Bitachon and Hishtadlos

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Yosef had been framed and was imprisoned in a dungeon for many years for a crime he never committed. Finally, an opportunity arose whereby there was a small glimmer of hope that he could free himself from the confines of his dark, murky and gloomy cell. The king’s wine maker, whom he had met in prison, had a dream that Yosef interpreted for him: In only three days he would be released and regain his position as the king’s personal wine maker. What a perfect opportunity for Yosef to get himself free from prison. “Please,” he begged of him, “try to find the proper moment to plead my case to the king. Remember your old buddy here in jail, and do all in your power to try to get me released. You know I’m really innocent of any wrongdoing.” Yosef does what anyone else in such a terrible situation would do. He tries his very best to try to get out of the deep black dungeon in which he is imprisoned. Yet, because he asks the king’s wine maker to remember him to Pharaoh rather than having faith in Hashem alone, he must now suffer an additional two years in jail. The posuk says (see Rashi): A person must not put his trust in a human being. He must trust only Hashem Himself. Actually, the first part of the Medrash seems to contradict the second part. The Medrash begins by saying that Yosef is considered the true ba’al bitachon – the true man of faith. Yet in the very next line the Medrash criticizes Yosef for turning to others for help. Doesn’t this show that he was not the very great ba’al bitachon the Medrash had just portrayed him as being? Doesn’t the Medrash seemingly contradict itself?

Actually, this entire concept seems rather strange. Does this mean that a person who is arrested displays a lack of faith when he hires a lawyer to defend himself? Does this mean that if someone is sick he may not go to a doctor for medicine? Doesn’t the Torah itself give permission to a doctor to cure? Is it a lack of faith in Hashem if one does something to help himself? Must a true man of faith just sit back with his arms folded and simply allow everything to happen on its own, without interfering in Hashem’s business in the slightest? Is there no such thing as השתדלות whereby someone must do all in his power to protect himself and not rely on miracles? What was Yosef’s great crime? Why wasn’t he allowed to ask someone to intercede in his behalf to the king? Why is this seen as a lack of faith on his part? If a person uses a gun to protect himself against his enemy who wants to shoot him is it seen as a lack of faith? Is he required to just stand there and let the other person shoot him? That’s absurd! Didn’t even Yaacov prepare himself for war against Esov and didn’t just stand with his hands folded and just daven?

