his life, when he exclaimed, “Hashem is out to get me!”
I didn’t know what he meant, but then he explained. “Don’t you see? It’s all part of a plan. I was doing so well, and then this and this happened. Just when things were starting to get better, that guy came over and did such and such. And that sent me into another tailspin. Then, just when I was getting back into things, this and this happened. Don’t you see? Hashem is out to get me!”
From then on, at least once a week, he would show me how “Hashem was out to get him.”
This fellow saw Hashem in his life. But, he didn’t trust Him. Quite the opposite—Hashem was the problem.
The point is that a person can understand that Hashem runs the world, and still not trust Him. Even though he sees the puppeteer pulling the strings, he still may not trust the one running the show.