Passive Action: Part 1
PLUS Quick review of the laws of Chanukah
By Rabbi Aron Tendler
The interplay between "Hashgacha - Divine supervision" and "Histadlus -
individual effort" has been the topic of discussion and debate since the
beginning of time. In the extreme there are those who would like to believe
that trust in Divine providence means that they do not have to make any
individual effort. In some miraculous manner G-d will provide for them and
their families. To the other extreme of the discussion are those who do
not believe in any form of providence and depend only on their own efforts
for support and sustenance.
Of course, there is a middle ground that integrates both sides of the
discussion. This middle position suggests that G-d founded His universe on
certain immutable principles. G-d as the Creator and Provider of All is one
such principle. Working within the laws of nature and not relying on
miracles in another such principle. That means that G-d established and
maintains a system of commerce and ecology to deliver the benefits of his
largess and provide for all of creation. If we work within the system we
will receive G-d's benevolent generosity. He will grant us health, wealth,
shelter, and sustenance. If we ignore the framework of G-d's "delivery
system" we will be shoeless, homeless, and hungry. Likewise, ignoring the
ecological constraints of this world will destroy the richness of our
natural resources and compromise our ability to extract G-d's gifts. Rivers
and lakes will become polluted, the air will become poisonous, and we will
inevitably suffer the consequences. The mere fact that we are good and
righteous will not alter the negative consequences of our actions. We must
work within the framework of both immutable principles.
How much each of us receives from G-d depends on more variables than we can
calculate. Only G-d knows how He arrives at the decisions that dictate our
existence from Rosh Hashana to Rosh Hashana. Nevertheless, the degree of
our "Histadlus - individual effort" is left up our free will and us.
Part of the free will equation that determines the degree of our
Hishtatdlus in acquiring G-d's providence is our values and priorities.
Some will decide that they need more material wealth even at the risk of
not attaining their spiritual potential. Others will decide that they are
content with less material gains and devote their energy and time to
spiritual advancement. In either scenario, the material gains will have
been determined the previous Rosh Hashana by G-d.
The focus of Sefer Bereshis is different than the other four. The Book of
Bereshis is the only Sefer than presents how the Jew interacted with the
non-Jew. The other four books describe the Jewish nation's relationship to
themselves and to G-d rather than describing their interaction with the
other nations. It is true that in the other four Seforim G-d forewarned us
and admonished us against relating too closely with the other nations, but
the main focus is still on the nation's responsibility for itself.
As a nation, our mission is to become the kingdom of priests and the holy
nation. Ultimately, we must be the light onto the nations. I believe that
in order for the Jewish people to accomplish their mission they must model
for the rest of the world the integration of Hishtadlus and Hashgacha,
individual effort and Divine supervision. I believe that the stories in
Sefer Bereshis, especially the story of Yoseph, his brothers, and Yoseph's
sale into slavery, highlight the integration of Hashgacha and Hishtadlus.
There are a few end-points I would like to begin with.
1. In the end of Parshas Vayichi, after returning from Yakov's burial, the
Brothers confront Yoseph. Yoseph responds to them, (50:20-21) "Am I instead
of G-d? You thought to do me evil but G-d made it good. I was seent ahead
to sustain this great multitude of people."
2. At the beginning of Parshas Vayigash, after Yoseph reveals himself to
the Brothers, Yoseph says to them, (45:4-5) "I am Yoseph who you sold to
Egypt. Do not reproach yourselves, G-d sent me here to be a provider for
3. In the beginning of Parshas Miketz, Yoseph is brought before Pharaoh to
interpret his dreams. Pharaoh recounts Yoseph's reputation as an
interpreter of dreams and asks Yoseph to interpret his two dreams. Yoseph
answers, (41:16) "That is beyond me. It is Who G-d will respond."
4. In this week's Parsha Yoseph is sold to Potiphar, Chamberlain of the
Butchers. Potiphar notices that Yoseph is uniquely gifted as an
administrator. The verse states, (39:4) "And his master saw that G-d was
with him. Everything Yoseph did was aided by G-d." How did Potiphar know
anything about G-d? How did Potiphar know to associate Yoseph's
administrative successes with G-d rather than with Yoseph alone?
