Tag Archives: work

Bitachon and Hishtadlus for the Rest of Us

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.

-from Torah Thought for the Day, p.56
Commentary for Parashas Mikeitz for Sunday
A Daily Dose of Torah

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.

workI 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.

-from A Mussar Thought for the Day, p.60
Commentary for Parashas Mikeitz for Sunday
A Daily Dose of Torah

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

SilenceThat 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

Snow and Shabbos

shoveling-snowMaimonidies explains our midrash by reference to the related instance of rabbinic religious psychology: “God’s presence is never felt in a state of sadness or lethargy or levity or conversation or distractedness, but only amid the joy of performing a mitzvah.”

-Ismar Schorsch
quoting Bavli Shabbat 30b.
“The Seedbed of Prophecy,” pg 165 (December 21, 1996)
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayigash
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

I read this on Shabbat after shoveling snow off of my driveway and sidewalk. Actually, I also shoveled the snow off of the sidewalks of my two next door neighbors. It was a mitzvah of a sort. I try to do a little more than required because I know it’s the right thing to do. I think it’s something God built into me for some reason.

But I was performing one mitzvah (I don’t think the Bible says to specifically shovel your neighbor’s sidewalk, but it does say to love your neighbor, so I figure helping them with shoveling snow qualifies as “love”) but I was breaking another, well, sort of. It depends on whether or not you believe that non-Jewish believers are obligated to observe Shabbos in the manner of the Jews. I know that the Didache, an early document dated to the second or even first centuries and purportedly used to train new Gentile disciples of the Jewish Messiah entering the Jewish religious stream of “the Way,” states that even a Gentile may keep the entire “yoke of the Lord” (i.e. Torah commandments) if they (we) are able, but if not, to keep what we can, so keeping the Sabbath in some manner is on my radar screen as an option.

On the other hand, the two Jewish members of my household (and the other two Jewish family members who have their own households) don’t observe Shabbos, though I believe they are obligated to do so.

But I’m not the religious police. Each person must negotiate their own relationship with God. Past efforts of mine suggesting to my family that they take a more observant path have resulted in a rebuke and a reminder that they themselves must make those sorts of decisions.

And so they must. My remaining option for the sake of peace in the family is to pray and to rely on God to lead His own back to Him, even as Messiah will lead all the Jewish exiles back to redemption in the Land of Israel.

In reading the quote from Schorsch (and Maimonidies), I tried to recall if I felt joy when shoveling snow and if I felt the Presence of God. I have to admit that I didn’t experience either state. There was a sense of satisfaction at the realization that I was exceeding my property lines and doing what wasn’t expected of me, but I can’t say I had any sort of religious revelation. I don’t think living a life before God or doing the right thing is magic. I think it’s just what we’re supposed to do.

I also believe that no one “does it” perfectly, and I’m a living example of that.

If anything, I have a greater sense of the presence of God when I reading the Bible, when I’m studying the Torah Portion, when I’m contemplating a Psalm, even when I’m writing a blog post about God and the mitzvot.

I know people (online) who do a much better job at observing Shabbos. Some of them live in places like Colorado and Wisconsin, places that get a lot of snow. What do they do on the Shabbat when it’s snowing, just let it sit on their driveways and sidewalks?

I live in a suburban neighborhood that has a homeowner’s association (whether I like it or not) and the association has a covenant which states that each homeowner is responsible for keeping the sidewalks in front of their homes free (reasonably) of snow. We are also legally responsible if we fail to do so and a pedestrian falls and is injured as a result. So I have a duty to protect my neighbors by keeping my sidewalks clean, even on the Shabbat.

I know some people who would be rather rigid and dictatorial about such a suggestion, saying God’s commandment to observe Shabbat trumps any law or other responsibility assigned by human beings, but let’s look at that. I have a duty to love my neighbors which could be interpreted as protecting them from harm. I know there’s a Torah commandment that specifies if you see someone drowning in a body of water and you do nothing to help save their life, you have sinned against that person and against God (Rabbinic interpretation does say however, that if you are a poor swimmer and would be likely to drown too, you are absolved of this responsibility).

So what’s the higher duty, to perform an act on the Shabbat that at least in potential, could prevent a neighbor from being harmed, or to observe the Shabbat and ignore my neighbors by playing the “I’m keeping the Shabbat, look at how holy I am” card?

It’s an interesting question.

Of course, returning to my lack of actual obligation to observe a strict Shabbat, at least in the present age, I am not in quite the same bind as a Jewish person. I also believe the commandment to love one’s neighbor is universal, particularly since we see it occurring not only in Leviticus 19:18, but issuing from the mouth of Jesus (see Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31).

I know there is a part of Shabbat observance that is also universal, since such observance acknowledges God’s Creative Sovereignty, but I will have to be satisfied with acknowledging God’s creation of human beings by doing something, even on Shabbat, that is of service to some of those “creations.”

I try to spend most of my Saturdays in prayer, in study, in recording my contemplations on God, but it’s not perfect. In fact, it’s very far from perfect. But what I desire and am unable to accomplish today, may God grant me a life in the world to come where I may observe His peace and His perfection.

And as I write this, it’s still snowing outside.