Continuing the series on bitachon, or trusting in God, the question might arise, if God’s all powerful and will always be there for me, why do I have to work so hard? Given that our tradition identifies God as the ultimate sustainer through such verses as, “God will not let the righteous go hungry,” (Mishlei 10:3) and, “I have been young and now have grown old, but I have never seen a righteous man forsaken or his children begging for bread,” (Tehillim 37:25) why are so many people barely scraping by? If we are dedicating ourselves to His Torah and doing his mitzvahs shouldn’t we be taken care of?
The answer to that question is both a yes and a no.
The Chuvos LeVuvos (Duties of the Heart) addresses the idea in Chapter 3 of the section Sha’ar Habitachon (The Gate of Trust). I’m going to take this blog post to sorta sum it up.
The Curse of Adam and Eve
Back in the Garden of Eden, the plan was that man would work the garden, and that was analogous to connecting with God. Food, shelter, and other needs were taken care of, hence paradise. After the sin of eating from the tree, God curses Adam (and thus all humanity) that “by the sweat of your brow shall you eat” (Bereishis 3:19). Though many of us struggle with finances today, we hope that someday we’ll get to a place where we are rich and then we won’t have to work anymore. That we can coast on what we’ve built. This verse is saying that that is never supposed to happen.
As I’ve said before, life isn’t about being happy, it’s about accomplishing; fixing the world and improving ourselves. From that we will find happiness, but not the perpetual lounging on the beach with a margarita type of happiness. So if we understand that, we can also understand how this curse of work helps us get to that end. However, if we are truly aligned with this purpose, then the dynamic of work for the sake of our sustenance changes and in a way goes back to the way of the Garden of Eden.
The Solution to the Curse
In the middle of Chapter 3 (page 387 if you have the Feldheim edition) the author lays it all out in one big paragraph.
If…a person gives priority to the service of God and resolves to fear Him; trusts in Him in all his interests, religious and secular, turns away from despicable things and aspires to good qualities; does not rebel when in comfort nor incline toward leisure; is not swayed by his baser instincts nor seduced by the enchanting things of the world — then he will be relieved of the burden of seeking and searching for a livelihood, since the two reasons for [obliging him to do so]… trial and rebellion in the midst of prosperity, will have become inapplicable to him. His livelihood will come to him without trouble or weariness, to the extent of his needs and requirements…
“Relieved of the burden of seeking a livelihood?” That’s quite a bold statement to make. But if you understand the surrounding criteria the Chuvos LeVovus lists, you might come to realize how high a bar that is.
• Gives priority to the service of God and resolves to fear Him …
If you’re a Jew and you’re reading this, Judaism does believe you have certain responsibilities. One of those is serving Hashem, aka prayer, learning some Torah, doing mitzvahs. If you really want to get to this level of Hashem’s sustenance, not only do you have to do it, you have to make it a priority. The Hebrew word for priority here is magbir, which is from gevura or strength. Then on top of that, you must “resolve” to fear Him. As I’ve written before, fearing God isn’t about being terrified of doing something wrong, but recognizing that everything you do has a consequence. The word used for resolving is o’voher, which is from behira or free will/choice, the text is saying you need to choose to see the consequences of your actions.
• trusts in Him in all his interests, religious and secular …
Trust, or bitachon, is what we’re exploring in this series. Now one of my criticisms of religion back in my secular days was a theoretical individual dedicating themselves to God, only to not have their prayers answered. The response when they ask their spiritual guide what happened? “You didn’t believe enough.” My criticism of the system being that you could justify any suffering of a parishioner and put the blame on them for their lack of success. How can any of us know when believe enough?
However, bitachon is about behavior. Judaism doesn’t condemn you for your thoughts (for the most part). There are opportunities where someone can act as if they believe God is in control. If there’s limited food at a buffet, do you grab as much as you can or do you leave some over for others? Do you give tzedakka even though your check hasn’t arrived in the mail yet? When you act as if God runs the world, it creates an effect that is felt inward and outward.
• turns away from despicable things and aspires to good qualities…
One of the most prevalent reasons we give for not helping a homeless person is because they might go buy drugs or alcohol with it. God gives us free choice to do with our lives what we want. But if we’re going in a bad direction, why would Hashem “bend the rules” to help us out? If you’re going to go to the Gentlemen’s Club, fine but you’re probably not going to get a miracle from God to pay the rent. (I’ve over simplified this concept. Hashem might in fact, give someone financial success to go do evil, but I covered that in a previous post.) The point is, if you are trying to live a life of a “Garden of Eden style sustenance,” you can’t be wasting what you already have.
• does not rebel when in comfort nor incline toward leisure…
Having money is a big test as I also mentioned before. When one finally achieves financial abundance, what does that person do with it? Do they spend their new found freedom improving themselves and their community? Or do they buy a yacht and spend their days drunk? Or do their financial concerns grow, now with a newfound fear of losing that money? All of those are problems wealth comes with. But the most important factor is that a person who becomes rich may quickly forget where that money came from. If God sees that through wealth the persons connection to Hashem will be abandoned, that’s reason enough to keep the individual laboring for their livelihood.
• is not swayed by his baser instincts nor seduced by the enchanting things of the world…
This is an extension of the two ideas above. When a person no longer cares about the consequences of society because they have the wealth to escape those consequences, what’s to stop them from doing all the morally reprehensible actions they would otherwise condemn? You think Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, and Bill Cosby started out as monsters?
But let’s not go that far and focus just on the “enchanting things of the world.” How badly do we really need the newest iPhone? Do we really need three cameras on it? You’re allowed to enjoy yourself. But this is where you have to be honest with yourself. Is this purchase going to get me close to God or pull me away from Him? And you can even reflect back. Of those purchases where you said to yourself “maybe I shouldn’t” — how many of those really brought you happiness today? If you want God to be flipping the bill, your purchases really should be about fostering a connection with him.
Passing the Test
•…since the two reasons for [obliging him to do so]… trial and rebellion in the midst of prosperity, will have become inapplicable to him…
Jumping down in the quote a little, we get to the point. Trial and rebellion. Essentially the Chuvos LeVuvos says that when we are seeking out needs (food, water, shelter, sex, etc) God makes those needs available to us in one way or another. Sometimes attaining those needs are easy and abundant and sometimes they aren’t. But frequently there is a choice; the easy way that’s morally questionable, and a more difficult way that you know is right.
In a world where everyone is for themselves, you take the easy choice. But if you really want to know what it means to trust God, you make the harder but right one (with proper guidance, always consult with a Rabbi or mentor). With that comes an awareness that you’re playing a different game. You’re not trying to get ahead financially, you’re trying to connect with the Creator. At that point, you’re doing the work of the Garden of Eden and you can trust that the hard work you do will always be rewarded what what you need.