Posted by: R Jonathan Gewirtz | March 18, 2019

Hishtadlus without the Effort

A couple of weeks ago I had an eye-opening experience.  I was about to enter the supermarket and a girl was selling raffle tickets.  I like to encourage these children, so I took the money out of my wallet to buy a ticket, and I also took out a dollar for the man sitting nearby who was collecting money for himself.  I figured that I would give her the money, and then walk over to him to save him the trouble of getting up.

Well, no sooner had I begun to hand her the money than he came over to me with a big smile, “Good Shabbaaas – Shabbat Shalooom.”  I gave him the dollar and he walked back to his seat, very pleased with himself.

It struck me.  He thinks that it’s only because he made the effort to get up and come over to me that he got the dollar.  He was making his hishtadlus and probably thinks that if he hadn’t, he wouldn’t get it.  How can I assume he thinks that?  Because he got up and came over to me.

In this rare instance, though, I had a special insight.  I knew that not only was I planning to give him the money, but I was planning to walk over there so he didn’t have to get up and exert himself.  It was a very surreal perspective, one that the Ribono Shel Olam has all the time.

He’s already determined what we’re going to get, and it’s ours.  It doesn’t matter how hard we try or how little we try, we will get it because that has been decreed from above.  That being said, we see nothing wrong or futile in spinning our wheels, pushing hard, and exerting ourselves to get what we would have gotten had we remained seated!

But what do you mean, you ask, everyone knows you have to make hishtadlus.  Otherwise you won’t get anywhere!  Well, you’re right and you’re wrong.

In Chovos HaLevavos, Rabbeinu Bachya unequivocally states that our efforts to earn a living mean nothing.  We are going to get what we’re supposed to get, when we’re supposed to get it.  However, there is a point in hishtadlus.  Two points actually.

You see, hishtadlus is a test.  You need to work to earn a living.  How will you do it?  Will you operate according to halacha, or will you bend the rules and say, “it’s just business”?  If you follow halacha, you’re showing that you choose to be an oved HaShem.  If you cheat, steal, and all the other wonderful things that people permit for “parnasa,” then you’ve shown that you don’t trust HaShem to take care of you and you will repaid accordingly.

I once heard a story about a factory that had been in bankruptcy.  The owner told his bookkeeper to backdate orders and vendor invoices so that it appeared they had come in before the bankruptcy, and so he avoided paying these vendors.  Is this the derech HaShem?  Or is this factory owner afraid to trust G-d and figures he has to earn money his own way?  He might even be a big baal tzedaka and buy expensive aliyos in shul, but he’s still not what HaShem wants us to be.

The second reason to work is that if we didn’t have to, we might forget HaShem, as the posuk says, “Vayishman Yeshurun Va’yivat,” Klal Yisrael got fat and satisfied and kicked at HaKadosh Boruch Hu.  Thus, the need to work is a preventative measure for us to keep us from rebelling, or contemplating things we shouldn’t and can’t fathom, like what was here before the world, and what will be after.

OK, so we’ve determined that we really don’t need to do hishtadlus or be “ambitious” to get what HaShem has prepared for us. Does that mean all our actions are truly fruitless?  No.

Our actions are only meaningless as it relates to getting our parnasa.  However when it comes to Ruchnius, we can make the effort to gather more and more, even above and beyond what HaShem had prepared for us.  The navi says, “Only in this shall the proud be proud, in knowledge and getting to know Me.”  Our efforts to come closer to HaShem, to improve our negative middos and reach for higher levels are the ones which can really bear fruit, and for which a person should feel accomplished.  As a bonus, if we do that, then the trouble of striving for parnasa goes away too. 

That is not to say that you won’t have to work for parnasa, but it doesn’t have to feel like work.  If your attitude in doing your hishtadlus is to show HaShem that you are trying to be righteous and want to do what He commands, then you will feel accomplishment and satisfaction in your efforts and not that you have wasted your time, even if that big deal doesn’t pan out.

You will no longer obsess about having to work longer hours or properly impressing that big client.  You will get what’s coming to you anyway, so why not focus on impressing the One who really counts, who will provide for you in this world and the next?  Take the time to learn more of His Torah, to be kind to His children, and become a holy person.

Working doesn’t have to be your hishtadlus, and hishtadlus doesn’t require effort.  All you need to have is a clear perception of the world and you’ll find yourself happier, more satisfied, and a better Jew to boot.

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