Torah Tuesdays

Torah Tuesdays: An “A” for Effort

“If you’re using bitachon when you should be using hishtadlus, that’s not real bitachon.”

– heard at Neve.

One of my posts in late December prompted a great discussion with my friend, Sarah, which made me think a little bit about the concept of hishtadlus.  This past Shabbos, in Zman magazine, I read an amazing thing by Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt’l on that topic, and I thought I would give it over for this week’s Torah Tuesdays.  The article was basically a verbatim transcript of one of Rabbi Miller’s famous Thursday night lectures.  Sorry I’m cutting it so close to the wire (or the Wednesday).

What does the Gemara mean that “Everything is in the hands of Heaven except the fear of Heaven [Berachos 33b]?” How much is really in our hands to do?

Rabbi Miller states that there are two sources of cause and effect.  One is up to us (hishtadlus) and one is up to G-d (hashgacha), and that even though it’s difficult, we need to try and find the balance between living according to these two seemingly contradictory sources.   He goes on to state that it’s possible, and even understandable, to make a mistake in understanding this principle, “Everything is in the hands of heaven,”  and then discusses how we need to make an effort in three areas:  Our health, our speech and our finances.

Our Health

Rambam provided us with guidelines by which we can ensure ourselves good health.  After enumerating the framework, he gives an unexpected guarantee that whoever obeys these rules will never be ill all his days.  Now, the Rambam was not a man to make such fantastic promises lightly, and indeed, there are exceptions, but he is still stating that

a man’s happiness, which depends to a large extent on his health, is entirely in his own hands…

So this puts a serious burden upon us.  Rabbi Miller points out that having faith in G-d has a very, very important place in our lives, but that that faith shouldn’t lead us to forget that we do have obligations to accomplish things with our own efforts.

He goes on to stress the importance of not being negligent about our health.  This really hit home for me, as I am notoriously bad at going to sleep at an appropriate time, as well as at eating a decent breakfast.  When continually depriving myself of sleep I know that I’m making myself more susceptible to colds and other viruses which are always floating around this time of year.  And without eating a good breakfast in the morning (sometimes I only manage to get half a cup of coffee in my system before running out the door), I find it much more difficult to be pleasant, or even functional.  And this, according to Rabbi Miller, is me neglecting my religious obligation to care for my health  (I can’t ignore the irony of my staying up later than I should to write this post…).

Our Speech

In Pirkei Avos [1:17] it says

“All my life I grew up among the Sages and I never found anything better for the body than silence.”

Rabbi Miller points out that it says “for the body” and not “for the soul.”  Why is this?  Well, talking can lead to a lot of physical problems.  It can cost a person a job, a friendship, a relationship, a reputation.  And with the stress of these losses, physical problems would almost certainly arise.

There are also many laws which govern the proper way to use our unique power of speech, which has tremendous creative and destructive abilities.  It’s easy to let things just slide out of our mouths.  How many times have I spoken without thinking about the potential effect of my words (so easy to do with the sleep deprivation)?  Too many.  On the other hand, I make a concerted effort with my piano students to always give a word of praise before a word of criticism (and criticism is an integral part of music lessons), as I feel it sweetens the experience, and hopefully lessens the frustration of learning a skill.  I do this because I recognize the power of words.

Our Finances

The Torah states,

“There shall not be among you a poor man.”

Rabbi Miller interprets this to mean that if we are wasteful of our property or extravagant to the point of causing poverty, then we are not guarding our finances.

The way I see it is that we should try not to buy retail, and if you can wait until that thing you want is on sale, do it.  And maybe try not to make crazily elaborate simchas (that could be a post on its own!).  Be sensible with our finances, live within our means.

My mother works in the mortgage industry, and she has told me that she commonly sees people buying houses which are clearly too expensive for them.  Yes, they can qualify for the loan, but after the house is bought, there needs to be furniture to fill the rooms, and decorating, and then there’s car payments, and so on and so forth.   Many of these houses end up in foreclosure.  So don’t do that.

To conclude, a person needs to constantly try to guard oneself in these areas, and make the requisite efforts, but after all that, is still expected to understand that everything is ultimately from G-d.  G-d is the one who keeps us well, and sustains us.  This is a pretty big challenge, but a necessary one.


9 thoughts on “Torah Tuesdays: An “A” for Effort

  1. I loved the post–thanks for revisiting the topic. I actually just remembered an analogy I once heard a rabbi give about this. He said it’s like a kid who wants a bicycle, and he does lots of chores and saves every penny, but he’s still short ten dollars. Then the parent sees how hard he worked for it and knows he must really want it, and helps him out by paying the last ten dollars he needs. If we do hishtadlut, that doesn’t guarantee we’re going to get what we want; we can’t “make” it happen. But we’re showing HaShem how much we’re trying and how sincere we are.

    Your students must appreciate that you point out the good things too–you can’t be too sleep-deprived if you’re attuned to stuff like that!

    1. What a great analogy! When I read the article on Shabbos I thought of you immediately. It was some great hashgacha; not all my Torah Tuesdays posts come that easily.

      I do hope my students appreciate it. Now if I could only remember to be as consistent with pointing out the good things at home…

  2. I like the “health” paragraph. I do not eat properly in the morning either; coffee and some juice most of the time. Yet because of the diet I have started I need to pay attention to breakfast too and skipping is not an option. Your post is just another encouragement ; thanks.

  3. More on perfectionism: I just looked up Breishit 17:1 in the Artscroll Tanach, and it translates “veheye tamim” in God’s command to Avraham as “be perfect.” Food for thought… :)

    1. Are you trying to give me a complex? ;)

      I think the definition of perfection needs to be addressed. If we are to emulate the avos, and Avraham was told to strive for perfection, what exactly does this mean for us? How are we to define what is our perfect state? I’m assuming that it refers to spiritual perfection.

      So, as a homemaker, part of this must entail how well I can keep our home running, since the physical well-being of my family is strongly connected to my ruchnius. Makes me think of Sarah’s tent, which was, I guess, perfect. Does this mean that my striving for perfect is equal to how well my home is running? Thoughts?

    1. That was an intense article. It reminded me why I’m a laid-back piano teacher (though, honestly, it would be AMAZING if my students practiced even half that much….), but, strangely, I can see where she’s coming from. Not that I would ever actually employ her techniques!

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