– 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.
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…).
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.
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.