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Thought for the Day: Hishtadlus -- Practical Advice

I am in a transition time of the year.  During the winter I learn before davening; during the summer, after davening.  (Sunrise in Chicago at the corner of Sacramento and Devon gets as early as 5:14 and as late as 7:19 .)  Personally, I feel rushed during the winter to get to work as soon as I can, but I have no second thoughts about whether or not to stay for davening; none.  I might have to leave as late as 7:40AM; but what can I do?  On the other hand, it takes a significant effort for me to learn after davening till even 7:15AM.  The difference for me is that davening is a fixed obligation; it's an hour or so in the morning that is already (as it were) committed.  The obligation to learn, on the other hand, has no fixed time requirement; a Jew is simply required to learn as much as possible.  There in lies the rub: what is "as much as possible"?

This is just one dimension of the general issue of hishtadlus (personal effort) vs. hashgacha pratis (divine providence).  It is not a purely philosophical question like "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin" (the answer is 37, by the way, depending on units), because we as Torah observant Jews are forced to make real, practical decisions almost constantly that turn on this point.  On the one hand, HaShem requires me to spend every available moment learning Torah and performing mitzos. On the other hand, providing for my family and not needing to live off the community charity pool is also a mitzvah.  On the other hand, my obligation only goes to basic living expenses, not extravagances.  (Is a car necessary or an extravagance?  Is internet a necessity, an extravagance, or forbidden?)

On the other hand, I also have a chiyuv hishtadlus -- an obligation to act as if everything were in my control, all the while knowing it's really in HaShem's Hand.  The operative phrase here is: "acting as if everything were in my control", because I am also not allowed to rely on a miracle.  What's called relying on a miracle and what's called doing my part depends on my level of bitachon (faith/trust).

A fascinating, concrete bit of advice is given by that well known practical philosophy sefer known as the Mishna Brura.  Chazal tell us that expenditures on Shabbos are "off budget"; whatever you spend on Shabbos will be repaid by HaShem -- guaranteed.  That's great to know, but if there is no money in the bank and the credit card is maxed out then one would seem to be stuck.  Wait!  Just borrow the money -- even though you have no idea in the world how you'll ever repay -- and just trust HaShem to repay.  The Mishna Brura (actually Sha'ar haTziun, sk 12 to siman 242) brings a machlokes about whether one is allowed to borrow money for Shabbos with no idea how you will repay and relying only on HaShem's promise to take care of it.  The Sha'ar haTziun ends with "it all depends".

I heard from R' Fuerst that the saintly Chafeitz Chaim was asked directly an explanation of what be meant by "it all depends".  The Chafeitz Chaim replied that it depends on whether the borrower would be willing to be the lender.  That is, if some came to ask him for a loan, would be be willing to make that loan.  If his level of bitachon is such that he would be willing to make the loan, then he can take the loan.  This is not a matter to take likely, though, since taking a loan without having the ability to repay is stealing -- straight out stealing, no ifs ands or buts.

If you are going to take that loan, there is just one question you should be asking yourself, "Do you feel lucky?"  If you feel lucky, then don't take that loan.  Bitachon isn't a matter of luck.


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