Rashi references the Medresh Tanchumah (8) that states, "The name of heaven
was familiar in his mouth." All of 17 years old, exceedingly handsome, very
personable, exceptionally effective, Yoseph found himself the center of
attention. He was truly the proverbial "Golden Boy." As far as Potiphar was
concerned he had struck pay dirt. With Yoseph in charge, Potiphar was free
to do anything else he wanted. Not only wasn't he concerned about
maintaining his holdings, he was confident that under Yoseph's direction
his estate would increase. Yet, whenever Yoseph reflected upon his own
success, or if anyone else commented on his success, Yoseph would associate
the success with G-d. Soon enough, the entire household had heard about
Yoseph's monotheistic beliefs. Soon enough the entire household knew that
Yoseph was different.
Yoseph's descent into Egypt and his rise to power is the culminating
example of the Jew relating to the non-Jewish world; therefore, it is
important to identify how Yoseph saw himself and how he portrayed himself
to the rest of the world. It is clear from the above four examples that
Yoseph saw himself as a servant of G-d. He saw himself as a chess piece on
G-d's board of creation and time being moved from square to square as per
G-d's intentions. He understood that his destiny was not his own. He
understood that he existed solely for the sake of G-d, the future of the
Jewish people, and the redemption of the world. Yoseph understood that his
prodigious knowledge, advanced wisdom, and unique success were all tools
granted by G-d in order to accomplish G-d's intentions. However, the gifts
demanded of him tremendous effort and self-sacrifice. They were not simply
granted to him in the manner of King Solomon awakening from his dream at
the age of 12 endowed with greater wisdom than anyone else. Yoseph had
spent the first 17 years of his life immersed in the tent of Yakov,
drinking thirstily from the fonts of Yakov's wisdom, vision, and faith. He
felt empowered to join the ranks of his father, grandfather, and great
grandfather as a "first born", leader, and protector. Yakov recognized
Yoseph's uniqueness among the brothers and confirmed his tireless devotion
and work with a multi-colored coat. Yoseph knew that he was destined by G-d
Underlying Yoseph's greatness was the indispensable characteristic of
humility. Yoseph knew that all his personal effort and investment was to
serve G-d and the Jewish people; therefore, he had the courage to confront
his brothers when he thought they were misbehaving or when he felt that
there was "national / familial" news of importance. Everything Yoseph did
was "for the sake of heaven."
Therefore, as noted in the four examples above, Yoseph always responded by
associating events, whether seemingly good or bad, with G-d and G-d's
Yoseph presents a complex example of the integration of Hishtadlus and
Hashgacha. He appears to do whatever it takes in order to be successful
while never forgetting that it is G-d Who is in charge. The one time he
seems to slip is right before the incident with Potiphar's wife. Verse 39:6
states that Yoseph was "handsome of form and appearance." Rashi comments
from the Tanchumah, "Once Yoseph saw his own rise to power in the household
of Potiphar he began to eat, drink, and play with his hair." The Medresh
seems to be saying that the young Yoseph was so overwhelmed by the events
of his sale into slavery that he lost sight of who he was and what his
mission was. Therefore, Yoseph was thrown into the turmoil and trauma of
the incident with Potiphar's wife to force him to remember who and what he
was. "The face of his father Yakov appeared before him." (Rashi 39:11)
Given the integration of Hishtadlus and Hashgacha that defined Yoseph's
young life, why was Yoseph punished at the end of the Parsha by languishing
in prison two extra years? (Rashi 40:23)
To Be Continued..
A Quick Review of the Laws of Chanukah
Chanukah is from Friday night Dec. 19 through Dec. 27. Hallel is said every
morning and Al Hanisim is added to the Amidah and the Birkat Hamazon.
1. The Menorah should be lit 1/2 hour after sunset and remain lit for at
least 1/2 hr. On Friday the Menorah must be lit before the Shabbos candles
and remain lit for at least 90 minutes.
2. Candles should be placed in the Menorah from right to left and lit from
left to right.
3. Olive oil or wax candles are acceptable; however, olive oil is
preferred. Electric or gas lights are unacceptable.
4. Each family member except should light his or her own Menorah. A wife
may light her own (there are differing opinions about whether she should or
should not) and if agreed upon exempt her husband if he won't be home.
5. The Menorah should be placed in a location where both family and public
can see it. The best height is at 35'" to 40", however safety must be a
6. Brochos should be recited before lighting the Menorah. Talking is
prohibited between the Brochos and the lighting.
Copyright © 2003 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.