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Yaakov Avinu "feared greatly" when he faced the prospect of a battle with Eisav (Bereishis 32:8). Rashi ad loc clarifies that Yaakov feared being killed. (I am aware of the Gemara that explains that Yaakov did not want to rely on Hashem's promise of protection because he might have sinned and thus forfeited the promise. But even without any Divine promise at all, what about plain old bitachon and emunah? That is the point I am trying to bring out.)

On the other hand, David Hamelech declared that he has no fear when confronted by armies and war (Tehillim 27:3).

This seems contradictory, from which we might infer that Yaakov Avinu and David Hamelech had differing approaches to the subject of bitachon, and Yaakov followed the approach that experiencing fear when in danger is fully consistent with faith in G-d.

Or is there a way to resolve the contradiction?

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    I noticed your edit, and I ask what do you mean by "plain old bitachon and emuna"? Emuna = I trust that Hashem can do anything and everything He does is good (which Yaacov wasn't criticised for), but Bitachon is more subtle = I trust that Hashem will do good for me. This is a much harder point to get one's head around, especially for a humble person like Yaacov, who is famous for saying "katonti - I am unworthy"
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jan 9 at 11:29
  • I meant that the trait of bitachon and emunah might not be consistent with experiencing fear when facing worldly dangers. I am more posing a question than suggesting a definition.
    – shmu
    Jan 9 at 11:34

2 Answers 2

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According to many commentaries, Yaacov was criticised and even punished for his fear going to battle. See this answer for sources, quotes and explanation.

David, on the other hand, was highly praised for his trust in Hashem, and is held by the Midrash as the paragon of how to show trust and emuna. Unlike the other 3 Kings quoted in that Midrash, David was able to go into battle himself without fear, swing his sword to cut the enemy, but never for a second believe that anyone other than Hashem is bringing victory.

So, I'll say you've spotted something genuine, that the commentaries and Oral Torah note. Yaacov was criticised for being too humble and meek before Hashem. It took the Torah and the 40 years in the desert for his children to gain the trust not that Hashem can help, but He will help even if we aren't perfect, because He loves us and is committed to us.

For a full explanation on how the last paragraph's point was arrived at, see the above quoted answer.

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  • If you'd like, I can add to this answer some explanation of the differences between bitachon and emuna, as this has now been added to the question. Let me know
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jan 9 at 11:30
  • Thanks, but that's not really the point I was most interested in. I am wondering whether Yaakov vs David Hamelech might be a source for different approaches to bitachon?
    – shmu
    Jan 9 at 11:36
  • @shmu fair enough, that would be a good question. This answer declares that no, there's only one bitachon, and David is the exemplar
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jan 9 at 11:39
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    I liked your answer and I voted it up. Thank you!
    – shmu
    Jan 9 at 12:22
  • @shmu and I liked the question and voted it up too :)
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jan 9 at 12:24
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To answer my own question: Instead of asking why Yaakov Avinu was afraid of war, we should rather ask why David Hamelech declared in Tehillim ch. 27 that he was not afraid of war. Because to the latter question, the Commentators on Tehillim ch. 27 provide answers.

The Radak says that David declared he is not afraid of armies, even if they outsize his military power, because he has seen many times that Hashem saved him and helped him in battle. Thus, David's confidence is based on his personal experience.

The Malbim explains that when David stated בזאת אני בוטח, "In 'this' I trust," he was referring to the idea expressed in his immediately following prayer, that he should be granted the privilege of שבתי בבית ה' ולבקר בהיכלו, "May I spend my time in Hashem's House, and study in His sanctuary." (The translation follows the Malbim's commentary.) The Malbim posits that David is expressing here the idea stated by the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim, that when one's thought is firmly connected to G-d, one enjoys Divine protection.

It comes out according to the Malbim that David's bitachon is not a given, Hashem's protection is not absolute, but is rather predicated on constant connection to Hashem, for which David fervently prays.

Yaakov Avinu's fear is thus not in contradiction to David's bitachon.

This answer fits with the approach of the Chazon Ish in Sefer Emunah v'Bitachon, where he explains that trust in Hashem is not the belief that harsh and dreaded things will not happen, but is rather the confident knowledge that one is in Hashem's hands, and everything is for the good.

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