Emunah and Hishtadlus: Part Two
The right to pick and choose one's level of spirituality is something that I have constantly seen Gedolim allow. A student of mine once asked a Godol in Eretz Yisroel a work related Tznius question. When he was told that the student lives in America, the Godol responded that he must ask a Godol in America, since Gedolim in America think differently from those in Eretz Yisroel. I have also heard similar stories from Gedolim in America.
Our Gedolim do not promote a pick and choose attitude towards Mitzvohs and Hashkofo. Their message is that any admired approach is only admirable if one will succeed in attaining the goals of that approach. Otherwise, one ends up with the same rot found when uncovering a seed not allowed to blossom. Our Gedolim believe it's better to choose an approach which is 100% acceptable from a Torah perspective, and is something that one can adopt, integrate and sustain.
Such a view is mentioned in the Gemara (Berochos, Daf 2), which tells us that many people attempted to follow Rav Shimon bar Yochoi's approach of immersing themselves in Torah for the entire day, ignoring the need to earn a living, and most didn't succeed. Others, embraced the view of Rav Yishmoel, learning part of the day, and working the remainder, and succeeded. Despite our Chachomim's (Rabbis) steadfast belief that learning all day is the best way for all men to live, practical Hishtadlus is a requirement for all but the few.
The lesson is that the most admirable approach (learning Torah all day) is not necessarily the best approach for everyone. Not realizing this, many people have attempted such a lifestyle and ended up learning less than they would've otherwise learned. They also failed in business. The goal is to realistically undertake an approach in which you can succeed.
These ideas have been helpful in convincing individuals to reconsider their approaches to Emunah and Bitachon. However there are two instances in which I find myself having a difficult time getting individuals to be more effective.
The first is when I speak to people who are emotionally fragile, and have lived the past few years in a lifestyle that focuses exclusively on Emunah. Despite understanding that they need to take more control of their lives (Hishtadlus), they are "programmed" to believe that taking control shows an absence of being a good Jew. In addition, they find that it's difficult to worry about life. They have chosen, and lived, a stress free life for the past several years because of their fragile state of mind. Making decisions is just too stressful for them to consider.
The second is with people who speak "holy" but act contrary to those values. They promote a life that is indifferent to physical possessions, but complain about their lives, on a daily basis, to their family and friends. They speak of disdain towards the materialistic, but wear $60 custom shirts. They are Mishtadel (place effort towards their goals), but deny doing it, or rationalize each case as an exception to the rule of Emunah. It's difficult to explain anything to them as they are in denial about their true values.
The approach of Emunah and Hishtadlus that I promote is the one that I've read in many Seforim (Jewish books), most prominently in the Akeidas Yitzchok and Mechtav M'eliyahu. I want to introduce my approach with a story from Sefer Shmuel:
While escaping from Shaul, Dovid Hamelech ran into the city of Ochish, ruled by the king of Gas. Rumors surfaced that it was the famous general (at that time) Dovid who was hiding in the city, and the King gave orders to catch him. Dovid Hamelch, in his attempt to save his life, acted insane, drooling over himself until the king instructed his men to remove Dovid from his presence.
The Akeidas Yitzchok explains this incident as follows: "Despite the fact that by acting in this manner Dovid Hamelech could only succeed through a Nes ( a miracle), and despite the fact that it was terribly degrading, it was something that he could do. Not doing it would have been a breach of his responsibility of Hishtadlus, and he wouldn't+ have been saved by Hashem." Emunah, the Akeidas Yitzchok concludes, only begins when all forms of Hishtadlus have been exhausted.
Only after his Hishtadlus did Dovid Hamelech compose a chapter of Tehillim, as a form of Tefilla. Yakov Avinu did something similar in his attempt to save himself from his brother, Eisov. He first sent Eisov gifts and prepared for battle, and only after this did he resort to Tefillah. The words in the Medrash make it very clear that Tefillah came last.
Mechtav M'eliyahu acknowledges that Hishtadlus brings with it the risk of eroding one's emunah. It says that despite the need for Hishtadlus, one must realize that Hishtadlus doesn't actually contribute towards the chances of success. For instance, when it comes to earning a livelihood, the requirement to work for "a living" is to fulfill the curse of B'zei'as Apecho Tochal Lechem, (with the sweat of your brow you'll eat bread). The actual effort doesn't affect how much one will earn.
Dovid Hamelech's greatness was in realizing that his Hishtadlus was only a "cover" for Hashem's actions. Each person must strive towards a healthy balance between Hishtadlus and Emunah.
In addition to being a prerequisite for Hashem's help, Hishtadlus serves a second purpose. It is to teach people that they are responsible for making Hashem's gifts appear to be natural and not Nisim (miracles). If they don't, their Z'chusim, (merits) will be taken from them.
The thoughts in this article may make some people feel uncomfortable. However, they're necessary for people to read in order to help themselves person strive for personal greatness.
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