Perhaps the answer lies in the very posuk: which the Medrash (and Rashi) quotes (see Tehillim 40 רהבים” .”רהבים ” comments Rashi, refers to the Egyptians. Rashi explains that the word “rehovim” means arrogance, conceit, boastfulness, or haughtiness. The Egyptians were a very haughty people. In fact, Egypt was known to be the “magic capital” of the world. Because of their great magical powers, the Egyptians would try to deceive people into believing that they were so great, that they could even defy G-d Himself. The Gemorah says that magic “seemingly” defies the Heavenly powers and the very laws of nature. This may be why the Torah doesn’t allow it. With magic one can easily convince people that idols have power and get people to serve them. This may have been responsible for their great conceit, arrogance, and haughtiness. The Egyptians thought they had full control over everything, and that through the use of their magical powers, all that happened was supposedly in their control rather than being controlled by Hashem. Whatever the Egyptians did, they took the full credit for themselves and certainly gave none to G-d. They were so haughty that their King Pharaoh had the nerve to declare: “Who is G-d that I must listen to Him?” He thought he could defy Hashem Himself. He certainly wouldn’t credit G-d for anything that happened. He took all the credit for himself! As proof, he even showed them how he was able to get the waters of the Nile River to overflow at will. This just proved that he had godly powers since the Egyptians worshiped the Nile. The Ramban (in Parshas Shemos) says that Pharaoh believed in the existence of G-d, but just denied G-d’s ability to effect control over His beings. After all, if G-d could do as He pleased, than why did G-d find it necessary to ask for his permission to let the Jews out? Why didn’t G-d do as He pleased and just take them out? Pharaoh assumed that once the laws of nature had been enacted, G-d had absolutely no control over them. He had left the world and gone elsewhere in space. He had now given man the power to do as he pleased and therefore he was now in control of man’s destiny and therefore considered a god. The mistake of those who served avodah zoroh was that they believed that Hashem had given full control and power to His servants such as the sun, wind, etc., and that they could to do as they pleased rather than follow certain fixed laws. They thought that by praying to G-d’s servants, one could get them to increase their benefits to mankind. They were also under the mistaken notion that G-d had absolutely no interest in what happens down on earth, and after having created heaven and earth G-d abandoned it and let man plan his own destiny. They believed that since man has freedom of choice therefore it’s all a “free for all” and man can do whatever he so desires and there is no reward or punishment for one’s actions. Pharaoh believed that there would not be any retribution for man’s actions, whether he does good or bad. He thought that he could kill or torture the Jewish people at will and that he would not be punished for it. The purpose of the Ten Makkos was to set him straight and inform Pharaoh that he was completely mistaken. G-d maintains full control of the entire universe at every moment. True, man was given the freedom of choice to do as he desires, but man will ultimately pay dearly for each and every one of his actions. Man is held accountable for his every move. Pharaoh’s theory can be compared to a little mouse that is being taught to go through a maze. The scientist, who is training the mouse to follow a certain path, rewards the mouse by throwing it some food every time it pulls a lever. The mouse, naturally, thinks that he is the one controlling his human experimenter. After all, every time he pulls the lever he forces the man to give him a pellet of food. So, too, Pharaoh thought that with his great magical powers he had full control of the universe and of G-d, and he could do as he wished. Little did he realize that he was no more than the little mouse. Even those who believe that there is a G-d Who created heaven and earth, don’t believe that He has constant control over every event at every moment. Many believe that He has abandoned its control to others, such as the heavenly bodies or the laws of nature. Little do they realize that all of nature is in Hashem’s control and is re-energized by him at every moment. Even the heavenly bodies are totally powerless to do anything on their own. In a certain sense, they are like a computer that can only do what the programmer has programmed them to do. Only G-d can change it at Will. The computer must always have an energy source for it to work. Unplug it or take out its batteries and it is as good as dead. A person must always know that no matter what his source of help seems to be – whether it’s a doctor, a lawyer, or a judge, – it is all actually the Hand of Hashem in disguise. Even when one takes medicine, he must put his total trust in Hashem Who is the true healer and allows the medicine to take effect. A doctor must always realize that he is only G-d’s messenger – no different than an angel sent by Hashem to affect a cure. The doctor is only the messenger through whom Hashem sends His blessings. A person who is able to help another person must always realize that the success of his mission lies only in the Hands of Hashem and can take no credit for himself. Using the services of someone that will take the entire credit for himself and thereby deny that it was really Hashem’s handiwork, is actually lending credence to their false beliefs and therefore is not permitted. By turning to the “רהבים” – the boastful Egyptians who denied G-d’s presence – Yosef was giving credence to their false notions. If the king’s wine maker would have remembered Yosef and brought about his release, then he would have taken all the credit for himself and totally denied that it was G-d who had made him succeed. Yosef should not have used the aid of a person who would dare deny that this was actually nothing but the Hand of Hashem in disguise. Giving any credence to the ” רהבים ” only encourages and lends support to their great arrogance, and gets them to deny that it was Devine Providence that was responsible for it all. Perhaps the lesson is that even when making and using the services of man, השתדלות – one must be careful not to do it in a manner that Hashem’s real control of all happenings is being denied in any way. When taking a medicine, one must realize that it is Hashem that gives the medicine the power to be effective and heal. Healing with avodah zarah is forbidden because it gives them credence. One must choose a doctor who is humble enough to know that it is really all Hashem’s doings. Don’t seek the help of those who have the haughtiness to declare that it is their own doing, for we are thereby encouraging their haughtiness and their false beliefs. Their success makes them more arrogant, as they claim full credit for their successes by further denying and flaunting Hashem’s existence and great power. We must always realize that no matter how or through whom we are being helped, it is all in reality Hashem’s doing. One can fight a war with an army and weapons, as long we have faith and trust that it is Hashem Who will make us victorious and that our army is nothing but puppets in Hashem’s Hands as the posuk _ ומלחמות אני עשית – says “U’milchomous Ani o’sisi.” Our השתדלות can be viewed as one who opens a water faucet thereby allowing the water to flow through. Yosef was certainly a man with the greatest faith in Hashem. He knew for certain that all that had transpired was certainly Hashem’s doing and therefore had absolutely no hard feelings toward his brothers. He was convinced that they were only doing Hashem’s bidding. Yet a person is required to do his share as well, but never through the use of agents that will deny Hahem’s supremacy.

