How does one balance these two seemingly contradictory ideas? It all depends on the person’s spiritual level. The closer a person is to perfection in his belief in Hashem, the more he is expected to rely on Hashem, and his level of hishtadlus (effort) must drop accordingly. Until a person reaches that level he may — and must — work, to achieve whatever he needs to function and sustain himself and his family. As his belief and trust in Hashem grow — and he must work on this mitzvah constantly, to reach ever higher levels of bitachon (trust) — he must adjust his level of hishtadlus and rely more on Hashem.
As I mentioned yesterday, for a person to trust God for his every need and be content in every circumstance as was the Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:10-13), that person would already have to be operating at a very high level spiritually. For the rest of us…well, we worry sometimes.
But I don’t entirely agree with the Rabbinic statement I quoted above. It seems that it could be abused by some people who state that they have achieved so high a spiritual level that they don’t (or shouldn’t) have to work to support themselves and their families at all, and instead, should be allowed to study Torah uninterrupted almost every waking moment. We can see such an example in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish population of Israel who refuse mandatory military service and many who choose not to work and have the Israeli government providing them with support.
I suppose any principle can be taken too far. The Bible is replete with examples of very holy men who were close to God and who nevertheless also labored to support themselves.
I do agree with the principle of hishtadus, which is that we are to work to support ourselves and not to rely on God’s miracles for our “daily bread,” so to speak. But I don’t think that necessarily changes as we learn to believe and trust in God to greater degrees over our lifetimes. Sure, God could cause us to win the lottery by a miracle, but don’t count on it.
As I’ve also previously mentioned, we know that at the end of last week’s Torah portion, we saw that Joseph is in prison. After giving the Chamberlain of the Cupbearers a favorable interpretation of his dream, Joseph asked that the Chamberlain put in a good word for him to Pharaoh, King of Egypt (Genesis 40:14-15). But according to midrash, this was a mistake (although what mistake Joseph actually made is debated by the Rabbis) and as a result, Joseph spent two more years in prison.
The plain text of the scripture doesn’t seem to indicate this and it seems more likely that once the Chamberlain of the Cupbearers had regained his freedom, he simply didn’t bother himself with the request of one insignificant Hebrew slave.
But we do see in this example the delicate balance between trust in God and the necessity of our own efforts. Technically, there was nothing wrong with Joseph asking for help and indeed, God may have arranged this very situation. After all, we find that two years later, the Chamberlain does remember Joseph, but only because Pharaoh has a dream that no one can interpret (Genesis 41:1-13). If the Chamberlain had spoken to Pharaoh two years previously, Pharaoh could either have denied the request or in granting it, possibly make Joseph unavailable when he was needed to interpret Pharaoh’s most important dream.
Sometimes bitachon or trust in God isn’t a matter of asking or not asking a person’s help in a tough situation. Sometimes and perhaps quite often, it’s a matter of asking and then waiting.
The true description of bitachon is the belief that there is no coincidence in this world, and that everything that transpires occurs with Hashem’s approval and instruction.
When a person finds himself in a situation which appears dangerous according to the natural way of the world, and he is powerless to help himself, he must overcome his fear by realizing that the One Who controls everything in this world can cause a positive outcome just as easily as a negative one. This is called bitachon.
Sometimes we know that saying something will make a situation worse. We can tell ourselves to, “Just keep silent.” If we feel tempted to speak negatively about someone, we can strengthen our resolve not to say it by telling ourselves, “Just keep silent.”
The more difficult it is to keep silent, the greater the resulting spiritual elevation. When you tell yourself, “Just keep silent,” your silence isn’t just a passive state of being. Rather, it is an act of remaining silent.
In Tehillim (Psalms 34), King David tells us: “Who is the person who wants life and loves days that he may see good? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.” Remaining silent instead of speaking against others enhances and lengthens life.
(from Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book: “Conversations With Yourself”, p.145) [Artscroll.com])
-from Just Keep Silent
Daily Lift #194
That last quote is more directed at a person who wants to say something to another person, usually something insulting, but who choses for the sake of Heaven to refrain, but I think it fits in our current discussion as well. Sometimes we can only say and do so much, and when we reach the limit of our ability to positively affect our situation, then all we can do is rely on God’s mercy.
The issue though is that even a complete trust in God is no guarantee that the outcome will always be good. True bitachon enables a person to realize that good or bad, everything comes from the hand of God.
And that is a very difficult middah, yet there is hope, at least according to the Sages:
Chazon Ish states that just as there are levels in other middos, such as mercy, humility, etc., there are many levels of bitachon. As long as one possesses even a small trace of bitachon, he is not excluded from the group of believers, and will merit ultimate redemption.
-from A Mussar Thought for the Day, p.60