July 19, 2024
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Though Hashem controls the world, we are responsible for doing our part. We do not determine the ultimate result but are responsible for making good decisions and working hard at our jobs.

 

Our Decisions

We have seen how Hashem determines the results of our decisions and actions and even places ideas in our minds. That having been said, we decide which ideas to follow and are thus responsible for our decisions.

Though Hashem redirected Yosef’s brothers’ bad decision (to sell him into slavery) in a positive direction, the brothers were still culpable for their sinful actions. Similarly, though Hashem gave Shimi the idea to curse Dovid HaMelech, he was ultimately killed for doing so.

We, too, should take our decisions seriously and weigh them carefully. Though we do not determine the results, we are responsible for the decisions we make.

 

Our Hishtadlut — Work

We are also responsible to take care of our needs.

The Torah commands us to protect ourselves and our health (Devarim 4:9,15). Though Hashem decides how long we live, we are responsible for safeguarding our lives (Sefer HaChinuch 546).

We are also commanded to work. Though Hashem provides for us, we are expected to work for a living. “A person should not say, I will eat, drink, and be merry without troubling myself (to work), and Hashem will have mercy… Rather, a person needs to work.. and (then) Hashem sends His blessing.” (Tanchuma, Vayeitzei 13)

Even Adam HaRishon, who lived in Gan Eden, a self-sufficient paradise, was commanded to work (Bereishit 2:15). The Torah emphasizes the importance of this work by telling us that the world’s vegetation did not grow until man was created “to work the ground.” (Bereishit 2:5)

This is why the mitzvah to observe Shabbat includes not only the prohibition against work on the seventh day but also the command to work six days — “Sheshet yamim ta’aseh melachah (for six days you shall work).” (Shemot 20:9) Work is also part of our covenant with Hashem.

Rebbi Yishmael (Berachot 35b) derived this from the pasuk of “v’asafta d’ganecha — and you shall gather your grain.” He understood the pasuk as not only descriptive but also prescriptive: “hanheg ba’hem minhag derech eretz — act in accordance with the ways of the world.” This derech eretz is so important that we are commanded to spend time we would have devoted to Torah learning working in the fields instead.

Rabban Gamliel took this idea even further by teaching that Torah learning not complemented by work will “end up failing and leading to sin.” (Avot 2:2) Work is not just an independent value. It ensures that our Torah learning leads to a healthy, sustainable, and spiritual life.

Though our work does not determine how much we earn and we should avoid overworking, we are meant to work hard. Only one who works hard, what Chazal call working with both hands, merits Hashem’s blessing (Tanchuma Ibid. Niddah 70b).

The knowledge that Hashem determines the results of our efforts should not cause us to be lax about the work required from us.

 

Doing What We Can

In fact, this knowledge should inspire us to act — even in situations that seem hopeless. Hashem’s involvement means that our efforts can have a miraculous impact.

People have a hard time taking action when they feel unable to complete the task at hand. The mishnah addresses this feeling when it teaches that “lo alecha hamelachah ligmor, v’lo atah ben chorin l’hibatel mi’menah” — though we are not responsible (and often unable) to complete the task, we are not free to desist (Avot 2:16). We are responsible to do our part.

The Midrash (Devarim Rabbah 8:3) gives the example of people who enter a Beit Midrash full of sefarim. Understandably, many are intimidated by the vast number of books and give up on the notion of learning before they even begin. The wise man begins by studying one sefer and completes the whole library in the course of his lifetime.

Rebbi Nachman MiBreslov (Likutei Moharan Kamma 272) similarly explains that the amount we need to accomplish (spiritually and physically) in the course of our lives often causes people to lose their will to work. He encourages focusing on today’s mission instead. For example, finishing Shas seems impossible. We should focus on learning today’s daf instead. Doing so for many days will eventually lead to finishing Shas.

 

Against All Odds

Taking action is even harder when we face serious obstacles. Jewish life in Mitzrayim, where newborn babies were being thrown into the Nile River, was such an example. Amram (and other men) divorced his wife because he did not want to bring children into such a reality (Sotah 12a). Why have babies who will be thrown into the Nile? Similarly, Chizkiyahu HaMelech refrained from having children because he foresaw (through prophecy) his son becoming a Rasha (Berachot 10a).

Both of them were mistaken. We are responsible to do our part and leave the rest to Hashem. Miriam made this point to Amram, her father, who then remarried Yocheved. This led to the birth of Moshe Rabbeinu.

After Amram and Yocheved were forced to leave Moshe in the Nile River, Bat Paroh saved him because she was willing to act even when her actions seemed hopeless (Shemot 2:5). Though Moshe’s basket seemed out of her reach, she reached for it anyway, and her arm miraculously extended to reach the basket (Rashi Ibid.).

A few years later, Kalev made this point to the Jewish people who were intimidated by the Meraglim’s intimidating report. Kalev reassured the Jews that they would be able to conquer the land: “Even if the destination is in the sky and Hashem asks us to make ladders in order to get up there, we will succeed in whatever He tells us.” (Rashi to Bamidbar 13:30) Though clearly, we cannot climb to the sky, when Hashem asks (or expects) us to accomplish something, we should “build the ladders” and rely on Him to do the rest.

 

In the Face of Danger

Reliance on Hashem should embolden us to act even in dangerous situations. Esther showed such faith when she visited Achashveirosh uninvited (Megillat Esther 4:11,16). She required Hashem’s assistance in getting Achashveirosh to accept her (and with the continuation of her plan to make Achashveirosh jealous of Haman). She took the initiative and “did her part” even though she could not ensure the results.

May our recognition of Hashem’s role strengthen our efforts in His world!

Rav Reuven Taragin is the Dean of Overseas Students at Yeshivat Hakotel and the

Educational Director of World Mizrachi.

*Written by Joshua Pomerantz

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