פרשת מקץ

Bitochon and Hishtadlus

Where do we draw the line? Just recently I noticed a group of people buying lottery tickets. While one person asked for ten tickets, the other bought just one. When I asked the person why he had only bought one ticket he replied that this was his form of hishtadlus. If G-d wants him to win, then he’ll surely make him win with this one ticket. Why buy more he reasoned. When I asked the other person why he invested in so many tickets when the odds of him winning are nearly infinitesimal he too replied that this is his “hishtadlus.” He is just supplying G-d with a few more opportunities to give him the money. When I asked the one who bought just one ticket what he did for a living, he replied that he owns a grocery store and must work hard and long hours. When I asked him why he puts in so many hours, he replied that he just couldn’t make a living by opening for only three hours during the day. I now wondered to myself at the paradox. He buys only one ticket because he has faith in Hashem that this little bit of hishtadlus is all he need do. Yet when it comes to putting in a day’s work, he feels he must work overtime otherwise he’ll never make ends meet. All of a sudden his “just one ticket” of bitochon and hishtadlus no longer applied. Why the difference? Why do some feel that one lottery ticket is enough hishtadlus while others feel they must buy a hundred. Where exactly does one draw the line?

The Gemara in Brochos (35:) tells us that we have two apparently contradicting pesukim. One posuk tells us that “we must gather in our grain” which seems to say that one’s Torah study should be combined with earning a livelihood, while another posuk tells us that “This book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth” which seems to indicate that we must study the Torah every waking moment. Rebbi Yishmoel therefore says that Torah study must be combined with earning a livelihood while Rebbi Shimon ben Yochai says that if one will truly do G-d’s will, Hashem will provide for one’s livelihood to the extent that even his own work will be done by others as it says “v’omdu zorim v’ro’u tzon’achem.” – And strangers will arise and shepherd your flock. Rabbi Shimon is of the opinion that one’s success is dependent upon one’s commitment to Torah and mitzvos. If one’s commitment and devotion to Torah is total, so too will be Hashem’s blessing. It’s quid pro quo. How we act toward G-d, Hashem acts toward us. Abaye then adds that while many have followed Rebbi Yishmoel’s advice and were successful, those who tried following Rebbi Shimon’s advice failed. Certainly the Gemara isn’t telling us that Rebbi Shimon’s advice is incorrect. What Abaya is saying is that most people simply were not able to dedicate their lives to the great degree required by Rebbi Shimon.

Rebbi Shimon didn’t say that one should just sit back and buy a lottery ticket and expect G-d to make him win. It’s only when one dedicates his life to the service of G-d with the same dedication and diligence one dedicates to all materialistic matters, will Hashem reciprocate in kind. This is why it says “la’asok b’divrei Torah.” We must apply ourselves to Torah the way we apply ourselves to our business. At the end of a long hard day of work and we are exhausted, and a customer comes into the store, would we turn down a big lucrative order? One must apply himself to Torah study with the very same diligence and strength. Do we find it too difficult to go skiing on a freezing cold day? Do we find it too difficult to shlep to Florida or to the mountains for a weekend? Are we ready to put this same energy into attending a shiur? Do we invest equally in tzedaka as we do in stocks?

The Medrash tells us that Hashem distributed the “mon” to the people in the Midbor in the very same manner. For some it landed on their doorstep while others had to take a long hike to get it. For some it could be eaten as is. Others had to grind and cook it. Life hasn’t changed much since then. The amount of Hishtadlus depends on our own commitment and dedication to doing G-d’s will. Some may not have to purchase a lottery ticket at all. G-d will bring the money to their doorstep. For others just one lottery ticket may be enough. For others even a thousand tickets would be a waste of money. The cutoff point is different for every person.