Don’t Spin to Win| December 20, 2022
It doesn’t matter whether we do a lot of hishtadlus or a little; Hashem will send the same brachah down
“And there with us was an Ivri boy, a slave of the sar hatabachim… and he interpreted our dreams for us….” (41:12)
ashi explains (Vayeishev 40:23) that since Yosef asked the sar hamashkim twice to mention him to Pharaoh, he was punished with another two years in prison. But why? Wasn’t Yosef obligated to try and save himself?
There’s a widespread misunderstanding that while a miracle is caused by Hashem, hishtadlus is accomplished by man. I did it, (with Hashem’s help of, course). The Vilna Gaon explains that this is simply an illusion, though. Everything is from Hashem. There’s no difference whether He’s sending down mahn, or we receive a paycheck from work. Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it’s hidden, but it’s all Hashem.
Michtav MeEliyahu writes that nature appears to be cause and effect. You plant and reap the result. That’s not true. Man puts in hishtadlus as a prerequisite for Hashem’s shefa, to create a conduit to receive His bounty. But only He brings the result.
Therefore, on Yosef’s level, it appeared that he wasn’t merely fulfilling the prerequisite of hishtadlus. Rather, he was attempting to orchestrate events: I’ll mention it to you, you’ll mention it to Pharaoh, and it’ll all work out. (Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff, based on a lecture by Rav Zev Leff)
Elisheva and I grew up together in Baltimore. Her parents were both in chinuch and they lived simply. When she moved to Israel, she worked at four different jobs to make ends meet. Eventually, we lost touch, so I was thrilled when I bumped into her in Beit Shemesh, and she invited me in for coffee.
Rav Elimelech Biderman says this is the lesson of the dreidel. When a person spins a dreidel, he cannot determine how it’ll fall. He chews his fingernails nervously, but he cannot control the end result. It’s a Divine decree.
The dreidel is also a mashal for hishtadlus in another way, he explains. It’s built to twirl on its bottom tip, but it needs to be spun from Above.
Entering Elisheva’s modest but elegant apartment, I realized things had turned around for her. We caught up, and I asked casually, “Are you working these days?”
“Actually not.” She paused and then gave a laugh. “I’ll fill you in. When we had our fifth child, we knew we couldn’t keep managing on my odd-job salaries. It was time for my husband to enter the workplace. He began to learn safrus, but realized it wasn’t for him. Then he tried bookbinding, which was more to his liking, but after a year, we saw it wouldn’t bring in enough income. From there, he went on to a stint in yeshivah administration, and then a short tekufah working in kiruv, but things kept falling through. We were pretty desperate.”
The halachah states that the Chanukah candles should be lit “until all the feet leave the marketplace.” Why, asks the Sosover Rebbe, do Chazal use such a strange lashon to describe the shiur of how much oil is needed to light the menorah?
In explanation, he says that Chazal are teaching us to consider if it’s appropriate to tread in the marketplace day and night in pursuit of parnassah. It doesn’t matter whether we do a lot of hishtadlus or a little; Hashem will send the same brachah down. So get your feet out of the marketplace and enjoy the light.
“Finally, I suggested he contact his Uncle Bob, the businessman in the family,” Elisheva continued. “My husband was reluctant, though, claiming he had no head for business.
“But surprisingly, Bob disagreed. He trained my husband for sales in one of his companies, and despite his lack of background, my husband was very successful and eventually was promoted to administration.
“He needs to work American hours, but this frees him up in the mornings to learn. The company manufactures levers, primarily used in toilet tanks. Definitely not a run-of-the-mill industry, but we both saw clearly how when Hashem decides to pull the lever in Shamayim, the shefa of parnassah pours through. That lever company is supporting our children and grandchildren.”
She paused to sip her coffee. “It does have its awkward moments, though,” she added with a grin, “as in when people ask me, ‘So what exactly does your husband do?’ ”
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 823)
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