Emunah and Hishtadlus: Part One
In this article I would like to foray into a topic that is related more to general Hashkofo (Jewish thought) than to the Chinuch (educating) of our children, but is something about which I feel very strongly. There's an approach towards Emunah (faith in Hashem's divine intervention) that has caused many teenagers and adults confusion and, in some cases, significant problems in their lives. Some people consider Emunah and Hishtadlus (intervention with the intent of facilitating change) to be on a collision course with each other.
After listening to Rabbonim, Rabbeim, Seminary teachers, other people that they respect, and reading multiple English Seforim, some individuals may find themselves more confused and disillusioned than they imagined they could ever be. They're told, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly, that any form of Hishtadlus, or even being worried about how the events of life will play out, is an absence of Emunah.
Before I begin, I would like to offer the following disclaimer. There are several approaches to Emunah mentioned in Seforim (religious books), just as each Shevet (tribe) had its individual form of Avodas Hashem (serving Hashem). Everyone must get in touch with their own level of, and approach to, Emunah. Everyone must find an effective balance of Emunah and Hishtadlus that is a Torah supported view and which will make them into stronger Jews.
Many people are unaware of which approach to Emunah they're capable of undertaking and may make their decisions based on speeches from fiery speakers; others choose their views based on idealism and, still others, choose their views based on how it appears to simplify their lives.
Many people choose a view that focuses entirely on Emunah, with an almost total exclusion of Hishtadlus. Doing this makes them feel good, removes them from the burden of decision making, and frees them from having to work on the difficulties that each and every one of us faces.
Some people believe that the "Frummer" their approach is, the better they are as individuals and Jews. I accept that people who can raise themselves to the point of having complete Emunah (believing that whatever Hashem does is for the best), should be much-admired. Nevertheless, following this approach may be wrong for some of them.
For some people, embracing Emunah to the exclusion of Hishtadlus, may not be effective, and therefore not be the Rotzon Hashem, (what Hashem wants). Here are two potential problems:
The first is best explained with the following analogy. If a person plants a seed in the ground, the seed will first rot and then will grow into a beautiful plant. What takes place is a three step process: plant, rot and grow. If the process is stopped midway, the person has less than with what he began, he has rot.
A strong emphasis on true, sincere, Emunah, is a difficult ongoing process that requires several steps. If people stop before the final step of true Emunah, they'll find themselves with less than with what they began. They may outwardly act like they have uncompromising Emunah but, internally, become crushed by the events that take place in their lives. Eventually they may explode. I've personally witnessed several people, who, after attempting a strict obedience to Emunah, found themselves less religious than their friends and family, or not religious at all.
I've spoken to several people whose Emunah caused them to disassociate from their family and friends, labeling those as non believers. I've also spoken to people who followed a strict obedience to Emunah, but didn't learn to differentiate between Emunah and sabotaging their lives.
The second potential problem for many people is that total Emunah, without Hishtadlus, is an escape from life. Many people lack self esteem and/or are afraid to ask for advice. This makes them afraid to make decisions. It's very difficult for anyone to get a grip on life without confidence or advisors By embracing a lifestyle of complete Emunah, they can say to themselves and to others, "I'm not irresponsible. I'm full of Emunah."
This "escape" wouldn't be detrimental if they were able to live their lives carrying the banner of Emunah without making personal decisions. In most cases, avoiding responsibility while not motivated by true Emunah, only offers short term satisfaction. In the long run, avoiding taking charge of their lives makes them feel cornered, unable to successfully position themselves, and they become trapped. At some point they realize that they must do something, if they want to avoid the total breakdown of their lives.
In many cases they become extreme, adopt a disdain for physical possessions, and attempt to separate themselves from anything physical. They scorn those that give credence to physical items. (Although they have no problem asking them for money or borrowing their car.)
As a side note, many teenagers who live such lives are irresponsible, and hide under the banner of Emunah. They only survive their bad decisions because their parents constantly bail them out. Instead of learning the lesson that they acted irresponsibly (since they were saved by their parents), they conclude that their lifestyle is right. Hashem helped them by getting their parents to bail them out. I know of a boy who purchased a one way ticket to Uman, Russia, even though he planned on returning to America. He had Emunah. His parents bought him the ticket. Was his success the result of Emunah or his parents Hishtadlus to protect him?
Many people, after they realize that they can't continue in this manner, make a commitment to take charge of their lives. However, they still long for the life that they perceived to be simple, spiritual, and enviable. They can't escape feeling that their failures are due to their lack of Spirituality. This causes them to flip back and forth between a practical, and non practical, approach to Emunah, which only succeeds in making their lives more and more difficult.
The truth is that their difficulty is not because they aren't spiritual. It's because this lofty approach should be reserved for a small, saintly group of people. During a time when our generation grapples with true religious performance, many people attach themselves to extreme approaches. They attempt to take the stories of our Gedolim and make those incidents and attitudes into their normal approach.
To be continued
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