3.15 Ways in Which We Rely Upon God
Shaar HaBitachon Chapter 4
There are seven areas in which a person must rely upon God. These are:
- In matters of one’s own body;
- Regarding his ability to earn a living;
- In interpersonal relationships with family, friends, enemies, and others;
- Regarding duties of the heart and limbs that only affect the person himself;
- Regarding duties of the limbs that affect others as well;
- Pertaining to one’s reward in the Next World according to what one has earned;
- Regarding one’s reward in the Next World that he receives strictly as a matter of God’s grace, as per Psalms 31:20, “How abundant is Your goodness, which You have put aside for those who fear You, that You have wrought for those who take their refuge in You, in the sight of mankind!”
Let us now detail these seven categories and the proper way to rely upon God when it comes to each one.
1. A person’s own body includes not just one’s life and his health but also such necessary things as food, clothing and shelter. The proper way to rely upon God in this area is to just let go and accept the course that God has charted for him. One must realize that one can only obtain that which God has ordained for him, which is for his own benefit. No one can acquire beyond what God allows him. Just as a person’s life and health are ultimately beyond one’s ability to control, the same is true for his material needs.
With the understanding that God is in complete control, one must then pursue what he requires by the best possible means, secure in the knowledge that God will execute the plan that He has already made. For example, even though God has determined the length of a person’s life, that person still needs food to eat, clothes to wear and a place to sleep. One may not say, “If God wants me to live, He’ll enable me to survive without food, so I’ll never need to work.”
By the same token, a person is not permitted to expose himself to unnecessary risks under the logic that “If God wants me to live, I'll live.” If God places us in a position of danger, that’s one thing, but a person may not endanger himself such as by jumping into a fire or into a cage of lions. Regarding such things, Deuteronomy 6:16 says, “Do not test Hashem your God....” Doing so is a lose/lose proposition with only two possible outcomes:
(a) The person will die because of his own recklessness. This will be considered suicide, and a person is as liable for killing himself as he is for killing another. Prudence is justified as we see from Shmuel (the prophet Samuel). Commanded to go anoint David as King Saul’s successor, Shmuel balked. “How can I go?” he asked God. “If Saul hears of this, he will kill me!” (I Samuel 16:2). God’s response shows us that this was not considered a lapse in faith but an appropriate concern. If such is the case with Shmuel, who was commanded to go by God, how much more so with us when we are not acting in response to some Divine decree!
(b) The other possibility is that one who endangers himself will live. The problem with this is that it uses up some of his merits and the reward he has earned. The Sages addressed this in Talmud Shabbos (32a), saying that one should never stay in a dangerous place relying on a miracle to save him. Even if such a thing does occur, he will pay for the courtesy with some of the merits he has stockpiled.
The principles that govern life and death also apply to our basic necessities: food, clothing and shelter. For example, one who owns a field should tend to it by plowing, planting, watering, etc., but he should also rely on God to make it fertile, to protect it from harm, to make its crop abundant and to bless it. One should not refrain from working his land and say, “If God wants things to grow, they’ll grow!” The same is true for craftsmen, merchants and workers; all must pursue a living in the proper way while trusting in God to provide for his needs as He sees fit.
On the other hand, one should not become overly-reliant upon his chosen means of earning a livelihood. If he does, it will only serve to weaken his reliance upon God. One should never think that his efforts can produce more than God has predetermined for him. Instead of patting himself on the back for the success of his efforts, one should thank God for giving him a living in response to his efforts, rather than letting his work be in vain. This is the meaning of Psalms 128:2, “When you enjoy the work of your hands, you will be happy and it will be well with you.”
The Chovos HaLevavos expresses surprise that if a person makes a living from another human being, he humbles himself before his provider. The provider only does so because it's his Divine obligation!
If a person fails to make a living through his usual efforts, it's possible that he has already received his allotment for the day; it's also possible that God will be providing for him through other means. Regardless, one should put sincere effort into securing his daily necessities while placing his trust in God to provide them. Regarding such a person, Nachum 1:7 says, "God is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in Him."
