Two weeks ago, this column analyzed two different types of “forgetting,” or ignoring, Hashem, based on the different ways the Torah speaks of such in Va’eschanan and in Eikev. In the second instance, Eikev speaks of a person who has worked and toiled and has successfully built a career or business. The person claims “It is my strength and the might of my hands which have accumulated all this for me,” dismissing and ignoring “Hashem Your G-d,” Who determines all the events of our lives, just as surely as He had when we were all a helpless blob of protoplasmic cells. This person must be reminded not only of Hashem’s existence, but of Hashem Your G-d’s maintaining and proactively determining all of history. Thus the pesukim there speak of Hashem’s miracles in the desert, and His providing food, water, clothing, and every need.
We concluded by saying, “We will im yirtzeh Hashem examine why all this is not as simple as it sounds.” Let us proceed.
We live in a world of cause and effect. Let me correct that: of seeming cause and effect. As the Chovos Halevavos points out in Shaar Habitachon (chapter 3), things and events can be “created” in one of two ways: either by a direct decree of the Creator and nothing else (this of course happened during the first “six days of Creation”), or, since then, through the means of channels, of “causes” — sometimes immediate, sometimes remote, sometimes obvious, sometimes hidden — that are all rushing to fulfill the task decreed upon them by G-d.
Let the Chovos Halevavos speak further (a free translation): “Not a single thing can be accomplished by a person or by anything else without Hashem’s decree; yet neither is it accomplished without His supply of endless causes which are charged with bringing about the desired result.”
Chovos Halevavos continues, “You can see and experience for yourself how you have to expend effort to accomplish anything. If you need food or drink, then even if you have a suitable quantity in front of you, unless you lift your hand and bring it to your mouth, and chew it, and swallow it, you will not satisfy your hunger! And certainly that is the case when the person had to first prepare the food, in the myriad ways in which food can be prepared. And this is even truer in the preparatory stages of getting the food — after all, he had to buy the food; and if he had no money, he had to go out and earn it.”
And so Chovos Halevavos lays down the problem for us exquisitely. We live in a world where apparently without our efforts, toil, work, and input, it doesn’t seem as if anything would happen! Yet part of our basic belief system is, as the Chovos Halevavos himself points out, that it is all decreed by Hashem, both the end result AND the channels which, after those six primal days, are the conduits through which the decree is brought about.
This is the system of what we call hishtadlus — what the Chovos Halevavos, perhaps more to the point, calls “hisaskus b’sibos” — busying ourselves with providing the means through which the decree is funneled. But it is not real! It is a mirage! But a person has to really be tuned into a higher reality to see that.
Let’s look back at the Ramban, explaining the pesukim following a person’s declaration of my strength, my might. The pesukim following (Devorim 9:1-6) speak to the Nation who has entered and conquered the Land, and warn them not to attribute their victories to any military prowess; for the nations they have beaten are giants, great and mighty, regarding whom Israel has heard “Who can possibly be triumphant over these giants?” Ramban writes that the Torah is bringing a “proof” to a person claiming that it was his might that made him successful (8:17). Why, Hashem says, the Canaaites, who were living in this Land, were much mightier and stronger than you were. Did you ever stop to consider how your victory came about? Their cities are fortified and reach to the heavens; how did you overrun them? And so, of course, the only logical explanation is to realize and attribute everything to Hakadosh Boruch Hu.
But how will that realization born of the unnatural occurrences of the conquest and settling of the Land teach something to the fellow who, scores of years later, maybe hundreds of years later, builds up a successful career, grows haughty, and attributes it to his own cunning and strength? (8:12-14)
Apparently, the national psyche of Klal Yisroel has absorbed a powerful lesson with the acquisition of Eretz Yisroel — a lesson that can be used for all time, by anyone, in all circumstances. Yes, if you don’t do what is called for (what that means will bli neder be a discussion we will be having next week), nothing will happen (generally). Yet it is the height (or is it the depth?) of arrogance for the maker of the channels of Hashem to think that he is actually responsible for the bottom line. And that is indeed why the Gemarra (Sotah 5A, from possuk 4:14) derives the very prohibition against being arrogant! For that is what it takes for any intelligent person with a past, and a sensitivity to where he’s been and what he’s accomplished, to take credit for his present situation.
Im yirtzeh Hashem, next week we will explore some guidelines for the drive-a-Mack-truck-through-loophole called hishtadlus.