All this is also true regarding a person's health. One should place his trust in God while pursuing health through natural methods. One should employ doctors and medicine, as is evident from Exodus 21:19. Regarding one who injures another, the Torah tells us, "he shall cause him to be healed." Nevertheless, one should not rely on natural causes alone, as these will only prove effective if God so wills it.
When a person trusts in God, God will cause him to be healed through natural means, or without them, as per Psalms 107:20, "He sends His word and heals them." God can even cause a person to be healed through something that is normally harmful, as He did when the prophet Elisha cured rancid water with salt (II Kings chapter 2). But the opposite was the case with King Asa, who relied upon doctors to the exclusion of God and was punished accordingly (II Chronicles chapter 16).
2. One’s ability to earn a living includes a person's possessions, his means of income, his business transactions, his salary, his financial plans, his credit and other ways in which a person tries to accumulate money and comfort.
The proper way to rely upon God in these areas is to engage in the occupation God has provided him to the extent necessary to secure a living. If God desires that he have more, it will come to him effortlessly as long as he relies upon God for it and doesn't try too hard to acquire it through natural means. If no more has been decreed for him, no means in Heaven or on Earth could possibly secure it for him. Trusting in God gives a person peace of mind, as he knows that he will receive whatever he has coming in the appropriate time.
Sometimes God arranges for many people to earn their livelihood through a single individual. This could be a test for that individual, to see if he will remain faithful to God, as being in such a position is a powerful temptation.
Ignorant people make three mistakes in the area of income:
(1) They use inappropriate or overtly evil means to acquire wealth that God decreed for them and that could have been theirs through proper means.
(2) They think that whatever wealth comes their way is meant for them. In reality, there are three kinds of wealth: (a) that which is intended for one’s own needs. This kind of sustenance is given to every living thing; (b) that which is intended for one’s dependents. This is only given to some people, in certain circumstances. It may come at some times but not at others; and (c) affluence. This is wealth beyond that which a person requires. It is of no use to a person and he ends up saving it, passing it on, or losing it. Ignorant people think that all wealth falls into the first category – that it’s all for them – so they knock themselves out in the race to acquire it. Much effort goes into acquiring money that will be passed on to someone else, such as his widow’s next husband!
(3) Finally, ignorant people provide others with income, as God has decreed, and they credit themselves with it! They expect the recipients to show them gratitude and grovel before them. This makes them arrogant and haughty; they think that if they were to cut off supplies, this wealth would remain theirs and the others would go without. They ignore God, Who is the real source of this benevolence, forfeiting reward in the Next World for their efforts.
An intelligent person, on the other hand, acts properly in the acquisition of wealth, secure in the knowledge that it comes from God. He knows that some of the money that comes his way is for his use, but that some of it is intended for others. Finally, he manages his money so as to attain honor in this world and reward in the Next World.
Among people who seek wealth, we find that one acquires it through labor, while another inherits it. Each of them thinks that without his method of acquisition it would never have come into his possession. By thinking this, he is actually praising the means of acquisition, rather than God. He is comparable to a person lost in the desert who stumbles upon a pit of dirty water. He is grateful for it but later, when he finds a spring of fresh water, he regrets drinking the muddy water. Similarly, when one has acquired his wealth through certain means, he must understand that, had those circumstances not occurred, it would have come to him in some other fashion. This is what I Samuel 14:6 means when it says, “Because nothing can prevent God from saving, by the many or the few.”
Here is how one should trust in God when it comes to his income: if he doesn’t receive it once in a while, he must understand that, just as God brought him into the world at the exact proper moment, God will provide him with his livelihood at the time that He knows is best. Similarly, when one’s income is just enough to meet his most basic needs, he must understand that, just as God supplied him with his needs at birth in the form of mother’s milk until something else was called for, what He provides now is sufficient for his needs until God deems otherwise. A person with such attitudes will be rewarded, as God did our ancestors. Following the Exodus, they were commanded to gather a certain volume of manna each day (Exodus chapter 16). Regarding this, God praised how the Jews willingly followed Him into the wilderness where nothing grew (Jeremiah 2:2).
If one’s livelihood should happen to come in one fashion rather than another, or through one person rather than another, he should say to himself that God knows what is best for him. He has chosen a particular means to deliver our income that is most suited for each individual. He brought us into this world through two particular parents and he has determined that we should earn our livings in particular places, through particular means. All of this is for our own benefit, as Psalms 145:17 says, “God is righteous in all His ways.”
3. Interpersonal relationships includes interactions with one’s family members, friends and enemies, acquaintances, superiors and subordinates, and others. Here’s how to rely upon God in these relationships:
Every person falls into one of two categories: he is either a stranger in his locale or he lives among family and friends. If he is a stranger in his locale, he should trust in God and turn to Him for companionship. He should recall that his soul is also a stranger here on Earth, and all people are ultimately strangers as well, as per Leviticus 25:23, “Because you are all strangers and temporary dwellers to Me.” He should also remember that even those with families could be left alone at any moment.
The one who is alone should consider that he is relieved of the burden of supporting relatives and other family obligations. This is a gift from God in that he need not work as hard as another person might have to.
If one does have a family, as well as friends, enemies and other relationships with all the obligations that entails, he should rely on God to keep him from being overwhelmed. He must trust in God to help him fulfill his responsibilities to them and not cause any harm. This is itself a form of service to God, Who commanded us how to act in interpersonal relationships, through such commandments as “Love your neighbor as you do yourself” (Leviticus 19:18), “Do not hate your brother in your heart” (ibid. 19:17), et al. This is not because one hopes to be repaid by other people, nor honored by them or have authority over them or any other ulterior motive. Rather, it is purely to fulfill the will of God, Who commanded us in these matters.
If one has an ulterior motive in the way he treats others, he will not accomplish these objectives. He will work for nothing because he will not earn merit in the Next World for his efforts. However, if one acts out of devotion to God, God will inspire the others to repay his efforts. He will raise this person’s esteem in their eyes and this person will earn a reward for his efforts in the Next World. This is what God told King Solomon when He said, “I will also give you that which you did not request, both wealth and honor” (I Kings 3:13).
When it comes to one’s superiors and subordinates, the proper way to rely upon God is as follows: when one needs something from a person on another level, he should trust God for it and consider the other person as merely the means to acquiring it. This is comparable to the way that a field is the means to acquiring crops; if it is successful, one thanks God, not the field. If it is not successful, it isn’t the field’s fault. Similarly, when asking others to perform a task, one must understand that the weak and the strong are equally capable as, ultimately, it all depends on God. If the person is successful, one should thank God. He should also thank the person for acting as God’s agent in the matter, since the Talmud tells us that God only carries out good things through worthy agents (Baba Basra 119b). If the agent is unsuccessful, one should not blame him for the failure. Rather, he should thank God, Who prevented the plan from coming to fruition for the person’s own good. Even in the case of failure, one should thank the agent for his efforts in the matter.
This is how one should act with family, friends, employees, clients, partners, and in all other relationships.
The same is true when asked to do something by a superior or a subordinate. One should try to do it faithfully, to the best of one’s ability, provided that the one who requested assistance is worthy of his efforts. The agent should then trust in God to help him accomplish his mission. If God grants him success and he is able to benefit his fellow, he should be grateful for the opportunity to help. If he tries his best and fails, he should not blame himself and he should assure the one who enlisted his aid that he gave it his best effort.
When dealing with enemies, one should place his trust in God and endure their insults. He should repay their animosity with kindness and perform any favors possible for them, secure in the knowledge that only God has the ability to benefit or harm a person. If his enemies injure him, he should consider that his own deeds were deserving of punishment. He should turn to God to forgive his sins so that his enemies will become his friends, as per Proverbs 16:7, “When a man’s path pleases God, even his enemies will be at peace with him.”
4. The duties of the heart and limbs that only affect the person himself include such things as praying, fasting, wearing tzitzis, shaking a lulav, observing Shabbos, and similar such activities. Any good or harm that comes from performing or neglecting these mitzvos only impacts the one who does or does not perform them. We shall explain how to trust in God regarding such matters presently.
Human activities that can be described as service to God or transgressions require three things: the mental decision to take this action, the intention to carry it out, and actually doing so. It would be pointless (and rather ridiculous) to trust in God regarding the decision and the intention. This is because God has empowered us to either serve Him or not, as is evident from such verses as Deuteronomy 30:19, "Choose life."
Whether we are able to carry a course of action to fruition, however, is dependent on external forces beyond our control. If we resolve to serve God and are able to carry out our courses of action, we will be rewarded for performing these mitzvos. If we are unable to complete the necessary actions due to circumstances beyond our control, we will still be rewarded for our intentions and efforts. (The same principle applies to consequences for transgressions that one successfully commits, as well as abortive attempts.)
There is a difference between trusting in God in religious duties and in mundane matters. When it comes to temporal things - what career to pursue, which doctor's advice to follow, what investment to make, whether to take a particular trip, etc. - we don't know what course of action will have a good outcome and what course of action will have a bad outcome. Therefore, we must trust in God both to help us make good decisions and to help us see them through. When it comes to religious matters, it's a different story. There, He already told us what course of action to take; He merely empowered us to do otherwise, should we so choose. It would be nonsensical to request His help in the decision-making part of the process because that was already taken care of for us.
Therefore, in regards to the service of God, it is only appropriate to ask His assistance in bringing our courses of action to fruition. We see this in a number of verses, such as "I have chosen the path of your faith, Your laws I have set before me. I cling to Your testimonies; God, do not put me to shame" (Psalms 119:30-31). We see from this and similar verses that David had already chosen to serve God. He only asked for God for His assistance in two ways: first, in strengthening his existing resolve by removing obstacles from his path to that service. This is evident from such verses as "Avert my eyes from seeing nonsense" (Psalms 119:37). Second, David asked God to give him the physical ability to carry out that service, as seen in verses like "Sustain me so that I might be saved" (Psalms 119:17). (There are many more verses in support of all these ideas; the Chovos HaLevavos provides a number of additional examples.)
5. Duties that affect others, for good or for bad, include such activities as giving charity and tithes, teaching Torah to others, warning people about evil, returning objects entrusted for safekeeping, speaking well of others, honoring parents, treating the needy with mercy, and more. The way to rely upon God in such matters is to keep these obligations in one’s heart, resolve to perform them, and use his free will to pursue them. One’s purpose should be to get closer to God, not to be recognized as some great benefactor or to get others in his debt. One should place his trust in God to enable him to fulfill these duties.
A person should conceal his good deeds from people who don’t need to know about them, as hidden deeds are greater than those that are publicly known. If his deeds do become known, one should not take pride in them; rather, he should recall that no person has the ability to help or harm another unless God permits it. If God uses him to carry out something positive, he should consider himself fortunate to have been given the opportunity. Taking pride would only spoil the purity of his intentions in performing the kindness.
6. The reward that a person earns based on his deeds comes in two types: a reward in this world and a reward in the Next World. Sometimes a single deed can earn both types of reward. We are not given much detail about the process of Divine reward; God has told us that He rewards service but He has not told us that a particular mitzvah is repaid with a particular reward. This is unlike transgressions, where we are told that certain violations are deserving of lashes, execution, premature death, monetary fines, etc. We are told very little of reward and punishment in the Next World, for several reasons.
For starters, we know very little of the nature of the soul when it is separated from the body. We don’t know what gives it pleasure and we don’t understand what causes it pain. (God did explain this to some degree to people who were able to understand it. For example, God gave “free access” to the spirit world to Joshua the High Priest, as seen in Zechariah 3:7.)
Another reason is that information about reward and punishment in the Next World was mostly communicated by oral tradition, rather than in the Written Law, so that the wise and discerning would grasp their meanings.
Still another reason is that when the Jews received the Torah, the nation was in its spiritual infancy. Accordingly, God undertook to educate the people as a father does his child. A parent doesn’t start to train a child by promising him enlightenment or fulfillment; that’s too abstract. Rather, he promises his child more immediate gratification in the form of treats or toys. Similarly, when discipline is called for, it is in the form of immediate punishments, such as a spanking or being deprived of some gadget, along with an explanation of why the punishment is necessary. When the child matures, he will understand those more abstract reasons for his education and act upon them, while the motivations that were previously so compelling will be unimportant to him. Similarly, God detailed more immediate rewards and punishments, knowing that eventually we would grow into a more mature understanding.
Yet another reason to downplay our reward in the Next World is because we cannot earn this reward on the strength of our merits alone. There are two additional prerequisites that are necessary:
- One must enlighten others in the service of God, as per Daniel 12:3, “Those who turn the masses to righteousness will be like stars forever.” To earn reward in the Next World, one needs his own faith and merits, combined with those he inspired in others;
- One needs God’s grace and beneficence, as per Psalms 62:13, “Kindness is Yours, Hashem, for You pay a person according to his work.” Even if a person’s merits were as numerous as the grains of sand on the beach, they would still not be equal to one of the favors that God grants us. If God were to pay a person strictly according to what he has earned, no one would ever deserve a reward. One’s punishment is based on what he deserves but one’s reward requires God’s grace.
There’s yet another reason that the concept of reward and punishment in the Next World is not more explicit. There are two types of merits: physical actions, which are perceivable, and duties of the heart, which are concealed. Accordingly, there are two types of reward: a visible reward for the visible merits and a hidden reward for the hidden merits. David alluded to this when he said, “How abundant is Your goodness, which You have concealed for those who fear You” (Psalms 31:20). The hidden reward corresponds to fear of God, which is a hidden merit. Similarly, the tochacha (rebuke) in parshas Bechukosai (Leviticus chapter 26) warns of physical punishments – war, famine, etc. – as a consequence of physical transgressions. The people as a community are only judged for the physical deeds, while God repays the individual for the obligations of his heart, as per Deuteronomy 29:28, “The hidden matters are for Hashem, our God, and the revealed things are for us and our children….”
Another reason that Scripture focuses on temporal reward and punishment is that it is speaking to people who live in this world. When God offered Joshua the High Priest freedom of the Next World, it’s because he was actually in that realm at the time. The motivations and deterrents offered must be appropriate for the time and place in which they are made.
One more reason not to emphasize the reward and punishment of the Next World is because the goal of that reward is to get close to God, as per Isaiah 58:8, “Your righteousness will precede you; the glory of God will gather you.” This can only be achieved by one who pleases God.
Let us now return to our main topic, which is trusting in God regarding one’s reward. This trust is an indispensable component of one’s faith, as we see in such verses as “He believed in God and He considered it a righteousness for him” (Genesis 15:6) and “If I had not believed that I would see the goodness of God in the land of life” (Psalms 27:13). One should not rely upon his own merits to earn a reward. It is more proper to show gratitude to God for His ongoing favors but not out of hope that this will earn him a reward. Rather, one should just trust in God and do his best to repay Him for all His kindness. Along these lines, the Sages said, “Be like servants who serve their Master not on the condition that they receive a reward, and let the fear of Heaven be upon you” (Avos 1:3).
7. How does one trust in God when it comes to His grace for those dear to Him in the Next World? One should strive to follow the ways of the pious, who are worthy of this grace. This includes shunning worldly pleasures, replacing love of material things with love of God, delighting in Him, and other such practices. Having done so, one should have faith that God will bestow His grace on him in the Next World. However, if one thinks he can achieve this grace without the merit of good deeds, he’s fooling himself. Regarding such a person, the Sages said, “They act like Zimri (an infamous sinner) and expect a reward like Pinchas (who acted zealously for God)” (Sotah 22b).
People at this high spiritual level have several noteworthy characteristics: they direct others to the service of God, they show great patience in the most trying of circumstances, and they consider everything unimportant when compared with doing God’s will. Examples of such people are Abraham (tested by God in Genesis chapter 22), Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah (tested in Daniel chapter 3), and Daniel himself (tested in Daniel chapter 6). If one chooses to accept the possibility of martyrdom rather than go against God’s will, or to accept poverty over wealth, or illness over health, or whatever trials and tribulations may come his way, such a person is deserving of God’s grace in the Next World. Among the verses that allude to this concept is “To grant those who love Me substance so I might fill their treasuries” (Proverbs 8:21).